Thursday, November 26, 2015

"What Happens To Me During The Holidays"

Here's a little cartoon I drew that was originally published in OC Weekly last holiday season.

It seemed appropriate to re-run it today of all days.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Stone's Smokehouse - Brea

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Poke Dot - Irvine

If you're wondering why the heck there are so many poke shops every where these days, you should read an article I wrote about the dude who started it all--Julian Fukue of PokiNometry.

I point this out because it doesn't seem that most people are aware of how these build-your-own-poke shops became such a hot concept, not even a guest on Evan Kleiman's Good Food show on KCRW who was brought on to talk about the proliferation of poke.

As far as that guest was concerned, the spate of poke shops just came down from the Heavens by way of Hawaii as though through Immaculate Conception.

He had no idea that it was Fukue who figured out that poke lends itself well to the Chipotle assembly line concept, and most importantly, that there's a demand for it.

After all, what is a poke bowl if not disassembled sushi that's cheap and filling.

Since PokiNometry invented the concept, I've stayed relatively loyal to it and haven't tried too many of its knock-offs, but if you're going to copy PokiNometry, you can't do it better than Poke Dot.

At Poke Dot, to build your meal, you start with the usual selection of small, medium, and large sizes that comes with two, three, or five scoops of fish (salmon, ahi, yellowtail, shrimp, octopus, scallop, and spicy tuna). For a base: rice, brown rice, salad mix, chips or a wrap.

Then, cucumber, onion, avocado, and crab mix, which--like PokiNometry--are free. Also free: green onion, masago, seaweed flakes, ginger, wasabi, and sesame seeds.

After that, it's off to saucing, which includes a house-blend in various levels of scorch.

I write all of this down to show that like all the other copycats, Poke Dot is doing what PokiNometry does verbatim; but then, Poke Dot goes off and riffs on its own, adding jalapenos, tempura crumbs, and a cilantro dressing.

But the extra options aren't what make Poke Dot great. What makes it great is that Poke Dot's bowl satisfied me as much as anything I ate at PokiNometry--a meal that fulfills my sushi cravings without having to spend sushi dollars.

And as I said, this is exactly why PokiNometry's idea is genius. Just remember who started it all: Julian Fukue, the Ray Croc of poke.

Poke Dot
17921 MacArthur Blvd.
Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 250-5956

Kang Ho-Dong Baekjeong - Buena Park

Sunday, November 22, 2015

IKEA's Almond Cake - Costa Mesa

IKEA's "almond cake with milk chocolate and butterscotch" didn't use to be that. It was once called the "Daim Torte."

Daim, if you're not familiar, is a Swedish candy bar with almond butter and milk chocolate. And this cake--this same exact cake that IKEA is still serving right now--combines the flavor of that candy bar with cake in its thin layers of alternating strata.

Whatever IKEA decides it wants to call it, it's one of the best things to get at the cafe, and I'm counting the Swedish pancakes, the meatballs and the 99-cent breakfasts. It's the exact right balance of chocolate and butterscotch, each component's gooey sweetness grounded by a cake that has oats in it.

Even if there were such a thing as a Snickers cake, it could never be as good as this: the Daim, "almond cake with milk chocolate and butterscotch."

Well, I guess it easier to say than "TÅRTA CHOKLADKROKANT"

(714) 444-4532
1475 S Coast Dr
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Halal Guys - Costa Mesa

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Torta Cubana at Cancun Juice - Santa Ana

Someone recently asked me what food I was obsessing over at the moment. My answer was that it isn't a food, but a drink: Cancun Juice's aguas frescas.

And it's true. In the past two months, I've patronized Cancun Juice almost bi-weekly. No, not once every two weeks--I go twice a week, rotating between the cantaloupe (superbly sweet and refreshing), the guanabana (soursop to us Southeast Asians), and the strawberry aguas frescas. It still boggles my mind that they're only $2 and they taste better than the smoothies Jamba Juice charge upwards of $5 for.

But now I've actually formed a new Cancun Juice obsession: its tortas. And it's about time, because the tortas are what most of Cancun Juice's customers are ACTUALLY going there to consume. And my god are the tortas divine...and humongous.

The English translation on the menu describes them as "Mexican subs", but they're more like aircraft carriers. On board are the usual enlisted crew of sandwich ingredients of tomato, lettuce, onion, and cheese. But the sandwich is also equipped with such advanced sandwich weaponry as refried beans, jalapeños, avocado cream, and chipotle mayo.

