Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: The Izaka-ya by Katsu-Ya, Manhattan Beach

    Katsuya's Izakaya in Manhattan Beach opened its doors in 2010 and has been busy ever since! And yet the name of this place has me a bit confused.
   An Izakaya is defined as a bar which serves small dishes. But there are no sake bombs, or loud chugging of beer by drunken business men here. It is usually crowded and sometimes loud, but the high quality food, traditional Japanese decor and friendly staff create a warm, family-friendly atmosphere.

  Katsuya is the name of the founder of a small kingdom of Japanese restaurants. Katsuya's restaurants are known for giving fresh California inspired twists to traditional Japanese dishes. For example, Katsuya's version of yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno, which delivers a spicy overtone to the light and delicate fish. 
The yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno
    So, it's not a bar, in fact the only bar in the place is a sushi bar! And it's named after a creative guy; who has no creativity in naming his restaurants. He has two other restaurants with the same name! This is in no way a reason to avoid what is certainly the best Japanese food I have found west of Gardena. 
    The sushi and sashimi are just the beginning of their creative menu.  For a great introduction to Katsuya's innovative dishes, try their Izaka-ya plate. Here you will see his creative mixture of taste, texture and color. Each of the dishes on this platter packs a real flavor punch and I have found it's a good idea to share the bounty of this plate (i.e. it doesn't make the best lunch choice, rather a great appetizer to share among friends). 
The Izaka-ya plate
  The food is delicious and of the highest quality, but can also be expensive. During a recent visit I noticed that the entire first page of the menu, the 'seasonal specials', had no pricing at all. It made me a little uncomfortable, but didn't stop my husband from ordering some Toro, no matter the price. I prefer to know what I'm getting myself into.  Subtly waving down a server to ask pricing questions would be quite uncomfortable if one were on a date.
   If you are on a budget consider their Saturday and Sunday afternoon Japanese Tapas menu which is available from 3-5pm. Tasty bites range from $2 to $6 with specials on beer and wine as well. 
    As I mentioned, this place is popular and can get quite crowded.  Call ahead and make a reservation or be prepared to wait in the tiny screened off space by the front door, remember, no bar!

These are our favorite dishes at The Izakaya by Katsu-Ya: 

  • Salmon Skin Salad
  • All of the high quality Sushi and Sashimi
  • Crispy rice with spicy tuna
  • Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeƱo 
  • Grilled yellowtail collar (rarely seen on menus!)
Uni Sashimi - very generous portion!

Things on my list to try on my next visit:

  • Halibut Carpaccio w/Granny Apple
  • Seafood Ceviche (Japanese ceviche?)
  • Halibut Cheek kara-age (Southern fried fish cheeks?)
  • Okinawa Style Spare Rib

Have you eaten at the Izakaya by Katsu-Ya in Manhattan Beach?  
What are your favorite dishes? Really, I want to know! :)

A Few Words About Reviews

Before I start posting my opinions, let's get a few things straight.
Everyone eats. We have to. Each of us has our own unique palate. What some consider their favorite foods may be other's least favorite.  
So how is it that we trust other's opinions about restaurants? Are reviews really a useful tool for discovering a great place to eat?
I'm not going to attempt to answer these questions.  What I am going to do is attempt to write reviews designed to open up discussion about a particular restaurant. 
Also, let me be honest here; I'm not compensated in any way for my food writing.  I don't solicit invitations to restaurants hoping to get free food and offering them free publicity.  Without a corporate budget to support my dining habits, I find it difficult (or impossible) to eat through an entire menu before I make an opinion on a restaurant. 
I'm a social eater.  I like to go out and eat.  I like good food. I like good service. I like restaurants to be clean and have a comfortable atmosphere. 
I also love to hear from others about their experiences. What is YOUR opinion? Really, I want to know!
So, please, comment - tell me what YOU think! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Black Garlic Adventures

     I'm a fearless cook and I like a challenge. A few years ago I saw black garlic being sampled at the Fancy Foods Show. It was a magical ingredient that I had never seen before. The cloves were completely black, chewy and fruity with no garlic heat or pungency, at all. The ingredients on the container said only garlic! How can this be?
     I was curious about the pricing for this ingredient.  It was expensive, which was interesting since it was only garlic, right? Rather than find a source to purchase some, I decided to find out how to make it. I did some research and found that it's a bit tricky to make; a bit of a hit or miss whether you will get good results. This worried me. But I remained curious.
   Black Garlic originally comes from Korea where it has been used for hundreds of years.  There, it is aged like kimchi, in containers which are buried under the ground - using the heat of the earth to do the magic transformation.
    I'm quite lucky to have a friend who grows beautiful organic garlic on her farm in Oregon. This past summer, she sold me two large braids at a very good price. With so much garlic on hand, I decided it was time to dive into a black garlic adventure!
   I rigged up a Coleman hot/cold box, with my oven probe thermometer so I could check the temperature inside. I put 15 heads of garlic in a rubbermaid container and sealed it up and put it inside. Then, I did nothing. The hot box kept the temperature around 143F, which is just hot enough to kill bacteria and allows the garlic to transform. I checked on it at 4 weeks, but it was brown, not black. I waited two more weeks and there it was; BLACK GARLIC! 
     Last week I was reading my Saveur Magazine for January 2015, which features 100 cool ideas and items. One of the ingredients highlighted was something called Black Crack. Say what? It turns out a clever guy in New Jersey not only makes black garlic, he then dries it out and sells it in a grinder as a spice!  To me, this seemed almost like a personal challenge. Can I do THAT?  Sure, I can do THAT!

