Friday, October 26, 2007

Joe's Italian Ice - Garden Grove

Organic ice cream made in front of your eyes. "Real" frozen yogurt. Gelato in mochi. Custard cream puffs. Japanese sweet crepes.

All good things. But there comes a time when one wants something that hasn't been PR'd to death, hyped to overstatement, or so trendy that the dessert isn't just dessert, it's a fashion statement.

Ice cream. Yes. Ice cream. Good. Honest. Simple.

That's our thinking when we revisited Joe's Italian Ice last week, after months of pinballing around trying out the latest dessert fads. Joe's had what we needed. Ice cream cones. And syrupy ice slushie things called Italian ice. All in a place the press had long forgotten about.

It had been a few years since we'd been back. And it was just as we remembered.

It's a lonely hut, on a lot, parked along a dark stretch of road, just outside of the border from the pulsing brightness of Disneyland's neighborhood. Standing there in the night, Joe's luminous stand looked like something straight out of an Edward Hopper painting -- a refuge from the desolate, bathed in light.

Italian ices came in 14 flavors. Served in waxed cups, it's tinted with artificial coloring but oddly, tasted like the real deal. The list went like this:

Blood Orange
Bada Bing Cherry
Strawberry Lemonade
Sour Apple
Java Joe
Blue Hawaii
Mango Tango
Pina Colada
Black Raspberry
Sour Lemon
Wild Cherry

Ice cream flavors covered the usual menagerie, but included Spumoni and Toll House Cookie Dough. The latter was a rich ordeal. Too rich. I could only finish half my small scoop before my brain said, "That's enough butterfat, thank you very much!"

The Chocolate Dipped Cone went down easier. But the soft serve used is real ice cream; not ice milk like the fast food chains sell for a buck.

So it took a while for my palate to acclimate itself back to the velvety smoothness, the ultra dense, calorically-concentrated character of it all. And of course, it's piped as tall as torch. No space inside the cone was left empty.

I got my fill of ice cream that night. But I won't neglect Joe's again. Especially when it comes time for me to go try out the new O.C. outpost of a certain L.A. yogurt phenom. Do I even need to mention its name?

Joe's Italian Ice
(714) 750-1076
12302 Harbor Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92840

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Crab Pot - Long Beach

There are better places to eat crab. And for cheaper too. But once in a while, it just has to be The Crab Pot in Long Beach. It's one of those restaurants that out-of-town visitors love to be taken to -- an old school seafood joint complete with wooden mallets, plastic bibs and nautical theming to the hilt.

And it's located dockside next to a marina for a whiff of that salty sea air. What better place to eat seafood than within sight of the ocean? Which begs the question: why don't people insist on eating steak in a pasture?

The menu is typical of what you'd see in this type of place. Halibut, salmon, and other domestic species are simply grilled or fried for fish and chips. There's steamed lobster and crab at "market price", which always translates to "expensive".

But the reason to go is something they call the SeaFeast for Two. This is a hands-on, peel-and-eat, crack-and-shuck mountain of shellfish dumped on your table, dusted with a mild-pepper seasoning. In the pile of crustacean appendages and mollusks bodies, you'll also find steamed new potatoes, corn on the cob and andouille sausage. These are meant to fill you up, since only a fraction of the weight of the shellfish is actually edible.

They have a number to choose from, ranging from the crabless SeaFeast called The Cove ($14.95 per person), which just has clams, mussels, and shrimp; to one called The Alaskan ($32.00 per person), which touts three species of crab (King, Dungeness, and Snow).

The catch (pun intended) is that you have to order a SeaFeast in multiples of two (i.e. a minimum of two in one price class). And if you have an odd number of people in your party, a pair must get a more expensive SeaFeast than the third person.

Now on to the criticism: The crab are steamed from frozen, so they can be a bit anemic. Because of this you'll find some of the meat stubbornly clings to the shell like barnacles on a ship. Anyone who has eaten live crabs will know that it should slide off effortlessly from the casing. These people will be most disappointed at what The Crab Pot offers.

Speaking of shells, some of them will bend instead of crack, making those wooden mallets as useless as a hammer on rubber nails.

And Crab Pot's dungeness crab legs are particularly disappointing, yielding succulence only near the joints. Breaking into a thick, fat shell, you'll be expecting the crustacean equivalent of Roseanne Barr, but instead you get Mary Kate Olsen (which in other circumstances wouldn't be bad).

The meat in the snow crab legs are better, since they seem to be hardier to being revived from its cryogenic state. And they're easier to extract too.

Even easier still are mussels, clams, and shrimp which are easy pickins' and delicious after a dunk in melted butter.

Once you finish gorging, clam shells, spent crab casings, and bald corn cobs should fill the metal bowl they provide as a waste receptacle and spittoon. You get a feeling of accomplishment when you see it. Except in most instances, you will ask yourselves, "If we ate all that, why aren't we full?"

This is the reason you must order the Clam Chowder ($3.25 for a cup) before the meal, which is creamy, savory and as good as clam chowder gets. And afterwards, you must finish with a Strawberry Rhubarb Cake ($6.95), which is baked to order in a bread pan -- a gloriously messy, crude mixture of tart rhubarb compote and boxed yellow cake mix.

And heck you might as well get a side of ice cream while you're at it too, because by this time you would've already spent a small fortune.

The Crab Pot
(562) 430-0272
215 Marina Drive
Long Beach, Ca 90803

Sunday, October 07, 2007

99 Ranch Chinese Breakfast - Irvine

Breakfast. Who eats breakfast nowadays? Time is precious when you're about to get ready for work. Weekends, of course, are a different story. Saturdays and Sundays are the only time that breakfast can be properly enjoyed. Although I love me my pancakes and bacon, nothing quite hits the spot on a weekend morning like a Chinese breakfast. And I don't mean dim sum.

Dim sum is a long, drawn out affair -- a fancy and elaborate sit down meal to savor. The typical Chinese breakfast, on the other hand, is consumed like fast food. Understandable, since it's usually sold by street vendors in China. Bowls of hot soy milk is slurped with salty, deep fried crullers. Things doughy, fried, baked and steamed are designed to stuff the belly for not much more than pocket change.

But where can Orange County's proletariat get such food?

A few restaurants, like A&J in Irvine offers it, but faster and cheaper still is the spread that 99 Ranch Supermarket puts out. And Saturday mornings for me (if I can get up early enough) are well-spent noshing on their grub.

Steam tables and heat lamps pulsate over a myriad of ready-to-pluck goodies, sold for no more than a buck each. Some are as cheap as thirty-cents a piece.

Stout cylinders of flaky pastry crumble to reveal a savory filling of julienned turnip -- others are stuffed with chicken curry and sugary Chinese BBQ pork. Floppy discs of doughy, oniony pancakes have dozens of crepe-like layers. Egg rolls crunch with 5-spice-seasoned pork. Chewy gyoza dumplings are browned on their undersides. And encrusted with sesame seeds are two kinds of oval flatbreads: one is savory and salty, another is sweet.

If only I had the time to get a bite during the weekday morning rush to the office.

99 Ranch Market
(949) 651-8899
15333 Culver Dr.
Irvine, CA 92604