Friday, September 26, 2014

Ippuku, Berkeley

Hisashiburi!  Long time no see!  I'm sorry I have not updated in so long.  As you can imagine, with the move to Oakland, the job search, getting a SUPER busy job, and starting to plan for a wedding, I have been overwhelmed with everything.  Moments to sit and relax, much less blog, have been few and far in between.

I have adjusted well to life in Oakland, although the lack of decent ramen and Japanese food has been hard to adapt to.  Of course, now that I'm away from LA and I can't have excellent ramen and any Japanese food I could ever want, Japanese food is all I want to eat.  Marc introduced me to Geta, a Japanese place with fresh, healthy choices, reasonable prices, and generous portions.  It's become a regular to-go option for me (the restaurant itself is TINY and there's always a wait).  I haven't started exploring the ramen choices because I don't want to be disappointed.

What I've REALLY been craving, however, is yakitori.  Chicken and other meat on a stick, preferably cooked over a charcoal grill.  We have Ozumo nearby, but their prices are high.  We also tried B-dama, Geta's sister restaurant, but they stopped serving yakitori.  Boo.

Tonight after a long week at work (these days, they're all long), we headed up to Downtown Berkeley and tried Ippuku.  It's a little hard to see from the photo, but it's a small storefront that has carved a little nook on Center Street.  With the wooden entrance and noren curtains, you feel like you've walked off the street in Berkeley and into a restaurant in Ebisu or off Omotesando in Tokyo.

I wish I could have gotten pictures of the inside, but they have a no cell-phone policy and I tried to be respectful.  We were also standing at the outside bar, so we didn't have the best angle of the bar and the tables.  There were sake and whiskey bottles galore, and cute little booths with lots of wood.

We couldn't get a reservation, so the host said we could wait at the bar and order food from the bartender until we got a table.  The host said it would be a 30-45 minute wait.  We never actually got a table and we were there over an hour.

BUT, it was an enjoyable hour if I tried not to think about how I spent the whole day standing and here I was, standing at a bar and eating my dinner.  The bartender was a really cool guy and you could tell that he enjoyed his job.  He was happy to help people select a sake and made drinks with precision like the bartenders you see on Japanese travel shows.

The Ippuku menu is in Japanese and English (click to enlarge)

I didn't want the bartender to get mad so we had to sneak a photo of the umeshu jar.  You can kind of see the little plums hanging out at the bottom of the jar.

I knew we were in a good place when we walked in and the first thing I saw was their jar of umeshu nekasu-ing on the counter.  My brain isn't working now.  The right word is not marinating, but that's what those little plums have been doing in the alcohol and sugar for a year.  Most places here (LA, the US) serve the bottled kind, usually the Choya brand.  So Ippuku already got like 1,000 points for making their own.  I love umeshu.  It is such a perfect summer drink.  I got an ume sour, where he mixed the umeshu with soda and ice.  It was so refreshing.  Marc had the Hibiki whiskey.   All their whiskeys were aged for at least 12 years.

Chicken Karaage
Initially we only ordered the chicken karaage because we thought we were waiting for a table.  The chicken was crispy and juicy.  I wish it came with some Kewpie mayonnaise.  That would have made it perfect.

Momo (thigh) Shio and Tsukune (meatball) with tare/sauce

Another angle of the tsukune
The momo/thigh up close
 We were so hungry so we slowly started ordering more food.  My favorite yakitori is negima with shio,  salted chicken thigh with scallions, but they didn't have it so I just ordered the momo/chicken thigh with salt.  My second favorite is tsukune/chicken meatball with tare/sauce.  Both had perfect, smoky char from the grill and were super juicy.  The menu said they use chicken from Hoffman Farms in Manteca.  Clearly those are some healthy chickens.  It actually tasted like chicken!

Just so you know, they also had tsukune called tsuku-tama, which is also a chicken meatball that came with an egg yolk.  This one had a red star next to it because the chicken is still pink inside.  That's not what we ordered.  I like the yolk, but I'm too American and I can't eat chicken that is not fully cooked.

