Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Saying Goodbye to the Polish Dog at Costco - Tustin


My heart burns for Costco’s Polish sausages.

It literally does. It gives me heartburn. I used to favor it over their regular hot dogs, but then I had to stop because…well, the heartburn.

So today, when the news broke that Costco will discontinue the Polish, I wasn’t as sad or outraged as others. I mean, the $1.50 hot-dog-and-soda deal isn't going away.

The news did, however, convince me to try the Polish again before it gets the ax because nothing makes you want something more than when you know you can’t have it for much longer.

But going there has also made me realize a few things. First, it has been a long time since I’ve eaten at the food court. Usually, when I eat my meals at Costco, it’s free (thanks to repeated helpings of all those food samples). Second, there are entirely new items on the menu, including an acai bowl, which would’ve been the most California-hipster thing I’ve ever seen at the food court if there weren't also the vegan “Al Pastor” salad with “banh mi” vegetables. Third, the new line-busting order kiosks at my local Costco is an astronomical improvement over ordering with the cashier. There are enough lines everywhere else at the store; I don't need one when I want my $1.50 hot dog lunch.

This brings me to my lunch. It’s more filling than any other food I can buy for that amount of money. In fact--and I don't think I need to say this--it’s so cheap, it should be immune to criticism of any kind, even if it sucked.

But the thing is: it doesn't.

The skin has snap; the sausage has a hint of hotness; the bun is soft and supple. If you’ve never had the Polish, you might be wondering: Does it taste that different from the regular hot dog? Yes, but it's very nuanced. Like a 4K versus an Ultra HD TV, you really have to either concentrate or compare it side by side before you can really tell. For now, at least at the Tustin II Costco, you can do just that. Both are still available. So get the Polish while you can.

I, for one, intend to have it again this week and maybe a few more times before I can't any more. Pepto Bismol, don't fail me now!

Costco
2700 Park Ave
Tustin, CA 92782
(714) 338-1933

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
The Q Joint - Costa Mesa

Friday, July 06, 2018

Three First-Place Trophies at OC Press Club Awards!


A few weeks ago during a ceremony at the Newport Beach Marriott, my OC Weekly colleagues and I won 25 Orange County Press Club Awards, including 14 First-Place nods.

I was fortunate to win three First-Place trophies.

It would not have happened without the support of Gustavo Arellano, Nick Schou, Cynthia Rebolledo, Lisa Black, the entire OC Weekly crew, my readers, and last but not least, my lovely dining companion and partner in life (a.k.a. Cookiemonster). She not only encouraged me to go for this dream job more than a decade ago, but also told me to enter in more than just one category this year.

BEST FOOD/RESTAURANT REVIEW

FIRST PLACE: Edwin Goei, “Tin Vuong’s LSXO Combines Hip-Hop and the Best Vietnamese Food Outside of Little Saigon” in OC Weekly

SECOND PLACE: Edwin Goei, “The New Northgate González Market in Anaheim Is Like a Mexican-Food Disneyland” in OC Weekly

THIRD PLACE: Brad A. Johnson, “Pacific Hideaway channels a rebellious surfer vibe” in Orange County Register


BEST TRAVEL STORY

FIRST PLACE: Edwin Goei, “Montreal Has Poutine, Yes, But Go With the Jewish Food First” in OC Weekly

SECOND PLACE: Anne Valdespino, “Touring Castle Country in Scotland” in Orange County Register

THIRD PLACE: Kedric Francis, “Road trips for a realist” in Orange County Register


BEST ROUND-UP OR BEST OF

FIRST PLACE: Edwin Goei, “Korean Fried Chicken Is Becoming a Thing in Orange County. Here Are Three New Spots” in OC Weekly

SECOND PLACE: Brad A. Johnson, “These are Orange County’s 20 Best Mexican Restaurants” in Orange County Register

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Grandpa's Kitchen Dry Noodles 168 - Garden Grove

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

The Flying Saucer a.k.a. Taco Salad at Sabrosada - Fountain Valley


This is the Flying Saucer from Sabrosada. Actually, it's not called “Flying Saucer” anymore; it's just called “Taco Salad”. It used to be called “Flying Saucer” back when Sabrosada was called Alerto’s, because Alberto's, the chain that started it all, also called it that.

