Honda Ya Box
I’m no yakisoba expert, unless by an expert you mean somebody who has eaten a metric ton of yakisoba in the past decade or so. From what I gather, yakisoba is one of those cultural hodgepodge dishes, equal parts Japanese, Chinese, and kitchen sink. The basic formula is ramen noodles fried in a Worcestershire-heavy sauce along with carrots, cabbage, onions, and some form of pork. Toppings vary, but usually include shredded ginger, powdered seaweed, and undulating katsuobushi. A healthy squirt of Kewpie, a Japanese brand of MSG-laced mayonnaise, never hurt anyone. When it all comes together right, yakisoba is savory alchemy. I can’t go for more than a month without seriously jonesing for a hit.
Longtime readers know of my devotion to Honda Ya, a Tustin izakaya that has housed many great boozy evenings in my life, including the one after my wedding. It’s a bit of a schlep to Tustin from Corona del Mar, however, and the original restaurant is one of those places that demands a big raucous group of friends to share it with. B and I were thus happy to discover the newest addition to the family of restaurants, Honda Ya Box in Costa Mesa. Geared more towards a lunch crowd, this streamlined little brother has a pared-down menu of classics. It’s virtually empty on weekday evenings when we usually go, though the service and food are unflaggingly great no matter what time we come in. Perhaps the best part is the price – the heap of bacon-studded yakisoba happiness pictured above is only six bucks, with draft beer and sake coming in at a couple more. We’re talking dinner for two, with booze, in Orange County, for under twenty bucks. I’m sure it will be as busy as the original in no time, so get in while the getting is good.
PS. DK’s Doughnuts next door does a killer old-fashioned, if you are in for the bonus round.
Back to Life
I’ve been thinking about you and this space for a long time, probably because writing here represented a very happy time in my life. In contrast, virtually everything about this year just plain took it out of me. I’m trying to finish my degree and get a teaching job, which is a roundly miserable process even when it works (and in my case, it doesn’t appear to be working). If you’ve read anything recently about the academic job market or the state of higher education in general, you know that there are vastly more qualified candidates than tenure-track teaching jobs. Period. This isn’t even about those of us with woefully impractical degrees. Even the scientists and engineers I know (and respect immensely) can’t seem find work – you know, the people that cure and build things and are supposed to be educating the next generation to do so as well. And it’s not just a bunch of overeducated whiners that get the shit end of the stick on this situation, either. The mere idea that people spend the kind of money it costs nowadays to go college only be taught ninety percent of their classes by adjuncts – great teachers, but people often spread so thin that they can barely interact with the hundreds of students they encounter each semester – well, that’s just a travesty. It’s not just public schools! Half the places I’m applying for crappy, contingent labor are private schools that cost sixty grand a year in tuition! There is a lot of writing on this subject all over the internet, and it is much more incisive in both its rage and sober accounting of what a mess higher education is for our whole country, so you should seek it out if you don’t already know what’s what.
Even when you understand a problem is systemic, it still sucks when it knocks on your own door. Call it the narcissism of relative catastrophe. I knew things were bad, and that the job market would likely be unkind to me in this first go-around. But I still can’t even express what a total psychic walloping this whole experience has been. Until this point, I’ve been quite lucky. A modicum of effort has always yielded tremendously more than I had any right to expect and certainly more than I deserved. In keeping with that general trend, I believed that if I tried really hard, I’d buck the trend and get everything I had hoped for. Over a few months of rejection letters and deafening silence, I’ve had to psychologically acclimate to my sense of failure and wasted effort. It’s been ugly. It was hard at points to remember what it felt like to write and teach without feeling dejected. Probably because I hadn’t written anything except rejected applications – not my dissertation, not letters to friends, and certainly not musings about what I enjoy shoving in my mouth.
Life has a way of creeping back in, despite one’s most resolute intention to be miserable. B was the best partner imaginable through this whole thing. He tirelessly edited every last word I sent out to job and fellowship committees. He would wake up and patiently listen to every nightmare scenario of impending homelessness and perceived mediocrity that I would conjure up breathless at 4 a.m. He even gently informed me that I had gone off the rails at some points, and what is a good husband if not one who tell you that you’ve seriously spun out and need a reality check? And he was ready and willing to provide those reality checks: hikes in the beautiful hills nearby that overlook the ocean, double features at the New Beverly in Los Angeles, and fish tacos at any place claiming to observe the secular Sabbath of Taco Tuesday. On top of all that, my friends and family have been so loving, supportive, and willing to drop everything to hear me kvetch that I actually get choked up just thinking about it. At the end of the day, I couldn’t be luckier, even though I may be a very lucky unemployed person in a few short months.
