after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

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So much time, so much ramen.

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t says:  It has been forever since our last post.  And trust me – it’s not because we haven’t been eating.  It’s been a non-stop work-fest over here on the “Best Coast” so I let my blog-maintenance duties slide.  As a result, my phone has so many food pictures that I’ve actually forgotten where most of them are from.  I’m a disgrace of a blogger.  Can it be?  Have I transitioned to an age where blogging is more of a chore than a fun distraction?  NEVER!  I just wish it was easier to do on the fly … I wish they had telepathic blogging …

So why come back?  Well … g and I, in our quest to try every respectable bowl of ramen in the city, came across what I can only say was an absolute disaster of a noodle.  And I just can’t help myself.  I must tell someone about it.  Anyone.  Everyone.  They must be warned.

Enter Mensho Ramen.  Or, more accurately “Mensho Tokyo SF” – or whatever they want to be known as.  There were so many problems with our trip to Mensho.  The first was their ginormous line.  With a line this long, my expectations were heightened.  With so many people talking about how they loved it there [waiting in line], I figured that this was going to be great.  But – I can’t blame Mensho for their line – that’s not their fault – that’s ours; we have to stop supporting bad ramen in SF.  The second was the table setup that placed dining partners SO far away from eachother that it was difficult to talk.  Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem at a noodle house either because you’re supposed to be busy slurping noodles – not talking.  But if you’re going to run a buzzy, so-hot-right-now, packed noodle house that’s going to involve some kind of wait for noodles, then you might as well give us something to do while we wait for the order to be filled – like talk to each other.  (g does, however, give them props for the cute little baskets under the tables to put your stuff so you’re not putting your jacket on your lap while you eat.)  And finally, the biggest problem of all: the bowl was terrible.  The above Tori Paitan was ordered with double chashu (double pork shoulder) and extra duck chashu (four slices instead of two).  Let’s get the good out of the way first: the noodles, themselves, were on the thicker side with great bounce, and the duck was quite good.  But that’s where the good stopped and the bad began.  The broth – a “rich and creamy chicken soup” was insipid.  I just couldn’t understand it.  How could ramen have a bland broth with almost no flavor?  And it’s supposed to be so thick and creamy from all of delicious chicken that melted off the bone!  It blew my mind.  The burdock was similarly bland, and the greens ranged from overcooked-mushy to undercooked-why-am-I-still-raw.  For redemption: nothing actually tasted “bad” – it just didn’t have taste … which was a sad way for $19.50 to depart my wallet.  (Perhaps my tears of sadness would have added much-needed salt to the broth.) At least I was full when I was done (the best part about ramen: you don’t leave hungry).

g’s bowl, the shio with double meat, had far more flavor in the broth, bringing a nice saltiness and garlic to the party.  That said, they did manage to serve it in the most unhelpful bowl you could ever serve ramen in – with this gently sloping sides that caught effectively none of the slurp-splashes that inevitable occur with ramen eating (if you’re not slurping, you’re not eating ramen correctly).  And don’t get me wrong – while her bowl did at least have some flavor, it’s not like the kale and chives were pushing any boundaries in a positive direction.  Needless to say – g and I won’t be waiting in line at Mensho anytime soon.  (Although the two vegan people next to us seemed to enjoy their ramen …).

So now what?  Well – with acknowledging that Mensho is officially tied for the worst ramen we’ve had in the Bay Area (the other was Oakland’s Itani Ramen), here are some places that will offer you a better bowl.

Here’s the bowl from Ramen Yamadaya in Japantown (not to be confused with the relatively new Ramen Hinodeya).  This 2nd story restaurant has a little bit of an attitude problem.  The wait can be fierce (make sure you butt your way up to the front of the line to put your name on the list and then get in the line), and the host can be mean (he gets a little bit of a temper tantrum when he can’t read your handwriting), and the “instructions on how to eat ramen” that are posted are a bit condescending … but by golly this is the best ramen of the three we’ve been to in Japantown (Waraku, Hinodeya, Yamadaya).  The noodles are spot on, the broth is flavorful – both hit the right checkboxes (Hinodeya’s broth, by comparison, was far less flavorful – I can’t even find pictures of it – it was so forgettable that even my phone forgot the picture).  However, the real “winner” of this Kakuni Kotteri bowl is the pork belly: the biggest, best-done, perfectly-toothsome piece of belly is in this ramen.  Some may say that it distracts from the noodles and broth and other elements, which is fair – but sometimes you just want a ramen that puts the meat in a spotlight rather than just another tree in the background.  We gladly took some of this broth home with us – it didn’t quite have the oomph of Orenchi, but it was still worthy of a second round at home with adding some store-bought noodles.  I also give them props because one of the servers and I had a moment to geek out on our shared love of raw Japanese denim – it was pretty cool and allows me to award them bonus points.

