Archive for June, 2007

Umamiventure: Red Hook Ball Fields or Campo del Futbol de Gancho Rojo

June 27, 2007

(from left to right: that’s me with aldonymous and friend jenna)

The kids of Umami Mart can only be described as a fierce dynamic, set into motion by the powerful force of deliciousness, I met this awesome voltron-like force on a so-called ‘Umamiventure’. There were these Asian girls there, and some dudes too, they cackled like crazy in between mouths full of scrumptious central American culinaria…I knew then– I was among kindred spirits.

Aldonymous was my in, and we shared our Mexican corn and El Salvadorean revueltas…HOLA! Donde esta? Tasty TOWN! And I have to thank the ladies and gents of Umami Mart for leading me there. I beg…induct me into this dreamy coterie!ok so now for the topic at hand…actually no, let met get you into the mood with a little musical interlude

(sung to the tune of strawberry fields)… “let me take you down, ‘cause I’m goin’ to hook soccer field…tasty revealed…and there’s little to complain about… soccerfield grub for-eveeeeeeer…

so if you haven’t heard of it yet (I hadn’t until I arrived)…but the NY Times is well aware of it, despite this, if you go I promise you’ll still feel like you’re a member of a band of lucky insiders.

(The Breakdown)

Food vendors from many Latin countries descend upon a ball field where uniformed Latinos represent their native countries in a summer soccer league and something delicious happens.
I can’t claim to have sampled even a fraction of what this little tent city had to offer…I consider this a festive, yet pithy reconnaissance mission…thus I will return…I found out that this place is apparently the center of the universe…its gravity attracting countless young bodies to its well seasoned bosom, and for good reasons (here are a few)…

Ceviche mixto!

Sadly, I had only two bites…but those tiny bites impossibly included a sliver of red onion, a micro cilantro sprig, citrus bam, a succulent squid tendril, the sound of sirens, the saucy beep beep of mexico city traffic, 5 hail marys, 10 our fathers, liberation theology, can I have a hallejlujah?

Mexican corn!

Ok…so corn seems SO midwestern…and the Italians claim that polenta has been on the old continent since the beginning of time, but we, the educated know that those golden ears are a New World crop. Fittingly, the Mexicans know what’s best for the vegetable. They cut a compromise, figured the French had something to contribute, (given their rich history of condiments), and so slathered the kernels in rich velvety mayo. This class act is followed by some crumbly Cotija, lime and something spicy, in this case chili powder. These ears are in this city by now totally ubiquitous, but no, I’m not sick of it, especially when it’s served up with a side of lovin’ futbol. I friggin’ love it…foods with real history are NEVER formulaic.

Huarache (a deep fried vessel for the venerated chorizo)!

Is it any wonder these people came up with the intricate wonder of the plataresque? In the mighty Chorizo, no ingredient is a stranger, every friend in this casing is so tight you’d think chorizo was actually the sixth basic taste (i.e. sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami, chorizo), and there is a generous heap of it in a large fluffy fresh fried tortilla like thing…let me repeat…chorizo in a fluffy fresh fried tortilla thing…uh, yeah.

Watermelon, Mango, Cucumber!

Don’t you get annoyed when people remind you that cucumbers, like tomatoes are fruits NOT vegetables? Well, Mexico never lost sight of this fact and to prove it they serve it up alongside 2 fruit kingpins…the mango and the watermelon…the kicker is, is that they serve all three with lime, chili powder and salt. This is the pause that refreshes. These lovely fruits are served at the agua fresca stand where there are at least 5 varieties of said beverage in addition to Horchata! The version here is so rice milky and cinnamony it’ll blow your mind! And then it’ll bust your gut!

A special love: The pupusa and its sidekick the Salvadorean corn tamale!

The corn tamale has no filling, it is solid fresh corn goodness that transcends its seeming straightforwardness… the process of transformation begins when this precious morsel is swaddled in corn husks, it is then mated with a cumulus cloud, it rains down from the sky above, where it is baptised with a plump and shiny dollop of cremalicious crema.

