Tag: Japanese

Santa Cruz Nosh: Akira

Plenty of vegetarian options are a draw at this popular Japanese restaurant

Akira is a very well regarded Japanese restaurant in Santa Cruz. A casual eatery, it doesn’t take reservations and the wait can get quite long. On that early Monday evening in April, we perhaps had to wait for 10 minutes, but it got very crowded soon after. They do have some chairs outside where you can sit while you wait and some patio eating, though it was perhaps too cool for anyone to want to seat outside that evening.

The restaurant itself is quite small, with some seating at the sushi bar. It’s very casual and it doesn’t have much atmosphere to speak of. While our waiter was very pleasant, the kitchen forgot to make the sushi rolls we ordered, and it was quite a while before the waiter realized that. He did ask us if we wanted some edamame ($5) while we waited, but we were charged for it. No matter, we were celebrating friend Libby’s birthday and we were in a good mood.

What annoyed me the most about Akira is the fact that they hide their menu. If you go to the menu page in their website, it refers you to a QR code, rather than just showing you the menu. In any case, you can see it here.

Libby, a vegetarian, had the Veggie Dragon roll ($18.75 – Tempura Green Beans, Tempura Yam, Spicy Nuts, Fried Garlic, Shiso topped w/ Avocado, Shoestring Yams, Unagi Sauce, Spicy Sesame Miso Aioli and Toasted Sweet Coconut). Libby liked it quite a bit, and would have it again. There are plenty of other vegetarian options, so this is a good place to come if you have vegetarians among you.

Mike ordered the Golden frieza ($23 – Tempura’d roll w/ Habanero Tuna, Skirt
Steak, Tempura Onion, Avocado, Cream Cheese, Jalapeño, Fried Garlic topped w/ Unagi Sauce, Basil Aioli, Spicy Mayo and Green Onion). He was disappointed with it. The roll tasted fine and he liked it, but he wasn’t awed by it. He was expecting something more, more flavor, more contrasting textures, just something that would surprise him. It was a large roll, and he did take home some of it.

I had the 2 item Bento Dinner with Skirt Steak Teriyaki and Chicken Katsu ($28). It also came with a miso soup, salad and rice. I loved the salad. The sweetish dressing was absolutely delicious and might have been my favorite part of the meal. The skirt steak, however, was very good. Nicely grilled and juicy. I was less fond of the chicken katsu. It came with the katsu sauce on top, and the sauce was thick and concentrated, with too sour and intense a flavor for confort. I wouldn’t order it again. This was a huge plate of food, as you can see, and I was happy to have the leftovers for the next day.

Both Mike and I had miso soup ($4.75), mine came with the meal while Mike ordered himself a bowl. It was good, very flavorful, but nothing particularly special. The soup is not vegetarian, so Libby couldn’t enjoy it.

In all, we had a pleasant dinner but not a mind blowing one. We’d go back to Akira, if the wait wasn’t too crazy.

1222 Soquel Ave
Santa Cruz, CA
(831) 600-7093
Daily 11:30am–9pm

Snacks: Shirakiku Curvee Corn Puffs are Deadly

There is no reason why these corn puffs should be soooo addictive

I hate Shirakiku curvee Corn Puffs, the cheeto-like puffs, with a strange, artificial corn potage flavor Mike has been getting from Grocery Outlet. The puffs are extremely addictive. You can be fully committed to eat just one, but before you know it, the whole package will be gone. And it might be a good thing that it is, because once open, they go flat within a day, absorbing humidity you didn’t even know existed in relatively dry California. But they seem to travel directly from your mouth to your blood stream, increasing blood glucose levels to previously unknown possibilities.

The worst part about these chips is that they don’t actually taste good. I don’t think that anyone who pops one into their mouth will be wowed by their flavor. Cheetos are far tastier. It’s hard to describe Curvee corn puffs, particularly if you’ve never had Japanese style corn potage before, but they do taste somewhat of bouillion powder, albeit they’re sweeter and less salty. And yet, their addictiveness cannot be denied.

Esaki Glico Caplico Mini – Review

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I got these Esaki Glico Caplico Mini Japanese snacks twice now at the large 88 market on East 14th in San Leandro. I don’t recall the exact price, but it was around $4-$5 for the package. They are small wafer cones with a sweet flavored filling, not too disimilar to the filling in an oreo cookie, but lighter and less sweet. They are remarkably delicious.

