Searching for Okonomiyaki

Ramen Taro Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki from Ramen Taro with Beef and Cabbage

Okonomiyaki is a dish that’s described many different ways: a savory pancake, Japanese pizza, or an Asian frittata. Whatever you call it, it can be hard to find around these parts. With the exception of San Francisco and San Jose, all places in between can be an okonomiyaki-free zone.

Okonomiyaki is a classic comfort food dish in Japan. It’s a round, flat, savory dish that’s made from flour, eggs, cabbage, and seafood or meat. It’s got a drier exterior and a soft, moist interior. A good dose of sweet Japanese mayonnaise and sweet, smoky Okonomi brown sauce is drizzled on top, and then the dish is finished with some dried fish flakes (bonito) and dried seaweed. A good version of the dish shouldn’t be to dry or too wet.

Literally translated, okonomiyaki means “grilled as you like,” which explains why you’ll see slightly different versions of the dish everywhere in Japan. Here in the Bay Area, I’d be happy to see it even half as often as I do sushi and chicken teriyaki.

I remember the first time I tried the dish at a restaurant in Japantown. I had ordered it out of sheer curiosity since the photo on the menu made it look, indeed, like a Japanese pizza. The flavors were like nothing I’d ever had before. There was sweetness from the white sauce, smokiness from the brown sauce, and seafood flavor from the bonito flakes on top. Crunch came from the cabbage inside. It was thoroughly satisfying and I couldn’t wait to have it again.

So my recent craving sent me on a search for the dish. I was determined not to look to San Francisco or San Jose, where you can find it more readily since both cities have Japantowns.

There may be tons of Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area, but I realized that most of them don’t serve okonomiyaki. So I was thankful to find these two restaurants that serve good renditions of the dish.

Ramen Taro Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki from Ramen Taro with Beef and Cabbage

Ramen Taro — Foster City
This newer Japanese spot may focus on ramen, but its their other dishes on the menu that are both tastier and more interesting. Their okonomiyaki is bold and chock full of ingredients. It’s drenched in more brown sauce and mayo than I’d like, but it has a load of flavor and texture with its abundance of cabbage, pickled ginger, and bonito flakes on top. And it’s not too doughy either, which is a good thing. It’s served pre-sliced so it feels like you’re eating a very exotic pizza.

Bushido Okonomiyaki
Bushido Okonomiyaki with Seafood

Bushido — Mountain View
This trendy Japanese restaurant has some very unusual dishes like a Tuna Poke Burrito and Kimchi Goyza. But surprisingly, their version of okonomiyaki is fairly straightforward, but well-balanced and had a less overwhelming mix of flavors. Their version had shrimp and veggies, giving a nice contrast of textures and tastes. My only complaint was that it was a smaller portion than others I’ve had, which would make it a good shared appetizer for the table.

I know I’m just scratching the surface on my quest to find some good okonomiyaki around these parts. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. My search continues…

Ramen Taro
Address: Map
1495 Beach Park Blvd
Foster City, CA 94404
Phone: (650) 212-2883
Hours: Mon-Sun 11am – 9:30p

Bushido on Urbanspoon

*Cross posted @ KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

Japanese Mochi Both Old and New

Azuki and Lima Bean Filled Mochi From Shuei-Do Manju Shop, San Jose

If you’ve ever had mochi (or manju), you’ll know that you can’t eat just one. Its contrast of light yet densely chewy texture and mild sweetness is filled with everything from the traditional red azuki or white lima bean paste, to green tea ice cream.

Japanese mochi is a small ping pong ball-sized dessert made from glutinous rice paste, molded into a round ball or cut into squares, and filled with, most traditionally, red or white bean paste. The exterior is dusted with a bit of rice flour to prevent sticking.

Shuei-Do Manju Shop Goodies

One of the only Bay Area Japanese confectionery shops left in the Bay Area, Shuei-Do Manju Shop in San Jose’s Japantown has been making these treats the old-fashioned way by hand for over 60 years. You can find many traditional versions, along with some fun flavors like raspberry, coconut, and peanut butter (they’re not available everyday, so call to find out what the flavors of the day are). The care and artistry of each piece comes through in every bite. The mochi exterior is soft, chewy, and dense, while the interior red bean filling is thick and sweet.
Shuei-Do Manju Shop is a San Jose treasure and has earned a devoted cult following. It’s an even more popular destination in the summer because of their other specialty: Hawaiian shaved ice.

