Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Mushroom Pot, Singapore Indoor Stadium

The Mushroom Pot

I love mushrooms. So when I first arrived in Singapore a number of years back, I got really excited when I heard of a place called The Mushroom Pot (2 Stadium Walk, #01-02, 6342-3320). With a name like that, I figured that they offered a bunch of soups, salads, and pastas adorned in mushrooms. When I found out that it was a hot pot place instead, I was a bit bummed...until today, when the thought of a very light mushroom-based broth for lunch sounded very refreshing.

The good thing is that the broth was pretty much what I was looking for. It may be a dark brew in the picture, but multiple types of mushrooms were in there. There were standard cuts of meat and veggies available on the side, as well as a surprisingly good wild mushroom fried rice. But there were no sauce choices available aside from a sweet Thai-like chili stuff. And I was actually hoping for a more inspiring variety of mushrooms. So while the broth was fitting for today, I don't think that I'll be running back here again. But it was interesting to have finally come here after so many years.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Singapore Fried Hokkien Mee

Hokkien Mee

Hokkien Mee is a local noodle and shrimp dish in Singapore that has always puzzled me. It smells great when the hawker stir fries this concoction in a hot wok with lots of garlic. And that wonderful aroma always leads me to think that I'm going to get a salty/greasy plate of lightly scorched noodles. But instead it comes out drenched in a thick (but clear) goo, covering up that garlicky grease that attracted me to it to begin with. I could never quite figure out why this was necessary, and wished that they made a "dry" option instead.

My opinion of this dish has changed for the better though. Stall number 147 at Whampoa Hawker Center (the temporary one, anyway) still served it covered in that slimy goo today, but that very same sauce was so full of warmth and richness that it really enhanced the dish. No, I couldn't taste the salty garlic grease that I had been seeking, but it didn't matter. I just had the wrong expectations going in; I was thinking of the consistency of something like mee goreng, but instead I should have expected something more like a rich Italian cream sauce.

Monday, September 24, 2007

More UA Meals on the Return Leg

Turkey Sandwich

The menu on today's return flight said that we were getting barbecued chicken pizza, to which I got a bit excited since I hadn't seen pizza on an airplane before. But for some reason, they distributed "turkey sandwiches" instead. Actually, the salty stuff seemed more like ham if you ask me, but either way, the melted cheese inside was tasty enough that I'd actually buy this for lunch if someone were selling it near the office. Too bad the potatoes were still half-frozen though.

Roasted chicken with curry sauce, herbed basmati rice and creamed spinachAnd how is this for more curry on airplanes? Given the basmati rice and creamed spinach, I presume that this was meant to be more of an Indian than Japanese style, so I was a bit bummed to find it on the sweet side. Well, at least it was a nice alternative to the usual filet mignon.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Breakfast at Buck's of Woodside

Woodsider Omelette

Buck's is a fun, quirkily-decorated place tucked away in the quiet town of Woodside (3062 Woodside Road, 650-851-8010) where apparently many technology deals have been made due to its proximity to the venture capitalists in the area. I haven't been here in ages, but since I was in the neighborhood this morning, I figured that I'd head over and grab some breakfast before heading to the airport.

I ended up getting the aptly-named Woodsider omelette, which featured artichoke hearts, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, a touch of jack cheese, and a slice of avocado on top. After all of that artery-clogging food over the past week, this (and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice) was light enough to help clear the conscience...and I didn't even get the cholesterol-free egg option here. Add that to the fact that I was driving a (rented) Prius to wind down the small two-lane wooded road among all the bicycles, and this has got to be one of the most guilt-free times that I've had in a while.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Old Spaghetti Factory, San Jose

Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce

If the photo looks like a plain old boring plate of spaghetti, that's because it is. The food at this now nationwide chain isn't exactly anything to go nuts over, but having grown up on this stuff, it is kinda fun to go to, especially with the old musty decor here at the San Jose location (51 N. San Pedro St, 408-288-7488).

They do give loads of food (or as they say in Singapore, "value for money"). Ordering a $7 plate of spaghetti also gets you a salad/soup, tea/milk, bread, and ice cream. Actually, if you think about it, it's not that much different from a dormitory cafeteria given that they make truckloads of the same food for everyone (and it doesn't exactly taste much different from something you made yourself back in college). But of course it's not on those plastic trays and you do get served. Oh, the memories.

