Since I am a connoisseur of things put in your mouth for subsistence, I decided try some unusual meals. I have a dear friend that has been deployed to sand ridden places multiple times (over ten) and told me about MRE’s. The Meal, Ready-to-Eat, commonly known as the MRE, is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging bought by the United States Military for its service members for use in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available.
Our soldier brought over some MRE’s for us to try and to say it was the most interesting meal of my life is an understatement. He started the meal by placing a traditional Afghan quilt as a tablecloth. He also made me a present of a Bunker Bracelet, a quilted parachute cord adornment made in the tedium amid combat. I respected that soldiers are making jewelry in between shots being fired at them. He also had Gary put on the Shemagh, the tradition cloth used to keep the dust off while in Afghanistan.
He had us try two different MRE’s. These prepackaged meals are dense with calories and sugar, as that is what is needed in a combat situation. The MRE’s have a 5-6 year shelf life, expect in the heat. He told us of the 130-degree heat that is a daily challenge. He said that they adjusted too the heat so much that when they were in an air-conditioned hanger, 90 degrees felt cold to them. With the laying out of the meal, the extreme conditions, I was awed with the sacrifices these men give to our country.
He produced a big knife, to open the contents and we laid them out. There was toilet paper, gum and instant coffee on top. A hot beverage bag came out next, which uses chemicals to warm up the coffee or tea. A bag marked peanut butter came next and I was instructed to knead it. We spread it on a dense cracker (that was like tack bread). The spoon was a treasure and he said most the soldiers save them for coffee later. The drink was a carbo-loaded electrolyte grape flavor you poured into a bottle of water.
The applesauce and the fruit flavored snack were the next bites, they were loaded with sugar and I asked him what his first impression of these meals was. “I was glad to have it when I needed it,” was his pragmatic answer.
The main dish is warmed up with a salt heater. You drop the food in a bag, add water and close it, then shake to activate the heat. The instruction said to lay it on a rock or other hard surface. The box of the food comes apart and makes a free postcard; in fact there was little waste in these MRE’s.
We shared the wheat bread and cheese spread; both were dense and full of the familiar sense of food at home. Each meal has over 1250 calories to help soldiers keep moving. The grape flavored drink reminded me of Kool-Aid when I was six. The coffee was Nescafe and came with sugar and creamer.
Our main meal was Spicy Penne Pasta and after 5 minutes in the Flameless ration heater or warmer, it was ready to eat. It had a faint familiarity of an Italian Grandma’s cooking and was hot, so a bonus. Our other main meal was Beef Brisket with biscuits and mashed potatoes. Each pack came with warm reminders of home, if not in taste, at least in name.
My hero told me that hot sauce and chocolate peanut butter packs are coveted by our soldiers. MRE’s are mostly used when soldiers are on assignment and away from the base; they serve a nutritional value to the brave men and woman risking their lives for our freedom.
I dare you all to try one and then not to lobby congress for better food for our troops. I am glad I tried the meals and delighted I am lucky enough to call this brave man my friend.
There is nothing that excites me as much as a good noodle. We have been lacking in a noodle habitation, so I was excited to see Raku Ramen open in in one of the three restaurant spaces in San Luis Obispo’s Mix on Monterey. A quick stopover delighted my senses with a casual atmosphere, solid menu, and lunch friendly prices. Focusing on noodle and rice bowls, this little haven stole my heart. I took my managing editor that is a notorious picky eater, but they made her a believer. Owned by the same mastermind of flavor, Steve Supina who runs the Raku Izakaya in Grover Beach and has been a staple in my family for years. Steve has opened a noddle centric place, and kept a few favorites from Grover Beach on the menu for the San Luis Raku Ramen.
First my guest asked me “What is Ramen?” thinking there would be no way my palate was accepting of the Dollar Store Top Ramen we all subsisted on in College. I explained, with my noodle passion, what truly comprises a bowl of ramen. Perfect Ramen subsist with three distinct parts: the soup, noodles, and toppings. Each part is no less important than the other. The chemistry between them creates the rich and exquisite taste of Japanese ramen. Each part, depending on the chef’s tastes and preferences, vary widely as well. The soup may be created using soy sauce, miso, salt, and countless other ingredients. The noodles also vary in taste, texture, color, and form, but most noodles share the consistency shared by the common ingredients of flour, eggs, and kansui (a type of alkaline water). The toppings help to accentuate the noodles and the soup, from the Chashu (braised pork belly) to the ni-tamago (boiled egg pickled in soy sauce). With limitless varieties and variations in each respective ingredient, Japanese ramen is truly diverse, allowing each chef to create their own unique flavors and tastes.
