Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sushi Dokoro Shirahama (San Diego)

For the last few weeks I have been craving sushi. It was getting so bad I was dreaming about each individual piece of rice as they fell apart in my mouth. Luckily two of my friends came into town last week and they are sushi fiends! Wanting to show them a good sampling of the best San Diego has to offer my thoughts instantly jumped to Sushi Dokoro Shirahama (or Shirahama for short).

For those that know of Shirahama, they know of the general population's very polarizing views of the restaurant. You either LOVE IT or you HATE IT. Why do you LOVE IT? Cause the fish is sea breeze fresh, the knife skills are as elite as Lebron's crab walk, and the food is impeccable. Why do you HATE IT? Because this is a very very traditional japanese restaurant in a very untraditional japanese city, there tends to be some bias by the owner against certain clientelle. I've walked in here twice to an empty restaurant.. both times no words were said to me other than a "shaking of the head" no that they could not seat me.

Now why do I still want to go here? As bad as the attitude is, I'm pretty used to it at Japanese restaurants at this point (which sucks.. cause that means I'm giving in to their attitude) and I REALLY want to try Shirahama at least once. My friend Stan knows the owners well so he booked my friends and I a reservation. We decided to do Omakase to see everything that Kaji-San has to offer.

When you get in there, it's deathly quiet. We barely conversed when we sat down cause we were so squared that we would raise the volume to an untolerable level .. (which would soon change once we popped the bottle of Krug!) After settling in with the Krug,

some nice deep woody sake and a few beers, our Omakase began.

We started off with a few pieces of sushi

Yellowtail and Snapper.

The snapper was forgettable, nice crisp crunch but the meat did not entertain my waiting tastebuds.
The Yellowtail on the other hand was vibrant and fresh. The perfect slice of fish with an excellent firm texture that I like for my yellowtail. The flavor was powerful and a great start to the meal.

The next pieces were astounding. Big Eye Tuna and Amberjack

Two very simple fish, normally the two fish I would avoid if I was ordering myself. LUCKILY I was not ordering for myself.
The Tuna had a nice fattiness to it that made me think for a moment that I was eating Toro. While the Amberjack with oily and rich. Subtle dabs of wasabi ran underneath the fish to add that extra bit of pleasure to these scrumptious fish.

We then had Saba (Mackerel) and Aji

I personally am not a huge fan of Saba, it's too meaty for me. I prefer flaky fish or oilier fish with a softer consistency. But this Saba was good for what it was.
The Aji on the other hand was really out of this world. Just the right about of Ginger and Scallion on top of it with that great fleshy texture.

We were then served Uni (sea urchin) and Salmon Roe

On a freshness scale of 0-100 this Uni was a 5000. It was creamy and fresh with a touch of sweetness. No "sea" flavor whatsoever on the dish.

I have no real opinion on the roe. It didn't suck, but I don't like the saltiness of the Roe so this was one of the less salty versions I've had.. which I guess is a good thing.

After these courses, we took a break from the sushi and tried some of their appetizers. One of my dining companions Mr. Powell Yang saw a board full of Japanese lettering. Since a good chunk of Japanese writing is actually Chinese, he was able to discern a few things. After stopping the waitress we ordered ourselves two apps.

First up, Monk fish liver with sour plum sauce.

If you've never had Monkfish Liver, think of it as the Foie Gras of the see. Not as rich and creamy, it has a meat flavor you don't find in Foie. The flavor is very subtle, there's a tinge of salt on the back of your throat but it's earthy and less "brittle" than Foie. This was a giant hunk of goodness. When you bite into it, it's like biting into a thick gelatin, it's not mushy like foie and is able to hold its own with no companion sauce. I actually thought the sour plum detracted from the freshness of the liver.

We then each were served a skewer of Sea Eel Innards.

Roasted Sea Eel innards sprinkled with a bit of white pepper. I didn't actually know what it was until I was eating it. I initially guessed heart due to the very rubbery texture on the outside of the meat. But then once you get past the outer layer it's a very soft thick and creamy texture. It sure was good tho, they drizzled some BBQ sauce on it to enhance the rendered fat flavor from the innards.

