Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Film: Kokoyakyu @ the Brattle

A commenter reminded me that the Brattle Theater is showing Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball, a 2006 documentary about high school baseball in Japan tonight, Tuesday, February 26th, at 6:30pm. After the film, there's a Q&A with producer, Alex Shear!

Baseball is hugely popular in Japan. My friend Daigo (who's local) runs a blog called JapaneseBallPlayers.com.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Weekend Ramen Lunch @ Yakitori Zai

Update 7/21/13: Tried to go to Yakitori Zai for lunch today. They're closed until early August September? :(

I've been wanting to get to Yakitori Zai since they opened last summer, but the South End is "far" away (i.e.: I never find myself in the neighborhood and taking the T involves either 2 train lines and a 10 minute walk or train & bus and a 5 minute walk). Given the reports that it was wildly expensive and I've had a chance to try their food at Tewassa parties, it just hasn't made it to the top of my priority list. That is, until my friend told me last weekend that they now serve ramen at lunch and she was going today. They've had chicken ramen on their dinner menu since last year, but I hadn't gotten any reports about how it was.

According to their website, Zai has been open for lunch on weekends since last month. Lunch is served from 11:30am to 2:30pm. The lunch menu offers a choice of three types of ramen, three salads, and onigiri. Ramen is pricey at $12-14 (ramen at Osushi is also $14) but absolutely worth the trip.

Zai Weekend Lunch Menu - 2/24/13

I was mixed up about the time I was supposed to meet my friends and arrived half an hour early. Thankfully the South End Buttery is directly across the street so I grabbed a hot chocolate and read the paper while I waited for Zai to open. I later noticed that one of our fellow diners had done the same. It's good to arrive early because Zai fills up quickly.

Tonkotsu Ramen - 2/24/13 - $14

I got to try all three ramen but forgot to take a picture of the Shoyu Ramen. There's a picture on Zai's website (upper right). All the adults got the Tonkotsu Ramen. There were 3 small but thick pieces of kakuni (pork belly), nitamago, a small amount of beni shōga (pickled ginger), and a pile of thinly sliced negi (forgot to get it without). The broth was one of the most delicious I've ever had. It was lightly flavored, creamy, and a little sweet. I couldn't really taste the pork, but that may have been because I'm a little congested. It was absolutely perfect for today's wintry rainy weather. Zai's kakuni is on the sweet side (especially compared to Osushi's more salty kakuni). It was very good, although not as soft as Osushi's kakuni. The nitamago was an interesting complement. It worked well with the creaminess of the broth. Since there was only a small amount of beni shōga, it didn't overwhelm the other flavorsThe noodles were different than the crinkly ramen noodles I'm accustomed to. They were straight and were the thickness of thin soba (8/20/13: I've since learned that straight noodles are traditional for tonkotsu ramen). I thought the texture was also reminiscent of soba but not the flavor. They clearly weren't made with buckwheat. (Update 3/24/13: Noodles have been changed - see photo below.)

Tomato Ramen w/ Parmesan - $12

The kids got the Tomato Ramen (which is vegetarian) and Shoyu Ramen. I was really excited to try the Tomato Ramen. I'd read that Ramen Lab had a tomato ramen entry in the NY Street Ramen Contest which I was intrigued by. While I love pasta, I wasn't so sure that it would translate to ramen. The Tomato Ramen comes with baby spinach, roasted yellow tomato, and parmesan on the side. One of my friends commented that it really wasn't ramen, but I like Zai's take on it and it was a hit with the little ones. The tomato soup is much thicker than a typical ramen broth, but much soupier than what you'd expect for pasta. I didn't taste any garlic, just tomatoey-sweetness. The noodles were of the curly variety. I'd definitely like to try a whole bowl to myself. (Update 3/24/13: For those who are allergic to soy, please note that the tomato ramen contains miso. :( )

The Tomato Ramen was a hit

I tried only a tiny bit of the Shoyu Ramen and to be honest, I didn't find it all that memorable. Shoyu Ramen comes with shredded chicken, onsen tamago, and a pile of what looked like shaved spring onion. The broth is listed as "chicken broth" on the menu so I'd assume that means there's no pork in it, but I didn't confirm that. If I recall correctly, there were also sesame seeds in the broth.

