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What's Good 

New Digs for Il Forno and Obento

click to enlarge Maya Matsumoto serving okonomiyaki at Obento's 2023 Oyster Fest booth.

Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Maya Matsumoto serving okonomiyaki at Obento's 2023 Oyster Fest booth.

Il Forno, Fortuna

The people of Fortuna have evidently mastered manifestation, perhaps connecting with their namesake goddess. One can only assume this from the imminent opening of a larger branch of the Asia's Best market there and a second location for the Garberville-based Il Forno Bakery (1006 Main St., Fortuna). What candles are you lighting, Fortunans?

The chai doughnut is rumored to be a stellar spoke in the rotation but stopping in on a day when the lemon and poppyseed was on the counter felt like luck ($2.50). The tangy white icing is thick over the raised yeast doughnut, which is fluffy and moist, with a light stretch when you pull it apart. Lemon is an overlooked flavor for doughnuts and the frosting on this one is downright juicy.

The fox-brown, laminated croissants are a draw, particularly the weighty almond variety ($6.95). Slivers, rather than slices, crunch on top, ground almond filling inside, and powdered sugar and crumbs everywhere. Wear the flakes with pride. Those of us who know the moist, nearly custardy richness sandwiched in these somewhat smashed looking relics of French excess will recognize the spray of crumbs and sugar on your shirt and know you.

The peanut butter and jelly cake ($8.95) is not to be ignored, either. Fudgy chocolate layers are perhaps richer than necessary in a cake mortared together with salty-sweet peanutty buttercream, ganache and strawberry jam, but surely there are other aspects of your life where moderation is better practiced. (Work, perhaps?) Lady Fortuna, after all, favors the bold.

Obento in Northtown

Quarter-century soup stalwart Japhy's only closed in May, and while its fans are still scrambling to recreate its curry chicken soup at home a month and a half later, the spot already has a new tenant taking up the mantle of affordable eats. Obento co-owner Maya Matsumoto is opening an outpost of the casual Japanese spot there (1563 G St.) in the coming months, with the blessing of Japhy's founders, who also own the building. "We were very fortunate to be recommended to the owners Josh and Miwa [Soloman], and we made our pitch," says Matsumoto.

The hunt was already on for a new spot for Obento, according to Matsumoto, but the campus lockdown in reaction to student protests in May moved the timetable up. Being blocked from entering campus meant the loss of business from hungry students during finals, as well as inventory. "We definitely lost a lot of product," she says, adding with a rueful laugh, "It gave us some time to focus on finding another location."

Obento will remain open at its Depot location on the Cal Poly Humboldt campus. Matsumoto hopes to bring some of the elements that have made the business popular with students to the Northtown show, while also adding some new menu items. The plan, she says, is to "keep it cheap, keep it somewhere you can go to for lunch a couple times a month without being ridiculous." The warm rice bowls and other grab-and-go items sell well at the Depot, she says, and she's looking forward to offering them to working folks looking for reasonable lunches.

"We're really aiming to do ... grab and go," she says. "We're inspired by the Japanese convenience stores like Family Mart," which offers pre-packed boxes of sushi, sandwiches and rice dishes. There'll also be tables and a dine-in menu featuring some items best served right away. "We're going to bring back the sushi taco," a wonton shell with sushi rice, fish, sunomono salad, spicy mayo and "all the fixins," she says.

"There's a lot of Japanese food and sushi in Arcata," says Matsumoto, noting Obento's specialty is its modern twist on everyday Japanese food. "We wanna be different, we wanna offer something that's not already available."

Share your tips about What's Good with Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her), arts and features editor at the Journal, at [email protected].

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

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