Monday, March 31, 2008


Every neighborhood ought to have a good sushi or Japanese restaurant. Akasaka has been around for quite a long time and they have the pictures to prove it! I love it when family-owned restaurants take pictures with their regulars and put them up as decoration. Shows that they'd care about you on a personal level.

This is my second time at the restaurant, but apparently my family frequently has lunch there. THANKS A LOT YOU GUYS. From what I hear, the sushi bar is top-notch. Comparable to Sushi Go 55 on Alameda (Little Tokyo in Downtown LA). Today though, we sat down for their lunch plates which are a real bargain. I guess most people in the area know Akasaka has a steal of a meal during lunch hours. The place was packed when we arrived.


This huge bowl is offered as an appetizer for $25. My brother made it his lunch instead. Generous chunks of avocado, crisp Japanese cucumbers, and a slather of hot sauce adorn a bed of sliced albacore and julienned radishes. There is also a good amount of sauce at the bottom of the bowl. I've tasted something similar to it before, but sorry I don't know what it's called. I've often seen it drizzled on albacore, though. The taste is savory and mildly tangy. Akasaka is extremely generous when it comes to fish, and this "appetizer" is no exception. We are big eaters in my family and even my brother had a hard time finishing a huge bowl of albacore. The bowl is huge. HUGE. A must-order for albacore lovers.

Lunch Special:
This plate cost a mere $12. Wow! The grilled fish of the day was yellowtail. Last time I was here I had salmon teriyaki and was extremely impressed with both their sauce and grilling technique. The fish today did not disappoint. As for the sashimi, you can clearly see how generous Akasaka is with their portions. And of course, I guess it goes without saying that the sashimi was really fresh. Ya can't stay in business if you don't serve great fish! (Oh wait...Todai, Puente Hills is still in business...)

Rainbow Roll:
In retrospect, the picture would look nicer if I angled the roll, but like I've mentioned before, I take poor pictures when I'm hungry! Hell, I do nothing right when I'm hungry. Anyway, Akasaka is reputed to serve some ginormous rolls, so my mother took the plunge and decided to order the rainbow roll. Holy cow this thing was a beast. True to Akasaka's style, huge chunks of yellowtail and salmon are sandwiched inside the roll along with avocado etc etc. They even managed to sneak in some tempura batter in there somehow to give a delightful crunch with every bite. The contrasting textures of soft fish and that fried batter was quite fun.

I've had quite a few rainbow rolls in San Diego with friends and I have to say: Akasaka makes the best one! To be fair though, the few times I've eaten rolls in San Diego are at mediocre joints with mediocre fish. (That's why I never let those guys & dolls choose restaurants anymore. They have let me down way too many times!) I didn't know rainbow rolls could taste this good until I had it at Akasaka.

Akasaka totally rocks. It irks me when chefs are stingy with sushi and charge a huge premium. (I'm looking at you, Sushi Ota.) Akasaka serves fish that is just as fresh as any great sushi restaurant and charges a very reasonable price not only for sushi but also for entrees as well. Akasaka is the Sammy Sushi of Hacienda Heights. Kirk of mmm-yoso knows what I'm talking about.

14926 Clark Ave
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
(626) 336-0871

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mother India

I was shopping at South Coast Plaza and stopped by one of my favorite ramen shop on 688 Baker. Yes, I'm talking about the Cursed 688 Baker Suite 7. It used to be Dadami, then for some reason the owners moved on and another ramen shop took its place. Now yet another ramen shop stands in its place--Mentatsu. It doesn't make any sense either. All three had great business even during weekdays! I remember customers waiting outside even at 1:30pm. Yeah the Shoyu Ramen was that damn good.

Though I hear the newest owners of Suite 7 churn out some great noodles, the fact that they don't specialize in any style ramen kinda makes me shy away. Besides, NO ONE WILL EVER BEAT DADAMI! There I said it. So I headed next door to Mother India.

Mother India has been in business for a long time, and I remember the family owned restaurant doing some pretty brisk lunch business back when I was a regular Dadami patron. They have a lunch buffet...but I'm never interested in buffets...maybe it's because of all those bad memories from eating at Las Vegas (/shudder).

I found the place to be empty on a weekday at around 1:15pm. There was a couple really workin' the buffet, but that was it. Usually I see a lot of business types out on lunch. Dunno what happened today. Well, on with the food!

Lamb Samosas:

A pair of triangular savories filled with spicy ground lamb and fragrant herbs (4)

I had these at a Pakistani friend's graduation party a couple years ago and just couldn't get enough of them. I'm not familiar with Indian herbs/spices, but I know the dominant flavors (other than lamb. duh) were curry and cloves. You can see a clove piercing the center of each samosa. The skin was nice and crispy, but not at all oily. I swear I can eat 30 of these.

