It has been a while since I wrote a blog post on Orange County eats. Not that I don’t have love for the OC, its just not exciting to eat here anymore. All of the restaurants are too chain like. Except for a small few, all of the eateries are just average. To me, the most exciting thing is when restaurants far away make it close by to me. One such restaurant, a chain nonetheless is Santouka Ramen. With restaurants all around the world, I am happy to have them in LA and Orange County. I don’t have to travel to Japan to have good ramen.
The bowl of ramen was better than most. I appreciated the al dente noodles and the texture of the alkaline noodles at Santouka was perfect. It had a nice bounce and bite feel. The broth was a bit lukewarm, but still tasted amazing. My favorite of course was the char sui pork. It was fatty and deliciously tender. The vegetables were fresh and the bowl of ramen as a whole was balanced. This was a great bowl of ramen and competes with the best of them.
To some, ramen at a restaurant is foreign to them. All they know is the stuff that comes in a package or a cup. Ramen to me is comfort food. The warm broth and the fried noodles turned half pliable is all that I need on a cold winter night. Ramen broth and noodles is such a hard thing to perfect, especially from scratch. I wouldn’t know the first thing about creating the broth. Yes, having ramen from a bag or cup is quite satisfying and delicious. Just pop in a soft boiled egg and you are golden. Once you experience good ramen with legitimate broth, it makes all the difference.
Shin Sen Gumi is one of those places that I always pass by on the corner of Atlantic and Garvey, but never gave it a thought. It might be the location, or it might be the quite plain writing, but I never thought twice about it. I do remember passing by it often though. After hearing good things about the Little Tokyo property, I decided to jump on it.
We started off with the yakitori– pork belly of course. The taste was pure as can be. The taste of the pork was so clean. This was achieved by cooking this over hot coals. Pork, amongst other meats is great with that burnt charcoal taste. Something about it is so primal and delicious!
The bacon wrapped quail eggs was such a great idea. As a person who eats and loves eggs in general, this was definitely a treat. One of my favorite breakfast items is bacon and eggs. The salty bacon with the quite universal egg was a perfect match. The green onion was also a nice touch.
When I saw chicken skin on the menu, it was a must order. Though not as crispy as I’d like, the chicken skin was still tasty. It just isn’t the same if it wasn’t deep fried. That crunch is really lost, and really why we love chicken skin.
It was a cold day, so shabu shabu was in the mix. I didn’t really care for the vegetables, but the pork was fresh. The broth was the best part. It wasn’t too salty and had a very clean flavor.
To end our night, we ordered the green tea crème brûlée. Honestly, I could barely taste the green tea. It was more of a traditional crème brûlée with a green tea essence. As a true green tea fanatic, I wasn’t pleased with this. I like my green tea strong and very pronounced. (On a related note, next time you are at Starbucks, order the iced green tea, old school. (You will thank me later.)
Shin Sen Gumi was a great experience. Finally after all these years and passing by it all the time, it is off the list. If you like yakitori, this is a great stop. Unfortunately, I did not try their ramen, but I am not expecting anything amazing. I’ll possibly try it one of these days. It is getting colder by the day. Until then, the yakitori will do.
Excluding Newport Seafood, a handful of Chinese/Taiwanese cafes, and Boiling Crab, it’s slim pickings when it comes to eating out in the City of Industry. I was in the mood some some proper sushi, and besides Akasaka, I couldn’t find any. I heard some good things about Sushi Kamon, and wanted to give it a try. I wasn’t expecting much, and as a someone who was in the mood for some good quality sushi, I really should have looked elsewhere.
Edamame. Every sushi restaurants starts off with edamame. Let’s move on.
Once I saw agedashi tofu on the menu, I flipped. I spoiled myself, having had Raku’s awesome agedashi tofu. Kamon’s was more like fried tofu in a soy sauce based sauce/soup. It was good, but nothing can touch Raku’s version.
The best chirashi bowl in town has to be from Akasaka. I know I keep comparing stuff from Kamon from the best, but that is what I do. I mean, for the price, the chirashi bowl was kind of nice. It had a awesome array of different kinds of fish, and lucky, included uni. Though not as fresh, it had all the fish that I liked.
To finish things off, we got some spicy tuna rolls, because, come on, we always need to order spicy tuna rolls. The rolls were pretty standard, and spicier than most. Possibly to mask un-fresh fish? The rice though, was perfectly al dente, as I like my sushi rice to be. It was a good end to a substandard sushi meal.
Sushi Kamon was nothing special. I won’t go home thinking about it; I won’t count the days until I can have it again. Yes, I did compare the agedashi tofu to the best of the best, and I did compare the chirashi bowl to the best. Kamon just didn’t have that special quality. It didn’t have an old guy in the back cutting the freshest fish, nor was it busy. It just seemed like the restaurant lost it’s passion and is there just to serve mediocre fish. City of Industry, you have done it again.
When I think of Honda-Ya, I think of Yakitori. When I think of Yakitori, I think of snacks. No meal was eaten on a stick. Never! That is unless you get a lot of grilled meats on a stick, and maybe some rice, and other small items. Yeah, then that can be a meal. Honda-Ya in Fullerton opened some time last year. From the looks of the remodeled building, it used to be a Sizzler. That is some upgrade and change if you ask me. Handa-Ya is always fun because the decor inside is so very Japanese and the food is decent. The Yakitori is always on point and the price is just right. I felt a Handa-Ya in this neighborhood seemed kind of off, but I guess the customers like it.