In El Salvador November 13th is Día Nacional de la Pupusa “National Pupusa Day”, instead of describing this dish, I’m hoping that it suffices to say that this tender pocket of masa has a friggin’ day dedicated to it! and you shouldn’t die without having one…and there’s no better place than plopped on the verdant soccer lawns of sunny Red Hook.I love this place…from now on whenever I think of Red Hook, I’ll think “yummmmmmmm Red Hook”.


NY Premiere of Kamome Diner at Japan Society

June 26, 2007

In my day job, I work in the film department at a non-profit “cultural” organization, Japan Society, in Midtown East. So this means that my work consists of movies from Japan: watching them, writing about them, promoting them, blah blah. It’s pretty neat- I’m not complaining one bit.

Ryo and I have been slaving away for the last few months in organizing Japan Society’s first annual larger-than-life film festival, JAPAN CUTS, which runs from July 5-15. That’s 11 days; 18 US and NY premieres of feature films (all excellent) ; over 60 shorts (some experimental, some artsy); 5 special guest directors flying in from Japan; 2 fabulous parties. Can you dig this? As EMF put it, IT’S UNBELIEVABLE!!!

Of course my absolute favorite movie of the entire festival would be about FOOD!!!! KAMOME DINER (above; directed by Naoko Ogigami, who will be here in person!) is about a cute little woman who moves to Helsinki and opens a simple diner serving traditional Japanese comfort foods. I won’t bore you about it, as you can just read about it here, but don’t miss it!!! It’s just a delightful, peaceful film filled with delicious dishes and wildly colorful Marimekko prints that will warm your heart, tingle your spirit, and keep your stomach grumbling for more. It will make you truly believe in the power of food and how it brings people together. La-di-da.

There are two screenings: Thursday 7/12 at 8:10pm and Saturday 7/14 at 8:15pm. The Saturday screening will be followed by the ONIGIRI PARTY, where we will feast on rice balls with director Ogigami and just bask in the joys of her blissful film. I don’t want to hype it up too much, but I truly am a fan of this movie. Please join us!

Other food-related films during the festival to enjoy are:

Fri. 7/13 at 9pm
Sun. 7/15 at 6pm

A bizarre, entrancing, gorgeous film. Art direction by the guy who worked exclusively with Seijun Suzuki. Lots of food talk and beauteous shots of a typical meal during dinnertime in Japan. They even talk about and slurp down shiokara, which is salted, preserved squid. Doesn’t get much more Japanese than that. Dig it!

Saturday 7/14, 2:50pm

This little guy is a PEA!!! Monsieur Greenpeas, a little clay-like figurine, prances around a gloomy metropolis in search for his briefcase, stolen by the evil Joker.

The director, Yasuo Kurita, will be here as well, with Monsieur Greenpeas live!, giving us a demonstration of how he makes his fantastical animation films. It took Kurita almost 5 years to make this film– he sculpted and shot all of these characters and sets himself! AMAZING!!!

My friend once commented to me that EVERY Japanese film he ever saw involved eating or food in some way. Wouldn’t that be pretty amazing if it were true??? *k*

The Umami Reader, vol.004

June 25, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings:

  • Langer’s, a pastrami paradise in LA for 60 years! (via Jim)
  • Gab chows down on carne asadas from the Calexico cart in SoHo
  • What the spelling bee champion eats to get his alphabet on (excruciating to watch, but it has its moments– the kid needs to be smacked; via Molio)
  • Tell your bf you are pregnant over dinner (Michael Cera outtakes. Super vaguely food related but just had to put it in here for the shear joy factor; via Matt)


June 24, 2007

Aya: Hey Tmonkey,

tmonkey: hey
have you recovered from The Banquet?

Aya: um I don’t even know what you’re talking about because I’ve had my memories from Friday night removed from my brain.

tmonkey: nooo
ok the movie was painful
but the ramen at Setagaya!
Can’t forget that!