Annin Tofu

My friends had annin tofu for dessert, but sadly, I'm allergic and couldn't try it. They said it was delicious. The name is a misnomer - there's absolutely no tofu in it but it's made with almond extract. The menu describes it as "almond panna cotta," although it's often referred to as almond jelly.


Tea is available by the cup or the pot: genmaicha with matcha, organic green jasmine, jade oolong, organin yunnan (black tea), lemon chamomile. They have multiple varieties but the hostess rattled them off so quickly I can't remember them. Our tea smelled like genmaicha, although I thought I heard her call it something else. It was wonderfully aromatic, although a little more bitter than I prefer.

A note to parents: the restaurant is very small, so probably not a good place for kids who can't stay in their seats. Plastic cups weren't available, so we had to play keep away with the glasses and tea cups. That said, the staff was really nice to the children and brought small bowls and forks for them.

Parking in the South End is usually a nightmare, although on Sundays, resident parking isn't enforced so you have more options. My friends were able to find a space right across the street from Zai. I'd taken the T assuming that parking would be impossible. The T wasn't too bad - it took about 40 minutes from Porter. The MBTA Trip Planner recommended a later train but I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the bus. Red Line to Park Street then the 43 (Tremont St. opposite Winter St. to Tremont @ Union Park, then walk down Union Park to Shawmut Ave.)

If you go, let me know what you think!

Update 3/24/13: I've been back to Zai several times since my first visit and the menu has changed a little.

  • No more onigiri. :(
  • No more annin tofu for dessert - they now offer kinako ice cream (vanilla ice cream with roasted soy flour and Japanese molasses).
  • Tonkotsu Ramen no longer has beni shoga. They added what tastes like powdered dashi. Added nori. The noodles are also different.

Tonkotsu Ramen minus negi - 3/17/13

Tonkotsu Ramen noodles - 3/17/13

The servers are very friendly. I've ordered the same thing every time ("Tonkotsu ramen, no negi") and today my server remembered my order. I wonder if I'm their only customer who doesn't like scallions?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

3/11 Events

I've posted some updates about the Tsunami+Sandy+Deep Water Horizon: bringing awareness after the disaster events in Dorchester, which includes a memorial on 3/11.

Kyoko Wada, a Japanese tea instructor based at MIT is also holding a 3.11 Japan Memorial Charity 2013 event at Showa Boston's Sanzashi-An Tea House on Sunday, March 3rd. I'm sorry I forgot to post about it sooner - you need to RSVP by tomorrow for one of the four sittings. A $20 donation is suggested. Donations will benefit Bright Green Ribbon.

If you know of any other 3/11 events, please leave a comment. I find it frustrating that we don't have a central clearinghouse for Japanese-themed events in Boston. I just found out that I missed an interesting talk back in January about the only Japanese Temple Bell in the United States in the Back Bay Fens. It looks like they also had the talk last year so perhaps they'll do it again next year.

Update 2/26/13:

Bon-sho @ Byodo-In Temple, Kaneohe, Hawaii

Tonight I suddenly remembered that I'd seen a bon-sho (Byodo-In's website defines it as "sacred bell") in Hawaii a couple of years ago. I'm not sure if their bell is considered a different type from the one in the Fens, but it was made in Osaka, so it was incorrect of me to say that the Fens bell is the only Japanese temple bell in the United States. The Byodo-In bell was made specifically for them, so the Fens bell may well be the only Japanese temple bell in the US that used to be in use in Japan.

Byodo-In is gorgeous. I'd recommend stopping by if you're ever on Oahu. You'd almost think you were in Japan except for the local flora & fauna.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ramen @ Osushi in Harvard Square

I've been meaning to get to this post for a couple of weeks but haven't had a chance.

You may have heard that Osushi recently opened a location in Harvard Square (the original location is inside the Westin in Copley Square). One of my friends told me they had ramen on the menu at the Harvard Square location so I knew I had to check it out. Osushi is following the ramen trend that other upscale restaurants have been experimenting with.

It's on the menu for $14 as Tonkotsu Ramen with "Pork broth, pickled vegetable, ginger, scallions, egg, nori." The waitress told me that I could get it with either kakuni (pork belly) or mentaiko (spicy pollock roe). I was with a large group of people who included some friends of the owner so the waitress said she'd just bring me some mentaiko on the side, since I wasn't sure which would be better. (It seems that I've never actually had mentaiko before and that I don't care for it. If you haven't had it before, it's much different in flavor and texture from ikura (salmon roe) or tobiko (flying fish roe). Other people were very excited about the mentaiko option.)