Mochicream Display Case of Various Mochi Flavors

On the other end of the mochi scale is Mochicream. This popular Japanese chain calls itself a “Japanese Sweets Deli.” They’re doing for mochi what Pinkberry did for frozen yogurt, or Sprinkles for cupcakes.

Their only Northern California outpost is located inside the Japanese mini-mall, Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose. Daring mochi flavors like Caramel Macchiato, Cranberry, Blueberry Yogurt and Orange Cheese fill their immaculately arranged refrigerated glass cases.

I was surprised to learn that their sweets are made in Japan and then shipped fresh to the States, weekly. It’s not exactly homemade like Grandma would make.

And mochi, when filled with cream, can easily get soggy because of all the moisture. They’ve combated this problem by surrounding the cream fillings with white bean paste, creating almost a layer of insulation inside each mochi ball. This way, they’re able to freeze these confections and ship them all the way out here without extensive damage to its flavor or texture. And they instruct you to let them “defrost” for about 15 minutes before diving in.

The mochi is soft, light and airy, but a bit of sogginess does indeed plague this international treat. But if you’re into mochi or are looking for something sweet that is a bit out of the ordinary, it’s definitely worth a try. The Apple Pie was my far and away favorite, with bits of apple pie filling and little pie crust crumbles to give it some real depth of flavor and surprising texture. My second favorite was the Darjeeling for its nice subtle yet distinct tea flavor that fortunately, wasn’t too sweet.

Whether you’ve tried mochi before or not, both these places offer up some great examples of this classic sweet Japanese treat.

Shuei-Do Manju Shop
Address: 217 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
Phone: (408) 294-4148
Facebook: Shuei-Do Manju Shop
Prices: Between $1 to $3

(Located inside Mitsuwa Marketplace)
Address: 675 Saratoga Ave., San Jose
Phone: (408) 725-9263
Prices: Between $1 to $3

Kimchi is the New Cupcake


Courtesy of Kimchi Mom (

…Okay, the cupcake is pretty passe in the world of food trends (but still pretty popular). We’ve moved on to bundt cakes.

But I digress…

My most recent trip to the San Francisco Fancy Food Show earlier this year further confirmed that Asian foods are still as popular as ever in this country. However, Chinese and Japanese foods are so commonplace that they’re no longer seen as “exotic” to us.

Enter Korean food. It’s the hot new trend in the Asian American food world. And nothing symbolizes Korean food like kimchi.

Kimchi is napa cabbage that’s fermented or pickled with red chili paste, anchovies, salt, ginger and garlic. The result is a pungent, spicy, sour dish that is served with every Korean meal morning, noon and night. Every household has a recipe.

Stateside, kimchi is just starting to move beyond the Korean household. It’s suddenly become trendy. PBS recently even aired a season of a show called “Kimchi Chronicles” that included celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and actor, Hugh Jackman.

Health food advocates claim it’s one of the healthiest foods you can eat. It’s got a large concentration of fiber, is high in vitamins A and C, and contains plenty of good bacteria which helps aid in digestion.

For foodies, it just plain tastes good. It gives everything you eat a zesty, spicy kick and a little goes a very long way. I personally love the texture it adds to everything with the crunchiness of the cabbage.

My husband is addicted to the stuff. So much so that we’ve come to appreciate the huge tubs of it they sell at our local Costco. (We try to avoid brands that contain MSG. It’s harder to find, but worth it.) It’s also become a staple of his daily breakfast. He tops his two poached eggs with about a quarter cup of kimchi most mornings and I have to admit, it’s pretty damn tasty. It’s a great way to perk up boring eggs. Once you try it it’s pretty addictive. You’ve been warned.

