Sunday, April 25, 2010

Elk Grove Tofu House

One of my favorite Korean dishes is a soup called soon dubu, which is a tofu-based soup with your choice of meat (usually beef) and various vegetables. It can also get pretty spicy, as a lot of Korean food tends to be, but that's perfect for a notorious fire eater like myself. Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that there was a tofu house in Elk Grove of all places. Accompanied by my good friend and Elk Grove-native, we set out to try out this new (and seemingly ONLY) Korean restaurant in the growing city.

Inside Elk Grove Tofu House, one can't help but notice that it's a pretty decently sized place. There's a front room with about ten or so tables, and a room in the back with a dozen more. Regardless, the place was pretty empty on a Friday afternoon. Having learned from Gardena Ramen however, this isn't always a metric on which to measure a restaurants quality. Upon being seated, we had our drink order taken and given place mats with the menu printed on them by a warm Korean woman. The menu here isn't the largest or most diverse, but again referencing Gardena Ramen, this also cannot be counted to its detriment. Among the items is a decent sized list of various takes on soon dubu: there's mushroom, kimchi, seafood, vegetable, and assorted. Alongside this is the usual fare of bulgogi (Korean barbecue), ribs and salad. I opted for the kimchi soon dubu with beef, asking for a decent amount of spice, while my companion ordered the spicy chicken bulgogi. After ordering, I awaited my lunch with a salivating mouth and a deep hunger-fire burning in my eyes.

Not too long after, the extremely pleasant waitress came out with the banchan. For those who don't frequent Korean restaurants, banchan is basically an array of assorted dishes (akin to appetizers) that come complimentary with your meal. There are different variations of banchan, but they almost always contain: kimchi, pickled radish, sprouts, stir-fried shredded squid, glass noodles with various vegetables and beef, and pajeon, which is a pancake with green onions. I don't want to dwell on these too long, since banchan at most places is really similar, I will say that they represent a wide variety of textures and flavors. Depending on how finicky you are, there will be things you like and things you don't, but take a chance and try each of the dishes and see what you like. Overall, a great start to the meal.

Shortly after making a dent in the banchan, our main dishes arrived. The chicken was still steaming and sizzling on the grill plate, and the soon dubu was bubbling like a witch's brew; proof that both dishes were fresh and carefully prepared. Carefully dipping my spoon into the fiery red soup, I sipped a spoonful of the broth with tofu in tow. I closed my eyes and entered spicy, soupy nirvana. The broth was just the right amount of spicy without overshadowing the flavor of the rest of its parts, even with the kimchi added in. The soft tofu absorbed the bold flavor and exploded in my mouth when I bit gently into it. I had just two small complaints with this dish: one, the beef wasn't that flavorful and seemed like it may have been just a tiny bit overcooked, but not offensively so. Two, the dish didn't come accompanied with a raw egg. At other Korean restaurants, you are served a raw egg which you break and empty into your soup, allowing the soup's own heat to cook the egg and add even more flavor. Barring those two issues though, this was a great bowl of soon dubu and would definitely come back here for this dish if I was in the area.

Next up is the spicy chicken bulgogi. It doesn't take much to describe this dish: just grilled, marinated chicken with green onions served on a hot plate to keep the dish hot and sizzling when it's served to you. Despite the simplicity, it is damn good and extremely flavorful. The marinade they use for the bulgogi is nothing short of delicious, and mixed with the green onions it just comes together and becomes an orgy of goodness. Even though the bulgogi plates are the most expensive dishes on the menu, the amount of food you get is very generous; I had to help my friend finish his plate! If I wasn't so obsessed with soon dubu, I would definitely get their bulgogi. Perhaps on the inevitable return visit I'll try the barbecue rib or pork bulgogi.

All in all, this is a great addition to Elk Grove's dining repertoire, which consists mostly of chain restaurants. Given that this also appears to be the sole Korean restaurant in the city, I can also safely say that it is the best Korean food in the area, but don't let yourself think it's only winning by default. Swing by Elk Grove Tofu House and reward yourself with a steaming bowl of soon dubu and an ice cold bottle of soju, I heartily recommend it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gardena Ramen

Now, I try to keep fanboy gushing to a minimum while writing objective reviews or commentary on the places I eat at; but I have a hard time containing it when I think about Gardena Ramen. As it stands right now, this may be the best ramen I've eaten in California.

