Showing posts with label japanese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label japanese. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Hot Pot. Remixed.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

Winter is coming and for Jeni and I it means one delicious thing to add to the menu: hot pot. But the problem is, she being Japanese, loves her nabemono, Japanese hot pot. Me being Chinese, I love Chinese/Mongolian style hot pot. There isn't really a difference between the cultural versions of hot pot, but rather the sauces are what makes it unique. The Chinese typically use plain water from the start, but I myself really enjoy Mongolian style hot pot because it's flavorful right from the get-go. After all, Mongolians did invent hot pot and brought it down to China, probably Sichuan (Szechuan) first. They even invented the style of food called Korean BBQ in which meat was grilled upon metals shields and open fire. If you've eaten at Mon Land Hot Pot or Little Fat Sheep, then you've had this flavorful dish. The soup used for dipping/cooking is simply an awesome array of over 35+ ingredients that really creates a nice aroma throughout your house. And for us, there's nothing more homey than a hot pot meal.

So rather than push each other's button on which type of hot pot we should do, we did a little compromise. A remix basically. We both get to buy our own goodies, use our own sauces and enjoy. She likes udon, I like my bean thread vermicelli. She hates my fish cake but throw in some dumplings to make her happy. Luckily, she digs the Mongolian flavor and I like this kimchi flavor package she uses from time to time. So everyone is happy. Here's what we eat.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

According to a waitress at Little Fat Sheep, she said there are over 50+ ingredients for their hot pot. Forget trying to recreate this at home and look for this brand with an imitation 'little sheep' cartoon on it. It even SAYS 'fat sheep' in Chinese too. I think this one tastes the most like Little Fat Sheep and Mon Land Hot Pot and will cost you only $1.79. They have two flavors... the one pictured above is regular and there is a spicy one. What we usually do is use the plain one for the base and add the spicy one in for kick – probably only 3-4 tablespoons are needed. I got this at the Shun Fat Supermarket on San Gabriel Blvd. & Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel. These were so good I bought like 15 packs of each flavor, walking around like I'm on that Supermarket Spree gameshow.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

This is the ingredient that separates Mainland China (typically Northern) from the rest of Chinese cuisine. It's cold up there and they like food that will keep them warm inside, even numbing the mouth. These is red peppercorn powder, or as its labeled, prickly ash powder. One teaspoon of this and the packaged broth is taken to another level. It has a slight 'limey' taste on the tongue, but it's really a numbing feeling.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

You can simply pour the flavor package into a pot with water and proceed to eat. But to really call it your own, you can try adding a few things. I like to add shrimp shells, 4-5 ginger slices, daikon and some garlic. Adds a real nice flavor to it all.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

Here you can see the Japanese and Chinese melting pot in action. I've got my Chinese/Chiu Chow meat/fish balls and she's got her beef and fish cakes.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

In Chinese hot pot, you usually eat napa cabbage, spinach and hollowed morning glory. But napa cabbage is the common denominator in our remix. Along with Japanese leeks, dumplings and usually 3 types of mushrooms including shitake, king and shimeji. King mushrooms are the best because you can cut them somewhat thick for a 'meatier' texture.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

In Chinese hot pot, this is a popular condiment: Bullhead satay barbecue sauce (sa cha jiang). A potent sludge that is made with chilis, dried shrimp, small fish, shallots and oil. I cannot live without this sauce. A lot of people use this differently and I was taught by my parents to add an egg into this sauce with some soy sauce, green onions and cilantro. Some people like vinegar in it as well. Either way, everything that goes into the hot pot will be dunked in this sauce. Mmmmm.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

Jeni likes these sauces. On the left you have goma dare, which is a sesame sauce. She will grind fresh sesame seeds with her mortar and add this for a nice aroma. On the right, you have ponzu, a citrus-based sauce that is as dark as soy sauce but is made with mirin, vinegar and seaweed. Both are solid sauces.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

And here are a few important utensils: chopsticks and scooper to get the runaway bits.

