Posts from the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Honey Cuisine Korean BBQ

Recently my husband and I decided to have dinner recently at Honey BBQ in Rohnert Park. It was so satisfyingly tasty. I am very glad they are now open on Sundays, especially since the many diners are Sonoma State University students and staff. My husband and I were both particularly craving hearty soup and sushi. We shared a delicious “Crazy Spicy,” which was a delectable sushi roll with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, salmon, slices of unagi, tuna and snapper, albacore tuna and a drizzle of spicy chili sauce; the roll actually was not too spicy for our palates. Roll in total had roughly a medium heat level. My husband really enjoyed his beef udon soup (the broth was delicious), and I found my pork dolsot (claypot) bibimbop quite inspiring. I substituted out the brown rice with their organic wild rice, which went wonderfully with the seasoned pork, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, white onion, egg, soy beans and Napa cabbage; all of the ingredients provided a delightful combination of flavors and textures. I will definitely order that again! I think next time I will have to try the “Sexy Mango” sushi roll. I am a big fan of mango, so the roll sounds rather enticing with its tempura shrimp, avocado, cucumber, and more shrimp on top with the mango.

Image Credit

This is not the first time that I tried out Honey BBQ’s food. The last time my husband and I went was for lunch years ago, not long after the restaurant first opened. At that time, I ordered a few sushi rolls, while my hubby ordered the BBQ beef. The caterpillar roll was really good and looked extremely cute as it decorated to look like a cartoonish caterpillar (its appearance has since changed). I also had their fantasy roll, which was amazing with the crunchy garlic and tasty sauce on top. The BBQ beef dish came with rice and vegetables, too, I think; either way, my husband greatly enjoyed it.

Local East Bay Tofu Companies

Bitter Sweet’s blog post about The Bridge Tofu factory reminds me of the organic tofu beanery in Berkeley, called Tofu Yu LLC, which has a catering and a store front with a deli counter that displays all sorts of tofu and tofu dishes. I keep meaning to visit. They also sell their products at several Bay Area farmers markets and organic grocery stores (visit their blog for a complete list and recipes), including the Santa Rosa Community Market and many Whole Foods.

In addition, there’s an organic tofu factory in Oakland, called Hodo Soy Beanery, where you can take a tour once a month for $12. Occasionally Hodo soy also has work shops, such as how to make tofu blocks. They sell their tofu at some Bay Area and LA area farmers markets, too, including at the Saturday San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market, and at Whole Foods. Make sure you check out their recipe section of their website as well as their blog.


It’s difficult for me to pick which beanery to visit, so maybe I’ll go see both of them! That way I can get a tour and see the deli, not to mention taste the different flavors and kinds of tofu dishes that the two companies have to offer. Earlier this year, I also noticed that there was a whole festival surrounding soy and tofu at the Japantown Peace Plaza in June, which I unfortunately missed, but I think I’ll try to attend it next year. It looks like it was really fun, with two taiko groups, a dessert competition, a lion dance troup and many other stage performance.

Delicious Sushi in Petaluma


I wanted to visit Andy’s Kitchen & Sushi Kitchen ever since I discovered it in spring before our big move, and my mom’s recent visit was the perfect opportunity. Although the restaurant’s curb appeal left much to be desired, the interior was cool and modern. The seasonal and new item signs are handmade and may look a bit… off, but the skillfully-made, gorgeously-plated foods made up for them. The variety was quite impressive and the house specialties incredibly intriguing, but we could only realistically eat so much without over-stuffing ourselves. We took a bunch of leftovers back to the house with us. I definitely have to go back to Andy’s and order some new dishes to try. Soon! There were so many tasty items to choose from! Considering that Andy’s has such an extensive menu, I can take my time and concentrate on savoring each of the delightful mixture of colors, textures and flavors.