All this is to say that I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch, dearest reader. It’s been a slog, but I’m coming out of it. If you are still coming here, you’re probably wondered what the hell had happened to me. Or you are a spambot. Either way, I have so much to tell you about living in California. I hope you’ll stay tuned.
Kisses to my readers and spambots alike,
Clarence Jumps for Joy: More Boston Feasts
When we weren’t eating the insects of the sea, we ate some other pretty terrific stuff during my brief sojourn in Boston. After a day of sightseeing and shopping on Newbury Street, M and I headed to Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop (52 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118, 617.423.4800, www.thebutchershopboston.com). I’d been excited to try The Butcher Shop ever since my friend J purchased her Thanksgiving turkey there last year to rave reviews. It’s a real carnivore pleasure hanging out there, as they do much of the butchery right in the center of the dining area (vegetarians and the squeamish should probably eat somewhere else, if the name of the restaurant wasn’t clue enough). The refrigerated case would be the first thing I would rob given the opportunity and disposition for theft.
We ate lunch at the bar, drinking rosé and sharing a charcuterie plate of mortadella, prosciutto di Parma, salami Biellese, spicy sopressata, game bird en croûte, pâte de campagne, and a foie gras terrine, as well as a few cheeses from their excellent selection. Everything was lovely, though the portions are pretty miniscule. I did secretly long for the heavy, unfussy charcuterie plates at Le Baron Rouge, but as far as US charcuterie goes, The Butcher Shop is pretty great. For the Boston folks, it would also be an excellent resource if you were looking for an unusual cut of meat.
For my final evening in Cambridge, M had made reservations at the cozy local restaurant Bondir (279A Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139, 617.661.0009, www.bondircambridge.com). Named for chef Jason Bond and presumably meant to evoke something like “to leap for joy” in French, it has a bit of a different connotation for French speakers (especially the filthy-minded ones like us). Let George Brassens explain:
Egregious sexual innuendos aside (and there were certainly a lot of them), Bondir is a truly gorgeous restaurant. It’s tiny — only 28 seats — meaning that reservations are a must, though I did see a few people loitering by the handsome fireplace hoping that a table would open up as the evening progressed. Bondir’s menu changes daily and focuses on sustainable New England produce and seafood. All the plates come in two sizes and sharing is encouraged – great news if your crew is like my crew and everything gets passed around anyway. On our night in April, we drank a ‘09 Francois Raquillet, ‘Les Naugues’ Mercury première Cru, and the three of us shared the following:
Scituate scallops with sorrel, yellowfoot mushrooms, Georgia sweet peas, pickled radish pod, and sage froth
French white asparagus salad with wild Westport watercress, lemon-chili vinaigrette, pickled rhubarb, lemon verbena, and olive oil-poached Day Boat halibut
Red wheat rigatoni with braised beef shank, shiitake mushroom, butternut squash, Pu-Erh celery baton, and Parmigiano Reggiano
Rouen duck breast with Rhode Island white flint cornmeal cake, young onion greens, collard greens, and red wine black lentils
Angus beef bavette with red wine braised root vegetables, rye berries with crème fraîche, and roasting jus
Westport spring-dug sunchokes with olive oil-caramel, gingerbread cake, lemon mousseline, and fruit leather
Sour cherry trifle with mocha chocolate financier, almond milk gelato, and meringue brulée
Those final two desserts were really something special – I had never imagined that a roasted sunchoke would make for such an utterly decadent dessert. I’ll ‘fess up now, I didn’t record the details of each dish with nearly the precision listed above (my real list was more like Scallops! White asparagus! Pasta thing! Duck! Beef! SUNCHOKE DESSERT! Sour cherry sundae!). I fleshed out the details two months later with the happy assistance of the Bondir website. If, like Clarence, your version of porn is restaurant menus, I’d highly encourage a visit, as an archive of past menus is available for your perusal. I’ve gotten some lovely ideas for my own cooking from the site since my visit. A pithy substitute for a lovely evening, but it will have to suffice until I find myself again in Cambridge.
Finally, I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem (48 Central Street, Salem, MA 01970, 978.744.4881, www.ajkingbakery.com), both for their g-g-g-gorgeous bread and free WiFi, which allowed A to study for his exams while M and I browsed the nearby Peabody Essex Museum. We devoured one of their boules and a rhubarb tart at the beach in Rockport, yelling at the seagulls to bake their own damn bread. I brought a bag of A&J’s coconut macaroons back home to Indiana for B, thereby extending my the yumminess of my trip into the following week at home.