K-Zo

I must be missing something…  According to the reviews on Yelp, this place is supposed to be a great sushi restaurant.  But what I found was okay food for a high price…

Husband’s work was showing “Shutter Island” for free so we decided to take a break from packing and catch a flick as well as dinner.  He suggested K-Zo which was around the corner from his office in Culver City.

K-Zo sushi bar

When we got there, it was pretty empty as they had just opened for dinner.  The interior is very stark and modern.  I was amused by the one table that was hidden behind a curtain of beads/chains.  Guess that’s for customers who really want their privacy…  There’s a bar right by the door for cocktails, a row of tables along the windowed wall and a very long sushi bar with 3 chefs working when we were there.

Cocktails and an Asian Parmer

Since the Husband doesn’t do sushi, we sat at a table.  Cocktails were ordered first.  I opted to try a peach sochu cocktail as well as their “Asian Parmer” (green tea and lemonade).  Husband had some sort of cosmo drink.  The Asian Parmer (hahahaaa…) was actually pretty good, with more lemonade than green tea.  I liked my peach drink as well and had a slight buzz going.  What can I say?  I’m a bit of a lightweight…

First thing I noticed when looking at the sushi form and the menu were the prices.  The cheapest nigiri on the list was the Gyoku (egg) and the smelt roe at $4/2 pieces.  Most of the common types like salmon, tuna (maguro), yellowtail (hamachi) and freshwater eel (unagi) were $5-6.  A little bit more than what I am used to paying…  The standard menu is comprised of salads, appetizers and what they called “small plates”.  Think Japanese style tapas.  There are 2 prix fixe options at $58 or $78/pp – hors d’oeuvres, sashimi salad, entree, sushi, dessert and premium tea/coffee.

Salmon, Hamachi, Monkfish liver

I ordered some salmon, hamachi, scallop and monkfish liver (ankimo) nigiri while the other half went with the braised pork belly and popcorn shrimp “small plates”.  The salmon was okay but came out warmer than it should have been…almost as if the rice hadn’t quite cooled down enough.  The hamachi slices looked somewhat mangled and one piece was heavy on the wasabi.

Monkfish liver (ankimo) nigiri

I had never had monkfish liver before; this was my first time seeing it on a menu so I had to try it.  The liver is cooked via steaming.  Layered on a bed of rice and wrapped with seaweed, the ankimo was topped with a little ponzu and scallions.  It was very light flavor-wise and had a velvety smooth texture, sort of like tofu.  Overall, this was a very lovely piece of nigiri…  Not sure if I would order it again, though, due to the endangered nature of monkfish but I had to try it at least once since ankimo is considered a delicacy.

Braised pork belly

As for Husband’s dishes, I found the braised pork belly a little on the dry side.  This piece was chopped up into smaller pieces and the ones more towards the inside were a little juicier.  The flavor was okay, maybe could have benefitted from a touch more salt.  I think what I had at Wa Okan in San Diego was better and easier on the wallet.  The Husband liked it, though, and protested when I took more than one bite.   Hasn’t he heard that what’s his is mine?  Hehehe…

Popcorn shrimp

The popcorn shrimp ($8.50) was great.  The batter was light and really let the shrimpy taste shine thru.  The coating could have been crispier but otherwise, this was awesome.  I didn’t even bother using the aoili dressing they served along side since the nuggets alone were had a lot of flavor.  There was a good amount of shrimp in this basket, also, making it worth the price.

I do not think "fondant" means what you think it means...

Since we were still hungry, we opted to get dessert.  Husband went for the chocolate fondant – a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.  I selected the K-Zo purple potato specialty dessert thingy, a glass with ice cream, sweet purple potato puree, red bean, mochi, almonds and 2 strawberry Pocky sticks.

Husband liked his chocolate fondant (odd name for a pudding-like cake dessert since fondant is something else in the pastry world).  The bite I had was okay.  It was chocolate-y and slightly bitter.  But overall, it was really just an average chocolate dessert.

