A Taste Of Japan in So Cal? 2008 Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair (Costa Mesa) [Review]
(Fully formatted with All Pics here:
Thanks to Keizo's early posting, I discovered that Mitsuwa Market was holding a Food Fair, dubbed "2008 Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair." It's being held this weekend from Thursday, May 15, through Sunday, May 18, at select Mitsuwa locations (for So Cal, their website lists the Costa Mesa branch and the Torrance branch). I was able to plan ahead and visit the Mitsuwa Gourmet Fair on its opening day for lunch.
From reading the website it sounded like there'd be 2-3 main eating attractions and that'd be it (like the last Ramen Fair, last year). Imagine my surprise when I arrived to see numerous food booths (all tightly compacted) in the center of Mitsuwa's main walkway, and a massive line for fresh Takoyaki (Octopus Pastry Balls), in addition to the other eateries I was looking forward to.
First up, we tried the stand with the longest line: Takoya Kukuru's Fresh Takoyaki (Octopus Pastry Balls).
I was pretty excited about the Takoyaki, since who isn't beguiled by the seductive fragrance of fresh dough being cooked to crispy, fluffy perfection? (^_^) It certainly smelled great, and they even proudly showed their "#1 Ranking" according to votes from some survey.
They even had a nice diagram explaining how their Takoyaki was so different, using a dash of White Wine, in addition to the usual Octopus, Flour, Powdered Seaweed, Red Ginger, Bonito, etc.
It took about 15 minutes (since they make them fresh in batches), and I finally got my order. I sat down (within ~2 minutes) and we opened up the box to partake in Octopus goodness!
But sadly, the Takoyaki already started to "melt" together! Traditionally the Octopus Pastry Balls are served piping hot (they were), and topped with the vendor's Takoyaki Sauce and some Mayonnaise. We had literally gotten them fresh off the grill only ~2 minutes beforehand and when we tried to pick one up, each Pastry Ball had already started to turn into a gooey mess! :( There was no crispy exterior at this point, it was literally just gooey. Undaunted we dug in, and the actual *flavor* of Kukuru's recipe was definitely standout from most Takoyaki in So Cal. You could taste and get a big piece of Octopus (good thing), but it was marred by the fact that the rest of it was all just a liquid mess at this point. Sigh. The Takoyaki I had in Ueno Park from the local vendor far outshined this in the end.
On a side note, Kukuru states that they have branches in Tokyu, Odakyu, and Mitsukoshi Department Stores in Japan.
*** Rating: 6.3 (out of 10.0) ***
Continuing on, we tried the Gyu-Tan (Beef Tongue) at Gyu-Tan Senmonten Tsukasa. It seems that Tsukasa is a specialist in Beef Tongue, hailing from Sendai in Miyagi prefecture in Japan. The fragrant smell of grilled Beef was wafting across Mitsuwa at this point. We ordered their Gyu-Tan Teishoku (Seared Tender Beef Tongue Combination Plate), and it came with their signature Oxtail Soup as well.
Our order arrived and I took the first bite: Tender, delicate Beefy goodness! Their Gyu-Tan was very tender, and extremely flavorful. The manager recommended that I wrap each bite of Beef Tongue with some of their special Sendai pickled vegetables, and it was an excellent suggestion! The lightly pickled, earthy, vegetable flavors combined perfectly with the fresh-grilled Beef! And the rice they served was really nice as well! They had a special grain of rice mixed with a type of other grain as well (Japanese oats?), and it lent a nice fragrance and taste to the meal.
Lastly, their Ox Tail Soup was surprisingly good. Not "amazing," but very tasty and simple; honest and straightforward. Overall, Tsukasa was the highlight of the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa Gourmet Fair. Very tasty!
*** Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0) ***
Next up, we tried out the sole Ramen specialist that arrived from Japan as part of this Gourmet Fair: Kujiraken's Shina Soba Ramen. Kujiraken is from Yokohama in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan. I didn't get a chance to try any Ramen from Yokohama during my last Japan trip, so I was looking forward to what this was like. We placed our order and eagerly awaited the Ramen goodness!