Mongolian Japanese Hot Pot

I'm up for trying new hot pot ingredients or sauces. How do YOU hot pot? Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Shisen Ramen, Torrance - A Szechuan-Style Ramen Shop

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I think my appreciation for ramen came after my friends and I went to Japan for the first time. We weren't particularly hunting for ramen, but more so, let the smells and signage of a ramen shop attract us.  And we fell in love. Japan made it really easy for us to find food through one simple principle: cook nothing but delicious food.  Every shop we went to was simply solid.  From light, salt-based and soy sauce-based soups (shio and shoyu) to thicker-stock soups (tonkotsu), they were all good.  For a while, the ramen shops on Sawtelle row represented the ramen capital.  And it wasn't until coming back from Japan, that we realized that those noodle shops just didn't cut it.  We reminisced and lamented for a while.  We tried to find a place that offered a more rich-style broth other than salt and miso paste.  

Then came Shin Sen Gumi (Gardena, Costa Mesa & Rosemead) and Daikokuya (Little Tokyo) opened, creating this pork-bone soup craze that changed the Los Angeles ramen scene.  Shortly after,  a wave of new ramen shops hit the Los Angeles area after 2000, introducing more and more varieties of ramen.  Santouka, Asa, California and Gardena ramen to be exact.  Our friend Rameniac really helped define the differences in the shops available here and really made ramen a hot topic.  

After class, Jeni and I continued our ramen adventures in the South Bay area.  We had a really tasty experience at Shigetoshi "Sean" Nakamura's California-cuisine/ramen experiment – in which he combines farmer's market ingredients like heirloom tomatoes and cheese in ramen.  A combination that would surely raise the eyebrows of any pre-nisei Japanese, but has somehow got both Jeni and I craving it.  And we find ourselves here at about 10 pm – at a ramen shop offering Szechuan-style ramen.  Funny when you think of it, since it was the Chinese that inspired Japanese ramen.  FYI, ramen means 'pulled noodles', and it's pronounced 'la mian' ( 拉 麺 ).

I was so stoked to try this because we had a similar dining experience in Yokohama, Japan, shortly after visiting the Ramen Museum.  Ridiculous, I know. Basically, take your traditional Chinese dishes like BBQ pork, black bean sauce noodles, mabo tofu or sesame paste noodles and dump it on top of noodles and soup... voila Chinese-style ramen. But it's actually more complicated than that as you'll see.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

We sat down and took a look at the menu.  The main feature was the shisen ramen, which is Japanese for Szechuan.  We were about to order from it until we saw tonkotsu and a special ramen called the Garlic Black Shisen which got us wide-eyed.  A few months ago, I was at Ippudo Ramen in New York begging the chef to make a 'burnt soy sauce' ramen (kogashi) I had heard about.  My friends had just gotten back from Japan and bragged about it - I couldn't take it!  I was declined in New York but suddenly reminded of that style of ramen when I saw the Shisen special.  One please.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Garlic Black Shisen Ramen ($9.80)
Although it looks like a mini Exxon oil tanker ran into some rocks, this was one promising bowl of noodles.  We both took a whiff of the ramen – the smell of fried garlic was marvelous. Thinly-sliced scallions, bamboo shoots and a few pieces of pork... we were ready.   The soup was really excellent, but super oily.  That's expected out of any tonkotsu-style soup.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

They used yellow noodles, which had just the right texture to it.  I usually go for medium cooked noodles because I like more bite to it.  I am actually craving this bowl of noodles right now.  They've had this on special since July and the servers said that they do change frequently.  I would go eat this ASAP.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Tonkotsu Chashu ($7.50)
We also ordered the tonkotsu chashu ramen to really gauge the restaurant.  We do this all the time with pho restaurants.  If the pho isn't any good, chances are, it's not their focus or they really need a new chef.  I looked at the broth and kind of hesitated.  After eating that Black Garlic ramen, I was a bit greased out.  But it was everything but oily, and packed with a strong flavor of pork, salt and a lot of ginger.  I even dumped in some of the pureed garlic offered by the restaurant.  This was really good.  Except for...

