Pretty Good Number One bucket list


Go to Tokyo. Visit the Odaiba Takoyaki Museum. Practise using chopsticks correctly and buy a (few) pairs at Kappabashi. Eat shave ice and watch fireworks (and people) on the Sumida river bank in July. Eat pan-fried soup dumplings in a neighborhood dumpling restaurant in Nakano. Eat “hone” (pronounced |hoh-nay|, meaning: deep-fried sea eel backbone). Stop eating eel because they’re in the red on the Seafood Watch list. Thanks to Matthew Amster-Burton’s book, I’ve had the first 7 items on my bucket list figured out (it’s a bucket list, not a to-do list because of the stop-eating-eel thing). I can’t wait to do them (except the stop-eating-eel thing). If a few months ago I was complacent with imaginatively traveling through books, Pretty Good Number One throws one delicious, chuckle-inducing paragraph after another to my face and say “go to Tokyo, you lazy donkey”. Just about the most expensive place to visit in the world, thanks, Mr. Amster-Burton. Except for the part where he describes Chinese green tea as having “a hint of smoky barbecue” and how red bean paste is an acquired taste for Westerners (because beans are supposed to show up in savory [...]

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Beautiful meals at Iyasare


In less than a month since its opening, everybody I know on 4th Street has been to Iyasare, from the regular shoppers to the shop owners, and everybody praises it. The restaurant, operated by former Yoshi’s executive chef Shotaro Kamio, replaces the equally cute and also Japanese O Chame. The two restaurants have different concepts, of course, and experiencing both in the same space – reminiscing on O Chame’s menu and atmosphere while savoring Iyasare’s – was like tasting the fleeting grandeur of ukiyo-e aesthetics in the most delicious way possible. A beautiful arrangement: ikura (salmon roe), ankimo (monkfish liver), hotate (scallop, the white thing that is barely visible next to razor-thin slices of radish), mackerel (silvery grey, also almost invisible under the radish), and 4 beautiful sweet lobes of uni (sea urchin roe, on the maple leaf) ($22). The ankimo has a thick and dried rind, its flavors were a tad salty and smokey for my taste.(*) The uni was extra-creamy but a little too soft. The ikura was some lovely bubbles. You can order a side of sushi rice with the sashimi. Or just sushi [...]

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One shot: Ramen burger – is it worth the hype?


Through words of mouth (from a kid that comes to my office hour, to be precise), I learned that the ramen burger is here in Berkeley. Hah, you don’t have to be in LA or NY or SF to eat this (relatively) new craze(*). Mashable has a guide to make it yourself, but why go through the trouble when you can buy it? Unlike all other hypes that turn out to be various degrees of meh (in no order, truffles, caviar, foie gras, Cheeseboard, M.Y. China, Fentons, et cetera), the ramen burger is delicious. I gorged it down, completely defeated. Farewell, my hype-bashing days. So Oishi in Berkeley dishes out 3 types of ramen burgers ($9 each): pulled pork (with wasabi mayo), grilled chicken (with ginger miso sauce), and the usual beef patty (with teriyaki sauce). (You can ask them to swap the sauce.) We had enough sense to avoid the chicken burger (who wouldn’t?!), and were split between pork and beef. Both types contain sauteed mushroom and come with “Japanese fries” (katsuobushi and Japanese mayo). Both sides finished with complete satisfaction. [...]

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One shot: soba lunch at Ippuku


The luxury of cold noodles on colder days. Everything was perfect, from the taste of wasabi in the noodle dipping sauce to the tail end of those shrimps. So perfect that I couldn’t properly focus my camera phone. Too bad Chef Koichi Ishii only makes the soba on Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 1 pm. Pictured: Ten zaru soba (soba with tempura shrimps and vegetables) – $18. More details on what’s in the picture are here.

