Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Monster Munching now on Instagram!

Cafe Hiro's Valentine's Day 5-course prix-fixe. $49 per person. Worth every penny. #cafehiro #food

A post shared by MonsterMunching (@monstermunching_oc) on

My dear readers: Monster Munching is now on Instagram.

(Well, actually, it’s just me. Who are we kidding. This blog has always been just me.)

And the minute I signed up for IG (I'm told that’s what the hip kids call it), I realized that nearly all the food bloggers I know such as Chubbypanda, Brekkie Fan, Dylan & Jeni, Eddie Lin, and Daily Gluttony have been there for what looks like years.

So I’m late to the party, again. So late, in fact, that it seems everyone’s already drank the punch and told all the good jokes.

But in case you still want to find me as I stand alone awkwardly in my little corner of the room, here it is:

Seasons Kitchen - Anaheim

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

When is the best time to go to Cafe Hiro?

There's never a bad time to go to Cafe Hiro. If I could, I'd eat there daily.

But if there's an absolute best time to come, it's when Chef Hiro Ohiwa offers his special prix-fixe dinners. To my knowledge, he does it only twice a year: Christmas Eve and Valentine's Day. And ever since I found out about these dinners nearly ten years ago, I don't think I've missed one.

In my opinion, it isn't just a great way to spend Christmas Eve or woo a date on Valentine's; it's also the best way to experience Ohiwa's cooking in all its creative glory...not to mention that it's a great deal when you do the math, especially when you consider he's using ingredients such as scallops and sushi-grade ahi.

What follows are the pictures of the 5-course, $49 per person prix-fixe I ate two months ago on Christmas Eve, which I only post now because the Valentine's prix-fixe is less than a week away.

As you look over these pics, know that though Ohiwa is, once again, going to be doing a 5-course prix-fixe for the same price for Valentine's, it's likely that you'll see an entirely different array of dishes than what you see here.

What will it be? Will it be like this or like last year's Valentine's prix-fixe? I can't wait to find out!

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

Bluegold - Huntington Beach

Friday, February 03, 2017

Summer Roll at Brodard - Garden Grove

Going to Brodard without ordering one of their signature nem nướng cuốns is like going to Disneyland and not riding Pirates of the Caribbean. This signature item, which I've described before as "a spring roll to end all spring rolls" is an inextricable part of Brodard's DNA as the pirate ride is to the Magic Kingdom--it will never, ever go away.

So you can bet that even as Brodard is set to close its original restaurant to move to better digs in Fountain Valley later this year, the nem nướng cuốn and its secret sauce will go with it.

But this post is about the other Brodard roll that I love almost as much as the nem nướng cuốn. It's called bò bía and contains sauteed carrots and jicama, lettuce, fresh basil, peanuts and roasted shallots. The English translation is "summer roll", because, well, "spring roll" was taken and "fall roll" sounds like something you do when your clothes catch on fire.

The most defining thing about Brodard's summer roll, though, is the dried shrimp, sweet Chinese pork sausage and shreds of omelette, which I would argue make it the closest thing you can get to a breakfast burrito in Little Saigon.

I eat mine with a dip--no, make that multiple dips--in the plum sauce and in between bites of Thai chili peppers.

And since an entire serving has a tendency to disappear before my eyes like an apparition, you could say that the bò bía is like the Haunted Mansion to the nem nướng cuốn's Pirates--but that would be carrying the Disneyland analogy a bit too far.

Mall of Fortune
9892 Westminster Avenue R
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 530-1744

Salerno's - Laguna Beach

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Champurrado at Cancun Juice - Santa Ana

It’s been so long that I’ve had champurrado, I’d forgotten how good it is, especially when the weather is as cold and wet as it has been.

So what is a champurrado, you ask? If you looked it up on Wikipedia, it’s a “traditional corn- or masa-based beverage of Mesoamerican origin”.

Not to be reductive, but to me, champurrado is what happens when a mug of hot cocoa gets it on with a warm bowl of oatmeal.