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

the overcooked noodles.  Aye.  It could have been a stellar bowl.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

But to make up for that, Shisen Ramen is quite generous with the chashu portions.  It was almost too much for me since the pieces were pretty fatty.  

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I also noticed in the chashu photo, an uncanny resemblance to Scarecrow in Batman Begins.  Not the most beautiful photo of chashu, but I promise it is very palatable.

We also ordered gyoza and paiko for appetizers (not pictured).  The gyoza (in Chinese 'jiao zhi' or  'gao jee') were tiny as hell, but fried beautifully.  You know you're eating a good gyoza when you have that tiny crunch from the crisped up wrapper – something the Japanese are masters at making.  The paiko here (in Chinese 'pai gwut' or 'pai gu') are very similar to the fried pork chops sold in Taiwanese joints, but nothing comparable to it.  They were fried nicely with a nice dash of five-spice powder and served with a Sriracha-based dipping sauce.  

I am already thinking about my next meal here.  Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

Shisen Ramen
1730 Sepulveda Blvd. #6
Torrance, CA  90501
(310) 534-1698

Eat Drink Style Hello from Japan - My Yakitori Chicken Chart

Yakitori Chicken Chart

Hello from Japan! I haven't had time to upload the things we ate. It's been less than a day here in Tokyo and we've already eaten some amazing food including grilled ground chicken with torchoned cheese, flattened blocks of crispy gyoza and of course, orgasm-inducing Hakata-style ramen. Just wanted to share with you a very critical piece of food geekery. When in Japan, you're going to be eating the best yakitori ever, but how do you tell the waitress that you're more interested in trying chicken testicles than white breast meat? Or that you're ok without the chicken head mcnuggets? Feel free to use! More to come.

Eat Drink Style Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach Pier - Agedashi Tofu & the Japanese Fried Food Diet

IB Redondo Beach

Jeni and I have been eating more in the South Bay area since we started taking some classes over at Otis. She enrolled in a aluminum-foil-based class, Fashion with Foil, and I finally realized my dream in basketweaving, under water. All the blood, sweat, and tears from these extracurricular activities, as usual, leads to a loud, bellowing stomach that can only be shut up by savory food. So on this night, we found ourselves heading to the Redondo Beach pier to eat. Most people come here to taste the abundant offerings at places like Quality Seafood, an L-shaped market that is the modern age smorgasbord for Gods of the sea. You've got steamed dungeness crab, large conchs, about 36 types of oysters (30 which I've eaten in one sitting), shrimp, lobster, etc. While expensive, there's enough to leave any epicurean hot & bothered. And there's the highly-mentioned, Korean-owned Pacific Fish Center & Restaurant, with their admired crab soup. I've yet to try that. Thoughts on the soup?

When Jeni told me that we'd be eating at an izakaya at the Redondo Beach Pier, it took me a few seconds to register that – for it seemed a little non sequitur. Like finding a coupon for Osteria Mozza in the Penny Saver. Eating foie gras from a little ice cream store. And your first time seeing a Vietnamese pho restaurant in the middle of Koreatown. None of these make any sense.

For those too lazy to type up izakaya in wikipedia, I'll save you the trouble. Basically, it's a Japanese pub with all the shenanigans of drinking included. A place where sarariman, or in real English, "salary man" go to discuss charts and graphs over ice cold draft beer and savory skewered-meat and various small plates. Tough life! I remembered my trip to Osaka a few years back. We walked into a shopping center and found at least 3-4 izakayas that were packed to the brim. Almost all of the male clientele were still in their business suits chatting away. Keep in mind, that this was around 11:30 pm. These guys either got off just now or have been there since happy hour started.

But it's important to remember that the concept of an izakaya, with its mostly-male clientele and delicious food, really wouldn't exist if these had not been invented. Beer... and sake...