Our bowl of Ramen (sadly) arrived in a simple styrofoam bowl. I realize it's easier for disposal and they are only borrowing space for a few days, but eating out of styrofoam certainly doesn't help in the flavor department.
Kujiraken takes pride in the harmony of the ingredients in their Assari-style broth, lighter and simpler in some ways than more popular Ramen-ya's around Tokyo that I tried. However the broth ended up being on the overly salty side, and the noodles were soggy. It's definitely difficult to get a broth perfected when you're working overseas in a foreign kitchen and it's only the first day, but it was still disappointing. It wasn't "horrible" or anything, just "Ok." The Bamboo was also a little too potent and overpowering at times.
The highlight of the bowl of Ramen was their Chashu: The Pork was very fresh and tasted as if it was just freshly cooked that day (since it was the first day of the Gourmet Fair, I'd imagine it was just made that morning (^_~)). It was a little chunky and chewy in parts, but overall, much better Chashu than most Ramen shops in So Cal. Overall, Kujiraken was a disappointment, but a decent departure from the usual Ramen eats around here.
*** Rating: 6.8 (out of 10.0) ***
The next item we wanted to try was the Korokke (Croquettes). Mitsuwa invited Kuriyama Korokke from Hokkaido, Japan to sell their specialty Croquettes! At first glance, I felt as though I were transported back to the ultra-cool Depachikas in Tokyo (massive underground "Food Courts" (featuring endless rows and rows of freshly-cooked foods of all types in 1 place!)).
Kuriyama was selling 10(!) types of Korokke at the Gourmet Fair: Potato, Kabocha (Pumpkin), Yasai (Vegetable), Corn, Kuro Edamame (Black Edamame), Hotate (Scallop!), Kani (Crab), Sake (Salmon), Tomato, and Crab Cream Croquettes.
At this point I was getting beyond full, but luckily I was sharing with my friends (^_~). I tried the Salmon Croquette and Potato. The crust was perfectly fried and nicely crispy. It wasn't "piping hot," due to the fact that they must've had to batch prepare them for the lines of people waiting, but they were still warm and pretty tasty. I've had better Korokke in Japan, but for getting all those different flavors, it was decent and a pretty fun diversion. The Salmon flavors were well integrated with the Potato in the Croquette, with a nice flavor combination. No complaints. The Potato was just classic; a simple taste, yet good. At ~$1.70 - $3.50 (depending on the filling), it's a good deal.
*** Rating: 7.1 (out of 10.0) ***
I couldn't eat another bite, but we walked around to see all the other vendors. There were some yummy-looking "Waffles" from Fugetsudo with a variety of fillings.
There was also a Sushi vendor, selling a special Goshima no Saba (Mackerel):
There was also Chaimon Yaki-Imo (Roasted Sweet Potato), and a special type of Potato Apple Pie (yes, very strange combinations of foods being sold there (^_~)) -
And there was also a Nagasaki Tempura food booth:
And then one vendor selling special Bento Boxes (Lunch Boxes) in the traditional Japanese style, with some rather extravagant ingredients:
They also had some very unique Inari Okawa (Inari (Fried Tofu Skin) filled with unique grains and herbs and vegetables).
I think there were a couple other Food Booths I missed, but it was time to go at this point.
Overall, I applaud Mitsuwa for organizing this little Umaimono (Delicious Things) Gourmet Fair. I still want to try the rest of the food vendors before my final thoughts, but out of the items we tried so far, while the food vendors are from various parts of Japan (and they have so many factors against them (foreign kitchen, limited access to the ingredients needed for their recipes, etc.)), it still falls short of a true "Taste of Japan" in Southern California. Some interesting vendors and places like the Beef Tongue Specialist "Tsukasa" make it worth trying out at least once. I'll try visiting the Torrance branch's Gourmet Fair later this weekend to try the other vendors exclusive to that fair, but overall, it's a fun diversion and worth visiting if you're in the area (for this weekend only). (^_^)
Mitsuwa Market (Costa Mesa)
665 Paularino Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
This makes me hungry, almost regretting I am un summer training and wishing I could read Japaneses!