I understand the aforementioned claim is a bold one, but let me backpedal and explain myself. Gardena Ramen is a tiny ramen shop on an unassuming street in Torrance (in a shopping plaza, sandwiched between a Chinese restaurant and a donut shop no less), without any frills or kitschy interior design. As you enter, there will be three things you notice, and I shall put them here in list form: 1) The chairs are hysterically ironic, since they are nice wooden chairs with coffee mug designs on them, which would be more at home in a coffee shop...or even the donut shop next door. 2) It is almost always empty. Empty as in you will be lucky to see even one other diner in here sometimes. 3) There is no menu...there are simple pieces of paper on the wall detailing what they serve, which is: shoyu ramen, miso ramen, and gyoza.

After reading the above details, I'm sure that some people will be turned off. But folks, I tell you, this all just adds to the charm and mystique of Gardena Ramen. I actually will invoke a metaphor I read on someone's Yelp review (I know, I know...Yelp). The metaphor was "Gardena Ramen is like the In n Out of ramen." And I have to agree wholeheartedly; they have a tiny menu, but this allows them to totally perfect and focus on just those limited dishes.

Once you sit down, you'll be greeted by a friendly older Japanese woman who is seriously one of the sweetest obasans you will ever meet. She will quickly take your food and drink orders, and quickly scurry (happily still, might I add) to the back to relay the information to the only other employee of the establishment: her husband, the chef. I am still amazed at how nice this woman is, it is just really comforting...which goes hand-in-hand with ramen, which is comfort food!

As soon as the food comes out, you will be amazed. Every single topping included in the ramen is arranged PERFECTLY...I mean, I can imagine the chef sitting there in the back with tweezers, carefully placing each ingredient in a specific spot. I almost didn't want to eat it! I was lucky enough to take a picture, but it doesn't do the ramen enough justice (plus my friend decided to dump all her green onions into my bowl without even discussing it with me first! Gah!).

I took a bite of the chashu first, and dear God was it good. Not too much fat, not overcooked, just the way it should be. Next, I sampled the broth. The shoyu broth here is my favorite part of the ramen, it is just simply satisfying. Most places tend to make their broth too salty or oily, but here it is light without sacrificing the flavor. Speaking of flavor, dipping your ramen spoon in will reward you with a combination of pork, shoyu, and just enough hint of green onion as if to say "Hey! Hey buddy! I may be subtle, but I'm here!"

I think if I had to pick the second best thing about Gardena Ramen, it is definitely the noodles. I can assure you, if you are an avid ramen eater and have not been across the ocean to try ramen, then you probably have not eaten noodles like this. They are firm and cooked so perfectly, and they refuse to get soggy! It seriously is the weirdest thing, these noodles do not get soggy. In addition to the quality of the noodle, you get what appears to be a handful of noodles so large that it would (and did!) make an Italian blush. I was able to clean my bowl, but it was no easy task. My accompanying ramen cohorts weren't so lucky, but seriously, come here hungry!

Now that I've neared the end of the review, there is one other thing I need to address: the price. I'm never one to really factor the price into whether or not I eat somewhere (unless I feel like the place is terrible and charges way too much for the sub-standard food they serve), but the price here cannot be beat. For a bowl of ramen that you have a good chance of not finishing, you pay $6.50. This includes the titan's portion of noodle, hard boiled egg, green onions, and bamboo shoots. There were three of us dining there, and each of us had ordered a bowl of ramen and then split two large bottles of Asahi, and the bill came out to $30.50. Seriously, it's a steal considering how damn good the ramen here is!

If you haven't noticed already, I love this place. The combination of amazing food and genuine warmth and hospitality from the owners just has not been beat by any other ramenya I've visited in California. Please go make the trip to Torrance for Gardena Ramen, I promise you it will be worth it. Don't let this place go out of business!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Are you ready? Are you prepared? I don't think you are.

This week I'll be uploading about 5 more updates on restaurants I have in my backlog. Most of them will be about various ramen shops in LA, but I'll sprinkle in a sushi post and top it off with a bbq post.

In addition, I'll finally be adding pictures of the various things I've been and will be eating! Now you can't ridicule me on my subpar descriptions, because you will have visuals of the food taunting you, beckoning you to partake in its sinful deliciousness. Mmm...I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I find it only fair to publish my Daikokuya review after giving it a little ribbing in my Mr. Ramen post. Now, if you live in SoCal and are even just a moderate ramen eater, then chances are you've either been to Daikokuya or heard someone raving about it like it was the second coming of Christ. Mind you, I think the place is decent, but I honestly don't buy into the hype this place garners.

The line here can vary from "wow, it's kind of packed" to "Jesus, that looks like a 2 hour wait." If you do make it in, you have the option of sitting either at a booth or at this pseudo-bar area where you can see the chefs in the back preparing your meal. Granted, I've only sat at the booths, but I do hear that sitting at the bar should be avoided if you can help it, if only to avoid the inevitable barrage of steam coming from the kitchen.