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

... two things that seem to be the common denominator for much of Japanese dining. I couldn't imagine eating sushi, yakitori and shabu shabu sans beer and sake. It's like driving a car with no wheels – you're ready for the ride, but you're not going anywhere.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We walked into the tiny izakaya with no more than a 24 person capacity, and we were greeted by a smiley young chef that seemed to be the only employee in the restaurant. He walked out from the kitchen and quickly switched to server mode, passing out menus. He then walked back to the kitchen and proceeded to cook. I love double-duty people at restaurants – so hard-working. My friends and I once frequented this dive bar that deserved a shittier title than,
dive bar. The old, cigarette-wielding woman in the bar was not only making drinks and serving them. She was also the server and the chef. She probably had to clean up and close down the place too. Poor lady.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho is owned by Tomo Ueno from Tokyo. It used to be called Yakitori Bincho until the Health Taliban slapped Ueno's wrists for lack of ventilation. What a pity. Seems like one of the better places to get yakitori in LA is at Shin Sen Gumi. But not without walking away with bleeding ears. If you search for Yakitori Bincho on Yelp, you'll see that it is closed – so the review is completely useless because there is no more yakitori being offered. We were bummed to see on the menu, that there was really nothing skewered over hot charcoal. Oh, the pain...

But there was something else here in store for us that Jeni and the
Serial Ramen Killer had mentioned: the agedashi tofu, a dish that consists of fried potato starch-battered tofu cubes wading in a pool of soy sauce/mirin/dashi broth, topped with green onions and grated daikon.


Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Amuse Bouche from Tomo
Tomo started us out with a small Sanrio gift from the sea. A little package that included sliced octopus, pickles and seaweed.

Because there was an absence of yakitori, which is usually a major part of the izakaya experience, it seems Chef Tomo filled in the voids with quite a bit of fried appetizers. Usually I can only eat 2 types of fried dishes, as it gets too greasy, but I don't think we had much of an option besides ordering soups. So here begins the Japanese Fried Food Diet.


Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Potato Croquette (Korokke)
I like it when the sauce is nice and tangy. This was fried beautifully, but not really an appetizer I'm into. It reminds me of crabcakes – which I am quite sick of from my catering days.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune)
This is a popular yakitori dish – ground chicken mixed with soy sauce, mirin, ginger and green onions. Because Tomo is banned from grilling, he simply dunked these into the Fry-o-lator. And this is what emerges. Very good.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Wings
This was one of two highly recommended dishes by the chef. These were fried beautifully and glazed with the perfect amount of sauce. Nice job! Reminds of tasty Korean fried chicken.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Deep Fried Chicken Thigh
Hey, that rhymes. +10 points. This was the other dish Chef Tomo highly recommended. As you can see, it is fried beautifully and served upon a 'salad', which makes it look less unhealthy. I really enjoyed the flavoring and tenderness of this but I wish it wasn't fried as long. Good nonetheless.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Sea Spiders (Soft-Shell Crab)
What's not to like about Soft-Shell crabs, the ocean's most sensitive/tender/wimpy insects. If they stopped writing sappy poems, laid off the RomComs and Cheesy & Sleazy compilations, they'd increase their testosterone levels. These weren't bad.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Tofu Cubes in Dashi Broth (Agedashi Tofu)
I have to admit that when I saw Chef Tomo take out the same brand of tofu I buy at the market, I didn't think it would taste too good. For some reason, I always think great chefs out there make their own haha. But when Chef Tomo served us the tofu, I knew I was wrong. The cubes were fried beautifully. It had a crisp texture, yet it was plump and bouncey once I pressed it with my chopsticks. The glistening broth had a delicate aroma of grated daikon and dashi. I watched Tomo, just before serving, boil the broth in a small pot – bringing it to a rigorous boil. I can't tell you how many times I've eaten 'flat' dashi at room temperature. It's terrible. This wasn't.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We halved the tofu cubes with our chopsticks and watched as the starchy batter slowly ripped apart – in my opinion, a sign of nicely textured stuff. And man, this was so good. Every bite, piping hot with gooey, toothsome flavor. Outside of Japan, this is my favorite agedashi tofu.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Next time you're at the Redondo Beach pier and DON'T feel like dropping $40 for a dungeness crab served merely with butter and lemon, say hi to this kind gentleman. I give him respect for continuing to offer tasty
izakaya dishes even when the yakitori menu was stripped from him. Along with Asa Ramen and Ramen California, Yakitori Bincho is a nice addition to a South Bay Japanese-food crawl. Thanks to Tomo for facking derishus agedashi tofu and to you for reading.

