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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cali Trip: Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai

Before we headed to the airport that Sunday, we met up with 2 of my sister's friends for lunch. We chose another ramen place we've never been to.

Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai
891 Baker St. B21
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 557-2947
Price: $$

This is a pretty small place and they don't take reservations. So we made sure we had extra time to wait in line. There were already many other groups waiting outside when we got there. I think we waited about 25-30 minutes total? The weather outside was nice so it wasn't a big deal.

We got some appetizers to start.
Gyoza (pan fried; with yuzu chili pepper paste) $3.80~ Perfectly crispy on the bottom. And it came with Kosho on the side. It's this condiment made with yuzu and chili peppers so it's got a kick to it! Tasty!

Spicy Rice (steamed rice mixed with housemade umami chili) $2~ I saw this on yelp and it just sounded amazing. Umami chili? Uh, yes, please! But it was underwhelming. Not spicy, and not particularly "umami" either.

Juicy Fried Chicken (marinated with house special sauce) $3~ This. Was. Amazing. Beautifully fried, and the meat inside was soooo juicy. It came with this peanuty sauce which was an interesting, and good, compliment. I can eat this chicken forever!!!

I was talking about the different types of ramen to the guys before we ordered... broth ramen, tsukemen (dipping ramen), mazemen (dry ramen), etc... And they were really interested in trying the dipping ramen.

So 3 of us ordered the Tsukemen (Dipping Ramen) with the Cold Noodle (dashi shoyu base, radish shoot, Japanese mustard spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, chashu, lime, grated radish and ginger, ground sesame seeds) $8.50~ 
It was a huge portion! And since this is a different style than we've normally had, I've never tried noodles like these before.

From their website: The noodle of Kitakana ramen is flat, wide, and curly. It contains the highest amount of water among ramen noodles. Noodles are hand crumpled to have distinctive curliness and texture. The soup is light in color yet full of flavor and not oily.
The noodles were fantastic. They certainly did have the crumpled look and it felt homemade. And the broth was light but full of flavor and not in the least bit greasy! I couldn't finish all my noodles cuz the portion was so big. The 2 guys absolutely loved it.

My sister got the Green Chili Shio Ramen (pork broth, shio base, Toro chashu, green chili, nappa, garlic, Asian chives, red onion, green onion) $8.50~ 
OMG. This is sooooo good. Different than any ramen we've ever had before. The broth was light in color but just packed with flavor!! It had a spicy kick to it from the green chili. I was just shocked at the amount of flavor but yet was so light. My sister said she thought this was better than Santouka... And you know what... I almost have to agree! So interesting, and oh so good. I highly highly recommend this if you can take spicy.

So... first time having Kitakana style ramen. Love it!! And the prices were super reasonable. We got more than enough food for everyone. I guarantee we'll be back next time we're in town.

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Cali Trip: Anaheim Packing District

Saturday afternoon, my cousins, who are also huge foodies, recommended that we check out Anaheim Packing District for a late lunch. I've never been, but the way it sounded got me excited.

Anaheim Packing District
440 S. Anaheim Blvd
Anaheim, CA 92805
(714) 533-7225

It's also called Anaheim Packing House apparently. Same thing, so you don't get confused. I love it!! A center full of food vendors and small shops, all flea market-esque. I love these types of places. We walked all the way around to check out all the different food options. OMG. I wanted to eat everything... but finally chose one since they were prepping the meat at the window... drool! But of course it was one of the vendors with the longest line. haha. Everyone else went off in search of other stuff.

The Kroft
Prochetta Sandwich (ciabatta, pork belly/loin, cracklings, salsa verde) $10~ 
Like I said, they had a guy at the window at the front chopping the meat and assembling the sandwiches. Looked freaking fantastic. The sandwich was packed full with pieces of pork. And oh, it was so juicy! The cracklings were amazing. Each bite had so much flavor. Legit! I totally want one right now... I ate half of it and gave the other half to my cousins/aunt/uncle to try. Everyone liked it.

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon $5~ 
I also got this as a side. It was pretty good. A little soggy/greasy but I liked the flavor. It was a bit sweet... I think there was balsamic vinegar on it.

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Here's what other people got.. We had a feast going! Our table was wayyy too small.

Adya: Fresh Indian Flavors

The Chippy: Fish & Grill

I was full, but I had to get some dessert.
Han's Homemade Ice Cream 
There was no line when I walked by so, yes, this is it! They had some interesting flavors. Twinkies being one of them.