We started out with jasmine green tea, edamame, and miso soup, which provided a great start to the meal of appetizers. ;P Next time I want to try the edamame with garlic sauce and the seafood teapot soup, which I hope is a type of dobin mushi, a particular favorite of mine. The edamame were warm and lightly salted. Although I forgot to take pictures of the miso soup, Mom’s was indeed beautiful the the crab meat artistically displayed in the middle. My miso soup with tofu was hot and comforting with great umami (satisfyingly savory flavor). I have found a new love of poki or poke, which is basically a sea vegetable and raw fish salad. (Thank you Anise for introducing this type of dish to me! I can’t wait to try some dishes from your poki¬† recipe book.) I also really enjoy seaweed salads, so I ordered the poki salad made with ahi tuna. The fish and seaweed were perfect, and the white and black sesame seeds and orange and red tobiko mixed into the salad were more than just garnishes, adding delicious flavor and mesmerizing bright colors and wonderful flavors. It was so delicious, I almost forgot to take a picture. I thought about ordering a meat and vegetable combination plate of tempura, but I don’t think we would have had enough room in our quickly filling tummies to eat it.

There were so many great looking sushi rolls on the menu, it was difficult to narrow down our order to merely two. Somehow we managed before reading the menu descriptions made us much hungrier. We finally decided upon the caterpillar and Godzilla rolls. The caterpillar included unagi, cucumber and avocado with garnishes of black sesame seeds and green tobiko on top. I really like tobiko for its mild fishy flavor and crunchiness and are kind of like salmon roe, which I don’t like, since the salmon eggs have a stronger taste and remind me of fishy bath beads due to their size. The caterpillar roll was also dressed with nitsume, as cooked eel dishes usually are. I love this sauce and wish that it was featured in more dishes and not merely a cooked eel accompaniment. I think I’ll make some with the recipe that I found (click in the nitsume link above) but with less sugar. I also want to find out how different sweeteners, like agave, turbinado or sucanat affect the sauce flavor, so that I can make a sauce with a lower glycemic index value.

I had never seen a Godzilla roll before, but it looked amazingly delectable on the menu. Ours was filled with tempura shrimp, crab, romaine lettuce, cucumber and scallions and was topped with avocado and smoked salmon. This roll was also garnished with sesame seeds and drizzled with sauce of some sort. I suppose I will have to just order it again, in order to remember what kind it was…. Darn. ūüėČ Regardless of the sauce, the Godzilla roll was downright tasty, and I will order it again. In addition to my recently acquired taste for wasabi, I’ve also found that I can suddenly eat pickled ginger, too. It use to be way too spicy for my palate and stomach and cause me heartburn, but I tried the ginger with the sushi and found it exceedingly palatable. Surprise!

Look at these! Don’t they look drool-worthy?! Yum! In addition to the vast variety of items normally on the menu, there are also many seasonal dishes that frequently get swapped out, as well. I look forward to trying some of those, too. Which sushi restaurants do you prefer and why? Which of their specialty rolls do you like the most?

Visit to Japantown with My Brother, Part 2

Super Mira grocery store is devoted to Japanese and organic foods. Their assortment of local organics and gluten-free items was very impressive. I was totally amazed that they have the S&B gluten-free Curry Prince roux mixes, which I previously talked about here*. I’m so glad they carry so many local products instead of importing everything from overseas; I was pleasantly pleased to see so many packages of organic foods that I have seen at Whole Foods, Oliver’s and Community Market up here in Sonoma County. This means the foods are fresher, which hopefully also makes the prices much more reasonable (actually rather decent) for the store and their customers. They had bakery counter and fresh made-to-order sushi, too. The service people were very friendly, and the store is really neat and clean. The store has a blog, where they post current sales, recommendations and other information, which is written half in Japanese, but they do have a good number of helpful pictures.

Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop is a bakery located inside the market and has been in business for 38 years! That’s a really long time, considering the relatively quick lifespans of so many businesses in Japantown, especially so close to the malls. Unfortunately, we visited Japantown on a Sunday, so the bakery counter (along with several other shops in the area) was closed and bakery cases empty. Although I definitely cannot eat any of their creamy glutinous baked delights, there are several enticing pictures and reviews from Yasukochi’s happy customers over at Yelp, absolutely raving about how great they are.

