May 31, 2007

Aki's Bakery [San Jose]

Before coming to pick up my guava cake ($51 for 1/3 sheet), I scoured the Yelp postings to see what to expect. Naturally, the staff was disorganized, my cake was lost, and when found, it was unfinished. There were probably twice as many people working as there were customers and it still took us twenty minutes to get out of there.

But that was okay. I expected that.

I also expected that the cakes were probably going to look like the type of thing that a 12-year old would bake his mother on her birthday, complete with scraggly kids handwriting (but without the sentimentality). But that was okay. I knew my cake would look like somebody threw up all over it.

C'est vrai, n'est-ce pas? I wasn't exaggerating.

What wasn't okay was that I had expected an ethereally light angel food cake iced with a sweet-tart guava puree that perfectly offset whatever little sweetness was in the cake batter. But boy was I wrong.

The cake fell flat in terms of its one-dimensional flavor, which tasted of white sugar with every bite. The guava whipped cream laced inside tasted nothing like guava and the puree on top was too skimpy to make any lasting impression. I do have to give it to them though--the cake was very moist.

You can find better for your money. In fact, you could probably even do it yourself better.

Aki's Bakery
355 Meridian Avenue
San Jose, Ca 95126
Tel (408)-287-5404 or Fax (408) 287-0660

Pardon my dust

I have been contemplating keeping a separate food blog for some time now, but other endeavors have always gotten in the way. Last year, it was my website facelift and more recently, it has been maintaining my status as a Yelp Elite. But the more I thought about it, the less inclined I felt to do it. Switching over to my Blogger account, html overrides, templates, tags, moving my reviews [not to mention the broken "m" key on my keyboard]...hadn't I been through all this already? When will I ever learn to stop diving into my infatuations head first?

And then it hit me while we were having dinner last night. I had made some sort of gluttonous move at the dinner table when my SO remarked that hell for me would be a bowl of soup from The French Laundry and a pair of chopsticks for hands. The catch was that the bowl would be glued down to the table and I would spend my days futilely jabbing away at the liquid mess without ever managing to even taste a single drop.

My love affair with food has always been more than a passing flirtation--it is a passion.

As a matter of coincidence [or not], I have been up since 3am on account of my rumbling tummy. Since I couldn't get back to sleep, I started browsing templates for ideas and before I knew it, the sun had risen and I had gone through 5,000 blog skins without success. I eventually managed to find one by guenhwyvar that was acceptable for tweaking and have been playing with it for the last 14 hours (aesthetics are just as important as content). Consequently, I will be spending the next few days backdating reviews from Yelp and working out the kinks with my blogger.

So please, pardon my dust.

May 15, 2007

Musha [Torrance]

I thought Musha was inventive and I enjoyed the creative takes on the izakaya dishes, but the flavors were a little overwhelming for my palette.

The four of us came in with a last minute reservation on a Friday night and were reseated after they had a large party come in for the communal table. The atmosphere here is very convivial and true to what a Japanese pub should be like, complete with pitchers of Asahi and the like.

It took us awhile to navigate the menu, which is written lyrically in jPop English. We managed to parse out ingredients and preparations and ordered way too much food between the three of us. I remembered asking our waiter, "Do you think that's enough food?" To which, he shakes his head in disapproval and scoffs "No." We laughed about it later, but he ended up suggesting that we order the tuna carpaccio (pictured above), which also happened to be the most expensive thing on our bill. It was okay at best.

The portions were generous, but the ambitious menu items often failed to meet our expectations. There was just too much going on in the dishes. The baked scallop baguette was overwhelmed so much by the melted cheese, that we couldnt even taste the scallops. Hell, we could hardly even see them (pictured, right). The yaki udon was nothing more than a simple stir-fry dish.

And the waiter's scoff? We ended up with way too much food for the three of us. All in all, I would come back because I liked the vibe of the restaurant, the food was decent, and the menu, large enough that there was room for exploration.

* Photos courtesy of Sheepathon

1725 W Carson St Ste B
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 787-7344

May 14, 2007

Katsu-Ya [Studio City]

Katsu-ya is tiny and even after arriving 15 minutes early for our 6pm reservations, we had to wait another hour. But let me tell you what, it was worth it.

Only 45 minutes after it was open, there was already a crowd outside the door of the strip mall restaurant. We opened the door only to find another mob, which we had to carefully navigate in order to make our way to the hostess.

We were lucky enough to get a same-day reservation and saw our names scrawled on a whiteboard behind the hostess' podium. It occurred to me that it would be very easy to just take a gander at the board and claim a table that wasnt yours, but I suppose they've been at the business long enough to know that they system works.

The moment our table was ready, we were shuffled into the dining room and brought a whiteboard of specials from which we were supposed to order. I recall a table next to us asking for the dinner menu and scoffing at their selections of terriyaki and tempura when there was a myriad of more interesting specials on their daily menu.

Dont miss the creamy rock shrimp tempura and tuna on crispy rice. If you're looking for something closer to the OC, Ikko in Costa Mesa also makes an amazing rock shrimp tempura salad.

The foie gras was overcooked and lacked the buttery smoothness that one expects from the dish, while the scallops it came with were less than "jumbo". The albacore w/crispy onions looked strikingly similar to the sesame-crusted tuna with warm spinach (pictured) which also came topped with crispy onions. The flavors through both were good, though the onions added little flavor (only texture). The dishes were still perfectly good in and of themselves.

We ordered some yellowtail and found it pretty fresh and well marinated. The honey handroll was lackluster and we've had better blue crab handrolls at Sushi Wasabi in Tustin. Next time, we'll have to peruse the raw offerings some more.
The menu goes on and on and even if you run out of new things to try, the regulars will tantalize time and again. Service was particularly efficient, though not warm in any way. With that massive line that they have outside, Katsu-Ya's objective is to get you in and out as fast as they can, and they do a damn good job of it without making you feel particularly rushed. Our food came out briskly after we had decided on our order.

Overall, we found the flavors to beinteresting without being overwhelming, though the menu can be intimidating. When you eat out as much as I do, intimidating becomes code for potential to impress. I would come here once if a week if it weren't for the hour-long drive.

Katsu-ya has a few other locations around LA, but this one's the original. There's a pretty fancy outpost at Brentwood if you're looking for more of scene.

11680 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City,CA 91604
(818) 985-6976

May 7, 2007

Chikara Mochi [Gardena]

Chikara is like the Kee Wah of Hong Kong Moon Cakes--that is, there are other options down the street [namely Sakura-ya] that taste better and are cheaper, but this is the brand you buy on Chinese New Years. The mochi here are dainty, attractive, and often molded into whimsical shapes--in other words, perfect for gift giving. Although there is a wide assortment of mochi, manju, and daifuku, the fillings alternate between red and white bean. The texture of the mochi is a little more firm than I'd like and I find it only a few notches better than what you can get at the supermarket. Little English is spoken here, so you may have to find yourself venturing into the unknown.

Ultimately, you will find better bang for your buck elsewhere, but if you're in need of something that looks nice enough to give your mother-in-law, Chikara is what you want.

The picture at the right is actually of the Chikara display at Marukai and not the actual store itself. If I ever forget and go to Sakura-Ya on a Tuesday, I'll revisit Chikara so I can get you some real photos.

Chikara Mochi
16108 S Western Ave
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 324-5256