We also ventured “The Ramen Shop” in Oakland for their twists-on-the-traditional ramens.  Above you see g’s selection of green garlic, veggie ,meyer lemon shoyu ramen which was super-refreshing.  Personally, I couldn’t handle that element of citrus for an entire bowl, but g quite liked it.  Between the arugula, Meyer lemon, and butternut squash, it didn’t really scream “ramen”, but still a very tasty soup on its own.

 

 

 

 

I went with the duck shoyu ramen which was indeed a very respectable dish of ramen.  I can’t say that the rutabaga did anything for me, and I personally like the egg yolk to be a smidge runnier, but the broth was nicely balanced and the duck was fabulous (I wish there was one more slice).  The noodles could have had just a bit more of an alkaline punch to jazz up their flavor some, but overall I was happy with our Oakland adventure.  I would not agree that it’s the best ramen in the Bay Area, but if I had any hipster friends, I’d totally send them there (it’s a little bit of a scene …).

 

Here’s a reminder to myself that Nojo still has our favorite chicken-based ramen.  It’s gimicky as hell to put a chicken thigh/leg in there, but it’s just so darn good.

We also hit up Izakaya Sozai as well.  I ventured the tsukemen style ramen which I have to say would have been astounding had it not suffered from one problem: temperature regulation.  The cooler ingredients (the noodle bowl) got so cool that the noodles clumped.  It also cooled down the dipping broth to the point where it, too, was below room temp.  Darn!!  I feel like the broth would have been far more expressive had it been a bit warmer by the time it hit my mouth.  As far as the noodles, they could have used ones that were a bit more irregular or had a bit more curl this way it would have really captured the broth and delivered it to my mouth much more easily.  I did eat all of it – it was still pretty good – but it had such high potential to be be excellent.

Izakaya Sozai does have these cute bacon-wrapped mochi which is pretty much the best thing ever.  It’s like a stickier/chewier bacon-wrapped gnocchi – what’s not to love?

And here we are … back at the beginning … Orenchi Beyond.  Ok, so the crown that Orenchi Beyond stole from the first moment we went there has been retained … but barely.  With bowls that offer better meat (Ramen Yamadaya), more interesting “twists” (chicken leg and addictive burdock at Nojo), or even a more profound porkiness (Coco Ramen), it’s hard to say that Orenchi is a clear winner.  However, give g and me just one place to bring an out-of-town friend to demonstrate ramen goodness of SF and the Bay, and this is where we’re going to go.  It’s garlicky, porky, and has an almost briny quality to it.  The noodles are excellent (although I’d get a double portion the next time), the pork is well-done, the additions are solid.  Just don’t get distracted by the soba or tsukemen and you’ll be fine.  Man – if only they could steal some of Coco’s bean sprouts and just a small slab of Yamadaya’s belly – it’d be the perfect bowl.

Who knows when the next post will be?  But until then – just keep eating … and sneezing.

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Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 April 2017 at 4:03am

Rounding out the Holidays in SF

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t says:  Because we pre-Holiday’d on the east coast, g and I were prepared for a relaxed time here in SF for real-Christmas.  Wanting to jazz it up and try something we had never made by ourself, I scoured the Safeway coupons until I landed on a one-day sale of NY Strip Roast.  I was determined.  We were going to roast a big-ass hunk of meat and not overcook it.  Mission: Not-Overcooked commenced …

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I realize now that I don’t have the typical blog-worthy extreme-close-up view of the roast.  And while this herb-and-mayo-crusted Strip looks like medium-well here, it was a perfect medium in real life (I know, I know – blasphemy to have medium and not medium-rare!).  Accompanied by some broccoli and parsnip as well as a parmesan-Brussels-sprouts stuffed baked potato, g put on a wonderful show, having cooked the entire meal by herself (I did pre-cut all the ingredients the night before so she could pretend she was on a cooking show – I worked during the day on Christmas).  That meat with the 2010 Tor Rock Syrah that you see above (review here) was absolutely incredible.  g and I have cooked a fair number of meals in our time, but only a handful of times have we stepped back and gone, “damn, that’s like restaurant-quality  good”.  This was one of those times.