Cravings During a United Misconnect

Spicy Beef Sate Rice Stick w/Peanut

Delayed flights are never fun, especially when they force you to miss your connecting flight out of the country. That's what happened to me today, although at least it was at SFO. Oddly, the first thing that came to mind when I saw the departure gate closed was, "Damn, Tung Kee sounds pretty damned good right now."

So I headed down to the South Bay to hit up Tung Kee. The San Antonio Shopping Center location in Mountain View seems to have renamed itself to Luu New Tung Kee Noodle, apparently part of an internal family division even though the menus and concept are largely the same. My favorite "#2" seemed a bit mushier today than the ones I usually get at Tung Kee proper, but nonetheless this refreshing bowl of goodness still went down very quickly. Yum.

Arby's Roast Beef SandwichSadly, the other thing that I was craving was an Arby's Roast Beef Sandwich. Before you call me a pig for eating these two things within hours of each other, note that I intentionally got a small bowl at Luu's as well as the smallest version of roast beef at Arby's in order to save stomach space. Gotta love that Horsey Sauce.

Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan, SD

Clockwise from upper right: chorizo con huevo, roll taco, and menudo

Freed from the clutches of that corporate offsite, I was finally able to strike out on my own and head down here (1875 Logan Avenue, 619-234-4460), a place that was recommended a couple of times in the past. As luck would have it, they open early (6 AM) on Saturdays to serve menudo, so it was perfect timing for me to have another Mexican breakfast before heading to the airport.

I had never had menudo before, but everything that I had heard about it was that it was a dark red spicy bowl of offal, the thought of which just made me salivate. So I was a bit disappointed when I arrived to find that they made a clear version of it instead. Moreover, it was not spicy at all; it just tasted like boiled innards and hominy. I probably didn't dress it correctly with the onions, cilantro, lime, and oregano on the side, but I was hoping that it'd be a bit more spicy at least.

Well, the other items that I got went down quickly though, namely the chorizo con heuvo and the roll taco. Loaded with beans and bits of scrambled egg, the former was hearty and filling, even if I wish it were just a bit greasier. Probably more fun about coming down here was the neighborhood...I heard a number of comments ranging from it being a key historical part of San Diego to requiring a "bulletproof vest," but I knew that the latter had to have been overblown (and indeed, it was nothing to worry about). Just be sure to come here early since I understand that they tend to close up at around 2-3 PM.

Friday, September 21, 2007

George's on Fifth, San Diego

Prime Rib

This place, known as G5 for short, (835 5th Ave, 619-702-0440) was allegedly voted as one of the best steakhouses around...in 2002, anyway. So I was a bit puzzled to find it hardly filled on a Friday night in the Gaslamp Quarter. Anyway, they of course had plenty of cuts of meat available. I was in the mood for something on the juicier side, so I opted for their prime rib weekend special.

Whoa - what a letdown. The prime rib was surprisingly tough (it was quite a strain just to cut it with a knife and fork), and not all that tasty either. Sure, they gave a huge portion, but having all of that quantity actually became more of a burden given that I didn't really care too much for the taste. The quality of the artichoke that I got on the side was also disapppointingly tough near the base.

My colleagues who all got grilled steak seemed very happy with their selections though, so maybe it was just my bad luck and fault with ordering the wrong things (I suppose that prime rib should best be had at a prime rib restaurant instead). Or maybe my perception of beef has just been completely distorted by all of that wagyu that I've been eating lately.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge, San Diego

1/2 Lb Kobe Beef Burger

Being stuck at a corporate event this week meant getting dragged to this plasticky Polynesian themed place (801 Fifth Avenue, 619-233-1183), complete with tacky umbrella-attached mai tais and an odd menu featuring sushi and Korean ribs (but no spam musubi nor pork lau lau). The only thing that I could bring myself to order was the 1/2 lb Kobe beef burger. The relatively tasty and tender patty admittedly did go down quickly, but there wasn't really much else to get me excited. My dining companions didn't seem too happy with their selections either.