The best torta I've had so far at Cancun Juice is the Cubana, which has all of the above and then loaded with not one, not two, not three, but four meats: pierna (pork leg meat), milanesa (breaded beef steak), jamon (ham), and pavo (turkey). When you eat it, it's a full-on assault on your hunger and senses--a blitzkrieg on a toasted bolillo roll that overwhelms your defenses until you surrender and admit this is one of the best sandwiches you've ever had.

And the free deep-fried chiles they serve at the salsa bar? They're nuclear warheads.

Cancun Juice
2302 S Bristol St
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 668-9588

OPM Restaurant & Lounge - Huntington Beach

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Rotisserie Chicken at Zankou Chicken - Anaheim

I've written about Zankou Chicken's rotisserie chicken before. There was a time I binged on it, eating there week after week, consuming bird after bird, smearing that toum (garlic paste) on every surface that was edible.

When I went back recently (because the line at Halal Guys was too long and I was craving something that resembled a shawarma), I realized how much I've missed it. It's rotisserie chicken done to perfection. If you've not had Zankou and have thus far associated rotisserie chicken with Costco, you need to come and reset that definition.

The chicken at Zankou's is the best chicken can be. It's cooked in literal stages, twirling on a multi-tiered oven, gradually moved up a level as time progresses. And because of this, each chicken is basted with the dripping juices of the other chickens that turn above it.

Once it's reached the top, the skin is now fully rendered so that it's wafer-thin and flaky unlike anything you've ever peeled off a roasted bird. It's so wispy, so crispy, so intense from the fusing of the spices baked into it, my eyes rolled to the back my head when I tasted it.

And then I dug into the hen full bore, tearing off fistfuls of juicy meat, laying down pieces of the skin, slathering that garlic paste like cake frosting as I assembled my wrap from a toasted round of pita bread. Oh, Zankou chicken. Is it any wonder Beck has sung your praises?

Zankou Chicken
2424 W Ball Rd.
Anaheim, CA 92804
(714) 229-2060

Jason's by the Circle - Orange

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Honeymee - Irvine

What you see above is soft serve drizzled with honey.

I'm not sure anyone needs honey drizzled on their ice cream, but as I've written in a recent blog post, no one needed cotton candy with their ice cream either, yet there it was.

But the truth is, if Honeymee didn't offer its soft serve with honey, I probably would not be writing about it. Because despite the chain calling its product "True Milk Ice Cream", it's just ice cream. And though it's good and smooth and creamy and cold--all things I expect all ice cream to be--it's that honey and specifically the honeycomb they offer as topping that sets it apart from, say, McDonald's and Foster's Freeze.

I tried the "Sweetee" (all its ice creams are named with cutesy titles) and realized, honey does kind of work with it. And why not? If you're not averse to adding caramel to your sundae, honey isn't that far off.

My preferred ice cream, though, is the "Dear", which gets generous squirts of Ghirardelli chocolate sauce and sprinkles of sea salt on top. The salt balances the sweetness, and the chocolate, well, it's chocolate!

Still, there's the cost. Honeymee charges $3.50 for the plain; $4.75 for the "Honeymee", which is topped with a honeycomb chip. You might be thinking, "What? That's about the going rate for ice cream anywhere these days" but then, it's a rather small cup and Honeymee does Pinkberry's trick of swirling its product such that it's hollow in the middle.

Then again, maybe it's better this way. You are already eating ice cream with an added sweetener as topping, after all.

5414 Walnut Ave. Ste C
Irvine, CA 92604
(949) 536-5453

Tram Chim Fresh Seafood - Westminster

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ha Long Vietnamese Cuisine - Irvine

It's said that when you have a sore throat, you're not supposed to eat fried foods; you're supposed to have soup. But what if the fried food is in the soup? Does that somehow make it all okay?

Ha Long Vietnamese Cuisine makes this noodle soup that has every protein in it deep fried. The char siu pork is deep fried. The breaded shrimp is deep fried. Even the hunk of chicken, which the menu says is baked, is deep fried.

And if that weren't enough, a round of crispy wonton skin is included, and yep: deep fried.

When I ordered it for take-out because I was feeling under the weather, I got the dish in three components: a vat of soup; a plastic baggie of bean sprouts, cilantro and sliced jalapenos; and a bowl with the noodles, veggies and protein.

I put it together and tucked into it hunched over my coffee table with chopsticks, slurping it all in. Every crunch of deep-fried something I ate, I answered with a big swig of that sweet/savory yellow broth and a wad of chewy egg noodles. And when I discovered that they also included a thimble of chile paste in oil, I spackled everything I ate with it.