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We also did a dinner out at Nopa for our “splurge” Christmas meal (not on Christmas).  Defrayed by j’s generosity, g and I were super-excited to finally make it there (I had to make a reservation at exactly when the reservation window opened).  While normally we’d be happy to not BYO, we felt like for Christmas, it needed to be special.  Additionally, it was our 9.5 year anniversary!!!  So g and I pulled out our last bottle of Alexana Block 7 from our 2013 visit to OR, and the restaurant fairly charged us corkage.  For the record, the wine was fabulous – drink it if you got it.

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Brussels sprouts.  The “it” food of 2010-2012.  Fry it up, toss something salty on it, and boom: instant praise.  Who knew?  But now those venerable sprouts have lost their sex appeal – people prepare Brussels sprouts at home with little effort or thought, making it as commonplace as broccoli.  Well these aren’t those sprouts.  These are Sprouts 2.0.  Persimmon and a slightly sweeter sauce with nutty (pecan?) accents for texture and savory, it was a celebration of the taste of the Brussels sprout, not a masking with bacon or soy sauce.  Amazing!

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A parade of dishes included a papparedelle (perfectly composed – every aspect), the best duck breast I’ve had in years, and, the surprising star of dinner: broccoli.  Yes that’s right.  They had the audacity to serve us broccoli (we had the audacity to order it).  And out in came – these huge staves of broccoli that sang out kind of like how the Brussels sprouts did: celebrate me – I’m broccoli, damnit!  I don’t know how they did it.  The char was perfect, the breadcrumbs were perfect, and to this day, that lemon-anchovy sauce has mocked every next time I’ve made broccoli at home (they should bottle that sauce!).  Nopa really nailed it – now I understand why the waitlist is full!

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But wha would life be without another ramen post?  Enter Waraku, a ramen joint in Japantown.  With the tonkotsu deluxe in front of me, I dove into a creamy soup base.  While the texture of the silky broth was great, I have to say that after having been to so many ramen joints, this bowl was a bit unremarkable.  The veggies were of “meh” flavor/crunchiness.  The meat was “fine”, with appropriate texture, but didn’t pack the punch I was expecting.  The noodles were a bit bland.  Now this is me being a bit nitpicky.  If this was a nearby place, convenient to home, I’d eat there all the time – it’s not a bad bowl at all!  It’s just not my favorite!  I hear that Ramen Yamadaya, the newcomer around the corner, is also all-the-rage!!  We’ll have to try it!

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We did also venture some Korean shave ice at a next-door Korean cafe.  It was a nice frozen treat, but could have used a bit more red bean to fix the proportion a bit.  We’ll do some more shaved ice investigation.

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g and I were gifted a Feastly meal featuring Shio ramen (thanks again, j!!).  With two home-turned-professional cooks behind the helm (an adorable husband-and-wife team), we were excited to taste the “lighter” “subtle” ramen that is Shio (a first for me!)

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There were a few introductions, including a torched Caesar salad – which added a nice charred flavor to the romaine.  I might have to blow-torch all my salads.

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This ramen was delicious.  The highs include a wonderfully vivid broth, accented with a few pickles and scallions – quite nice.  The ham and chicken slices (sous vide) were oh so buttery smooth.  I think that really, the weakest component was the noodle – it was a bit thick and a bit bland.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 January 2017 at 9:09pm

Tapas Party!

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t says:   Maybe you’ve noticed that g and I have been eating a lot of Asian foods.  From our ramen adventures to our recent Asian-inflected Hawaiian brunch, we had to break the trend.  k knew just the thing: Spanish tapas.

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The tapas storm was well underway when the above photo was taken at Picaro.  First off, I have to say that the restaurant was quite large for SF!  When walking in, it felt like the restaurant just kept going and going and going!  We eventually sat in the backyard area, which had tables which could easily accommodate 6 (or a cozy 8) – definitely a great place for gatherings.  The sangria was also great for parties – smooth, off-dry, not-gross, and cheap (a pitcher for $10 before 7pm!).  The menu was overhwelming – fortunately, cm took charge and helped us pick out a well-rounded, well-balanced meal (i.e. I think we got one veggie dish …).  As for the food: it was quite good!  Not to be confused with fancy/modern/prissy tapas, this was much closer to the foods we had in Spain than anything else we’ve had in the states.  The jamon was thick-cut, the cheese was unfussy, the croquetas were on point.  Everything tasted “just right”.