Purple people eater

I enjoyed my dessert as it definitely had an Asian flare to it with the red beans and mochi…sort of reminded me of the ices you find at the tea shops.

Service was great and our food arrived quickly, though I could see that potentially slowing down the more crowded the restaurant is, especially for sushi orders.

For what we got, quality-wise, I thought K-Zo was overpriced.  While everything tasted okay, I didn’t think it was worth the $100 bill we were handed.  I think I’ll explore other sushi options in the area first before coming back here.

3 NOMs for K-Zo.

K-Zo
9240 Culver Blvd.
Culver City CA 90232
(310) 202-8890
K-Zo Japanese on Urbanspoon

Hawaii: Imari at the Hilton Waikoloa

During our anniversary trip to the Big Island, Husband and I stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa resort. This hotel was built when I still lived on the island and I remember taking family trips to this place to ride the tram and boats and watch the dolphins; it was a treat and a trip down memory lane to stay here.

Lagoon

This natural lagoon is filled with a reef and lots of fish.  People can rent kayaks, snorkel gear, paddle boats and other water gear.  Husband and I went snorkeling on our last full day and saw eels, angelfish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish) and even a sea turtle!  Very cool…

View from our room lanai

One of the many animals that live at the Hilton Waikoloa

Dolphin at the Dolphin Quest lagoon

There’s a dolphin encounter type type deal at the Hilton Waikoloa.  We didn’t do it due to the prices but we did watch some people and kids take part.

One of the perks of staying here was the availability of several fine dining options for dinner.  Since we arrived late Thursday afternoon, we decided to stay on the resort grounds for dinner.  We chose to eat at Imari which serves Japanese cuisine. For some reason, I thought we ate here on Saturday but apparently not based on the photos’ dates. I’m getting old…

Built to look like a traditional tea house, this place offers a sushi bar, a teppanyaki style experience, or regular table dining. Since we ended up arriving for a late meal due to the time difference between California and Hawaii, we could not partake in the teppanyaki fun and Husband doesn’t do sushi so…

Edamame

Everything on the menu looked really good so I decided to go for the Omakase Bento which ended up being a 3-course meal and had variety. Since I didn’t realize just how much food the Omakase Bento would end up being, I also got a side order of abalone nigiri (something I don’t often see and have never eaten) and the seared ahi tuna appetizer which was a special that night. Husband got edamame to munch on, one of the few vegetables he will eat.

Zaru soba

My first course arrived – zaru soba, a few slices of sashimi and a bit of other stuff – seaweed, tofu, edamame and a crab mixture with a sweet sauce. The soba noodles were perfectly cooked, retaining a bit of firmness without being hard.

Sashimi

The sashimi was fantastic…beautiful fresh cuts of fresh tuna and hamachi (yellowtail).

Japanese "banchan"??

The crab mixture was delicious.  I think the black stuff in the foil cup was a type of seaweed and the green stuff down on the bottom was another type of seaweed salad, both yummy.

Seared Ahi

Abalone nigiri

The seared tuna arrived and oh my goodness! I’ve had “seared” ahi before where the fish was just shy of being fully cooked. This was not the case with Imari’s version. The fish looked like it had been gently touched by flame and had a wonderful peppery crust that made each bite burst with flavor and gave it a kick. It did mask the ahi a little bit, though. I convinced the husband to try a little bite and even he liked it! Shocking, considering he doesn’t like raw/rare and cold meat. This dish was the best one of the meal.

The abalone nigiri was delivered, beautifully plated. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was caught off guard by the crunchiness of it. But it was delicious, delicate in flavor.

Grilled Hawaiian Opa with sweet potato mash

For my “main course”, I got a piece of grilled Hawaiian Opa with a sweet potato-taro mash, asparagus spear and tempura. The fish flaked easily and had a nice light flavor. I enjoyed the mash but the asparagus was tough.