As for my sore throat, it went away an hour after that feast, replaced with a tingling burn from the chile and the kind of satisfaction that's only possible through the consumption of deep fried food or noodle soup. In this case, both.

Ha Long Vietnamese Cuisine
Crossroads, 3850 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 654-3736

Chomp Chomp Nation - Anaheim Hills

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mediterrania Grill - Irvine

I know what you're thinking: if I'm going to review a Middle Eastern joint, why not the new The Halal Guys--the only Middle Eastern joint that seems to matter right now?

Well, it was because I tried to review The Halal Guys that I ended up here. I was in line, realized it would take an hour or more before I would get to order, and it occurred to me I had a coupon in my pocket for this place--which serves essentially the same kind of food without so much as a single person in front of me.

Just like at Halal Guys, giant cones of meat twirled in the corner. When I ordered the chicken, a worker went up to it, took a long serrated knife and started shaving long strips she caught in a saute pan. But then something different happened: she shoved the meat into a Salamander oven.

When the chicken came out, it's crispy. The outer edges were rimmed with char such that each bite is met with the flavor of caramelization. It's all tucked into a toasted pita with some lettuce and tomato, smeared with garlic sauce, and tasted as good as any chicken wrap I've ever had before or since.

As of this writing, I've actually tried The Halal Guys and have an opinion of it that I will put into a proper review. But guess what? Just as with anything having to do with Halal Guys: you're going to have to wait.

Mediterrania Grill
17925 MacArthur Blvd
Irvine, CA 92614

Rock & Brews - Buena Park

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Hog Island Oyster Co. - Marshall, CA

Are you as crazy as I am for oysters? Crazy enough to go to an oyster farm to eat it? In Northern California?

If you are, then your Mecca is Hog Island Oysters located in the sleepy town of Marshall along the shimmering waters of Tomales Bay.

It isn't the only oyster farm there and it's a schlep to get to from the Bay Area. Also, it's not cheap. Just because you're buying your bivalves direct from the source, it doesn't mean it will be a bargain. In fact, if you're going to do as I did and buy your oysters pre-shucked from the bar, it will cost as much as what it would cost if you actually went to Hog Island's actual oyster restaurants in San Francisco proper.

But here you get the view of the very waters those creatures came out of. You get to see the workers unload and sort these rock-like critters and keep them alive in gurgling vats. You get to breathe in the salty air and commune with like-minded oyster-lovers on wooden picnic tables with wine, expensive cheese and gourmet crackers. And you get to slurp, slurp, slurp what is possibly the most perfect food the ocean offers, just as it is.

Nevermind that each trembling cold fleshy lobe that slides down your throat cost you $2.33 (before tax). They're sweet, briny, creamy, with only a drop of lemon juice and an occasional dab of mignonette to add just a slight touch of acid. And I can't think of a better way to eat an oyster--a dish that nature has prepared built into its own spoon--than in nature's kitchen and dining room, here on this beautiful bay.

Hog Island Oyster Farm
20215 Shoreline Highway
Marshall, CA 94940

Musubiya Balls & Burgers - Santa Ana

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Snow Monster - Irvine

I know what you're thinking: the thing you see above looks like it could use a bit of...what do they call it? Manscaping?

Unintentionally phallic (and pubic) as it would seem, this dessert is actually designed for kids...that is, if you want them tweaked for hours. I'm guessing it has about all the daily allotted calories any normal adult has any business consuming--so it's probably double that for a child.

Quite simply, it's a cup of Fruity Pebbles soft serve, rimmed with a bushy halo of cotton candy, because, hey, if you're going to feed your rugrats frozen sugar milk, why not add a wreath of spun sugar threads and have them love you forever?

This ice cream obelisk is one of the many desserts that Snow Monster serves--including macaron ice-cream sandwiches, milk teas, and shaved snow--but it's easily the most excessive item they make. By the way, the ice cream doesn't need the cotton candy and the cotton candy doesn't need the ice cream. But I ordered it anyway because (with apologies to George Mallory) it's there.

Thankfully, the soft serve is not overly sweet. I'm not sure if it was because my tastebuds were dulled after finishing the cotton candy, but it was pleasantly surprising how good the ice cream was--this despite the pulverized Fruity Pebbles churned into it, which didn't add much except its bluish tint.

What I did realize eating it was that this dessert and this place is made by and for millennials--people whose metabolism haven't given up on them and who can eat a column of ice cream with cotton candy pubes without looking as silly as I did that afternoon.

Snow Monster
4255 Campus Dr A124
Irvine, CA 92612
(714) 582-6023

Sessions West Coast - Huntington Beach