Friday, February 29, 2008


My favorite ramen place is Yotteko-Ya, a Japanese chain, but the inconvenience of flying to Japan or Hawaii for lunch has left me on a quest for a local substitute. Santa Ramen located in San Mateo is the current front runner. On a recent lunch visit, I had the pork ramen spicy and it is the closest I've gotten so far to the spicy paiten ramen at YY. The soup was creamy in appearance, yet had a deep pork flavor -- mixed with the spiciness it was better than any local ramen I've tried. Simple, no seafood undertones or other more complex flavors, but good never the less. My only regret was that there was not enough soup to accompany the large portion of noodles.

I also sampled the
soy sauce ramen soup which was much better than that at Halu and perhaps in competition with the soup at YY. The clear soup glistened from meat drippings with a meat rather than soy sauce flavor. Excellent.

The noodles themselves were on par with those at Halu, not as thick, but cooked more Japanese style (more chew and less softness). Though the portion of noodles was larger than normal, neither of us had trouble finishing everything. The pork or cha shu served on top of both bowls was thinly sliced and somewhat dry with very little fat. Definitely not as good as the pork at other ramen restaurants. With that minor demerit, Santa still rates as my current top pick for ramen in the bay area.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shrimp Trucks of Oahu

Near the town of Kahuku on the North Shore of Oahu, there are quite a few shrimp farms. Some of them allow you to fish for your own shrimp from their ponds, but most are closed to the public. An attraction for surfers and tourists alike are the shrimp trucks around the North Shore and even in Honolulu that serve several variations of shrimp dishes usually with two scoops of rice some greens or cabbage and that wonderful feeling of goodness you get from eating fresh seafood outside on picnic tables after a day at the beach. Every truck has its own recipes but all serve some version of shrimp with a garlic sauce. Several months ago, I sampled the two best known: Giovanni's and Romy's. This time I made it a point to try different trucks.

There are two primary components of shrimp truck dishes, one is the quality and taste of the shrimp themselves and the other is the sauce or preparation of the shrimp. In terms of the quality of shrimp my order of preference:
Romy's, Macky's, Hono's, Blue Water Shrimp, Giovanni's. For sauce and preparation my preference is: Giovanni's, Blue Water Shrimp, Hono's, Romy's, Macky's.

Romy's Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp
As I mentioned in my previous roundup of Romy's versus Giovanni's the quality of the shrimp here is very high, perhaps it is because they get their shrimp and prawns from their own farm. The shrimp are larger than shrimp at other farms and the prawns are huge perhaps twice the size of the shrimp. Unfortunately, four out of the six times I've ever been here they have not had prawns. The shrimp tastes very fresh has a nice snap when you bite in and is served shell completely on with part of the head on, no butterflying or deveining. Serving the shrimp this way shows off it's freshness and lack of processing. As far as the sauces, the shrimp can be ordered steamed with a side sauce of shoyu, spicy shoyu, butter and some others. Most people seem to go for the
garlic shrimp, which is the shrimp stir fried with copious amounts of chopped garlic. This straightforward preparation is good for showing off the shrimp because it doesn't add an independent sauce flavor as found at other trucks. Photo from last time:

The other popular preparation is the
spicy and sweet sauce which is more sweet than spicy. I did not like this at all, strong and sugary red sauce. Like a Chinese sweet and sour sauce with a bit of chili added -- not my taste at all.

Giovanni's Original Shrimp

My opinion of Giovanni's has changed since the first few times I ate here. After having tried the shrimp at other trucks, I found the quality of the shrimp at Giovanni's lower than the rest. The shrimp tastes fine is nicely deveined, but is small and I didn't find a huge taste difference between this shrimp and the frozen shrimp I bought at the supermarket. The strength of Giovanni's is the
scampi preparation: a butter garlic sauce with garlic cooked until it is tender in a blend of olive oil, butter, lemon, and spices. I would guess that the shrimp is marinated in the sauce and there seems to be some other ingredient that adds some body to the sauce (or it could just be the softened garlic). It's good enough to eat on top of rice without the shrimp. When served with the shrimp it is good but overpowers the shrimp taste. Even so, I liked mixing in some of the hot sauce which you can get on the side and liked the spicy hot scampi. I wouldn't order the hot sauce preparation, it's not as good as the scampi, but the mix of the two is quite tasty. There's no denying that the scampi here is delicious, but it could as easily be served on pasta or rice as on shrimp, so shrimp is not the star. In fact they serve a garlic hot dog, which is a hot dog that has been cooked in the scampi sauce. Photo from last time:

Macky's Original Shrimp
I tried the Haleiwa outpost of Macky's Original Shrimp truck which was near the end of town. They had several picnic tables with a shade above them. I was surprised by the flavor of their
garlic butter shrimp. The shrimp were larger than Giovanni's but smaller than Romy's, served cleaned and deveined. They had a very fresh taste and even a natural sweetness to the meat. This sweetness showed through the light garlic butter sauce. I would've liked a bit of acid to the sauce, but liked the fact that it didn't overpower the dish. Overall, Macky's garlic butter shrimp was a good balance between fresh shrimp and a light sauce to compliment the shrimp.