Anyway, more notable was how my Japanese colleague explained that Kobe and Matsusaka beef are considered to be the best in Japan, while Miyazaki comes in below that. I am not sure whether these guys here in San Diego really used Kobe beef or if it were a more generic wagyu, but at least it was reasonably priced at just $12.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

American Food from a Baseball Stadium

Hot Dog and Gordon Biersch Maerzen in a plastic bottle

Eating local food when heading to various countries is pretty much what this blog is all about. Not surprisingly, restaurants and street food are the usual venues for such an activity. But here in the US, there is one other place that would not normally come to mind: baseball stadiums. Yup, you got it. All of that beer, nuts, pizza, etc. that are so American are found right here at ballparks in true artery-clogging form. So it was great that we got out to PETCO Park out here in San Diego tonight.

Super NachosI ate a little of everything: a hot dog with onions and mustard, some "Super Nachos" topped with canned jalapeno slices scooped out from the condiment counter with a plastic spoon, a way too salty pretzel (so salty that I had to scrape off most of the salt...and get my hands all oily in the process), as well as Jamaican Jerk fries, which turned out to be dusted with a disappointingly sweet dark powder but ultimately still satiated the grease and salt cravings. All of this was of course washed down with plenty of beer, both of the Budweiser and Gordon Biersch Maerzen variety (in a heckler-safe plastic beer bottle for the latter, BTW). Gotta love it, even if it comes with a mild dose of guilt for such gluttony.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Cheesesteak from Northern California

Jersey's Cheesesteak

Here's a random cheesesteak that I picked up from a booth at one of the many art and wine festivals running in the South Bay this weekend. I was a bit surprised by how little meat was in this thing. Well, I've never been to Philly, so I am definitely no pro on how a "real" cheesesteak should be.

Still, it was extra greasy and tasty with all of the onions and cheese inside, so it did the job. I think a run of the US East Coast is in order soon either way...getting a cheesesteak sandwich in California is like trying to get a bagel out here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

La Victoria Taqueria, San Jose

Super Nachos with the Orange Sauce looming behind

My friends out here can't stop raving about "La Vic's," a late night Mexican place conveniently located next to a number of watering holes (131 West Santa Clara Street, 408-993-8230, with other locations in the area). So after a few drinks in downtown tonight, we popped on over to get a bite.

I got the Super Nachos loaded with lengua beef tongue, which definitely satiated the cravings on its own. But the reason why this place is so famous is because of the so-called "orange sauce." That's an orange-colored (not orange-flavored) hot sauce sitting in plastic squeeze bottles that apparently has been quite a bit of a discussion itself. Some say that it's made from mayonnaise, some say that it's made from ranch dressing, and yet others say that it's made from chorizo grease (apparently to the dismay of a number of vegans). I'm not sure which one it is, but I'm inclined to believe the last one given how explosively rich the sauce was. I only needed one little squirt on my food before exclaiming, "Damn, that's pretty f*ckin' good." Mmm...now I know what all of the buzz is about.

These guys are very proud of the sauce, running taglines such as "Home of the Orange Sauce" and "Orange you glad you tried La Victoria." Even as we left the place, I heard passers-by saying stuff like "that place is the best" and "we gotta steal the sauce," all literally within seconds of each other. Perhaps the latter is the reason why they strictly allowed only one bottle per table inside (although it is for sale if you want to buy some for yourself). Yup, the orange sauce is the reason for coming here. It may not be very healthy, but post-drinking grease bombs rarely are.

Alexander's Steakhouse, Cupertino, CA

Alexander's Prime Rib

This has been one of the hottest spots in the South Bay recently. Located on the former grounds of the Vallco El Torito (10330 North Wolfe Road, 408-446-2222), Alexander's is actually - as they put it - a "fine dining interpretation of the classic American steakhouse with hints of Japanese influence laced into the menu." The menu was complete with everything from mashed potatoes and wedge salads to hot stones and even an omakaze option. Clearly steak was the main draw here though, with many cuts around $40, as well as extreme Miyazaki beef options ranging from $175 to $250, depending on the cut.

I was a bit torn. Having just had the most amazing beef in Kobe itself a couple weeks ago, I could have backed off this time and gone for a "normal" cut of beef instead, especially since this Miyazaki beef was literally two times the price of the already budget-breaking price I paid in Kobe. And yet, I also figured that I knew how far that extra money could go, based upon that Kobe experience. Sitting on the fence right up to the point when the waiter asked me what I wanted, I took the plunge and went for the New York cut of the Miyazaki, the cheapest of the three Miyazaki options. Besides, I figured that maybe the price was more expensive because it was of better quality (and/or more quantity) than what I got in Kobe.