He serves water in hibiki whiskey bottles
Nama Yuba with Wasabi
Mune/breast with tare/sauce
Buta bara/pork belly with spicy miso
At this point it had been 45 minutes and we hadn't heard from the host, so we just decided to order everything else that we wanted to try.  Well, ALMOST everything else.  I wanted to try their Fallon Hills Ranch beef tataki, but I was afraid to because it was $20 and we're on a budget.  Afterwards Marc said I could have ordered it.   Also, I wanted to order a skewer of kawa/skin, but the couple next to us had ordered it and the restaurant had run out of kawa.  And of course, because I was with Mr. Nothing of the Sea, I didn't bother ordering the uni/sea urchin with ponzu.  Our neighbors ordered it, so I just satisfied myself by staring at theirs.  Which was weird, but oh well.

Yuzu and shochu cocktail

House made chicken gyoza
I noticed the bartender making a drink with a green and yellow citrus from a big bowl on his countertop.  He would juice the citrus add the fresh juice to the drink right before he served it to the customer.  I thought it was sudachi at first because they were so green, but he said it was yuzu.  I thought yuzu was all yellow, and maybe it is supposed to be when it is ripe.  He made me the drink, which had shochu/hooch, syrup, and fresh yuzu.  The yuzu wasn't as fragrant as it could have been, so the drink was OK.  Still, it was cool that he uses fresh yuzu.  At the end I saw him give a guy half a grapefruit and he had to juice it himself and add it to the drink.  I wonder what that was about.

We had yuba, which is made by cooking soy milk and pulling the skin off the top.  It sounds unattractive, but it's one of my favorite things.  It wasn't as delicate as the one in Kyoto, but it was still fresh and tasty, especially when you added shoyu and mixed in the wasabi.

Marc wanted chicken breast with tare/sauce and I wanted the pork belly.  Again, they were both perfectly grilled, especially the pork belly.  They grilled off most of the fat so that it was crispy and not flabby.  The miso was a nice touch.

We had planned on ending with the chicken udon, but we were getting full so we ended with the chicken gyoza (probably should have started with these and the fried chicken)(with beer).  They were also perfect, nice and crunchy on the bottom, very flavorful on the inside.  They added the ra-yu spicy oil already and it was nice.

Ippuku was expensive, but I really feel like it was worth it.  The food was delicious and there was just so much care put into all the details.  Just make sure you call ahead and make a reservation because even though the bartender was super cool, I would rather sit and eat.

[UPDATE: Definitely make a reservation ahead of time. Ippuku was in the New York Times Travel section's 36 hours column.]

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Good-bye, LA!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you've probably noticed that I haven't been updating lately.  It's because I've decided to move up to Oakland with Marc, so all my free time in the last few months has been filled with packing, job searching, and trying not to stress too much.  Even now at this moment, I'm sitting on my couch surrounded with half-packed boxes and general chaos.  I have too much stuff!

Since school is over, the packing has intensified, although I'm also trying to enjoy my time in LA.  There are so many things I will miss when I leave.  Of course we will be coming back often to visit our Grandmas, but it won't be the same.

In honor of my love for LA (19 years ago,  I would have considered that sentence to be treason!), I give you my Los Angeles favorites.  These are the places I frequent regularly and, on afternoons as I travel home on BART from some yet unknown job in the City, I will long for endlessly.

I have lived without Tito's Tacos before.  I can do it. [Repeat until I believe it.]

The bacon, egg, and cheese at EggSlut is so delicious, I've never tried any of their other sandwiches!

Saturday only eggs Benedict at Clementine, I will miss you.  Their Hollandaise sauce is so perfect: light, creamy, and only slightly tangy.  

The teriyaki wings at Chicken Day easily overtook Kyochon to become my favorite Korean fried chicken.  I MAY have developed a weekly habit.  Like, the owner knows my phone number and knows what I'll order when I call kind of habit.

I couldn't find a more recent photo of Kotoya ramen.  I know I had one on my phone from a few months ago.  They added butter as a topping to their white tonkotsu ramen so I took a photo of it.  Oh well.  Kotoya is my favorite ramen in LA.  It was right by my house and I never had to deal with horrible parking, unlike at all those places on Sawtelle.  I loved their white tonkotsu, but the black garlic was also delicious.  They had the best hanjuku tamago/soft boiled egg every time.  At one point I was eating there every Wednesday as a reward for going to the gym, but they stopped doing take out.  (That's how I got all those chopsticks in the photo.)  I will miss all the wonderful ramen choices in LA.  There aren't so many in the Bay Area.  Well, at least not so many excellent options in one place.  Only a few decent ones and a whole bunch of mediocre ones.  Here's my original Kotoya post.

