Monday, July 26, 2010

Dippin' Dots - Huntington Beach

What does it mean when something that bills itself as "The Ice Cream of the Future®" instills nostalgia? It means I'm getting older.

Unless you happen to frequent Boomers or amusement parks, Dippin' Dots--once the rage in malls along with Spencers Gifts and other 80's relics--are a rare sight these days. The novelty was invented back in 1987 by a university graduate student who took a good idea (to freeze ice cream droplets in liquid nitrogen) and turned it into a business. To put it perspective, that's the year of Dirty Dancing. Where we you then? If you were a teenage girl, you were possibly in a mall eating one, snapping gum, listening to Madonna, your hair in an Aquanet coif.

Me, I was probably with fellow nerds playing the original Legend of Zelda on an NES. Oh how that gold cartridge shined!

Eating these ice cream pellets thawed out memories frozen in time and made me realize how far we've come from our youth. Also, it made me remember how damned cold these things are! After the fifth spoonful, my tongue was thoroughly in a state of cryo-stasis, numbed and sapped of warmth. Before that happened I was actually able to enjoy the ice cream, which really did taste like banana split and birthday cake, two flavors created by mixing other pellets together.

Excuse me while I queue up Walk Like An Egyptian on the iTunes.

Dippin' Dots‎
(714) 963-4549
19742 Beach Boulevard
Huntington Beach, CA 92648-2988

Happy Hour Issue
Mother's Market - Costa Mesa

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Boiling Crab - Rowland Heights

Ah, The Boiling Crab. You and you alone have figured out how to do it. When others have faltered, you continue to dazzle, you continue to expand, onward and upwards from the humble store in a forgettable mall in Garden Grove, to the San Gabriel Valley, where tastes are finicky and discriminating.

Even here, at the newest outlet at Rowland Heights, wait times are routinely long and frustrating. But the rewards are great. Your minutes spent thumb-twiddling outside will eventually get you a table inside, draped in wax paper and you, with a bib tied around your neck.

You look damned silly with it. But you'll be glad you set aside your dignity for once. The best stuff here is steeped in a butter-y, furiously red-tinged sauce that will get all over the place. Anything not covered will be sprayed crimson like a CSI crime scene.

Once you don protection, dive into a pile of seafood that's simply prepared for reasonable rates. Mostly importantly, everything is as fresh as if the dock were right outside. This is how to do Cajun seafood boil. Drinks served in paper cups; rice scooped into to-go containers.

Catfish is fried into flaky strips as supple as custard. Fries are cloaked in a dangerous chili powder that makes you wince and reach for more.

But the thing to get is the shrimp ($8.99 a pound). The crustaceans, fat and plump, come out in a clear plastic sack and will be best bang for the buck, yielding the most meat pound-for-pound.

Do it Whole-Shabang, which is an ingenious and patentable concoction made from butter, lemon juice, Zatarain's and lots of garlic. Opting for mild is sufficient. Anything hotter and you should've probably brought goggles, lest you want that stuff to accidentally get into your eyes and cause blindness.

Strip each critter of its head, suck the goods from its skull, being careful not to let its sharp appendages poke you a new orifice. Dig into the underbelly, and disrobe it of its shell and tail. Eat the spindly legs and take the sweet meat for once last dip in that sauce before eating. Repeat.

And oh you'll need rice. Plenty of rice.

By the end you'll see the dozens of beady eyes looking up at you from a pile of spent casings. Survey the carnage you have wrought. Lick your fingers with satisfaction. Wipe your throbbing mouth and sweaty brow. You've done well here, my friend.

The Boiling Crab
(626) 964-9300
18902 E Gale Ave. Ste. A
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

Panvimarn - Long Beach

Monday, July 12, 2010

Piaggio On Wheels - Orange County

Now this is how I like my food trucks: when it practically comes to me.

Piaggio On Wheels just happened to be exactly where it needed to be at exactly the moment I needed it to be there.

And when I found them at the Blackmarket Market parking lot, there were no lines, save for two guys in suits who were already eating their dripping tacos, standing next to their car.

After them, I was the only customer. It was a sleepy Friday.

