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Ramen

My Ramen Obsession

As far as I can remember, I have loved all kinds of noodles.  It was a staple in my childhood diet especially when the only food I ate fell in the carbohydrates category, chicken, turkey, pork, and fruit.  To say the least my diet was very imbalanced would be an understatement.  Despite the fact that I have since expanded my eating horizon quite significantly, the foundation of my food love has never really changed all that much.

I love food that is flavorful – duh…I mean who likes bland food???  For instance: I have always loved tofu, but trying to eat it in its natural form without any sauces or spices, I cannot stomach it.  And despite the fact that I had try the little to no carb diet back in college, that didn’t last very long for me as the thought of bread, noodles, rice, pasta haunted me day and night.  Giving up my foundation was literally driving me insane!

Fast forward to today: I am eating carbs again and I love it!  However, I am more discerning about my choices in the various carbohydrate options.  One of the things that I never really thought much about was ramen.  Growing up in North Carolina, ramen meant Top Ramen or Instant Cup Noodles.  Even when I finally moved back to San Diego with my family, ramen had only expanded as far as the options that were given prepackaged with the fried and dried noodles.

Then my first experience with having ramen that was NOT from a package was at Tajima about 5-6 years ago?  Back then, that was the benchmark of delicious ramen for me.  That is until I tried my bowl of ramen while vacationing in Honolulu back in the Spring of 2011, then the mind blowing bowl from Hide-chan in New York during the Fall of the same year.  What I have known as “ramen” was forever changed since then.

So the most recent adventures into the ramen world while in San Diego included three of the “newer” additions to our wonderful city: Hinotez, Ramen Yamadaya, and Rakiraki.

Shall we begin going down the rabbit hole?

Hinotez

This restaurant came in after the old Honey Bee Café left their spot several years ago.  Sandwiched between auto shops, across from the rows of dealerships, and it’s next door neighbor (same building) is a bar, it isn’t exactly broadcasting itself in the best light.

That was why I was so surprised when I first stepped in that it was completely redone and looked the part of a ramen house.  Ok…good start!  A look at the menu and you know they are trying to just run a no frills shop and that’s just the way I like it.  The choices are limited and simple: ramen (limited choices), a few entrees from the kitchen, and then the short yakitori list.  The reason I came in was for their ramen, but I can’t go without at least trying their chicken thigh yakitori.  Here is the breakdown of Hinotez:

I have been back several times and although it never felt like we were intentionally being ignored or neglected, they seem to conveniently forget a part of the order the last three visits.  And each time, they apologize profusely and depending on the time and mood and fullness, I’ll either have them still put the order through or just have it skipped.

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A good broth is hard to find and time consuming to make.  That’s why I have to look at a restaurant lovingly when they do a good broth for me.  Hinotez’ tonkotsu broth is milky, thick, and flavorful.  It is on the saltier side, which makes it hard for me to finish the WHOLE bowl’s broth (though I do make a nice dent to it).  As for the noodles, it can vary from being slight overcooked to almost just right.

In addition to the ramen, we also ordered steamed gyozas and they were only ok.  Nothing to rave about nor complain about.  Just kind of “meh” (hence why there has never been a picture of it) and not worth your stomach space – skip it!

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As for the chicken thigh yakitori, that came with two skewers, I love!  The chicken was juicy and seasoned with only salt and that was all that it needed.  However, on my last visit, they didn’t quite grill it to that perfect caramelization on the outside that I loved the first two times.

Overall Verdict?…I hope that Hinotez will have more yakitori choices down the road, but this place has potential.  There are some things that need to be worked out such as consistency in cooking, but they have the flavors that can keep me coming back for more.

Ramen Yamadaya

Located in the same strip mall where Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot resides, this little (emphasis on little) shop is unassuming.  Yet it is Los Angeles chain that has graced our town (why can’t more of this happen????) and I was very excited to go try it one evening with my mom and younger sister.

Ramen Yamadaya has a small indoor seating area, with bar seating right in front of the open kitchen where you can watch the guys prepare your ramen.  There is also an outdoor patio area that has some limited seating as well.  Even though the place has been open just a little over two months, the word is out that Yamadaya is here.  Is it good you ask?  Well if you’re a chain with six locations in southern California, I would imagine they have the art of ramen down to the ‘T’.

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See those glops of fat floating at the surface?…Yea that’s what you look for when you’re getting yourself prep and hyped up for a delicious tonkotsu broth experience.  Just like Hinotez, these guys have the broth’s consistency down – thick and rich with porky goodness that coats your mouth and all the way down your throat before settling happily in your stomach.  Yea…this was freaking good.  Best part?  It was NOT over salted and thus…I only put down my spoon because I was going to be scraping the bottom.