We started with the Spicy Garlic Edamame, which she would pronounce her favorite thing in the world. These Japanese soybeans are enhanced with a garlic/miso/chili sauce that is out of this world. She went for the Curry Udon that was done with a Japanese Beef Curry Sauce. She loved every bite. I went for the Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen that was a beautiful to the eye as it was to my taste buds. The noddle soup was filled with flavor, spicy ground pork, a slice of chashu pork, and the ni-tamago. It was garnished with chopped green onions and garlic chips. It was subtle and wonderful, even with its spicy zest.
I brought back Gary and friends the next night and we all went crazy for the food. We all shared the Spicy Garlic Edamame, an order of Mixed Tempura and Takoyaki. Raku is one of the few restaurants in SLO that serve this amazing dish that is commonly called octopus balls. All appetizers were flavor forward and wonderful. We shared a bottle of crispy Pinot Grigio that was perfect with the subtle flavors and flashes of spice.
We each tried a bowl of Signature Ramen including Basil Ramen, a unique basil pesto broth with spinach noodles garnished with chashu, tomato slices, spinach, onions and garlic chips. It was wonderful. We also tried a Donburi Rice bowl. The Spicy Tuna Don was a bit of enchanting spicy tuna served over jasmine or brown rice with avocado and Ikura (orange caviar). I was vacillating over who was my true love, rice or noodles?
The Vegetarian was not lacking anything sans meat with its house made vegetable broth served with spinach noodles and Japanese vegetables, shitake mushrooms and tofu. I had the Raku Ramen, a spicy bowl filled with premium Tonkosu ramen, with pork cutlet, corn bamboo shoots, scallions and Rayu chili oil. I had them add extra noodles and a fish cake, and it was a heavenly bowl.
We finished off sharing a Heart Attack with is a jalapeno sliced and cleaned then stuffed with spicy tuna and cream cheese and tempered, hot delicious and savory.
This is comfort food in its finest form. I have eaten here ten times since my first visit. I almost always order a bowl to go for dinner later. The service is friendly, though the ordering is confusing at first, both the counter and the cook will help you select what is flawless for your tastes. Raku Ramen is located at 1308 Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo; call them at (805) 439-3088.
A restaurant is so much more than its cuisine. The service and atmosphere are as important as the items coming out of the kitchen. That is why I was thrilled when Robert’s Restaurant and Wine Bar opened the second location in the Village of Arroyo Grande. It is a sophisticated, yet refreshingly relaxed atmosphere of glossy woods, exquisite decor, and captivating photography of the stars of yesteryear, the ones that made us swoon. White table clothes adorn every table and the handcrafted chairs beg for you to sit back and enjoy refinement.
I love that the chef’s look right out into the dining room and the window seats on the front enclosure. We started with a bottle of Victor Hugo Petite Sirah, one of the best wines coming out of the Paso Area. Chef de Cuisine, Bo Fargo (who I am a long time fan of his work in the kitchen) sent out some succulent Fried Brussels Sprouts. Usually this is my most avoided vegetable, but the waiter assured us that this was the best dish on the menu. They came is a shallow bowl with a drizzle of smoked goat cheese, but were swimming in a apple cider glaze that cut the bitterness of the orbs and brought out an amazing sweet flavor. I had a second and third helping, surprising myself.
Gary started with the Signature Carrot Cake and a huge slice arrived with three layers with cream cheese frosting and toasted pistachios. Not recognizing all the flavors, our waiter told us there were quinoa and a parsley green sauce. Delectable and good for you, we were on to something. We all munched on the cheese plate with a creamy brie, Spanish manchego and Pt. Reyes Blue with a plethora of dried fruits, nuts and crispy crackers. The Braised Pork Belly with its green apple slaw, roasted apple, and maple demi glaze reduction was a table favorite as the pork belly was thick and crispy. The apple did what it does best with pork in both forms.
On to the main dishes that were recommended highly by the waiter and did not disappoint. Beef Stroganoff Braised Short Ribs consisted of fall off the bone meat in a creamy mushroom sauce and papardelle pasta. It was comfort food and yet very stylish. I thoroughly enjoyed the Macadamia Nut Crusted Halibut with sautéed snow peas, green onion rice, and a papaya-coconut beurre blanc sauce. We all tried it, the table grew quite, and I think I moaned. This dish was so good it robbed that table of conversation.
