Sunday, August 09, 2020

Take-Out Review: Tendon at Sushi Damu - Tustin

Do you miss gorging on all the deep-fried foods at the OC Fair? The tendon, or tempura rice bowl, at Sushi Damu is your ticket to reliving that indulgence.

It is a decadent bowl of oily, crispy goodness that lodges itself in your gut and your heart—a dish that simultaneously reminds you of those tangled battered zucchini curls and onion rings at Chicken Charlie, but also makes you feel better about consuming it since this deep-fried feast at least comes on a bed of rice to counteract all the grease.

You can even try to kid yourself that you’re eating your vegetables. The bowl is packed with two pieces each of onion, broccoli, carrot, green beans, and sweet potato, except that, you know, they’re all covered in batter and plunged in hot oil until everything is uniformly golden brown and crispy.

Eating this bowl, however, is going to make you realize that you’re only paying a fraction of what you would have been charged for a similar pile of junky fried food at the fair, had it not been cancelled.

In fact, right now, since it’s half price for take-out, this bowl is one of OC’s best bargains, especially when you consider that it also includes two shrimp and a whole soft shell crab, which also get the deep-fried treatment.

And if you’re still missing the queasy feeling you get at the end of the night after being tossed around in a creaky carnival ride, just turn on the news.

Sushi Damu
13962 Newport Ave D
Tustin, CA 92780

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Take-Out Review: Zankou Chicken's Kabob Combo Plate

I’d eat Zankou’s kabob combo plate every day if I could. It’s a meal I’m always in the mood for; a meal that doesn’t make me feel like crap after I eat it.

In this Styrofoam box is everything I need and nothing I don’t. There’s karmic balance in its components. Every texture, taste, and temperature complement each other so that not one thing dominates. Because of this, there’s no chance of flavor fatigue.

And when Zankou’s chefs season or marinate, the seasoning or marinade doesn’t overwhelm the essence of the main ingredient.

What I get, then, is shish taouk that tastes like the very best BBQ’d chicken can be, every morsel juicy and rimmed with charred crispy edges.

The chicken, in turn, elevates the rice, which is as fluffy as it is moist, especially when I smoosh the roasted tomato into it, releasing a torrent of juice that almost turns it into an entirely new dish.

Together with the sides--the raw crunch of the cucumber salad that plays against the silken base-notes of the hummus--and the condiments that include the high-octave zing of Zankou’s famous toum, the free-if-you-ask-for-it radish pickles, and sumac-dusted sliced onions, everything exists in perfect harmony--utopia on a plate.

Zankou Chicken
2424 W Ball Rd
Anaheim, CA 92804

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Take-Out Review: Thai Nakorn

What does Thai Nakorn do to its food to make it so good? Is it some secret technique? A well-seasoned wok? A particular seasoning? Incantations sung during a full moon?

Whatever it is, there must be a reason why every Thai dish I try to make at home can never taste as good as theirs.

The pad see ew recipe I stir-fried after researching just the right kind of soy sauces to use? It lacked their flavor.

The nam sod I carefully assembled with what I thought were the same exact ingredients? It was missing their je ne sais quoi.

On the latter, I actually did a side-by-side taste test of their nam sod with the one I made from scratch (see my version in the second picture). Their nam sod still won by a wide margin, even though it was from two-day-old leftovers and cold.

This is why I hope Thai Nakorn survives these trying times and why I continue to support it by getting my Thai food take-out there. If they go away, those secrets go with it.

Thai Nakorn
12532 W Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Take-Out Review: Hoedoepbap at Misoya - Garden Grove

Psst...You like poke? Chirashi? Bibimbap? If so, you’re going to love hoedoepbap. It’s as if all three entered a teleportation machine, got merged molecularly and came out the other side looking like Jeff Goldblum.

No, not Jeff Goldblum in The Fly; Jeff Goldblum in Thor Ragnarok—a hyper-colorized and heightened version of Jeff Goldblum who eats up every scene he’s in.

He’s what I liken hoedoepbap to. It is rainbow-hued, charming, and you love it because it’s more fun than anything else in the room.

Think of a poke bowl but spicier, sweeter and more garlicky. Picture chirashi but with crunchy vegetables. Imagine the Korean sesame-oil scented aroma of a bibimbap, but with chilled pieces of raw fish instead of beef.

Hoedoepbap is all these things together, and at Misoya in Garden Grove, it is on special right now for $7.99, which, I don’t have to tell you, is cheaper than most chirashis, pokes, and bibimbaps.

And the take-out price includes a miso soup, as if this Jeff Goldblum of dishes even needed a sidekick.

8893 W Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Take-Out Review: Drive-Thru Pho at Banh Mi Che Cali

Did you know that there’s a place in Little Saigon where you can get pho from a drive-thru?

For years I was aware that Banh Mi Che Cali Restaurant—which is located next door to the smaller “Taco Bell” Banh Mi Che Cali on Brookhurst— has a drive-thru window. But for the longest time, I ignored it because before dining inside a restaurant became fraught with health risks, ordering pho from your car made as much sense as getting Din Tai Fung’s juicy pork dumplings as take-out—it’s possible but inadvisable.

Then came the pandemic, and suddenly its drive-thru window became a lifeline with a full-on Vietnamese menu on the other end.

I could have all my Vietnamese restaurant favorites without stepping into one.

Even better: these were one of the cheapest prices in town. $7.50 bought me a generous portion of rice topped with grilled pork chop, Vietnamese egg cake, shredded pork skin, a side salad, pickles and that ambrosial fish sauce to dribble on everything. And one order was enough to feed two.

The bun—a refreshingly light noodle salad strewn with pieces of sweetly marinated Vietnamese BBQ pork, grilled shrimp and an egg roll wrapped in rice paper—was just as cheap and just as filling.

But the most impressive dish of all was the pho dac biet, which had more bells and whistles than a fully-loaded Tesla.

For the protein, there’s the requisite thinly sliced raw filet mignon, but also enough brisket to fill a sandwich, two matchbox squares of aspic, beef meatballs, and crunchy tripe.

At home, when I assembled the components together, I discovered that there’s more than enough to fill two standard IKEA bowls.

But most importantly, when I ate it, I realized it tasted just as good as the last bowl of pho I slurped inside a restaurant pre-COVID.

Now as far as doing Din Tai Fung’s juicy pork dumplings as take-out? I also did that during the lockdown and I can report that it’s still inadvisable.

Banh Mi Che Cali
15553 Brookhurst St.
Westminster, CA 92683

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