Daikokuya – West Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Time to tackle a contentious topic — the best ramen in LA. Los Angeles is teeming with authentic, hole-in-the-wall ramen joints that have attracted quite a cult following. We used to hop in our car and brave the network of freeways all the way to Downtown LA, only to viciously fend off muggles in our search for precious street parking. And for what? To stand out on the sidewalk in the cold (because of course, ramen tastes best when it’s cold outside) for HOURS, awaiting a coveted seat in the shoebox-sized Daikokuya location off 1st Street. But with the popularity of ramen rising, all of the greats have made the move to Little Osaka. We were most excited, of course, for the advent of Daikokuya. Rejoice, Westsiders!

The Interior... that looks like a busy Tokyo street!

The Interior… that looks like a busy Tokyo street!

This Westside location off Sawtelle has just about everything going for it — the parking is free and easy (the shopping center has a multi-story structure), the wait is considerably less as the venue can accommodate a bit more seating, and the food is just as good as the original Little Tokyo location. Winner winner, ramen dinner. Just remember to sign up on the clipboard just inside the door; otherwise you’ll end up standing around looking confused among the throngs of visitors. If you get nothing else from this blog post, I hope we can at least help prevent you from looking like a newbie.

Kotteri Ramen

Kotteri Ramen

As we’ve mentioned before, there are many styles of ramen in Japan. Tokyo style ramen is different from that of Sapporo or Kyoto, and they’re all delicious in their own ways. But if pressed to choose a favorite, Martin and I would have to give a nod to Hakata style tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu, not to be confused with tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork chop – also delicious), refers to a broth made from stewing pork bones for a very long time to render the fat and yield an unctuous, guilty-pleasure experience. Cue the namesake Daikoku Ramen. Make yours even more decadent by ordering it kotteri-style… Japanese for “rich” or “thick” but I translate it as extra fatty. The presence of extra fat globules is even enough to turn the broth opaque in color, but the sensory overload from this flavor boost is so worth it. The noodles are of the thicker variety and are always al dente. Add in thick slices of tender chashu pork, strips of bamboo (menma), a hardboiled soy sauce egg (ajitama), and a generous handful of green onion (negi) and you have what I personally believe to be worthy of the title Best Ramen in Los Angeles.

Gyoza

Gyoza

Ramen is not the only dish worth ordering here. If you have the stomach space, make room for an order of gyoza. Hand rolled, rectangular-shaped potstickers that are wok fried and always end up with plenty of extra crispy browned edges. Served under a mountain of green onions and alongside a tiny pitcher of sweet and savory gyoza sauce. If I remember correctly, one order is comprised of an odd number of dumplings, leaving us to duel to the death over the last one.

Pork Fried Rice (Chahan)

Pork Fried Rice (Chahan)

For the extra hungry (or for those who want to save leftovers for the next day’s lunch), you can also add on a “side dish” and make your meal a ramen set. Oyakodon (chicken and egg, over rice), chashu pork over rice, and our favorite — pork fried rice (chahan). A side order is one giant scoop, and an a la carte order is two giant scoops. If we’re both in the mood for extra chahan, we’ll split the a la carte order (I think it comes out to $0.50 cheaper or something like that). Wok fried rice sprinkled with bits of pork, corn, and green onion and served with pickled red ginger (beni shoga), the only thing better than eating this on the spot is bringing it home and drizzling sriracha over a reheated portion for the most awesome brown bag lunch ever.

The Little Tokyo location will always be our first love, but this closer and newer Westside Daikokuya, with its interior decor that resembles a Tokyo street, is really winning us over. Plus, they have takoyaki. I haven’t ordered it yet, but that’s one of my favorite things in the world so you can bet I’ll be trying it soon. The food is stellar and the service is so friendly; they’re very attentive about refilling drinks (including the iced green tea!). I even left behind my camera here once, and they very kindly held it for me by the closely guarded cash register for safe-keeping. Run, don’t walk, to my pick for Best Ramen in LA.

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Check out Daikokuya: daikoku-ten.com

2208 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

See their Yelp reviews here!

Hide Sushi – West Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Yet another adventure in Little Osaka lies in this hole-in-the-wall joint Hide (pronounced hee-day) Sushi. I must have driven by it hundreds of times since moving to the Westside. It’s in an unassuming little corner near Tsujita Annex and gr/eats, immediately across the street from the Giant Robot Store. The perfect little meeting place for me and S to rendezvous for her belated birthday dinner.