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And the paella!  Another solid dish!  Ours had a nice mix of seafood and meats, most of which were nicely tender (clams a bit overdone) – next time we’re definitely going squid ink for a bit more of that briny seafood flavor.  Also, the pan came out nice and hot, which gave us a nice char on the rice.  This was a great crowd-pleaser.  As far as the price of dinner?  $60 per couple.  That’s it!  Including Sangria!  And we had leftovers!  INSANE.  Really the only thing that I wish was that it could be BYO – but hell – for that price, I’d happily pay corkage!  (Or just drink more sangria …)

So yea – Picaro was excellent, unfussy, and a good deal.  AND they took reservations!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

7 December 2016 at 10:40pm

Posted in in California, Restaurant Reviews

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A Taste of Hawaii (in SF)

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t says:  g and I are psyched for our first trip to Hawaii (coming in January 2017!).  I have to go to a conference (time to nerd out!), but g’s going for the sun!  This will mark our first island trip since our honeymoon (St. Lucia 2007!); bathing suits in winter, here we come!

To prep for the trip, we just had to check out one of SF’s latest brunch sensations, Aina.  I have to confess that I was a little hesitant, as one of my Hawaiian colleagues felt that it was “not as good as it is in Hawaii” … however, I imagine that Korean food in SF is not as good as it is in Korea, either, so I still had hope (especially after a recent tasty soondubu outing).  Located in Dogpatch, I was ecstatic that it was only a short walk away.  While there was a wait involved, the hostess was friendly and, more importantly, accurate with her projected wait times, allowing us to do a little bit of pre-gaming at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (yum!).  So on to brunch:

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I chose the kalbi loco moco.  Knowing kalbi as a wonderful Korean marinated shortrib dish, I didn’t know exactly how it would come together with ingredients like mushroom, eggs, and tomato.  The end result was a lot of great flavors on the plate, from the bright tomato-cilantro, the decently braised shortrib, and the egg-rice combo.  But while each bit was good on its own, but I can’t say that there was harmony on the plate.  Eggs and pico?  Great.  Rice and egg and shortrib?  Great.  But put it all together and it was a bit of a mishmash.  Don’t get me wrong – nothing was left on the plate when I was done, but if I went back, I’d certainly keep on trying out the other items on the menu.

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g did the Portugese sausage hash.  Now that was really good.  The sausage, with some kind of paprika or cumin spices in there, was a wonderful addition to soupy eggs and bright greens.  I don’t know how “Hawaiian” this one was, but if it portends what breakfasts will be like when we visit, we’re all in!  As you can guess, g won breakfast (she wins so much; she must be sick of winning).

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Now here is the loser of breakfast.  Hard to believe, right?  These doughnuts, covered with a coconut sugar and filled with guava looked wonderful.  Maybe your mouth is watering right now as the picture taunts you.  You can see why I figured it’d be a no-brainer of a win … but it wasn’t.  The dough was quite chewy – not really offering either a cakey or flakey texture that I’d expect a doughnut to have.  Meanwhile, the guava was overwhelming – I had to squirt out half of it to bring it back into balance with the sugared dough.  We couldn’t even finish the three!  Sorry Aina – the doughnuts were a huge miss.

So brunch at Aina was pretty good, but I can’t say that it’s Plow-good.  What I’m really looking forward to, however, is dinner; I’ve heard it’s amazing.  As I look at the dinner menu, I have to say that I see a ton of potential.  There’s seafood and kimchi everywhere!  That gnocchi dish looks crazy!  So we’ll have to pay them a revisit soon … even if the doughnuts were heart-breakingly sad.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

