Sunday, August 30, 2015

Strawberry Shortcake at Plaza Inn - Disneyland

Plaza Inn at Disneyland has the best meal in the theme park in its fried chicken.

But it also has, in my opinion, the best dessert in its strawberry shortcake. Just like the fried chicken, there's nothing particularly revolutionary or innovative about it--it's just good.

There's just four components: the moist cake cut into two rounds, thick whipped cream, strawberry sauce, and the strawberries.

Surrounded by a lake of sauce, one of the cake rounds becomes the base. All around the sides, sliced strawberries climb a Matterhorn of cream in an expedition to the summit.

Plaza Inn
1313 Harbor Blvd.
Disneyland Park
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-3463

Centrál Coastal Peruvian - Laguna Beach

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Garlic Shrimp Poke at Costco - Tustin

If you haven't noticed, Costco has become a significant player in the proliferation of poke in Orange County. They started testing the waters way before any of the current wave of copy-cat poke entrepreneurs even noticed that Pokinometry in Anaheim existed.

This was way back in May of 2014. It was then that I noticed a lonely booth in one of their main aisles one afternoon. I bought a pound of ahi limu poke, then wrote about it on OC Weekly's food blog. Soon after, the post went viral. The next few days, people swarmed that Costco for the poke and they reportedly ran out of stock. But at the same time the unexpected demand overwhelmed them, it made Costco realize OC was ready for poke. And boy, was it ever. Since that time, a new poke joint opens in these parts just about every other week.

Costco, recognizing the poke frenzy, has also expanded their selection to other Costcos, even if only on the weekends. They've also widened their poke offerings beyond just the ahi.

My favorite right now is the Garlic Shrimp Poke, which isn't technically poke, but then that definition has been stretched so far these days that I think this now actually qualifies. It's cooked shrimp, tossed with onion, scallions, sesame seeds, sesame oil, crushed kukui nuts, and garlic. It's a delicious meal in and of itself, slicked with the nuttiness of sesame oil, permeated with the garlic---but even more perfect eaten cold on top of warm steamed white rice. And it's also the thing that finally merges two distinct Hawaiian delicacies into one dish.

What's the other delicacy I'm talking about? Well, garlic shrimp from those garlic shrimp trucks, of course, which is the thing other than poke I crave as soon as I get off the plane in Hawaii.

The District at Tustin Legacy
2700 Park Ave, Tustin, CA 92782
(714) 338-1933

Grits - Fullerton

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sushi Noguchi - Yorba Linda

For us, the omakase to top all omakases at Sushi Noguchi started with a bowl of raw tuna, sliced into crimson bevels and climbing a hill of mountain yam covered in its own mucus. It's crowned with a trembling lobe of uni and a cracked raw quail egg on the side--everything sliding down our throats as though it was lubed.

After that, our itamae constructed a platter of various bits and pieces he said would be good to nibble with our sake flight. He was right. There were livers of giant clam--the size and shape of almonds--cooked in soy and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Next to it, a fat section of crab meat, freed from its shell and looking like a roulade. Next to that, on a shiso leaf, strips of what appeared to be clam shellacked in miso that I ate like a taco.

The "amuse" plate came after, one of the few things that came from the kitchen. On it, there was a single clam with a stewed cherry tomato tucked into it like a bookmark; deep fried scallops nuggets tenderly coated in tempura; and a pair of marinated shrimp over wilted cabbage.

Next came a sashimi plate with cuts so precious and fresh it wriggled. The best of them: bluefin ootoro from Boston, the costliest piece of tuna on the menu, scored with a meticulous diamond pattern. There were other jewels, like a mackerel steak so symmetric and precisely sliced it looked machined, and a creamy salmon cube with its fatty edges barely seared--all of it presented so artfully it could be sculpture.

After that it was down to business. The nigiri. Sublime and sparkling fresh, it went like this:

- Halibut fin so soft its texture melded with the rice.

- A rich and oily Spanish mackerel dabbed with ginger.

