Thursday, May 28, 2020

Take-Out Review: Fatburger and In-N-Out

There are made-up holidays and then there’s National Burger Day, a made-up holiday that could describe every other day for some Americans.

Let’s face it: We eat a lot of burgers and having a day as an excuse to eat another one is just about as necessary as more dour commercials that start with the obligatory words “in these uncertain times”.

But this year, unlike other years, I am all for celebrating National Burger Day. It is a welcome distraction from all the bad news.

And yes, doing so allowed me to justify having my second burger this week.

The first burger I ate I had over the weekend. And it was glorious.

It was a Baby Fat from Fatburger, the burger chain I prefer over In-N-Out not just because I have the option of adding a fried egg, which I always do, but because the patty has a good balance of thickness and those coveted charred crusty edges.

And that’s important because the beef has to stand up against the pickles, relish, onions, mustard--you know--the works.

But since today is a workday and the closest Fatburger is a 30-minute freeway drive away in Westminster, I settled with my number two: In-N-Out.

Of course I I had it “Animal Style” with “Extra Toast”, “Whole Grilled Onion” and a side of “Fries Well-Done”.

"Animal Style" because that's essentially adding extra flavor with mustard, chopped grilled onion, and pickles.

"Extra Toast" because the best part of an In-N-Out burger is the texture contrast between the crunchy lettuce, the steamy soft meat, and the crispy griddle-toasted bun--and you can't ask them to make the lettuce extra crunchy.

"Whole Grilled Onion" because raw is too strong.

And "Fries Well-Done" because without the extra few minutes of frying, In-N-Out's fries are floppy and prone to sogginess.

So Happy National Burger Day, my friends! Have a burger, a meal you don’t need an excuse to eat in these uncertain times.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Take-Out Review: Grill City - Irvine

This is the Grill City silog: A meal I’ve enjoyed before the pandemic, during the shutdown, and will continue to enjoy for as long as there is a Grill City.

What is a silog?

A silog is the Filipino answer to the American bacon and egg breakfast.

It’s a portmanteau of two words: sinangag (fried rice) and itlog (fried egg). Together they form the suffix for what you see pictured: a tocilog, which features tocino, a cured pork product cut from the fattiest parts of the pig.

What is tocino?

Tocino is a breakfast meat that glistens like no other. It beams with a ruddy color almost akin to Chinese char siu, but thanks to annatto it's even brighter, as if it's been dipped in Maraschino cherry syrup.

Once cooked, tocino takes on a candy-like sheen and char.

Imagine beef jerky married with barbecued baby back ribs. Now imagine eating that with two fried eggs, and a ton of garlic-festooned fried rice.

Yes, it’s heavy. This after all is a meal designed as fuel for a day of hard labor in the fields. The silog is second only to the full English breakfast on calorie count and fat.

To beat back the richness, I dribble on spicy vinegar the consistency of bottled Italian dressing.

And since I had tomatoes, I threw some in to offset the carbo and protein load.

But you should know that what you see in my picture is actually half of the portion that Grill City serves for $4.99. It is, without question, the best meal deal in Irvine.

And if you take advantage of their buy 3 for $12.99, it’s even cheaper, and you’ve effectively secured 6 meals for a little over two bucks before tax.

For $1 more, you can add a bag of Jeprox to the order, which, for me, completes the whole silog experience.

What is Jeprox?

It’s planks of deep-fried dried fish. And as much as I’d like to find an analogy to something American, there just isn’t one.

Jeprox is Jeprox.

And it is good!

Grill City & Crispy Town
2180 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606
(310) 834-9700

Friday, May 22, 2020

Take-Out Review: Sabrosada - Fountain Valley

The first bite is always the best.

You feel the sturdy corn crunch of the freshly fried tortilla chips reverberate through your skull. Your tongue is warmed by the refried beans. Then you taste the beefiness of the pencil-eraser morsels of seasoned carne asada.

Next there’s the color bursts: the bright green goo of the guacamole; the yellow shredded cheese; the snowy sour cream; the tricolored pico de gallo.

Even if you were blind, the kaleidoscope of flavors unfurls in your mouth. It’s synesthesia at its most delicious.

When so many things right now don’t make sense, this drive-thru Styrofoam box of nachos does.

Remorse always follows the last chip, not because of the fat and calories, but because you always want another one.