Aya: hmmm seem to have a faint recollection….
ok jk how could I possibly forget?! SRSLY

tmonkey: omg u r such a dork
i mean, when we finally find the BEST RAMEN IN NY

Aya: WOW bold statement!!!!

tmonkey: some cat comes along and reformats ur hard drive

Aya: LOLCATS!!!! only eaten cheezbrgrs
ok ok — seriously…
I have heard that Setagaya is a chain restaurant from California and also from Setagaya in Tokyo (which, incidentally, is where my brother lives)

tmonkey: i thought chain meant it would be bad

Aya: I know, right?

tmonkey: but boy was i wrong!

Aya: OK let’s break it down

tmonkey: well, it started out kind of disappointing
no liquor license yet

Aya: yeah, wtf, how can they be “out” of gyoza?!?

tmonkey: after that, i was like (to the waitress): “This ramen better be damn good!”

Aya: Yah, i think she was like, whatever, dude

tmonkey: i mean, we were all prepared for some serious disappointment

Aya: It’s pretty bold for a ramen shop to serve only one kind of soup

tmonkey: we = a big table of Japanese (and Taiwanese) ramen freaks
what was it? shio?

Aya: yes, shio (salt) flavor. kinda risky, considering most pp tend to favor the traditional shoyu flavor

tmonkey: isn’t that what i ordered?

Aya: no you got the chashu ramen, which basically means you got 2 extra slices of pork
the soup was the same: pale yellow color, looks light but full of flavor!

tmonkey: i love how there’s a whole different menu listing for ADD EXTRA PORK SLICES
the soup!
nice saltiness (not too much) but with good depth, and it was clear

Aya: yeah the description on the menu in bad engrish was hysterical

tmonkey: they put those three oils in it..

Aya: something like “look for the bamboo shooting on the top”

tmonkey: oh yeah, i had some bamboo gunplay going on in mine
the noodles were AWESOME imho
al dente

Aya: u r such a dork

tmonkey: shaddap
what, i like my noodles thin and al dente!

Aya: anyway the soup — made from dried shrimp, dried scallop, garlic, onion, chicken — was so full! and they added the scallop oil at the end,
very complex

tmonkey: it’s amazing how hard it is to get the soup right
momofuku you would think would be able to conjure up a good broth

Aya: ugh

tmonkey: minca’s is too thick

Aya: i don’t know WTF they are doing over there, man

tmonkey: and everywhere else just has no DEPTH

Aya: minca is way too thick and salty

tmonkey: but Setagaya, I gotta admit, EXCELLENT

Aya: yes we are in agreement there.

tmonkey: that’s half the battle

Aya: the menu also talked about there being 3 different thicknesses to their noodles.
did you notice that?

tmonkey: not sure if i got that

Aya: me neither…

tmonkey: i was too busy slurping them into my mouth i didn’t have a chance to get my ruler out

Aya: but then again, we pretty much inaled that shit
that’s what i said

tmonkey: jinx

Aya: stop stealing my thoughts

tmonkey: dork
the egg, halved and poached to perfection
no piece of seaweed though
no fancy ginger

Aya: yeah. plus bamboo shotting — they had shredded seaweed (not nori)

tmonkey: what was that orange crumbly stuff on the scallions?

Aya: OHHH dried ground shrimp i thnk!

tmonkey: gave it some nice color

Aya: and packed a flavor punch

tmonkey: i liked the restraint and the humble presentation
it wasn’t trying to do too much

Aya: We should have order extra noodles

tmonkey: um, we should have just ordered another bowl

Aya: yeah second round!

tmonkey: hungry hippo

Aya: of course by that time there were like a dozen pp waiting in line to get in

tmonkey: yeah, we have to plan to be there at some odd hour to not have to wait in line, but you know
it’s totally worth it

Aya: yesh — and next time we’ll skip the crepes from next door that gave you the tummyache
and the poop poops

tmonkey: STOP

Aya: LOL



tmonkey: KTHXBAI

Aya: 😦
i don’t know why you insist on chatting with me when you’re sitting 5 feet away from me

tmonkey: because, sometimes there are things that are better said through chat

Aya: like what

tmonkey: like
i just farted

Aya: U NYERD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sent at 11:05 AM on Sunday

Ramen Setagaya

141 First Avenue
(bet. 8th and 9th Streets)
(212) 529-2740

Links to other Umami Mart ramen-related postings:

"Expect the Best": My New Mantra

June 24, 2007

By Jane Stillwater

I was raised in the most Republican town in Northern California. Very early on in life I learned to always expect the worst. And guess what? The worst always arrived — like clockwork.