Curry Up Now Wants You to Join The Dosa Republic

Inside The Dosa Republic

Husband and wife team, Akash and Rana Kapoor have created a name for themselves with their Curry Up Now food trucks, specializing in authentic and boldly flavored Indian street food. Their immense popularity spawned an equally popular brick and mortar joint in San Mateo, which opened last year.

Curry Up Now started as a pipe dream for Rana. She had always loved feeding large groups of friends and family at home, and wanted to bring that feeling of creating and sharing a good home cooked Indian meal to a larger community.

But Akash, who also loves to cook and create special dishes for their restaurant’s menu, had a culinary dream of his own.

“I went to this place in India that specialized in dosas and they had 140 different kinds you could choose from. They took a traditional Indian dish and made it cutting edge. That became the inspiration for this new restaurant.”

Enter The Dosa Republic, which opened this week. The new fast-casual restaurant in San Mateo serves rice bowls, salads, inventive appetizers, and of course, dosas. The Kapoors are taking this traditional Southern Indian staple and giving it a modern twist.

Dosas are thin, crepe-like delicacies made from a rice and lentil batter, making them naturally gluten-free. The dosa crepes are then filled with a variety of ingredients. That’s where the fun comes in for Akash, who created the menu.

Paisano Dosa
Paisano Dosa

They have two dosa menus which include The Dosa Republic’s own innovative creations, like the Paisano, filled with prosciutto, figs and burrata, along with the more traditional ones, like the Bombay, with potatoes, green onions and chili. Many dishes can also be made vegan.

Kale Vada Sambar
Kale Vada Sambar

One of the more notable appetizers include the Kale Vada Sambar, a deliciously fried lentil and kale dumpling served with their lentil and seasonal veggie stew. Many dishes come with the stew or a Sri Lankan Curry to dip. Others are served with a variety of chutneys like young coconut, tomato, and strawberry habenero mint. It’s a lot of flavors to take in, but they certainly make for an extremely interesting and adventurous eating experience.

Tanga Dosa
Tanga Dosa

But one of the most popular dishes seems to be the Tanga Dosa, filled with an unusual combination of ramen noodles, carrots and cabbage for crunch, and Gobi Cauliflower (chili cauliflower), which resembles more of a Chinese sweet and sour dish because of it’s bright orange hue. “Chinese food is actually really popular in India right now, or their version of it,” says Akash. “That’s why the Gobi Chicken and Cauliflower look like something from a Chinese restaurant.” The flavors, thankfully, are more tangy and spicy than sweet and sour.

The Tanga was a wonderfully satisfying dosa, giving you a complete protein, veggie and carb meal all wrapped in one extremely delectable package.

Sinhala Dosa
Sinhala Dosa

Also notable is the Sinhala Dosa, which contains juicy chicken, curry and potato. The boldly flavored spices come through loud and clear without coming on too strong. Everything was cooked perfectly from the meat to the lightly crisp yet soft and tender crepe it’s wrapped in.

The Kapoors have taken this humble yet commonly enjoyed Indian dish and managed to make it fun, tasty, and surprisingly unintimidating to a Bay Area audience that might not be familiar with it. It’s a formula they seem to have down pat with Curry Up Now. Now at The Dosa Republic, they’re betting that formula can work for them again.

Dosa Republic Interior

The Dosa Republic
Address: Map
2299 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403
Phone: 650.458.DOSA
Twitter: @thedosarepublic
Facebook: Curry UpNow

Review: Metromint

The 6 Metromint water flavors. Courtesy

The folks at Metromint were kind enough to send me samples of their line of flavored waters way back when. Unfortunately, the timing was bad. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and the thought of those waters made me want to puke (it had nothing to do with a bottle of water and everything to do with my physical state at the time). Fortunately, it was temporary, but I had completely forgotten about the waters until recently.

Metromint is an all natural mintwater made with real mint. No sweeteners, no calories, and no preservatives.

The first two times I tasted a Metromint water were before I ever even received the samples. It was at a food event and I have to admit, I was less than impressed. It was the Peppermint flavor, chilled, which is how they suggest you drink it. My first thought when I took my first sip was mouthwash. Most specifically, I thought it tasted like Scope. Not good. I vowed never to try it again.

