Sunday, July 31, 2011

New Golden City - Rowland Heights

At this spot where New Golden City sits now, there was once a place called Noodle House. That was the English name, anyway. There might have been a Chinese name that I never knew, but the most defining characteristic of the restaurant was a large framed picture of the geeky, bespectacled owner kneading noodles and smiling as Arnold Schwarzenegger has his arm around him.

Noodle House was already gone before the recent Ahnuld scandal. It was gone before he took office as The Governator. But I still remember the food it served. My taste memory is as vivid as ever on it. I can still feel the chew of the noodles in their house spicy seafood noodle soup. We always ordered it because the strands were made right there, in the back. You knew this because to eat there is to hear the constant thwacking: the loud and dull noise of something being hit against something else, as if someone was repeatedly being tortured for information.

It may not be a reassuring sound to hear for those who weren't regulars. There was the fact that the kitchen staff seemed to always be yelling at each other. Person-on-person violence would not have been far fetched. But we knew better. We knew it was the sound of noodles being properly made. It was a pity there wasn't a window that showcased it being stretched, pulled, and thrown. That would've ensured its survival.

I heard no such sound when I dined at New Golden City, which for those in the know, is loosely connected to Earthen in Hacienda Heights. They both serve the same kind of food. Their onion pancakes are pretty much identical, down to every last, thinly rolled, crisp, buttery layer. Their pork dumplings burst with so much pork broth it almost invites comparison to Din Tai Fung's juicy pork dumplings.

We started our meal with a simple, refreshing, bowl of cucumbers, brined in soy sauce, sesame oil and bits of garlic. It's one of those dishes that you bite into and spend the rest of the time trying to decipher the recipe. You conclude that you can make it at home, but realize you never will because, well, they do it so well here.

For a main course, there was a combination fried rice--a mildly-flavored thing with egg, chicken, pork and shrimp that disintegrates upon contact with my mouth. I have to assume the dish owes its savoriness to MSG, which isn't necessarily a bad thing with me.

And then there was the spicy seafood noodle, which I liked, even if the noodles seems too uniform, a tell-tale sign it was made elsewhere, probably in a noodle factory. The broth didn't seem as fiery, but it was just as complex as the dish should be, chock full of scored squid, shrimp, the slippery presence of a sea cucumber.

As I slurped up the bowl, I wondered: we know what's happened with Ahnuld, but what about Noodle House's noodle guy?

New Golden City
1015 S Nogales St. Ste. 128
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 965-6822

Posch - Irvine

Monday, July 25, 2011

Magic Wok's Crispy Chicken - Artesia

I've lost count on how many times I've waxed poetic on this cozy as a your aunt's living room, hole-in-the-wall Filipino restaurant in Artesia. It has tables worn down by a thousand elbows; booth seats that have lost their bounce decades ago. But oh the food! There was the time I entitled my post on their sisig as "The Greatest Pork Dish in The World". And the many other instances where I just wrote about whatever I just happened to eat there the night before. Magic Wok isn't just my favorite Filipino restaurant; it is one of my favorite restaurants. Ever.

The past two weekends I've dined there twice. And both times I ordered the Crispy Chicken and wondered why it has, until this point, escaped my attention. "Crispy" is understating it. This is chicken turned to edible gold. Look at the skin. It wants to come off in rigid, porous shards, slightly puffed from the fryer and as greaseless and light as a wafer.

There's not a trace of batter, not a speck of breading used. It gets this way from nothing but mad cooking skills, the grace of God and a whole lot of oil. This is the same oil, by the way, that Magic Wok cooks its Crispy Pata and its Lechon Kawale in. Both, no doubt, melts a good amount of pork fat into the medium--an unintentional but not unwelcome contributor of flavor to the chicken. Submerged in it, the entire half bird transforms into an unreasonable object of desire. Nudge it and it falls apart like a house of cards.

The meat, by the way, becomes kind of secondary to the skin. Any piece you eat without a scrap of the bronzed chick-chicharrón you'll want to dip the thimble of banana ketchup they give you; or better yet, the lechon liver sauce, which is not usually compulsory but should be.

If you're trying to avoid the Lechon Kawale (deep fried pork belly) or the Crispy Pata (deep fried fatty pork leg) because of its cholesterol, this isn't the healthy alternative you're looking for.

But by eating the dish instead of my usual Magic Wok pork staples, I'm currently under the delusion that I'm not contributing to my elevated LDL levels. Besides, I'm eating it with lots of bittermelon and vegetables from the ampalaya with egg and pinakbet, respectively. That should cancel out the effects of the chicken, right? Right?

Magic Wok
(562) 865-7340
11869 Artesia Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701

Il Garage - Stanton

Monday, July 18, 2011

Oranges From Nisson Ranch - Tustin

I must have driven past the thatched hut fruit stand on Walnut Street near Redhill in Tustin at least a thousand times without ever stopping.

If the ramshackle wooden structure seems from another world, another time, it is.