17225 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Take-Out Review: Cafe Hiro - Cypress

If you’ve never been to Cafe Hiro, believe it or not, now is the time to go, especially during lunch on a weekday.

It’s the only time you can try this beauty of a meal: Menchi Katsu.

What is Menchi Katsu?

It’s basically a ball of seasoned ground beef that’s been breaded and deep-fried.

Imagine if someone crossbred a juicy hamburger patty with an onion ring.

Eaten with a zippy tonkatsu sauce (think A1 but better) and a bracing hot mustard (think Grey Poupon but sharper), what you get is an experience unlike any other.

The beef is loosely packed, so it melts in your mouth like a meatloaf while contrasted by that crunchy deep fried crust.

And although you’re essentially eating an amount of meat equivalent to six Double-Doubles, it’s actually an amazingly light dish.

This dish also proves that you can’t have too much starch on one plate.

It comes with not one but three kinds of starches: a warm scalloped potato; a cold pasta salad; and steamed rice.

I mean look at it! That covers ALL the carbohydrates on the food pyramid!

But that’s not to say you don’t get your vegetables, too. Not pictured is a green salad paired with their signature ginger dressing.

Also, let’s not forget the shredded cabbage under the katsu, which you know if you’ve eaten katsu before, isn’t garnish; it’s an essential part of the dish.

And right now, if you order this lunch, which retails for $13.95, you also get a free dessert, something that would not normally happen at Cafe Hiro before the pandemic.

So call ahead, go to Cypress, and take a long lunch break. I mean, you are working from home anyway, aren’t you?

Cafe Hiro
10509 Valley View St
Cypress, CA 90630

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Take-Out Review: Sushi Noguchi - Yorba Linda

Hi there. Sorry I haven’t written for so long. How’s everything?

Who am I kidding. It hasn’t been great. The situation is sad, people. It just is.

As with most of you, I’ve taken refuge with what brings me comfort and happiness. And one of those things is, not surprisingly, food.

No, I don’t mean just to eat in front of Netflix (although I’ve certainly done a lot of that). To me food is the catalyst to communication and the cue to connecting with my family, friends, and co-workers while in isolation.

We ask each other “What are you cooking for dinner?” and tell each other “Look what I picked up for lunch!”

Pictures and stories of things cooked, bought and eaten inevitably follow.

Essentially, I’ve been doing what I’ve done on this platform in the past with all of you, but instead I took it private.

But as we pass the two month mark of these (insert your favorite pandemic adjective here) times, I realize that while this has been therapeutic for me, not sharing the great meals I’ve had in this public forum isn’t doing all I can to support the local restaurants I love.

So I will start posting again here, beginning with a dinner I picked up a few weeks ago from Sushi Noguchi.

It was a feast that, once and for all, proves that Noguchi isn’t just one of OC’s of best sushi restaurants, it’s one of its best Japanese restaurants.

We had a buta kakuni (braised pork belly) that’s manna on rice; a grill-charred salmon collar that was as smoky as Southern barbecue; and one of the best chicken karaages I’ve ever tasted.

Of course, we ordered some sushi rolls to remind us of past omakases but also dream about the day when we can sit in front of Hiro-san and be doted by his wife Jun again.

If you haven’t been to Sushi Noguchi, now is a good time to try it, especially during dinner hours when Jun and Hiro are offering 20% off all orders.

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

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Delivery Review of Sam's Crispy Chicken and Northeast Sisters

I'm late in posting this, but a few weeks ago--which, quite honestly feels like months ago--I had an idea of writing a review about using DoorDash to order from "ghost kitchens".

But as stay-at-home orders started coming down, it turned out that every restaurant became a "ghost kitchen".

I think the review turned out well anyway even though everything else, well, has not.

So here is my last review for LA Times for a while...enjoy it, and be safe!

Click on the link below to read my story:
Sam's Crispy Chicken and Northeast Sisters

Saturday, March 21, 2020

La Farola Empanadas - Costa Mesa

My latest review for Times OC is about La Farola Empanadas. Read it online at the LA Times link below.

Though I filed this review before the events of this week, you might be interested to know that La Farola’s signature item is serendipitously designed for these times of “social distancing”.

They can and will sell their empanadas parbaked so that you can finish browning them yourselves in your own oven at home.