So, last weekend my oven was set at  200F for over 72 hours; delicately drying out one of my precious black garlic heads into a homemade version of Black Crack. It's now done and the results are... I'm not sure because I haven't tried the original product!  He wants $24.99 for 2 ounces! 
     We have put a few cloves of the dried black garlic into a nutmeg grinder and used it to create delicate little shavings as seasoning. It has a smokey flavor over the black garlic fruity richness, unlike any other spice.

Our first use of the homemade black crack was as a seasoning for a chicken dish.  I found a recipe on the Black Garlic Love website. Black Garlic Love has lots of tips and recipes for using this ingredient including a  recipe for one pot chicken with black garlic. I have updated the recipe to my taste, adding a few ingredients and French technique. The results are... Delicious!

Get the recipe hereEnjoy! 

Recipe: Creamy Pan Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms over Fettucini

Creamy Pan Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms over Fettucini
Serves 6
    Picture of Chicken Breast over Linguini
  • One 4-6 pound whole chicken cut into 6-8 pieces
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 red, orange or yellow pepper, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms sliced thickly
  • 3-5 cloves minced black garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound fettucini noodles
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche 
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan, divided
  • Black Crack, salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper.
Heat a large oven proof pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil.  Brown the chicken a few pieces at a time; about 3-5 minutes per side. Set the pieces aside in a large bowl to collect any juices as you finish the remainder of the chicken pieces.
Turn heat down to medium. Add the onion, pepper and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until quite tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the black garlic and the white wine. Bring to a boil and let the liquid reduce by 1/2. Stir in chicken broth, thyme, and bay leaves. Scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Return chicken pieces to the pan skin side up, pour in any juices which have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl.
Place the pan into the hot oven and roast until completely cooked; about 30-40 minutes. A knife should easily penetrate the chicken thighs. 
While the chicken cooks, bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. When the water boils add a hand full of sea salt. When the chicken has been in the oven for over 25 minutes, add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente.  Drain the pasta and return it to the pan, off the heat. 
Remove the pan from the oven. Take the chicken pieces from the sauce and put on a serving platter.  Stir in the cream cheese, creme fraiche and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. 
Pour the sauce into the pan with the fettucini and combine gently. 
Serve the pasta with chicken pieces on top.  Shave black crack over each plate and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fig Jam - The Delicious Glue

   Friendship is a good thing. The best of friends are those who can expose you to wondrous things you never thought possible. And when those things are related to food they can create delicious memories.
   Lars and Lena are friends of this caliber. They helped trace my Swedish heritage and exposed me to a culture which runs through my veins. In addition they opened my palate to phenomenal, culinary adventures.
   One of the most unique of these tasteful discoveries is the combination of blue cheese and ginger cookies. This is a classic Swedish pairing usually enjoyed at Christmas time when there are plenty of delicate little ginger snaps in every household.
Much has been written about this odd duo, including a discussion on Reddit about choosing the perfect blue cheese partner. 
   During their most recent visit, Lars and Lena brought a few jars of fig jam. 
   I had recently portioned out a wheel of a Echo Mountain Blue made by Rogue Creamery in Oregon. Lena put two and two together real quick and firmly requested a Ginger Snap, Blue Cheese and Fig Jam dessert.
   Years ago Lena and I made Swedish ginger cookies during the Christmas season. This was before we both had children running around our households; taking up our time. The process of making delicate Swedish ginger cookies is quite laborious. It also requires some skill to roll them out thin enough for a Swedish cook's liking, yet thick enough to pry off the cutting board and transfer to a baking sheet without them breaking. 
   This year we decided store bought was a fine idea. And so it went, Oregon Blue Cheese, a box of American Ginger Snaps and Swedish Fig Jam devoured by our two families one evening during their visit.
   A schemer of fig jam is the glue which holds the two together; bridging the flavor gap between the sweet and savory. Just as shared memories tie our two families, no matter the distance. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Culinary Vixen's New Vision

Look for new things up here at Culinary Vixen.  Its time to revamp the blog, give it new life and find my food voice again. I have a few themes up my sleeve; ready to be pulled out, dusted off and unfolded to share with the world. Here's a preview of some of the topics I'll be concentrating on in the future:

  • Recipes from cooking school
    • Sharing recipes I've kept for over 20 years.  There's a reason I still have these! 
  • Exploring Culture - One recipe at a time
    • I love ALL cuisines and exploring flavors from around the world keeps me excited about food. I will post amazing recipes from around the globe, to inspire your palate!
  • Can we pickle it?
    • In 2014 I became part of a kickstarter campaign called Kraut Source, an ingenious device (I hope, haven't received it yet. If you want details go to their kickstarter page for more information.). I plan on using these things to pickle any veggie I get my hands on. Small batch is where it's at!  Can't wait to dive into the healthy bacteria world! 
  • We want cheese please!
    • If you know me, you know I'm a cheese freak. QuesoBeso is slowly dying as the cheese world in the South Bay is being inundated by Murray's of New York via Kroger/Ralphs grocery stores. But fear not, I will still bring you awesome cheese selections, information and pairings. 
  • I ate it - Here!
    • Living in the South Bay of Los Angeles county we have an amazing choice of restaurants to choose from.  I enjoy eating out with my family and doing quick reviews to help others sort through it all and find the gems. Look here for lists of regional favorites - El Segundo, Hermosa, Redondo, Manhattan, Gardena and Torrance; just to get us started. 
  • What do you do with this?
    • Gadgets can be fun; let's explore them!
  • MY food network
    • I've been cooking, hard core cooking, for about 20 years. I have met many very interesting food people along the way.  Some of them I don't even remember how I met. I want to use Culinary Vixen to reconnect with my food family and share their particular knowledge with my readers.
Well, that's the gist of it.  New ideas and a brand new start for 2015.  I'm excited to get started.  If I can only figure out how (really, remember how) to get this thing formatted beautifully.

Thanks for your patience! :)

Vickie - Culinary Vixen