Izakaya Bincho
112 N. International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 376-3887

Eat Drink Style Ramen Jinya, Studio City - A Tasty Bowl of Lost in Translation

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

If you remember the opening scene of Lost in Translation, you can see a red-eyed, groggy Bill Murray wake up in a cab. The amazing array of Japanese characters in neon light form reflecting off the windows of the cab. Cut after cut of city life and a blank stare provide us with the confusion Bill experiences. For the whole movie, everything he was accustomed to, interactions, mannerisms and customs were either flipped upside down or thrown out the door. And it was the same way I felt when I had first arrived in Japan. It was already the evening when we landed in Narita International. From there, we cabbed it into the city and it was just like the scenes in Lost in Translation. Lights - of every possible hue. Signage - working every single one of your sensory glands. Black-haired people - walking around aimlessly. All of this happening within a tightly packed concrete jungle. This was the system known as Tokyo.

Being tourists in Tokyo was a challenge. Everything was written in Japanese and no one spoke English. If there was English signage, it probably didn't make any sense. Try finding directions in the metro station and you'll be sure to spend more time than you need there. You may know that more comically as Engrish. If it were not for one of our friends that spoke minimal Japanese or the Chinese characters in Japanese (kanji) we might as well have just followed a tour book. But when it comes to eating, I never found it difficult to find good food. There are photos and drawings everywhere. Their posted outside businesses, all over the window and even have employees running up to you to reel you in. There's also the wonderful art of plastic food modeling in Japan known as shokuhin sanpuru which is more often than not, a clear indication of what you'll be eating. In Tokyo, after a long night of you know what, I found myself completely fueled by sake and Sapporo, running by a restaurant with the food models sitting on a table, not enclosed in a case, and awarding myself with a plate of plastic tonkatsu for a souvenir. Oops. To that restaurant in Tokyo, sorry, I still have it if you want it back. Read more about Japanese food modeling here.

In Japan, the worst food there is probably better than any Japanese food you'll eat in your neighborhood. It's true, the standards are so high there for a culture that drools over small details. It was because of the simple enticement by large food photos and high standards that we were able to eat solid ramen at every ramen shop. And I loved that. You didn't have to log on to a food forum, Yelp or a tour book to find good food, it was really the food that found you. I can still remember the last bowl I ate in Tokyo. It wasn't a very busy shop and it was the kind of restaurant that you ordered the food from a machine, which then printed the orders in the kitchen. In less than 10 minutes, a server brought your piping bowl of whatever ramen – it was divine. We were indeed lost in translation, but frolicking in the joy and art of Japanese soup noodles.

This was 2006, and since then, I've only found a few places in Los Angeles and New York that were worth considering, "solid ramen". I do like Santouka from time to time, but I feel guilty eating such a rich broth. I like Asa Ramen for its fatback toppings, but that too can be much. Ippudo Ramen and Ramen Setagaya in New York are super tasty, but I don't live in New York! But good news comes to me when I get an instant message from the Rameniac, and usually it sounds like this:

"Hey, I found a new ramen joint that opened up."

This time, I'm brought to Studio City, a satellite of Japanese food culture in Los Angeles. During the 80s, a lot of sushi shops were popping up for the wealthy movie industry folks and even now, Ventura Blvd. is peppered with here and there Japanese joints. Ramen Jinya is located in another one of the millions of Valley strip malls next to good old Marshalls. One look from the outside and you wouldn't think much, but with an ex-Santouka ramen chef leading the charge and backing from Takahashi Tomonori, a successful restaurateur that operates 7+ establishments under his La Brea Dining brand, I think I've found myself a piping-hot, bowl of Lost in Translation.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Like California Ramen in Torrance, Chef Daisuke Ueda ("Daice") offers a Californian twist to the menu with fresh salads that include corn, broccoli and potatoes. But that's the least of our interests - we want to get into the meat of everything!