26 November 2016 at 10:08pm

An Ode to SF Ramen

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t says:  When thinking about what SF is best at, I am often tempted to say: “separating you from your money”.  If you have $10, $100, or $1000 in your wallet, SF will have innumerable options on how to spend it … all of it.  Consequently, g and I have had to show a little more restraint when it comes to eating out.  In what I will now call “The Midatlantic Years”, we’d go to dinner, blow $100 at some of the “best” restaurants in town and be super-satisfied that we pretty much got “the best” of whatever was available.  Now, in the “The Bay Area Years”, we are a little bit more cautious.  There’s always some chef somewhere who wants to find a way to squeeze in a little bit of foie, or truffle, or saffron, to bump prices.  Or they want to use the chicken they raised in their backyard along with the fish they raised in their bathtub.  Or they want to use the fruit that was hand-harvested by blind, armless monks.  Fortunately, SF also has a ton of answers to the tasting menu insanity, with an abundance of reasonably priced places weaved throughout the wallet landmines.  For g and me, ramen is one of these answers.  For g, it’s like pasta … a nice al dente pasta … which really tugs at her South Jersey Italian heart strings (which are right next to her adopted kimchi-loving Korean heart strings).  For me, it’s the way something that’s supposed to be so “homely” is so full of persnickety precision – an existential crisis in food.  And we both love that it’s never over $18 (or if it is, we refuse).

As we mentioned last time, we hit up Itani Ramen in Oakland.  It was ok, but you could probably gather from my tone that I wasn’t as pleased with it as I had hoped.  And now, after a bit more “research”, I can say without a doubt that it is the worst ramen we’ve had in SF (coming second even to the ramen food truck).  Welcome to our ramen showdown …

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The first ramen place we went to was highly recommended.  A Japanese work colleague, who has admitted to being kind of a ramen fanatic, managed to visit over 10 ramen shops in SF and said that without a doubt, the best ramen in the city is Orenchi Beyond.  That’s some pretty high praise.  Now I don’t know the identity of the other 9 shops, but hey – if he says it’s the best, then we knew we had to get there and have it be the standard by which all others were judged.  We. Loved. It.  g was shocked.  Having gone for the “Beyond Ramen”, g loved the porky, salty, smoky flavor combination (and she’s not one to really like pork above any other meat); I had instant food envy.  There was something about that bowl of soup – it was just a very intense mouthful (you better like garlic).  The noodles were of a pretty good consistency and flavor as well, but let’s face it, the real champ here was the broth.  It was so good that we took the remaining broth home and made our own ramen using some instant ramen noodles we picked up at the Korean grocer (we’re cheap like that).   I still can’t figure out why this place didn’t have a line out the door – must be it’s awkward location.

 

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While at Orenchi Beyond, I did the Tsukemmen, which is a dipping noodle.  The sauce was delightful (with a nice spice in there), but baby corn and the brussels sprouts just didn’t quite do it for me.  I feel like they tried a little too hard to California it.  Additionally, while I know that the noodles are supposed to be not-hot (i.e. room temp), they were a bit too congealed for my taste.  Alas, I wont’ be having any food dreams about the Tsukemmen … only the Beyond Ramen above.

 

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Next up is Iza ramen.  Now this place did have a line out the door, but it sped through nicely.  I have to say that noodle for noodle, I enjoyed Iza’s better than Orenchi.  Also, the pork was superb, and the kimchi-on-the-side option featured some pretty decent kimchi to accompany the ramen … but that’s just it – I felt like I needed the kimchi to give the broth some extra oomph.  Don’t get me wrong – I’d be absolutely thrilled if Iza was our local ramen shop (I’d go there all the time!), but the broth just won’t unseat Orenchi Beyond’s.  I will say that Iza does get extra points, however, for having a Three Twins just across the street.

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So now we go to Coco Ramen.  This place is a little peculiar.  We knew that it clearly said “Coco’s Ramen” on the sign, but I think there was another sign that said “Coco’s Sushi” or something like that (and I think our check said “Crazy Sushi and Ramen”).  My advice is find the address, stick it into your GPS, and persevere – you will be rewarded with food bliss.  Above is obviously not ramen, rather it’s the Kabocha.  This is essentially a Scotch egg … but instead of meat, there’s squash (?pumpkin?), and it’s drizzled in what is essentially the “eel roll sauce” and the “spicy mayo sauce” that you typically see at Americanized sushi joints.  But it was delicious.  A weird cross between fried ice cream (thin shell and sweet eel sauce) and spicy sushi and savory egg.  I still can’t figure out why I liked it, because as I write this, I realize that it sounds so totally gross.