I think we might have been there around the same time. I got bowl #54. I agree with you on the ramen except mine was on the blander side. Maybe they were still experimenting with it in the back. It was good but relatively unimpressive. Now the Shark's Fin from the Torrance Mitsuwa was interesting. Let me know what you think when you try it.
Here are my posts:
As promised, here's a full review of the Torrance branch's Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair.
(Formatted with All Pictures here:)
As previously mentioned, I visited the 2008 Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair in Costa Mesa, CA. However, according to the promotion, not every Mitsuwa Market had the same vendors, with the Torrance branch of Mitsuwa Market having at least one restaurant not featured in Costa Mesa (Chibakiya and their Shark Fin Ramen!). Intrigued, I stopped by the Torrance Mitsuwa to see how their version of the Umaimono Gourmet Fair was.
We arrived early to beat the crowds (around 11:00 a.m.), and the first thing that was different was just the space: The Torrance Mitsuwa is larger overall, and as a result, the vendors are able to have a more spacious layout. There were also a few more food booths in the main hall section, but one less vendor in the restaurant area compared to Costa Mesa.
The first thing we tried was Takoya Kukuru's Takoyaki (Octopus Pastry Balls). It was extremely disappointing at the Costa Mesa location, but I wanted to give them a 2nd chance (and see if the cooks at the Torrance location were any better). This time, I also specifically asked for the Takoyaki Sauce on the side, to try and minimize the loss of the crispy, flaky outer crust. We got a freshly made order, and sat down to try them immediately.
The idea worked like a charm: The Takoyaki turned out to be much more appetizing (and not the gooey mess like last time). There was a *slight* crispy/flaky exterior, but not enough to make it stand out. The Bonito shavings and a dip in the Takoyaki Sauce made the 2nd try a much more enjoyable experience. The Ueno Park vendor still has this one beat easily, but it was pretty tasty and better than anything in So Cal.
*** (Revised) Rating: 7.0 (out of 10.0) ***
Next up, we had to try the (in)famous "Shark Fin Ramen"(!) that's been getting a lot of attention since its announcement a few weeks back. We entered the main Food Court area and found the vendor: Imagine my surprise when I found out it was THE Chibakiya Ramen-ya that I had wanted to try on my last trip to Tokyo! Although it was written on Mitsuwa's website, I didn't put two-and-two together to figure out that this "Chibakiya" was the same one from Edogawa-ku (Higashi Kasai) that Silverjay was always mentioning.
That was encouraging news, and it helped reassure me (a bit) when I plopped down the $18(!) for one bowl of their Kaisen Fukahire Ramen (Shark Fin Ramen). Their Shark Fin Ramen is a Shio Aji base, with "loads" of Collagen(!) and a Chicken Broth mixture.
After a few minutes our order arrived:
Upon initial glance, the Fukahire Ramen looked like it was sitting in a crystal-light broth normally found in a Shark Fin Soup preparation at traditional Hong Kong Seafood restaurants. Looking at the Shark Fin that was used and it was easy to see that it was a lower-quality Shark Fin (of course it's only natural since higher grades of Shark Fin can push the cost of a serving to 3-5 times the price that Chibakiya was charging). First was a light sip of the soup. Delicious.
Chibakiya's broth was wonderfully light, yet rich in flavor, and still refreshing! Their highly-touted Collagen-infused homemade Chicken Broth Shio-Aji Base was apparent. The Negi (Green Onions) combined very well with the broth. I could drink the broth all day long!