When it was done, I had to dig myself out of that fatty, rich goodness to remember more about the rest of the bowl.  Noodles?  Yes, there was noodles and I had order extra just because I could see their portions run small.  They were cooked just right and even though I am not a slow eater (by nature), by the time I took my last bite, that was when the noodles felt a little “softer”.  Not bad Yamadaya…not bad at all (gawds I want myself a bowl now…*gurgling*).

The service was bare-bones – two front of the house servers on a Friday night with three or four guys working the kitchen (cooking, cleaning, etc).  Hence you may have a little more problems getting their attention when you really want something.  However, I’m all for helping myself to things when the restaurant’s small and short on staff.  For this bowl, I’m willing to sacrifice a waiter’s attention as long as he brings me my order.

Rakiraki

Actually…I didn’t make it to Rakiraki as intended, but hopefully by next week!

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Gaijin Noodle + Sake House

After our first Padres evening game, CP and I had to find some food afterwards to wash away the sad outcome.  I had read about a new place opening in the Gaslamp last month, and decided that it was the perfect time to check it out – Gaijin Noodle + Sake House.

After mapping it out and walking closer to the location, I then realized that the restaurant was where the old Cheese Shop location was!  Hence the restaurant is narrow and opens deep into the building.  Off to the right hand side is where the magic begins with the grill lined with rows of skewers of meat.  Let’s get started!

For all patrons, they provide for you a complementary “salad” of shredded cabbage, dressed in a “kimichi” spicy-sour dressing.  Nothing mind blowing, just additional water-based vegetables to consume.  I personally love cabbage, but not the biggest fan for the dressing so this dish is not something I would want again.

Our bowls (or in this picture, just mine) of the Spicy Miso Chasu Hakata Ramen.  Accompanying the spicy miso based soup were slices of chasu, bamboo, mushrooms, naruto (no, not the anime character, the swirly fish cake), bok choy, and cabbage.

It was a good bowl of noodles, not ramen.  I say this because it was not the “hakata” style ramen I’ve come to know while in Hawaii and New York.  This is definitely passable and suitable for a “Gaijin” who is looking for something to eat after a night of drinking.  I don’t absolutely hate this bowl of noodles, but I wouldn’t call it ramen or even recommend it as a bowl of ramen.  I will tell you that it’s a nice bowl of noodles and that’s about it.

The true star of the night were the skewers of chicken thigh meat, marinaded with red miso.  These skewers of savory meat were juicy and tender and I could probably eat about 5 skewers by myself!  I mean, there was nothing better that I could think of than to eat more of these skewers and makes me wonder how the other options are.  If this is any indication, then I would not mind having a meat fest with Gaijin Noodle + Sake House….mmmm….meeeeat.

Overall?  This is a nice new addition to the Gaslamp Quarter, and I sincerely hope they expand their yakitori options!

Gaijin Noodle + Sake House
627 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101


Minca – New York, NY

After finally spending a FULL week back at home in San Diego, I realized it was time to do a post!  It has been a little crazy and I don’t know how this much time could have gone by already.  Anyways…I have to tell you all (those who actually read my little blog) about an amazing meal I had while in New York!

Presenting…Minca Ramen Factory’s Basic Pork Broth with thin cut noodles.  This piping bowl of goodness includes: “stewed pork” (charsu), bamboo, “wild mushroom”, boiled egg, and nori.

I don’t know how to describe how amazing this bowl was.  It was pretty darn awesome….and that was just me overcoming me sudden lack of vocabulary at my disposal.  There have been only a small handful of GOOD ramen I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in my lifetime.  This has to be in my top 3!

The flavor of the broth was so rich and velvety, that I wanted to gurgle with the broth just so it could coat my the entire of my mouth for even longer. I could taste the salt and garlic seasoning the broth, accenting the pork-based broth.  The flavor of pork is not as in your face despite the cloudy appearance, yet I think I liked this balance.  Makes me wonder what their other broths taste like…

When I stepped into this little hole in the wall, that was behind a dumpster (due to construction), I was not even remotely hungry.  Yet, this bowl of magic could still carry every flavor note on the tongue.  That is a sign of a good meal – when you can crave and love it, even though you are practically stuffed to the gill already.  I would have ordered 2 bowls for myself that night actually, but I was with my coworkers and I just decided I had too much to eat that day.  Instead, I took my coworker’s unfinished bowl of ramen and proceeded to eat hers too.