Tonkotsu Ramen minus scallions - $14

What was in my bowl: broth, noodles (I'd guess it was a standard Japanese serving size - maybe 5 oz), 2 kinds of tsukemonobeni shōga (pickled ginger) & what my friend identified as takana (pickled mustard leaf) with sesame seeds, a boiled egg, 2 smallish pieces of kakuni, and chili threads. I ordered my ramen without scallions since I hate them. 

As of January 12th, the ramen was being imported from Yamachan Ramen in California, but I was told that the owner was planning to switch to a supplier in New Jersey. I wasn't aware of any ramen suppliers in NJ, but when I got home I found this article about the Sun Noodle factory in Teterboro. I had no idea they had a factory there, although considering all the ramen restaurants in NYC, I guess it's not surprising. The tsukemono are packaged, so the only part of the ramen that's made in house is the broth, the kakuni, and the egg, which after being boiled is marinated for several hours with the kakuni.

My initial impression was that it wasn't worth $14. Having seen what goes into the making of ramen at Yume Wo Katare where you can get twice as much less processed food in your bowl for $12-14, Osushi's ramen didn't measure up.  I was there unexpectedly at 10pm, so I'd already eaten a few hours before, but I know this wouldn't be enough food for a meal. The kakuni and the egg were excellent, but the rest didn't excite me. I would have loved a plateful of kakuni with a bowl of rice. The broth didn't taste particularly porky to me (perhaps I've been eating at Yume Wo Katare too often). Although the broth was on the mild side, the other flavors were strong and I felt that they were competing with instead of complementing one another. Everyone else I was with seemed to enjoy their ramen, so maybe it was just me. I do plan to go back sometime when I haven't already eaten and see if I still have the same impression.

I'm told that ramen is only served at dinner. They're open for dinner from 5pm until 2am (sushi bar closes at 11pm and kitchen closes at 1:30am). That means if you want ramen at 1am, this is the only place in town where you can get it. Getting a table for 10 at 10pm on a Thursday night was no problem, although they'd only been open since late December so people might not know they're there. There were only a few other customers. Our waitress told me they're still in the soft opening phase. I'd encourage people to try it for themselves and not take my word for it. If you do go, please let me know what you think!

Update 2/24/13:
I made it back to Osushi to try their ramen for a second time. This time, the ramen wasn't on the menu, although the waitress was confused when I asked her about it, because she said it should have been. Someone had previously told me that ramen wasn't listed on the menu so I was surprised to see it last time I went. Not sure if it was an oversight or if they only want the ramen to be available to those in the know. She said it was available 2 ways - with or without kakuni. I didn't inquire about the mentaiko and I forgot to ask if they'd changed noodle vendors yet.

Kuro Buta Pork Kakuni - $14

While waiting for my friend I ordered the Kuro Buta Pork Kakuni appetizer. Having had a friend's amazing kakuni at New Year's, I was curious about Osushi's take on it. I felt it was a little overpriced at $14 - one piece of kakuni, one boiled egg, 2 daikon halves, and a small tower of pressed steamed spinach (like ohitashi) under some sprouts and spring onions, in a very salty broth. The kakuni was as delicious as last time, but I felt like I was paying for the presentation more than anything.

Tonkotsu Ramen - $14

The ramen was slightly different this time. I thought the broth was a little spicer and there were what I think was kikurage (a type of fungus I've most often eaten in Chinese hot & sour soup). This time there was only half a boiled egg. Unfortunately, my impression was the same - the kakuni was excellent but there are too many flavors competing. My friend, however, though it was delicious and worth $14, so it's probably just a matter of personal taste.

Complimentary green tea ice cream

The highlight of the evening was finding out that they offer complimentary green tea ice cream if you ask about dessert. I'm so glad my friend asked if they had a dessert menu. Unfortunately, it's their only dessert option, so if you don't like green tea ice cream you're out of luck. It was quite possibly the best green tea ice cream I've ever had - creamy, not too bitter, not too sweet. I was thinking about it for the rest of the night!