It’s a meal that you drink (or is it a drink that’s also a meal?) and it's the only thing you need in the morning.

Cancun Juice’s rendition is pretty wonderful--the real breakfast of champions, which actually has the word "champ" already in it.

Cancun Juice
2302 S Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Mighty Kitchen - Los Alamitos

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hanna's - Rancho Santa Margarita

This was one of the last meals we ate in the waning days of December, before the New Year dawned.

Why? Well, because sometimes all you need in life is a big, bloody top sirloin (Wagyu, no less), a mess of crispy fries served in a cone, and one of the best, most understated beef Stroganovs in OC.

We consumed it all with reckless abandon under an oversized American flag and as out butts sank slowly into a soft leather booth.

And for dessert, since we were already a few thousand calories into it, we capped off the night with a hunk of dense butter cake, which was basically an oversized Danish butter cookie topped with ice cream.

It was a good introduction to Hanna's, arguably the best steakhouse in Rancho Santa Margarita, if not South County. Our good friends who live in the area have raved about it for years. They finally took us as a last hurrah to 2016.

So I thank them, but I should mention that this meal was one of the reasons I started using the treadmill again.

22195 El Paseo #110
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
(949) 709-2300

Mix Mix - Santa Ana

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Frozen Banana at Sugar 'n Spice - Newport Beach

"There's always money in the banana stand."

If you know where that quote is from and what it's referencing, then congrats, you're a real Orange Countian!

It's from Arrested Development, one of the best TV shows ever produced about OC, and what it's referring to is a peculiar speciality of Balboa Island: the frozen banana.

There are two places within feet of each other on Balboa Island that sell frozen bananas, both claiming to be the "original". The real story is a bit more complicated. But on this particular Sunday, Sugar n' Spice had the longer line.

The recipe for a frozen banana is quite simple--take a skewered frozen banana, dip it in melted milk chocolate, then roll it in whatever topping your customer wants, be it crushed Oreos, almonds, peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, Heath Pecan Crush, rainbow sprinkles, "Sweet 'n Salty" (crushed pretzel and chocolate sprinkles)...or what you see in the picture above: all of it in the "Everything".

Right now you might be asking: "So what distinguishes frozen bananas at Sugar n' Spice or Dad's Donuts from those you get at a theme park?"

The answer is that they're not rock hard; they melt in your mouth like actual ice cream. Also, they were part of the lore of Orange County way before Arrested Development made the world aware that Balboa Island was the place to get them.

Sugar 'n Spice
310 Marine Ave
Newport Beach, CA 92662
(949) 673-8907

Northgate González Market - Anaheim

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Sushi Gozen at Sagami - Irvine

I've eaten at Sagami in Irvine for at least a decade.

I wrote this about the place six years ago:

Sagami has been around for as long as I can remember. It made a name for itself as a quick-pick-up-and-go lunch stop for sushi rolls and teriyaki bowls. And for the most part, it still is. But since Flame Broiler opened next door, or maybe it was before that, Sagami shed its work-a-day cred and became a full-fledged Japanese restaurant and izakaya.

Dinner diners range from the casual family out for a meal to Docker-decked business men on expense accounts. The dining room is separated into two parts, both awkwardly claustrophobic like a mouse maze, due the building's Tetris S-block footprint. The space was originally conceived to occupy two stores but they busted through a wall to expand.

But the more I went, the more dishes I uncovered and the more articles I wrote, such as the one about the hitsumabushi and, most recently, the ultra comforting hot pot called oden.

Which brings me to this post: the part where I reach the same kind of realization that a prototypical rom-com protagonist comes to in the third act of the movie. You know, when he/she realizes the one who's always been there is the one he/she should've been in love with all along!

So here's my running-through-the-airport, jumping-over-security-check-points proclamation:

Sagami, you're the most authentic and the very best Japanese restaurant in Irvine!!!