Tempura

The tempura was lightly battered, crispy and was not heavy with oil.

Stacked dishes with daikon and rice

They also brought out rice and a little dish with daikon and other pickled vegetables.

Steak

dessert

My husband had ordered a steak which was served with mashed potatoes and shiitake mushrooms (which he quickly off-loaded onto my plate). The bite of beef I got to try was flavorful, tender and moist despite being well done (I’m a medium-rare/medium type of gal…).

To end the meal, the Omakase Bento comes with a choice of ice cream flavor. I opted for green tea. I was expecting a small bowl with a single scoop but ended up with a bowl containing 3 scoops and crisp fan-shaped wafers. The smooth and creamy ice cream had really good green tea flavor. Sadly, I was so stuffed that I couldn’t finish off this dessert and ended up leaving half of it. I tried…

If you ever find yourself in the Waikoloa area, I highly recommend stopping in at Imari for dinner. It’s a lovely dining experience. The food is top-notch and the service impeccable. It is pricey, with main courses costing around $35-40 on average. I found the Omakase Bento ($45) to be the best quantity for the cost and it was pretty tasty.

5 NOMs for Imari!

Imari
Hilton Waikoloa Village
69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr.
Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738
Reservations: (808) 886-1234

Imari (Hilton Waikoloa Village) on Urbanspoon

333 Pacific – A Restaurant Week Sneak Peek

Tuesday night, “Chef” Eddie and I were treated to a sneak peek of 333 Pacific’s Restaurant Week menu.

Entrance

333 Pacific is one of the newest members of the Cohn Restaurant Group.  If you aren’t familiar with the Cohn name, you should be.  The Prado, Corvette Diner and Gaslamp Strip Club are just some of the restaurants they own.  Their commitment to providing delicious fare and excellent service has made this family of restaurants quite successful and 333 Pacific is no exception.

Vodka List

When I arrived, I noticed that the venue was already filled with quite a few customers.  Upon entering, I could see why.  The large bar area, decorated with dark wood and light blue counters, is an inviting and hip place to enjoy happy hour.  The restaurant boasts a rather long list of vodkas and several vodka-based specialty cocktails to match its casual sophistication.  Also, with the Oceanside Pier and beach literally across the street, 333 Pacific is a prime spot for a meal with a view.

We were greeted warmly by the hostesses and quickly seated on the enclosed and heated patio.  Unfortunately, it was already dark so no sunset ocean view for us; not a big disappointment since I was there for the food.   Our waiter, Thomas, showed up a few moments later and was the epitome of a fabulous waiter – friendly, helpful with recommendations and attentive without being intrusive.

Detoxitini

Based on Thomas’s comments, I opted for the Detoxitini, a mixture of Pearl blueberry vodka and “good for you” juices such as acai and pomegranate.  Upon tasting this concoction, I discovered a new favorite cocktail.  The vodka is the first to hit your palette but then the surprising sweetness balanced with a little tartness of the juices quickly follows.  I could drink this all night long…

Since we were sampling the Restaurant Week menu, our choices were limited to 3 options each for appetizer, main course and dessert.  I almost wished we weren’t constrained since the regular menu offered some delicious sounding items such as Seared Maine Diver Scallops, Saffron Seafood Stew (calamari, shrimp, halibut, lobster clams, mussels, saffron-fennel broth) and Surf and Turf Ravioli (Wagyu beef and Maine lobster).  I can’t forget to mention the various cuts of steak offered on the menu with the option of adding Alaskan Crab Legs or a lobster tail.

