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Loco For The Yoko

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Ah sushi.  Just one facet of Japanese cuisine that has taken the world by storm.  Most people think of this food as being super Japanese and simply means “raw fish”.  On the contrary, sushi was originally invented in Southeast Asia, and sushi actually refers to the vinegar laden rice that upholds the meal.  It wasn’t until the early 1800s in Japan when the sushi and sashimi (raw fish slices) were combined as we consume it now.  It was referred to as Edo (Tokyo’s old name) style sushi.  While most people focus on the quality of the fish, in reality the sushi rice is considered of greater importance to the overall dining experience.  In Japan, a sushi chef can’t begin to serve fish until he has mastered the art of preparing the perfect batch of sushi rice.  If you want a great movie to see the training and art of sushi at its finest and most old-school, check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  While I’ve experienced sushi in Tokyo, I managed to find a little slice of the homeland just around the corner from my house in Westmont, IL in the form of Yokohama Japanese Restaurant.

Now it may not be in the most glamorous place in the world: in a small strip mall next to train tracks and a water silo, but as I’ve learned throughout my travels around the world, never judge a restaurant by its appearance (however hidden, strange, or non-descript it might be).  IMG_4858When we walked through the door, we were actually the only people in the restaurant, and the stoic sushi chef who was meticulously scrubbing down his workstation greeted us with a konichiwa! IMG_4872 We were quickly seated and had our menus placed in front of us.  IMG_4859Looking over the menu, they had a plethora of sushi options that ranged from individual pieces (~$1.50~4 per piece) to combination platters of sushi and sashimi (~$20-25).  We naturally started with drinks, and I wasn’t sure what to get until I saw something called Ramune under the sodas.  So when it came to my table, Janice knew what it was, but I was greatly confused looking at this uniquely shaped bottle.  IMG_4862Our waitress popped the top of the bottle with something that looked like a metal rod, and suddenly a glass marble of sorts dropped into the middle of the neck yet somehow didn’t fall to the bottom. IMG_4865 It turns out that this bottle was introduced to Japan by a Scottish chemist who was selling lemonade soda which was subsequently promoted by local papers as a preventative for cholera.  When I tried to drink it, it was really hard to imbibe the lemon-lime soda I could liken to a more subtle Sprite in nature.  I had to somehow use my tongue to push it up while allowing enough space for the soda to flow.  I eventually was like a sugar crazed rabbit flicking my tongue on the end of one of those water bottles that attach on the side with the metal spigot.  Long story short, Janice finally figured out that the strangely notched neck had a resting place for the marble which didn’t help since I already had finished 3/4ths of the bottle.  The thirst was real.

Regardless of my sufferings in the name of quenching my thirst, we ordered our food.  Janice got a mix of spicy hotate (scallop) rolls, California kani (crab) rolls, and a tamago sushi roll.  As for me, I was quite hungry, so I got a katsudon.  We waited quite awhile for our food which was kind of surprising given that we were the only people in there, but it was a sign that they were making everything fresh and taking care to make each piece perfectly.  Before we got our main course, we received complimentary bowls of miso soup and a kind of noodle salad.  IMG_4863I love miso soup in any form because it was warming our souls on that frigid night along with the wonderful earthy, savory umami flavor that Japanese cooking is notorious for.  IMG_4864The noodle salad was ok, and the white dressing that it was drowning in tasted kind of like ranch but not as tangy.  Eventually, our food came out, and the care the staff took in preparing the meal showed through in every piece of sushi. IMG_4869 The spicy scallop rolls weren’t terribly spicy, but the seaweed wrapping mixed with the slightly salty scallops to perfection. IMG_4871 I was more of a fan of the California rolls since they had a mix of smooth avocado, sweet crab meat, and crunchy cucumbers. IMG_4870 The tobiko fish eggs on the outside were the icing on the cake or the crown on these king crab rolls since they added a salty contrast to the vinegar soaked sushi rice.  As for the tamago, it was a part egg and part rice sushi roll was a bit too bland for me, but it’s wildly popular in Japan and elsewhere in the Far East.  So much so that even famous Korean rapper G-Dragon perhaps unknowingly sported a dodgy hairdo paying tribute to the eggy treat.rambut-g-dragon-sushi  Then there was my katsudon.  The word katsudon is a portmanteau of the Japanese words tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl dish).

The bowl...

The bowl…

Surprise surprise, that’s exactly what my meal was:IMG_4868  a moderately sized bowl packed with rice on the bottom and then topped with a melange of egg, fried noodles, and fried pork cutlet pieces.  I couldn’t go wrong with all of that protein and carbs, and I really didn’t.  The pork was plentiful and lightly fried with a crumb-laden crust.  Mixing the pieces with the rice and noodles proved to be quite the hearty meal that filled me up but did not leave me bloated, uncomfortable with a greasy taste in my mouth, and with a bad case of the meat sweats.