Next was a bite of the Shark Fin with their Ramen noodles. What came next was a sensation of happy satisfaction and disappointment all at the same time: Their Ramen noodles were *great*! A nice toothsome bite, yet still tender; definitely great, fresh Ramen that they were using. I liked it more than Santouka's Ramen noodle. However, the disappointment came with the simultaneous tasting of their Shark Fin: It was a really low-quality Shark Fin (which is still rare and a delicacy), but it was inconsistently cooked, and with the nature of a lower grade of Shark Fin, its texture was a lot more rough and hard at times. Of course it isn't fair to compare the Shark Fin to the wonderful bliss I experienced at the Shark Fin specialist in Taipei and amazing, grand "Seafood palaces" in Hong Kong, but if the bowl of Ramen is selling at double the cost of what a bowl normally goes for, and it's because of one ingredient - Shark Fin - then of course there are certain minimum expectations for that star ingredient.
Overall, the wonderfully light and fragrant Chicken-Collagen-Shio-Aji Broth and good Ramen noodles made for a distinctive and interesting bowl of Ramen, however a few factors made it disappointing, namely the star ingredient, the Fukahire (Shark Fin)'s quality. In addition, the broth itself, while really nice and light, was definitely something more akin to a pairing of traditional Hong Kong / Cantonese-prepared Shark Fin Soup, instead of what one would normally expect from a Shio Ramen Broth, but it was a nice change of pace. Given the $18.00 price for the bowl of their Fukahire Ramen, it's just not worth it. If money is no object, it's nice to try it once, if for nothing else than the experience and ability to claim that you've eaten Shark Fin Ramen. (^_~) (And again, the Noodles and Broth were excellent.)
Lastly, after the meal, it was really nice to discover that Chibakiya's head chef, Chiba Kenji-san, was in the kitchen preparing each bowl of Ramen! I chatted with him briefly, and he told me that this Fukahire Ramen was only for this 2008 Mitsuwa Gourmet Fair, and that he wasn't serving this back in Japan! He gave me his personal business card and thanked me for trying the Ramen today, and for visiting his store in Tokyo on my next trip. :) I still have to try his famous Gyu-tan (Beef Tongue) Ramen in Tokyo soon, but it was really cool seeing Chiba-san in person! (^_^)
*** Rating: 7.5 (out of 10.0) ***
Given the success of the 2nd try Takoyaki, we decided to try a few more flavors of the Korokke (Croquettes) from Hokkaido's Kuriyama Korokke. In looking at Kuriyama's booth at the Torrance location, it definitely benefited from the larger space:
They had enough room to separate and keep each type of Korokke warm. We tried out the Kuro Edamame (Black Edamame), Kabocha (Pumpkin), Hotate (Scallop) and Kani (Crab) Korokke. While the Costa Mesa location's Korokke were decent and enjoyable, the Korokke were on another level at the Torrance branch! The Kuriyama staff at the Torrance branch had excellent execution in each Korokke we tried: A perfectly crispy exterior (that was fried at the right temperature to prevent excessive oil absorption) was wonderful, and each inside was piping hot and tasted fresh. The Black Edamame filling was probably the best one: Fragrant, simple vegetable goodness, combined with the potato filling to make a great croquette. The Kabocha (Pumpkin) version was also a nice complement and filled out each bite with a wonderful mixture of two different starchy ingredients (in a good way). The Scallop and Crab Croquettes were the most disappointing: There just wasn't enough Scallop and Crab in each one to really enjoy their flavors. Nearly every bite was mostly potato filling with just a small hint of Scallop (or Crab); it was almost non-existent.
*** (Revised) Rating: 7.2 (out of 10.0) ***
We then went around to visit the other vendors that weren't at the Costa Mesa branch. First up was a booth from Yamagata Prefecture - Anchindo - selling Deka Kintsuba (Large Cube of Azuki Red Bean Dessert). I've never seen this type of dessert before and they were making them fresh, so we decided to try it.
The Deka Kintsuba is sold in two flavors: Regular (Azuki Red Bean), or With Chestnuts.
The Kitsuba dessert was interesting: Its visual look was more appealing than the actual taste. It was as described: A large cube of Japanese Red Bean (Azuki) in a paste / gelatinous form. It isn't very sweet (a good thing), and if you're a fan of Azuki, then it's worth trying. Otherwise, their other desserts were better executed.