Garlic Naan:

Well...half of the naan anyway. I only remembered to take pictures upon being served the samosas. After that, I was just too excited to dig in. The naan was fantastic. It was crispy on the outside, but still very fluffy on the inside. Striking such a balance really takes practice! Mother India makes better naan than the nearby Royal Khyber. No contest.

Lamb Vindaloo:
Tender sliced lamb in the famous fiery curry of tomatoes, onions, and potatoes simmered with mustard oil (12)

Jeebus this was spicy. The owner's daughter had asked me if I wanted it "Mild" or "Medium,"and I really did think she meant it in the white-man sense. Yeah...I ordered it "Hot". My family eats some pretty damn spicy Chinese/Taiwanese food and this vindaloo really made me sweat. By the way, the picture I posted features a half-eaten portion. No wait, I think I pretty much finished the plate before I took the picture. Eating this entree reminded me why I love Indian food so much. The curry was just so intense! Pair that with the aromatic lamb and BAM! Your tastebuds get a big whallop of flavor.

Seekh Kabab:
Finely Ground lamb mixed with fresh herbs and spices, formed onto skewers and served sizzling from the tandoor (12)

Half eaten again, before I remembered to take a picture. The lamb was really savory and heavy on the herbs/spices and went really well with the saffron and Basmati rice. Although they appear to be dry when you cut them open, I assure you they are sufficiently moist. I couldn't finish these kababs and the owner was kind enough to give me a take-out box with a big piece of garlic naan and some more Basmati rice + saffron. Family-owned ftw!

Gulab Jamun:
Rich pastry balls, delicate inside with a lightly fried crust cooked in syrup (3)

I first had these at Royal Khyber, so I just had to order them at Mother India to make a comparison. Mother India makes a larger version, but both restaurants aren't far off when it comes to texture and flavor. But because Royal Khyber charges you twice the amount, the winner is clearly Mother India! Like the description claims, these are lightly fried pastries that soak up a lot of syrup. Surprisingly, they are not overly sweet. Imagine a nice thick warm donut that oozes a delicate syrup when you chomp down on it--that's pretty much a gulab jamun.

For the amount of food you get, I'll always think Indian restaurants are a tad pricey (at least for the ones I go to anyway....tell me if you know better ones!). Regardless, I love the flavors and aromas of Indian cuisine so much that I really don't give a damn. I should have tried out this restaurant years ago when I was waiting for a table at Dadami.

Mother India
688 Baker St, Suite 8
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 668-9661

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Honda Ya

Apparently Honda Ya has been much blogged about by the Orange County food blogging community and has received some raving reviews. After dropping by on a Saturday night, I can totally see why.

I went with some pals at 9:30pm to find eight parties ahead of us waiting for a table. "Shit. Sorry guys," I said. Well, the wait was actually not all that bad and we were promptly seated (on a tatami!) after about 40 minutes. Normally I would have been in a foul mood after waiting for so long, but time really flies when you're with good company. Eating and hanging out with friends is such a great pleasure in life.

Honda Ya has quite an extensive list of items to order from and I was completely overwhelmed. Hell, if I could, I'd order every damn item on the menu. While my buddies and I were still deciding what to order, we had a pitcher of Sapporo brought over to help us think. I settled with Fried Oysters, Crab & Cheese Croquettes, Takoyaki, and some items from their yakitori menu (not pictured). These items ranged from $4-6. Keegan "The Generous" bought our party two premium bottles of sake. Thanks a lot bud!

Sorry for the crappy pictures. My excuses?
1) I was getting pretty fkin' hungry. I have little patience when I'm hungry.
2) Dim lighting and no room to use a (mini)tripod.
3) Well...I was kinda buzzed. So buzzed that I forgot to get photos of the yakitori items.

Fried Oysters:
Came with tartar sauce and what tasted like tonkatsu sauce. I enjoyed them a whole lot more with the tartar sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice. I'm not a fan of oysters because of what I describe as the "rotten+sea taste," but these oysters had no trace of that. The batter was light and fried to a gorgeous golden brown. Delicious! I'd definitely order them again.

Crab & Cheese Croquette:
I love how flash photography makes the oil in fried foods glisten as it does here. The croquettes didn't feel very oily, though. I ordered these to compare them with Cafe Hiro's croquettes (which they call crab cakes). This was the downer of the evening. The croquettes were unremarkable in flavor. Plain. Uneventful. Very boring. Cafe Hiro makes better ones, but at more than double the price.

