Friday, March 30, 2007

Kasen (Fountain Valley, CA)

9039 Garfield Ave, Fountain Valley, CA 92708
714.963.8769 (review, restaurant has no website)
Fri 03/30/2007, 07:25p-08:55p

I had heard some good things about Kasen on the Chowhound boards, so I decided to check it out, all in an effort to explore various sushi joints in Orange County. I'm still looking for place that matches the best that Los Angeles has to offer.

Kasen is located in a rather drab looking strip mall. A sign warns that the restaurant is booked up for the night.

The restaurant consists of a bar, headed by owner Susumu Ii, that seats around 16 people, a small alcove of tables where we were seated, and a tatami room.

The chopsticks etched with the restaurant logo are a nice touch.

For sake, we had our favorite, Kubota Manjyu (had this at Urasawa and Sushi Wasabi before), and its little brother, Kubota Hekijyu. We ordered omakase so we didn't get to see the regular menu. Apparently there is an extended omakase menu with more cooked items that requires advance notice. There is also an à la carte sushi menu (note that no prices are listed!). Click for larger versions.

The Manjyu is on the left, Hekijyu on the right. The blue glasses remind me of those at Urasawa. The Manjyu had a much more pronounced bouquet and definitive notes of rice. The Hekijyu was a bit drier and sharper. Both were great, though I'd still go for the Manjyu if price weren't a consideration.

1: Squid
With Japanese honey mustard and seaweed. The mustard provided a bit of fire while the squid had a firm texture that provided a nice crunch, yet wasn't tough. A nice way to start the meal.

2: Sashimi
From the upper left, we have toro, tako, hamachi, sake, and tai. My favorites were the toro (of course) and sake, though all were very nice and didn't necessitate any soy sauce. We were intrigued with the wasabi, which had an odd color and a slight sesame flavor. We inquired and it turns out that it's real wasabi, frozen and shipped from Japan (but no sesame).

3: Chawan Mushi
This was egg custard with shrimp, fish, shitake mushroom, and cilantro, served with a cute spoon. The taste was very light, though it was a bit too subtle for my tastes.

4: Snapper
This was red snapper with tofu and gobo root I believe. For me this was the weakest dish of the night. The snapper was cooked well enough, but I didn't care for the tofu and gobo.

5: Sushi
Going counter-clockwise from bottom center, we have tuna roll, hamachi (a softer texture than I'm used to), ikura, maguro (classic tuna taste), hirame, aji (milder flavor than one typically encounters), ebi (pretty good for cooked shrimp), awabi, anago, and mirugai (very chewy texture). Overall a decent presentation, though I've would've much preferred it if the nigiri came out one by one.

6: Miso Soup
This was a very strongly flavored miso soup, though not in a bad way. It was one of the better interpretations I've had in a while.

Amaebi & Kohada
This was an extra order of sweet shrimp (replete with deep fried head) and gizzard shad. Both were quite delicious and were the two best pieces of nigiri of the night.

7: Sorbet & Green Tea
The sorbet had a distinctly citrusy flavor. Yuzu perhaps? In any case, it was quite refreshing and closed out the meal well.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Catal (Anaheim, CA)

Catal Restaurant
1580 S Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802
Sat 03/24/2007, 09:10p-10:55p

Fine dining at Disneyland? I was a bit skeptical, but I'm happy to report that, yes, it is indeed possible. Much to my surprise, Catal is actually part of the Patina Group, which includes such SoCal staples as the namesake Patina in Downtown, Nick & Stef's, and Pinot Provence. The next Patina property we'll be visiting is probably Joachim Splichal's newest venture: Leatherby's Cafe Rouge at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Catal consists of a number of rooms and outdoor patio terraces, separated by floor-to-ceiling windows. Our seat proved a good vantage point for enjoying the nightly Disneyland fireworks.

The dinner contains a variety of Mediterranean-inspired dishes created by executive chef Nicholas Weber. The dessert menu is not quite as innovative, but does have a decent sized drinks list, though I would've liked to have seen more dessert wines (late harvest, eiswein, etc.). Click for larger versions.