Miyazaki beef - New York cutWhen it arrived, my heart sunk. Indeed, the cut was so small that I immediately muttered, "I'm going to need more food." Sure, the premium was partially justified as the marbled fat melted away in your mouth. But there were one or two pieces that were mildly tougher than I would have thought for this kind of price, and I wasn't a big fan of having sauce drizzled over it either. In contrast, my neighbor's prime rib - one of the cheapest cuts on the menu, mind you - was much more down to earth and simply tasted great.

Whole Artichoke with Jalapeno AoliNonetheless, I was very impressed with the restaurant itself, with its impeccable service and snazzy decor (it was amusing to see the transformation of that central atrium of the old El Torito). And despite my personal experience with the Miyazaki beef, the food here was outstanding, even down to my (surprisingly oily but tasty) side of grilled artichoke, complete with jalapeno aoli. (What could be more Californian than that?) Would I come back again? Yes, I would. But I'll steer away from the Miyazaki beef...at those prices, I'd rather fly to Japan and eat it there.

Huevos Rancheros from San Jose, California

Huevos Rancheros

When venturing off to other lands, be sure to eat a local breakfast, right? So what could be more fitting here in San Jose than a hearty plate of huevos rancheros to kick start the day? This Mexican multiple-egg dish covered in melted cheese complete with beans and rice definitely made for an early excess of cholesterol, but it sure filled me up (I'm ready to go back to bed for another nap!). I don't suppose that a pork-filled taco for breakfast would be much healthier.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Florentine Restaurant and Pasta Markets

Florentine's Bread and Cheese Spread

These guys have been here in San Jose (1057 Blossom Hill Road, 408-723-3211) for ages; we used to come here quite a bit when growing up. And the main reason for coming here was their signature bread and cheese spread. Light and hot from the oven, these triangularly cut pieces of bread go perfectly with the soft spreadable (processed?) cheese spread.

We came here tonight out of convenience, and the bread proved just as addictive as it was more than 15 years ago. That says a lot coming from a guy who doesn't really like bread.

Unfortunately, the meals themselves can be rather forgettable. But not to worry; you'll fill yourself up plenty with all of that bread. I suppose that the takeout section of this place could come in handy though, especially with their packed lunches.

"Singapore Noodles" from the US

Singapore Noodles

Here we go...now we finally have some "Singapore Noodles," complete with that signature yellow curry powder. This plate from a random Chinese take-out here in California wasn't exactly anything that I wanted to come running back for again, but it was pertinent given the discussion about Singapore Noodles recently.

A Couple of UA Long Haul Meals

Scrambled eggs with grilled chicken sausage, corned beef hash, sauteed spinach, and oven-roasted tomato with herbs

Here were some of the meals on today's UA long haul from to San Francisco. It was good to see that there was no omelette on the way up either; I did like those "scrambled" eggs and corned beef hash, as well as the very small portion of overcooked (but still tasty) pasta on the way in. It was also very relieving to be able to access the famous Narita Beer Machine halfway there.

Home-style pork tonkatsu with Japanese-style curry sauce

Connecting on from Narita, it was good to see not just one, but two Japanese meal selections available (the non-Japanese meal was - you guessed it - filet mignon). I was very happy to see katsu kare featured, especially in light of recent discussions about Japanese curry on airplanes. Unfortunately, the tonkatsu was not anything to write home about (and the curry didn't exactly hit the right marks either), but hey, this was on an airplane after all. Let's hope that United keeps more variety coming.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mee Goreng from Niakmath, River Valley

Mee Goreng

Here are some local stir fried mee goreng noodles from a random shop along River Valley (421 River Valley Road, 6235-4743). They were much spicier than I was expecting, so I gobbled this up pretty quickly, even if it ended up being a bit on the salty side.

