Sunday, March 28, 2010

Doner G - Anaheim

Next time, I must come earlier. Arriving an hour before closing time just doesn't work at Doner G. This is one of those places that seems to only stock just enough food for the day. When things are done, things are done.

Their namesake dish, Turkish doner kebab, which is similar to the shawarma and the gyro, was history by the time we arrived. The guy behind the counter delivered the sad news to us even before I had a chance to speak. Disappointed, I looked over and saw the bare metal rod on which the hunk of lamb would've spun like a ballerina. Its heating element was cold.

No doner meant that virtually half the menu were eliminated as choices. I also missed ordering their last batch of fries by a hair. The customer who came before me got that.

Had I arrived a minute or two later, the adana kebab would've been claimed too. That would've been a shame, because this Turkish version of the koobideh -- where ground lamb is molded and grilled on a metal sword -- was wondrous. Yes, it's similar to Persian koobideh; but that's as inadequate a comparison as proclaiming that a Cajun hot link is the same as a hot dog.

This is an entirely different creature with an entirely different bent. Bursting from charbroiled-end to charbroiled-end with chili seeds and pods of unidentified spices, it's so juicy it spurts, and so intensely hot my eyes widened after my first chomp.

To blot out the burn, there was toasted pita bread, pickled cabbage, a simple salad of cubed tomatoes, and moist rice pilaf, which ate as richly as the stuff the Malaysians pile under chopped Hainan chicken. It had to have been cooked with either butter or chicken broth or both.

They subbed a lamb shish kebab for the second adana, which turned out nicely charred. But eating it after the adana was like conquering Mt. Baldy after you'd been to Everest.

The lamb chunks needed to be dunked into the minty yogurt and the thousand island-like sauce they provide in thimbles.

Doner G's chicken shish kebab had its heart in the right place, too. The healthy, plump morsels also did well with a slathering of sauce. But next time, I'm coming down for dinner before the doner's done.

Doner G
(714) 956-0123
2139 East Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92806

Dosa Place - Tustin

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lua Bistrot - Garden Grove

Restaurant Week, Schmestaurant Week. O.C.'s annual eatery bargain-a-palooza is great and all. But since it's over now, where's a shallow-pocketed diner to go for value? Little Saigon, that's where. It's here that footlong, meat-ladened banh mi sandwiches still tick under $3; bowls of pho typically retail for less than $5; and there's a place actually called The $1.99 Restaurant.

It's microeconomic theory at work. The dense concentration of Vietnamese businesses centered around the cities of Garden Grove, Westminster, and parts of Santa Ana and Fountain Valley have always competed fiercely to earn your fickle patronage with prices that almost seem unsustainable.

Take for example my complete steak frites (and fried egg) dinner you see above. It's a measly $8.95 at the new Lua Bistrot -- a toll that wouldn't get you past other restaurants' valet.

If you think I've somehow managed to finagle that fancy steak dinner by slumming it at a sticky-table hole-in-the-wall with an incongruous name, take a look again. I've got pictures to prove that Lua Bistrot outclasses a lot of CdM's and Laguna Beach's overwrought eateries.

Nevermind that it shares a parking lot with a 99-Cent-Only store. With leather black seats, minimalist black-n-white design, and an open kitchen where bonafide gourmet chefs whisk and saute in front of the leaping fires of a stove, it feels as chic as something out of Miami's South Beach if you subtracted the European sports cars and the silicone-enhanced, half-starved fashion models. And besides that, it's probably the plaza's low rent that affords them the ability to charge so little.

The money saved is spent on such premium ingredients as the steak that I had, which I am confident would cost me double at the Whole Foods butcher. It's a gristle-free cut of filet as big as my fist (the menu has it as an 8 oz rib eye*). Slicing it was effortless, as if my knife was a red hot iron and the beef a gigantic cube of Jell-O.