For those of us that want our sweets after the meal, the Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake with vanilla ice cream was a dreamy delight. I talked with Executive Chef Justin Picard, he told me he started as a cook at Robert’s Paso Robles. He has been in the restaurant business since he was 8 years old, a son of a chef. His family owned and operated a New England fine dining restaurant. He told me he loves surprising the diners of South County as he believes that cooking isn’t just a job, its an art form.
I returned the next day with my dear friend Suellen Iness. She is a traditional eater, I was sure that she would love Robert’s twist on fine dining. We started with Crispy Shrimp Spring Rolls that were amazing. Spicy, crunchy and wrapped in a butter lettuce cup with fresh herbs, cashews, and piquant dipping sauce, we inhaled them. Bo brought us some specials to try a taste of and we were impressed. Smoke trout on butter lettuce with shredded green pea pods and caramelized onions, sitting on a bed of baby greens. I adored the Smoked scallops, acquired from a couple of ultimate chefs who smoked the scallops to perfection. They were served with a salad of lemon cucumber, baby tomato, butter pickles with a sriracha drizzle.
Running low of tummy room, we shared the Crispy Mahi-Mahi Tacos. I loved that tempura battered fish came served on grilled corn tortillas, with cabbage, cotija cheese, spicy salsa and a chipotle garlic-lime sauce. This was a perfect lunch; we were both excited to return.
One of my children had a celebratory event and wanted us all to go out to dinner. She was honored with choosing a spot and she chooses well. As a group, we descended upon the restaurant, CrazySushi Fever in Atascadero a Fusion Japanese Tapas and Kitchen. They were amazingly accommodating and had a wide variety of dishes to satisfy the 2-year-old to the 70-year-old and everyone in between.
We ordered steamed rice and Edamame for the little’s to sedate their appetite and boredom. Edamame is a Japanese soybean that you eat like sunflower seeds, so it is a skill and a treat. I spied a Garlic Edamame on the menu and ordered that for the big folks to share. The beans were steamed and then dashed with slices of garlic and oil, it was a hit. The chef also sent over some Salmon Skin that was dredged in panko and then deep fried, covered with a spicy sirracha sauce and sweet eel, it was resting on a bed of greens and disappeared very quickly.
The reason this restaurant was primarily chosen is because they do sushi rolls without rice. The No Rice Rolls were all works of art and although I was set against them at first, they ended up being my favorite. We started with the Love Love that consisted of spicy diced tuna and avocado slices wrapped with tuna sashimi, spicy small scallop pieces and drizzled with a chili sesame sauce. It was as delicious as it was pretty. Next we tried the Pink Lady with crab and avocado wrapped in big salmon sashimi and a sweet ponzu sauce. My favorite was the Cucumber Special that has cubed pieces of salmon, tuna, albacore and gobo wrapped in a cucumber skin and drizzled with a ponzu sauce. One of the things I like best about these rolls, is you didn’t fill up on rice; there was room in your tummy for more raw fish. They boys liked the What The Heck with a deep fried soft shell crab wrapped in spicy tuna with a tasty creamy lemon sauce. The kids said it looked like a spider and we agreed that if spiders tasted this yummy, no one would be afraid of them.
The non-sushi eaters tried the noodle menu and it was big, hot and full of surprises. The CSF Nabeyaki Udon came in a huge cast iron pot and was chocked full of scallops, mussels, shrimp, Japanese vegetables, hard boiled egg and glorious noodles all in a broth of rich savories. We also tried a Chicken Teriyaki bowl with the right amount of salty teriyaki flavor over grilled chicken breast on a bed of jasmine rice and veggies.
We finished with a Popcorn Lobster roll with langoustine pieces deep fried and sitting over a California roll with a sweet eel sauce and a Spicy Tuna Nacho with spicy diced tuna and salsa served on a crispy wonton. The best roll was the strangest name, Who’s Your Ex-Wife with a deep fried spicy tuna and a crab stick, cream cheese, asparagus and jalapeno all drizzled with a white and sirracha sauce.
We ended with strawberry Mochi for the kids, these frozen and deep fried pockets of sweetness were a hit and the birthday girl got a deep fried cheesecake with fresh berries and berry syrup. We opened presents, sang an off key song and were all delighted with the meal and the wonderful servers and chefs. It was a prefect celebratory meal.
Crazy Sushi Fever is located at 8050 El Camino Real in Atascadero and can be reached at (805) 464-5027. They are open Monday thru Thursday from 11:00am to 9:30pm, Fridays from 11:00am to 10:00pm, Saturday from 12:00pm to 10:00pm and Sunday from 12:00pm to 9:00pm.