Now I’ve gots a new view on life — “Expect the best!” That’s the new me. Do we have the most corrupt group of people in the history of the United States camping out in our White House? Does a man whose campaign contributions come from “Vulture Fund” beneficiaries and war profiteers sit in our Oval Office, gleefully wringing his blood-covered hands? Not to worry. Americans aren’t dummies. Sooner or later they throw crooks in jail. “Expect the best!”

The State Department is keeping me from embedding as a progressive journalist in Iraq. Heck, this might be a good thing. Who needs to go over there anyway? It’s hot and dusty and if I want to watch pathological killers blowing everything up, I can do that at the local cine-plex for only five dollars (I get the senior discount). “Expect the best!”

I live in a housing co-op that’s run by a bunch of self-interested schmucks whose only goal in life appears to be to see how many of their relatives they can move in illegally. And because I’m a whistle-blower, they keep doing nasty things to me and it looks like it’s only gonna get worse. “Expect the best, Jane.” Yeah, right. But what if the schmucks and me meet over tea and they offer to give up their greedy ways and we patch things up? Hey, it could happen.

I gotta start imagining that good things can come my way and not just catastrophes. We can stop global warming. We can stop war. America CAN have better education and healthcare. People CAN get along. “Expect the best!”

So. Where does the sushi and chocolate come in? Good things are also happening to one of my daughters. After graduating from high school, she floundered around a lot — many young people do. But now she’s got her own apartment and a new job! I’m so proud of her. I gotta admit that I had expected the worst — but now look at her! Hurray! And, even better, my daughter now works with food. “If you come over, I’ll give you a free sample,” she said last night. What can be better than that?

It turns out that my daughter works in a delightful little secluded indoor alleyway in North Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto” — three doors down from Chez Panisse, only not that expensive. Let me take you on a tour.

Located at 1611 Shattuck Avenue, its entrance is innocuous. If you didn’t know it was there, you might miss it. “OMG, look!” I exclaimed. “Kirala has a carry-out place!” The best sushi bar in Berkeley has just gone on-commando. Sushi-to-go! And bento boxes too. And udon.

Then there’s Soop, a specialty food bar featuring soups made right on the premises and served with a chunk of warm buttered corn bread. “Our soups are completely organic,” the counter person told me, “except for the onions. We can’t seem to get enough organic onions.” Good to know.

Next comes Picoso, a small kitchen alcove that sells Mexican food with hand-made salsa. “And they make their own guacamole,” my daughter whispered in awe.

Then there’s a gelato counter named Ciao Bella that offers a whole rainbow of gelato flavors. I tried a scoop of their chocolate jalapeno and my friend Abhi tried their pistachio. Delicious. And the young lady behind the counter was very cheerful and helpful and funny. I left a whole quarter in her tip jar — I was that impressed.

And way in the rear of this delightful food-court wannabe is a tiny little cubby that sells the best chocolate in the world, called Alegio. “Ours actually IS free-trade chocolate,” said the proud proprietor. “Would you like to try some of this dark chocolate imported from a co-op farm off the coast of West Africa?” Would I!

“Expect the best.”

The whole alleyway smelled totally wonderful. Rich aromas battered my senses. Hey. Forget about blogging my poor fingers to the bone and substitute teaching at juvenile hall for a living. I wanna work HERE.

After you mix and match your meal from the menus of the various shops, you can carry it up some stairs in the back, to a small outdoor garden with picnic tables and a waterfall. At one table, I found a family of five happily eating their dinner. “We come here often,” said the dad. “For perhaps $15 you can get a healthy gourmet meal and dessert plus a magical place to eat it in.”