But later on, I found a bottle of the Chocolate Mint variety in a gift bag I had, room temp, and out of sheer thirsty desperation, I took a swig. To my surprise, I rather liked it! I found that not chilling it actually made the mint in the water mellow out, which is what I preferred over the overwhelming burst of minty freshness I had initially experienced.

So when I received the complete line of flavors, I was curious to see if this was the case with all the flavors. It indeed was. I also found that I like the mellow addition of mint to the subtle cherry, orange and lemon flavors. Very refreshing. I realized that my issue with Metromint was the Peppermint flavor itself. It reminded me too much of a breath freshener or a mouthwash. Even the Spearmint was less offensive to me.

It’s the perfect beverage for a hot summer day, and a good alternative to lemonade. I keep thinking: refreshing…as long as I stay away from the Peppermint.

Post Holiday Sales & Smart Shopping

I’ll go a little off -topic and talk a little bit about the holiday shopping season: a subject I always have an opinion on.

I’ve always been a huge fan of shopping post holiday sales for finding some ridiculously good deals. My fave stores include Saks, J.Crew, and a few others. It’s a tradition for me and some of my family and closest friends.

Here’s my recent interview with Associated Press’ Christina Rexrode on the topic.

And here’s the radio interview I did with Ken Schram of Seattle’s KOMO Newsradio.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Peninsula’s Best Casual Dishes

Garlic Pork Ramen w/corn from Dojo Ramen

I’ve had the great fortune of visiting a wide variety of restaurants over the years. Most are good, some mediocre, and a few just plain horrid. But there are a few standouts; the kind of restaurant where everything comes together and you can’t stop thinking about the meal you just had there. These are places in the Bay Area peninsula where service, cleanliness, overall vibe and of course, food are not only good, but memorable and relatively AFFORDABLE!

Curry Up Now (San Mateo) – Deconstructed Samosa, Chicken Kathi Roll

Cuisinett (San Carlos) – Moules Frites

Millbrae Dumpling Shop (Millbrae) – Braised Lion’s Head Meatballs, Xiao Long Bao

Mingalaba (Burlingame) – House Special Noodles, Tea Leaf Salad

Osteria Coppa (San Mateo) – Tagliatelle Bolognaise

Ramen Dojo (San Mateo) – Garlic Pork Ramen

Speederia Pizzeria (San Carlos) – Indianapolis Pizza

James Beard Award Winning Chef Michael Tusk’s Cotogna

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Cotogna is one of the hardest tables to snag in town. I should know, I’ve been trying ever since the place opened in late 2010. And Chef Michael Tusk’s James Beard Award win earlier this year only made the effort even harder.

Still, my curiosity never waned. Could this more casual sister restaurant to the famous Quince just next door be worth the wait?

Well first off, the restaurant is much smaller than I expected, which explains why there aren’t as many reservation slots as you might think. But I finally got a reasonably timed reservation for a late lunch on a Saturday I was free.

The interior is cozy and unpretentious with it’s light woods and neutral tones, along with the communal table for large parties and walk ins. I loved their linen burlap-like napkins.

As for the food, the rustic menu was the perfect match for the setting and decor. Everything was simple yet there was a definite harmony in the balance of flavors and textures of each dish.

We took advantage of the $20 three-course prix fixe lunch, which changes daily, and also ordered one of their famous wood-fired pizzas, all to share.

First up was the Turkey and Fregola Soup with Wild Rice and a lovely piece of toasted bread. They do meats well here, with their braising and roasting. The stock for this soup had depth and you could tell no corners were cut. It provided a hearty base for this wonderfully flavored soup. The bread provided some crunch and texture.

Next was the Manila Clam, Hot Pepper and Broccoli di Ciccio Pizza that came out of their famous wood-fired oven. The crust was super thin and crisp, but not cracker crisp. There was still a lovely chewiness to it. And there was the perfect amount of blistered char on the bottom. Not so much that the whole thing tasted burnt. The clams were fresh, the sauce was tangy and the bitter greens together gave this pizza a great balance of varied flavors. Then there was that subtle kick from the pepper to finish.