In Super Mira’s sauce and curry section, I found the S & B “Curry no Ohji-Sama” sweet curry roux mixes that I previously posted about in this entry, to which I recently made a correction regarding the gluten content. When I looked at the list of ingredients on the red and blue boxes, I found that both of them are gluten-free. I bought one of each to try them out (I will try to post the cooking and taste test results later). The directions on the back of both boxes say to add lean beef or chicken, onions, carrot and potato, but I’m sure you can add other meats and/or vegetables if you prefer. The red box holds a vegetable curry, which is vegan as far as I can tell (There are pictures of vegetables on the front, and the English language sticker says “no meat contained”). The roux bar provides six servings, each 70 calories, without any significant nutritional value other than 590mg (24% of your daily needed) sodium. The blue box doesn’t not have a picture on the front that suggests a particular flavor, so your guess is as good as mine unless you can read Japanese. The ingredients the blue box does list non-calcinated shell calcium (perhaps to boost the otherwise rather insignificant amount of vitamins and minerals), which therefore makes the sauce non-vegan. This boxed mix also serves six, each serving has 60 calories and 560mg sodium (23% of your daily value). Although multiple locations carry the red boxed mix, I’m under the impression that the blue one is pretty popular, too; I bought the last one in the store. Remember, you can always create more serving, add nutrients and dilute the sodium by adding more vegetables, liquid, meat, nuts, seeds, grains, noddles or what-have-you than the directions call for. Let me know what you come up with.

Nijiya Market never ceases to amaze me. It has a huge selection, which now features lots of local and organic products (not just imports). I was pleasantly pleased to find taiyaki (grilled sea bream fish-shaped waffles or “cakes” filled with nut butter, fruit, sweet bean paste, pudding or ice cream) in the freezer section. I kind of want a taiyaki maker for myself to make my own ice cream sandwich fish; they are very popular treat in Japan and taste scrumptious. Imagine eating ice cream on a regular waffle cone, except the light crispy waffle completely surrounds the semi-soft ice cream center instead of the cone just serving as the ice cream holder that your hands from cold and stickiness. It’s so good! Some types of taiyaki have various fillings (sometimes one or two fillings per fish-shaped cake) or batters, like brown sugar, green tea, chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. I found some gluten-free recipes! One recipe includes red bean filling, and the other uses blueberry filling. Here’s a video that shows how to make the non-ice cream ones. You can use it as a guideline and substitute one of the bean-based fillings for ice cream if you want to; just refreeze the taiyaki once they are done cooking.

Anyway, there was a whole section of furikake (rice seasonings); the three I bought now brings my collection up to five varieties (shrimp, bonito fish, seaweed, mixed vegetable and beefsteak plant; the¬†salmon one is also very good) in my cupboard . I’m not sure if it’s because they are the most profitable sections in the store, but there are multiple aisles devoted just to confections and snacks, more than I anticipated. After the company’s focus on and attention to organic foods, I found the shear quantity kind of shocking. Is it due to all the visiting tourist customers wanting a quick snack that there’s so much junk food? I don’t think the people living and working in the Japantown neighborhood actually buy that much unhealthy food to warrant the huge amount in the store, but maybe I’m just being presumptuous.


One of the newest food features is the market’s huge refrigerated section of freshly-made, ready-to-go bento-style boxed lunches and noodle soups that they make onsite. I was very impressed with the variety of dishes available, all garnished in rainbow of color. I don’t know why I didn’t noticed them before, but Nijiya Market is actually a chain of stores that specializes in organic produce and products and publishes their own free Japanese foods magazine, called Gochiso, that started back in 2005. The seasonal and annual issues are printed in Japanese, Chinese and English language versions with lots of full-color Nijiya Market Ricephotographs, articles on health, certain ingredients and certain types of dishes, like onigiri or maki. Nijiya also has an online store, where they sell their own lines of organic rice and flours. Who knew there are that many organic varieties commercially available? I couldn’t help staring at them in awe and wonder when my brother and I were in the store. I wonder what the customary uses are and what the flavors and textures are like for all of the rice types…, but I know I can eat them all! Nijiya Markets also has its own food blog with recipe entries in English and Japanese, which is really cool, as they post a new one about every two weeks.


Kissako Tea is a cute little booth or kiosk that sells a nice variety of dumpling-style wagashi (bite-size Japanese desserts); here’s a fantastic blog that is almost entirely devoted to Japanese dessert recipes. I love mochi! Traditionally, the dough was made out of rice that was steamed and then beaten smooth, but now finely ground rice flour is mixed with water to make dough and then steamed. Either way, since mochi manju (“beaten rice dumpling”) dough is naturally gluten-free, I can eat it! Fresh mochi is soft and kind of stretchy if it is made with steamed rice. The dough is really sticky, so it’s dusted with starch made from corn, arrowroot or potatoes. Steamed mochi dough is usually dyed with naturally tinted ingredients, like cacao, fruit juice, green tea powder or ground mugwort to create muted or pastel colors and sweetened with sugar or honey. Manju is either solid rolled dough with mixed-in flavor (reminds me of squishy marshmallows) or filled with something sweet, like ice cream, bean paste, chocolate, gelatin, nut butter, etc. To me, filled mochi are seem like a cross between¬†jelly-filled gummy candy and fruit-filled marzipan. Make sure you keep your soft mochi tightly wrapped and refrigerated if you aren’t going to eat them right away, otherwise they will harden as the dough dries.