However, I urge you all to go out there and try a bowl!  Especially if you do live in the area!  Otherwise, next time you find yourself out in that city, give it a slurp!

Minca Ramen Factory
536 E Fifth St
New York, NY 10009


Post Thanksgiving/Black Friday Shopping Dinner

After a big meal with the family on Thanksgiving day:

Followed by my latest start to Black Friday shopping at 8am!  That would be usually almost my time that I arrive back home with my bounty.  However, I was using my rational mind for once and told myself, “You do NOT need anything this year!”  I had already bought my big electronic purchase this year – my Sony S Tablet, and that was more than enough.

….so said my rational brain.  Yet, the shop-a-holic in me could not resist the temptations of sales and that was how I found myself out at my first store by 8am.  At that hour, the craziness was winding down and it was much easier to deal with.  Heck…it was my most relaxing Black Friday shopping since I started participating in it about 5 or 6 years ago.

The madness that I heard about (and the wreckage in the aftermath) of this annual event was astonishing.  To think – people were pepper spraying each other so they could have one up on another fellow shopper for a hot ticket item.  Is it really worth it people?

Anyways, after my morning of shopping, I rested in the afternoon with some of the Thanksgiving leftovers, including my Lemon Cream-Cheese Cookies that I made for the dinner.  The cookies were shaped into bows and crumbled and melted in your mouth.  The citrus was refreshing after a heavy meal during Thanksgiving, and is light as a sweet, naughty snack.  These cookies will remain in my permanent fave recipes.

That night, exhausted, I met up with LA for a simple dinner at Chopstix Too.  I needed something that would not remind me of Thanksgiving and this was perfect.

Got an order of my favorite – Crunchy Roll, plus a bowl of Chopstix Too’s Tonkotsu Ramen, since I’ve never tried theirs before.  LA has her order of the Chicken Katsu and Crunch Roll plate.

The Crunchy Roll is just a simple staple that I love and by no means – is my idea of GOOD sushi.  This is the type of sushi you get when you want something that just tastes good, feels like an indulgence, fills you up, and most of all…RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP! ($4.95)  I love it because it’s crunchy (duh), sweet (from the eel sauce and imitation crab meat), spicy (the spicy mayo and my extra shot of siracha),  and carby.

The tonkotsu ramen (sans the green onions, can’t stand green onions) was surprisingly…not too bad!  I was anticipating a disappointing bowl, but I was surprised by it.  The broth was medium strong, good flavors (could use just a little more pork flavor), and it warmed me up during that cold evening.  The ramen should have been more firm, but it wasn’t soggy.  Only a little softer than what I would like my ramen to be.  My one gripe about this whole bowl – the hard boil egg was not the marinaded kind like Tajima’s.  😦  Still…both LA and I enjoyed our simple meal and that night, I slept quite peacefully with the few sale items I did get my hands on and a warm belly.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and shopping adventure!

Chopstix Too
4380 Kearny Mesa Rd
San Diego, CA 92111


Hide-Chan Ramen – New York

About 3 weeks ago, CP and I were in NYC to kick off the start of college football season!  Granted, the game was up in Westpoint, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go to the city again.  New York is among my top destinations for food and I don’t think that would come as a surprise.  This little peninsula is packed corner to corner with buildings and businesses, and the only city where I’ve ever been to where you can have a selection of the world’s cuisine at your finger tips.

One of the places I have been meaning to visit was Hide-chan Ramen.  Located in Midtown East, down a quite street, upstairs in an unassuming location and if I hadn’t looked up the place online with pictures of the entrance, I would have never thought of stepping through its door.

At Hide-chan, you have the choice of intensity for the broth (rich, medium, and light).  The intensity equates to the richness of the broth and the richer it is, the more pork fatty goodness coats your mouth with each sip.   Additionally, you dictate the firmness of your noodles (very firm, firm, medium, and soft).  Both of us ordered the traditional Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen, with just different toppings.  We went with the medium intensity broth and firm noodles.

Here’s an up close shot of my bowl – see those globs of fatty goodness?  It added to the full mouth feel of rich, pork flavor that lingered even after the broth has slid down your throat.  I was in love with the broth from the first sip.  A wonderful foundation for its supporting cast that made up the rest of the bowl.  The ramen itself was nothing like the instant top ramen you get at the grocery store (unless maybe they sell this kind of amazing ramen in the markets of Japan).  Firm and cooked al dente, which made it perfect for slow consumption so that when you reached to the end of your meal, the last bite is not a soggy mess.