Like most places on this part of River Valley, these guys are known for being open late, so I'm sure that it'd make for a nice spicy post-drinking grease bomb one of these days.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Munchy Donut, Millenia Walk

From front: Traditional Donut and Typhoon Oreo

For whatever reason, there's been this huge doughnut craze in Singapore recently, with ridiculous lines flowing out of each shop. Yet this one at Millenia Walk (#01-103A) had no lines tonight, so we stopped in for a quick snack. I liked my Typhoon Oreo, which despite its somewhat frightening appearance, was oozing with just enough sweetness to make me inhale this still-warm item quickly. The traditional donut, however, wasn't that memorable, perhaps only for the reason that it wasn't greasy enough. At least they were both soft and fresh.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spice Junction, Race Course Road, Singapore

Mutton Vindaloo

This is the Goan place that we missed last time (126 Race Course Road, 6341-7980). I've never been to Goa, so I have no idea how authentic this is, but this was indeed one of the best renditions of vindaloo that I've had. Well-balanced between being spicy and tangy, it was mildly sweet (not to mention oily), but not annoyingly so. The meat was tender, and it all went down in the blink of an eye.

Actually, it looks like it's technically a Keralan place that happened to get into Goan food too. As such, I grabbed a glass of sambharam, some buttermilk-based Keralan drink popular in the summertime. To my surprise, this white-colored drink was not only salty, but also delightfully spicy, so much that I got another one (was it like that stuff I got on Jet Airways that one time?).

We may not have ordered much tonight, but everything that we had (right down to the very thin and fresh papadum) was so good that we're coming back without hesitation. And I'm definitely getting more of that sambharam stuff.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Brunch from The Prime Society

Pork Ribs in Bourbon Sauce

Cool...it looks like The Prime Society here on Singapore's Dempsey Road is serving brunch. And it's quite a different menu, although they still featured some basic steaks and ribs. I grabbed the latter, which turned out to be much better than I thought it would be, with tasty meat and a bourbon sauce that enhanced rather than overpowered it.

Still, the service today was rather sketchy (they forgot one of our orders and neglected to ask if we wanted more drinks even though the glasses were clearly empty). And again, the portions here were ridiculously small. It's too bad, since I've had half-decent experiences with the taste of the food itself.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Braised Yellowtail and Radish on SQ

Braised Yellowtail and Radish

This was the Japanese selection on the return flight from SQ today, featuring "braised yellowtail and radish." I originally got it because I love daikon. And while that part of the meal satiated my cravings, the fish was rather dry, and just not that enjoyable. My quite taste of the other selection ("sauteed sliced beef in creamy green peppercorn sauce") was much more exciting. At least the soba in this meal wasn't as soggy as it was on the outbound leg.

Perhaps even more interesting was the little color pamphlet that I picked up in the SilverKris lounge that actually illustrated all of the food choices complete with photographs for both biz and econ class flights from Osaka. I suspect that it was something that the Japan office of Singapore Airlines does for its local clientele...do the Japanese airlines do that too?

Ambasa - a Competitor to Calpis?

AmbasaHere's another quick one to add to the local drink discussion: Ambasa, which I found at a vending machine at Kansai airport. This white yogurty (but thin and carbonated) stuff from The Coca-Cola Company seemed like Calpis soda. I couldn't really tell the difference between the two, but I did like this.

Kansai Udon from Dotombori

Kama Age Udon

The Kansai region apparently has its own version of udon, so we stopped by a random shop on Dotombori today to give it a try. When I asked for a recommendation, I was suggested the 680 Yen (US$6) kama-age. I had no idea what it was, but was glad to see that it was a bit different with its separate dipping sauce featuring a raw (quail?) egg in the middle. And unlike cold zaru soba or tsukemen, the plain noodles were kept warm on the side.

Anyway, the noodles themselves were thinner and sleeker than the fat ones that we are used to seeing overseas. This particular shop also had a glass window at the counter where you could see right into the kitchen, so it was very interesting to see how they took the noodles out of hot water and dipped them in cold water before putting them back in the hot water, all the while being very careful to keep the noodles from bunching up.

Man, am I going to miss Osaka. This has got to be one of the few places in the world where the main food district actually has a gastronomy information center to help people navigate the zillions of restaurants packed into this one street. One could seriously stay on this street alone for months and still never get through them all.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Kobe Ninniku-ya in Osaka, Japan

Japan's answer to the bagna calda

I'd been to a Ninniku-ya in Tokyo about six years ago, but I'm not sure if this is from the same group, seeing how most of these guys' locations seem to be in the Kansai region instead. (Is that one in Honolulu related to these guys?) Anyway, the restaurant's name literally translates into "The Garlic Shop," so as you can imagine, this is in many ways Japan's answer to The Stinking Rose in San Francisco, featuring garlic in nearly everything.