Kissako makes two different kinds of kushi dango (skewered dumpling clutster), which consist of three or four round steamed mochi manju threaded onto a bamboo skewer, like a kebab. There are lots of different kinds of dango in Japanese cuisine. Mitarashi kushi dango is made with four small solid white mochi manju covered with mitarashi sauce, which is a simple gluten-free soy sauce drizzle with mirin. Botchan (or bocchan) kushi dango is made with three medium dark red bean paste balls that are covered in sugar-sweetened pink, white or yellow, and green¬† glutenous rice doughs that are mixed respectively with sweet red bean paste, nothing (for white) or egg yolk, and green tea or mugwort powder (these powdered yield different shades of green) for color (if you make your own at home, you can adjust the amounts of add-ins to adjust the color intensities) and usually dusted with starch or flour. The kushi dango that I ordered were absolutely perfect. I was extremely impressed. Although Kissako makes all of their mochi in San Jose (from what I remember), the dumplings were soft and moist with stretchy dough and very smooth bean paste filling. I liked the dango so much, I couldn’t help buying a second one to enjoy later in the night.


For those of you who are gluten-free, watch out! Not all manju are gluten-free; only mochi manju is made with rice. There are several recipes that look like mochi that actually contain wheat. These are also steamed or baked dessert dumplings filled with sweet pastes or creams.The only way I can tell the difference is by looking at them. Mochi is generally dusted and has a semi-transparent texture if the dough is steamed, whereas baked mochi is very shiny on top. Wheat-based manju has a flatter or more matte texture when you look at it. (I’m not sure if this hold true all of the time, but from what I have seen, wheat dough manipulated into decoratively shaped manju seem hold their intended structure better. The sames might instead denote the artisan’s skill level or the use of certain kitchen tools…, but I’m not sure. Does anyone know?) If the manju is coated in sauce or drizzled with something sugary, there’s really no way to tell what you’re looking at. In this case, do not be afraid to just ask the sales clerk directly. There are lots and lots of mochi, manju, and other wagashi confections out there. Personally I am unacquainted with most of them, except for a scant few that I only recognize by sight, not by name.


Kaissako Tea makes their teriyaki chicken, salmon, picked plum, seaweed, and¬†beef onigiri (rice balls with fillings) in fresh at their booth all day long, which is a relief, since all of their flavors are so popular. If they run out of a certain kind, just ask them to make more for you. My brother got a¬†teriyaki chicken rice ball to snack on, and I got a seaweed one. Both flavors tasted really good (he let me try a bite) and satisfying. They were all pretty big, which was a surprise, as they were really cheaply priced at only $1.75. They way the Kissako Tea folks made them was different to me, since they used a mold to sandwich a layer of seasoned vegetables or meat between two layers of steamed rice (and to save time). I’m used to making them by shaping a bowl-shaped pocket out of rice with my hands, filling the pocket with stuff and packing more rice on top and shaping the onigiri into pyramids or spheres. I have also seen onigiri with the seasoned fillings just mixed in with the rice that is then shaped. Either way, after shaping them, the slightly sticky rice balls are wrapped in small nori seaweed sheets, like a taco, so that they are easier to eat without getting your hands all sticky. Kissako’s onigiri, as well as all of their other treats, would pair very well with many of their green tea selections. I wish we had had time to sit, chat and munch on our treats while sipping hot tea, but it was getting rather late. Instead, we chatted and snacked on our way back to the car, so that we could arrive at my house at a reasonable hour.

*The previous article I read about the Prince Curry mixes was incorrect. The red and blue boxes are both gluten-free, containing sorghum instead, only varying in flavor.