I have been to another famous ramen joint in the city – Ippudo – and I must say they are completely different ramen houses.  Ippudo’s broth was rich and tasty, but their ramen was not my preference at all.  I much prefered my bowl of ramen here at Hide-chan and would recommend others to come here too.  CP has already noted Hide-chan as a must stop for the city (his others are Papaya King and the 53rd & 6th Halal Guys).

Now my mission is to find a bowl of tonkotsu ramen that blows my mind in San Diego….suggestions???

Hide-Chan Ramen
248 E 52nd St
New York, NY 10022


Shimbashi Izakaya

This weekend was CP’s birthday and after much deliberation, I settled on a place I have been trying to get us to for some time – Shimbashi Izakaya.  The restaurant is in downtown Del Mar, tucked upstairs, in a nook of the shopping area by the shores.  Only reason why the restaurant came under my radar was because my fellow foodie co-worker had told me about it.

When we arrived on Saturday, the entire shopping area was packed, including Shimbashi.  However, we were seated immediately for our 8:15pm reservation.  The restaurant was simple and beautiful, though small so I would highly recommend having reservations especially during Saturdays.

As we settled down at our table, we flipped through the menu.  I knew going in, that I wanted to try their sushi (naturally), but also their Paitan Ramen.  Paitan broth generally is made from stock of boiled down pork (or chicken or both) bones, to give the “milky” and rich flavorful soup.  A good broth takes a lot of time and patience, with just the right amount of spices, and so hard to find in San Diego. When I saw that Shimbashi had a “Paitan” ramen, I just had to try!

First up – the sushi!  We ordered the Lobster Salmon Roll: Lobster, masago, and cucumber, topped with salmon, garlic oil, ponzu, sesame seeds, bonito flakes and red onions. Quite a mess of food, but my goodness!  It was utterly melt-in-your-mouth delicious!  I could not believe how one bite of this made me go: HOT DANG!

Fresh salmon, plus sweet lobster in my mouth was worth a squealing ovation.  Then the bonito flakes contributed the salt in the equation, while the red onions gave it a little spice kick and was rounded out by the ponzu’s citrus.  Great sushi roll!

CP ordered the Tempura Udon and take note that this bowl was quite small.  Their portions for noodles were quite small (you’ll see mine).  The udon was simply dressed with nori, scallions, and the cute little fish cakes.  What I did like was that they kept the tempura off on a separate plate so that the batter would not get soggy.  CP really like his udon and since I did not try it, we’ll just have to go with his word! I mean…it IS his birthday ;).

Here is my Paitan Ramen and boy was I excited when this came out!  Take a look at that white, milky broth!  However, here’s where my trepidations came: notice the lack of blobs of fatty oils that I would expect from a good paitan broth.  With hesitation, I took a sip of the broth and was relieved to find it was quite good.  Not to the level of the one (THE best one) CP and I had while in Hawaii, but still worthy of noting.

The broth was rich tasting and coated my mouth nicely, but the flavor did not overwhelm which I had hoped it would.  The ramen noodles itself was the usual egg-based noodles that were cooked al dente.  Accompanying the noodles were bean sprouts, bamboo, corn, boiled egg (not marinated), nori, chashu, and scallions.  The accompaniments were good yet, the non-marinated egg made me a little sad.  I love a good salted/tea egg.

We also had ordered some Chicken Karaage, and the reason why I don’t have a picture of it…it was terrible.  Don’t bother yourself with this item.  The chicken pieces were huge (by appetizer standards), the breading was flimsy and oily, and that whole dish was a hot mess.

Another issue I had with Shimbashi Izakaya was that their servers were not very good at working the floor.  We were left completely unattended for a solid amount of time after the food was delivered by one server, and our waitress came to check to see if we were ok at that point.  Well, of course we were.  We just got all of our food with no issues, so naturally we were ok.  After that point, our waitress (or any of the servers) failed to notice we had empty plates and empty drink cups.   Also, CP and I had wanted to order more food, but it took the waitress too long to bring a menu, and then again too long to come and ask what we’d like, that we just decided to go since we had a movie to catch.

Other than that chicken mishap and sub-par service, CP and I had a lovely dinner.  The sushi is definitely great and a must have when going to Shimbashi Izakaya.  I would come back next time just for the sushi and also just over order because apparently that’s the only way one can ensure they get food.

Shimbashi Izakaya
1555 Camino Del Mar, Suite 201
Del Mar, CA 92014