- Cooling amberjack sprinkled with salt and a spritz of yuzu.

- A gunkan maki of sweet blue crab meat mixed with crab brain cuffed in a belt of crispy nori.

- A lobe of uni dusted with a pinch of coarse salt.

- The return of the diamond-scored ootoro, as meltingly dreamy as it was in the sashimi plate that came before.

- Scallop and foie gras torched together, fused as one.

- A sexy piece of salty sardine, its silver skin reflecting the light.

- A big mouthful of broiled sea eel brushed with sauce.

Then dessert, the item Sushi Noguchi is known for as much as its sushi: the crepe cake, a wedge from the whole that someone patiently constructed from at least 50 individually-made crepes, stacked in layer after layer, slathered whipped cream in between, and served with drizzles of reduced balsamic vinegar on the plate.

How much did this omakase to top all omakases cost? About $100 per person give or take. And it was worth every cent.

Sushi Noguchi
18507 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, CA 92886
(714) 777-6789

Padre - Long Beach

Sunday, August 09, 2015

$3.95 Filipino Breakfast at Grill City - Irvine

How much would you pay for a Filipino breakfast consisting of char-kissed tocino, two fried eggs and two heaping scoops of garlic fried rice? $6? $10?

"Sure, that sounds reasonable!"

No! You're paying too much! How about $3.95?


Yes, for a measly one-time payment of $3.95, you get this much food, right now, at Seafood City's lunch counter, Grill City.

"Wow! You can't get an Egg McMuffin and hashbrowns for that price!"

No you can't! But wait! There's more!

"What? How much more could there be!"

I'll tell you! You get coffee with unlimited refills!

"No! You're joking!"

I am not joking. And you know what else is unlimited?

"Alright, I'll bite. What else?!"

Unlimited refills on rice!

"Unlimited refills on rice? Is Seafood City trying to lose money? Is this some kind of loss leader like IKEA's $1.99 breakfasts and Costco's $4.99 rotisserie chicken?"

Who knows?! Who cares! It's $3.95, for eggs, proteins like longanisa, SPAM or two kinds of tocino, and all the fluffy fried rice festooned with crispy garlic you can eat! This has to be the best deal in all of Irvine.

"I'll say! So how does it taste?"

Like someone's nanay (that's Tagalog for "mom") made it. And if you want an upgrade with other meats, it's $5.50 for not one, but two butterflied baby milkfish with a tangy flesh akin to yogurt; and only $4.95 for the sugary beef tapa. If you need something deep fried this early in the morning, you can add a crispy Jeprox as a side dish for a buck. As with all silogs, be sure to dribble the supplied thimbles of seasoned vinegar on everything. That's the Pinoy Way!

"Vinegar? Fish for breakfast? That sounds exotic! I'm sold! Thank you Monster Munching!"

You're welcome!

*Terms and Conditions: Offer valid 7 a.m.-10 a.m. Monster Munching is not a paid endorser; just a sharer of good food and great bargains.

Grill City inside Seafood City
2180 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606
(310) 834-9700

El Mahroosa Cafe - Anaheim

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Cafe Hiro's Pork Cutlet Curry - Cypress

If you read this blog, you know I've been a regular at Cafe Hiro for more than a decade now. This is why I have at least half a dozen posts like these, if not more. Yet you should know that I actually eat at Cafe Hiro more than I blog about it, and in my most recent visits, I've been rediscovering the wonder that is its pork cutlet curry--a dish I've not yet mentioned before here.

So I'll mention it now: Café Hiro's may be the finest tonkatsu curry I've had since Tokyo.

First, there's the pork, cut as thick as the first Harry Potter book, then fried under a light panko-crust and with a small quivering piece of the fat still attached. The cutlet is great in and of itself--the perfect ratio of juice-bursting pork chop to golden-brown breading. And then there's the ocean of curry lapping onto the white beach head of rice--a flavorful sludge almost as thick as the peanut-sauce for Indonesian satay.