 

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So enter the ramen.  Now this ramen was amazing.  I’d say it was Orenchi-good.  While not having the same amount of smoke or briny salt, you could elect for just a smidege of spice (which I did), and it was perfectly balanced.  And that pork belly – oh that pork belly – it was magically tender and full-flavored – so much more than just a braised piece of belly (I wonder what they braised it in?).  But wait.  The real ingredient that pushed this bowl into greatness was the bean sprouts.  These were crisp and flavorful – almost peppery – cutting through the more unctuous and umami flavors.  They were like super-sprouts, moreso robust than those in any other ramen dish I’ve had.  Between how wonderful the ramen was, how much fun the other appetizers looked (I wanted to order so much more), and the great “neighborhood joint” feel (no million dollar ambience here), I think this place is my fave.  However, g and her friend ventured the Shoyu, and while she can’t recall specifics, she knows that it was not better than Orenchi Beyond (too bad she didn’t have any of my Tonkotsu).  So we’ll call it a “tie” for now … I guess we’ll wait for the revisit!

 

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And here’s where Coco gets a second little extra nod from me: nearby ice cream.  This grasshopper pie ice cream (with fudge) is brought to you by local ice cream champ Mitchell’s.  Known for a lot of “crazy” flavors (less like Bi-Rite concoctions, rather, more “natural”/”seasonal” flavors), we did play it a bit safe (none of us got any of the fun Hawaiian flavors), but next time … oh next time …

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And for our final ramen visit, enter Nojo Ramen.  Knowing its location in Hayes Valley, I knew that they’d have to bring some thunder to survive.  After reading the little synopsis on Eater and hearing that g’s colleagues labeled it more “California style”, I was suspicious that locals loved how “unique” it was, as it was chicken-based rather than pork.  Consequently, I ready to hate all over it – like ALL over it.  I know what you’re thinking: “why even go?”.  Well, it was convenient … and I needed this post to have a bad guy – I couldn’t just say “all these ramen places are great” and leave it at that, because what’s the fun, right?  As we waited outside for our name got closer and closer to the top of the list, a starving g and t pondered: which would we get?  With the absence of a tonkotsu option, I knew I was going to have to get “the one with the chicken leg” … and so was g … so we each got the “chicken paitan soy sauce”.  It. Was. Insane.  Like really insane.  Like I almost hate myself for liking it so much.  I really do.  Every single thing was perfect.  The chicken was perfect, from the texture of the meat to the browning of the skin to the dark meat flavor (it was braised wonderfully).  The egg was perfectly soft-boiled.  And while pork was absent from the party, there was instead a creamy miso and briny fish powder for the soup base, accented with a fistful of super-bright, super-fresh scallion.  And gawd: that fried gobo was an unexpectedly delightful addition.  Wait wait wait!  But did it beat Orenchi Beyond? …  Kinda?  Maybe? … It’s complicated … It’s not another “tie”, rather, I think of Nojo’s dish less like a “superb bowl or ramen”, rather, “the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had”.  (To this end, the noodles lacked the alkaline punch that most ramens have, so it was textured like a ramen noodle, but not quite flavored like one). So in the end, Nojo is a winner of a different category.  And you can bet your bunsen burner that we took home our remaining broth – this is going to be a wonderful second dinner (it’s in our fridge right now!).  We also know that we’re definitely going back to try out the rest … (I will say, though – the desserts looked kinda weak-sauce … I wonder where are the best ice cream joints in the area … ?)

Written by afterdinnersneeze

19 November 2016 at 3:51pm

Post-Philly Ramen and Wine

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t says: We’ve been out a few times recently so I figured I’d take a lazy day to update the blog.  And so, with season 5 of The Wire in the background, I’m here on my phone, with my first ever phone-post!


My little sis got married with a reception at Zahav!  The whole event was wonderful!!  Congrats to her and her new hubby!  Also: congrats to Zahav for serving up some absolutely amazing lamb and salatim!  For any couples looking to close some knots, check out Zahav!


We started lining up a farewell tour of Philly (we won’t be back again until December) and it included a little bit of something old and something new.  Well, here is the new: brunch at The Dutch.  These are my new favorite pancakes. They are to. Die. For.  Second only to Cochon (R.I.P.).  Don’t let the silly blueberries or anemic banana distract you from the perfectly made pancake with a bit of crunch on the outside and a soft pillowy inside.  Yes, a did order a wonderful cream chipped beef, and g got a tasty omelette, but seriously, these pancakes were the star!!


For something old, we hit up Reading Terminal.  Ahhhhhh.  Home indeed.  DiNic’s roast pork with rabe and provolone.  Insert drooling face here.  Forget the cheesesteaks, Philly – stick with these!  As for dessert: you know I picked up several chocolate-dipped chocolate chip cookies.  Day-um these were just as good as I recall!