Each cone is individually packaged and rather small – this is very much a special treat.

Battle of the Snacks Day 5: Eti Pizza Kraker v Orion Mini Sour Candies

Winner: Japan

Sometimes, it’s hard to decide which snack we liked the most, while other times it’s a contest of which we liked the least. The latter was the case on our latest snack testing.

Eti pizza crackers were a pretty big disappointment. The crackers – similar in size to oyster crackers – were dry and had a very mild flavor. Maybe there was some oregano there, but we definitely could not taste pizza. Most of the pack went uneaten (though granted, we had just had dinner so we were pretty full).

Still, if we went to Turkey, we wouldn’t be buying this.

While this tiny candies were new to me, my kids recall buying little fizzy candies that came in soda can lookalikes when they were little. These Orien Mini Sour candies reminded them of them.

It seems that these are supposed to be effervescent as well, but we couldn’t notice any fizzy effect. Still, they had a non-unpleasant sour flavor.

Battle of the Snacks Day 4: Ulker Alpella 3D White Chocolate v. Coris Whistle Soda Candy

Winner: Turkey

Today’s challenge put a white chocolate cookie bar against whistling candies. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize the whistling candies were that, and as just candies they were failures, so the victory went to Turkey

Ulker Alpella 3D White Chocolate is a small pyramidal bar of multiple wafers covered with white chocolate. It was very tasty, though very sweet and pretty one dimensional. Still, it will satisfy your cravings for white chocolate.

According to Wikipedia, “Ülker is a Turkish multinational food and beverage manufacturer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Its products are exported internationally, to 110 countries.  Ülker’s core products are biscuits, cookies, crackers, and chocolates, although it has expanded to other categories.” Alpella is one of their chocolate snack brands.

The Coris Whistle Soda Candy consisted of a small package with all Japanese writing and three flat candies with a whole in the middle. Unfortunately, we didn’t look at the packaging carefully or we might have noticed that the singing birds had a candy in their mouths – but even then I’m not sure we would have realized we were supposed to do the same.

Apparently the point of these candies is to put them in your mouth, blow on them and they produce a whistling sound. I’m sure it would have been fun to try that. As it is, we just ate them and they were OK. They’re chalky, with a sour but otherwise hard to identify flavor.

Battle of the Snacks Day 3: Eti Wanted Karamel vs. Ninjapo Texas Corn Fried Chicken Taste

Winner: Turkey

Day 3 presented us with two very different snacks, and both were surprisingly good. But the Turkish one was so delicious that it was the clear winner.

Eti Wanted Karamel is basically a milk chocolate candy bar filled with caramel.

The chocolate part seems to be aerated chocolate balls, similar to Aero chocolate, dipped in a chocolate layer. It has a nice crunch and together with the caramel, it’s absolutely delicious. I finally get why Turkish treats may actually be a “thing”. This is probably the most delicious chocolate bar I’ve eaten, and I’ve been gorging on Ghirardelli caramel chocolate squares since Christmas.

These bars are made by a company called Eti which manufacturers lots of snacks. They seem to sell not only in Turkey, but in the Balkans, Russia and the Middle East and Africa. I’m sure we’ll be encountering more of their snacks in this box.

Ninjapo Texas Corn Fried Chicken Taste is another puffed corn snack, this time with “fried chicken” flavor.

As with the last one we tried, it was a little weird at first but it quickly grew on us. I can’t say it actually tasted anywhere near chicken flavor, but the savory flavor was very satisfying.

While we enjoyed both snacks, the Turkish chocolate was so good that it would have been very, very hard to beat.

Battle of the Snacks: Turkish vs. Japanese

For Christmas, I got my husband a package of dagashi or Japanese snacks. He went to Japan for work years ago, and fell in love with the place, but has never been able to return. A snack won’t make up for the lights of Tokyo or the majesty of mount Fuji, but it should at least remind him of the place.

The $25 box promised 30 snacks, but it was more like 20 snacks and several one or two bite candies. Still, it should give us at least three weeks of daily treats – and reviews!