Sitting down you will find a menu with various izakaya-style selections, and only two types of ramen. You have the Daikoku ramen (a pork bone ramen), which is what most people order, or you have the Tsukemen which is the same dish except served with cold noodles on the side and dipped in the pork bone broth. Unfortunately, the only other food I've sampled here was the gyoza and the fried rice. The fried rice was just that: fried rice, nothing too crazy. The gyoza was also alright, nothing standout or mind blowing.

Now, onto the main attraction, the ramen. The Daikoku ramen is decidedly the bowl you will want to order when coming here. The pork bone broth is rich, the pork is fatty and flavorful, and overall it is a very good bowl of ramen. The Tsukemen is perfect for a warm day, as you aren't staring down into a giant bowl of steaming ramen. The cold noodles are decent, but take a turn towards Flavortown once dipped in the pork bone broth. Overall, both bowls are good and definitely worth trying at least once during visits to Little Tokyo.

Sadly, I have quite a few problems with Daikokuya. The number one issue was actually an isolated incident during my last visit, but has unfortunately kept me from coming back: I found a rubber hairband in my bowl of Daikoku ramen. Yes, that's right, those bands that you use to tie your hair back when dealing with food. Repulsive. The other issue I had was disjointed service. Now, I can't shift 100% of the blame to Daikokuya for this because lets face it, this place is the busiest restaurant in Little Tokyo, beating out Shabu Shabu House. But honestly, it stinks having to wave your hands like you're flagging down an airplane on a deserted island. I also hate that rushed feeling you get from eating at places with long waits and little seating; it makes it very hard to relax and enjoy your food.

Daikokuya definitely serves a good bowl of ramen, but unfortunately the long waits, seemingly unclean environment, and awkward service just don't hit home with me. Go at least once to try the Daikoku ramen and see if it was worth the hour+ wait; if it was, then you have your new spot with the other LA hipsters.

Mr. Ramen

I'm always a bit surprised when I read people's impressions of Mr. Ramen down in Little Tokyo on 1st Street. To be fair, it does have the odds stacked against it, being just a few doors down from Daikokuya, which happens to be the "darling" of hipster SoCal ramen eaters. I don't think the often maligned comments are deserved. In fact, I would actually rate Mr. Ramen above Daikokuya.

Upon entering, you'll notice the decor is a little...odd. Random paintings on the wall, autographed pictures of lounge singers, and a collection of small tables and a long bench. Nine times out of ten, reggae can be heard over the speaker system, and to be quite honest, I think all of the above just add to the charm. Not only does Mr. Ramen beat Daikokuya in warmth, but the service is miles better and the selection is outstanding.

Mr. Ramen caters to us savage carnivores, as well as those who stay strictly vegetarian; on the back of their menu, they offer a full selection of vegetarian dishes , including multiple bowls of ramen made with vegetarian broth. Being a ravenous meat-eater, I haven't tried any of these dishes, but the look of satisfaction I saw on my vegetarian cousin's face told me it was probably pretty damn good.

Flipping back to the regular menu, you will find an impressive selection of various bowls of ramen and combos. Their pork bone ramen is a little less flavorful than the one found a hundred feet away at Daikokuya, but it's still an above-average bowl of ramen (especially when dosed with copious amounts of nanami togarashi!) My two personal favorites here are the chicken curry ramen and the spicy chashu ramen. The chicken curry has an amazing broth that isn't too thick or too thin, but just right. Along for the ride are sizable chunks of juicy white meat chicken breast that just suck up the flavor of the broth, resulting in an orgasmic flavor explosion once you bite into it. The spicy chashu doesn't seem like anything special at first; after all, it's regular chashu ramen with an extra kick. But the thing that sets it apart from known heat factories like Orochon is that none of the flavor is lost due to the spiciness. I always dump some more togarashi in it to step it up, but it's also perfect the way it is. The pork is juicy with just the right amount of fat, and the seemingly fresh nori adds in a little more flavor without falling apart.

The waitresses who work here are extremely friendly, and are never seen without a smile. Drinks are usually refilled on time, checks are only brought after the table has been cleared, and the food comes out lightning fast. I'm sure most of this is possible due to the fact that they are rarely super busy (again, due to the cult following of Daikokuya), but you just can't get this friendliness down the street.