Ankimo at Hide Sushi

Ankimo at Hide Sushi

Hide Sushi has a sizable a la carte menu, but S and I love going out for omakase when we can get it. Luckily, the chefs behind the counter were happy to oblige. Omakase here is generally $40, very affordable for the amount and quality of fish we would receive. Since we were celebrating, I requested a $50 per person “budget” instead (boy – that turned out to be a TON of food!). There were 3 or 4 sushi chefs behind the counter, but our chef was very excited and S even commented at the end of the night that he seemed to like me and my use of Japanese. (Funny, just when I think my Japanese has all but disappeared, I manage to carry on a coherent conversation without even thinking about the sentences — what’s that saying about riding a bike?)

Before we started, he asked me just one question, Nan de mo ii? (Is anything okay?) Hai, iin desu, I replied in response. With a knowing smile, he focused on his craft.

Hamachi (Yellowtail)

Hamachi (Yellowtail)

First up, maguro (tuna; not pictured — we were too excited… a theme throughout the evening, actually) and hamachi (yellowtail). Generous cuts of familiar fish — a simple, delicious start.

Tai (Red Snapper)

Tai (Red Snapper)

Tai (red snapper): Dipped in a citrus-y ponzu sauce, the red snapper tasted slightly fishy (in a very, very good way).

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

Amaebi (sweet shrimp): The shrimp were HUGE, probably the largest amaebi I’d ever had, but oh so sweet and succulent. Our chef made a hilarious gesture to inform us that the fried shrimp heads were forthcoming. I can’t even begin to describe it — the next time you see me, remind me of this story and I’ll have to demonstrate for you. :)

Amaebi no Tama (Fried Shrimp Heads)

Amaebi no Tama (Fried Shrimp Heads)

Amaebi no atama (fried shrimp heads): Just as promised, one of the servers brought out a magnificent plate of crispy fried shrimp heads. Some places prepare them tempura-style, but these were au naturale and ever so simply salted. Every single part is edible, even the “skull” and eyeballs – and check out the marvelous height on those antennae! Don’t be shy.

Aji (Spanish Mackerel)

Aji (Spanish Mackerel)

Aji (Spanish mackerel): One of S’ favorites, this fishy, oily cut was excellent and dressed with just a touch of ponzu.

Uni (Sea Urchin)

Uni (Sea Urchin)

Uni (sea urchin): Sweet and creamy, the sea urchin was silky smooth with just the right touch of briny, rich flavor.

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)

Ankimo (Monkfish Liver)

Ankimo (monkfish liver): This has to be one of my absolute favorite pieces of sushi – the must-have any time I see it on the menu or specials board at a sushi restaurant. I had asked our chef specifically if he had fresh ankimo today, and his eyes lit up as he answered with a definitive YES! The nigiri was PILED HIGH and it was so good. The foie gras of the sea…

Ikura (salmon roe)

Ikura (salmon roe)

Ikura (salmon roe): Pop pop pop! I thought we were near the end when we were served those rich pieces of sushi, but we were just getting started! These salmon roe were briny and bright. great to wash down the creamy uni and ankimo that preceded it.

Ebi (Shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (Flying Fish Roe with Quail Egg)

Ebi (Shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (Flying Fish Roe with Quail Egg)

Ebi (shrimp) and Tobiko & Uzura (flying fish roe with quail egg): The steamed shrimp nigiri was not particularly special, but fresh nonetheless. But the “double egg”… this was the most unique presentation of nigiri we had today, And it was utterly delicious and thoughtful. The tobiko were crunchy and briny, while the creaminess of the quail egg yolk mellowed out the flavors nicely. Loved it.

Hokkigai (Surf Clam) and Sake (Salmon)

Hokkigai (Surf Clam) and Sake (Salmon)

Hokkigai (surf clam) and Sake (salmon): The surf clam was huge, enveloping the rice as if it were a sleeve of inari. Crazy! The salmon was sweet and glistening with its natural fattiness, a very reliable standby.

— Not pictured because we were too excited and dug in right away —

Tako (octopus): A thick and generous slice that was tender in the center but a bit chewy on the edges. Sadly, not our favorite.

