Fugu Diaries

Succulent and Deadly
  • Delica

    This is another one of my go-to places for a Japanese style bento. I never went to the Japanese deli chain when I lived in Tokyo because their food seemed less interesting compared to the other choices that I had, but in San Francisco, where my options are scarce, it’s a different story.

    The day before I was to fly to Tokyo, my craving for Japanese was so strong that I headed to Delica in the Ferry Building. The bentos are expensive. One can either choose from a selection of deli items such as a sesame-spinach salad, Japanese fried chicken, and deep-fried tofu. They also have Japanese curried rice, but on this day, I was in a bit of a hurry, so I chose one of the pre-made bento boxes for about $10, with chicken meatballs, green beans in a sesame sauce and kinpira gobo (sauteed burdock root). It definitely satisfies Japan’s idea of a healthy meal, which should include enough variety that one is eating at least 30 different kinds of foods/ingredients in a single day. Delica has a second outpost in Japantown.

    Ferry Building
    San Francisco, CA
    (415) 834-0344
    Open: Mon-Fri 10am-6pm; Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 11am-5pm

    — Yukari

    August 4th, 2010

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  • Muracci’s

    When I moved to San Francisco from Japan, one of the most depressing things about it was the paltry lunch selections near my office. In Japan, we had a choice of endless restaurants specializing in an endless assortment of foods. There was a place we went to just for Chinese Mabo Tofu, and another for rice bowls cooked in a clay pot. Other favorites included Korean, Thai, ramen, sushi, and a number of traditional Japanese restaurants. In San Francisco, my choices were all of a sudden limited to a salad, a sandwich, Chinese takeout, or Mexican.

    I go to Muracci’s when I’m feeling really nostalgic for the lunches we used to have in Tokyo. Their main thing is Japanese-style curry, which is very good, but I go there for the non-curry bentos they have. None of them are particularly creative, but that’s what makes them so deeply satisfying. All the items are traditional Japanese bento dishes - karaage bento (fried chicken), sake (grilled salted salmon), tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet), oyako donburi (chicken and egg over rice) etc… The bentos come with whatever the main dish is, a potato salad, a green salad, miso soup and your choice of white or brown rice. At lunch time, the lines can get long because they prepare the food items after you make your order.

    Two days ago, I went there and ordered a tonkatsu bento. Even in Japan, tokatsu can be a risky choice because the breading can disguise a bad piece of meat, but Muracci’s has it just right. It’s thin and crisp because they deep fry it to order, and it really hits the spot when nothing else will do but a taste of Japan. I sat at my desk and savored my tonkatsu and rice while I took sips of my miso soup in between bites. It was a short moment of bliss during my otherwise stressful and hectic day.

    My other favorite bento there is karaage, but Muracci’s also has udon noodles with curry and an assortment of curry bentos. If you want the curry, I would recommend ordering it as is. They will ask you if you want it spicier, but that just means they add chili powder on top (which only gives it a one-dimensional spiciness that isn’t very authentic). If you don’t want to wait, call in your order ahead of time.

    307 Kearny St.
    San Francisco, CA
    Tel: 415-773-1101
    Open: Mon.-Thu. 11am-6pm; Fri. 11am-5pm

    — Yukari

    July 21st, 2010

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  • Recipe: Tofu Donburi

    Summer in Tokyo can get unimaginably hot because the city is essentially built of concrete, and it doesn’t cool down in the evenings. You can lose your appetite on the hottest days and dinner becomes a drag. On those nights, we sometimes had tofu donburi, a dish idea that my sister got from a restaurant. Making it is super simple. All you need is a good tofu, a hot bowl of rice and an assortment of refreshing, chopped condiments to mix. The only flavoring is a drizzle of soy sauce. The cold of the tofu, the crunch of some of the condiments and the warmth of the rice makes for a light, yet filling comfort dish.

    I made it tonight after feeling nostalgic for our life there. To accompany it, we had a daikon and bean curd miso soup. Here’s a very rough recipe:

    Ingredients (serves two):
    2 cups white short-grain rice
    1 Tofu (I prefer San Jose Tofu, which is made in San Jose, Calif. and available at select Japanese markets including Nijiya)
    3 tbsp chopped shiso leaves
    3 umeboshi (sour plums) - remove pits and chop into paste
    4 tbsp chopped cucumber or 1 Japanese cucumber
    1 tbsp finely chopped scallions
    1 tbsp grated ginger
    2 tsp roasted sesame seed
    soy sauce to taste
    Optional: 1 chopped myoga (type of ginger)

    1. Steam rice.
    2. Put into two deep bowls (ideally donburi bowls but if not a salad or pasta bowl).
    3. Crumble half of the tofu onto top of each bowl.
    4. Place some of each of the condiments onto the top of each bowl.
    5. Drizzle soy sauce to taste.
    6. Mix it all together when you eat it. I prefer to eat this with a spoon rather than chopsticks.

    — Yukari

  • Nijiya

    This is my go-to Japanese grocery in San Francisco, where I buy everything from staples like soy sauce, miso and bonito powder to fresh fish for sashimi and sushi. I even get my favorite Shiseido shampoo called Tsubaki here. They have a good selection of fresh Japanese vegetables, a wide range of frozen goods and even locally made natto (fermented soybeans) and tofu. When I shop here, I inevitably go home with an impulse purchase that reminded me of Japan — a bottle of my favorite tea, a snack food, or Japanese pears. There’s a second Japanese grocery called Uoki also in Japantown, but it seems that most Japanese I know who live in the city prefer Nijiya. If you park in the Kinokuniya building, don’t forget to take your parking ticket with you because the store will validate it.