The property it is attached to belongs to the Nisson Family, a Danish clan that settled in Orange County at the turn of the century. The story goes that Mathias Nisson came from Denmark in 1876 and started growing oranges in Santa Ana.

His son Clarence bought land in Tustin to do the same in 1915, and what remains there today is still owned by his descendants, who still live there and still maintain the remaining 4-acre orange grove, one of the last orange groves in a county named after oranges.

(To see what few orange groves remain in OC, check out Gustavo Arellano's map here).

At ground level, you can kind of guess how big the property is; but the satellite view reveals how the small, lone rectangular patch of verdant green slowly gets swallowed up by concrete, asphalt and tract homes the more you zoom out.

To see it from the overhead perspective is to observe a game of Farmville in reverse.

View Larger Map

But you can still, quite literally, enjoy the fruits of their labor. In this day and age when no one leaves their door unlocked, the Nisson shack still sells oranges by the bag using the honor system. The fruit stand is unmanned. You drop your $2 in the metal lock box, grab your bag-o-oranges and hope that the next guy has the decency to do the same.

The shack, despite looking ancient, is ingeniously designed. The oranges are deposited in the front part of the structure, inside a see-through slot. So if you drive by, you can immediately see if there are any available--a fruit fuel gauge, if you will.

The bags weigh in at about five pounds (I think) and the fruit you get is seedless and pristine, so sugary it would make a great glass of OJ; and so juicy I peeled and ate them over the sink. You can't get closer to OC history or more localvore than this.

Nisson Ranch
On Walnut Rd. near Redhill,
Tustin, CA 92780

Burger Parlor - Fullerton

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Service at Din Tai Fung - Arcadia

For every blog post that I've written about Din Tai Fung (there are two thus far: read them HERE and HERE), I've made at least five more visits to the restaurant that remain undocumented. Really, there's not much else I can say about the food. It remains as excellent as it's always been. The crisp snap of their flash-fried sauteed green beans; the anise aroma and vinegar tang of their dark-as-tea spicy beef soup; and, of course, the reason there is a Din Tai Fung: those perfectly steamed, broth-spewing juicy pork dumplings--a creation that has inspired two hour lines, and a few years ago, a second restaurant right next door.

In terms of the food, my most recent visit this weekend was no different than others; but their service seems to have been transformed. What was efficient but cold has become a model that all Chinese restaurant, nay, all restaurants should follow. The staff is all smiles, even obsequious and, dare I say, caring?

One uniformed hostess offered cups of ice water to those waiting outside in the Arcadia heat. When we were seated, our table was ready and spotless, the chopsticks and other accouterments in place.

We asked for water and they provided an icy carafe that was constantly changed out with a fresh one when they saw we were running low. Meals were still delivered promptly, the dishes ticked off from our tableside roster as each one came. Empty plates were whisked away to make room for what was next.

Another notable change: menus with pictures that eliminate the mystery of ordering for customers who, these days, aren't just Chinese speakers. Because of this picture menu, I discovered Din Tai Fung now offers marinated cucumbers: slightly salty, perky, sesame-oil scented rounds stacked like green bricks and whose cool and crunchy bite sent a frigid shiver up my spine.

And when we couldn't eat another bite, they took away our leftovers, packed it neatly in boxes, the soup in an air-tight lidded container, everything wrapped and tied up in specially-designed carry out bags that has a tie-down strap in the middle. It's probably the most ingenious plastic bag in the country. Yes, I'm obsessing on the bag...the same way they seem to be obsessing on customer service these days.

Din Tai Fung #2
(626) 446-8588
1088 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

Starfish - Laguna Beach

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Bun at Saigon Basil - Irvine

Any temperature past 80 degrees Fahrenheit is bun weather. What's bun (pronounced boon)? To put it simply: Vietnamese noodle salad, which seems to be what my mind wanders to when my forehead starts to bead sweat from the heat of the day.

And I'm not that picky with where I get my bun, so long as it's chilled, and countered with herbs, cucumber and a good fish sauce. I ate the above bowl at Saigon Basil near UC Irvine. Saigon Basil is a Vietnamese restaurant that also does Thai food, which should tell you exactly what kind of Vietnamese restaurant it is.

They make a good bowl of bun, though, and it does exactly what it requires; the noodles cool as they jiggle, the effect is that it immediately lowers your core temp--the perfect summer food if there is such a thing. If you live near a Vietnamese restaurant, they will do a bun just like this, even better if they've got bun cha Hanoi, where the meat is pre-soaked in the fish sauce and the noodles are served separately.

When you are given your bowl, you either douse or dip each tangle of those noodles in the fish sauce, which is to the dish as refrigerant is to an A/C system. The protein, charred grilled pork, shrimp and crispy cha gio (egg rolls) are like the croutons in a salad, and make it a meal. That Saigon Basil is within steps of Strickland's, my favorite ice cream shop, is also another reason why you'll see me here a lot this summer, especially when the temp goes above 80.

Saigon Basil
4533 Campus Dr.
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 737-1318

Trader Sam's - Disneyland Hotel