*** Rating: 6.7 (out of 10.0) ***
Next we tried the Inari Okawa also from Yamagata Prefecture in Japan. Inari are the deep-fried Tofu Skin and this presentation has each one filled with different ingredients. It was sold at the Costa Mesa branch's Food Fair as well, but we didn't get to try it last time.
Each package of the Inari Okawa came with 5 different types. At this point I was really full, so I let the rest of the group eat them. :) I sampled a bit of the Azuki (Red Bean) Inari, and it was competently done. A bit too sweet for my tastes, but not bad.
One of the dining companions has a love for Konnyaku, so we tried out the special Tama Konnyaku, a famous dish from Yamagata Prefecture as well:
And at $1 per stick of 3 Dangos (3 Balls of Konnyaku), it was a bargain. It looked just like regular dessert Dango, so I was expecting something sweet, but it turned out to be a wonderful savory dish, long-stewed in a broth of soy sauce, mirin, octopus and a few other ingredients. It was surprisingly complex for being made out of pure Konnyaku, and it definitely reflected the long-stewing process that the Tama Konnyaku were put through. They also served it with a dab of Karashi (Japanese Mustard) which was a surprisingly wonderful contrast of flavors that worked well with each bite. With its high fiber content (often seen as a "health food"), and simple, light taste, it was a nice item to try at the food fair (especially for only $1).
While I was pretty full at this point, my companions still wanted to try other items, so we continued on: Next up was the classic Yaki-Imo (Roasted Sweet Potato) cooked over heated stones. They had this at Costa Mesa as well, but we didn't get to try it last time. The Yaki-Imo was being served from Cadeau de Chaimon a dessert specialist in Ginza, Tokyo, that is a branch of Chaimon from Kyoto (all part of the Shirohato Food Corporation in Japan). This Sweet Potato was being touted as Kanmitsu Annou "superior sweet potatoes", and with their pedigree of Ginza and Kyoto, I was excited.
We bought one and sat down to try it: Sadly, it was overcooked. It was only around 12:00 Noon on Saturday (so it was prime lunch hour), but our sweet potato was dried out and overcooked. The flavors that were inside were nice, and tasted different from regular sweet potatoes found in the local markets, but with such a pedigree and their advertising, it should've been better than this.
*** Rating: 4.5 (out of 10.0) ***
Shirohato Corporation also brought their La Poppo line-up of the (sweet) Potato Apple Pie and a unique dessert made of their Yaki-Imo, but with Cream and in a pastry, called "Yaki-Imo Sweet Potato." We didn't get to try it, but it definitely had beautiful presentation:
What was also really nice about today's experience was that many of the food vendors were offering samples of their products, which allowed for a good taste of what was being offered (and to see if it meets your fancy). With the sampling, I was able to hold off on buying Mochi from Furuya Koganean, based out of Shibuya, Tokyo. I've always known Shibuya as being fashion-crazy, but known for their Mochi Desserts? I'm not sure of that (maybe for trendy, pretty-packaged dessert items (^_~)), but it was nice to sample the Kinako (Toasted Soy Flour), Matcha (Fresh Green Tea) and Goma (Sesame) flavors which were good, but nothing mind-blowing. I was too full at this point and held off. Maybe next time. :)
The last item that we tried today was Kome Dango. The sales lady was touting their Dango (normally made with Mochiko) as being made from a simpler Rice Powder mixture, which would make the Dango less chewy and softer to eat. I'd never tried Kome Dango before, so we picked up one order.
Each package comes with 5 flavors (we only tried the Black Sesame and are saving the rest for later :) - Mitarashi (classic), Sakura (Cherry Blossom), Black Sesame, Azuki (Red Beans) and the last flavor I'm not sure of yet.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect was that the Kome Dango was just as chewy as regular Dango made from Mochiko, but there was definitely a bit more of a rice grain flavor. The Black Sesame was OK, nothing special, but I'm used to fresh Dango in Japan, so I might be biased. :) It suffices in terms of trying out what Dango are like, without having to fly to Japan, but it's not a "must-try" item.