Bourbon Peach (in waffle cone) $4~ Deeeelicious. You can totally taste the bourbon without the bite. It wasn't too sweet, and there were chunks of real peach throughout.

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This was by far the most popular vendor. The line was literally out the door the entire time we were there. But my cousin wanted to get some so I went up to the line with her. I wanted one too, but was too full. All their popsicles are made fresh daily with natural ingredients. 

Pistachio Popsicle (dipped in dark chocolate, topped with chopped pistachio and hazelnuts) $5~

Banana Popsicle (dipped in dark chocolate, topped with chopped pistachio and hazelnuts) $5~

They were doing an anniversary special that weekend where the dips and toppings were free, but normally those cost extra. Quite expensive for a popsicle, but they are sure yummy to look at!

It's such a fun place. I wish Dallas had something like this.. I think we may be getting something similar in Plano in the near future?? Fingers crossed!

Overall for the entire center:

Only complaint is not enough seating!


Cali Trip: Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen

My sister and I went to LA at the end of May on a last minute trip (family stuff). We arrived just before lunch time on Friday so we decided to go have some ramen! Ramen in Dallas hasn't been great so whenever we head to Cali, it's always on the list.

This time I suggested Shin-Sen-Gumi, which is one of my friend's absolute favorite. Normally I go to my favorite, Santouka, but why not try something new.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen
18315 Brookhurst St. Unit 1
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(714) 962-8971
Price (for lunch): $$

We flew into the John Wayne airport in Orange County. Shin-Sen-Gumi was only about 10 minutes away! Now... I think I've been to a different location before... years and years ago, but I'm not exactly sure. I just remembered I loved their fried rice. haha. The place has a traditional Japanese look. Dark wood columns, tables, chairs, booths. We sat at the sushi/ramen bar. A little cramped but reminded me of places in Japan.

We both ordered from the Lunch Set menu. L-Set (1/2 Special pork flavored noodle, 1/2, Takana fried rice, small salad) $8.50~ She added extra Bamboo +$1.75~ and we both added Cloud Ear (or woodear) Mushroom +$1.50~ They have a form you fill out when you order the ramen, you can select the firmness of the noodles, amount of soup oil, base, and things to exclude. We both chose normal everything except the firmness of noodles: Hard.

First came the salad. Small bowl of it, the dressing was yummy. 
Then the rest of the meal was quickly served. OMG... this is A LOT of food for one person. We realized quickly that we could've just ordere one meal and shared.

This is HALF ramen?!?
So the Tonkotsu ramen doesn't come with much, that's why you have to add extra toppings. 
But each topping ain't cheap! :-/ The flavor of the broth is good, but they use the skinny straight noodles. Bah. I really dislike those. Even with a hard firmness, it still lacked enough chewy texture for me. So overall it was good, not the best. Still better than anything in Dallas tho.

The fried rice was also big enough to feed the both of us. 
Neither of us finished by the way... had to take most of the rice to go. But after having the rice, I realized that I HAVE been there. And the rice still trumped the noodles for me. The addition of the Takana (in food Chinese, it's like the pickled mustard greens), added a lot of flavor. I should've finished my rice instead of the noodles. ha.

Needless to say, we were both overstuffed. And we barely made a dent in the rice. I probably won't return in the future. I've had better ramen in Cali and it wasn't nearly as expensive after you add up all the extra toppings. But... all this food is still cheaper than eating ramen in Dallas! WTF.


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Friday, June 26, 2015

Wabi House Soft Opening

Wednesday night was the soft opening of the new ramen shop in Lower Greenville, Wabi House. To be honest, I heard about this place a while ago and had completely forgotten about it. But thanks to all the food publications I subscribe to... I found out a week prior that it was opening. And they take reservations!! So I got a group of friends together to go check out their first night of business. I also made another reservation for 3 weeks later so we can see how their soft opening is vs business after a few weeks.

I was excited to see that they were offering dry ramen (mazemen) and dipping ramen (tsukemen) in their menu. I've definitely never had either in Dallas yet. And I like those better than broth ramen in general. :)

Wabi House
1802 Greenville Avenue, Suite 100
Dallas, TX 75206
Price: $$-$$$

We arrived a few minutes before our reservation at 6:30PM. The place was still empty so we were seated immediately. We were greeted quickly by our waiter. He was very friendly and seemed excited that we were there! He was very eager to give us recommendations on the menu items which was cool. We were still waiting for 2 more people so kinda took our time.