By the end of the meal, we were greatly satisfied with our meal, and the price we paid wasn’t bad at all compared to more glamous/popular sushi joints.  So, if you want to get quality sushi at reasonable prices with friendly service, check out Yokohama Japanese Restaurant in Westmont! Sayonara!

Yokohama Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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My Burger From Tokio

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Whew!  Finally done with all of my Florida food posts.  If you haven’t seen any of them, just scroll further down the page to get caught up in the narrative that is my life as a gourmand.  Today’s entry on Mastication Monologues checks off another foodie milestone for me.  It’s not something as crazy as when I ate a live octopus or scorpions, but it is an iconic fusion meal that has popped up on menus in areas of the USA with significant Asian populations like Chicagoland in this case.  My adventure begins with getting in touch with my good friend Carolyn who suggested Tokio Pub, and after looking over the menu online, I knew it was for me when I saw the dish in question.

So we met up in Schaumburg and were quickly seated at the height of dinner which I appreciated.

Our waitress was a laugh and a half with her saucy personality which contributed to our dining experience.  We ordered drinks first, and I got a pint of Fixed Gear Ale ($6).  It was an slightly murky but amber colored brew that had a definite bite with woody notes and a hoppy finish.  As for the food, the menu goes from various sushi offerings to ramen soups to the mysterious sounding hot rock dishes.  That final option left me somewhat intrigued, but Carolyn explained that you can cook your own food at your table utilizing piping hot pieces of stone.  While this interactive dining experience was tempting, I saw another limited per diem item:  the ramen burger.  I’ve been seeing this novelty dish shoot to the top of every foodie’s list, and I’ve even seen recipes in magazines as to how to properly prepare this fusion item.  So after a bit of anticipation, I finally was face to face with destiny. IMG_3026 IMG_3027 As I picked it up, I felt the golden, slippery layers between my fingers and quickly took my first bite.  It was a texture fiesta as I crunched through the outer noodles to the more giving secondary ramen layer which was quickly overtaken by a juicy beef patty, average greens, and a soy molasses that made it a divine treat to eat the meat.  IMG_3030Within five minutes, I had destroyed this piece of art and quickly turned my sights on the cucumber salad.  It was an understated compliment to the savory burger.  Not only were the cucumbers fresh and crispy, but the brine had a semi-sweet tang that cut through the greasy noodle taste.  Although the burger was slightly hefty, I knew I had to try their fried coconut bao (dumpling in Mandarin) dessert ($5).  The presentation alone made me quite fidgety while taking the picture.IMG_3031  It was like my own super-fattening version of Treasure Island.  The golden-brown dumpling treasure chest opened up to spill out coconut cream onto the caramel sand while the scoop of slowly melting ice cream was like a majestic mountain eroding to once again return to the sea, i.e. my stomach. IMG_3032 It was a fitting end to a rich dinner.

So if you’re looking for Asian fusion food with great service and moderately expensive prices in Schaumburg, check out Tokio Pub.

Tokio Pub on Urbanspoon

Impressive Intragalactic Intercourse

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Welcome one and all to another fantastic chapter in the food epic that is Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry is going to be a short one, but that doesn’t mean a lack of quality.  If you haven’t been reading, I’ve been reviewing various restaurants I’ve visited throughout my vacation to Delray Beach, Florida.  So far I’ve come mouth to burger, dog, and even mushroom.  However, this post is a definite shift as I move away from foods that might be considered classic Americana to more exotic meals.  So lets start with Lemongrass Asian Bistro, an upper echelon Asian eatery which has branches in other Atlantic coast Floridian cities.