Not only did they taste just as good as when I had them in store, it inspired me to write this:

“And as the wonderful smells wafting out of the oven filled my kitchen, I realized it was the closest I’d ever come to being in an Argentinian household with a maternal figure like Galvan baking empanadas for her family.”

So support this restaurant and others like it in any way you can.

Eat well, stay safe, and be kind to each other!

Click on the link below to read my story:
La Farola Empanadas - Costa Mesa

Monday, March 09, 2020

Brown Sugar Boba Ice Cream Bars

It may not be as coveted as Costco toilet paper or bottled water right now, but these brown sugar boba ice cream bars have been flying off the shelves since November. Stores who are rumored to carry them can’t keep them in stock for longer than a few hours. Some markets have even instituted a per person limit.

A few weeks ago we encountered them for the first time at a bakery in Rowland Heights. They cost me a little under $12 for a box containing 4 bars, which I’ve since learned is nearly two times what the supermarkets charge.

Overpriced as they were, they were incredible! The Taiwanese makers of these treats have managed to completely capture the experience of having a brown sugar boba milk drink in an ice cream bar. The “boba”, despite being suspended in the icy confection, are still chewy, stretchy, and taste exactly like they were freshly made.

The secret? They aren’t boba; they’re tiny pellets of mochi, which doesn't seize up like rocks when frozen. It’s a genius substitution that perhaps we can all learn from. Like instead of buying pallets of bottled water as if Covid-19 is affecting what comes out of the faucet, maybe invest in a Brita?

Monday, March 02, 2020

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken - Santa Ana

This article about the recently opened Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Santa Ana represents a first. It’s the first time this legendary Memphis-based joint has landed in Orange County, but it’s also the first time my byline has appeared in the Los Angeles Times!

With it I’m happy to announce that the chicken is fantastic and that I will now file my restaurant reviews for TimesOC, LA Times’ Community News publication serving Orange County that appears in the Sunday paper for all OC subscribers!

So join me as my exploration of OC’s best new restaurants continues! And try this chicken!

My sincere gratitude to Ada Tseng, TimesOC editor, for bringing me on board and editing my story! A big thanks to Don Leach for the beautiful pictures! And thank you to those of you reading for all your support all these years!

Now go out there and subscribe to LA Times or pick up a copy of the Sunday paper (Ralphs sells ‘em by the door)!

Click on the link below to read my story:
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken - Santa Ana

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Colombia's Arepa de Huevo

France has the baguette. Italy has the pizza. This past weekend, on a trip to Cartagena, I learned Colombia has the arepa de huevo. The street food is so ingrained in the country’s culinary DNA that at my Hilton hotel breakfast buffet, it literally stood apart from the other items--the arepa de huevo was featured on its own table in the center of the dining room. It even came with a sign indicating its significance to Colombia.

But first, to understand what an arepa de huevo is, I must tell you what an arepa is. An arepa is essentially a pancake made of corn or maize flour. I became familiar with this indigenous delicacy from pre-Columbian times at Mil Jugos, a Venezuelan restaurant in Santa Ana. But as it turns out, Colombians also count arepas as a staple food. An arepa in its basic form is usually griddled and then sometimes split like an English muffin to be used to sandwich a variety of fillings.

An arepa de huevo, however, is an entirely different subspecies. It is distinctly Colombian. And the preparation involves a double fry.

The cornmeal dough is first flattened to a disc in a tortilla press. Then the disc is deep-fried in oil so that it puffs up like a Whoopee cushion. After it’s lifted out of the oil and drained, a small slit is cut into the side. A raw egg is then poured into the cavity and the arepa immediately goes back in the oil to fry again. The second dunk cooks the egg inside its cornmeal cocoon while the arepa’s outer crust gets even crispier. What results is the South American hybrid of a Hot Pocket and a McMuffin crossed with a beignet. It’s best eaten when it’s piping hot

As I sunk my teeth into my first arepa de huevo, dabbing lots of salsa and sour cream, I realized that although it resembled all the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it was unlike anything I’ve had before--it was a totally new sensation and experience. It’s as if someone managed to isolate just the crunchy outer corners of a freshly baked cornbread muffin and impregnate it with a hard boiled egg.

It was delicious.

After my first piece, I ate a second and a third, knowing that no such thing exists back home, even in OC’s two Colombian restaurants.