Visit to Japantown with My Brother, Part 1


After a couple of weeks visiting my folks, my brother and I had a perfect opportunity to hang out for few days without Mom and Dad (they went on vacation in Yosemite National Park near the end of my visit to celebrate Mom’s official retirement). My brother and I spoke about Japanese food quite a lot during my stay,¬† and we had even tried to track down some authentic ingredients for the beef and shrimp donabe and beef curry dishes we made, but the only Asian market was clear on the other side of town, which is kind of strange with a significant number of the Chinese, Japanese, Loatian and Vietnamese restaurants in town….

Anyway, we decided to make a stop at Japantown in San Francisco on the way back to my house instead, since it was actually more convenient, believe it or not. We had a great time, which is funny to say, since we basically went grocery shopping. We also did not get along when we were younger, I am feel very fortunate that he and I have become more mature. Not only can we tolerate each other, we actually want spend time together. What a relief!

Daiso is a big discount store in Japantown that sells most of their merchandise for $1.50 (online their items are sold only in bulk). They have all sorts of stuff, from dishes and figurines to fedoras and beauty products, including some items I thought were a bit odd, like disposable underwear; on the other hand, the store also had a ton of cute and useful things, too. I was totally surprised the store had so many sushi-making tools¬† and bento box lunch making tools (like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I bought a table-side purse hook, bamboo crochet hook, LED flashlight, knee-high and toe socks, skinny metal chopsticks, calligraphy brushes, and fruit chew and herbal hard candies. It’s a great little department store with a wide variety of items that periodically changes by the season. If you are in Japantown, stop by and visit; you should really take the time to look through all of the aisles. Who knows what amazing deals and treasures you’ll find tucked away.

Ichiban Kan is also a discount department store, but sadly they have raised their prices dramatically since my last visit and are now more of a general store. Like Daiso, they have a wide assortment of items, which is impressive, since they are less than half the size. They do carry some nice, useful and cute items though. I bought my favorite three-tiered bunny bento box, blue ceramic sushi dishes and adorable large kitty throw pillow there. By brother found a big package of S & B medium-hot Japanese curry roux, the same kind we used in our beef curry dinner, but it was twice as big for the same price.

Sanko Cooking Supplies is a great store. When we went, most everything (at least in the front half) was on sale, plus another 10% off. The prices were rather amazing! I’ve been thinking of getting a sushi oko (the round wooden rice cooling tub for making sushi rice), but when I saw the the kit, I realized I don’t really need one or have the space for such a big thing that I’d probably barely use. It was nice to see so many donabe there in various sizes. They had quite a selection of fine quality stainless steel food preparation knives; I was looking for a ceramic chef’s knife or cleaver though. Ceramic blades are better for cutting fruit and vegetables, like this one, since they discourage oxidation, unlike metal knives and utensils. Their whole back room is absolutely lovely and filled with gorgeous tableware, tea cups and pots, furniture, clothing, figurines, and amazingly realistic resin-cast food sets (I think they are placed at ancestral shrines).

Kippu is a brand new wonderful restaurant with great prices, friendly service, delicious food, and an inviting family atmosphere. My brother and I received so many complimentary side dishes that I’m surprised we didn’t have any leftovers; to be fair, we had a rather late lunch while we were there, which means we were two very hungry people. The waiters gave us extra salad with a tasty dressing, colorful mild chili in-the-pod edamame¬† (I’ve never seen them served that way before), soothing jasmine green tea and comforting miso soup, and those free foods were in addition to the dishes we already requested! I ordered futomaki (a vegetarian sushi roll with sweet scrambled eggs, Japanese pickles and fresh vegetables) and a three-item bento box lunch of seaweed salad (I thought about ordering a two-item bento….), vegetable tempura and avocado maki, which came with a dressed green salad (so that was two of green salads in reality), white rice and miso soup. My brother ordered beef soba soup (so two soups for him and a dressed salad on the house). The diners at the table next to ours ordered the Flaming Dragon specialty sushi rolls, which contained tempura shrimp, crab, spicy tuna, salmon, yellow tail, tuna and tobiko (flying fish roe) “with fire”. It certainly was exciting! The sushi roll was a wrapped in foil, set on a plate over a highly combustible alcohol set alight. Everything we had tasted amazing! We were both very impressed and stuffed full of delicious foods. I’m surprised they didn’t have to roll us out the door! It’s a good thing we didn’t have any “wafer-thin mints.” ūüėČ I will definitely go back the next time I’m in Japantown; I highly recommend this restaurant!

