Fukada - Interrupt

>> Sunday, February 19, 2012

Date of Dining: 11/23/2011
Price: ~$15-18 per person with combo and appetizer
Location: 8683 Irvine Center Dr, Irvine, CA 92618

The Quick Bit:
+ hand made udon and soba
+ nice selection of side dishes for izakaya-style dining
+ organic ingredients and brown rice substitutions are possible for healthier dining
Δ service can be inattentive
Δ possible long wait times as no reservations are taken

Fukada is one of those neighborhood hole-in-the-wall places that has outgrown the hole-in-the-wall moniker into something much larger. Situated across the 405 freeway from the prominent Irvine Spectrum, Fukada is one of Irvine's few non-chain restaurants (well I guess technically that is not true since there is Fukada2Go) and serves elevated traditional Japanese everyday food. 
Fukada does two things different from other Japanese restaurants. First, they use higher quality organic ingredients for some dishes, and second, they hand-make their udon and soba. The combination of these two factors means that the food at Fukada has a purer quality to it, which elevates the taste above other similar restaurants. 
On a trip to the restroom, it is possible to see the windowed room where all the noodles are hand-made daily on the premises. 
Growing up in OC, Fukada was one of my favorite destinations for a high quality taste of Japanese cuisine. While the food doesn't quite measure up to the same food in Japan, the bar doesn't fall too far below that mark. When I visit the OC, I still visit Fukada quite frequently as I have yet to find anything quite the same in San Diego.
I went to Fukada with one of my college classmates, who is a self-professed ram-maniac. We ordered a bit skewed off what I normally order in order to accommodate.

A staple side of many Japanese restaurants, the gyoza is usually a good representative of the other food offered at the establishment. However, using the gyoza to judge Fukada would be a mistake as the average gyoza don't compare to the rest of the high-quality food offered.
fried chicken wings
One of the signature appetizers, the fried chicken wings are a perfect bit of savory fried goodness. Sometimes doing something simple correctly goes very far and these fried wings with ponzu-dashi sauce had just the right combination of salty savory chicken to acidic umami. These were a great complement to the other dishes we had on the table.
In addition to these appetizers, Fukada offers a selection of broiled fish; I highly recommend the broiled yellowtail collar if it is available. They also offer a high quality selection of sashimi (although it's not anywhere near the level of Kaito, it is still above many entry-level sushi places) - perhaps one of their best dishes is the sashimi salad which mixes some tataki-style grilled sashimi on a bed of organic mixed lettuce.

Fukada's claim to fame is the noodle combinations. For lunch, there is usually a special of a noodle with California roll or crunchy roll. However, there is also the combination of noodle with donburri available throughout the day.
When ordering noodles, one specifies hot (in a dashi broth) or cold (with dipping sauce) - if the hot option is selected, then a choice of tanuki (tempura batter) or sansai (mountain vegetables) is available.
hot soba sansai
As my noodle of choice is the soba, I usually swap between the cold and hot soba, but when I select the soba I always go sansai. The soba flavor is really allowed to come through with the high quality dashi stock that the noodles are served in. The mountain vegetables offer a variety of healthy flavors and textures to complement the noodles.
The ten-don is a standard donburi that contains two shrimp tempura cooked into an omelette form topped in a rice bowl. While this is a pretty standard Japanese preparation, the use of higher quality ingredients really highlights the flavors.
hot udon tanuki
spicy tuna-don
My dinner mate elected to go with udon and the spicy tuna don. While I didn't actually sample his meal, I'll work off my memory of many meals at the restaurant for the udon - I've never tasted the spicy tuna don.
The hand-made udon really makes a difference in the flavor of the noodle as the udon has a much more supple texture that creates a different mouth-feel from the mushier frozen variety. There is also just the right amount of resistance in the dough to give the correct chew experience. The draw of the tanuki ramen is the contrasting textures both in the beginning and as the bowl goes on; the tempura bits start crunchy at first and then morph into sponges full of the dashi flavor.
In addition to the noodle combos, there are some other noodle dishes available as well. Of particular note, the nabeyaki udon is impressive as it contains a variety of ingredients to build a great sampling of many flavors.

Sometimes the preparation of ingredients simply to highlight the flavors is the best way to go. Fukada is a great example of this practice. I consider the restaurant as comfort food, but unlike the extremely unhealthy kill your arteries comfort food, Fukada is comfort food at healthy levels. When anyone asks me for an everyday restaurant recommendation in Orange County, Fukada is my go to recommendation. While it's no longer really a secret place anymore and the lines can be long, the food is worth the wait.
As one of my favorite stops in OC, Fukada gets the kilobit award.


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
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