Cararmelized Onion roll with Maple Syrup butter

While we were waiting for our appetizers to arrive, we enjoyed warm caramelized onion rolls with maple syrup butter.  As Eddie, who has dined here before, said when receiving his roll, “These are evil.”  The onions are baked into the roll but I never noticed them texture-wise.  Flavor-wise, they really turned plain bread into something delicious.  Coupled with the amazing maple syrup butter, which was strong in flavor but not syrupy sweet, it was a tasty morsel to tide us over.  It was so good, we opted for seconds despite worrying that we would fill ourselves up too early.  I found myself wishing that 333 Pacific would package the maple syrup butter and sell it.  It would be a wonderful thing to have at home to put on french toast or pancakes and use for cooking…

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Beef Tenderloin Sashimi

For our first course, Eddie opted for the Creamy Butternut Squash Soup while I went for the Beef Tenderloin Sashimi.  I had a spoonful of the soup which I found to be mild in flavor and smooth in texture.  While it was a really well-made dish from a technical standpoint, I wished there was a little more seasoning.  The portion was generous.  The Tenderloin Sashimi was delicious. Don’t let the term “sashimi” fool you as the beef is seared rare than served raw. And tender indeed…it was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The mixture of cabbage and peppers gave it a nice crunch.  The ponzu was a nice light dressing.  Overall, it was a refreshing dish and a great appetizer.

Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen

Grilled Prime Top Sirloin

As the main course, Eddie chose the Grilled Prime Top Sirloin. I selected the Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen. The cooked perfectly to medium-rare sirloin was a very thick cut but still came out moist and juicy. The wasabi mashed potatoes were creamy with a strong horseradish flavor that I enjoyed. Apparently, some bites were a little too strong as Eddie experienced a few moments of nasal assault. My dish consisted of a nicely cooked piece of poultry – crispy skin but moist meat. The winter squash hash was a treat for me as I love squash and the sautéed greens were wonderful. The only thing about this dish that threw me off was the blue cheese vinaigrette. While I didn’t hate it, I don’t think I loved it. In fact, I’m still a bit puzzled…  The blue cheese flavor was not so strong as to overpower the dish but it gave a “cooling” factor to each bite that I couldn’t get over.  I feel as if I have to eat this dish again to figure out how I truly feel about the blue cheese.

Chocolate Silk Tort

333 Signature Caramel Corn Sundae

Finally, dessert… This was perhaps my favorite part of the meal and it had to do with Eddie’s selection. He went for the chocolate silk tort which was heaven on earth for anyone who loves chocolate. Usually, I avoid chocolate desserts as I find them too sweet; I opt for fruit-based tarts or sorbet. However, the tort at 333 Pacific, I would order in a heartbeat. Rich, chocolate-y, smooth, fluffy, this was not cloyingly sweet but decadent. Served on a shortbread crust with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I could not stop stealing bites off his plate. My dessert, the 333 Caramel Corn Sundae, was a fun presentation that made me feel a little childish in a good way. Vanilla and chocolate ice cream on brittle, covered with a drizzle of caramel and garnished with a handful of caramel corn, it was an adult version of fair dessert food.

Overall, this was a fantastic dining experience…what I expected from a Cohn restaurant.  The food on a technical and taste level is superb; the service, excellent.  If you are looking for a place to try for Restaurant Week, or for any occasion, you won’t go wrong with 333 Pacific.  This place offers North County the hip atmosphere and fine food found in the Gaslamp Quarter without the drive and struggle for parking.

5 NOMs from The Catty Critic for 333 Pacific.

333 Pacific
333 N. Pacific St.
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 433-3333
http://www.cohnrestaurants.com/restaurants/333pacific/
333 Pacific - Steak + Sea on Urbanspoon

New Seoul BBQ

New Seoul BBQ

Over the Christmas break, the Husband and I met up with my parents for lunch in Orange County.  The last few times we’ve done this, we’ve gone to New Seoul BBQ, an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ Buffet.  The reason…meat-fest!

Unlike Manna, the place we frequent up in LA, New Seoul is a self-serve buffet.  This is more convenient since there is no time wasted trying to flag down a waiter and put in an order for meat.  Also, New Seoul has a wider variety of choices than Manna’s all-you-can-eat menu.  I think the meat is better quality as well.  It is more expensive, though.  Since my parents always paid, I never got a look at the check but I’m guessing $20ish/pp for weekend lunch.