The wine list combines breadth with reasonable prices. Our table wasn't quite ready when we arrived, so we decided to order wine at the bar. I had the 2004 Schmitt Söhne Spätlese, Mosel, Germany while my dining companion had the 2005 Viognier, Zaca Mesa, Santa Barbara. We both agreed that the Riesling was better. Along with our entrees, we had the 2005 Echelon Pinot Noir, Central Coast and the 2004 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon, California. Click for larger versions.

Several varieties of bread were offered. The dip was a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Grilled skewer of Spanish chorizo
With garlic roasted potatoes and saffron aïoli. While the chorizo was quite delectable, the real star for me here was the potato.

Oysters on the half shell
With the requisite lemon and mignonette granita. What we have here is a quintessential expression of oyster: briny, mineral-y, and subtly sweet.

Smoked salmon
With chives, lemon crème fraiche, watercress, toasted coriander, Fleur de Sel and crispy pastry. The salmon was a bit sweet for my tastes. I prefer it more savory and I also had a difficult time discerning many of the flavors here. My dining companion quite liked the crispy pastry, though I wasn't nearly as big a fan.

Tuna tartare
With blood orange reduction, yuzu vinaigrette, avocado and fire-roasted shishito peppers. Tuna tartares have become such a mainstay on menus nowadays, so it's not often that I'm pleasantly surprised like I was with this. The citrusy tang of yuzu and the slight shishito spice added just enough flavor to the tuna. Loved the compartmentalized presentation on this one!

Grilled venison filet
With roasted lettuce, molten chestnut cake and sauce grand veneur. The meat turned out to be much more tender that I thought it would be, while the taste was mild, and not particularly gamy. The sauce and the lettuce complemented the venison well, but I wasn't a fan of the chestnut cake.

Wild Burgundy escargot
With Du Puy lentils, garlic broth, tomatoes, parsley and pain de mie croutons. I've never had escargot quite like this before. Unlike most preparations, this was actually quite light (perhaps too much so), without the heavy sauces that typically accompany snail. I still prefer the buttery, garlicky, stereotypical bourguignonne variation however.

Cinnamon sugar dusted churros
With café mocha semi-freddo, which I used to dip the churros in. As for the churros themselves, they were among the best I've ever had. I ate this with Frangelico, a hazelnut and herb-flavored liqueur from Canale, Italy. It was actually my first experience with Frangelico and the combination worked pretty well.

Milk chocolate caramel torte
With chocolate gelato and homemade peanut brittle. This proved a competently crafted construction of chocolate, thought not particularly distinctive. We had this with Dry Sack sherry.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Vik's Chaat Corner (Berkeley, CA)

Vik's Chaat Corner
726 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94710
Fri 03/16/2007, 04:55p-05:20p

Thanks to my roommate, I discovered Indian food during my undergraduate years at Cal. In that context, Vik's was always a holy grail of sorts, as I heard nothing but rave reviews about the place. Unfortunately, during my tenure at Berkeley, I never made it out, partly, I suspect, since I didn't have a car until my last year. But then here I was, standing in front of Vik's four years later. Sure brings me back...

Decor? What decor? Very industrial warehouse-chic (in fact the rest of the building is a warehouse of sorts). But I sort of like it, since with ambiance this bad, the food must be good!

A rather tattered menu pulled from under the counter. Items are also listed on a chalkboard. Click for larger versions.

Thums Up
Yes, there's a "b" missing. Thums Up is an Indian cola made by Coca-Cola. It has a unique taste, quite a bit stronger than your typical Coke or Pepsi, and pairs beautifully with the strong, spicy flavors of Indian chaat.

Aloo Tikki Cholle
Potato patties stuffed with green peas and covered with cholle, onions and chutnies. Very nice, I especially enjoyed the liberal use of mint chutney, onion, and cilantro. Not too spicy, since I suspect they toned it down a bit for me. I can definitely see where all the hype comes from!