Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Exterior

Oto-Oto Izayaka Japonaise may be a large chain restaurant, operated by Ramla Inc., the third-largest chain restaurant in Japan, but the food quality was decent enough for a friend to recommend it to us. To thank him for a year's worth of mentoring, we decided to surprise him here, and as expected, the dinner went very well.

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Fish Sculpture

Holding a corner spot in a strip mall, one may think that Oto-Oto is small, but it is actually quite a decent sized restaurant, with a large number of booth tables and stand alone tables.  They were able to fit our 20+ attendees comfortably that evening along with regular patrons and a birthday party! Throughout the visit, the employees made sure that we all had enough water, although by the end of the visit, they were slightly less enthusiastic as we spent more than three hours in their restaurant.

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Spicy Trio Cones

It happened to be happy hour while we were waiting for our special guest, and so I ordered a small appetizer: spicy trio cones. These consisted of spicy yellowtail (front), tuna (middle), and salmon (back) filled inside some salad greens and a crisp fried wonton skin, served inside a glass. Although I did like that the wonton skins were lightly fried, the spiciness of all three fishes featured were more than the typical--this made it difficult to taste any flavor of the fish. Only the salmon was able to fully stand up to the spiciness with its full bodied flavor, while tuna and yellowtail were overpowered by the spice.

On a side note, the sushi rolls on the happy hour menu are the same size as those on the regular menu, so if you happen to be at Oto-Oto between happy hour and dinner like I was, order and enjoy the sushi rolls earlier!

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Ramen

Some decided to order ramen for their meal. Everything looked to usual specification-- the typical yellow noodles seen at Santouka and other ramen establishments were featured here-- and the egg looked quite appealing.

Others mostly ordered sets and although most of these items came to the table on time, a few orders took a very long time. A chirashi bowl, surprisingly, was almost one of the last main menu items to arrive at the table! Besides this issue and pricing being higher for dinner service compared to lunch service, most of our party were happy with their selections.

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Oyakodon

I ordered the Oyakodon (11.95 USD), perhaps something that was overpriced considering it was marked up 4 dollars in comparison to the lunch menu's version. Unlike the lunch set, however, it did come with a chawanmushi, which was velvety and featured quite a chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms, among other ingredients. The oyakodon was prepared in the traditional Japanese style (if cooking show Cooking With Dog can be viewed as a trustworthy source); the dashi, soy, and mirin flavors permeated throughout the dish, while the egg and chicken thigh pieces (with skin attached) were velvety, tender, and smooth.

Another surprise for the visit was that being a birthday surprise party, the staff gave our special guest green tea ice cream, garnished with azuki  red bean paste and fresh mochi balls. Along with special gifts, cake, and this ice cream dessert, I think our guest had a very memorable evening!

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Chirashi Bowl Set

My satisfactory dinner visit led to another lunch visit, and this time I tried the Sashimi Chirashi Bowl (10.95 USD), which looked just like the dinner version minus the chawanmushi.

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Sashimi Chirashi Bowl

Oto-Oto's chirashi bowl focused on quality rather than quantity, featuring slightly less seafood than Sushi Imari's version. Each piece of fish was meticulously cut and was especially fresh. In subsitution for quantity, this bowl also featured additional see higher quality ingredients-- the persian cucumbers, salmon roe instead of masago, a small dab of freshly prepared wasabi, a lighter touch with the furikake on the sushi rice.

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Cod Fish
Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Tempura

Similarly with the Cod Fish and Tempura Combination (14.95 USD, we saw attention to detail. The codfish was prepared like most other cod fish in Japanese restaurants-- marinated in miso and mirin--while the tempura was cooked to a light crunch. This combination also came with an additional side dish of hijiki seaweed salad. (this Food Standards Agency article makes me want to reconsider it though)

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise- Monrovia, CA: Chicken Cutlet Curry

Out of the dishes we ordered, the Chicken Cutlet Curry (9.95 USD), a current special on the lunch menu, came the slowest-- probably because the chicken cutlet was freshly fried. Although I appreciated the light, crispy texture of the thin layer of panko breadcrumbs, I did not care for its deep brown color. The curry sauce was notable for its richness and depth of flavor brought by the spices-- it was thick and delicious with the short grain rice.

