Friday, July 29, 2011

Kiraku Berkeley - A Restaurant Review

Kiraku Berkeley
2566B Telegraph Ave, Berkeley CA

I told myself I wouldn't use this blog for restaurant reviews. After all, that's what yelp is for. That's why I have a yelp account. But I am in love with a restaurant I only discovered a month ago (and as I am moving in the next week, will not be able to go to again). I felt compelled to share.

I also told myself I would never write restaurant reviews in this food blog because I am adamantly opposed to taking perfectly framed photos of food in a restaurant. Food is supposed to be served at a certain temperature. Your chef went through a lot of effort to make your food. You should eat it when it is served. For this reason, there are only pictures of a couple of the foods we tried at Kiraku. It's not even a fraction of what they have to offer. Because of my whole weird picture thing, this may be the only restaurant review I write. Just warning...

That being said, this place is a real deal izakaya, a Japanese version of a pub/tapas bar. They don't specialize in yakitori or sushi/sashimi. They really specialize in otsumami, small dishes that pair well with alcohol. When asked to describe this place, I can only describe their style as "funky". I hesitate to call it Japanese since it is not traditional. Yet I hesitate to call it "fusion" because it is not pretentious. In fact, it's decidedly Japanese in that many restaurants in Japan have this weird fusion element that they have been doing for years. It's totally Japanese.

The restaurant is small and nondescript. The interior decor does not have the amazing feel of Japan like some places. In fact, it feels more like home and it's open until 2am. As a cook, it's the kind of place you want to eat after a long day at work. The service is very friendly with a host that greets you with hot towels. The menus are printed in Japanese and English on plane paper. From the outset, there's really nothing fancy about it. It only really seems fancy if you're involved in the bottle collective, a program that allows you to purchase a bottle of shochu or sake and keep the undrunk portion at the restaurant until next time. We called ahead that we were coming in tonight. When we got there, our bottle of shochu was already on our table along with two classes and an ice bucket.

When the food came, everything changed. I forgot I was in a less than impressive space and focussed strictly on the beautiful presentation, the amazingly interesting flavors and how inventive everything seemed to be. Of all the dishes on the menu, I felt the oxtail with an asian style tomato salsa was the weakest dish. That's not saying much, as the oxtail was still quite good. It just wasn't as good as the fried ginko nuts, the agedashi indian eggplant, the french fries (yes, their french fries are that good) or the seared foie gras with stewed daikon (believe me, I'm sad I don't have a picture of that dish)
The first time I came, my coworkers had already been snacking before I got there. I did not order the spicy tuna tartare, but it was one of the first dishes to arrive at our table. This was a fun dish - served on tortilla chips with avocado slices and wasabi tobico. The flavor and texture of the tuna were both wonderful, but as everyone knows, spicy tuna tartare is no way to judge quality of a fish. For that, you need to try the sashimi, which I just tried tonight. The tuna was a leaner cut, but no sinew. It was sliced thick and came with a daiginjo shoyu that was so much better than normal soy sauce. It was cleaner, not as salty, more of a pure umami flavor.
We continued with hamachi collar (pictured right) and pickled octopus marinated in wasabi (the tiny bowl pictured left). The hamachi kama was well seasoned and no one was shy about attacking the best, fattiest parts with greed. The texture was wonderful (but fish cheeks are always the best anyway). The octopus was a standout dish and completely unnecessary to have more than that tiny bowl. The flavors were intense and the octopus was tender. It's a dish that goes perfectly with shochu or sake. However, if I was going to pick an octopus dish, I'd pick the boiled baby octopus instead.


The boiled baby octopus (pictured above) was so tender. They looked gorgeous coming to the table and did not have the chewy nature octopus can so easily have. It was a stellar dish.
We tried another dish called the buta-kim, a kurobuta pork belly with kim chi and a poached egg. it was an excellent dish, though I think Kiraku does a better job with the cold small plates than the hot, as a whole. I had tried these flavors before, and though the egg was perfectly poached and the kim chi had a great flavor and spice, it was something I could live without in the future.
But perhaps the greatest revelation of the evening was the shark cartilage in ume sauce (pictured above). I had never experienced a flavor and textural combination like that in my life. It was sour, salty and oh so crunchy at the same time. It is perfect with shochu and it is a tiny dish that can be shared between 4 people. This is a dish you absolutely have to try, and probably the most interesting thing on a kiraku menu.

Tonight we had a slew of other menu items. We tried their special of the evening: a miatake mushroom tempura with black salt. The tempura was a great texture and the black salt was unprocessed, still holding to it's natural sulfur flavor. This salt similarly went well with everything else on the table, including the boiled chilean sea bass with ponzu and red onions.