The baklava at Sunnin Bakery in Westwood is the best that I've had, besides the one Shaked's aunt from Tel Aviv made for Steph's bridal shower (and wouldn't give me the recipe!).  I haven't decided if the walnut, pistachio (pictured), or cashew is my favorite.  You should call first because the lady doesn't make it every day.  She usually has it on Wednesdays.  And she's so nice.  She always gives me samples of her other baked treats.  They also sell it by the piece at Sunnin Lebanese Cafe across the street if she is sold out and you are desperate, but it's more expensive.

The maple custard pie at Pie Hole is my favorite pie.  The custard is so smooth and silky and the crust is flaky.  Marc brought a whole pie to my going away party.  I got his mom and dad addicted to it too!

Put the French dip sandwich from Roast in Brentwood on my "I wish I found it sooner" list.  I only discovered it a few months ago, but it became a fast favorite.  Every other French dip in LA is so overcooked and bland, but not at Roast.  You can see it's a beautiful medium rare and the meat is tender.  It comes with coleslaw or potato salad, but you can request tater tots instead.   I went next door to Lemonade for my drink: guava limeade. 

For a while, the pho tai (rare steak) with a 3 piece egg roll from Nong Lá Cafe was my go-to Thursday dinner.  I ate it every week until my blood pressure got a little high, so I took a break and only ate it once every few months.  It was easily the best pho on the Westside.  Thank goodness there are a ton of pho places in Oakland.

I don't like boba drinks, but the mixed fruit tapioca from Phoenix is my favorite drink when I go to the SGV.  (They opened one in the Marukai Pacific Square shopping center now too!)  It is coconut milk, small white tapioca pearls, small diced fruit (usually melons), and a scoop of shaved ice on top.  It's cool, creamy, and not too sweet.  Yum.

The fish taco combo plate at Tacos Baja in Whittier is Grandma's favorite treat, and I love it too.  The lightly battered fish is always perfectly fried and fresh.  They let you take all the limes you need.  Just add some Tapatio and drink a horchata and it's the perfect lunch.

I love a lot of the flavors at Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica and Brentwood, but my #1 favorite is the melon chiffon ice cream.  Boooo, I left before they offered it this year.  It's the ultimate summer flavor (along with their summer corn flavor).  So light and fresh, but also floral and sweet.  They make awesome monthly sundae specials, too.

My original post on Brian's Shave Ice wasn't that positive, but I ended up loving it and I went once every few weeks.  OK, once a week.  The parking guy at Olympic Collection (parking is validated) stopped asking where I was going and just handed me the ticket with a nod.  I love to get Fosselman's macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom.  I try to get different flavors every time.  They have Groupons sometimes, so it's a great deal.

This isn't the bacon fried rice from Kau Kau Korner inside the Marukai on Artesia and Western, but theirs is similar.  (The picture is from a restaurant I didn't like, so I don't want to say where it's from.)  At Kau Kau, you don't get tsukemono with it, and you would have to pay extra for the scrambled egg on top.  The owner is the nicest lady.  She also knows my order and puts it in as I'm walking towards the cash register.  They don't give as much rice as the Loft on Artesia and Van Ness, but there's bacon in every bite.  There is very little Hawaiian food in the Bay Area, much less good Hawaiian food.  Sigh.

I don't go here as much as I used to, but Diddy Riese in Westwood, along with Tito's, is my original LA favorite.  These ice cream sandwiches provided fuel for studying through college and grad school, and whenever I drove by and there was parking.  I always get two cinnamon sugar cookies with vanilla ice cream.  Once I got one cinnamon sugar and one chocolate chip with nuts.  Just once.  They used to be $0.75 but now they're $1.25.  Not bad at all.