Then we had the Pappardelle with Braised Oxtail. I love a good pasta dish and I could’ve licked this plate clean. My biggest complaint was the serving was a bit on the smaller side. Other than that, the bright yellow ribbons of eggy house-made pasta were almost buttery and cooked to a perfect al dente. The hearty meat sauce was flavorful, tender and seasoned well with just a hint of tomato. I loved how the meat didn’t overpower the pasta. Each element had a chance to complement each other.

We finished with the Warm Pippin Apple and Almond Crostata. Once again, there was a wonderful contrast to the tender sweet apples (not too sweet, thankfully) and the perfectly thin crisp crust. But the real star was the house-made date and cinnamon ice cream. It was the perfect finish.

Service is a bit cold, impersonal, yet professional. It becomes a non-factor if you don’t let it bother you. I let the food and the setting speak for itself, instead.

If I had to choose one word for this restaurant it would be “rustic”. There was nothing glaringly special or over the top here. And though the setting is definitely not white tablecloth stuffy, it’s special enough for a nice occasion. The food is simple, expertly prepared, and there’s a great amount of attention to detail. It’s nothing you’d rush back for, but you’d definitely want to return at some point. It is a memorable meal if you pay attention to the details.

Cotogna on Urbanspoon

New York City: Work hard, shop hard, eat well

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New York City has always been about three things for me: Work hard, shop hard, eat well. I was in town for only 3 nights on a business trip, so I had to pack a lot into just a little amount of free time. Fortunately, NYC is a good place for that.

I visited a few key restaurants and hit up a few key sales, deciding not to waste my time with stores that were even remotely touristy or similar to the ones I could find back in San Francisco. I was shopping with a purpose, no browsing here. And I wanted to hit up a few key eateries that were sure to please.

Here’s a recap (but by no means a “Best of” list):

Uniqlo – I arrived early enough in the evening to hit up their new 5th Avenue flagship store before closing time. The place opened less than a week ago and in the daytime, there were still plenty of people lining up just to get inside the 3 story building full of H&M-esque Japanese fashions. They were promoting a lot of cashmere (in 25 different colors), puffy jackets, and $10 jeans (on sale), but I was more interested in their undergarments and leggings. They’re a great deal and good quality.

Halal Cart (53rd St. & 6th Ave.) – Their famous Chicken and Rice platter with white sauce is frequently named as one of the best street food eats in town. I’m lucky because I usually end up staying at the Hilton which is right next to the cart. And after arriving in NYC just a few hours before, it was the perfect low-key meal to take up to the room and eat while unpacking. Although, I suspect this meal tastes much better after some club hopping and you’re looking for something hearty to suck up all the alcohol in your system.

Ess-A-Bagel (831 3rd Ave.) – Just like NYC pizza, you can’t get a bagel anywhere else like the kinds you find in the Big Apple, and Ess-A-Bagel is the perfect place to get the perfect bagel. It’s been around since 1976 and is a NYC institution. I went with the standard lox and cream cheese with some red onions and lettuce on a toasted everything bagel and it was the perfect breakfast. The bagel itself was perfectly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like you’d want it to be. Why is this so hard to find anywhere else?

Lupa (170 Thompson St.) – This Mario Batali eatery is the lower key version of his famous Babbo restaurant, though many think it’s actually better. It’s casual and low-key, which I liked.

My friend and I shared the Salumi Platter which included slices of Prosciutto Di Parma and house-made Coppa Cotta, Testa, Speck and Lingua, among others. It was the highlight of the meal. For entrees we ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, which was solidly good, but nothing to write home about, and the Skate with Lentils and Greens, which had a bright citrusy flavor from the grapefruit in the dish. And it was perfectly cooked. For dessert, we splurged with the Lupa Tartufo which both looked and tasted like a huge Ferrero Rocher chocolate, except with a decadent ice cream filled center. There was hazelnut and chocolate all over this huge thing. It was delicious and definitely enough to serve two. The service was friendly, attentive and unpretentious.

The Jill Sander Sample Sale – This event happens twice a year in NYC from what I can tell, and it’s a popular sale with locals. Eventhough my pregnant self can’t fit into any of the clothes that were 85% off, I found handbags and shoes. You can’t beat getting a pair of patent leather flats and pair of neutral slingbacks for just $140, altogether (including tax). They originally retailed for over $400 a pair.

