Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Football and Sushi at Oshima

Football watching usually involves buffalo wings, onion rings and all things deep-fried, but it wouldn't be sacrilegious to sometimes switch to something a little more refined and sushi! It can get quite boisterous at Oshima on Sundays during an NFL season. The place is big enough to accommodate up to two hundred guests. The sushi menu is two pages long. And a clique has obviously been long formed, as many jersey-clad regulars (who don't seem to come together) greet one another with hugs and firm handshakes. Chopsticks in hands, football fans huddle together in the bar section, furnished with lofty stools and swanky half-circle booths. For sushi lovers who prefer more privacy, there is a separate area for them, though it's doubtful they would be able to completely escape from the hubbub. 

My first experience there last Sunday was worth the time and trip. The spicy-garlic edamame seemed to be one of the most ordered items. Apparently, its in-your-face pungency proved to be a plus point rather than a deterrent. The Bloody Mary was whimsically spiced with Sriracha. The deep-fried calamari, seasoned and coated with a light tempura batter, was quite a treat even without its accompanying sauce. The three sushi rolls I tried all tasted similar, but each also had its own twist. The Crispy Kirk--an unorthodox invention stuffed with three types of fish and laden with cream cheese--might make an old-school sushi master from Tokyo shudder and scream, "Blasphemy!" Luckily, I'm not an old-school sushi master, so it didn't traumatize me. In fact, I quite enjoyed the richness of it. The Oshima roll had spicy tuna and soft-shell crab as its star components. And as history has proven time and again, any sushi with soft-shell crab in it guarantees a delightful texture and a fun masticating experience. The Ninja, although underwhelming with bland albacore and hamachi, made up for its shortcomings with a robust sauce and fat slices of jalapeno. 

At the end, my beloved team, the New York Giants, allowed the lame Saints to score in the last five seconds and win with a field goal. My second favorite, the Niners, also lost. My third favorite, the Lions, lost more badly and more embarrassingly than the others. And the Oshima football clique didn't even invite me to be their newest member. But I just shrugged and left without feeling too defeated. I had a good time; it was all right. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scallop-Stuffed Chinese Squash - New Hong Kong Wok

New Hong Kong Wok is the kind of restaurant that might make you ask yourself, "Am I in Sacramento or the Kowloon Peninsula?" Through the course of our meal last night, my husband and I seemed to be the only non-Chinese speakers there. Being an Asian, I blended in (at least physically), whereas dear Hubby stood out like Moby Dick. The menu was lengthy, partially illustrated, and filled with items you wouldn't find in an Americanized Chinese restaurant like P.F. Chang's. Even I, an oriental-food enthusiast, was unfamiliar with many of their dishes. It didn't matter, though. The waiting staff, dressed in crisp uniforms and speaking with delightful Chinese accents, were eager to answer any question we had. 

We ordered three things, two of which we'd had before and the third one was our new little adventure. The salt-and-pepper shrimp--crispy and zingy as usual--made crunchy noises in our mouths as we chomped on their heads and shells. The Mongolian beef, despite its excessive sodium, was (in my personal opinion) worth the risk of high blood pressure and fluid retention. Our adventure, the scallop-stuffed Chinese squash, was the one that stole the show. It was prepared with scallop bits, not whole, juicy, plump ones. Also, there seemed to be quite a bit of grease in the sauce. And yet, in spite of the humble ingredients and oily error, this dish somehow miraculously tasted so, so, so freaking good. 

While we were eating, I noticed an apron-clad lady (probably a cook on break) sitting by herself and thumbing her phone at another table. Not a tiny table in a discreet corner. But a big round one on a very conspicuous know, the kind that comes with a Lazy Susan and is sizable enough to accommodate a family of eight. And as the diners were quietly chitchatting during their meals, the waiting staff were carrying on a much louder conversation among themselves. Things like these, for many Americans, are probably deemed unprofessional and unacceptable. But I didn't mind. Such casual atmosphere reminded me of mom-and-pop eateries in Thailand. The staff could be boisterous and gabby, and that's fine as long as the service is fast and the food is delicious. The phone-thumbing cook could fall into a slumber on top of the Lazy Susan and snore like a leaf blower. Still, that wouldn't stop me from going back there. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tsukemen - Ramen House Ryujin

I believe my history with ramen dates back to when I was around five, before I even learned how to use chopsticks. My first ramen dish was probably spoon-fed to me by either my mom or grandma. And since it was introduced to me so early in my life by those who loved me dearly, it has always been one of my favorite comfort foods. I can enjoy it anytime of day, anytime of year. Even on a 100-degree day, I still wouldn't say no to a hot bowl of delicious ramen. 

When we hear the word "ramen," most of us would think of a steamy bowl of noodle soup, wouldn't we? At least, that's the definition in my dictionary. Recently, though, I've tried a different version of ramen at Ryujin. The dish is known as Tsukemen, which is chilled ramen served, not in a bowl of broth, but on a plate accompanied by a warm dipping sauce. Legend has it this unorthodox dish accidentally came to existence in 1955 when Kazuo Yamagishi, a young apprentice at a ramen shop, was trying to be economical and resourceful. He gathered leftover noodles from the kitchen, then instead of adding some broth, he just dipped them in a simple soy-and-vinegar-based sauce. It could easily have been a one-time thing. Yamagishi could have thought to himself, "Eh, silly me. What the heck am I eating? Never again!" But no, it was his lucky day. Some customers witnessed his improvisation and were curious to try it too. And of course, they loved it! A few years later, Yamagishi opened his own shop, and his business phenomenally thrived, but Tsukemen didn't really become mainstream until the early 2000s when the Japanese media started to give it overdue attention. Now Tsukemen is offered in most ramen houses in Japan, and Yamagishi (who recently passed away) will forever be remembered as the Ramen Godfather of Tokyo.  

And now back to my first experience with the dipping noodles--well, I did enjoy the dish a lot. The fusion of chilled noodles and warm sauce (which was very tasty) kind of caused a whimsical yin-yang sensation in my mouth. Although I myself prefer the traditional soupy version, Tsukemen is something I would wholeheartedly recommend to ramen enthusiasts who haven't tried it yet.