Oops, I almost forgot. Up above the waterfall is an old-fashioned Chinese tea shop called the Imperial Tea Court, modeled after the kind that Chinese poets used to frequent back in the day. they sell freshly-made noodles and every kind of tea. “And be sure to say that the noodles are hand-made,” my daughter informed me.

“Expect the best.”

The people who run these shops are mostly small-business owners, taking a chance on the American economy because they love to make and sell food — and chocolate. I hope their efforts succeed.

My son and his significant other are expecting a baby on January 1 — so 2008 looks like it’s going to be a good year too. And I turn 65 in two weeks. You know what that means — cheaper transportation rates, senior benefits and Medicare! Plus maybe we’ll finally get a president in the White House who actually cares about America and not just about pulling off the biggest heist in the history of the planet.

Things are going to be okay. “Expect the best!”

PS: I really don’t eat all that much chocolate any more. Since I started my new high-fiber diet, I’ve noticed that my legendary craving for sugar has gone way, way down. But unfortunately there’s no fiber in chocolate. But maybe they could start making chocolate-covered salad? Chocolate-covered roast beef? Chocolate-covered All-Bran!


June 21, 2007

I’ve just come back from a brief vacation to Paris and Berlin–I rarely vacation, so upon returning I’ve regaled everyone I’ve spoken to with the dreadfully banal, I-see-the-world-anew!-type minutiae familiar to anyone who has attended college and encountered–in the words of one friend tired of my anecdotes–“that annoying kid who studies abroad for a semester and then starts rolling his own cigarettes.” Well in Berlin we don’t take that kind of negativity! In Berlin everything is magical and wonderful and cheap! Berlin ist great! Really: you must go to Berlin. Blah blah blah (something about Berlin).

In either case chances are I have never met you, and thus all of my minutiae may seem new and exciting.

During my travels I maintained two running tallies.

In Paris: how many people actually walk around carrying baguettes?

The answer was 71 over 4 days.
There was a related question about mimes, but unfortunately I saw none.

In Berlin: how many people were actually doing things NOT damaging to their health?


The answer was three–one man was jogging (I’ve never seen someone so out of place in a city), one girl was carrying a sack of granola (presumably back to her anarcho-vegan-hippie-minimal techno collective) and one guy–yes: ONE–was carrying a bottle of water rather than beer.

The high cost of living in Paris is a constant buzzkill. Visiting the city for the first time taught me one thing, besides the baguette thing: everyone reads the New York Times.

As in:
Hey did you read that steak frites piece in the Times?
Dude I’m going to forward you this steak frites guide, I think it was in the Times!
Oh man, Paris! You MUST go and eat steak frites–I read an article about it in the Times.

So I ate steak frites, but not at one of the Times-approved places, rather at a “place the Times piece forgot about,” according to the Interweb. It had AUBAC somewhere in the name, and it was off the Champs-Elysees, which I now know is merely a wide street. I was originally going to take pictures but I felt self-conscious about photographing food at a restaurant that resembled a tarted-up T.G.I.Fridays (insert: Merci Dieu C’est Vendredi! joke). It was truly odd eating foie gras, as inhumane as it is delicious, whilst surrounded by pastels of skiiers, Soundgarden on the sound system and a flatscreen TV broadcasting a looped movie of cows being raised and evaluated (what could be less appetizing?).

Steak frites may have been common in Paris, but the macarons were a thing of rare beauty. Not to be confused with macaroons–the stringy little plops of coconut available at most pastry shops, or in plastic tubs–the French macaron is like a divine little cookie sandwich consisting of meringue-like halves and a light, creamy filling. Like I knew any of this beforehand.

Here are some pictures from the world-famous Laduree:

I think these are pistachio (incredible), mint (incredible–and limited edition), lemon (incredible) and caramel with salt (incredible). There was one which carried the aroma of rose. Orange blossom was INCREDIBLE. Vanilla and grenadine–consumed with foie gras and a grenadine glaze–were INCROYABLE.

