Saturday, October 03, 2015

Snow Monster - Irvine

I know what you're thinking: the thing you see above looks like it could use a bit of...what do they call it? Manscaping?

Unintentionally phallic (and pubic) as it would seem, this dessert is actually designed for kids...that is, if you want them tweaked for hours. I'm guessing it has about all the daily allotted calories any normal adult has any business consuming--so it's probably double that for a child.

Quite simply, it's a cup of Fruity Pebbles soft serve, rimmed with a bushy halo of cotton candy, because, hey, if you're going to feed your rugrats frozen sugar milk, why not add a wreath of spun sugar threads and have them love you forever?

This ice cream obelisk is one of the many desserts that Snow Monster serves--including macaron ice-cream sandwiches, milk teas, and shaved snow--but it's easily the most excessive item they make. By the way, the ice cream doesn't need the cotton candy and the cotton candy doesn't need the ice cream. But I ordered it anyway because (with apologies to George Mallory) it's there.

Thankfully, the soft serve is not overly sweet. I'm not sure if it was because my tastebuds were dulled after finishing the cotton candy, but it was pleasantly surprising how good the ice cream was--this despite the pulverized Fruity Pebbles churned into it, which didn't add much except its bluish tint.

What I did realize eating it was that this dessert and this place is made by and for millennials--people whose metabolism haven't given up on them and who can eat a column of ice cream with cotton candy pubes without looking as silly as I did that afternoon.

Snow Monster
4255 Campus Dr A124
Irvine, CA 92612
(714) 582-6023

Sessions West Coast - Huntington Beach

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Dirty Cookie - Tustin

Yes, that's a shot glass molded from a cookie. And yes, that's milk inside the shot glass. And yes, this novelty came from The Dirty Cookie, the new specialty cookie stall inside Union Market at The District in Tustin--a hip rat maze of boutiques made for those who are young or have money to burn, or both.

Like Pizza Hut's pasta bread bowl and KFC's Double Down before it, it's something no one ever asked for. But now that it exists, my duty as a food blogger dictates that I had to try it, at least once.

Was it good? Yes. It tasted as I expected it to. It had the density of concrete because it needed to be. If the cookie material was less sturdy, the thing--quite literally--would not hold water. Also, to ensure that this pastry Hoover Dam kept the mighty milk Colorado at bay, the inner wall and lip of the vessel was covered in a layer of chocolate as moisture barrier.

Now, I admit that when I first heard about it, I thought to myself, "Why is this necessary? Who is so busy that they can't have a cookie and a glass of milk?" But then, I had my first nibble of cookie and sip of milk. I realized immediately that, by golly, I was enjoying this. It was kinda fun! And what is dessert if it's not fun?

After all, the ice cream cone exists not because people are incapable of eating a waffle and a separate bowl of ice cream.

Still, the price for one of these cookie shots can seem awfully steep. The Dirty Cookie charges $4.50 for one cookie (either chocolate chip, cookies-n-cream, or red velvet), which includes a pour of milk from their taps (either vanilla cream, chocolate milk cream, traditional milk, or, for those intolerant of lactose, vanilla almond milk).

But the cookie's small frame can be deceiving. This is actually a lot of cookie. If you were to take a mallet and flatten it to normal cookie dimensions, I would guess it would make a 5-inch diameter cookie that's a quarter of an inch thick. That's a big cookie.

Also included in the price: leakage insurance. If you find that it leaks at any point during consumption, you can come back and they'll give you a new cookie, free of charge. And one of ours did spring a leak, in fact. So we got a third cookie that I took home and filled with Bailey's.

But now that I've done the cookie shot, I'm looking forward to the next food novelty. Please let it be wine in goblets made of cheese.

The Dirty Cookie
2493 Park Ave
Tustin, CA 92782
(949) 324-1574

India Gate - Tustin

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Aguas Frescas at Cancun Juice - Santa Ana

I don't know how much money I've wasted over the years on smoothies from that national smoothie chain that rhymes with "samba shoes". I say "wasted" because every time I get one, I always realize three things:

1. It's expensive.

2. It's got a weirdly tart and artificial after-taste.

3. It harbors more calories than a Big Mac.

But now I know better. Now when I crave something cold and fruity, I get an agua fresca.

It turns out that aguas frescas are the drinks I actually wanted when I thought I wanted a smoothie. It fulfills my requirements of something fruit-juicy without just being fruit juice. And best of all, aguas frescas are cheap, finishes clean, and has slightly fewer calories than a smoothie.

My go-to place for aguas frescas right now is Cancun Juice, which has only four locations in OC, three of which happen to be where I usually am anyway.

They have a vast selection of flavors which I will list here, all of them made to order.


The watermelon tastes, well, like watermelon. It's as if they took a couple of fresh-cut wedges and then just liquified them in a blender.

The strawberry tastes, well, like strawberries! My point is this: these are straight-up, real fruit flavors uninterrupted by the distraction of yogurt, sherbet, or whatever additive those smoothie chains dump in their drinks to make it so sickly sweet.

I'm now committed to Cancun Juice's $2 aguas frescas over smoothies as my frivolous drink purchase of choice.

Cancun Juice
2302 S. Bristol #D
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 668-9588

Tra House - Garden Grove

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