Overall, try out Mr. Ramen. If you love chicken and Japanese curry, then I highly recommend the chicken curry ramen. I know it'll be tough to pull yourself away from the entrancing gaze of Daikokuya, but you owe it to yourself to at least visit this little shop at least once.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tokiwa Sushi

I guess apologies are in order. I promised an entry months ago, and here my blog sits, unused and unloved. I suppose I'll take the time now to metaphorically run back into the loving arms of my food blog with a bouquet of roses and a "I'm sorry, I never should have left you" speech. Okay, so that joke was lame, but I'm rusty.

I'm going to write off the cuff about a new sushi place in Moorpark that I visited last night with my friend Hector. Tokiwa Sushi is on New Los Angeles Ave, in the same plaza as the billiards, which in turn is across the street from the amazing Cafe Firenze. Now, on to the juicy details.

As soon as you walk into Tokiwa, the first thing you will notice is that it is quite small; there are about 6-8 seats at the sushi bar, and only about 6-7 tables inside. I should point out that this is not to its detriment at all, because the great thing about being a small restaurant is having the advantage of providing a more intimate atmosphere. The decorations are mostly what you would find in a sushi bar, but for some reason the lighting and the paint on the walls come together and create a really relaxed ambiance. I guess it's hard to explain, but just know that this place exudes warmth and relaxation.

We were promptly seated and had our drink orders taken literally about 2 seconds after our cheeks touched the seats. Our beers came almost as quick as they were ordered, which was a pleasant surprise, even if the place was a little slow that night. We were handed the sushi checklist along with a pen, and soon begun our trek to sushi heaven. The list is pretty expansive, full of the usual fare and quite a few interesting originals that were created at Tokiwa. After studying the list like it was some alien being, we eagerly put in our order and waited excitedly for our food.

Now, another thing I want to point out that I absolutely loved about Tokiwa was how they staggered the serving of the food. It's common for a lot of places to just bring out everything at once and make you feel really overwhelmed, especially at sushi when you tend to order a lot of food. Nope, not here. We received two pieces of sushi nigiri and one of the rolls, and once they saw that we had finished those off they brought the rest of the order. I can see some people being a little irritated at this, but I personally loved it. I hate when I have a mountain of food in front of me, it makes me feel like I'm at a Nathan's Hot Dog competition and I need to beat Kobayashi at stuffing everything I can in my face.

The food itself was great. The albacore sushi melted in my mouth, with the right amount of sauce and green onions to top it off. I also ordered red snapper, which was the perfect amount of firmness without having that fishy taste you can get at some places who don't restock their fish regularly. The octopus was also the right amount of chewy with a great flavor that mixed well with the soy sauce. Hector ordered a Tokiwa original called the Kookoo Roll, which is a spicy tuna roll with salmon on top which is sprinkled with black pepper and then hot sealed. The roll was amazing, and normally I'm not a fan of salmon, but the flavors were stunning and the boldness of the black pepper really gave it a kick. It was smoky too due to the roll being hot sealed on the outside, but it matched perfectly with the pepper and the fish.

Another thing I noticed about Tokiwa is that they seem to serve their sushi in a traditional way. Most sushi bars in Japan do not offer you extra wasabi or ginger, because the wasabi is already between the fish and the rice. Tokiwa also does not give you wasabi or ginger, which means you are eating the fish the way the chef intended it to be eaten. If a certain cut of fish works better with a sauce, the chef himself includes the sauce on that fish (as is what happens with albacore sushi). Again this might irritate some people who like to mix and match and customize their order, but I am a fan of eating food the way it is served so this was perfect for me.

Overall, Tokiwa took me by surprise. The quality of the fish is outstanding, the service is friendly and extremely attentive, and the atmosphere really makes you relaxed and helps you enjoy an evening out with friends or someone special. It definitely looks like Moorpark is beginning to get a lot of quality places to eat at, and I encourage every sushi fan to try this place out. I may have to work Tokiwa into my regular sushi rotation of Tomodachi and...Tomodachi, haha.

Visit Tokiwa's website ( for the complete menu as well as their operating hours. Support local restaurants!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Let the Gluttony Commence!

Well now, this was a long time coming!

Welcome to Toe's food blog! I am your hungry host, The Toefoo! Why the "The"? Because there can only be one! Kind of like in Highlander...sans Sean Connery.

This project was originally supposed to start last year, but unfortunately I am a giant lazy bastard and totally just let it slip. Well, no longer! I finally got myself a new camera, dusted the cobwebs off the writer's side of my brain, and am ready to record and report to you all of the wonderful places I stuff my face at with great food and great booze.

Tomorrow will be the first part of the series, which I am making extra special by visiting a place I have yet to have the pleasure dining at. This means I won't have months and months of total extreme fanboy bias clouding my judgment!

All failed attempts at humor and wit aside, I hope everyone enjoys this project I've set out on. Get ready to get your foodage on!