Prune (54 East 1st St.) – Before I talk about the food, I have to get my Jake Gyllenhaal sighting out of the way. The dude was waiting for a table just like anyone else, so that was refreshing to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to get all TMZ on him so I didn’t snap a picture.

Anyways, this famous restaurant is a favorite among chefs like Eric Rupert and Anthony Bourdain, and obviously, celebrities that like to wander in without an entourage. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has become a bit of a celebrity herself in recent months with her culinary accolades, bestselling book, and personal life. All that aside, the food was surprisingly simple but beautifully executed.

We ordered the Rock Shrimp Roll with Old Bay Seasoned Fries and the Duck Breast with Beets. The shrimp was some of the freshest we’d ever tasted. They were so tender and sweet and tasted like they were just plucked from the water. The duck breast had just a touch of sweet smokiness and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was simplicity at its best.

Laduree (864 Madison Ave.) – I have been in love with this legendary Parisian macaron giant since my first bite at their Champs Elysees flagship store. Everything about it is over the top but their macarons stand up to the hype with their wonderfully delicate cookie (crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside) and their fragrant flavored fillings. I HAD to make the trek to their new outpost in NYC. This is their first and only store in North America. I’m happy to report that the macarons taste just as good as they did in Paris…except just a tad sweeter (to fit the American palate, unfortunately). They come in a myriad of flavors and colors, but my favorites will always be Cassis, Orange Blossom, and Salted Caramel. Yum…

Pizzarte (69 West 55th St.) – It’s hard to find a distinctive place to eat in the heart of Midtown that’s not touristy, overpriced, or unimaginative. Enter Pizzarte. Though it wasn’t the New York-style pie I was craving, it didn’t disappoint. Their Neapolitan-style Margherita pie had that perfectly charred and chewy crust with a fresh and tangy tomato sauce. And the Warm Burratta with butternut squash and broccoli rabe appetizer my friend and I shared was creamy and comforting.

The interior was clean, stylish and contemporary, and the food was of surprisingly great quality and preparation, which was a great surprise given its kitschy location.

Botkier Sample Sale – My last present to myself came in the form of a beautiful plum handbag that retailed for $600 at Nordstrom, but ended up being only $200 at their company’s sample sale. There were clutches for less than $100, and many bags were only $150. Incredible steal for a designer leather bag. I’m glad I went.

Besides Jake Gyllenhaal (which frankly would’ve been enough), I shared space with Gayle King and the Reverend Al Sharpton earlier that same day. Craziness. I was hoping I’d bump into George Clooney by dinnertime, but no such luck. I think my luck was already pretty good, so I didn’t complain. :)

Fall is pear season…and this is the perfect pear.

“Oh my God, these pears are beyond words! Where can we get some more of these?”

Those were the first words out of my husband’s mouth after tasting his first Warren Pear. The folks at Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood are one of the few farms in the country to grow this specific type since they can be a bit difficult to grow. But it’s SO worth it!

They were nice enough to send me a box to sample since they were blessed with a stellar crop this year. Fall may be apple season to most, but for these guys, it’s the start of pear season.

I had every intention of doing something fun with these pears…like putting them into pre-made pie crust and making a lovely pear galette, placing some slices in a grilled cheese sandwich, or coring them and placing some maple syrup, raisins and cinnamon down the middle to make some perfect baked pears. The texture on these is wonderfully firm so they’d hold up better to baking then some other more common varieties.

But in the end, my husband and toddler couldn’t stay away. I let them have two of the six we received to eat and try and they were instantly hooked. These are simply the perfect pear: ridiculously sugary sweet with a creamy buttery texture and aftertaste. There’s no hint of any grainy, mealy mouthfeel. You have to taste these things to believe it.

Recipe for Frog Hollow Farm/Chez Panisse’s Warren Pear Crisp

You can order these puppies online at or find them at select Whole Foods Markets. They’re also popping up all over restaurants in the Bay Area.

*This is not a paid post. Free product was received but not in exchange for content.