The high quality offerings (even if it is a chain) of Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise make it a very viable option in the local area for those looking more for a variety of cooked Japanese food options or a happy hour spot. Although most of the options are traditional Japanese, be prepared to see some modern twists on some dishes, and especially the atmosphere!

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise
929 W. Huntington Dr.
Monrovia, CA 91016
Tel: (626) 359-3000

Oto-Oto Izakaya Japonaise on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UCI 2012 Undergraduate Research Symposium + Noonerz

UC Irvine Undergraduate Research Symposium Booklet

Back in May, I attended the UC Irvine Undergraduate Research Symposium, an annual symposium featuring undergraduate research. Although I only attended the afternoon session, there was still much to see and to learn--I was unable to visit all the presenters' posters or oral presentations!

UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium Scene

This research symposium featured undergraduate research from the entire university, meaning that one could find research in computer science, engineering, humanities, biological sciences, and more in the same spot! There were also two parts: oral sessions, where presenters discussed their projects with projected presentation slides to a small audience in one room, and poster displays, where presenters discussed their projects next to their posters outside. The research was quite diverse; a few of these topics discussed at the symposium include home automation, car security, dorm design, autism, solar stove, literature, autism, chemically powered modeled cars, solar airplanes, and rockets. You can read the abstracts on the Symposium website, under participant list.

UC Irvine: Anteater on the Laptop

It was definitely a very worthwhile experience (and a worthwhile drive) to see the research completed by the students and to see them present their research! Next year's Undergraduate Research Symposium will be held on May 18, 2013.

(Go past the break to read about Noonerz!)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Starbucks' Refreshers Beverages: Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus

Starbucks Refreshers: Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus (Tall Size)

On July 13, from 12-3 PM, Starbucks gave away Tall sizes of its recently launched beverage, Starbucks Refreshers. The new product comes in Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus flavors, and regularly costs 2.95 USD for a Tall Size.

Starbucks describes the Cool Lime flavor as "a lively blend of lime, citrus and hints of mint and cucumber, shaken with real lime slices," and the Very Berry Hibiscus flavor as "a thirst quenching combination of tangy blackberry and hints of hibiscus." Notably, these drinks feature Starbucks' green coffee extract, which is taken from green (not roasted) arabica coffee beans and offers the "natural energy" of coffee but without the coffee flavor. 

Starbucks Refreshers: Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus (Tall Size)

Unlike some free offers, each of these Refreshers were made by order. There was no special advertising at the store to signal a "free" Refresher; you just asked for it and the cost was deducted. Some customers shouted aloud to their co-workers about the deal as well.

I tried the Very Berry Hibiscus flavor (the Cool Lime Refresher in the pictures was a friend's) and  it had berry fruit flavor as well as some depth from the hibiscus. In terms of sweetness, the Refresher seemed as sweet as a flavored water, with a sweetness that reminded me more of artificial sweetener (I can not confirm what sweetener, if any, is used in the drink). The blackberries, on the other hand, were somewhat squashed due to the shaking action in creating the drink, and so did not look or taste like the fresh blackberries shown in Starbucks' product photo.

Both flavors combine tried-and-true combinations. If you need a light refreshment after a heavy meal or from work, these are a flavored option to consider. As for me? I'll stick with chia seeds and water.(no, I did not time that post to coincide with this one!)

Starbucks Coffee (@ The Shops at The Alhambra)
1131 S Fremont Ave
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 457-5234

Starbucks on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chia Seeds

Organic Chia Seeds

"What is that in your water?" has probably been the most common statement I've heard about my usual water beverage (water + chia seeds) in the past two years. These seeds have been called a variety of names, including "tadpoles," "frog eyes," and "sesame boba." When they learn that the seeds are actually chia seeds, they say, "oh, so like the chia pet?" or "ch-ch-ch chia!" Yes, these are those seeds that form a chia pet.

Chia Seeds (hydrated, honey added)
 Chia seeds mixed with water and organic honey

Besides being cute or unusual, chia seeds are quite nutritious and are a good source of Omega 3's. They are also a convenient and cheap (a pound of organic chia seeds go for around 10 USD) option for energy in beverages; now, you can even see chia seed beverages in markets! Chia seeds also keep the body hydrated, with each seed able to absorb 9-12 times its weight in water. The taste? In water, hydrated chia seeds provides a slightly sweet taste, with a soft, gelatinous exterior and lightly crunchy interior. Hydrated basil seeds, on the other hand, are crunchier (like a lychee) on the outside, and slightly more crunchier on the inside.

