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Monday, December 20, 2010

Kaito Sushi: Encinitas, CA

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seasoned seafood salad

I don't consider myself an avid follower of Chowhound. I've tried in the past to regularly follow threads and get involved but honestly I just don't like the thread format as I easily stray into the tangents. I thinks its suppose to make it easier to follow discussions that stray from the original question/topic but I just don't like it. I do give it props for aggregating quite a bit of recommendations and I do find the recommendations to be a bit more on the credible side than Yelp

Anyways... I'm feeling like perusing Chowhound a few weeks ago and I come across a lot of trash talking about my beloved Sushi Ota. I see a lot of mentions for Kaito Sushi and how its far superior. So EHK and I decide to drop in and see what's the big deal. We had originally thought of ordering an omakase but weren't feeling terribly hungry so we decided to order some things we really wanted to try and maybe an item the chef would really like us to try.

Promptly after sitting, we were each presented with a small plate of the house seasoned seafood salad. Alright, we are off to a good start with a gratis nicely seasoned refreshing salad.

salmon belly

The first thing I was jonesing for that evening was the salmon belly. I heart just about any type of belly. What's not to love about flavor and fat? The fish itself was quite fatty and flavorful as usual but the real downer was the rice. I feel that with nigiri, the rice should be packed in a fashion that I can easily pick up the piece and season with some soy sauce/wasabi if I choose and deliver to my mouth where it tenderly breaks. This wasn't exactly the case as the rice broke almost immediately when I picked it up. EHK had the same experience. I wouldn't consider us barbaric with chopsticks as its a eating utensil we both remember using in our earliest childhood memories and we are both regular sushi eaters. Something must be wrong with how the rice was packed.

salmon skin hand roll

Then EHK ordered a salmon skin hand roll... an item he orders to test the skill of the sushi chef. We were both disappointed that the nori was not toasted and the salmon skin was a little on the chewy side. I was even more disappointed with the behavior of the chef. I truly believe it's a sushi chef's duty to figure out what it is the customer likes especially when sitting at the bar since there's a chance for discussion and deliver it to the best of his ability. Instead he pokes fun at our salmon choices and comments on how much salmon we are eating and how its very un-Tokyo like. Uhm... if you tote yourself as a Tokyo style sushi place and you want customers to eat in that fashion then maybe you shouldn't carry the fish in the first place? Also, it's only been two order and I'm paying for this meal when I'm done. If I like salmon then it's my prerogative and just make the order with a smile. If you want to educate me than maybe suggest something else along that flavor and texture that I may equally appreciate instead of making me feel self conscious for ordering it.

kohada - gizzard shad

So the next order we let the chef decide. The guy kept going on and on about how he's got kohada and its the shit and how he's the only sushi joint in San Diego county to carry it. Once presented, I was almost certain I've tried this before at Sushi Ota. The look, flavor and texture was so familiar to me but the chef refused to believe our claims that we've tried this in this county before. There was no breaking this man of his ardent conviction that he was the sole vendor of this prized fish in the area. The fish itself wasn't bad but the rice again was a disappointment. What's with the poorly packed rice. Very disappointing to pick up the piece and have a giant clump of rice just fall off :(

oyako-don

EHK had developed a little crush with oayko-don lately. Requesting it whenever he got the chance I kid you not. When done properly, I can't help but feel all warm and happy when eating it. It reminds me of a mom's food... homey and filling.  It really is a simple dish with few ingredients but seemingly can go very wrong as it did here. Way too salty and the chicken was on the rubbery side. Should have known when we saw it on the menu and asked about it. The chef said, "uhh" then paused and said "yea... we make that". Way to build some confidence.

pork katsu-don

Since I didn't want to get the same rice dish as EHK,  I got the pork katsu-don. The breading didn't even have a little crunch when it arrived. To me it honestly tasted like it was made ahead of time and then reheated in a fashion other than frying (a la microwave) when we ordered. EHK claimed that he even tasted a little funk in the piece of pork that he sampled. We should have probably known better than to order the oyako-don and pork katsu-don at a sushi joint. But why put things on a menu if you don't make them well? Is it for the sake of filling a half empty page?