Always, I start off with the Yakitori. I always get the pork belly. The nice charcoal flavor counter balances with the fatty pork belly, making a nice mix of fat and flavor. I tried the wasabi chicken which was alright. The chicken was tender and not dry. My least favorite was the beef. It had a nice teriyaki flavor, but nothing about it was special. Some of my other favorites is the beef tongue and the chicken skins, but you can’t go wrong with the pork belly.
Another dish that disappointed me was the fried baby octopus. The flavor of the octopus was actually nice. The heads popped with great flavor and the meat wasn’t chewy at all. The problem with this was the way they fried it. It wasn’t crispy nor salted. It was just a very greasy batter with no flavor. Each bite squeezed out all of the oil and didn’t leave a very pleasant taste in my mouth. A lighter crispy batter would have suited this much nicer. It was till good dipped in the wasabi soy sauce mixture I made.
The pork with kimchi was probably my favorite. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the kimchi was better than the pork. The pork wasn’t special, and it was kind of dry. The kimchi is where all of the flavor was and kept everything moist. This was perfect with a nice hot bowl of white rice.
Honda-Ya is slowing growing and expanding. I remember when the only one I knew of was in Little Tokyo. That is of course when I didn’t know what Orange County was at the time. The Honda-Ya in Tustin is where everyone goes, so its cool to have this in somewhat closer, Fullerton. Honda-Ya is all about simplicity. The dishes aren’t complex or anything. The ingredients are just basic as can get, but the quality is there. The technique in making and grilling the Yakitori has a method. Though their menu is a bit cluttered and ranges from raw uni to udon noodle soup, the food is unique. Somewhat of a glorified Japanese cafe that serves alcohol, this is indeed an Izakaya, somewhere to eat, drink, and relax. That sounds really good right about now.
I came across Raku from Andrew Zimmern. I was watching a random Youtube video about Las Vegas eats, and Mr. Zimmern swears Raku as an anti-Vegas destination with some of the best Japanese food around. I immediately dropped everything and headed off the strip. Raku, located in a dismal looking strip mall in Las Vegas’ very own Chinatown, concentrates on good quality Japanese cuisine. More of a Japanese “tapas” bar, most of their items are shared amongst the table. Most people associate Japanese cuisine with sushi. Chef and owner, Mitsuo Endo showcases a menu with Japanese cuisine as an all-inclusive whole. There is no sushi on the menu, though there is raw fish and sashimi. Everything is masterfully prepared and they use only the best ingredients.
We started things off with the uni soup. This was a simple dish that was so refreshing. The broth was soy sauce based and had a subtle seafood essence. Filled with seaweed and a few slivers of uni, it was an interesting soup. The uni was flavorful and mellow — the warm soup made it more toned down and silky. I don’t it that is a good thing, but it was delicious. This was a great start to an awesome late night eat.
We ordered the pork belly to feed the carnivore within. It wasn’t necessarily special. The quality and bite of the pork belly was a lot better though. Most places will just put some thinly sliced pork belly on a stick, grill it and call it day. Raku’s was thicker, and more meaty. All in all, it was a deliciously cooked yakitori — no sauce needed.
Some of the best things I have ever eaten was Raku’s Agedashi Tofu. It is probably the best tofu I ever had. Some sad days, I would be home alone. I’d open up a tub of tofu, microwave it, make some kind of soy sauce concoction, and pour it over the tofu. For what it was, it was tasty and I was happy. This agedashi tofu really changed my life. The tofu is made daily, in house. The fried exterior had a little crispiness with a hint of chewiness. Inside, it was completely different — smooth and silky, and custard like. The broth in itself makes this dish so good. I don’t know what was in it, but soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and dashi was definitely in the mix. There was a smudge of red pepper puree on the bowl for a bit of spice. Topped with ikira (salmon roe), scallions, and nori, the tofu dish was complex, yet perfectly balanced.
We ended things with one of my favorite chicken dishes of all time. The juicy deep fried chicken, as they call it, was exactly what the name suggests — It was juicy. It was deep fried, and it’s…chicken. The thigh meat is rolled up skin on, battered, and then fried. The roll is cut up into slices and then served on some vinaigrette dressed spinach. The vinaigrette on the spinach helped with the fatty chicken. As the picture shows, the chicken is a bit pink in the center — might be a little alarming for sensitive types. For me though, the chicken was so juicy and flavorful — probably achieved from this near “medium well” cooking. It was an exceptional dish in both flavor and texture.
If you want to eat at Raku, make reservations. I was given the stink eye when I walked in and said I didn’t have reservations. Luckily, I was seated within 10 minutes as long as we ate “quickly.” Most likely, that won’t happen to you unless you make a reservation for this small 48 seater restaurant. I was very impressed with the food at Raku. The ingredients are of the highest quality and simply prepared. Even the water is treated with respect, filtered with a giant charcoal log. Details like this, with a passion for perfection makes Raku very special. It’s not just some Japanese restaurant off the strip. It’s possibly one of the best in the country.