We also ordered the yaki udon with a basil pesto. The flavors are unique yet not overpowering, the udon still has its toothsome quality, and it's a filling end to the meal. I have not tried the other options of ramen or rice dishes in that section, but based on the description alone this sounds the most interesting.

Tonight was also the first time I had dessert. We ordered all 3 desserts, including a sweet potato creme brulee, green tea ice cream with warabi mochi and a red tea pana cotta. The sweet potato creme brulee was sweet, lighter than most custards, and did not have the same satisfyingly hard shell like most creme brulees. The green tea ice cream was just that, but the warabi mochi had a wonderful texture and was rolled in a matcha powder that had a great bitterness to combat the sweetness of the ice cream. Even though these desserts were good, the pana cotta was heads and shoulders above the other two. It was lighter than air, not too rich, subtle tea flavor, and topped with coarse anko, whipped cream and tapioca. It wasn't terribly sweet, but perhaps that was the reason I liked it best.

I am sad this place has only now opened just as I am leaving the bay area, but I hope it serves the community for years to come. Try the other dishes, relish their unique nature, and experience something different. Most of all, trust that those people who are in there until 2am work at other Japanese restaurants and they all know this place is damn good.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Apricot Ginger Mascarpone Scones



I had some leftover mascarpone cheese after making the brownies listed a couple weeks ago. I found the recipe on Good Life Eats and thought it would go exceptional well with a different flavor profile.

These scones were deliciously light with a perfect exterior crust. They weren't too sweet and they were exceptionally buttery. You will be hard pressed to have these scones last more than a day. Every time you try one, you want to have another.

Apricot Ginger Mascarpone Scones
Ingredients (makes 12 small)
  • 2 cups flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt¼ cup butter, sliced
  • ¼ cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ¾ cup dried apricots, diced
  • ¼ cup candied ginger

Ingredients for glaze
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 2 tsp honey

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  3. Cut in butter and mascarpone cheese until pieces are the size of small peas
  4. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add egg, milk, vanilla, honey, and dried fruits. Stir until just combined.
    1. Roll out dough and cut into 12 triangles, or separate dough into 12 rough mounds on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes until golden.
  5. While baking, prepare glaze by mixing in powdered sugar, milk and honey. Spoon glaze over warm scones.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

White Chocolate Chunk Chocolate Cookies


After a failed white chocolate cupcake recipe, I had a a lot of white chocolate chips left.

Normally, I'm not a fan of white chocolate. It's too sweet and doesn't have the same rich flavor. But I do like white chocolate in ultra chocolate cookies. It just feels right that way, though the white chocolate does have the same cloying sweetness it normally does.

These cookies are moist and chewy. The cookie itself is not to sweet and has a great flavor punctuated by the sweetness of the white chocolate.

White Chocolate Chunk Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients
  • ½ (1 stick) butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup white sugar
  • ⅓ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup white chocolate chips


Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Cream together butter and sugars until fluffy.
  3. Add egg and vanilla, mixing until completely combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combined flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Slowly add to flour mixture, stirring until combined.
  5. Fold in white chocolate chips and drop by tablespoon onto baking sheet
  6. Bake 10 minutes and allow to cool for 5 before removing from the pan.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies


I don't know if I can even call this a "brownie"

The main ingredients are butter, chocolate, eggs, cheese and sugar. There's so little flour, this seemed almost like a flourless chocolate cake. It was merely an afterthought to cradle all these other, amazing ingredients

The flavor is dark and rich. The brownies are heavy, and you will intake far too many calories by eating just one square. But these brownies are the best, most decadent brownies you will ever have.

Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies
Ingredients
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 oz semi sweet chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder, not dutch process
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ tsp salt


Ingredients for ganache
  • 6 tbsp heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 oz semi sweet chocolate


Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325
  2. Melt butter in saucepan and pour over chocolate. Stir until chocolate is dissolved.
  3. Add sugar and cocoa powder
  4. Beat in cheese, eggs and vanilla until thoroughly combined
  5. Fold in flour and salt.
  6. Pour batter into prepared 8x8 or 9 inch round pan, making sure to spread evenly
  7. Bake 45 minutes until toothpick comes out clean
  8. While brownies are cooling, Melt butter and heavy cream in saucepan until mixture is just below a boil.
  9. Pour cream and butter over chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds and stir until chocolate is fully dissolved
  10. Spread ganache over brownies and let cool/harden completely before slicing and serving

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Saffron Buns



I did the math for how much this bread cost.