New Seoul BBQ - banchan

When you walk in, you’re greeted by a long bar.  On one side, various banchan and a salad bar await your consumption.  Different kinds of kimchi, spinach, bean sprouts, tofu are just some of the choices.  Overall, the banchan is of decent quality.  They have a lot of the things I like to eat, including pickled shredded daikon and almond jelly.

The other side offers up various marinated meats and seafood.  The usual suspects – bulgogi, kalbi, chicken and pork bulgogi – are present but so are pork belly, tripe, beef tongue, baby octopus, mussels, and whole shrimp.

There’s also stations offering up hot items like udon, fried rice, japchae, egg rolls, fried mandoo, steamed egg.  The japchae is average though the noodles are sometimes overcooked, maybe from sitting under the heatlamp for too long.  The steamed egg is not that great.  They also have a couple of types of nigiri sushi but I usually pass as the one time I tried it, the fish didn’t taste fresh; it had a strong fish taste.  For dessert, there’s fruit, jello and a yogurt machine as well as a persimmon-rice drink.

New Seoul BBQ - Various meats on the table grill

Whenever we’ve gone, the service has been good.  We seem to always get the same table everytime.  The booths are big and spacious, giving everyone a lot of elbow room but still keeping them in arm’s reach of the grill.  The waitresses bring the rice (white or “brown” (purple, actually)) to the table instead of us getting it ourselves and they also cut the meat. They are pretty good about checking in on us as well.

While the price may seem steep for a buffet, for our family it is a decent deal since we can pack away the Korean BBQ.  Just be careful as they will charge you for any meat you leave behind.

Everytime we have come here, the place has been fairly empty.  I don’t know if it’s the cost that’s prohibitive for lunch or if people prefer to come here during the dinner hours.  It works out nicely for us as we get good service and there’s no line at the buffet.

The Catty Critic gives New Seoul BBQ 4 NOMs.

New Seoul BBQ
9902 Garden Grove Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 537-9292
New Seoul Korean BBQ Buffet on Urbanspoon

Nozomi Sushi and Teriyaki

Nozomi

Nozomi

When Nozomi first opened, I used to come here a lot because their sushi rolls were cheap, tasty and HUUUUGE. As my taste buds migrated to preferring nigiri, I stopped coming here.  Last week, I wandered back for dinner last night with a friend. I noticed that while they still had their mile-long list of specialty rolls and non-sushi menu, they had added an “all you can eat” sushi option for $25-ish. Starving, my friend and I chose to try it out. BIG MISTAKE. I’ve been to different sushi restaurants in San Diego that had all you can eat options and was never disappointed…till now.

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

The nigiri and some of the rolls are half-portions, meaning instead of the usual two pieces of nigiri, you only get one. Not really a problem…just got to remember to mark twice as much as you wanted. The huge issue was the quality. It was like they wanted to get rid of whatever old fish they had lying around. The nigiri didn’t taste fresh at all and frankly, some of it was disgusting. The rolls were better because there were other things like sauce to mask some of that fishy flavor.

I ordered an amaebi nigiri and this was probably the most foul thing of the night. There was still a piece of shell. The flavor seemed…off and I almost spit it out. The shrimp head wasn’t fried enough either.

The quality of Nozomi seems to have gone down and yet this place was packed. Frankly, even though the rolls were still okay, after that horrible nigiri experience, I’m not sure I’m keen on coming back here.

The location in the La Jolla/UTC area (Nozomi 2) seems to still retain some sense of fish quality as only a couple of weeks before, I shared a sashimi platter with a coworker and was quite happy with it. I think I’ll stick with that location instead of the Convoy St. one. Also, there seems to be some differences in the menus between the two Nozomis.

I would have given Nozomi a higher rating before but after this visit, they only get 2 NOMs from the Catty Critic.