After a filling lunch at Doc’s All American and an afternoon of scuba training, I wanted to have a light dinner that wouldn’t leave me bloated like a beached whale.  So, I decided that sushi would be something that would be rich, filling, yet light.  Lemongrass fit the bill.  The establishment has both indoor and outdoor seating, but I went for the latter since the weather, per usual, was quite pleasant. IMG_2873 I also love outdoor seating because it gives one ample opportunity for people watching as they pass by on the avenue.  While I was enjoying the sights and sounds of Delray Beach, I wasn’t too satisfied with the service.  I had to wait ten minutes for someone to welcome me and ask if I wanted anything to drink.  I know it is hard for the servers and kitchen staff when a restaurant is slammed (“filled to capacity” in customer speak), but Lemongrass at that time would hardly fall into that category.  Eventually I got a menu, and it seemed that they had specialties from mainly Japan with an extensive sushi menu, Thailand with a few satays and curries, and Vietnam with a plethora of stir fried noodle dishes.IMG_2868  However, I was surprised that their drink menu didn’t even offer plain sake given the litany of sushi meals they offer.  After a long time of contemplating between choosing the Vietnamese grilled pork and sushi, I got the Sex on the Moon sushi roll ($13) simply based on the name and spicy pepper next to the moniker.  After another long period of anticipation, my food eventually came out, and it was well worth the wait.  The presentation was interesting to say the least, but I personally think they went a bit overboard with the tempura bits sprinkled about the sushi roll. IMG_3945 It made it look like my food was swimming in sawdust, tasty, scallion-laced sawdust nevertheless. IMG_2869 I’m not quite certain why they call it “Sex on the Moon”, but I was over the moon after tasting it.  On the outside, there was a light sprinkling of the aforementioned tempura flakes, a moderately thick slab of raw tuna, and masago (Capelin fish roe).  The real magic of the meal resided within the snowy white nest of sticky rice where I was quickly introduced to the cordial and spicy family of fried shrimp, asparagus, avocado, eel, and pepper seeds.IMG_2870  While I naturally tasted the buttery shrimp and fiery pepper seeds, the other elements were not as individually impressive.  This meal was more of a team effort as the scallions enhanced the smooth avocado, and the asparagus provided a much needed crunch to balance the more delicate seafood ingredients like the fish eggs.  I spiced it up even further with the hefty dollop of wasabi they provided on the side, and that took it to another flavor galaxy.  By the end of Sex on the Moon, I was proverbially lighting up a smoke and lying back on my pillow with a sigh of satisfaction as I looked up to the stars in the Florida sky.

So if you’re willing to put up with slower than average service to experience some out of this world sushi, moonwalk on over the Lemongrass Asian Bistro.
Lemongrass Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Flick and Swish

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a Korean dish that is another adaptation of a “Japanese” dish:  shabu shabu.  First, even though everyone thinks that shabu shabu is Japanese, its roots stretch all the way back to Mongolia, and the meal was made popular in Japan after WWII.  Then Korea acquired it through Japanese occupation and made it their own.  Which brings me today when my principal and vice-principal treated all of the teachers to a celebratory dinner before the midterm exams at Yoree Shabu Shabu in Incheon.

I already knew that shabu shabu involved putting raw pieces of meat in boiling water, and then swishing them about to cook them.  Hence the name, “shabu shabu” which is supposed to be the onomatopoeic representation of the meat moving about in the bubbling cauldron of water.  So, when I sat down to enjoy the meal, I suddenly had a moment of deja-vu.

I think we've met before

I think we’ve met before.

Looking at the mini-mountain of beef bales and the steaming pot of broth, assorted greens, and enoki mushrooms, I was brought back to the Chinese/Taiwanese hot pot dinner at my friend David’s house (Part 1 and Part 2).  However, it was different because the broth was on the milder side instead of boasting bold Sichuan spices, and Yoree Shabu Shabu also allowed us to help ourselves to their buffet.  I’ll describe that later, but first, the shabu shabu.  Once I found some pieces of beef that were fully cooked, I gingerly took them out and placed them in the side dish of soy sauce, vinegar, and wasabi.

Yeah, I got a side of gummi bears with my shabu shabu.

Yeah…I got a side of gummi bears with my shabu shabu.

The meat was succulent and flavorful, but I personally wasn’t a fan of diluting the potent kick of the wasabi by putting it in the soy marinade.  I even noticed that there were a couple of pieces of orange squash that were bobbing about in the soup, but they didn’t have much flavor aside from the beef I was enjoying.  I did like the mushrooms and the greens though because they added some body to the meal, especially the kale leaves with their semi-bitter bite.   Shabu shabu aside, the buffet at Yoree was fantastic.  Not only did it have Western classics like bread that isn’t filled with sugar, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Caesar salads, but they even had pretzels filled with peanut butter and…gummi bears.  Yeah, I had to restrain myself from attacking the whole plate, but needless to say I was overjoyed at seeing gummi candy towards the end of the dessert table.  When I say “dessert” table, I just mean that there was fruit, not cake or anything like that.  They also had standard Korean dishes like different types of rice cake, apple salad, cucumber salad, and kimchi, per usual.

So overall, I had a great time at Yoree Shabu Shabu, and I recommend this place to anyone who wants to try a Korean twist on a Japanese classic or is missing some Western food but doesn’t want to go all the way to Itaewon to get some guilty pleasures.

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