Witness the sauteed garlic clove starter above, which is similar to the Stinking Rose's bagna calda, but the key difference being that there is no bread to spread it on. Instead, you simply dip into the salt and/or oil and then deposit the whole thing right into your mouth, cleansing off your palate with the shiso leaf, should you so choose. Other items tended to be even more Japanese, such as the karaage, gyutan, or chahan, all of which were of course seasoned with a healthy dose of garlic.

Watari Kani SupagetteOne item that they seemed particularly proud of was the crab spaghetti. This was of course done in a very localized Japanese fashion, with very firm noodles and a slightly sweet (yet pleasantly rich) sauce. There wasn't really much meat in these tiny flower crabs to extract, but perhaps that's where the sauce got its sweetness from?

Yes, there definitely is a bit of a novelty and excitement to be had at a place that specializes in garlic. And while I like Ninniku-ya better than The Stinking Rose, I probably still won't make a huge effort to come back here next time I'm in town. Don't get me wrong; I'm really glad that we came here tonight, and it is an interesting place to check out if you're in the area (we went to the one on the second floor of the Hotel New Hankyu Annex). But there are just so many darned places to eat in this city that I want to try too, particularly those cool-looking standing bars. So many delicacies, so little time.

Matsuya's Kimukaru-don and Gyumoshi

Kimukaru don

Matsuya is one of Yoshinoya's big competitors in Japan, and today they seemed to be promoting some sort of yakiniku variant with thicker karubi meat and topped with kimuchi. We stopped on in for a quick pre-dinner snack to see if it were any good.

To my surprise, it was (and for sure my perception has been messed up by that disappointing experience at Yoshinoya Singapore). I also liked the very thin and tender meat in the gyudon (called gyumoshi here), especially when complemented with that huge selection of sauces at each station. I presume that they are using US beef these days?

Anago from Kassui-ken, Himeji

Anago

Saltwater eel is apparently a local specialty in Himeji. So we grabbed a couple anago lunches today at this shop in Himeji Koko-en (0792-89-4131). It was definitely leaner (and hence less tasty) than its freshwater counterpart, unagi, but I suppose that it still did the job on its own. I'll probably opt for the freshwater version if confronted with the choice though.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"Premium" Local Drinks from Japan

Asahi Prime Time and The Premium Calpis

It's time for another local drink update. "The Premium Calpis" was a Calpis variant that I hadn't seen before, so I had to give it a try. It turned out to be so rich and thick that it seemed like drinking straight yogurt. I didn't really care for it that much; I'll stick to Calpis soda instead.

And I really don't remember much about that beer on the left, but it sure was a nice looking can with a rather amusing tagline of about letting oneself go. Indeed.

French Fries from a Japanese Vending Machine

Furaido Poteto

Here are some French fries from a Japanese vending machine. Not surprisingly, they were a bit soggy like when you microwave leftover fries. But they did come out piping hot (and with a little packet of salt on the side). And for the purposes of a quick midnight snack, they served their purpose, even if 450 Yen (US$3.90) does seem a bit pricey.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tamayu Ramen from Arauma, Osaka

Tamayu Ramen

I'm not sure if I know what tamayu ramen is (is it named after the hot springs?), but this was pretty darned good, with its salty rich broth and thin slices of meat. This was from a shop near the east entrance of the JR Osaka station, and I liked how they kept the noodles firm, not to mention leaving big bowls of kimuchi and bamboo shoots in the center of the restaurant for you to grab at will. I guess that those dark spots were some special kind of soy sauce or something?

Sake-based Soap from Hakutsuru

Sake-based soap

For some reason, I've got a bit of a sub-theme going on with alcohol-flavored soaps, so it was a bit amusing to see this soap here at the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum (4-5-5 Sumiyoshiminami-machi, Higashinada-ku, 078-822-8907). Actually, I can't really read the writing on the label, so I'm not sure if it's really sake-based (or is it just rice-based?), but it seems to be the right assumption.

Anyway, it was cool finding the area east of Kobe abundant with sake breweries, a bit akin to Napa Valley back home. And just as with wine tasting, this stuff is apparently supposed to be sniffed and swirled in your mouth before spitting it out (gotta love free samples). If you come out here, hit up the Kobe Information Center just south of the JR Sannomiya station and ask for a map of the sake breweries in Nada, where you can hop east on the Hanshin line and go from brewery to brewery.