More surprising than the sticker price is its sponge cake-like tenderness. This was a high quality hunk of meat cooked expertly to the perfect degree of doneness: medium, like I asked. Dissecting it was almost pornographic, revealing a carnal, reddish-pink. It's also rested just enough so that it doesn't bleed too much of its juice to dilute the carefully nuanced red wine reduction that's ladled over it.

Its surplus of flavor also comes from the browned outer crust, which is a crispy by-product, no doubt, of a long and loving fry in what I imagine must be clarified butter. It concentrates the flavors, and fuses the black peppercorn stuck onto its outer strata deeper into the protein hunk.

The fat fries that came along were tossed in bits of minced garlic so bold I can still smell it in my breath a day after I had it. The side salad uses a sweet vinaigrette, fancy microgreens, but also shredded pickled carrots and daikon, a subtle but knowing Vietnamese touch.

And of course, there's the sunny-side-up egg, which was fried in the way all eggs should be fried: in lots of oil so that the edges turn lacy, crunchy, and brown. My belief is that even a great dish can be made better with a fried egg; especially when it's done like this.

Other specialities complete a list on the white side of the two-sided menu they give you. Flip it over and you see a black side with the cheaper Viet staples of rice and bun noodles subbing for potatoes and pasta.

I soon discover these dishes are discounted temporarily even further to ridiculously low lows.

"All of this is $4.95", our server said as he ran this finger down the list which included a gorgeous slab of grilled pork chop (com suon) so unctuous and deliciously fatty it must have come from a particularly lazy hog.

It's plated with the same salad as my steak and a rice dome formed from an upturned bowl. The pork chop is seeped all the way through with a lemongrass aroma and a sugary sweetness that almost makes it taste like caramel.

Our next surprise came when our server said, "I'll be back with your check and your dessert".

Wait, did he say dessert?

In the distance I saw our guy pour sugar into a ramekin and then witnessed the poof of a blowtorch, which could only mean he was making a creme brulee. "Surely, he's not giving us a creme brulee for free?" we asked each other.

Oh yes. The creme brulee was free alright. But not just one. We both got complimentary creme brulees. The offer, I suspect, is done in part to get word-of-mouth to spread. Still, it's an uncommonly generous gesture even in the oasis of bargains that is Little Saigon. And let me be the first to tell you: free creme brulees will always taste amazing, and most especially when it follows a $8.95 steak dinner that costs $30 everywhere else.

OC Restaurant Week? We love you. But Little Saigon is forever.

Lua Bistrot
(714) 636-2903
9892 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844

*Note: It is possible that since I came later in the evening, they decided to substitute the normal cut of rib eye with the filet mignon usually reserved for the filet au poivre. Or maybe they do it all the time!

O.C.'s Lenten Fish Fries

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sushilicious - Irvine

I got one for you: What do you get if you smooshed a Japanese restaurant into an Apple store, put it in a bag, added a factory-scene from How It's Made, sprinkled a dash of Yogurtland and shook it all up?

You get Sushilicious in Irvine, which in its pastel-colored sleekness, becomes the first kaiten joint in O.C. to actually have a personality to match the silly-fun experience of revolving sushi.

Its owner, Daniel Woo (who I assume has a background in marketing) knows exactly what he's doing. He recognizes precisely who his customers are: people who drool at the next Steve Jobs iProduct, line up at Yogurtland, follow trendy food trucks, and Yelp-gush or blog on their latest restaurant discovery. People like you. People like me.

Before it was even open, the restaurant was Twittered-up and Facebooked. Actually, it's networked in even more ways than that: Instead of paper pads or calculators, each server has an iPod Touch that's connected to a WiFi-enabled Point of Sale system.

Yeah, there's an app for that.

These newfangled features and doodads makes it easy to forget that it used to be Gen Kai, a more traditional sushi restaurant. Gen Kai who? See? My ADD-addled attention span is already at their mercy.

If I Tweeted during my meal (and I was twenty years younger), this might be what it'd sound like:

LOL, the rainbow roll @sushilicious is called "United Colors of Sushi".