But when Alerto’s shed its name and became Sabrosada, I guess the owners felt it unnecessary to keep naming it “Flying Saucer.”

I, for one, still order it by telling the cashier I want a “Flying Saucer”. To this day, it is still understood even though what’s now printed on the receipt clearly says “taco salad.”

I still do it because calling it a taco salad is like calling the Lexus LFA Nurburgring a Toyota--it's technically correct but not completely accurate.

While there is some shredded lettuce in it, it is not the main ingredient. The lettuce merely acts as garnish on top of a meat-centric mass (which can be chicken or beef) sitting in beans and melted cheese. The only thing that makes it fit the “taco salad” definition, I suppose, is the puffed-up and crispy fried flour tortilla bowl it's served in. That's about it.

What’s important is that it's the same dish I ate for decades at Alerto's, Alberto's and its clones. So go out and get it, because no matter what Sabrosada decides to call it, a Flying Saucer, by any other name, tastes just as awesome.

Sabrosada
17225 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(714) 593-0069

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Miss Shabu - Buena Park

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Prime Rib from Gulliver's - Irvine



Given a choice of a rib eye steak or prime rib, I'll always go for the steak--except when I'm at Gulliver's. Then it has to be the prime rib.

Gulliver's serves, in my humble opinion, the finest prime rib in OC. It's always a glorious shade of pink, a perfect medium rare, so soft, so pure, an unadulterated taste of the beast. That it lacks the crusty sear of a steak matters little when the meat is this perfect—as good as a slab of roasted cow can get.

And then there are the sides: a hollow cocoon of Yorkshire pudding, creamed spinach, and creamed corned slopped onto your plare by the waitress from a big skillet. The latter two contain as much cream as it does vegetable. The richness basically double-downs on the fact that the meal is already an over-the-top indulgence. So what's a few more calories and fat?

You pour the au jus from a miniature tea kettle. It's a little weak on flavor and the horseradish isn't very strong. But it speaks to the quality of the cut that the prime rib shines regardless.



I’ve concluded that the appetizers here are unnecessary. The pork belly cubes are plated with unattractive glops of an unidentified substance that muddies and muffles the crispy pork.



The crab-stuffed mushrooms swim in a superfluous cream sauce and a gob of sour cream. It all seems like overkill until you realize it's probably how they served those dishes when the place opened in 1970.



Look around and nothing seems to have been updated since then. Gulliver’s is an old school relic cut from the same cloth as Steak and Ale and Cask N' Cleaver, a place your Baby Boomer parents went to spend their first paycheck.



The dining rooms are darkly lit, and full of booths and fireplaces. The waitresses are dressed like wenches. It's kitschy. It's unhip. It’s a shame they don’t make places like this anymore, which is exactly why I think it is a treasure in a city like Irvine.

Gulliver's Prime Ribs of Beef
18482 MacArthur Boulevard
Irvine, CA 92612
949.833.8411
http://www.gulliversrestaurant.com

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Graze Handcrafted Burgers - Santa Ana

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Beard Papa's Store That Went Rogue


This is the creme brûlée cream puff from Beard Papa. It is not something you can get at any Beard Papa, because technically it is not an officially sanctioned product. Only one branch makes it--the Monterey Park one, which, for a lack of a better term, has gone rogue. They've veered off the company script and taken some liberties, because, let's face it, you can't run a profitable business with cream puffs alone.

What they've done--without getting permission or approval from the corporate office--is some creative, out-of-the-box menu departures. They've realized that they needn't relegate the crisp, light-as-air, freshly-baked choux pastry shell for only desserts. If waffles can sub in for sandwich bread, why not choux? And if it's to be a vessel for the savory, why not also do interesting fillings such as a house-made smoked salmon and avocado cream?

And since they're already thumbing their nose at the company charter, why not upgrade the standard Beard Papa's cream puff by lopping off the top, sprinkling it with sugar, then torching it to a glassy sheen? What results is an edible, real life incarnation of the Venn diagram for a cream puff and a creme brûlée.