I swear I'm not dogging on this place because we are Sushi Ota lovers. Those of you that somewhat follow this blog or are acquainted with EHK and I on a regular basis know of our eternal fondness for Sushi Ota. We've actually had pleasant sushi experiences outside of our regular spot such as at Kasen. We just expect a little more quality and service-wise for the amount of money we spent that evening. Maybe we really need to give it another try or go with the chowhounders that swear by this place? Perhaps we simply ordered the wrong stuff?

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Kaito Sushi 
130-A N. El Camino Real
Encinitas, CA 92024
(760) 634-2746

Friday, December 17, 2010

Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program: Wendy's Natural Cut Fries w/ Sea Salt

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EHK and I were recently invited to go try the new Wendy's natural cut fries with sea salt as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program.  We both ordered value meals but I'll just talk about the fries since that's what we came for initially. We should have known better than to order fries with salt. We always order without salt so we can control the salt content ourselves. This experience just affirmed that we really are fries without salt folks. It was nice that they made a fresh batch of fries for us so it was straight from the fryer. However, the salt was overpowering. I might as well have been eating straight out of the Morton salt container. The texture itself tasted reminiscent of McDonald's fries. Are they trying to go for that? EHK actually said he missed the softer texture of the old fries. We both found that the skin left on the fries didn't really do anything for it. Maybe if it was a thicker cut like steak fries I'd notice something different? Maybe we need to give this another run?  I don't know. Its a franchise and if anything consistency should be key. So should I brave overly salty fries again?


As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, we received a Wendy's gift card



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ubuntu: Napa, CA (Roaming Napa, Part 6)

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Last post from my Napa trip finally! LH had been hearing good things about this place for quite some time and wanted to go. Since we had to pass through Napa to head back to the City to catch our flights, why not stop by for lunch? To be honest, I was a little hesitant about a vegetarian place. I'm not a carnivore in the sense that I need a giant slab of meat to call it a meal but I do like a little meat in a meal.

We told Kathleen at the Oleander House that we'd be paying a visit here on our way back and she told us we'd be in for a treat. She said everybody thinks they'll miss the meat but the flavors and textures are so inventive that you won't even notice missing meat. I've always had fears that vegetarian food meant food that's just missing meat. Hopefully Kathleen is right...


An Ubuntu Steam Bun Stuffed w/ Burrata and Coated with Sunchoke Dirt
Sunchoke tostones, roasted and raw fuyu persimmon, smoked green tomato

The waitress that helped us told us that patrons normally order 2 dishes per person at the table.  That just sounded like so much food so we decided to go with 1 each and see how we felt after that. The one thing that caught our attention was the Ubuntu steam bun stuffed with burrata. Looks like such a pretty dish right? Oh it was as good to eat as it was to look at. I really enjoyed tasting the bun stuffed with cheese. It reminds me of the steamed buns I grew up eating like bbq pork bun or custard bun... only stuffed with burrata. What an awesome idea! The bread offered to us at the beginning of our meal provided a wonderful vessel for delivering the purees and raw persimmon. So far Kathleen is right... love the dish and haven't missed meat yet.

Alubia Bianco Bean and Fermented Green Fig Ribollita, Parmesan Cracklings
ruby streaks mustard, cavolo nero, smokey dried pears

Another lovely dish arrived. The beans provided a hearty element to this dish but the star was the Parmesan cracklings. I hadn't had Parmesan prepared this way like chips before. I felt like a kid discovering something new, happily crunching away.

Organic Arbuckle Grits, Whipped Chicken Egg and Crispy "Skin"
Goat's milk ricotta, hong vit, chanterelle and green tomato chow-chow

This was my pick for our table. What got my attention was the "skin". I totally forgot to ask what the skin was and how its made. This ended up being a really rich dish. Thank goodness there was picked vegetables hidden in the grits like little treasures as it helped to cut some of the richness. I really liked dipping pieces of "skin" into the whipped egg and grits. Smooth, buttery, rich, crispy, sour, crunchy all in one bite. I alway enjoy a bite that hits so many tastes and textures at one time.