Hono's ShrimpThis truck is located in the corral of food trucks in Haleiwa. The quality of the shrimp here was good, slightly larger than those at Macky's, though not deveined. The garlic sauce was similar to that of Romy's, a simple saute of chopped garlic with a bit of butter, but lighter on the garlic. Another good compliment to the shrimp. Eating this side by side with Giovanni's shrimp scampi, it was clear that Giovanni's sauce is excellent over rice but overpowering on the shrimp.

spicy shrimp was sweet and spicy without being sugary. Again, not to my taste, but better than that at Romy's. Fans of this flavor might like it.

Blue Water Shrimp

I went to the Honolulu outpost of this truck located on Kuhio in the empty half of a lot under construction. Sharing a covered picnic area with another food truck is the brightly painted Blue Water Shrimp, serving the typical shrimp dishes as well as clams, king crab and seared ahi. This truck has a larger seafood menu than most and coupons can be found in the Japanese Kau Kau shopping flyer.
We sampled the very garlic shrimp (spicy), shrimp scampi, clams, and seared ahi. I was not impressed by most of these items.

The saving grace is the
very garlic shrimp, which I ordered spicy. The shrimp was good quality, eight to ten shrimp on a plate, some of them deveined. It was, however, the sauce that was the most prominent flavor in the dish. It was a thick, buttery sauce balanced with lemon and mixed with some chili pepper. It was so tasty that one of us mixed in the rice and saved his shrimp to eat later. I agree the very garlic sauce is powerful, more buttery than Giovanni's, but less salty. The combination of the spice and butter made me return twice for more.

Last notes, I would not order the
scampi or clams again, they had similar thick sauces of butter and parmesan. The sauce was bland and completely coated the shrimp and clams. It reminded me of soup served at a cafeteria. I actually wanted to rinse off the seafood to eat it without the sauce. The Furikake Ahi is just o.k., a huge portion enough for two. Would order that again if not in the mood for shrimp. Beware of the parking, I suspect that the apparently unattended parking lot actually has an attendant lying in wait.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SEBO - Izakaya

Enjoyed trying everything on the Izakaya menu at Sebo on a cold Sunday evening. One member of our party commented that the food was exactly the types of dishest his Japanese mother at her house. Every dish came home cooked rather than restaurant style -- presented very simply, not overly greasy and used traditional ingredients.

The pan roasted shrimp, sake steamed clams, and marinated cucumbers were fine though unexciting. Standouts were the s
omen noodle salad, pork sauteed with kimchee and the Japanese fish cake stew. The somen noodle salad with smoked squid had bite sized pieces of smokey squid with room temperature somen noodles lightly coated in a slightly vinegary dressing. On the hot side, we enjoyed the pork sauteed with kimchee and the oden, a Japanese fish cake stew. A fan of bittermelon, I enjoyed the bittermelon with tofu dish.

The service was friendly and the atmosphere warm and relaxing. I wouldn't make a special trip to Sebo for it, but would stop by if I were in the neighborhood looking for a place to unwind.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

FRISSON (closed)

Update: Closed.

Dine About Town dinner at Frisson. Between J and I we had everything on their DAT menu. The crab cake was over salted, the cod entree was well cooked but the flavor was bland as was the Financier dessert. On the bright side, the lentil soup and short ribs were reported to be very good. I probably would not dine here again given the high price point and ordinary food. Though a drink at the bar might be an option for someone looking for a scene.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Lunch at Little Sichuan in the San Mateo. For some reason we keep ordering the Ma Po Tofu. It's a good version of the dish, but my favorite is still the spicy but deeply flavored Hot Boiled Beef. Strong garlic and hot pepper flavor with a slightly sour tang from the cabbage.

4th Ave, San Mateo

Friday, February 1, 2008


Having several meetings in the peninsula over the past month, I've been able to get to some of the ramen restaurants in Melanie Wong's list. This time it was Himawari in San Mateo. I felt like something spicy so I went for the Tan Tan Men, a spicy thick broth with ground pork, menma (bamboo shoots) and chewy noodles. I enjoyed the heat of the broth, though I felt the noodles were a little bit on the thin and soft side, not as good as those at Ramen Halu. There was quite a bit of chashu. It was cut very thin and on the lean side, but still tasty. I would prefer a thicker fattier cut. The atmosphere is somewhat more modern than the typical ramen shop. It has modern lighting and that familiar Swedish modular furniture. It's a casual, but not a take out type of place. It's definitely worth a repeat visit, next time I'll give the Shoyu Ramen a try.

2nd Ave, San Mateo