Nojo, No Joke

In continuation of our Saturday smorgasboard, S and I met another friend at Nojo that evening. Guys, I cannot emphasize the gravity of this dinner enough. This was probably the largest quantity of impeccable food I have ever eaten, all thanks to my roommate who works there and hooked us up like rockstars.

After receiving several rave reviews, Nojo's been swamped nightly. We arrived to Hayes Valley early to beat the rush, and to check out the lovely shops in the area.

Nojo=Farm. Part gastropub, part izakaya, and nearly entirely locally sourced, Nojo is Japanese food done with a Californian flair. The employees even go on field trips to visit the farms. New menus are printed every night, based on what's in season.

We gave A a few ideas but ultimately asked her to decide what to bring us. This avocado salad reminded me of the deconstructed sushi I brought to class every day in high school, minus the rice and cucumbers.

Gem lettuce, cauliflower and katsuobushi (or bonito) salad was simply dressed, allowing just-picked veggies to steal the show with their natural flavors.

The Shiitake mushroom and English pea gyouza came highly recommended. I thought it was alright--perhaps because I don't like pork (none was mentioned on the menu) or because I've eaten enough amazing dumplings to build a bridge to China (where most of those dumplings were eaten). I do wish that they could always come with a great broth like this, though.

A has told me about this sauteed squid and potato dish numerous times and my lord it was all that she claimed it to be, and more. Buttery, chewy potatoes, zingy herbs, and the most tender, sweet squid I have ever had. I have never tasted squid like this before, and apparently that's what everyone says when they eat this. My favorite dish of the night. If I could eat fresh seafood every day, to hell with vegetables.

White miso glazed trout with forest mushrooms and purselane. My friend's favorite dish. As a shroom lover, I wanted to try all the dishes with exotic species. This is another one that should be served with a side of singing angels. It has the flaky texture of fish, and the taste of pure butter. I'd believe it if someone told me it was poached in a vat of cream or something. I loved the "meaty" veggies and mushrooms which complimented each other perfectly.

Tempura of maitake mushrooms, green beans & Meyer lemon slices, with ponzu mayonnaise. Fried stuff dipped in mayo was basically the theme of this week for me (four times). This dish took that theme to a gastronomic level. Another delicious mushroom crossed off my to-eat list! And the lemon slices proved that one can make anything delicious by way battering and deep frying.

With so many exciting dishes to try, and much to my relief, we didn't taste many skewered meats. This chicken breast with avocado and wasabi leaves was impeccably grilled. I'm very curious about the chicken skin with matcha salt and lemon

Couldn't decide on dessert, so the natural default was to get it. Out of several crazy choices, we were presented with the Nojo Sundae, which included black sesame ice cream with kumquats and peanut thunder crackers. Sometimes they have miso ice cream as well, but not on this night. This was a unique combo, and I'd love to try their others, but Asian desserts just aren't as enticing to me as a piece of cake. Something to do with the lack of sugar, dough and hot fudge.

I will never forget how welcoming A made me feel at Nojo, introducing me to the staff and ordering all of us her favorite dishes. Customers have said that she is the best server in San Francisco, and I obviously concur. I’m super excited that she’s thinking about her own food soon, as well. This whole meal was on the house, and even though we tipped her over 70%, I still feel indebted to her amazing generosity.

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Fuji Japanese

Today I escorted the parents and some family friends around the Bay Area and ended up in an unknown neighborhood looking for Japanese food. Though it can be confusing, I love how every other street in San Francisco is considered its own distinct neighborhood–apparently we were in the “West Portal” which sounds like something out of the Matrix.

As usual, my mom requested Japanese, and this was the first place we passed.

A super cluttered albeit colorful aerial view. Let's take a closer look for fun...

The udon portion of I's tempura udon.

Fuji has a lot of crazy rolls but my mom was the only one smart enough to order them. A Tanzania roll with yellowtail&Co. and unagi roll.

I’d just eaten breakfast and was planning on picking off my parents’ plates, but after we finished ordering I spotted a “Special Salads” menu. I immediately I flagged down the waitress and ordered a roasted vegetable salad (7.5). Turned out to be a bed of lettuce with a mayo-heavy sauce and a few vegetables (the same they use for tempura)--kabocha, sweet potato, carrot, zucchini, asparagus and broccoli. I know a Japanese restaurant is not the place to get my greens on but the idealist in me believes that a hearty salad in every Californian restaurant is not too much to ask.

I’ve been working too much and eating cheap takeout lately but after Fuji I’m determined to start making kick-ass salads at home again. Stay tuned for Actually Special Salads!

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Yeah, Chaya!