As a lover of variety, each macaron was a treat to be cherished and protected–when some kind of mad woman with an aggressively anti-capitalist tote bag walked in to the Champs-Elysee Laduree (there’s four or five of them) and started ranting and railing, I almost threw my body over the macarons to save them. I believe in nothing but I would sacrifice everything to uphold the deliciousness of these macarons. I scoff at the word “tasty.” Each of the cookie halves have a lightly crunchy shell and a moist but not spongy body–it’s the kind of delicate thing you can’t pick apart and eat Oreo-style. The fillings are never overpowering, often just accentuating the aroma of the cookie. And as you can see in the photo it produces a beautiful color when the cream soaks through the inner part of the cookie. Ach, I can’t believe I’m degrading these macarons by referring to their constituent parts as “cookie” and “filling!” They are so much more. But I guess it would be weird to consume something like “proof of divinity” filled with “miraculous aura.”

Also in the photo you can see the teacup is tearing up at how good that macaron is.

Here are some places in New York that serve macarons. I mean here.

Other highlights in Paris included L’as du Falafel, which I just noticed has been covered by the Times as well. Upon Bite #2, I cannot imagine being satisfied by another falafel ever again (foreshadowing: this was before going to Berlin…). The thick pita–usually a turn-off–was necessary, since the pocket was filled with falafel balls, hummus, pickled red cabbage, eggplant, roasted potatoes and some spicy harissa.

It was so good I nearly decided to start listening to fellow traveler Lenny Kravitz’s awful music!

The food in Berlin was surprisingly great, though nothing made me want to listen to Lenny Kravitz.

A favorite was Nil, a Sudanese place in Kreuzberg. Their falafels and lamb sandwiches are quite excellent. The secret: peanut sauce in everything. I would have taken a photograph of the food, but I had just been chastised by the lady behind the counter for using the bathroom. Apparently in Berlin–a more or less lawless city where (1) clubs stay open “until Monday”; (2) cops apologize to you if you swear at them; (3) graffiti is on every surface everywhere; (4) drinking beer and smoking pot in public are tolerated; (5) trains are free because nobody cares to check your ticket–you need to ask before you use the bathroom. Well excuse me for not knowing German (the national language, actually) and arrogantly walking right past the “DO NOT USE THE BATHROOM” sign.

Everyone in this picture is drunk, on drugs or listens to electro.

Berlin also had excellent pizza and ice cream: I found this surprising. There are also many interesting little semi-legal bars and clubs. Like this place, which featured ping pong and a DJ playing a metric ton of De La Soul:

Insofar as an “illegal ping pong bar” can be unpretentious, this place was. Note the skill: one guy hits sans paddle, another smacks it without dropping a lick of beer.

But this has nothing to do with food.

The only “authentically German” thing I ate was Spätzle, which reduces to “noodles bathing in cheese and butter.” Not a bad thing but not exactly a taste that grows more rewarding with each new bite. We bought three kinds and shared. All I remember–did I mention that Berlin is a lawless, vice-filled city?–is that each featured cheese in a starring turn. One of them had a weird baked top, and one featured noodles that looked like they had been grilled. Some looked like gnarled, oldster fingers; others looked like slender and symmetrical pod-like spaceships.

The first few bites were terrific, but after a while the taste can grow tedious. It’s best to share and to make good progress before things start congealing.

While eating Spatzle, this bemused German dude next to us encouraged us to try Currywurst.

Wikipedia: Currywurst is a typical German take-away dish, a hot pork sausage cut into slices and seasoned with ketchup and generous amounts of curry powder.

One among us remarked that Currywurst sounded like probably the most disgusting thing ever. Another among us seconded that. And the German guy took a drag from his cigarette and said, “Do not be so narrow.” He punctuated this by putting his hands close together, in case we were not familiar with the concept of narrowness.

Perhaps he realized that Currywurst does, indeed, sound like one of the most disgusting things ever, as he changed the topic. “Have you eaten doner kebab?” We had–our favorite was a place called Bagdad, where they smother the fries in this creamy garlic sauce and kids in tight jeans throw electro parties.

“I have been here all year,” the second among us explained. We were not new here.

“In that case,” he laughed, “the question becomes how many kebabs you have had to eat!” And with that he rolled up his copy of German GQ, strapped on his shoulder bag and was off–presumably to do drugs or drink in public or ride the train without paying or regale his friends with banal minutiae about three Americans he met at the Spatzle spot.