There were quite a few other items that looked delicious to try at home. These items were all flown in from Japan just for this Gourmet Fair. Here are some pictures of a few of the items. Fresh Bamboo, Sakura and items to put over a bowl of fresh steamed rice:
Here's some tasty-looking "Umi no Kagayaki" ("Brilliance of the Ocean") Bento (Lunch) Boxes:
Overall, I'm glad that Mitsuwa Markets put this event together. The 2008 Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Fair had its Hits and Misses, but it was an interesting experience overall. For next year, it would be nice to be able to accommodate *all* the vendors in each location, so that the Costa Mesa and Torrance (and San Diego) branches of Mitsuwa Market could host the same experience (and so that die-hard food lovers wouldn't have to drive to multiple locations to try out all the vendors (^_~)), but regardless of that, it was a good effort. In the future, I'm hoping the invitees can somehow raise the overall quality of their food at the fair, but I realize it's asking a lot for some food categories (like Ramen with perfecting a broth on short notice for a simple weekend fair; and just working in a foreign kitchen with limited time / access to ideal ingredients). The Mitsuwa Gourmet Fair continues through Sunday, May 18 at the Costa Mesa and Torrance branches of Mitsuwa Market. It's a fun time if you're in the area, but probably not worth a long drive.
21515 Western Ave.
TEL: (310) 782-0335
21515 Western Av, Torrance, CA 90501
I stopped by the Costa Mesa one Saturday afternoon and the beef tongue was almost all gone. I'm not sure if they'll have more on Sunday in case anybody goes there, or at least, make sure you go there early.
Given the chewy texture of the tongue, I'm surprised they don't cut it into smaller pieces or is that how it's traditionally served? I'm glad I had a chance to sample the place, but to be honest, I don't know if I would go back for more.
The OP has certainly sampled more of those Korokke than I have if he's had better, but for me, they were the highlight of what I had eaten that day. I can't think of a negative thing to say about the potato korokke- simple, but executed flawlessly.
I was kind of disappointed with the waffles as I really wanted to like them. They're kawai, cute, from the boxes to the imprinted designs, but was not blown away by their taste. But, to be fair, I didn't get to try all three flavors as they had already sold out two of them and I would have needed to wait 20 minutes for them to prepare a fresh batch.
But, I'll probably go back on Sunday and try some different places. The layout isn't necessarily that obvious as to which stores in the foodcourt is serving the specialities. I saw a line, and figured that that line had to be one for one of the vendors here only for this week. And, it turned out to be the line for the beef tongue.
The ramen place really didn't have any line, if that's any indication but I'll probably give it a shot anyways.
Thanks for your report! :) Sorry to hear about your Gyu-tan experience. I suppose that's the nature of a rushed food fair: Each food booth is rushed to cook as fast as possible and fulfill all the orders. I guess I was lucky to have had the Gyu-tan on Day 1, first thing in the morning, with no line and practically no orders. The chef and staff were taking their time prepping and taking care of each order, as they slowly came in.
Thanks so much, exilekiss, for your announcement and terrific post -- with pics! -- about this year's Japanese Gourmet Fair at Mitsuwa! We appreciate that your announcement was enough in advance of the festival so that we could incorporate it into our weekend.
We stopped in on Saturday morning for breakfast (!) at the Torrance location and everything we tried was delicious...especially the octopus pastry balls! Every stand was very generous with tastes, so we believe that we were able to sample almost everything. Among many other items, we bought a sweet potato pie with apples which we will serve tonight with dinner; I'm not sure if it is savory or sweet, but it won't matter. It looks beautiful!
The activity and vibe were fantastic and all the vendors and servers were very friendly and happy! What fun!
It was beyond-my-expectations GREAT!
I baked it at a low temp for about 30 minutes before serving. There were 6 of us and it was gone in a moment with everyone wishing for more!
Both the sweet potato and apple flavors came through, and while it was sweet, it was perfect with our dinner. I was surprised that the crust was also delicious!