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Gyoza
For $12.50, Ramen Jinya offers a happy meal consisting of a small salad, appetizer of choice (gyoza, fried chicken karaage, etc.) and the ramen of your choice. The skins were very thin on these and as you can tell fried beautifully. I love when you get that caramelized sauce "webbing" on the bottom of gyoza. The sauce was a soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chili oil mix. I think they may have been over-steamed because the gyoza wrapper was slightly soggy. Gyoza has to be served and eaten right away.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Fried Chicken (Karaage)
This is one of my most favorite things to order at any izakaya. These were beautifully fried and marinated well. I hate when karaage has too much batter or the chicken is too dry. This is strictly a dark meat dish. If you're in Little Tokyo, try out Chin Ma Ya's karaage... it's probably one of my favorites in Los Angeles. This was served with ponzu sauce.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Fried Garlic & Bonito Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen
With a name that long, it should be a solid dish. This was the special at the time of the grand opening and what Rickmond was telling me about all day long. To be exact, these our his exact words:

"What I did order on my initial visit was simply the special of the day, a delightfully authentic and hitherto rare-outside-of-Japan take on Tokyo gyoukai ramen, with a dashi and gyofun fish powder-infused shoyu tonkotsu soup and a topping of marinated and grilled bonito and garlic flakes."

He had me at "garlic flakes". I honestly felt "Tokyo" when I saw that bowl. Moist rolled-up chashu, golden noodles, scallions, an aromatic brown broth with a ladle so large that it could be used as a shoehorn. If you're shopping for some shoes at Marshall's next door, I'm sure Daice won't mind if you borrow the ladles.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

I first tried the broth and it was super tasty. I could taste the nice bitterness from fried garlic with the soy sauce and subtle bonito-flavored broth. The noodles were nice but I would have preferred them even more al-dente. And the, the chashu, mmm... nice and melty. The egg although was a bit too mushy. I was hoping for molten lava yolk action.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Jinya's Chicken Ramen
My favorite wife ordered the namesake house special. I was surprised that Chef Daice would select the chicken ramen as the captain of the ship. I didn't think much of this until I took a sip of that broth. Beautiful. It was so homey and reminded me of a delicious version of Campbell's chicken noodle soup minus the sodium. Chef Daice boils chicken bones for 8 hours... just long enough to add a subtle stickiness to the broth much like tonkotsu broth. I could taste some ginger and garlic in the broth.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

This was served with two chicken meatballs (tsukune) that had a decent amount of wood-ear mushrooms and a super moist piece of chicken breast. I would order this next time I go, it's seriously tasty.
Ramen Jinya, Studio City

That shoehorn is no joke. It makes Ippudo Ramen's spoons like miniscule.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Garlic Injection
If you're a garlic head, then Chef Daice will let you inject as much fresh garlic as you want into your bowl of ramen for a nice spice kick.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Our friend JK, another satisfied slurping customer.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Ramen Jinya has only been open for a week and I have a feeling it will do pretty well. Although out of the way, you'll be glad to know there's a Marshall's next door - two birds with one stone. Admit it, we all shopped there many times in our lives. On top of the quality of the food, both Chef Daice and Takahashi Tomonori are more than welcoming and friendly. This just may be your closest taste of Tokyo without enduring the 12 hour flight, jet lag, sensory overload and confusion. By the way, we'll be running up and down Japan next week for food! Thanks for reading and of course to Rameniac for fulfilling our ramen cravings.