Hello, dear friends. My avocado is still a-go-going but I just haven’t been planning out the eats and photo-taking as well as I should be. Plus, I don’t think the Whole Foods salad bar or another post of Intermezzo needs to be added. I want to bring only what’s new and imperative. So yeah Chaya! This lovely little place was just remodeled and I waited for months to bring you the latest in vegan sushi. What is there to bring, you may ask? Frankly, not a whole lot of surprises. Which is why I did not go for the sushi, but for the wide array of special noodle and rice dishes. What I loved most was that every item on the menu had at least seven different ingredients, many focused on sea vegetables and macrobiotic darlings, such as burdock, daikon, lotus root and kabocha. Totally exciting yes!

Beautiful day in the gourmet (ghetto).

After much deliberation, I went with the Taku-Sui ($8) served with rice and miso soup. That's gyoza and tofu, zucchini, napa cabbage, snap peas, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, silver noodles, and mushrooms in a light broth and served with a ponzu citrus sauce. How could I resist! Alas, and this is the hardest part to write, I did not love it. The soup was bland and the potstickers were the same frozen ones my dad buys from the Asian market. It tasted like a mediocre version of something my mother makes for me when I'm sick. Granted, she does make a mean pot of soup.

I should've realized that noodles rarely satisfy me, and ordered one of their gorgeous fried dishes. Like this one above, for E. Why yes, that's a fried stuffed eggplant with satsuma potato, corn, hijiki, carrots, and soy beans. It looked amazing, though E said that without the flavorful sauce, the dish would have been just okay. But those beautiful layers seem like a culinary feat worth tasting for yourself. Move over, turducken.

To sum up, Chaya didn’t exceed my expectations, but there are more exotic dishes to try. For such beautiful, high quality food at such a low price, I will be back for another round.


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Sushi California

This place has one of the worst names I could think of. Why is Sushi the modifier and California the noun? I would’ve kept accidentally calling it California Sushi if G didn’t keep harassing me to say it correctly.

The place is on an abandoned side street and halfway underground, making it impossible to notice from any major road. Totally suggests hole-in-the-wall, which, paired with 4 stars on yelp, gained our attention. We went in on a slow Monday night around 8 o’clock, so there was only one guy eating at the bar and three professional-looking diners at another table. The guy in particular talked extremely loudly to the sushi chef about the costs of running a restaurant whilest the chef looked bored and simply answered him in nods. I wish they were drowned out by the guitarist sitting next to the entrance but I honestly can’t remember any music during the meal, so he might have given up trying to entertain such a small crowd. Or I was too hungry to notice. Note to self: remember not to eat sushi when hungry. It is one of those rare foods that do not fill me up at all and I might as well treat it like a luxurious snack or instead of dessert.

We started with some free edamame and C got the veggie tempura, which was exactly how tempura should be – freshly fried and crisp, with immaculate veggies showing through the transparent, crackly batter. I tried a mushroom, but it was a bit greasy for me, perhaps because it was on the very bottom and soaked up the oil. At least, I hope that was the case. This was a huge serving, but at 11 dollars, it’s what you’d expect. 

Sorry for the phone pic quality!

cali and spicy tuna. nice of them to put a tuna/mayo mixture on top as well as within. never mind the fact it looks regurgitated..

cali and spicy tuna. nice of them to put a tuna/mayo mixture on top as well as within. never mind the fact it looks regurgitated..

Don’t trust the specials posting online though. It said my crazy roll (9) with hamachi/tobiko/tuna/avo/cucumber was a dollar off but it was not on the actual specials board, and neither were many of the others. I apologise for being the least sophisticated sushi eater ever. Everything sushi should taste. I don’t enjoy or understand sashimi so all I know about this meal is that I had the rare occasion to eat some animal protein and didn’t like it much. I didn’t think I should/could give up fish last year when I ate it once a week, but now I can’t enjoy it. This is also a guess, but I think the fish shouldn’t have been in tiny chunks in the roll, but in larger pieces. Wow, my lack of sushi knowledge is really hurting this post. The whole experience was kind of unremarkable, though. I’d sooner get some at Berkeley Bowl than come back. I don’t use the ginger/wasabi much, but G is a wasabi gal and she didn’t think it was strong enough.

my crazy roll with G's rainbow roll (12) behind. both half eaten

my crazy roll with G's rainbow roll (12) behind. both half eaten

It was nice of them to include some slices of oranges and grapes at the end. The waitress forgot to charge for the spicy tuna roll, so we made up for it in tips. All in all, ho-hum ambience, acceptable price and portion for sushi, and a reminder that I don’t know anything about sushi except that I can inhale a roll in a few minutes and feel no different.

Like a lot of sushi places, this is what they specialize in and there aren’t many other options. You have the option between one kind of udon and a couple teriyaki bowls, along with traditional appetizers like agedashi tofu, oysters, or natto. But I’d go somewhere else.

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