NYC Restaurant Week, July 16-20 & July 23-27

June 21, 2007

HURRY, it’s here!!! The best restaurants on the list are lunch only. No reservations left for Gotham and Del Posto. Many tables are exceeding their max reservation date, so you gotta wait (Esca, Mercer Kitchen, Gramercy Tavern). I snagged a table at Morimoto, L’Impero and Spice Market (for my Jean-Georges fix). is on overload right now and is super slow. Calling is faster. GO!!!

Jamba Juice – Buy One Get One FREE

June 20, 2007

Get your coupon here:

Kamaboko Eats Spain

June 19, 2007

My friend and co-worker Kamaboko recently went on a jaunt around Spain, with a detour in Paris, with her hubby Jmura. This was a very special trip– Kamoboko was seeing an old friend in Murcia (southwest of Valencia) who she hadn’t seen in over ten years, AND she’s about to become a mother next month! So this would be the last trip her and Jmura take together, just the two of them, for a long time.

Here is a picture book of her eats and food sightings about town during her holiday in Spain. She told me she took these photos with Umami Mart in mind, while she was in Murcia and Granada. Clearly she had a wonderful time– she was eating for two!!! That’s twice the fun!

Kamaboko cuddles up with Rodin.

Awesome pics Kama-chan, thanks for sharing! Posted by Kayoko.

Sushi Kuni Restaurant

June 18, 2007

Whenever I visit my hometown, Cupertino, CA (home of the beloved Macintosh computer), the first thing that I do, before I even go home, is stop off at Sushi Kuni Restaurant. In my five years in NY, I haven’t found a place that compares to the comfort, the authenticity (I hate to say that word, but you know what I mean), the freshness, the consistency, and the value of Sushi Kuni. It’s the REAL DEAL. Truly.

Sushi Kuni opened in 1995, and is located right down the street from Apple HQ. Formerly a little house-turned deli (I heard that the folks at Apple calls this place “the House”), this place only seats 13 people at the sushi bar and has only 7 tables (about 5 years ago they built a tatami room in the back for small parties). I went during lunch two days in a row, and it was pretty packed. I asked Kuni (founder, proprietor, chef; below left) how business was and he said it’s “too busy.” Ha! It really was though– there were people waiting for a table out front by 12:30pm.

Kuni, short for Kunio, is a classically trained tempura chef who worked at one of the most prestigious restaurants in Japan, Inagiku. He was transferred to LA to work for the restaurant there, and pursued a career in sushi when moving to the Bay Area in 1984, when sushi was just barely beginning to make a dent in America’s culinary landscape. Can you imagine life before sushi???

You see, it’s only Kuni and Steve (above right) behind the bar– when it gets really busy, it’s pretty amazing to watch the speed in which they slice the fabulous selection of sashimi to create such colorful, dazzling dishes. But they are never too busy to talk to the customers– they love to chat! Kuni loves to talk about the fish (he always has fish specials that aren’t necessarily on the menu, so make sure to ask what they are)– what region the fish is from, when they are in season, how best they are served. He’s an encyclopedia of fish.

Ok so the food: the first thing I ordered was of course the chirashi sushi. Assorted sashimi over rice– it is always super fresh and truly one of my favorite all-time meals. It’s just so simple and delicious! There’s ikura, maguro, hamachi, unagi, ika, tamago, ika, tako, ebi… all over a bed of Kuni’s nicely vinegary (but not too much) rice. It’s genius, if you ask me. With a bowl of miso soup at $13, it’s truly a good deal.

Kuni hooked me up with a few pieces of ‘hotaru ika‘ (below), also called ‘firefly squid’, which were on the special menu. These are tiny little whole squids (only about two inches long), that are slimy goodness very flavorful and truly delicious. I am just reading that they light up blue when migrating in the ocean!

If Kuni is the more straightforward, traditional sushi chef, Steve is the funkier counterpart who always brings in new “fusion” creations that are a huge hit with the experimental, cosmopolitan crowd. He used to work at Wolfgang Puck’s place in Vegas, so he’s quite the hipster chef himself.