Hang in there for more of our Japantown adventure! I’ll post the second half very soon. Enjoy!

San Francisco Christmas Trip & Japantown’s Osakaya

Oh my goodness! This entry is long overdue. I lost is last year and randomly found it in the drafts folder. I wiped off the virtual dust and made it shiny for your reading pleasure. Sorry I waited so long! I hope you don’t mind the pretty Christmas trees in June.

Anise and I went on a fantastic and fun trip last December! We went to San Francisco on a Thursday with a rather extensive itinerary in mind, which includes the Ferry Building farmers and arts and crafts markets, Chinatown, Williams-Sonoma, Union Square and Japantown. Well, such an excursion as this requires a ton of time when you plan on merely parking in one spot and walking everywhere. That’s a lot of walking! I anticipated the distance but not the amount of time we spent in some of the locations, especially when we started doing numerous laps. I knew all those places would have been great to visit, but it was not quite realistic. We didn’t make it to Chinatown, but that’s okay. We knew we’d have to make a¬†special trip to just visit Chinatown later on anyway. We still want to go back to the farmers market again, of course, and take a separate day trip to Japantown and the Japanese Tea Garden.

First, we parked over on Broadway and walked to the Ferry Building farmers market. I had never visited it before, so I was in for a big surprise. There were so many cute, interesting and tasty things there. I even ate cheese (after taking my pills) at the Cowgirl Creamery. The flavored chevre and creme fraiche were amazing and so worth it! I don’t remember which one was which, but one had cranberries mixed in, the other chives.

We ate lunch at Mijita, Cocina Mexicana. It was packed with happy people. I had the jicama salad and two cheese-less vegetarian tacos, which were very satisfyingly fabulous. I don’t remember what Anise got, but I know she liked it. Anise, do you remember what you had? Anyway, I’m so glad we had just gone to the Mariposa Baking Company and bought a 4-pack of chocolate Penguino cupcakes. They were fabulous and a perfect dessert.

We continued to walk around the Ferry Building and found the Scharffen Berger store, which has such a huge variety of chocolate to choose from. They have bars, squares, nibs and all sorts of chocolate goodies. I bought a 100% cacoa bar and an amazing chocolate marzipan lip balm made by Ganache for Lips with Scharffen Berger cacoa. I couldn’t help myself. So good! I even went to Oliver’s Market and bought another 100% bar. They are really good for baking, too, not just for eating. Sometimes I use dark chocolate medicinally to help prevent and get ride of headaches. I much prefer chocolate to ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen.

The Arts and Crafts Market, which is by the Embarcadero Center and across the street from the ferry building, was also really neat. There were lots of talented artisans and craftsmen, from painters to leather workers. There were many cool things I wanted to buy but wanted also to save money for possible purchases in Japantown. At that point we had not yet made it to Williams-Sonoma, and I had two things in mind to buy there and was hoping they would have at least one of them in stock at the store.

On the way to Macy’s and Neiman Marcus to see the festive decorations, we made sure to stop by Williams-Sonoma. I had meant to visit the store for a while. There are three locations in San Francisco, and we just happened to go to the largest one. I was looking for a few things and was on a cookie cutter kick for the holidays. Ever since I saw Chelsea’s blog entry over on Lovely Indeed regarding thank-you note cookies, I knew I wanted them. I had also been eying the cute pocket pie molds since I found them while doing wedding research between autumn 2009 and autumn 2010.


Macy’s
was fantastic with all of it’s wreaths in the windows, which you could see from across Union Square. Chelsea over at Sac Trippers took some great pictures. Every year there’s an ice skating rink and an outdoor decorated tree covered in red and gold ornaments (about as big as my head) and lots and lots of bright white lights in Union Square. It was hard to photograph due to all of the huge overhead lights, but there was also a huge 25-foot tall Bill Graham mahogany menorah, originally built in 1975 with funding from the famous concert promoter for whom it’s named.