Chia Seeds in Organic Silk Vanilla Soymilk
Chia seeds mixed with Silk Organic Vanilla Soymilk, water, and organic honey

Although I prefer drinking chia seeds in water (sometimes with lemon and/or honey), there are plenty of other ways to enjoy chia seeds. Mixed with some soymilk, the combination of the two ingredients becomes a smooth, delicious beverage reminiscent of tapioca dessert soup, only that the tapioca has been replaced with chia seeds. One of my friends tried chia seeds with chocolate soymilk and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Chia Seeds in Tea
Red tea and chia seeds (lightly hydrated)
Tea likewise is a good candidate for a chia seed beverage. Essentially, almost anything that can go with basil seeds goes well with chia seeds!

You can make hydrated chia seeds by soaking chia seeds in a liquid of your choice. If soaked in water, they can last for more than a week, but usually by then I'd be finished. Sometimes they are just addicting to chew on!

(Happy 300th post!)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA

Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: Exterior

Originally I had planned to visit California Fish Grill or Bear Flag Fish Company, but a friend's recommendation for Sushi Imari swayed my initial decision. Complimentary surprises plus a closer location to UC Irvine made this place more attractive to the other restaurants, and it also happened to be that Sushi Imari was positively reviewed on Monster Munching. Plus one indeed!

Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: Wasabi and Gari

Inside, waiters friendly greeted us and brought us to a table. We sat in an atmosphere heavily decorated with Japanese (and some Korean) ornaments, with elements of light and dark woods. A fusion menu was also in sight; besides the fresh fish, there was a whiteboard with various fusion rolls, of which some were already on the regular menu while others were new creations.

Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: Miso Soup (with Enoki Mushroom)

Sushi Imari's complimentary miso soup, provided to us after ordering, was different compared to some other miso soups as there were a few enoki mushroom pieces in the soup along with the usual tofu and seaweed pieces. The mushrooms contributed a slight earthy flavor to the soup, complementing the flavor of the miso and dashi stock.

Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: 2 Item Lunch Combination: California Roll and Chicken Teriyaki

Sushi Imari's "from the kitchen" combinations parallel with those of other restaurants, and so does the pricing of this two item combo (9.50 USD, lunch price). The plating was not; the items in this case were placed nicely onto a large white plate instead of the typical bento box. The chicken in the chicken teriyaki was tender, and the California Roll was a competent imitation crab edition.

Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: Lunch Chirashi Bowl
Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: Lunch Chirashi Bowl

Sushi Imari's Chirashi Bowl (12.95 USD, lunch price) was likewise a strong rendition. There were ten pieces of sashimi: two pieces of tuna, two pieces of salmon, two pieces of escolar/ white tuna, two pieces of albacore tuna (one raw, one cooked on the exterior), one piece of octopus, and one (cooked) shrimp. Also featured on the chirashi bowl were two pieces of tamago, some masago, a slice of lemon, several slices of cucumber, daikon, gari, a herb leaf, and a generous amount of wasabi. All this was placed atop a bed of sushi rice, seasoned with a layer of furiake seasoning. All the pieces of seafood were fresh, and came in plentiful sizes; I liked how there were plenty of pieces of radish and gari to alternate between bites of the seafood and rice.

Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: Potstickers (Complimentary)

The waiter made sure to check up on our food throughout the visit, and halfway through our entrees, he happily presented us the first surprise of two surprises in this visit: two freshly fried potstickers, served with a soy and sesame sauce. Each potsticker elicited great crunch and a tender, meaty interior, while the sauce added depth and fragrance through the soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and sesame oil.
Sushi Imari- Costa Mesa, CA: Vanilla Ice Cream (Complimentary)

And as the waiter delivered our check, he also gave us mini scoops of vanilla ice cream, each served in a small saucer. The amount of ice cream may have not been significant, but it was perfect amount to refresh the palate. It did not bog us down or make us wish for another cup of water to wash it down, but instead capped our experience at a pleasant note.

At first the question had to be asked: why were so many people talking to the chefs, as if both knew each other well, during our visit? After the visit, the deftly prepared food and friendly service provided a strong answer.

Sushi Imari (Facebook)
375 Bristol St. Suite 40
Costa Mesa, Ca 92626
Tel: (714) 641-5654

Imari on Urbanspoon