Hot damn this plate was a real winner. I've only had takoyaki here California so my exposure is quite limited, but I gotta say...these are terrific! Honda Ya's takoyaki is a tad larger than what I'm used to, but that's because a generous hunk of squid is wrapped up inside. Other than the sauce you see drizzled on top, there is also a dab of mayo on the right side. ....tasted so fkin' good with the mayo... Takoyaki here is better than at Genki Living. I'm ordering two sets of these next time.

Sake, courtesy of Keegan:
The bottles (300mL each, enough for 1.33 drinks for 4 people) were served cold. Apparently, you only serve lower quality sake warm as to mask undesirable traits. I was too buzzed to remember the names, but I do remember how each tasted. The one on the left was fruity and slightly sweet. I really really really hate sweet alcohol. The one on the right was dry, aromatic, and very smooth. I'm a sake newbie, so I really can't say much more, but I like the bottle on the right a whole lot better then the left one. Thanks again, Keegan!

Yakitori items:
We ordered from the Yakitori menu pretty late into our visit, so needless to say we had a nice buzz going by now. Well...I had a good buzz going cuz I'm a lightweight, I'm not sure about the other guys. I tried a "Specialty" item (steak + mushrooms) and a skewer of pork belly. As good as the skewers of meat were, I can't justify paying $3-4 for 2.5 bites per skewer. I just can't. In any case, the steak was some fine quality beef. Salt was all the seasoning it needed. But $4 for it? I don't know...
Keegan and James ordered some Eel, which looked really good. Honda Ya was very generous with the Eel. I think each order required four skewers to hold it together?

What a great night. Honda Ya is without a doubt worthy of many revisits. There are still so many items I want to try. Of course, having a DD is essential! Thank you Kyle for the ride...sorry we kept you up so late.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Burrell's BBQ Pit

After reading about Burrell's BBQ Pit at Elmo's Monster Munching, I decided to make a big detour on my way home from San Diego. The joint is a small shack in a residential neighborhood and has a dining area out in the back. Inside, there is a wall adorned with numerous newspaper and magazine clippings all praising Burrell for the great BBQ he churns out. Hmm...we'll be the judge of that!

I made my stop at around 1:30pm on Saturday. Kinda late, I know. Traffic was god awful on the 5 and I was really worried about getting served dried up leftovers from the lunch rush. Burrell's lunch plates are moderately priced, ranging from $8-10. With the lunch plates you get meat (ribs, chicken, sausage, tri-tip, etc), one side dish of your choice, and one cube of cornbread. Dinner is two to three bucks more and you get an additional side. I bought three lunch plates:

Beef Ribs with Potato Salad:
I was really disappointed with the beef ribs. The meat was a bit too dry and tough. Furthermore, it lacked flavor. No offense, but I've made better ribs at home...I hope these ribs were just a fluke. On the other hand, the cornbread and potato salad were awesome.

Pork Ribs with Baked Beans:
These were much better than the beef ribs, although I do wish the meat was more tender. I guess they just sat under the heat lamp for too long--my fault for coming late. The pork had some good meaty flavor, but some more BBQ sauce would have been nice (to make up for the dryness). Baked beans were very enjoyable, striking a perfect balance between savory and sweet. I've had baked beans at quite a few BBQ joints and I have to say, Burrell's is totally kickass.

Baby-back Ribs with Candied Yams:
These ribs were just fantastic. The meat was tender, flavorful, and fell right off the bone. I don't understand how there can be such a discrepancy between the baby-back ribs and the others. I really don't. My only beef is that the ribs were sitting in a really watery sauce. Monster Munching's Elmo raised a similar complaint. It could have been condensation, though. After all, I did not open the take-out boxes until I arrived home half an hour later. Regardless, the ribs were pretty damn good, though I've had better at Phil's BBQ in San Diego.

Oh yeah. The yams were good too.

To be honest, I don't share the same enthusiasm for Burrells' BBQ Pit as all those journalists who wrote the articles posted on Burrell's wall. The ribs weren't awful, but they weren't great either. I've had better ribs at Chile's, Claim Jumper, Lucille's, Phil's, and a ton of other places I don't remember. Sure the prices are great at Burrell's, but they are the same (roughly) as Phil's. And Phil totally kicks Burrell's ass. While it was fun exploring Santa Ana, (I got lost finding Burrell's...) but I won't be making a second trip.

**EDIT 4/6/08: Guess I'll give this place another shot. I dig Charlie's tastes, so I'm going to trust him on his comment below.

Burrell's BBQ Pit
(714) 547-7441
305 N Hesperian St
Santa Ana, CA 92703