Though the spicing level is customizable all the way to scorching, I always go for mild. This, I've discovered, is where all the curry flavor, sweetness, and richness exist in perfect balance. And since curry has been fully adopted into Japanese culture as pizza has to ours, Café Hiro offers it with the required condiments of pickled shallots, fukujinzuke (pickled radish), and rehydrated raisins, all of which I use as prodigiously as red pepper flakes and parmesan on a slice of pepperoni.

Speaking of Japanese curry, have you seen this documentary by NHK's Begin Japanology? It's really excellent.

If you have a half-hour, watch it, be educated, and then be prepared to drive out to Cypress when you suddenly have to have it for dinner.

Cafe Hiro
(714) 527-6090
10509 Valley View St
Cypress, CA 90630

Yogi Yogi - Buena Park

Monday, July 27, 2015

Piadina - Irvine

What is a piadina? The easy answer is that it's a sandwich, since it technically has a bread-like substance "sandwiching" meat, cheese and veg. But then, it's just as easy to say that it's anything but a sandwich, since it can taste like a cross between a pizza, a calzone, a wrap, a burrito, a quesadilla, and a Chinese-style beef roll, all at the same time.

So I'll just tell you what happens when you order one. A ball of dough is compressed into a thin disc in a gigantic vice, the same kind of contraption you've probably seen at most of those new make-your-own-pizza joints of late. Then the dough disc gets slapped onto an griddle where it toasts as though it were a tortilla. After it gets mottled with brown spots on both sides, the flatbread is transferred to the filling station.

Since it's all one price, I choose the one that had the longest list of components. This would be the one called "Reggio", with "Prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mozzarella, Mushrooms, Arugula, Tomato, Tartar Sauce, and Tabasco." But ultimately, it wasn't the fillings that mattered; it's that flatbread.

It crackled crisply like the best Chinese onion pancake, but sans all the grease and thinner by half. And it remained crispy from my first bite to my last--this despite the smears of sauce, the moisture from the mushrooms, and the two kinds melting cheese.

So what is a piadina, really? It's delicious--one of the best sandwiches/non-sandwiches I've eaten in a while.

2933 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92782
(714) 417-9660

TAPS Fish House - Irvine

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Monster Munching: Now On Facebook!


Just wanted to clarify that Monster Munching isn't going away (yet!). The blog, as you see it now, won't change. It's just that I've created a Facebook account that you can subscribe or like (or whatever it is that people do on Facebook). And when you do, it'll let you know when a new Monster Munching post (and my OC Weekly restaurant review) comes online!



I've been doing this blog for more than a decade now. It has outlasted a lot of the restaurants I've reviewed for it. It has been around before Yelp became a verb.

But now I'm at a crossroads. Readership isn't what it used to be. And as I focus more and more on my role as OC Weekly's food critic and writing daily posts for OC Weekly's Stick A Fork In It blog, which I'm proud to say I helped establish with Gustavo Arellano, I decided I have two options for Monster Munching going forward:

1. Euthanasia.


2. Take the defibrillator paddles out for one last jolt.

For now, I'm going with #2.

But since trying to get more people to discover the blog requires SEO skills I don't have and money I don't wish to spend, I've come up with the next best thing: Facebook.

Yes, this blog is now on Facebook. I'm not sure yet how well this will work out. But I'm told Facebook is where all the cool kids are.

So if you're on Facebook, "Like Me"...(that's the first time I've typed those words and now I feel dirty), because at the very least, you'll see when I've put up a new review without having to check back here.

Here's the link:

Now, what's this about SnapTweets and TwitterGrams?

Gypsy Den - Santa Ana

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Jollibee - Irvine

As a fast-food joint, Jollibee isn't immune to offering combos. The Filipino fried chicken peddler will sell you fries to go with the burgers, and then bundle in a big ol' soda to wash it all down. But the combo I like better is the one that combines their version of pancit palabok with a drumstick.