So far, the corporate masters have not disciplined this franchise's owner and chef (who are, full disclosure, friends of mine). But I don't think they will. Besides, it would be good to remind Beard Papa's corporate who invented the Big Mac: a McDonald's franchisee who went rogue.

Beard Papa's
141 N Atlantic Blvd #106
Monterey Park, CA 91754

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Mamon Hillside Eatery - Foothill Ranch

Saturday, June 09, 2018

My Thoughts on Anthony Bourdain


I thought he was invincible--not a man, but a god out of Mount Olympus.

I idolized him. I have his books. I have VHS tapes of all the A Cook's Tour episodes that I recorded when it first aired. In my blog, I've mentioned him more times than I have any other person.

When I go abroad or visit a new city, I try to go where he has gone, eat what he has eaten. When I'm writing and I'm lacking inspiration, I would read something he wrote, hoping just a little of his talent could rub off on me.

But no one could touch Bourdain. The way he crafted a sentence, described a dish, an experience, was unique unto him.

Unlike some of my food writing peers, I never met the man, but I don't think I needed to. His body of work has always lived in my head and will continue to influence and inspire me for as long as I live. He is Elvis Presley. He is Shakespeare. But what I've learned in the past day is that he is also human.

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Hook & Anchor - Newport Beach

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Splitsville - Anaheim


I didn't go to Splitsville, the new bowling alley and restaurant in Downtown Disney, to go to Splitsville. I went because there was a band that was performing on the Downtown Disney stage that I wanted to see. And to see that band I had to park. And to park at Downtown Disney nowadays (lest I wanted to pay a small fortune in fees) I am forced to purchase at least $20-worth of food at a quick service restaurant (or merchandise from a store) to get the 3 hour validation. If I wanted 5 hours of validation, I'd have to go to a table service restaurant.

I opted for Splitsville for three reasons. First, I'd get the maximum amount of parking time. Second, it was an opportunity for us to check out the thing that replaced House of Blues. But third and most important, Splitsville seemed the cheapest of all the table service options. I thought to myself, "How expensive can place that serves burgers and nachos be?"


The answer is very. Splitsville turned out to be one of the most expensive restaurants I've encountered at Downtown Disney.

The taco salad you see above is a whopping $24. Granted it wasn't much of a salad. It was more of a rice bowl. It contained more clumpy Spanish rice and movie theater-style pickled jalapeños than lettuce. Thinking that we needed something else to add to meal, we also ordered the $14 California roll from the sushi roll menu.


That there was sushi here is noteworthy because it automatically makes Splitsville the only place in Downtown Disney or, in fact, the entire Disneyland Resort property, to serve anything resembling Japanese food.

But before you rejoice, the roll tasted as though it came one of those pre-packaged plastic boxes found at airport kiosks or the forgotten deli bin at the local Stater Bros. However, to me, since it cost twice as much, it tasted half as good. The rice was a gummy paste and the imitation crab was as dry as chalk.

Despite the cost and the bad food, I do have a few nice things to say about Splitsville.


It is massive. Constructed mostly of glass, it is two levels of Googie--something out of the Jetsons. And as far as the bowling lanes, there isn't just one big one, there are a whole bunch of tiny ones, scattered throughout the labyrinthian building and encompassing two floors. There are also two kitchens on both levels, each the size of full-sized restaurants themselves.

I also liked our server. When I asked him at the beginning of the meal if there was a minimum purchase amount for parking validation, he smiled and said, "Yes, there is!" as he winked his eye like a vaudevillian.

I laughed.


To prove that he cared more about us than abiding by some arbitrary mininum purchase requirement, he offered to validate the ticket for me on the spot, even before I ordered anything.

"What a charmer!" I thought.

By the end of it, counting a larger-than-usual tip for our server, I paid exactly $50 for that overpriced taco salad and that horrendous sushi roll. I may have been completely wrong about my decision to go to Splitsville, but I know a good server when I see one.