We continued the ramen search.  This time, we went to Oakland for some Itani ramen.  Going for a more contemporary mixture (I had corn in mine, g had tomatoes in hers), the end result was pretty good.  Nice form alkaline noodles, with savory broth.  It’s not worth the trip if you have some good ramen nearby, but if you’re local, it’s worth a visit.  Next time I’m going to try some of those dumplings.  BTW: corn = hard to pick up with chopsticks.


And for our most recent exploration, we hit up Napa [again].  We love this place.  After hiking through Oat Mine Hill Trail (after finding out that Bothe was closed for a half-marathon), we hit up Model Bakery in St. Helena.  Holy. Hell.  We knew Model was good (we’ve been to the one at Oxbow several times), but this one was WAY better.  Above was a bacon egg and pimento on a scallion biscuit that was better than any breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had … even a’s (I’m sorry a!!!!  It just happened!!!).  g got the “traditional” breakfast sandwich on their famous English muffins and she devoured it.  There’s something about this location’s sandwich construction that’s impeccable: not soggy, melted cheese, perfectly made meat, structurally sound.  Gonna have to make the special trip to St Helena for future visits, even if it is a half hour away from Oxbow!


Here’s a tip: Heitz has free wine tasting.  Now, there is a caveat: Heitz does not do flashy, fruit-bombs.  They do cabs like pinots: single vineyards with focus on just how important locations are for flavor.  One tasted like pure green bell pepper.  Another had a finish of super-spicy black pepper.  The final was mushroom-alicious (if you like that sort of thing).  But the real star: the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc.  It was in-your-face with tropical and grapefruit, followed by mouthwatering acidity and a petrol hint that was amazing (for those of you that like the way gas stations smell).  Amazing. $20 at local wine merchant – check it out.  Heitz is now on our short-list for anyone visiting Napa for the first time!  We finished off our day with a trip to Hog Island oyster company – the grilled oysters have changed g’s outlook on oysters forever!  She loves them!

ramen, soondubu, and sushi

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t says:  Over the past few weeks, g and I have had quite a few dinners featuring Korean and Japanese cuisine, so I figured I’d put them all here in one post.  Sure – it’s scatter-brained, but would you have it any other way?

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After an old Asian lady bumped us from our spot in line at Han Il Kwan (seriously), we left in search of another Korean joint.  Fortunately, g’s friend’s sister recommend My Tofu House, which we walked into and were seated within 10 minutes.  We must have been super-lucky because right after us there was a line of hungry patrons nearly out the door.  This place seems to specialize in soondubu (soft tofu soup), bibimbap (rice bowls), and pajeon (“Korean pancakes”).  I was there for the soondubu …

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In the foreground, you see the bubbling hot stew with chunks of soft tofu and cooked kimchi.  It was actually quite delicious.  I was “sweating-like-grandpa” by the end of the meal (my Korean grandfather is notorious for sweating when eating spicy foods), but it didn’t stop me from eating every bit of the soup.  I do wish it had a few more additions (vegetables, egg).  However, for my first soondubu of SF, it was certainly a stupendous way to start, as the broth was rich (I wonder if it was pork-based?).  In the background you see some bulgogi (which was “meh”).  g had the bibimbap which was a little heavy on the rice:stuff ratio, but came out with a hot enough pot to really sear some rice (if your rice doesn’t get a little burnt, it’s not hot enough).

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Unfortunately, they only had 6 banchan … no props until they crack double digits …

 

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and the Pajeon was pretty good as well – it could have used a bit more char towards the center of the pie.  However, given the impressive soondubu, we’re definitely going back again.  The prices were pretty good, too!

 

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Meanwhile, my second soondubu adventure was in a little tiny Korean restaurant in NJ called “Eden”.  Cheesy name aside, I have to praise them for some high-quality additions to their soondubu: mussels, clams, egg.  The broth was a bit on the thin side, however – not really having much more flavor than spicy kimchi.  If I could somehow mix My Tofu House’s soup with Eden’s additions, I’d be set!  Unfortunately, Eden also had less than 10 banchan, so they’re going to lose points there – but if you’re into traditional Korean fare, it’s among the best in town (and there are quite a few places in Cherry Hill).