My husband then reciprocated by getting me a box of Turkish snacks. My trip to Turkey was right after my year abroad in Egypt, and while I loved the country and the food, I don’t think I ever tried any snacks. I was traveling at a super small budget, and snacks didn’t enter into the question.

I don’t know if Turkish snacks were a big deal back then, but they apparently are now – at least in Amazon. Whether that’s because they’re particularly good and varied or relatively cheap, we’ll have to see.

The $28 box my husband got me is supposed to have over 1 1/2 lbs of snacks or at least 20 full size snacks. It came with a sheet explaining what they all were.

As you can see, this was true. At least from a price point, the Turkish box was a better value than the Japanese box – but Japan is a more expensive country. The question will be what’s the best value in terms of food and experience.

Our plan is to try one of the snacks every day and see which we like best. I’ll blog about them as well. I start with the first couple of days, and will add more blog postings as I go along.

Day 1: Ozmo Burger Chocolate Chip Cookies vs. Yaokin Unaibo Corn Potage

Winner: Japan

The burger cookies were super cute and very detailed. They would make great play food for dolls. Flavor wise, however, they were a bit lacking. They were a bit dry and they had a soft chocolate flavor, maybe with some hazelnut thrown in. Not something I’d be craving.

We expected weird snacks in the Japanese box, and this one did not disappoint. Umaibo, I learned, are puffed corn snacks (similar to a large cheetos) that come in a variety of flavors and, indeed, there are several of these in the box. This particular one was “corn potage” flavor, which apparently is a popular Japanese soup. At first, the snack was a bit weird, but we soon really got into it and we found it very tasty. I would definitely buy more. And I’m planning to make this actual corn potage.

Day 2: Ülker Çubuk Kraker vs Green Apple Konjac Jelly

Winner: Japan/Draw

The Turkish treat were think pretzel sticks. They tasted exactly like think pretzel sticks. I did like how thin they were, but otherwise you will like this as much as you like pretzels.

As far as I can tell, this is a flavor jelly candy made from the konjac plant. It has a consistency a bit more liquidy than jello which I found very pleasant. I couldn’t quite tell what the flavor was before I looked it up (and I did an image search for “Japanese green jelly snack” to find it). In addition to being a popular candy in Japan, it seems that you can buy the powdered konjac gelatin to make your own decorative jellies at home. Beware, however, that is also a known choking hazard.

While I did like this snack, my daughter didn’t like it and my husband wasn’t very excited about it either. Fortunately, though, there is another one in the box because my vegan daughter might like it. Getting vegetable gelatin is hard, so this may be a good substitute.

Tsuru Sushi Restaurant Review – San Leandro

Mike, my 11-yo daughter Mika and I, enjoyed a nice family dinner at Tsuru Sushi a few weeks ago.  We hadn’t gone in years, and we had, overall, a very good experience.  It was expensive – very expensive – but we had won several gift cards so most of the dinner was covered.  Good thing, as it came to close to $100 for 3, and only one of us actually ordered sushi.

I deciced to make a dinner out of appetizers and ordered the gyoza ($5.75), the fried chicken wings ($6.25) and the beef kushi ($7).  The portions are small enough that while I had some food leftover for Mike to share with, it wasn’t much.  The gyoza, in particular, were delicious.  The filling was full of flavor and I could have gone on eating them forever.  The chicken wings, on the other hand, were very plain and monotonous. You probably could do better at Pioneer’s chicken.  The sauce helped a little, but grew boring too.  I wouldn’t order them again.  The beef kushi, on the other hand, was quite good.  It wasn’t too different from teriyaki, but without the sticky sauce, and I enjoyed it.

Mika had the combination dinner ($20) with gyoza, shiu mai and a california roll.  The enjoyed the roll, loved the gyoza but the shiu mai was sort of plain.

Mike had two orders of unagi ($5.50 each), which we all enjoyed, though it wasn’t a particularly outstanding version.  He also had some kind of roll that he thought was very good.

In all, it was a good meal.  Service was good and efficient, though they could have done a better job of timing the food.

The one thing I found a bit tacky is that they actually charge you for the after-dinner mints.

Tsuru Sushi
1427 East 14th St.
San Leandro, CA
M-Sa 11am-2:30 pm, 5-9:30 pm
Su 12:30 – 9:30pm

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