We then hopped back onto the sushi train.

The first dish back was of course... sea eel!

The sea eel is previously steamed and then sprinkled with a pink of sea salt before consumption. Consumed with no soy sauce you allow the salt to bring out the intricacies of the eel. The eel is very light, it's not as thick as its fresh-water brother. The meat is very brittle, it basically falls apart piece by piece in your mouth.

We were then served something I've never seen before and the chef couldn't give me the english name for.

It's the large scallop looking thing on the left... the right side is abalone.

Both dishes are things I don't eat very often raw. Not that I'm not an adventurous eater cause I AM! There are just certain things that have never been prepared raw for me. Like.. Abalone. I'm used to it with giant pieces of vegetables cooked in a heavy brown sauce. The abalone raw isn't as crunchy as clam but still has that thick crispness that one associates with surf clam. There's a very strong aroma of ocean/sea that comes from the abalone that is very striking. If you want to see what LIVE abalone sushi looks like.. Click this link!

The thing on the left... when whole looks like the picture below.

The shell of that "muscle" is about two hands wide and two hands tall... so it's a pretty big shell. But what Mama Fu always taught me was, if it looks like a Giant Scallop and tastes like a Scallop, it probably is a Giant Scallop. Not horribly impressive, just exciting to say I've tried some muscle connector the size of my hand.

We then had spicy cod roe and roe on kelp.

I greatly disliked the spicy cod roe dish. It felt like I was eating throw up. It was so mushy and warm in my mouth... Powell liked it, but I passed on finishing the other half of it.
The roe on the kelp is done by having the fishermen lay the kelp on the spawning floor and after one set is laid they'd flip it and more eggs would be laid on the other side.
The roe is not as salty as the Salmon Roe and is more of a refreshing pop of saltiness with each bite.

We then had our last two pieces of fish. User choice (everyone got Uni but me) with Kibinago.

Kibinago is a sardine like fish with a long silver streak running along the top of its body. The fish is very thinly sliced and has a slick texture that slides into your mouth before you take a bite. It has a bit of a crisp bite to it but has the same fleshy nature as Aji. Interesting fish...

We did have some Toro and Albacore but I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture =(

To finish off our meal we ended with a cut of Tamago.

Kaji- San brands the giant piece of tomago with the lettering of the restaurant. Sweet, flaky and soft, you can taste the individual folds of egg with each bite. When you chew on it, the layers fall apart in your mouth as if they were held together by a thread. If there's any one thing you need to order from the restaurant, it'd have to be this.

Overall I had a great experience here. Kaji - san and our dining neighbors lightened up with a few drinks and everyone had a good cheerful time in the end. I wish we had a few more exotic fish but all in all the freshness of the fish was superb and the knife cutting was stunning. Each fish was cut the perfect size for each piece of rice, the oilier fish had a longer thinner cut with the same exacting precision as the fatter cuts had.

Do call for reservations if you want to go, I'd hate for you to be turned away like I was before =)

Sushi Dokoro Shirahama

4212 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 650-3578


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lion's Head Stew!

Every family has that one dish there Grandmother ALWAYS makes. Rain or shine, hot or cold your grandmother will always make this whenever there is a special occasion. For us it's Lion's Head. My grandmother will call me to have me come over to eat dinner on days she makes Lion's Head. My grandmother is SO proud of her Lion's Head that one Christmas Eve we decided to just order a feast of Chinese food from a local restaurant and insisted she not cook. When the food all arrived, she went into the kitchen (where I followed her) and she had HIDDEN Lion's Head in the cabinets.

I never really thought to myself to try and make Lion's Head but after watching a recent episode of Iron Chef I thought to myself it would be an inexpensive dish that I could eat for a few meals.

A tidbit about Lion's Head from Wikipedia if you've never heard of this classic Chinese dish

Lion's head is a dish from the Huaiyang cuisine of eastern China, consisting of large pork meatballs (about 7-10 cm in diameter) stewed with vegetables. There are two varieties: the white (or plain), and the red (红烧, cooked with soy sauce). The plain variety is usually stewed or steamed with napa cabbage. The red variety can be stewed with cabbage or cooked with bamboo shoots and tofu derivatives. The minced meat in the meatball tends to be made from fatty pork (lean pork making for a less desirable taste), often with some chopped water chestnut for textural variation.