Honorable mentions: I will miss the Persian food in Westwood, especially the chicken koobideh kabab at Shamshiri Grill.  I will also miss having a Nijiya market nearby to get prepared Japanese foods like my favorite chashu don rice bowl and SPAM musubi with scrambled egg.  Luckily, there's a Korean market near our condo that can provide the Asian foods, just not all the ones I want.

[July 29, 2014 EDIT] I'm adding the cemita milanesa from Angelica's Cemitas Originales to this list because I was craving one today and the one lonchera that sells them in Oakland was nowhere to be found.  (Seriously, I drove to three places where it has been known to park, including in East Oakland, and it wasn't there.)  This lovely sandwich with a soft, sesame seed covered bun, fried beef, and Oaxacan cheese wasn't something that I anticipated missing, but I do!  I used to get one every few months from it's daytime spot in front of the Smart and Final.  The last few times it was a different truck, but it tastes almost as good.  They're $6 now, too.  My original post here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bette's Place, Hood River, OR

Gigantic Cinnamon Roll
Since we couldn't spend our entire time in Oregon eating, Marc and I headed out to the Columbia River Gorge, about an hour's drive away from Portland.  Our plan was to go to someplace called The Dalles, and then go hiking.

We didn't eat breakfast before we left, so we stopped in Hood River.  We drove by a place and I looked it up on Yelp.  It only had three stars.  The restaurant underneath it, Bette's Place, had a picture of eggs Benedict on it, so I looked at it.  Oh, not just eggs Benedict.  FRESH CRAB eggs Benedict!  Crab two days in a row!

The menu had the cinnamon roll in bigger font, and it was only available on certain days, and Wednesday was one of them.  I can't say what the other days were.  I want to say Thursday and one of the S-days, but I can't guarantee that.  Marc asked if I wanted to share one, and I said OK.

Um, this was one gigantic cinnamon roll!  It was the size of a small cabbage.  The bread sections were not all dry, even the outer layers, which is hard to do.  It had confectioner's sugar icing, a scoop of butter, and you can add walnuts.  As one of the other customers said, "The walnuts make it healthy!"  She thinks like I do!  It tasted best when you mixed the butter with the icing and added nuts to the bite.  Marc didn't touch the butter, so I had it all to myself.

Marc's Chili Omelette

Fresh Dungeness Crab Eggs Benedict

Giant lump Dungeness Crab
The fresh crab eggs Benedict was delicious.  I got more crab on this one plate than I would have if I ordered three orders of those truffle fries from yesterday.  Man, they did not skimp on the crab, and it was cheaper ($13?) than the crab ($8) from yesterday, if you consider volume.  I had at least four huge, whole lumps of leg meat, some body meat, and two chunks of claw meat.  It was fresh too.  You can't mess around with crab, it'll taste fishy if it's not fresh.  I was so happy.  I couldn't finish the hash browns, but I did better than Marc, who stuffed himself with cinnamon roll.  I would definitely go back to eat the eggs and that cinnamon roll again.

Someone switched the "R" from the Rent-A-Car sign off the highway.  Rent-A-Cat!

After brunch, we headed towards a place called The Dalles.  I never played Oregon Trail, but apparently The Dalles was the end of the game.  I don't know, but the nerd I was with was super excited about it.  I guess he feels the same way when I get excited about something Leia does.  He wasn't excited afterwards, though.  We just went to the Visitor's Center which is also the Chamber of Commerce.  If you go to The Dalles during Easter, they reenact the resurrection.  They told Marc all about it.  There isn't that much to see at The Dalles.  I want to know why it gets an article.  THE Dalles.  Not just Dalles.

Catherine Creek near Bingen, WA

The nice ladies at the Visitors Center gave us maps and suggested a hiking spot called Catherine Creek, which was on the Washington side of the river.  Oh, if you don't want to pay a toll, cross at The Dalles.  It's free.  The toll ended up being only $1 at the Hood River Bridge, but you could use that extra $1 to buy a donut or something.

The trail at Catherine Creek was a mile around, and I don't consider it hiking when the trail is paved and wheelchair accessible.  And the cars are whizzing by on the road below you.  I was picturing like hills and dirt and quiet.  Oh well.  There were a lot of wildflowers to look at.  I used to read field guides when I was small, so I was guessing what some of the flowers were.