Unagi (freshwater eel): Drenched in its sweet caramelized sauce and toasted just a tad, this was a delectable morsel and one of my favorites of the evening.

Tamago (sweet egg): Like “sushi dessert,” this was our final piece of the night. Funny story — just before it, the chef looked over at me inquisitively and I responded “onaka ippasugi!” (we’re too full!). He chuckled and then said, just one more! This was the one he presented to us to end the night, and boy were we pleased.

By the end of the experience, we were so full! The total came out to just over $92, and it’s cash only so be sure to visit your local bank beforehand (but in case you forget or spontaneously decided to visit, they do have an ATM right when you walk in). Also, when ordering omakase for two, the chef will ask if you would like one piece each type of fish or a full pair per person (nigiri sushi, I’ve learned, is always made in pairs). We were glad we opted for one piece per; this way, we get to try a large variety of fish without getting too full off duplicate pieces.

Two more things. One – when you first enter, hug the right wall as you walk toward the side of the restaurant where the whiteboard is. Most places have a clipboard for waiting lists, but Hide Sushi has a whole whiteboard. Add your name, party size, and seating preference (S for sushi bar, T for table). Easy peasy. And two – unlike other places on Sawtelle, Hide Sushi has its own (free!) parking lot.

So if you’re wandering around in Little Osaka and craving sushi, definitely make a stop at Sawtelle’s best kept secret and let the Chef choose your adventure. Whatever it is, it will be hontou ni oishii (really delicious)!

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Check out Hide Sushi: hidesushi.com

2040 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!

Crazy Sushi Fever – Atascadero, CA

Central Coast, Food Adventures

What had initially started out as a joke turned out to be an awesome dinner date. To celebrate our three-year anniversary, Martin and I took a few days off work and drove up to the Central Coast. Searching our Yelp! app for a place to eat near our hotel in Atascadero, we noticed a distinctly odd and kitschy name – Crazy Sushi Fever. You’ve got to be kidding me. But the reviews were great, the photos looked appetizing, and it was a mere half mile away. We looked at each other and decided, let’s go for it!

Crazy Sushi Fever - Pismo Boat

Crazy Sushi Fever – Pismo Boat

After an abysmally long walk (GPS, you lied to me), we arrived at this humble sushi joint exhausted. Fortunately, our spirits were immediately lifted by the welcoming smiles of the chefs behind the counter. We grabbed seats right in front of the main counter and ordered a pair of Asahi Kuronama to quench our thirst.

Asahi Kuronama (Asahi Black)

Asahi Kuronama (Asahi Black)

We typically enjoy Asahi Kuronama with yakitori, but it paired surprising well with our sushi as well. Noticing the prices of the a la carte nigiri sushi ($4+ per pair), we decided to share a boat – the Pismo Boat, an omakase creation of 10 pieces of nigiri sushi and 20 pieces of sashimi. All for $60. Meanwhile, we admired the gleaming slabs of salmon and maguro sitting in the refrigerated case. I couldn’t wait.

Ginger, Wasabi, and... Banchan?

Ginger, Wasabi, and… Banchan?

Okay, so it turned out that the chefs behind the counter were actually Korean. On the bright side, that meant that our customary dish of wasabi and gari (pickled ginger) was served alongside generous mountains of cucumber sunomono and wakame (seaweed salad)… suspiciously reminiscent of the variety of banchan at the start of any Korean meal. No complaints from me!

The Pismo Boat

The Pismo Boat

At last, the glorious boat was proudly presented to us. From left to right: maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), sake (salmon), shiro maguro (albacore), and ono (escolar). All of which looked stunning and tasted wonderful. We dug in, nigiri first. After just one or two pieces, the chef who made our boat caught my attention by waving a mysterious white packet.

Fresh Wasabi

Fresh Wasabi

“Would you like to try some fresh wasabi?” he offered. Of course I said yes! I think I remembered to say please… In any case, he hooked us up with a dollop of chopped wasabi root marinated in a bit of salt. OMG SO GOOD. It’s infinitely better than the pale green paste from the tube or can, and though some may say it’s not the same as fresh grated wasabi root, I think the salt really makes a difference in this prepared version. It pulled out some of the liquid and made this saucy, spicy glaze that tasted amazing on the fresh fish. I’m now on a mission to track down this elusive pouch of kizami wasabi.