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 980-3977
www.jinya-la.com/ramen

Eat Drink Style Yatai Pop-up Ramen, Breadbar West Hollywood

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

When it comes to creativity in soup noodles, you've got to hand it to the Japanese for their undying passion for creating bowls of ramen fit for the gods. It was almost as though the Japanese replaced the arts and crafts class in elementary schools with Ramen 101 courses. Contrary to many soup noodles from all over Asia that follow standards in taste and preparation like Vietnamese pho and Chinese beef noodle soup, ramen is one dish that has no boundaries or hard-carved rules. When the Japanese adopted the art of ramen from the Chinese, ramen was in its simplest form. You had your soup base of pork bones, flavoring such as salt, soy sauce or miso, fish and seaweed with toppings – a style of lighter soup noodles referred to as assari-kei. But after many conversations with ramen enthusiasts like Rickmond of Rameniac, I learned that that arena expanded with the long and arduous techniques in cooking pork bones, chicken bones and even seafood, including shrimp shells, to produce a richer broth – a style of heavier, fat-rich soup noodles referred to as kotteri-kei. If you've eaten tonkotsu ramen, then you've eaten kotteri-kei style ramen.

The sky's the limit, and so is the waistline, when it comes to the innovative variations of ramen. When I was in Japan back in 2006, I saw so many kinds of ramen. If ramen were a living and breathing thing, people like Darwin could spend years appropriating the noodles with a similar genus-species classification. No matter which ramenya (ramen shop) or yatai (food stall - 屋台) I ate at, it was good. And it all started with the basic recipe of boiled bones, soy sauce, mirin, sake and seaweed. But because the Japanese are technical like the French, differences were subtly noticeable based on looks but the differences in taste were monumental. You might get a ramen shop that braises their pork another +4 hours on top of the usual braising time. You might get a broth so thick from 16+ hours of cooking that it has become a beautiful goo. You might get a ramen shop that produces a boiled egg so perfect that it oozes out yolk like molten, golden lava. You might get a ramen shop that has brought in a 139-year old, Yoda-like Chinese man with one eye, one leg and one tooth that can hand-pull noodles faster than any machine out there. I'm just saying, these are the differences in ramen that the Japanese pride themselves on and what sets apart all the shops and chefs from one another. It's important to note that there really is no "right" and "wrong" bowls of ramen.

Unfortunately, you won't see the amazing variations unless you're in Japan. In Los Angeles, our ramen selection is slim pickings, like "good" pho in the Eastside area. But thanks to Breadbar and its routine rotation of chefs and themed concepts at Breadbar in Century City and West Hollywood, we've got a limited time to try some different styles of ramen from Noriyuki Sugie and Chef Kazuo Shimamura, who run a company called Ironnori Concepts. On June 8, they began offering both classic and experimental ramens known as "twist ramen". And will continue to sell bowls of ramen until the last drop on July 24. Sugie received Japanese and French culinary training and I'm gonna guess Shimamura, who is from Saitama, Japan (just north of Tokyo) has been making ramen since he was 2.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

At Yatai, they offer Classic and Twist ramen.

Shio Ramen - seasoning with Indonesian sea salt, corn butter
Shoyu Ramen - seasoning with aged soy sauce
Miso Ramen - seasoning with blended miso,brown butter sauce
Spicy Miso Ramen - seasoning with blended miso, spicy sauce

Spicy Pork Curry Ramen
Tomato Ramen - tomato consommé soup, sautéed mixed vegetable
Vietnam Ramen - Pho style, raw beef tenderloin, asian herb
Ox tail Ramen - rich ox tail soup, truffle oil, marinated poached egg
Foie Gras Ramen - rich master stock consommé soup, chopped chives