OMG, there's also one named "WMD"! And "Napoleon Dynamite"? No tater tots in it, though.

ROFL, there's a "Twilight" roll! @RPattzFanGirls: be still your beating hearts.

All kidding aside: Somebody obviously set the creative meter on high. The "Sushicalifragilisticexpialidocious" is a two-way mouthful--a soy-paper roll topped with battered rock shrimp covered in a Sriracha-laced mayo sauce. It does its best impersonation of honey glazed walnut shrimp, even if the connection to Mary Poppins remains dubious.

The "Medusa" is what they call their spider roll, because, well, I guess soft-shell crab legs do sorta look like snakes. I have, however, already forgotten what that slightly rubbery shrimp roll I ate in the picture above was called; but you can bet it was something cutesy, which is probably why I took it.

And that's the draw of the place. You will not arrive at any sushi epiphanies. Leave your omakase snobbery at the door. The place knows that it caters to the sushi n00bs not sushi l33ts. The point is to laugh a little, eat a lot, not take things too seriously.

In any case, for conveyor belt fodder, the food is remarkably fresh and well-prepared. If you're still wary of where your plate's been or who it's been seeing before it gets to you, you can order it from the chefs themselves who are within speaking distance of wherever you sit.

Prices start at $1.50 for the basic plates; top out at $4 for premium ones. Bento boxes and side dishes round out the menu offerings. One such item is a panko-covered, deep-fried sweet potato corokke as sweet as Thanksgiving. Their gyozas are softly pliant pork pockets with nicely crisped bottoms, ready-to-be-dipped and gobbled...right after you take a picture and send your Tweet about it, of course.

Me? I'm old school. I blog.

(949) 552-2260
15435 Jeffrey Road
Suite #119, Irvine, CA 92618

SideDoor - Corona del Mar

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Janty Noodle - West Covina

If you're a Southern California-residing Indonesian, you already know about this place. Heck, I've been eating and enjoying their noodles for years now.

Janty Noodle, or as Indonesians call it "Mie Yanty" has become a sort of noodle mecca -- about the closest facsimile to the noodles served at a popular Jakarta institution called Bakmi Gadja Mada, which specializes in crinkly egg noodles with a pronounced chew, boiled but served dry, simply dressed in flavored oil.

"Bakmi" translates to noodle in Indonesian, and the dish is largely a by-product from the ethnic Chinese minority. That they're usually served with wontons called pangsit and a clear broth made from chicken, is further evidence of this fact.

For some, a trip to Jakarta isn't considered complete until you've had a mie ayam (chicken noodle) at Bakmi Gadja Mada. It's to the city as Katz Deli is to New York. These days, I hear the restaurants' gotten so popular with multiple locations that they've officially KFC'd its moniker to just "Bakmi GM".

Closer to our neck of the woods, Warung Pojok in Garden Grove also does a rendition of the dish, but there has been at least one other Southern California Indonesian restaurant that attempted to replicate the success of the original. I remember an actual Gadjah Mada restaurant in Cerritos once, but it's history now. They offered a similar dish, but I don't recall what it was like, or if it was very good.

I am certain, however, that they weren't even close to what Janty Noodle produces. Janty makes their noodles by hand. Each chewy, elastic strand you slurp has with it an imperfect crinkle that speaks of its manual process. Lubing it is a sweet slick of oil that contributes as much flavor to the dish as the pieces of chicken and mushrooms that top it.

After you eat a chopstick's worth of noodle, you take a sip of their broth, which is as refreshingly clear as chicken soup can get before it becomes a chicken drink.

Yes, it's in West Covina, quite a schlep from O.C., but trust me, it's closer than Jakarta and a lot cleaner, too.

Janty Noodle
(626) 480-1808
989 S Glendora Ave #14
West Covina, CA 91790

Sophy's Thai & Cambodian - Long Beach