Jose Piaggio, once a restaurateur, now a nomadic chef with family in tow, tended to sizzling griddle at the back of the vehicle. I heard the clang of his spatula as he prepared my meal. His wife, having taken my order moments before, was tidying up. Their young son, who's out on summer break, sat patiently behind the steering wheel, looking out into the distance.

Soon my order of my Argentine sausage sandwich was ready. And I took it to eat in my car, parked under the shade of a tree. I kept the door open, windows rolled down. The breeze blew through.

I sank my teeth into their crusty bread, a sturdy loaf with the ultimately soft center that was soaked through with the oily run-off of the chimichurri they slathered on like spackle.

The sausage--a spicy, red-pepper-flecked specimen split in half with the open sides fried brown--had a coarse kind of meatiness, and was actually quite lean in comparison to how much of that delicious oil leeched out.

Later in the week, I would rendezvous with them again. This time at an equally convenient time and place on a leisurely and quiet Saturday afternoon. We took two empanadas, a chicken and a caprese. Each were crimped in different ways to tell them apart. Though the shells were fried to a delectable crispiness, the fillings were a bit scant. Again, the chimichurri filled in the blanks. Amazing how much heavy lifting this sauce of mostly parsley and olive oil can do.

The skirt steak tacos saw more chimichurri. Its abundant serving of meat was practically wearing a chimichurri toupee. Their tofu taco had a single spear of the bean curd the size and shape of a French toast stick, covered in a thousand-island colored sauce that accounted for much of its flavor.

Let's see, where is Piaggio On Wheels going to be at today?

Piaggio On Wheels
Various locations in OC, check website or Twitter

Rustica - Newport Beach

Monday, July 05, 2010

Pop's Cafe - Santa Ana

Pop's Cafe is the kind of place I didn't think existed any more--the type of diner you only see in either old film noirs with Bogart or latter day movies that involve DeLorean time machines. The tiny-as-a-shoebox dining room, heck, the entire building seems stuck in a Norman Rockwell painting, dated somewhere between the 30s or 50s.

There's a counter with red swivel stools that's already loose and wiggly from decades of use. You'd half expect the customers who saddle up to it to read newspapers with Dick Tracy comics and hang up their fedoras as they enter. Above our heads, precariously hung fans sweep the air like the sputtering propellers of a plane about to take off and attack the Germans. Quaint is the word I'd use here, and in a good way.

As Gustavo Arellano wrote in his excellent Hole-in-the-Wall piece on it this week, breakfast is the meal to get here. And they serve it up until the point they don't, in the early afternoon. The best time to come are Sundays when street parking is free and eating breakfast for lunch can be called brunch.

The matriarch of the Korean family that runs the place, a warm and affable lady, will refill your coffee mug till you can't bear to consume any more caffeine. But once the clock ticks 1:30 p.m., she'll start turning away any new customers. "By 1:30 p.m., we're outta here!" she smiled at me, glancing up at the clock. Weekdays, they finish up by 2:30.

Their hash browns are hash browns as hash browns should be: massively portioned, gilded in a crispy browned outer crust where starch met griddle. The rest is fluffy and ethereal, resisting little to your fork as if it were mashed potato, and actually, just as buttery.

A plateful of it, partnered with two eggs and corned beef hash that's got the same nice sweetly crisp brownness on its crust, will fuel you up for hours, supplanting the need for lunch and dinner. The meal comes with buttered toast, the densest I've ever seen and completely unnecessary if you don't intend to chop down a tree afterwards.

And oh, the way they do their eggs here is also notable. Unlike say, your local Denny's, they know the difference between over-easy and over-medium.

Even better than the hash browns are the Irish potatoes. It's crispy on two fronts: that now-familiar outer browning for one, but also bits of green pepper and onion that snap with garden freshness. It's the kind of counter balance you need when you tackle the gut-bomb of the sausage biscuit they've drowned in a gravy as rich as a milkshake. Underneath that white and silky loveliness is a bonafide sandwich with a patty as thick as a gourmet burger.

You wish there's one of these in every street corner, perhaps your own. There'd be no trouble getting up out of bed in the morning when breakfasts like these await. Nevermind that you would not likely want to do anything else besides crawl back in it afterward.

Pop's Cafe
(714) 543-2772
112 East 9th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92701-3505

Four Seasons Hot Pot - Garden Grove