A Simple Plate of Blackberry Leaf and Potato Pillows
Rainbow chard, loopy sunchokes, midnight moon goat's gouda

EHK picked our ending dish. Potato pillows sounded so inviting. This dish was so perfectly named. Gnocchi-like but definitely more fluffier and pillow-like than any gnocchi dish I've tasted. The light broth that the pillows and other components rested on was so flavorful and inviting for some more bread sopping.

The dishes we had here were so pretty to look at and equally a delight to consume. It just shows that presentation is as important as taste. Not to say that I wouldn't eat a dish clumsily put together. Presentation can make a great dish that much more special.  The presentation and flavors were definitely strong enough to stand on there on and wow me. I'd definitely recommend a visit to Ubuntu if you are like me... likes meat but looking for a place that will surprise you with dishes that don't need it at all.

Ubuntu
1140 Main St.
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 251-5656

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ad Hoc: Yountville, CA (Roaming Napa, Part 5)

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After a long day of roaming around Napa and tasting some very fine wine, we were ready to get our grub on at Ad Hoc to continue our Thomas Keller eating trip. At one of our stops before dinner, the guys at Elyse Winery looked up our meal for the evening and told us if we finish our food, we could always get more. We didn't really know what that meant. EHK wanted to ask if it was an all-you-can-eat. We knew it was a set price for the dinner but didn't know what we were getting ourselves into portion wise.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with a vastly different atmosphere from dinner the previous evening at The French Laundry. Where The Laundry was formal without being too intimidating, Ad Hoc was on the opposite end of the spectrum and trying to be very casual from the way the food was served family style to the way the staff was dressed.

Albondigas Soup
TFL garden cabbage, babby carrots, braised radish
San Marzano tomato conserva, Calasparra rice

A glance at the evening's menu revealed a very Spanish or Latin inspired menu. The first dish to come out was an albondigas soup. It was a very nice treat to be getting some vegetables from the Laundry's garden in this soup. There was some inconsistencies regarding doneness of the meatballs. Some were a little under and some a little over so my dinner party had different reactions to this dish. I enjoyed the abundance of saffron and al dente rice at the bottom of the fragrant broth. It was actually quite soothing and perfect for the chilly temperature.

Herb Crusted Lamb Sirloin
brava potatoes, haricots verts
wild mushrooms with slow cooked egg yolk

I was actually already satisfied after the soup as it was a more than generous serving. The next dish came out and I was feeling overwhelmed. Lamb was nicely seasoned and enjoyed the way the potatoes were prepared but it was just too much for me. I think I only had 1/3 of the portion I was suppose to eat.

Herb Crusted Lamb Sirloin
brava potatoes, aricots verts
wild mushrooms with slow cooked egg yolk  (cont.)

The real star of this dish was the slow cooked egg yolk. Looks like a raw egg yolk right? Wrong!!!! It's an en sous vide egg yolk. When broken it slowly spreads out into a thick custard much like the consistency you would get when you break a nicely poached egg only except this consistency is all the way through.  This custard coats the other elements of the dish in its yolky goodness and just adds that touch of richness. I've become a huge advocate of en sous vide egg yolk because of this dish. Now... if only I had the equipment and time for such a decadent preparation.

Garrotxa
roasted baby beets
candied almonds (not pictured), petite greens

By the time this came out I was already bursting. Thank goodness it was a rather small serving. I would have preferred to skip the beets as it tasted rather plain to me. The cheese tasted delicate and slightly nutty. Good thing it wasn't overpowering or else I'd only be able to take a bite of it.

Basque Cake
ruby red grapefruit
pomegranate gastrique

What makes a basque cake... basque? We were told it's made with a layer of pastry cream. Mmm... what a genius idea. The flavors of the cream seemed to permeate throughout the cake and made the overall cake very moist. I honestly didn't really taste the gastrique but enjoyed the pairing with the grapefruit.

So would we have been ready for more food if they brought it out? Uhm... no! The servings are so generous. I think this is a great option if you find yourself in the area wanting some Thomas Keller food but don't want to drop the $$$ at The Laundry or can't get in. I know its a different concept but I actually really enjoy the homey relaxed feeling of eating a family style meal... though elevated.

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Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2487

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