Back to the Boat

Back to the Boat

I’m usually not a huge fan of maguro, but the one here was a gorgeous bright red. The hamachi was buttery and shimmered with fat. Salmon is always our favorite, and theirs was sweet and melt-in-your-mouth good. We were thankful for the ridiculously thick sashimi slices of all of the varieties, but especially the salmon! Finally we moved on to the sauced pieces – shiro maguro and ono. Typical preparation on the shiro maguro, with a drizzle of ponzu and sprinkling of negi (green onions). The ono, which I had only seen served at Sushi Central here in West LA, was drizzled in a ponzu and chili oil dressing and topped with a mound of masago (Capelin roe). By the time we polished off the last bite, we were both completely satiated… although, they say there’s always room for dessert…

Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream

Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream

Tempura green tea ice cream is my guilty pleasure. A perfect sphere of matcha ice cream dipped in tempura batter and rolled in panko bread crumbs, then deep fried to a golden hue. The artsy swirls of chocolate syrup really brought the dessert together and we enjoyed each decadent bite. They also have a tempura cheesecake on their menu… talk about avoiding temptation!

If you ever find yourself in the Central Coast / Paso Robles area with a craving for sushi, we suggest stopping by Crazy Sushi Fever. Peculiar name aside, they are a great place with prompt, friendly service and delicious sushi. And if you ask nicely, maybe they’ll share a bit of their fresh wasabi stash.

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Check out Crazy Sushi Fever:

8050 El Camino Real
Atascadero, CA 93422

See their Yelp reviews here!

Cucumber Sandwiches

Appetizers and Starters, Recipes

Good heavens! Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches?

Cucumber Sandwiches

Cucumber Sandwiches

For some reason, of all the scenes in the opening act of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the cucumber sandwiches were the most memorable to me. And now, English afternoon tea is just not complete without a tray of gorgeous, refreshing cucumber sandwiches. Elegant in their three-ingredient simplicity, cucumber sandwiches traditionally consist of thinly sliced white bread, paper thin slices of fresh cucumber, and butter.

Perfect for afternoon tea

Perfect for afternoon tea

We recently came into some fresh cucumbers from our friend’s garden, so I decided to grab Kewpie sweet mayonnaise in lieu of butter, a loaf of Japanese white bread, and steep a pot of Earl Grey. A very thin layer of the sweet mayo prevents the cucumber from making the bread soggy and adds a hint of tartness.

Ingredients:

The Ingredients

Ingredients:

White bread

Cucumbers

Kewpie Mayonnaise (or unsalted butter)

Cucumber slices, ready for action!

Cucumber slices, ready for action!

Peel and slice the cucumber as thinly as possible. You could save some time and use a mandoline if you have one.

Mmm... mayo

Mmm… mayo

Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of the sweet Japanese mayo onto a slice of bread. Spread evenly, all the way to the edges. If you have any “extra,” scrape it off and slather onto a second slice.

Arrange the cucumber slices

Arrange the cucumber slices

Arrange slices of cucumber in a single layer.

Cut off the crusts, just like elementary school lunches

Cut off the crusts, just like elementary school lunches

Top with the second slice of bread and cut off the crusts.

Serve the triangles on a platter

Serve the triangles on a platter

Cut the sandwich on the diagonal twice, making four dainty triangles.

TARDIS blend from Adagio Tea - a blend of earl grey, vanilla, and blackberry

TARDIS blend from Adagio Tea – a blend of earl grey, vanilla, and blackberry

Pour yourself a cup of tea, switch on BBC America to the latest episode of Doctor Who (unveiling of the Twelfth Doctor, anyone?), and enjoy afternoon tea with this Japanese twist on a British classic. Keep calm and carry on, my friends.

nomnomcat print button

Hakata Ramen Shin Sen Gumi – Little Tokyo

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Oh ramen… It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles for college did I finally discover that ラーメン is so much more than Cup ‘O Noodles or Nong Shim shin cups. There was shio (salt) ramen, shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, miso ramen, and of course our favorite – tonkotsu (pork-based) ramen. With a rich broth enriched by the fat and collagen in pork bones, there’s nothing quite like a big bowl of tonkotsu ramen on a cold rainy day (or even on a hot summer’s day) to really make my insides feel warm and fuzzy. Martin and I have been known to stand on the sidewalk of 1st Street in hour-long waits for Daikokuya, but this time, we were in the mood for something a bit different. Cue, Shin-Sen-Gumi.