What a problem we have -- as you have pointed out, exilekiss! I needed to hang around there for a few days so that I could taste everything. We, too, were very full; sometimes, just looking at so much food makes me feel full! But I liked that we were able to sample so much without committing to the purchase quantity -- which sometimes was quite large.
Again, thanks for this and many other terrific posts that you have contributed to Chowhound!
glad to see you guys all made it out and had fun! i actually rather enjoyed chibaki-ya's shark's fin ramen in torrance, despite the $18 price tag. i'll post a writeup soon on you-know-where. i went through a couple of boxes of kukuru takoyaki as well. they tend to be festival regulars, so if you missed them they'll probably be back again before long.
believe it or not, the rameniac actually didn't get to try kujiraken down in costa mesa, for a whole host of stupid reasons this past weekend. by the time i made it down there (around 3pm on sunday) they'd already stopped serving. the rude old woman said it was "sold out", but when we inquired further (in japanese), it turned out that they had not actually sold out at all, but had deliberately closed up at 2. which definitely pissed me off, as there had been no mention of that on the flyer.
maybe i'll have to trek up to san jose for memorial day weekend =P
Can't wait for your write-up! (^_^) Yah, overall, I liked parts of the Shark Fin Ramen, it was just the Shark Fin itself and the price tag that were the downers. If it was cheaper and/or they swapped out the Shark Fin for something else, I'd be happy eating the Broth and Noodles. :)
Sorry to hear about the Costa Mesa incident; that's sad that they closed early with no warning.
welp, here it is - my thoughts on shark's fin ramen. did i like it? sure. would i eat it again? meh, if i've got $18 burning a hole in my pocket. did i think it wasn't worth it? not at all. i was talking to rameniac.mom after the fact, and she actually thought that the generous chunk of fin made the price 'about right'. for what it was, it was good. competently done shark fin soup + ramen. nothing revolutionary. but nothing particularly disappointing either. i came away thinking that this was one of those items tailored for the south bay japanese expat clientele more than anything else. they probably don't hit monterey park with the frequency us hounds might do ;).
Living in Portland right now (by the way, there's an *awesome* izakaya here doing Okinawan style food), but I seem to be spending a lot of time in LA anyway.
I've got reservations for crab fest at Hungry Cat, so I'm flying down for that. I figure that weekend I'll also check out Bincho.
Ah I see. Glad to hear you'll still be visiting and partaking in So Cal restaurants from time-to-time. :)
Very nice! (on the Okinawan izakaya.) Let me know if you ever post a review on that place on Chowhound.
And hope you enjoy your visit to Yakitori Bincho (call ahead and get reservations just in case, since it's getting busier now (^_~)).
You would be horrified if you were to walk through some of the shops that sell this in the Asian-intensive areas here in So Cal and everywhere else. Dried fins of all sizes and shapes can be had from what looks like little pup-sized fins to ones that were sliced off of Jaws... I'm in total agreement with you personally, and I've tried finessing the issue with my in-laws in Malaysia and Singapore. Unfortunately, it is such an ingrained part of the culture there that I think things will have to get even worse than they already are for people to take true notice - kinda like the Global Warming issue - and the poster child of this issue isn't cute and cuddly like a polar bear pup.
The Chinese alone view sharkfin not only for its culinary value, but also as an integral part of a celebratory meal, as well as a status symbol of sorts. If one can have shark fin integrated into the menu for guests, that fulfills a standard requisite for stating that the host can bring it on.
The exponential increase in economic wealth that has showered China has also put a huge strain on all goods, particularly goods that were once considered financially untouchable by all but the most tenured of bureaucrats. You can imagine that if the majority of China's middle class alone (estimated to be about 250 million and growing each day) were to imbibe in this delicacy just once or twice a year. This is why shark finning fleets (yes, fleets) are now docked at islands like the Galapagos, Costa Rica to access Cocos, and and other far-flung islands throughout the Pacific. The money is too good to pass up and they can't keep up with the demand - this is a problem that will not be resolved soon.