Beef Teppanyaki from Kikusui, Kobe

Cutting up the Kobe beef

Kobe is where it all began; that is, where the Japanese were allegedly first introduced to the concept of eating beef. And of course everyone knows the fame with which Kobe surged to afterwards in the world of beef. So while we were out here on a quick day trip to Kobe, we had to get some of it, right? There were of course plenty of shops selling it. We hit up this one on the second floor of the King Stone Building (the first floor is their butchery) across from the Benetton store just north of the Sannomiya subway station (their phone number is 078-392-0048...I think it's Kitanozaka Avenue?).

Guess which one is the more expensive Kobe beef?Specializing in teppanyaki, these guys actually offered some very affordable lunch sets, including the so-called sliced steak set at only 1900 Yen (US$16.50). But of course there was the standard Kobe beef meal too...up to a whopping 12,000 Yen (US$105). Yes, it was expensive, but I had to try it. We also grabbed one of those cheap sets so that we could make a comparison.

The Kobe beef set started with beef sashimi and tataki starters, neither of which seemed to stand out too much (presumably since they used a lower-grade beef for those?), although they certainly weren't bad either. When we finally reached the grilled beef though, things really took off. Actually, the basic (cheaper) beef was already pretty darned tender and tasty, but when we got to the Kobe beef, my face lit up with such a huge smile that I literally started laughing with joy. OH DAMN, that was good! I mean, I'd had wagyu beef before, but this was just pure heaven; I hardly even needed to chew as the little cubes of richness practically melted in my mouth (yeah, it tasted a bit like butter or foie gras). I didn't even bother with any of those dips that they gave, lest they cover up the natural taste of the beef, although those thin garlic chips and gourmet salt did spin it in another nice direction when used moderately. This stuff was so spectacular that you could probably convert a few vegetarians with it.

Without a doubt, this was one of the best meals that I have ever had (Morton's doesn't even stand a chance against this). Sure, it cleared out my wallet in a hurry, but it was worth every single penny. Even if that Kobe beef price blows the budget, give that basic set a shot. I really liked that other grilled beef, and in fact would be praising it quite a bit if that Kobe version didn't provide such a distraction. I'm still salivating at the thought of that stuff. Thumbs up...waayyyy up!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Couple of Local Specialties from Osaka

Takoyaki

Here's a couple other local Osakan specialties, the first of which is takoyaki. We went to some side stall on Dotombori, selling six scorching hot balls for 300 Yen (US$2.60). I couldn't quite tell the difference between this stall's (Hon Ke Nippon Ichi Ohtako, 6211-5233) and another's, but these each came with one very fresh cut of octopus inside, presumably the reason why these guys in particular seemed quite popular.

Kushiage

Next we went further south towards Tennoji to Shinsekai, the far end of which was filled with various kushiage shops. These were basically various cuts of skewered meat similar to kushiyaki, but battered and deep fried instead. In that sense, it is a bit like Old Chang Kee or even some Scottish fry shops, given that they will even batter up things like kimchi, mochi, and gyoza. My favorite of the bunch though was the cheese...melted straight through and oozing of delight. Yum. We loved these so much that we ordered a couple more.

If all of this sounds artery-clogging, it was. Fortunately, the batter in this kushikatsu shop was was fairly light, and they do give standard issue cabbage to help cut through the grease. It's interesting that all of these local items (and that other local specialty, okonomiyaki) all feature that dark sweet sauce too. It's a taste that I don't mind from time to time, but I wouldn't be able to eat that grease and dark sauce combination all of the time. We got some simple zaru udon at a separate stall afterwards just to help purge our systems.

Kani Doraku on Dotombori in Osaka

Yaki Kani

We made our way down to the southern Minami part of Osaka today, where a number exciting things awaited, most notably Dotombori, the site of the famous Kuidaore clown as well as Kani Doraku (1-6-2 Dotombori, 6211-8975, with other locations across the city), home of the giant moving crab on its signboard. Sure, it was a bit touristy, but I love crab, and nothing was going to stop me from eating here.

The thing that I really looked forward to was the yaki kani. It's certainly common to have crab boiled, steamed, or sauteed, but not grilled on a fire, so I got really excited about this. As it turned out, it didn't really make that much of a difference in taste, but there was definitely no complaining about this either as crab is still crab. The kani guratan (crab au gratin) with melted cheese and mushrooms sitting in an inverted crab's shell hit the spot as well.

