Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Decatur: The Corner Cup

A car repair appointment gave me the pleasure of trying The Corner Cup. It's in the Pea Ridge shopping center, which seems to be a hoppin' spot these days. Their format is traditional morning coffee spot.

In addition to a variety of coffee styles, they have a huge selection of huge pastries. I didn't see a lot of small, dainty ladyfingers in these cases. These pastries are designed to get you going in the morning. I sampled a large cup of refreshing coffee and a huge apple turnover that I nibbled on throughout the day. I was very pleased to see unusual items like the turnover. Pastries clearly are not relegated to second class status here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Honolulu: Koa Pancake House

My trip back to Japan included a layover of a few hours in Honolulu. I didn't have a lot of time but I was definitely in the mood for a hearty American breakfast. The airport's options were depressingly limited. Renting a car for a few hours would have cost an exorbitant amount of money so I walked down the road from the airport. Along the way, I was able to soak in the sun and enjoy the natural beauty that spills over into even the most mundane locations.

My destination was Koa Pancake House. It is tucked into a small mall surrounded by the joint base that includes Pearl Harbor and Hickman Field. The place was hopping, with a constant stream of individuals and families. The format is a bit like a southern BBQ restaurant: order at the counter, wait for your food to come out either at a table or for takeout. Most of their business must be takeout given the volume of people flowing through.

I ordered a veggie omelet, which came with a stack of pancakes. Everything was very enjoyable. The omelet was tender and filled with nice vegetables. The pancakes were amazingly thick and fluffy. I walked back to the airport in a very satisfied mood, enjoying more flowers along the way.

Home Grown

Home Grown is a very popular Reynoldstown spot. I was able to get in on a Saturday morning because I arrived early, fresh off a redeye. But any later and the parking lot is likely to be full. Quite frankly, although I enjoyed my meal, the restaurant seemed like an urban version of Cracker Barrel, a heightened-reality version of a Southern restaurant, complete with a Southern knick-knack gift shop.

I ordered two items: a veggie omelet and an order of biscuits and gravy. The omelet was fluffy and rich, with creamy cheese for added richness. The cheese grits that came with it were pretty darn perfect. When I turned to the biscuits, I found the gravy to be very thin, although nicely flavored with porky sweetness.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

KIX: Rice Cake

Kansai Airport is built on an artificial island, a pile of rocks in the middle of Osaka Bay. The buildings are designed with spare Japanese efficiency. Most of the restaurant options are before security; there isn't much at all to choose from near the gates. In any case, I wasn't very hungry before I boarded the plane but I did want a snack. This rice cake fit the bill. The wrapping is very clever: on the shelf, it appears that the seaweed is wrapped around the rice, showing its final presentation; in fact, the seaweed is kept dry and crispy with a separate pouch. I wrapped my rice cake and enjoyed. Inside was a bit of red bean paste to enliven things. A few minutes more waiting, then onto the plane.

Nara, Japan: Mochi

Jiang wanted to be sure that I was comfortable on my flight, so he gave me this special treat. Mochi is made all over Japan; this is a special Nara version. The basic mochi ball is made of glutenous rice. The Nara version has a gentle green powder on top and red bean paste in the middle. They have a very soft and comforting texture and just enough sweetness to make the mouth water. The effect is a little like marshmallows but richer.

Osaka: Botejyu

Yuan, Angela, and Andrew treated me to an excellent meal of an Osaka classic, okonomiyaki. It is a pancake stuffed with all sorts of ingredients---anything goes. I have seen it made in New York but never before tasted it. The batter is poured, the mixins added. After cooking on one side, the entire contraption is flipped over.

Botejyu was founded just after the end of WW II. Mayonnaise was one of the many new foods introduced to the Japanese public by American troops. Botejyu figured out how to use this rare ingredient with classic okonomiyaki. Despite their very different origins, these foods do really go together.

I ordered the Moonlight Special. Underneath that egg are several kinds of meats: beef, cuttlefish, and something else that I can't quite remember. Both mayonnaise and BBQ sauce were added to moisten everything and round out the flavors.

This is rich, hearty food and deeply enjoyable. I think that Waffle House could score a big hit with this one---call it the Flying Pig Special.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Osaka: Dononbori

I had a free afternoon and took the train to Osaka to explore its famous street food. The Dotonbori district, near Namba station, is a famous tourist area for both Japanese and foreign visitors. Osaka is known as Japan's kitchen and Dotonbori has an amazing variety of foods on display as you walk down the street.

This view greeted me as I first entered the street. The signs are gonzo advertising, the sort of thing that would make a Times Square emporium blush. And these signs show the huge variety---crabs and sausages nestled next to each other.

It took just a few steps for me to find my first objective: octopus balls. The young lady cooking them on the street was impressively competent in English and very adept with the grill.

I ate mine as I walked down the street using toothpicks to spear them. These puppies were hot. And they were delicious. Each ball seemed to have two large rings. They weren't in the least tough. I ordered the sauce half-and-half, with a white sauce on one side and BBQ on the other; the white sauce was my favorite.

After enjoying the street and the river that runs by it, I headed south.

After a few blocks, I noticed this octopus ball cooker. Tempted as I was to buy one to open an octopus ball emporium at Lenox Square, I decided to put off those entrepreneurial ambitions.

As it turns out, I had stumbled into the restaurant supply district. The stores displayed everything from stylish dishes to used kitchen equipment. The stores themselves were generally less industrial and more attractive than their American equivalents.