I insisted that we visit¬†Neiman Marcus to see the famously gargantuan tree inside their main entry way. It’s a good thing for the store workers that the tree is fake, since there is no way they can possibly fit the huge thing through their front doors. It’s way too big, about four stories tall. We walked all the way to the Rotunda Restaurant and took pictures of the tree. It was amazing! We were almost at eye level of the huge star-shaped tree topper. It was also nice to walk around the store and see all of the festive store decorations and beautiful ornaments displayed on the smaller trees on each floor.

It was getting late and was already dark outside. We were starting to get hungry, and we had initially planned on having sushi at the Japantown Mall. I also still wanted to buy the Donabe for Mom and didn’t know if I would have another chance to come to San Francisco to pick one out before our family’s X-mas celebration, so we soldiered on. We walked up and down a few steep hills, a total of at least 5 miles, since we did some accidental loops.

When we got to Japantown, most of the business were closed, except for some of the markets and restaurants within the mall. We chose Osakaya for dinner, since we liked the look of their menu best. I also had eaten there before and knew the delicious food was decently priced. Here’s a glimpse at their dishes but not the full menu, since the sushi menu is separate. Our food was so tasty! I was so impressed with the food. (In case you’re wondering, I did not order all of this food for myself; it was for both of us. They just served everything family style.) ^_^

I was completely tickled with the fact that we only ordered appetizers for dinner. I thought it was hilarious for some reason, maybe because I was so hungry and tired. I think this was the first time I had ever seen onigiri on a menu, so of course I had to get it. As you can see there was a set of three, pickled plum, salmon and seaweed. I devoured them all. Oh my goodness! Then there was the sushi to eat. We ordered salmon maki, futomaki, a dragon roll, and some other roll, too, which I don’t remember the name to. I left the wasabi (or as I like to call it, green Play-Doh of death) and the pickled ginger to Anise; I am not a fan of those garnishes. We also had sunomono (cucumber salad) and miso soup, which we burned our mouths on. It’s a good thing we were starving. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, so we had plenty of leftovers! I was hungry again about an hour and an half after we left the restaurant, since all of the foods were so easily digested by my stomach (or maybe because my stomach enjoys sushi as much as I do. ūüėõ ).

I am so glad we went to all of those wonderful places. It was a very full day. When is your favorite time of year to visit SF? It’s hard to tell for me. The Macy’s hall of flowers show is pretty awesome, but the winter holiday decorations were so fantastic. Where do you like to go for sushi in San Francisco? What are your favorites to order? What events have you attended in Japantown? I really want to go to one of the Taiko performances (the dojo is performing at the Japan Day Festival on June 23) and the annual Cherry Blossom Festival (in mid April). I’m pretty sure that Japantown has its own series of Lunar New Year events, too, which would be neat to attend.

Beef Sukiyaki Hot Pot

I love sukiyaki! It’s so delicious with the rice noodles, but I think my favorite part is the broth. The only other great sukiyaki that I have ever had was at Kyoto, a small local family-own, family-run Japanese restaurant in Rohnert Park, which also has tasty, tasty sushi. I also love their dobin mushi, another soup I must make. Kyoto is the only restaurant where I have seen it served. I highly recommend their food! I like all Kyoto’s sukiyaki soups (chicken, seafood, beef and combination) so much, I went to Japantown in San Franciso to buy the special ceramic clay pot to make this great soup for myself at home.

Last year my mom asked for a new ceramic¬†casserole dish for Christmas. So when Anise and I went to San Francisco last December to visit the Ferry Building Farmers Market and Japantown,¬† I knew exactly what I wanted to get my mom. A ceramic donabe or Japanese hot pot. It was my understanding that you can cook with them on the stove and in the oven, so I thought it would act as a two-in-one. That way she could make hot pot soups and oven-baked casseroles. Alas, I didn’t realize glazed ceramic pots will crack and break if you bake them; the unglazed ones can go in the oven after soaking in water for two to three hours. (The soaked up water prevents cracking in the oven; the walls of the glazed pots can’t absorb water, which is why glazed ones can’t go in the oven.) I got the wrong kind. Oh well. No big deal, since the off-white pot I got her has beautiful blue flowers on the lid. Thankfully this type of pot is still usable on the stove and easily cleaned with boiling salted water (kind of like cleaning cast iron pots with oil and salt to preserve seasoning and remove food bits).