One shot: Ramen Underground ramen


This ramen shop in the Financial district looks cute. Black walls with Japanese writings, a clock with numbers spelled out in hiragana, and a t-shirt that (I assume) sells for 3000 yen (~30 USD). The owners seem to try keeping it as hole-in-the-wall as possible (to make it appear authentic?). Of course, despite what the name might suggest, it’s not actually underground, nor do you need any special thing to get in. All basic ramens are $8 with $1 toppings. The basic ramen contains your choice of broth, pork (chashu), scallion and mushroom. My miso ramen with extra kakuni (braised pork belly). The mushroom is raw (not only is that just wrong – think about cold mushroom in a luke warm broth! bleh!, enoki would have made a MUCH better ramen companion than portobello T_T). There’s ONE puny slice of chashu. The broth is fine but it’s missing something… (more pork, probably!!!) At least the noodle is chewy. [...]

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one shot: Salmon ramen at The Ramen Shop

Hokkaido butter corn miso ramen with smoked king salmon, pork belly, soy-marinated egg, snap peas, chrysanthemum greens, and shiitake.

Hokkaido butter corn miso ramen with smoked king salmon, pork belly, soy-marinated egg, snap peas, chrysanthemum greens, and shiitake. ($16) Okay so, The Ramen Shop is not a place I would go alone. I think eating there alone would be particularly wonderful because ramen is the type of food to be eaten alone, and although the lighting might be too low for reading, it’s hard to read while slurping noodles anyway. BUT, the wait is just too horrible. This place has been hyped up since its opening in January, and it stays hyped. No sensical lone diner should wait an hour for a bowl of ramen. It’s good ramen, though. I didn’t expect too much, and I was satisfied. [...]

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Beyond Food Porn: Chirashi at Musashi


Mai has written quite favorably about Musashi in a past post but I have to write about a particular dish that has been about the best thing I’ve eaten in a restaurant lately.   [...]

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Sushi California – great sushi, even greater korokke


For a while I knew nothing about Japanese food, then within less than one year, I’ve found three places in Berkeley to satisfy my Japanese cravings. To get yakitori, guaranteed quality and to impress friends, I go to Ippuku. For a homey meal at affordable price and convenient distance, I swing by Musashi. For sushi and croquette, Sushi California tops the list. Its name is generic and its location rather hidden, had Kristen not shared a Berkeleyside review on my Facebook wall some time ago, I would never have noticed Sushi California, much less tried (I tend to stay away from generic names because they often imply generic food). Then Kristen totally forgot about the place. One day I asked her “wanna try Sushi California?” – What’s that? – The place you posted on my wall… – … The biggest reason that I remembered Sushi California before going there was this line in Anna Mindess’ review: “Chef Arakaki admits that he used to offer other Okinawan classics like goya champura (sautéed bitter melon) but they did not sell well.” I love bitter melon, and even more than [...]

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B-Dama – Taste fresher than fresh


Why don’t I like spicy food? For the same reason I don’t like cupcakes, Chicago pizza or anything that has too much of something for me to taste anything else. For the same reason I shunned sushi for almost 10 years: the first time I had sushi I scooped a spoonful of the lovely green paste into my mouth. Those were 10 years that I could have enjoyed so many hamachi nigiri. It’s sad. But that aside, for the same reason that I dislike spicy food, I like B-Dama so much more than I expected. It’s a tiny tiny Japanese restaurant in Piedmont. Its menu doesn’t boast anything particularly breath-taking to draw me out of the comfort of my home, except that I once saw Kristen post on Facebook a picture of the ankimo (monkfish liver) from B-Dama, and Kristen and I have had more than two failed attempts to eat there together just because the restaurant was either closed or too busy when we popped in. When you can’t have something, you want it more. Then the day finally arrived. My friend and I tried the ridiculously popular Geta [...]

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One bite: Harusame soup at Cha-Ya

Kinoko harusame ($8.50) - potato starch glass noodle soup with mushroom (shimeji, eryngii, enoki, hiratake (oyster mushroom), portobello mushroom and shiitake.

Kinoko harusame (~$8) – potato starch glass noodle soup with mushroom (shimeji, eryngii, enoki, hiratake (oyster mushroom), portobello mushroom and shiitake. Japanese glass noodle (harusame 春雨) is different from Vietnamese glass noodle: it’s made from potato starch (instead of mung bean starch or canna starch), it’s much thicker (like a spaghetti, whereas Vietnamese glass noodle is like a capellini), and it has a softer chew. With that vegan broth sweetened by mushroom, it was comforting. [...]

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