This was avocado, snow crab and shrimp grilled in Steve’s special basil-mayo sauce. Superb!

Steve plopped this little cup of delight in front of me as a surprise– it’s his rendition of Hawaii’s poki!!! YUMMY! Tuna, scallions and tobiko, in a tangy ponzu sauce. So good!

The bento box during lunch is about the cheapest meal you can possibly imagine. For $7.50, you get your choice of two items (tempura, sashimi, sushi, gyoza, and chicken/beef/salmon teriyaki), rice, salad and miso soup. Friggin ridiculous. My personal favorites are the pan-fried gyoza (Japanese style pork dumplings) and the tempura– the tempura batter is crispy, never soggy or too eggy, and each delicious gyoza is handmade with love by Sushi Kuni’s other half, Hideko, in the kitchen.

Hideko (below) is Kuni’s wife– she and Victor make everything on the menu that is not done behind the sushi bar. So basically, all the hot food. They cook all the Japanese restaurant standards like teriyaki, tempura and nabeyaki udon (another favorite), and Hideko also is the brains behind countless other “authentic” Japanese dishes that are on a seperate, special menu. Little dishes like ‘kinpira gobo’ (sauteed burdock root) and ‘nasu no nanbanzuke’ (eggplant in a vinegar soy sauce) will immediately make you feel like you are hanging out at an izakaya in Tokyo.

Incidentally, Kuni also has a license to slice and serve blow fish– I think he told me once that he took the blow fish test at the famed Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Remember that Simpson’s episode where Homer almost dies when he’s served bad blow fish? While that episode is not in any way a reflection of Kuni’s mad skills, I always do think of it when I see his certificate on the wall. Hilarious.

Last but not least, let me comment that Kuni’s spicy tuna roll is the best in the WORLD. My brother and I have had spicy tunas far and wide, and nothing has compared to Kuni’s creation. What could it possibly be? Is it the Kewpie mayo? The green onions? The special spicy sauce? Whatever it may be, it is heavenly. Look, it’s pink! So pretty!

In the last 12 years, Sushi Kuni has changed little, but has blossomed into a thriving neighborhood restaurant that is truly a Japanese food destination in the Bay Area. The place has a really loyal following, and the customers all know Kuni and Steve and talk to each other– when I was just there, I ran into fellow Sushi Kuni lovers that I hadn’t seen in years, and we ended up chatting for a while. It’s like Cheers, but a Japanese restaurant- it’s so nice! The place is comfortable, reasonably priced, not ever pretentious, friendly, and the food is always fresh, consistent and just really solid, delicious Japanese food. Don’t just take my word for it– try it for yourself! *k*

Sushi Kuni Restaurant
10211 South De Anza Blvd.
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 257-5864
Closed Sundays

I have a confession to make: Kuni is also my pops! Biggest shill EVER! I didn’t mean to be tricky, but I didn’t want this to be overtly biased given that this is the family restaurant. But really, I’m not just saying all this because my parents run it– it really is a great little place.

He and my mom (Hideko) have poured endless amounts of love, time and energy into Sushi Kuni, and I am so so proud of them both. This is essentially where me and my brother grew up– I was forced to waitress there EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT for ALL FOUR YEARS of high school (you know what that does to a teenage girl who is trying desperately to be cool?? Forget about trying to sneak into San Jose State parties for a night of underage drinking). My brother was forced to work in the kitchen when his delinquency started getting out of hand and my parents thought it would be the best way to keep an eye on him. Oh, and look at us now… Good times.

Despite the grueling long hours (he gets in at 10am, and generally doesn’t leave until 1am– but he does get to sneak a nap in there for about an hour), Kuni has a wry sense of humor and has aged little since the restaurant first opened 12 years ago. He also loves a cold glass of beer and is also quite the sake connoisseur so be sure to offer him some of yours when you are sitting at the bar. He’ll drink you under the table. And my mom will drink HIM under the table!

Happy Father’s Day とうち!!! You are the BEST!