Friday, December 18, 2009

Kappo Honda: Real satisfaction

Going to Izakaya Wasa made me realize how long it had been since I'd been to Kappo Honda in Fountain Valley - the real deal when it comes to izakaya.

While Wasa provided a lovely experience, I suddenly craved the more down-to-earth offerings - and the huge menu - of an authentic, warm and casual izakaya.

So my friend Amy (who is also Japanese) and I met up in Fountain Valley, which is another popular Orange County city for Japanese eateries - in fact, I like to call the intersection of Brookhurst Street and Ellis Avenue "O.C.'s Yakitori Central," with Kappo Honda on one side of Brookhurst and Shin Sen Gumi on the other.

(I'll write about Shin Sen Gumi in a future post.)

Anyway, Amy and I were both craving J comfort foods that we hadn't enjoyed in a while, and Kappo Honda did not disappoint.

But first, we had to get through the challenging task of selecting what we wanted to eat: so many choices, so hard to choose ...

Kappo Honda is located in a classic mini-mall, but once you step inside, you're transported to a rustic Japanese izakaya. You'll find plenty of wood decor and Japanese diners - including lots of families.

The wooden menu panels on the wall don't even scratch the surface of the huge regular menu, and on top of that, there is an abundant "specials" menu, too:

We tried to choose from every category: starters, stewed dishes, yakitori (grill), rice dishes ... but we still ended up not ordering anything from the grilled or raw fish categories (well, my Ikura Oroshi could fit the raw category).

Let's get straight to the food:
First, the yakitori (also known as kushiyaki - "grilled skewers")
The grilled offerings here were much better than at Izakaya Wasa: more complex and interesting in their flavor combinations, with meat that is tender and almost juicy, not grilled to dryness.
At left is gobo and pork (burdock root wrapped in a bacon-like strip of pork and grilled). I decided to pass up my usual favorite of pork-wrapped asparagus and I think I found a new favorite.
Gobo is usually very crunchy, similar in consistency to carrots, but in this case, it was clearly cooked in a sweet soy bath before being wrapped in the bacon-thin strips of pork and grilled.
That resulted in a soft consistency and a nice, sweet, stewed flavor that paired remarkably well with the contrasting salty, slightly charred pork.

The chicken breast wrapped in shiso leaf (at right in photo) was paired with white onion slices on the skewer for a refreshing, lighter-flavored skewer.

I also ordered the spicy chili chicken wing, curious how this would be prepared.
It was DELICIOUS - just the perfect amount of red chili salt, and the wings were surprisingly juicy and tender, again not grilled to dryness.
Amy ordered her favorite grilled ginko nuts (at left in photo) - strong, distinctive nutty flavor that's similar to chestnut but much stronger in flavor.

Next, the Ikura Oroshi: salmon roe served with grated daikon radish.
As you can tell from my prior blog posts, I love ikura - salty, flavorful morsels.
And paired with tangy daikon, it was heavenly - strangely, the two strong tastes balanced each other perfectly in this combination: the salmon taste cut the bite of the daikon but didn't overpower the radish flavor either.
I was going to order a side of rice to eat this with, but I found myself slurping down the entire serving (about the size of a scoop of ice cream) with great satisfaction before I could even think about flagging the waitress.
Who needs the rice?

I initially thought the sweet potato croquettes might taste bland, but I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth, oh-so-slightly sweet potato flavor - actually not as bland as regular potato korokke.
The black sesame sprinkled in the panko batter was also a nice touch and may have influenced that smooth, overall mellow, but distinct flavor.
I may have a hard time having regular korokke again.

The stewed kabocha and ground chicken was pure comfort food - sweet, meaty kabocha pumpkin and ground chicken stewed in a fish broth flavored with soy and brown sugar.
I practically slurped the whole bowl down - luckily, I was cognizant of the fact that I was sharing the dish with Amy, so I refrained.

Finally, we had to order grilled onigiri and ochazuke - OF COURSE!
We ordered one small bowl of salmon ochazuke to share, figuring we could always order another if it wasn't enough.
The bowl looked small but it ended up providing two perfect portions considering all the other food we had.
As expected, this ochazuke was satisfying, though it tasted more salty than others I've enjoyed recently.

And the grilled onigiri was perfect - grilled perfectly to be crunchy but also fluffy enough on the inside, with some of the teriyaki marinade seeping into the rice - much better than the grilled onigiri at Izakaya Wasa that tasted too charred and dry.

Total bill for two: $41. We didn't order any alcoholic beverages because the hojicha (a roasted green tea that has a toasty, nutty flavor) tasted so good, went so well with the hearty food and was endlessly refilled by the diligent servers.

We two petite Japanese women were full. It may take a little more to satisfy a man-sized hunger. But even if we had ordered a few more dishes, we still would have gotten out of there for less than $40 each, including tip.

Kappo Honda set a new standard in my current izakaya craving period. Would Shin Sen Gumi across the street stand up to this level?

Stay tuned ...

Kappo Honda
18450 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

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