The name derives from the shape of the cabbage, which together with the meatball and a bit of imagination, resembles a lion's head.

The dish originated from the region of Yangzhou and Zhenjiang in JiangsuYangzhou and the red variety more common in Zhenjiang. The dish became a part of Shanghai cuisine with the influx of migrants in the 19th and early 20th Century.

I took some liberties with the dish, since I'd like to eat "healthy" as often as possible when I cook at home I replaced the pork with lean turkey. When I was first making this dish I was very fearful that the turkey would work as well as Shaq shooting free throws, but it turned out okay.

I started out with the basic recipe from and I added a few extra ingredients to KICK IT UP A NOTCH.

You first start out by creaking a shitake mushroom "broth", put in about 6-8 shitake mushrooms (fresh if you can) into a bowl with 2 cups of boiling hot water. Let it rest for 30 minutes or so. Discard the stems and cut up the mushrooms into thin slices. Keep 1 cup of the broth on the side for the dish.

While waiting for the broth to finish, you can mix the meat. I deviate from the recipe here.
I wanted a thicker , meatier dish full of deep rich flavor so I changed to turkey from pork and added a few different ingredients.

Take a pound of ground turkey mix it with a large handful of scallions, 1 table spoon of ginger, a shot of rice wine, 2 lightly scrambled eggs, three long squirts of sesame oil, generous salt/black pepper/ and white pepper, a few pinches of sugar, and 3-4 caps of soy sauce.

The meat will look a bit runny so add enough corn starch where the mixture doesn't stick too much to your hands. (it will stick!) Slam it around for a bit and then shape it into 6 meat balls. The original recipe says 4, but you'll notice this meatball is VERY dense and meaty. The lean turkey is much thicker than the fatty ground pork.

Take a head of Napa Cabbage, peel it and cut it in half (along the head). Mix it with your shitake mushrooms, vegetable oil, a few pinches of ginger for a few minutes. Add in the mushroom broth and let it cook for another 3 minutes. Remove and put into a large pot.

Take out the meatball patties and brown the outside to seal in the flavor.
Layer the meatballs with the vegetable mixture and empty in 2.5 cups of chicken broth
Cover the meatballs with as much cabbage as you'd like.

Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. Throughout the simmering taste the broth to see if you need to add salt, water, or pepper to taste. After about a hour the cabbage should look like the picture above.

Spoon a meatball, some cabbage, and a few pieces of mushroom in a bowl. I cooked some fresh Chinese noodles and mixed it with the dish with some of the broth for a soup noodle dish.

The fresh shitake mushrooms really make a difference. They add in an earthy and dark mushroom flavor and they absorb all the turkey, ginger, and chicken broth.

The best part of this dish is it keeps very well, I've eaten it over the course of a week and it tastes just as good each time.

Hope you enjoy it!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Wine Vault and Bistro (San Diego, CA)

In these dark economic times it's hard for one to really revel in fine dining without being fearful of its impact on your already thin wallet. You can't always have the grandest of meals, some meals I can have 25 bowls of Pho instead! Lucky for you dear readers I stumbled across quite the gold mine in San Diego.

Wine Vault and Bistro offers a 5 course menu for $25 every Saturday night with an $18 wine pairing menu.The restaurant itself is not particularly large, it can fit roughly 80 people in an outdoor patio and indoor dining area.

This particular time I invited a few school mates to join me to celebrate my birthday. Chris (the owner of WV&B) did a great job of setting up a large table for us that adequately held our people, wines, and wine glasses. They also accommodated my incessant requests to turn on and turn off the over head heater. Chris promised to take care of me for my birthday and he did not disappoint. Our server did a splendid job caring for our every request.
My most cherished dining partner does not eat cheese... and since one of the dishes was Mac & Cheese, they made her a whole new dish (which I will say... was better than the Mac & Cheese!)