Don't come down here expecting cheap prices though. Many of the full crab offerings featuring multiple ways to prepare a crab (including grilling it yourself at the built-in tables) went for 5000 Yen (US$43) and upwards. The two items that we got were actually just little side dishes that barely even dented our appetites, and yet still ran up quite a tab. But it was definitely worth coming to, even if just to check out what is practically a landmark in the city.

Another Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Rice Breakfast Set

Here's another hotel-provided Japanese breakfast. I've never been a huge fan of those little kaiseki-like things in the middle, so i was hoping that the fish would pull through today instead. Unfortunately, the fish was pretty dry, so it pretty much became a pickle/seaweed, rice, and soup meal for me.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Battera Oshizushi from Osaka

Battera

This was cool. In contrast to the hand-pressed version of sushi common today, oshizushi is an older Osakan variety made by pressing rice into a wooden rectangular box. The vinegar and strong odor of the fish in this battera that I got tonight may not be appealing to everyone, but I liked it. And the coolest thing about it was that it was only 350 Yen (US$3), wrapped up nicely in layers of clean wrapping paper and available for pick up at various train stations.

Okonomi Yukari, Osaka

Mixed Okonomiyaki

When in the Kansai region, get okonomiyaki, right? I've admittedly never really been that big of a fan of it, but this is practically mandatory eating here, so we stopped on in to grab a quick bite. These guys in particular have been around since 1953 and apparently have spread into quite a chain, with us spotting at least three outlets right here around Umeda station. I got some kind of seafood selection, which the lady mixed and grilled at our table for us. It was fine, but we've certainly filled our cholesterol quota for the day. Maybe next time I'll give that thinner negiyaki variety a spin instead.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Yakitori Akiyoshi near Umeda Station

Negi Kushiyaki

This was a completely random shop that I stopped at here in Osaka (I can't read the address but I think it's on Ohatsutenjin Dori on the first floor of the US Biru building...the phone number is 06-6316-0753). To be honest, I wasn't even sure of what kind of food they were serving when I walked in. But my question was answered I saw a very long U-shaped counter surrounding a yakitori grill in the middle. There was also an interesting metal running board of sorts built into the top of the counter, where they placed your freshly grilled meat selections directly onto. At first I wasn't quite sure why, but I later realized that there was some kind of heating element underneath to keep the meat warm. Veggies, however, got their own separate ceramic plates.

As Eddie Murphy says...now that's a FIRE!I got my usual favorites, although they did a number of things differently here. Take for instance the kawa, which was cut surprisingly thick. That meant that it wasn't going to be the thin crispy bits of heaven that I had come to love so much, but fortunately this wasn't soggy either and was still full of that yummy chicken skin taste. They also paired it with a yellow Chinese mustard that was so strong that it almost brought a tear to my eye. I asked for a recommendation as well. And while I'm not quite sure exactly what it was that he gave me, I suspect that it was intestine, judging by the tough texture (like eating a giant rubber band) but full of tasty grease that oozed out with every bite.

Still, this wasn't exactly the runaway hit that I was looking for (it turns out that this is actually one big chain across the country). Indeed, after walking back out onto the street, I came across an endless number of restaurants with every turn in the surrouding Hanku Higashidori area, such that I immediately regretted not having shopped around further before sitting down at this place. Well, the sheer number of restaurants in this area is simply mindblowing, and it's going to be very fun taking a go at many more of them in the upcoming week.

Japanese Beef Curry on Singapore Airlines

Japanese Beef Curry

I've had curry on SQ flights before, but never Japanese curry, so I was rather excited to see this on the menu today. And I'm really glad that it was printed on the menu, since the flight attendants merely called it "beef with rice" when going down the aisles.

Unfortunately, it was quite a letdown, being way too sweet for my taste. The soba on the side was also way too soft to be exciting. Then again, we're in midair, so I suppose that it's not very fair to expect anything like the freshly-made stuff from restaurants.

A Continental Breakfast on SQ

Continental Breakfast

Here's the continental breakfast from SQ's peanut class. In contrast to other flights where the continental breakfast is usually the light alternative to an omelette or something, this was the only choice today.