Beef Sukiyaki Hot Pot
Adapted from Setsuko Yoshizuka’ Beef Sukiyaki and Beef Sukiyaki from Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat
Serves 4 to 6

Sukiyaki Sauce Ingredients
3/4 + 3 1/4 C Filtered Water
1/3 C San-J Gluten-Free Tamari Soy Sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
3 T Hakutsuru Junmai Sake
5 T Sugar, Turbinado or Sucanat
2 tsp Better Than Bouillon Beef Bouillon
2 T Kikkoman Aji-Mirin

1 lb Sliced Beef Rib Roast, cut into 1″ squares*

Hot Pot Ingredients
1 Bunch Chinese Cabbage or Bock Choy, cut into 2″ lengths
1 Bag Wild or Spring Mix Salad Greens
1 Leek, ends trimmed, cut into 2″ lengths
8 Shiitake Mushrooms, stemmed, sliced**
6 3″ wide Portobello Mushrooms, sliced**
1 pkg Maifun Rice Noodles, soaked, rinsed, cut into 3″ lengths or kelp noodles, rinsed

*Cutting the meat slices so small is not necessary, but they shouldn’t be bigger than 4″ across.
**If your mushrooms are small enough, you don’t have to slice them; I just wanted ours bite-size. You can use Enoki, like the original recipe called for, but we couldn’t find them at the store.

Directions
Arrange your cut-up vegetables on a large platter into separate piles in order to make organizing your ingredients easier later on when it’s time to add them to the donabe.

In a small sauce pan, combine 3/4 cup of water, the tamari, sake and sugar. Heat the sauce through on the stove over medium.

Warm up some of the sauce over medium heat in the donabe. Add the meat, and saute it until it reaches medium doneness. Dissolve the bouillon in the remaining water, sauce and mirin on medium-high heat. Deglaze the pot with a bit of sauce, scraping off any meat stuck to the bottom if needed.

Push the meat aside, and add the bok choy. (Cabbage always goes on the bottom of the donabe when you are adding your groups of soup goodies.) Arrange the other vegetables and noodles in separate sections in the pot on top of the cabbage. It may not look like they will all fit, but just wedge them in. Pour in the rest of the sauce. Remember the lid is domed, but if you have to, wait a few minutes for some of the greens to wilt before you add more. (If there still isn’t room, add more after the first four bowls of soup are served.)

Cover the pot with the lid, and cook the sukiyaki over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Remove the lid to check on the ingredients. Push any ingredients down that are sticking up out of the broth, so everything cooks evenly. Return the lid, and cook the soup for another 3 minutes. If necessary, press the ingredients down again. Recover the pot again. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat; cook it for 30 seconds. Turn the off the burner.

With hot pan holders or oven mittens, transfer the hot pot to the dining table, placing it on a trivet. Under the trivet I spread out a thick towel (or you can use an absorbent placemat, in case of spillage while ladling the servings). The trivet only covered half of the towel, so that I had room to put down the very hot donabe lid. Make sure you keep a hot pan holder or oven mitten at the table with the hot pot, so you don’t burn your hands.

Serve the soup into bowls with a ladle and cooking or plating chopsticks or tongs. Make sure you get a bit of everything in each bowl. If you have any additional vegetables that are still uncooked and didn’t fit in the pot before, you can add them now to the still hot broth. Returning the lid to maintain the heat in the donabe and keep the steam in.

Here’s a video of “The Aimless Cook” on Youtube that I also used as a reference for cooking the meat directly in the donabe. It also has some nice vegetable preparation ideas to make your vegetables look prettier.

Donabe recipes are so flexible, that you can really be creative when putting your soup together.  Treat the recipes like guidelines when coming up with flavor combinations; you can add or omit most any ingredients you like. Just make sure you pay attention to the amounts each type of ingredient. An overstuffed pot can boil over during cooking, and you want to make sure the piled in meat and vegetable piles are so high that they lift the lid away from the pot. The lid needs to  completely close. Remember that you can add more ingredients to the hot remaining broth and other soup bits after you make some room by serving portions to your dinner mates.

If you are concerned about sodium and sugar, those are adjustable, too. You can use low-sodium or sodium-free tamari and omit the mirin or use less sugar, adjusting the flavors afterward. Also If you want to add a garnish, you can sprinkle on furikake or shichimi togarashi, both of which come in several different seasoning mixes, as shime or garnish. You can even make your own, like I did; stay ‘tooned for my upcoming Shrimp & Vegetable Nabe post.