    1737 Post St.
    San Francisco, CA
    Tel: (415) 563-1901
    Open: daily 10am - 8pm

    — Yukari

  • Sushi Sam’s Edomata

    According to Japanese expats, the best place to go for sushi in San Mateo is Sushi Sam’s Edomata. So when I had to pick up Patrick at the nearby airport one evening, we decided to stop there for dinner on the way home. I have to admit that I wasn’t so sure about this place when I called to make a reservation because the person who picked up the phone didn’t speak any Japanese. We were even less sure when we got to the packed and chaotic restaurant and saw that most of the wait staff were speaking Chinese. This wasn’t quite the authentic experience we were expecting.

    Things picked up though after we were seated at the sushi bar. The wait service was okay — after they came by to take our drink order, we had to hail someone down each time we wanted something. But we were able to get immediately comfortable with the sushi chefs — Proprietor Osamu (Sam) Sugiyama and Chef Koichi Ito. They were super busy yet they never lost their cool, and took the time to interact with customers in front of them. They also didn’t blink when I started speaking Japanese to them. None of these traits may seem particularly special, but it was notable to me because we’ve been to many Japanese restaurants where this isn’t the case. Read more »

    — Yukari

    June 19th, 2010

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  • Nozomi Japanese Fusion

    Imagine the kitschiest “Japanese” restaurant you can think of - some body of running water in the restaurant, lots of Japanese-ish motifs like glass etchings of Japanese landscapes, and waitresses wearing the kind of fake kimono style tops or dresses that are sold at the Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku for foreigners. That would be Nozomi, located in Carlsbad, Calif. When you walk in, the white hostess says “Irashaimase” (Welcome) to you and takes you to your seat as the sushi chefs also yell “Irashaimase” to you with just enough of an accent to betray the fact that they’re not Japanese.

    You would think then that it would be easy to dismiss. I did until I took a look at the menu. The Japanese fusion restaurant had the usual kinds of tapas items — beef tataki, edamame, agedashi tofu (fried tofu), etc. — but the tataki was made from actual Japanese Kobe beef, and as a special it also had a fresh green salad with veggies from a local Japanese-owned farm, known for the high quality of produce. It’s sushi menu in the meanwhile consisted of a wide range of items including expensive hard-to-find delicacies like bluefin tuna, abalone, and giant clam. This was a restaurant that cared about its food. Read more »

    — Yukari

  • Ame

    Patrick and I are divided about this place, but I kind of like it. I’ve been there twice so far, and our first experience was disappointing, and the second was great.

    We first tasted Hiro Sone’s cooking at a Japanese dinner we were invited to, celebrating the 50th anniversary of UC Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies last year. In a tag team of four chefs, Chef Sone was in charge of the appetizer course and he served a chawan-mushi, a savory steamed custard dish, with seafood like sea urchin, abalone and lobster inside. The delicate dish was so perfectly made that it immediately transported me to Japan as well as to my childhood when my mother used to make it as a special treat. Read more »

    — Yukari

  • La Ciccia

    La Ciccia is a gem of a Sardinian restaurant in Bernal Heights. It’s obviously not Japanese, but they mirror the best of the Japanese culinary experience so much so in their marriage of great food and great service that we came out of it reminiscing about the great dining experiences we had in Tokyo.

    We arrived at La Ciccia a few minutes late for our 9pm reservation. We needn’t have worried though because the tiny restaurant was packed and there were no open tables. After waiting by the door a few minutes, we wandered over to the bar area to order some wine. Though such situations can be aggravating, we were able to feel relaxed and sip our wine, thanks to Lorella, the proprietress, who came over frequently to reassure us that she hadn’t forgotten about us.
    Read more »

    — Yukari

  • Sebo

    Having been spoiled by an abundant supply of fresh, seasonal fish in Tokyo sushi restaurants, one thing Patrick and I look for in a sushi place in the U.S. is variety. We don’t expect the breadth of what’s available in Japan, but we’d like to see a little more than just the staples. Sebo, a tiny, relatively unassuming restaurant on Hayes Street, is one of the few that we’ve discovered in San Francisco that meet that requirement. Read more »

    — Yukari

  • A Class on Sushi History

    A friend of mine just sent me a link to a sushi history class on May 22 by an LA art collective. Offering a culinary time-travel adventure, it promises to teach participants “about the effects on sushi’s development of geography, oceanography, climate, politics, war, immigration, urban planning, human disaster and cultural influence.”

    I’ve eaten sushi all my life, and even I didn’t know that sushi was shaped in such a profound way. It was news to me too, until I looked in Wikipedia, that the origin of sushi is actually believed to be in Southeast Asia, where salted fish was wrapped in fermented rice to preserve the fish. The Japanese Wikipedia notes that the first mention of sushi in Japanese literature was in 718.

    What’s interesting is that in Japan, it’s still possible to get a taste of what the first “sushi” might have been like. Sushi today is recognized by the slices of raw seafood over vinegared rice, but in some fancy Tokyo restaurants (strangely enough they tend not to be sushi restaurants), one might see an item called Funazushi — a smelly dish of fermented fish and rice — that will neither look or taste anything like any sushi you’ve had before. I’ve been told that it’s an acquired taste, and if that’s true, I’m still waiting to acquire it after having tried it twice. But people I know, including my mother, get tremendously excited about it.

    If you are a huge sushi fan and come across it, I strongly urge you to try it. It might not taste good, but you’ll taste a little bit of history.

    — Yukari

    May 11th, 2010

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