3 oz dried apricots: $1.50
2 oz monukka raisins: $0.50
2 grams saffron: $9


Yeah. This was an $11 set of a dozen buns. The cost of the butter, yeast, sugar, milk and flour were all negligible. This was just a very expensive (albeit delicious) bread.

I had a 5 gram jar of saffron that I've only used for rice from time to time. I was able to purchase it from an Israeli market and decided to use a larger amount since my boyfriend recently brought me back a tin of saffron from Kuwait.
Saffron Buns
Ingredients
  • 2 grams saffron threads (should be like 3 tsp or something large)
  • 1 1/4 cups warm milk
  • 500 grams flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 packet yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 2/3 cup dried fruit (I used 1/3 cup dried apricots, and 1/3 cup monukka raisins, though dates might be better)
Directions


  1. Heat milk to just below a simmer. Grind saffron threads and infuse in the milk for at least 30 minutes
  2. Sift together flour and salt. Cut butter into the mixture with a pastry blender until it is the size of small peas
  3. Proof active yeast in 1/4 cup of the warm milk for 10 minutes
  4. Add sugar to the flour mixture and add milk. Stir until combined and knead for 6-8 minutes
  5. Add fruit and knead dough until it's evenly distributed
  6. Let rise for 1 hour until roughly doubled in size
  7. Cut dough into a dozen pieces. Shape and let proof again for 45 minutes
  8. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden.
This post has been submitted to Yeastspotting

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sourdough Waffles



I hate throwing away sourdough starter when I feed mine. It always feels like a waste.

These waffles are fantastically crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and not too sour. They go well with honey and fresh fruit, or syrup and powdered sugar. best of all, these waffles from my belgian waffle iron freeze incredibly well. If you want to make extra, just freeze them and toast them the next morning for delicious, homemade eggo waffles.

Sourdough Waffles (Makes about 4 waffles)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter, unfed, from refrigerator
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
Directions


  1. The night before, mix starter, flour, sugar and milk in a bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight
  2. The next morning, add egg, butter and baking soda. Mixture should bubble slightly
  3. Make waffles according to waffle iron directions

This post has been submitted to Yeastspotting

Friday, July 1, 2011

Matcha Cupcakes with Red Bean Filling and Kinako Frosting



"It's manju, but in cupcake form"

That was the only way I could describe these cupcakes and my inspiration to my coworkers, who greedily ate all of them. For those who don't know, manju is a Japanese dessert that is usually filled with sweet red bean paste. It can be baked or steamed, and it can come in flavors like green tea or kinako. I took my favorite elements of these classic treats from my childhood to make an updated cake that might appeal to the larger population.

The cupcakes are wonderfully light with a fantastic aftertaste of sweet green tea. Kinako frosting has a taste similar to peanut butter, but even more awesome. It's an irreplaceable flavor. The frosting isn't terrible sweet and is fluffy. This recipe does not make a lot of frosting, as the red bean adds a lot of sweetness to the cake and is unnecessary. If you want a cupcake with quite a bit of frosting, multiply the recipe by 1.5.


They dubbed these cupcakes "Hapa-fabulous" after tasting them. I could not have asked for a greater compliment. This recipe makes 24 cupcakes. I make mine extra large, so for me it's really more like 22...


Matcha Cupcakes (adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop)

Ingredients
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 12 oz (3 cups) all purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp matcha powder
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp brandy or Scotch whiskey (I used Suntory Yamazaki 12 year)
  • 1 package of coarse red bean paste (you will have leftovers)
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Mix matcha powder with whiskey to create a tincture. This will bring out the bright color of the matcha better than mixing it with the milk or with the butter.
  3. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  4. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add half the flour to butter and beat until combined.
  5. Add milk and matcha, beating until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture.
  6. Pour into prepared muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  7. After cupcakes are cool, cut a small cone out of the top of the cupcake
  8. Cut the bottom of the cone off, leaving a small lid
  9. Fill hole with a little bit of red bean paste and top with your cake lid. The cupcakes are now ready for frosting.
Kinako Frosting
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp kinako flour (roasted soybean flour)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
Directions
  1. Cook flour, milk, sugar, and 1 Tbsp of kinako in saucepan over medium heat until a thick roux is created
  2. Beat thickened mixture with electric beaters until cool
  3. Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time until emulsified. If mixture is too warm, place in refrigerator to let cool
  4. Add vanilla and extra 1 Tbsp kinako until frosting is the correct consistency and flavor you like. I think more kinako is always better.
  5. Frost cupcakes, making sure to cover the hole in the top. Dust with extra kinako.
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