Nozomi
4637 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 569-7773
Nozomi Noodle & Teriyaki on Urbanspoon

Decent inexpensive sushi in San Diego – Convoy Sushi & Fish Market

If you want decent inexpensive sushi, you can’t go wrong with Convoy Sushi & Fish Market.  I went here for lunch with some coworkers. One of them and I split
– a Rainbow box
– 3 orders of nigiri
– Kalbi appetizer
– two handrolls
and were comfortably full.

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market - Rainbow Box

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market - Rainbow Box

The Rainbow box contains a rainbow roll, half a spicy tuna roll, some edamame and seaweed salad…all for $5. You can’t get a rainbow roll for $5 at most sushi restaurants! I won’t lie, this wasn’t the best RR I’ve had; the crab was a little overpowering. But the fish was fresh, the roll nicely packed, and the rice seasoned and cooked just right.  This would make for an okay sushi lunch for a tight budget.

Salmon, Yellowtail, Tuna nigiri

Salmon, Yellowtail, Tuna nigiri

For the nigiri, we ordered salmon, hamachi (yellowtail) and tuna. These were also pretty good and tasted fresh. The fish to rice ratio was good although I’m used to more fish and less rice thanks to Sushi n’ Joy.  I had a spicy tuna hand roll and wished it had a little bit more of a kick to it but it was still good and rather plump. For $2.50-3.50 an order, this was a pretty good deal.

Kalbi "appetizer"

Kalbi "appetizer"

The Kalbi appetizer was a surprise. I was expecting a small plate with a few pieces of kalbi but instead, we got what could easily be a lunch entree for a single person. Rice, a good amount of marinated short ribs and kimchi filled the plate. The ribs were tender and well-marinated. The kimchi was good and slightly on the spicy side. And this was only $5-6.

The service was great. I never had to ask for a water refill. Our food arrived rather quickly (though I think it helped that it wasn’t super busy) as well.

I expect to come here more often as this is a quick, cheap place to get both good sushi for the price and delicious hot entrees.  It isn’t the best sushi and won’t compare to places like Sushi Ota but the price vs. quality makes this a bargain and worth coming to when you want sushi but have a thin wallet.

4 NOMs for Convoy Sushi & Fish Market because the bargain hunter in me was happy.

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market
7905 Engineer Rd
(between Brinell St & Mercury St)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 634-3233
www.fishnsushi.com
Convoy Sushi & Fish Market on Urbanspoon

Chopstix

Chopstix has been on regular rotation thru my tummy since I was a college student almost 8 years ago…maybe even earlier than that.  I seriously think this place has some of the best gyoza in town. Nicely crispy browned bottom, moist filling, and the wrapper is of always perfect thickness and never doughy. And it’s only $3.95 for an order of 6. Not bad.

As for the rest of the menu, this place is serves up some good ramen, soba and udon. I’m a fan of the deluxe nabeyaki udon. The awesome thing is that they don’t serve the shrimp tempura in the bowl; it comes on the side so it doesn’t get all soggy by the time it gets to you.  Usually, I end up with the oyako-don, a huge bowl of rice covered with egg, chicken n’ onion. Put on some Sriracha sauce, mix it up and you’re all good to go. It comes with a bowl of miso soup and a salad.  There’s also katsu, katsu curry, yakisoba, and seasonally, hiyashi. They also serve up several different rolls if you want something sushi wise but I don’t think there’s nigiri.

The prices here are fair for the amount of food you get. $10 should cover you (sans alcohol) and you may even walk out with leftovers.

Service is good as well though sometimes it varies.

Parking sucks. Asian strip mall…not enough spaces, tiny spaces at that and then you get the people who can’t/won’t park properly. There is a lot in the back that may offer up an easier situation but good luck navigating to it.

I give Chopstix 4 NOMs.  Fast service, great simple cheap eats, consistent quality…can’t go wrong with a place like that.

Chopstix
4633 Convoy St Ste 101
(between Dagget St & Opportunity Rd)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858)569-9171
Chopstix on Urbanspoon