Finally we decided to go ahead and get some appetizers while waiting for the rest of the group. We got a few things to share at the table.

Hama Rayu (hamachi, rayu, mustard vinaigrette, cilantro, scallion. sesame) $15~ 
This was really really tasty. The hamachi (yellowtail) was fresh. But the star was the sauce. Between the mustard vinaigrette and rayu (chili oil), the flavor was great. I loved the extra hint of spice. However, each order only comes with 6 pieces, which I think is a little expensive for $15... 

Beets 'n Brussels (brussels sprouts, cashews, fried beets) $7~ 
I always have to get the Brussels Sprouts. This was also very good. The beets were shaved thin and fried which was a nice contrast to the brussels. The beets also added a sweetness to the dish. And I had forgotten there were nuts, they were hidden on the bottom. It added another layer of flavor and texture to the dish. I enjoyed it a lot.

Crispy Pork Ears (deep fried pork ears with house seasonings, bonito aioli) $9~ 
I love pork ears. Grew up eating them my whole life but rarely fried. I felt like they were sliced way too thin so it basically became crispy/oil sticks. It was a little heavy and I really didn't get any of the texture of the pork ears, which is the best part of eating it. The bonito aioli tho... yum! I put some of that on the brussels. hehe. I think this has room for improvement. As long as the pork ears are thicker, I think it'll be great.

So far so good. We were all excited to try the ramen!

Tonkotsu Ramen (chashu, woodear mushrooms, butter corn, egg, mayu oil, negi) $11~
Pretty much everyone got this except me. Everyone had their own variation though by adding extra toppings. Some added extra corn, some got extra eggs and chashu. It certainly was a pretty bowl. It looks like ramen I've gotten in Japan. So the noodles are the thin straight ones... booo. I really don't like those. I feel like they lack the chewy texture. I really prefer the curly kind. :( Everyone said it was good, but not the best they've had. Pretty much everyone in this group has had ramen outside of Dallas and has pretty high standards. They rated it average 3-3.5 out of everything they've ever had. I'd say that's a decent start for first night of business. The broth needed more depth of flavor, everything else was fine. One friend said the "umami" that ramen broth is supposed to have was lacking a little.

Dry Garlic (fresh garlic, garlic chips, dashi butter, chashu, nori strips, poached egg, cucumber) $11~ 
I got the dry ramen (mazemen). I prefer these because they normally have thicker/chewier noodles. And this was no exception. The noodles were way thicker than the broth ramen and they were awesome. Cooked perfectly al dente. I loved it. The poached egg was also fantastic and very necessary. It created a richness to the dish and held everything together. The flavor, however, left much to be desired. The garlic was definitely not lacking, but everything else was. It needed more salt, or spice, or something... I added some of my friend's extra spicy rayu in there and helped some. If there wasn't that poached egg, this dish would've failed. The cucumbers were a nice touch of freshness but were sliced too big... I think thinner slices would mix together with the noodles much better. And I felt they were a little stingy with the chashu. My piece of pork was barely a whole slice. It was nice and tender though. I ended up eating the entire bowl still just because I loved the noodles so much. And it was a huge bowl... way more than the broth ramen. I was so full!!!

Extra Toppings:
Chashu +$3~ (pork)
Egg +$2~
Woodear +$1~ (mushroom)
Corn $1~
Spicy Rayu $1~ (chili oil)

We had a good time. I think the food in general was good and shows a lot of promise. We're excited to go back in a few weeks and see how they've improved. As far as soft opening goes, I think they did a great job. Service was good, our waiter was nice, and our checks were separated properly. I'll be really happy if they improve and we actually have a good ramen place in Dallas! I had pretty much given up hope by now... Next time I want to try their tsukemen (dipping ramen)! The only other thing is that the price is a bit high. In Japan (or Cali), you can get an awesome bowl of ramen for around $10 and you can even get extra noodles for free. For some reason Dallas thinks ramen should be almost $20 a bowl after you add all the extra stuff. Booo... But IF they can match the quality to the price, I might feel better about paying it. haha.

So... see you soon, Wabi House. We're coming back! Their grand opening is this Saturday, 6/26. And I believe they are donating their proceeds to charity. I won't be able to make it, but you guys should go check them out! :) They also have a full bar, I believe, and I've heard their cocktails are good.

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