It encapsulates what Jollibee represents in one tray--the harmonious dichotomy of Filipino and American fast food. On one side, rice noodles doused with garlic-y gravy and dusted with pulverized pork rinds. On the other, a battered deep-fried chicken leg that doesn't look much different from KFC's.

After I squeezed three packets of lemon juice into it, I slurped the noodles--something I previously described as looking like pad thai, but tasting nothing like it. And then, I chomped into the chicken as a separate mouthful, steam plumes escaping from the fresh-off-the-fryer drumstick, the skin 'neath the batter rendered crisp.

But when it settled, it didn't make me feel awful like the time I had a Western Bacon Cheeseburger Combo at Carl's, all this despite the fact that Jollibee still insists you chase it with a big ol' sugary soda.

2180 Barranca Pkwy #120
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 660-1586

Outpost Kitchen - Costa Mesa

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Scoops N Scoop Creamery - Irvine

If you're a new ice cream entrepreneur these days, it's likely that the the words "liquid nitrogen" are in your business plan. That or "donuts".

But so far the liquid nitrogen ice cream joints are outnumbering the ice-cream-stuffed-donut ones. Liquid nitrogen ice cream is the new frozen yogurt.

I've lost count on how many opened in the last few months alone. But if you've been to one, you'll notice, for the most part, they're all nearly the same. Heavy duty mixers are installed behind a see-through partition. Next to them are spigots connected to the LN tanks. When you order, you tell the cashier not just what flavor your want, but also what kind of milk.

Scoops N Scoops offers four choices of your base: premium milk, coconut milk, yogurt, or organic milk. Then comes one flavor, and if you're feeling spendy: toppings and extras that could also include cotton candy.

Whatever you order: you're in for a spectacle. The fog spills out from the mixing bowls and onto the floor as though a Rush concert just broke out in the middle of Irvine.

But it's not all for show (though most of it is). The liquid nitrogen is supposed to freeze the ice cream so fast, no aeration occurs nor do ice crystals form. This purportedly results in a denser, smoother texture of ice cream. It's like a shortcut to Häagen-Dazs without all the churning.

I tried a chocolate hazelnut on yogurt and it was indeed dense and smooth. A friend's strawberry ice cream with plain milk turned out best, tasting like super premium ice cream. And since they used actual fresh strawberries, it tasted like strawberry ice cream always should: perky.

Another friend's coconut ice cream in which they seem to have pumped in a few squirts of coconut syrup, did not fare as well. It was so sweet, it rotted out teeth on contact.

If you intend to try it: Be prepared to spend twice, if not three times, as much than you would for Thrifty's ice cream at Rite-Aid. But again, you're not coming just for dessert, you're there for dessert and a show.

Scoops N Scoop Creamery
14411 Culver Dr.
Irvine, CA 92606

Cesar's Bistro - Long Beach

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mendocino Farms - Irvine

Mendocino Farms makes a banh mi sandwich that isn't exactly a banh mi sandwich. The bread isn't a baguette; it's ciabatta in the usual ciabatta shape: square. But because it's crisped up on a panini press, the bread crackles when you bite into it, just as the crust of a proper baguette should.

And in eating it further you realize how very banh mi-like this sandwich actually is. Nearly all the flavors you expect and had in the last real banh mi you ate is present and accounted for: pickled daikon, pickled carrots, plenty of sliced jalapenos, cilantro, cucumbers, and a good spackling of mayo.

No, there's no pate, or the umami of Maggi. And the braised and caramelized Kutobuta pork belly stuffed in there as protein is a little bit of an overkill, but that's fine too, since what you're really tasting is everything else in this "banh mi"--an item described on the menu as a "playful take on the popular Vietnamese sandwich."

All of this is to say that it's still not a banh mi, not exactly--but that's doesn't mean it isn't good.

Mendocino Farms
4175 Campus Dr. Ste B
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 783-2900

Kaya Street Kitchen - Aliso Viejo