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For ramen, I have to warn you: it’s going to be a bit of a cop out: it’s two visits to the same place … and it’s from a truck.  Ha!  Torraku Ramen can be found in the Spark mobile-food-park in Mission Bay.  For ramen coming out of a truck, I have to say that I’m quite impressed.  The tonkotsu was better than pretty much every ramen in Philadelphia (back when I was still living there circa 2015).  How does it compare to the myriad offerings in SF?  No idea!  Somehow this is literally the first ramen I’ve had here!  I’m so ashamed.  Hopefully it’ll be a good introduction to the scene, as the broth was well-developed, the noodles were firm, and each addition was welcome.  If I could have one gripe, it’d be that the soft-boiled egg was almost hard-boiled, but for a food truck, I’d rather they trend towards an overcooked egg rather than an undercooked one.  The miso (pictured above) didn’t have the miso depth that I was hoping for (whereas that tonkotsu had clearly been simmering for hours), so I’m listing that one as a pass.  As far as where am I going to go next?  I heard a tip from a well-respected source that Orenchi Beyond has the best ramen in the city despite getting nearly no recent press.  We’ll check it out and report back.

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For our last review, I have no pictures of the food.  I’m sorry.  Let me explain (there’s a lot of explaining …).  I had read a lot about Sushi Hon, a relatively new place in the Mission touted as having SF’s “most reasonably priced omakase”.  Whoa.  That’s a weird title, right?  Does it mean that the fish is akin to gas station sushi and they charge $5 for all I can eat?  Or is it that they have some super-famous Jiro-dreams-of-sushi descendent and only charge $200 for 6 pieces?  Unfortunately, Sushi Hon’s website made it nearly impossible to figure out the menu ahead of time, and the yelp reviews are a bit misleading as it turns out that Sushi Hon has at least two different types of fixed-price menus.  The first is what I’d call “omakase” and it includes an assortment of cooked dishes, sushi/sashimi, etc.  I think Sushi Hon calls it something more like “fixed price dinner” or something like that (I can’t remember as I have no pictures – duh!).  What they call “omakase” is more like “a sushi dinner”, feature ~10 bites and served only at the sushi bar (piece by piece).  Coming in at $60, it is not cheap.  g and I were very hesitant, but figured we needed to treat ourselves and went for it.  We didn’t regret it at all.  The chef’s selections for the evening were wonderful, ranging from lighter pieces where you could really taste the ocean to heavier fare (medium fatty tuna) and even some uni.  The man knew how to put together a sushi meal with progression.  We have no pictures because we were literally sitting in front of him – and while other diners were freely snapping pics, my intention to do the same was vetoed (g played the wife-veto!!).  So you’ll just have to take my word that the fish was pristine, the rice was perfect, and the wasabi was delicately balanced (maybe once piece was a little heavy-handed with the wasabi).  As a result, g and I will keep Sushi Hon in our back pocket, as it joints the ranks of places like Saru and Kiss: sushi spots that are absolutely delicious but a bit too expensive to visit on the day-to-day.  Wasabi bistro (during happy hour) will retain the title of weekday-maki-champion (and also the title of “decor consistent with most 90’s Asian restaurant ever”).  So why did I chose a picture of a knife?  Prepare for some full-on knife nerdery.  One thing that did bother me at Sushi Hon was that the chef used a fake kiritsuke.  As a Japanese knife enthusiast, I know that kiritsukes (like the one above) are traditional, single-beveled Japanese knives wielded by masters.  It’s a bad-ass knife for bad-ass chefs, usually old, wizened bad-ass chefs.  If someone gave one to me, I’d have no choice but to lock it away and never use it because I wouldn’t be worthy. (Seriously.)  The chef at Sushi Hon had a knife with the exact silhouette of a kiritsuke … but it was thin and double-beveled like any old Western chef’s knife would be, making it more like every other knife in every department store ever.  Sorry dude: that’s the wrong knife for the job.  If you’re gonna rock the sushi bar, and have me watch you cut some fish, then you’re going to have to show off some single-bevel skills.  It’s part of the game.  End rant.

An interesting conversation topic came up during our meal at Sushi Hon.  It went something like this:
t says:  Would we ever eat at Jiro’s place in Tokyo?
g says:  No.
t says:  Why not?
g says:  How much is it?
t says:  I don’t know – $300 for 20 minutes of eating.
g says:  Definitely not. <As she gets ready to play a pre-emptive future-wife-veto>
g smiles: <insert smile here> –> translation:  “Wife-vetoes are awesome.”

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 October 2016 at 8:35pm