Multnomah Falls
On our way back to Portland (Marc was dropping me off at the airport while he headed to the rest of Oregon), we stopped at Multnomah Falls.  It was very pretty.  The sign by the falls said pika lived there, but I didn't see any and I was disappointed.  The park services had a real visitor's center with a lot of information.  A rock took out part of the bridge you see in the photo, so we couldn't go past it.  It's supposed to be fixed by Memorial Day.

The only weird part was this guy who seemed a little unstable (you can see him in the middle of the picture with the jeans and blue jacket) who was walking down from the falls and got in my face.  "Hi!  When you go up there, do you expect to see something that makes you feel small or something that makes you feel big?"  I gave him crazy eyes and tried to back away but he kept coming closer.  He was saying something else I couldn't understand.  Then he said, "When I was in your country, some people took me to see a waterfall like that.  Enjoy!" and mercifully walked away.  I wonder what he thought "my country" was.  I left my purse, so I only had my phone as a weapon if he hadn't gone away.  They should make a taser app for iPhone.  That would probably drain the battery though.

I love Portland.  I wouldn't want to live here because I would gain 50 pounds and I'd melt in the rain, but I love to visit!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Apizza Scholls and Ruby Jewel, Portland

The empty waiting area on a weekday night.
Left: Apizza Amore Right: Sausage and Mama
Aside from Blue Star Donuts, for me Apizza Scholls is a must go if I'm in Portland.  It's the best pizza. It's getting up there on my list of potential last meals.  I'd say it's number 3 on the list.

I didn't really take pictures because I documented the experience here.  We didn't take the bus this time. We got a Zip Car so that we could drive back across town to get ice cream for dessert before the ice cream place closed.

The biggest difference was that this time we made reservations.  And we probably didn't need them because, as you can see from the picture, the place was relatively empty.  Most of the tables were full, but the bar and waiting area were deserted.  What a contrast to the mass of anxious, pizza hangry humanity of last time.  We walked in and they seated us, no wait.  (It's still a good idea to make a reservation.  You'd be guaranteed to get your pizza since they'll know you're coming.  They stop taking orders when they run out of dough.)

We started with the excellent Cesar salad.  It's still salty, peppery, and garlicky.  I thought about going and asking nicely for the recipe for the dressing.  I have tried to reproduce it at home, and I just couldn't.  The dressing is so light, and most recipes are thick and chunky.

We did a half and half pizza.  I wanted the Apizza Amore with capicollo.  Marc ordered the Sausage and Mama, which had house made sausage and peppers.  It says the peppers are spicy, but they weren't at all.

It was so delicious.  The cheese, the crust, the slight saltiness of the capicollo...I wanted to eat it all, but I am a good sister.  Ryan wanted some, and he was at my house watching Leia, so I restrained myself and saved the last two slices on my side for him.  I ate one of Marc's sausage slices, and it was good too, but there's just something about that capicollo.  It's like salami and prosciutto had a baby.

We enjoyed the food with Anchor Steams and I had the MLB.TV app on game cast so we could keep up with Timmy pitching against the Dodgers.  For some reason, I was blacked out so I couldn't watch the live stream.  Who knew they show Giants games in Portland?

[The pizza was hand carried on the plane back to LA.  And both slices were intact, although I was extremely tempted to eat one.]

Click to read the flavor list

The milk chocolate peanut butter on top, the caramel with salted dark chocolate on the bottom.
We headed back to Downtown Portland for dessert.  The ice cream place, Ruby Jewel, was across the street from where we had to park the Zip Car.  How convenient!

Ruby Jewel was so cute and girly.  I forgot to ask Marc how he felt about being surrounded by all that pink.  They even have a pink painted mailbox for decoration, although I wonder how many people get confused and throw their trash in it.

They're very similar to Sweet Rose Creamery in that they have regular flavors and special flavors.  I thought they had a lot of flavor choices, but Marc didn't.  I tried fresh mint flake, caramel with salted dark chocolate, and milk chocolate peanut butter.  The mint flake didn't taste all spearminty like Sweet Rose's (SR uses real mint), so I suspect some peppermint oil/extract was involved in Ruby Jewel's.  I'm not against that.  I don't like the smell/flavor of real mint.