This epiphany came because of the last meal I had there--the Sushi Gozen. It was a dinner that, when I first saw it on the menu, looked kind of expensive at $25.95 but was, in actuality, one of the best prix fixe bargains in OC.

It included not just six pieces of assorted nigiri and cut rolls, but also rice, soup, salad, an entire plate of lacy tempura, pickles, and best of all: four intricately prepared seasonal dishes that's about the closest thing to traditional Japanese kaiseki as you'll get in this part of Orange County.

On that night, my kaiseki-style dishes included:

- Poke with avocado
- Simmered kabocha with homemade fish dumpling and fried shiitake
- Agedashi tofu
- A meltingly soft and deeply flavored braised pork belly that turned out to be the biggest star of them all.

So, Sagami, in keeping with rom-com movie tropes, I have this message for you:

3850 Barranca Pkwy B
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 857-8030

"How My New Year's Eve Plans Have Changed"

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Brazi Bites at Costco - Tustin

Of the many reasons Brazilian churrascarias are great, chief among them is pão de queijo.

What's pão de queijo? They're those ping-pong sized balls of cheese bread that come piping hot and free as soon as you sit down to begin your Brazilian meat marathon.

They have a thin, crispy crust on the outside but are wondrously pliant and chewy on the inside. If you've never had them, the best way I can describe them is that they're a cross between a gooey fried mozzarella stick and a Pillsbury crescent roll.

Trust me: they're wonderful. And for the longest time, I thought the only way I could have them was by paying the steep AYCE churrascaria entry fee. Last year, I finally realized that Taste Brazilian Style Gourmet, a Brazilian bakery in Huntington Beach, actually makes them fresh--without the churrasco requirement.

But when I told a Brazilian friend of my discovery, he revealed that Costco actually carries pão de queijo in its freezer section!

As soon as he sent me a photo of the bag in his Costco shopping cart as proof, I bolted to the nearest one, and there it was...Brazi Bites--raw morsels of frozen dough that you bake on parchment paper in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Although I overbaked it a touch, when they came out, they were exactly like--if not the same as--the ones at Agora, Texas de Brazil, et al.

I served it to guests over the holiday break along with Cream Pan's strawberry croissants and, for the first time, the strawberry croissants played runner up.

Costco at The District
2700 Park Ave.
Tustin, CA 92782

Water Grill - Costa Mesa

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"How Christmas Breakfast Has Changed For Me Over The Years"

This year's edition of OC Weekly's Annual Holiday Cartoon Issue comes out next week.

Before it drops, I thought I'd share my cartoon contribution from last year's issue and wish all of you still reading a Happy Holiday Season!

May your Christmas breakfast not consist of just Fiber One!

Stay tuned to OC Weekly for a new cartoon!

Orange Bap - Anaheim

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lady M Cake Boutique - Irvine

I paid $8 for the wedge of the Lady M Mille Crêpes cake you see above. It is expensive. There's no doubt about that. But if there were any cake that might justify the cost, it might be this one, because it's labor intensive as all hell.

Someone had to make twenty individual crepes, lay each one out, smear the pastry cream on each crepe, then repeat the process nineteen more times, stacking them on top of the other.

And then there's the crowning touch that brûlées the top to a golden brown.

Since my slice--which was delicate, light, and tasting like a cloud looks--seemed to be a 30 degree section and it was made up 20 layers of crepe, that meant that each wedge contained about 1.67 of a whole crepe. If you're doing the math, that works out to $4.80 per crepe--which, in a way, seems fair. That's about the going rate for a basic crepe out there these days.

But really, if you're worried about cost, this probably isn't the place for you. Lady M is the Louis Vuitton of cake bakers. The space is minimalist and bare, and if you've ever been to those high-end boutiques in the Nordstrom wing at South Coast Plaza, you know that the less you see, the more you pay.

Lady M Cake Boutique
2967 Michelson Dr
Irvine, CA 92612
(323) 825-8888

Rasselbock - Long Beach