We had a few bottles of wine at our table and I was provided a few glasses by generous strangers when Chris informed them of my birthday. A very very generous and delicious alcohol based night =P. Here's a quick breakdown of what we drank.

  • N.V. Ruinart Champagne Blanc de Blancs - France, Champagne (11/25/2008)
    Very sharp and crisp wine. A nose of lemon grass, years and apple. A bit dry for my liking with crisp notes of honey and "dry" farm hay. (88 pts.)

  • 1990 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame - France, Champagne (11/25/2008)
    Copious amounts of butterscotch with metal and apple on the nose. The butterscotch is almost overwhelming, as if you were drinking something other than a vintage champagne. A lean wine on the palate with a good deal of yeast with a bit of orange rind and oddly still alcoholic. What I found most interesting on this wine was it tickles your taste buds with just currents of the great minerality and acidity on the wine, . A very enjoyable bottle of champagne. (92 pts.)

  • 1983 Château Mouton Rothschild - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (11/25/2008)
    Quick double decant for sediment. Definite browning on the rim of the wine. A nose of cedar, rubber, and cherry lightly floating up. A complex and balanced wine ... the word Balanced constantly ran through my mind while drinking. Stewed fruits, hint of meat and tea leaves with spiced raspberries and soy sauce on the palate. I felt the fruit really struggled to show behind the spice and savory aspects. Fine long integrated tannins ran through the back with a slightly metallic finish. The wine died out in about 2 hours in the glass and tasted like vinegar. (91 pts.)

  • 2005 Sine Qua Non Grenache Atlantis Fe2O3~2a, b & c - USA, California (11/25/2008)
    Ridiculously good wine. The first time I had it in June i felt the pepper aspect of the wine really overwhelmed all the fruit and complexity but this time.. wow. This was popped and double decanted quickly at the restaurant. The wine is perfect in "size" it's bordering on being HUGE and overwhelming but it skirts the edge perfectly. Loads of vanilla, raspberry... like smelling the red berry section at a farmer's market. Peppery and floral on the palate with with layers all kinds of fresh fruit just coating your mouth over and over again with silky love. incredibly long finish with a little bit of tannins. There are few wines that I can't stop drinking and this is definitely one of them. The nose was still immense and delicious 3 hours in.

    Does anyone want to share their SQN allocation with me? *pretty please* (97 pts.)

  • 2004 D.R. Stephens Cabernet Sauvignon Moose Valley Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley (11/25/2008)
    An even larger and more vibrant nose than last time on essentially a pop and pour. Waves of chocolate, vanilla, sweet fruit , and oak hit your nose when you pour it into the glass. The mouthfeel wasn't quite as good as when I had it last time (after 4 hours in a decanter). Still dark and intense with blackberry, blue berry, and coffee rinds. Good finish. I enjoy this wine every single time I drink it! It definitely needs plenty of time in the decanter/bottle! (94 pts.)

  • 1983 Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley (11/25/2008)
    A Huge nose of fresh french bread with light vanilla and dry vibrant fruit. Large amounts of fruit on the palate with leathery herbs. A touch of mint on the mid palate with a prune finish. There still had a good amount of alcohol throughout the drink and it tasted a bit disjointed, but I'm surprised anything from California during my birth year survived. (90 pts.)
As well as these two from the generous strangers.
  • 1985 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley (11/25/2008)
    A big ol nose of spice , oak and dark dark fruit. A nice palate of stewed strawberries but with a limited finish that kind of dies in your mouth. Not bad. (89 pts.)

  • 2000 Château Lynch-Bages - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (11/25/2008)
    This wine still needs alot of time. A really big and ripe wine with a bit of alcohol. Still very tannic and dry. Some sweet fruit on the nose with some spice box. The palate was tight and unappealing, I can feel the complexity and fruit trying to struggle and come out, but right now it's being heavily pushed back. This is not a pop and pour wine, I wonder how long people had it open for that are giving it the 92+ scores let alone 97+? Do you score this based on it being a 2000 lynch bages? If this was blind would it be scored so high? (88 pts.)
Of course you can't drink wine alone, one must have delicious food to accompany delicious wine!