I really liked the caramel with salted chocolate ribbons.  It was a light colored caramel ice cream with a thick chocolate swirl.  It reminded me of the "sundae" in the plastic cup that you can buy at the convenience store, but obviously with much better ingredients and flavor.

My favorite FAVORITE was the milk chocolate peanut butter.  This used to be my second favorite ice cream from Safeway.  It was like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup, but in ice cream form.  It's best when the peanut butter is salty like Ruby Jewel's was.  The chocolate part was chocolatey, but not overly so like it would have been if they used a darker chocolate.  It was so creamy.

[My favorite Safeway flavor was Heavenly Hash: milk chocolate, marshmallow cream, and chocolate covered almonds.  I'm going to ask Ryan to try and make some for me!]

Marc had brown sugar sour cream.  He said it was OK, but I liked it.  It was sweet and tangy, kind of like the sour cream topping on top of a cheesecake, which happens to be my favorite part.  It reminded me of a Bi-Rite flavor, although I can't think of it now.

There's so much good ice cream in Portland!  And what a great day of eating!

Ringside Fish House, Portland

Ringside Fish House is in an office building across on a park/square with the Teachers' Fountain
We spent the morning at the Portland Art Museum.  It was interesting.  They tried to include art from people of color and women.  There was a special exhibit on Venice, Italy.  The constant sound of the bells from the Campanile was kind of irritating.  I kept saying they forgot to pipe in the smell and the hordes of tourists.  Then it would be an authentic experience.

We were stuck trying to find a place to eat for lunch.  The Country Cat was a place we wanted to try, but we wanted something light since we were eating dinner at Apizza Scholls.  I had looked up a place to eat Dungeness crab.  Crab season in California ended before I realized it, and it's always crab season in Oregon apparently.  It was a place called Dan and Louis and it seemed kind of touristy.  They had a chicken sandwich for Marc so he reluctantly agreed to go.

On our way to the train stop, we walked by a kind of park/square.  I saw the words "FISH HOUSE" and looked it up on Yelp.  It was a little expensive, but they had crab.  Marc pointed out that "Oregon Dungeness Crab" was written on the second floor window.  I didn't see it.  It was pretty big.  So we decided to eat at Ringside Fish House.

There was some kind of awards luncheon going on in one room, and almost all of the other tables were taken up by people in suits and ties.  I felt underdressed in my jeans and fleece, but I got over it when I saw the words "Black truffle Hollandaise frites.  Add crab for $8."  Black truffle Hollandaise?! Crab?!  On fries?!  Yum!
Black Truffle Hollandaise Frites with Dungeness Crab

OK, so I know that Dungeness crab has a very delicate flavor and it's best to eat it straight or with butter, which I usually do.  (I like the crab cold too, not warm.  It tastes better.)  But I've been obsessed with truffles lately (thanks, Del Posto*), and Hollandaise might as well be one of my food groups because I love it so much.  

[*Random aside: I bought a tiny tub of truffle butter for $12 and I used it to make truffle tater tots (twice), truffle scrambled eggs, truffle fries (I went to McDonalds with a bowl of melted truffle butter, bought fries, then tossed them in the melted truffle butter in the car), and coddled eggs.  It was a good investment as far as I'm concerned!]

The fries were very thin and crispy, just like I like them, and they looked and tasted like real potatoes, not food service fries.  There wasn't that much crab and yes, I could taste the crab mostly when I ate the small chunks that weren't covered in the Hollandaise.  But it was still delicious.

Dungeness Crab Cakes with Lemon Beurre Blanc

Crab Cake Cross-Section
The crab cakes were good too.  They had a lot of crab in them, although it was all non-lump meat.  I don't know what that's called.  There were no large chunks.  It was all small and broken up.  You could taste the crab, though.  They were nice and crunchy on the outside, too.

Prime Rib French Dip
Marc ordered the Prime Rib French Dip and he said it was good.  I forgot to ask for a taste because I was so engrossed in eating my truffle fries.

The service at the restaurant was very professional.  It was more expensive, but I'm glad we chose (OK, I chose) to eat here!