Splitsville
1530 S Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802
(657) 276-2440

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Bao-N-Baguette - Fountain Valley

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Sawleaf Vietnamese Cafe - Irvine


It's not often that I go back to a restaurant I already reviewed, even if it's been a year. But when I do, it's nice to see brand new dishes like this filet mignon pho in a Hue-style broth, a soup that tastes halfway between traditional pho and Thai tom yum. Not only is it requisitely beefy with whiffs of star anise, it's also sufficiently hot and tangy that I required no additional Sriracha squirts, squeezes of lime, or even one slice of the jalapeño.

It's also nice that they framed and hung my review on the wall. Seeing this always gives me the opportunity to say to whoever I'm with, "Hey, if this guy says this place is good, it must be good!" as I point at it, winking.

The eye rolls I get are priceless.

Sawleaf Vietnamese Cafe
13786 Jamboree Rd C
Irvine, CA 92602
(714) 417-9028

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Basilur Tea & Coffee - Buena Park

Sunday, May 06, 2018

How To Do Chanko Nabe At Home


Chanko nabe, a.k.a. sumo stew, is the thing I crave when the temperature dips below 50 degrees and it starts to rain. It is, like all hot pot dishes, cold weather food. But this dish, which is famous because it's what Japanese sumo wrestlers eat to bulk up, is also pure comfort food. The problem is that there’s only one restaurant in OC that serves it: Torizo in Fountain Valley.

I love Torizo's chanko nabe, but not enough to endure the 405 at rush hour on a weeknight.

Fortunately, chanko nabe is not very hard to make at home. The broth can be dashi or chicken broth, flavored with sake or mirin, but the recipe is not hard set. So long as you have lots of vegetables and lots of protein, you can make chanko nabe and, most importantly, make it your own.

Actually, I take it back. To me, there are two things a chanko nabe has to have. One: there must be a tableside stove that keeps your pot simmering as you eat. Two: it must have homemade meatballs.

Typically, the meatballs are made from ground chicken, but I've made it with ground pork. It tastes just as good.

I'm not going to give you my recipe for the meatballs because I basically followed the one outlined by one of my favorite YouTube cooking shows, Cooking with Dog. Also, I don't need to tell you what other ingredients I dumped into my pot, because you can see it arranged in some sort of order in the video I shot above.

I follow the rule that anything that works well in a shabu shabu pot is fabulous in a chanko nabe. As they never overcook, mushrooms are ideal. And for me, tofu is always required. But the most important ingredient of all? Heat. Constant heat. Everything has to be piping hot from the first morsel to the last drop.

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Chef Peter Hung - Garden Grove

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Chicken Sotanghon Soup at Jollibee - Irvine



I once had an office mate who'd make a face when he saw me eating cold pizza for breakfast. For him, the first meal of the day couldn't be more complicated than cereal. Anything possessing flavor or was the least bit savory was disagreeable to him. "It's too early!" he'd say.

I thought about him as I slurped this sotanghon chicken soup for breakfast at Jollibee. I'm not sure how often it is eaten for breakfast in the Philippines, which is the country from which Jollibee hails; but I know that soto, one of my favorite Indonesian breakfast dishes, is a soup of similar constitution.

In fact, the components of Jollibee's dish is almost identical to soto. You've got bits of boiled chicken, translucent bean thread noodle, and a hot, mildly-spiced broth that ties it all together. You're even supposed to squeeze a lemon into it, which is also what you do to soto. The only thing missing is the rice.

More than anything, eating this soup brought me back to the last time I was in Semarang, Indonesia. We'd get up at the crack of dawn while the early morning air around us was still cold and dewy. We'd walk to our family's favorite soto stand, a roadside shack covered in tarp.

Inside this ramshackle structure, the soto man would construct his bowls, scooping rice from a pot, ladling the soup from a bubbling cauldron, topping it with all matter of herbs. He'd hand it to us while it was still steaming hot.

We'd slurp and slurp as the warmth and sustenance from the bowl woke us up and sustained our bodies for the day ahead. Cereal ain't got nothing on this.

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

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen - Irvine