We started with an amuse bouche of Ahi tuna
Citrus infused Ahi Tuna diced and combined with onions, dill, and baby cilantro. A refreshing start and great palate cleanser to start the meal. ($25 meal with Amuse?!)

Our first dish was Spiny Lobster Bisque with Micro Fennel

A piece of spiny lobster swims in the broth of rich creme, lobster, and fennel. For some they would say the soup is TOO creamy and TOO flavorful, but with powerful wines and generous amounts of bread, there was an even balance for my palate.

Substitute Mac& Cheese Dish, Roasted Chicken leg with Braised Brussel Sprouts

As explained earlier, the Mac and cheese was substituted with a great Roasted Chicken, the chicken was moist and bursting with flavors of pepper and spice. The Brussel sprouts were cooked to a point "almost" all the bitterness was gone, a heavier hand of salt or broth would have made the sprouts excellent!

"Mac 'n' Cheese:" Macaroni + Artisan Pancetta Carbonara

Macaroni pasta lightly cooked in the Carbonara style (cheese, egg, and fatty pork/bacon). Unlike the normal US style which mixes in cream to give it a "saucier" consistency, this one has stayed true. This does result in a somewhat drier pasta shell but the pasta is excellently cooked. If I had any request, it'd be for a bit more cheese, I felt the bacon really overpowered all other flavors and it was like eating bacon + noodles with a dash of cheese.

Hoisin Glazed Pork Belly with Kabocha Squash Puree

*hum*, the Pork Belly was cooked a bit too long. The skin on top ended up being really dry and the hoisin sauce just kind of caked on it. BUT underneath the skin was a very soft and malleable piece of pork... go figure.

Grilled Skirt Steak | Arroz a la Plancha | Smoked Paprika Chimichurri

Yum yum yum, spicy like a salsa dancer and meaty like.. my fat self. Cooked a nice medium rare and drizzled with a spicy and sour chimichurri sauce. A nice reprive from the saltiness of the previous dish. The very very very VERY best part on this already very great dish was the crispy rice they layered the steak on. The rice was pan fried in a patty where it was crisp on the outside and a bit soft on the inside. I love various types of consistency in my dish and this part was rather excellent.

Pedro Ximenez Baba | Crème Chantilly

No one had any idea what this dish was when we first sat down. Luckily 75% of our table had google access on their phone and we found out Baba was a yeast sponge cake while Pedro Ximenez was a type of dark sherry.

The cake is soaked in/ drizzled with/ dipped in the Pedo Ximenez to give it an alcoholic and strong oaky sweet flavor. The heavy creme on top balanced out the oakiness with rich sugar. I personally enjoyed the dish a lot, but it was a pretty mixed bag. Some people at the table had the dish completely drenched in alcohol and it really detracted from the dish, while some had NO alcohol so you have a really dry piece of cake.

It may sound like I'm being a bit picky about some of the dishes but let me tell you, you cannot beat the quality and the price. The very first time I went for the Saturday dinner I enjoyed EVERY SINGLE DISH that I had. The food is good and the five course meal would be worth of double the price.

Please do yourself a favor in these dark economic times and treat yourself to a nice meal and recession prices!

Wine Vault and Bistro
3731-A India Street
San Diego, CA


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Update on Angelena's

Update from Mystery Eater!

Back in March 2007, Clayfu reviewed Angelena's in Alhambra, CA.

Sad to say, this finger lickin' place is no longer around for dine-in. According to the sign posted on its restaurant windows (ignore the reflection), they only do catering. (Clayfu remark: A victim of its location, it had no chance surviving in a Chinese-dominated population (will we be saying good bye to Bistro 39 next door as well later this year?).)

Good-bye tender fried chicken, good-bye moist red velvet cake... I'm sorry we let you down.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Have a happy holiday!

Hope everyone had a very safe and happy holiday season and as the new year is upon us, I'd like to thank all the people who have joined me on my culinary adventure (either reading or eating) and hope for many new restaurants in the coming year!