The Guys at Shin-Sen-Gumi

The Guys at Shin-Sen-Gumi

Hakata ramen is traditionally a pork-based broth served with thin, pale white noodles, chashu (roasted pork slices), negi (green onions), and benishoga (red pickled ginger). Two relatively unique concepts make Shin-Sen-Gumi stand out among the other ramen shops — 1) you use an order form where you can check off your desired broth strength, noodle texture, and amount of oil, and 2) you can purchase any variety of the 30 available regular and special toppings to really customize your bowl. Add in the fact that Shin-Sen-Gumi offers kaedama (that is, the purchase of extra noodles) and we have a winning combination!

The Menu

The Menu

It will be difficult, but definitely narrow down your toppings to just a few or the price of a standard sized bowl will quickly add up. Luckily, most toppings hover between $1-2 and since they come in separate little dishes, you can always share.

Our Order

Our Order

We were practically drooling at the counter watching the guys set up bowl after bowl of noodles and broth with a deft swiftness. The energy was great as they enthusiastically called out each new order and simultaneously welcomed new customers with a loud  いっらしゃい (irrashai!).

Other Toppings / Mix-ins

Other Toppings / Mix-ins

At each table sat this cute little rack of additional toppings so you could further customize your broth (customization is the theme of this meal). I saw many others using a combination of the goma (sesame seeds), white pepper, chili oil, vinegar, and shoyu, but we left ours as-is.

Toppings

Toppings (clockwise from the center): chashu, thick cut chashu, menma (bamboo), shoyu egg, kikurage (wood ear mushroom), crispy pig ear

We were very happy when the toppings arrived; it was a sign that our bowls of ramen would be coming soon! One of the orders of bamboo, along with the egg and chashu, were for Martin’s bowl, while I was excited to add the bamboo, wood ear mushroom, thick cut chashu, and crispy pig ear to my bowl. As you can see, we don’t share well when it comes to delicious noms.

Hakata Ramen

Hakata Ramen

Martin and I each ordered a bowl of Hakata Ramen. He went “normal” across the board for noodle firmness, oil, and broth strength but omitted the benishoga. Mine (the one pictured above) was normal noodle firmness, light oil, and normal broth strength. The broth was hearty, rich, and totally hits the spot. Though not quite as fatty as the kotteri ramen at Daikokuya, I very much appreciated that the broth here was not awkwardly cloying on my lips and tongue like it can be at other tonkotsu ramen places.

My Toppings

My Toppings

After what felt like an eternity trying to keep my hands steady enough to take these photographs, I finally grabbed the cute little dishes of toppings and tossed them into my bowl. All except for the crispy pig ear. I decided to reserve those bits of crispy pig ear and add them throughout the meal so they stay crunchy.

All mixed in!

All mixed in!

The noodles here were much thinner than at other ramen places. I was ambivalent, although I generally prefer thicker noodles. Also, I was swimming in pork as I had not realized that the regular bowl of hakata ramen comes with a few chashu slices by default. I’m definitely not complaining though! Martin and I were focused — we ate in stunned silence, save for the occasional slurp.

Crispy Pig Ear

Crispy Pig Ear

Hands down the crispy pig ear was my favorite topping and probably the best $1.50 I’ve ever spent. A generous pile of golden brown crunchy bits, they reminded me of the pork rinds served with Vietnamese steamed rice cakes (bánh bèo). Some went into my bowl to soak up a bit of broth, but admittedly, many of the pieces just went straight into my mouth. Don’t miss out on this topping!

About $12 - not bad for lunch

About $12 – not bad for lunch

In retrospect, I realized I spent almost as much in toppings as the price of the ramen itself, but I have no regrets. The wood ear mushroom and bamboo added great textures to complement the noodles, and the thick cut chashu was so moist and tender that it practically melted in my mouth. It was definitely a satisfying lunch and well worth the journey out to Downtown LA’s Little Tokyo.

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Check out Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi: shinsengumigroup.com

132 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013

See their Yelp reviews here!