For the three of us, we ended up ordering the Spicy Miso, Spicy Pork Curry and Foie Gras ramen. I had a heard the Ox Tail ramen was so good it was soldout.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Pork Feet Gyoza
In addition to kale gyoza and cold tofu, you'll probably be most interested pork feet gyoza. The gyozas are fried beautifully and filled with braised pork feet. The pork is super tender and has a nice pasty texture much like fish or shrimp patties used in Asian cooking.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Spicy Pork Miso Ramen
The Japanese seldom, if ever, use spice for their dishes. According to J, the Japanese find the seven pepper spice you see in almost all izakayas and ramen shops to be a mischievious contributor of the "sting ring". But when it comes to ramen, the chefs let it hang out and spice it up. Looking at this, it reminded me a lot of Korean seafood soup noodles known as jjampong. The noodles swam in a beautiful red broth, topped with juicy cuts of berkshire pork, marinated egg, wood ear mushrooms, seaweed and thinly sliced scallions. It smelled as beautiful as it looked. The wooden platters from Breadbar really made this bowl look super homey. I really enjoyed this bowl of ramen.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Although $11, it felt hearty with the right portion of noodles and toppings. The berkshire pork glistening in its own fat, of course, was delicious. The egg yolks were tasty but I think could've been cooked less. After you have oozy lava-like egg yolk from ramen in Japan, you're addicted.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Spicy Pork Curry Ramen
This reminded me a lot of Singaporean or Malaysian food. The curry was different than Japan's style and was more of a tasty mush. The flavors were there but it was just too heavy for me.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Foie Gras Ramen
After forever ruining my appetite for all things foie gras at Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon, I wasn't up for the swollen liver. Especially in my ramen. And again, Chef Kazuo nailed it on presentation and detail. The generous portion of foie gras was cooked right and how you would expect it to taste. To my surprise, the broth was on the sweeter side. Almost like a lighter version of the sweet, honey/palm-like soy sauce used in Thai cooking. And there was a slight aroma of burnt garlic which did add some nice depth to the broth. But not worth my $17.99.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Foie Gras Hiatus
For those that have been to Au Pied de Cochon, it's easy to understand the meaning of true foie gras overdose.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Noodles
The noodles weren't bad and I'd actually recommend having it cooked more al-dente if you're an al-dente-whore like me. But something tells me this might be the only noodle they can get locally. Real ramen shops sometimes go the extra mile and make their own noodles. God, imagine how good that is.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

We were curious about the shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce) broths and asked the server for some Costco samples. And to our surprise, a man in plain clothing, trucker hat and apron came hustling out behind the counter with a small steaming bowl of broth. He looked like a Sam Woo chef. I know you've seen Chinese chefs behind the restaurant – sitting on a parking block digging into a huge bowl of whatever leftover food scraps and smoking at the same time. They look ordinary but you know very well they can kick some ass in that kitchen. We enjoyed talking to Chef Kazuo Shimamura as much as he was interested in watching us eat his ramen. I fell in the love with shoyu broth. It was seriously done very well. Dark in color, the right salinity and topped off with the tongue slap of burnt garlic. If you've been to Ippudo Ramen in New York, their flagship ramen shop in Japan is known for serving kogashi ramen, a ramen with broth made from wok-burnt soy sauce and garlic. Oh man! I had begged and pleaded with the chef at the New York location to make me a bowl and he politely declined my ass. Trying Chef Kazuo's shoyu broth, I imagined that this is what kogashi ramen was. And I'll definitely be going back to eat this one. The shio ramen uses Indonesian sea salt and was a bit on the saltier side. But there was a nice lingering tone of celery or maybe it was onion that was delightful.

Breadbar Yatai Pop-up Ramen

Until your next trip to Japan or the annual Mitsuwa Ramen shop festival, this may or may not be worth your money and time because it depends on what you're looking for. In my opinion, the "twist ramens" are novel yet fun for those looking for something different. But Kazuo's real craft is in the bowls of basic shoyu, shio or miso ramen. As a lover of soup noodles, it's very hard for me to turn away something that could possibly be found in Japan. Was this life changing ramen? No. Ramen with a sense of humor and fun? Yes. I enjoyed the Spicy Miso ramen and Shoyu ramen, and hoping to try the Oxtail ramen next time. Vietnam ramen? I know it sounds as puzzling as Xoia's pho tacos – which are actually quite interesting. Thanks for reading.

Yatai at Breadbar
8718 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 205-0124
http://www.breadbar.net/