Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three Seventy Common - Laguna Beach

Have you gone for the Sunday Socials at Three Seventy Common yet? If you haven't, you should; but if you're still unsure about whether you can commit to the ever changing prix fixe before you've actually tried something here, just go on any other day of the week and order the dish you see above.

This is the asparagus, fried egg, prosciutto, asiago and breadcrumbs. Yes, it's described exactly like that on the menu. It has no fanciful title or name (they save those for the drinks). They do this on purpose. The rest of the food menu is also nothing but a list of ingredients. Since they really do seem to cook with what's seasonal, it makes sense not to commit to a permanent name for a dish. Doing that would set the expectation it'll be the same the next time when it's almost never isn't.

In fact, it's likely that the asparagus will be replaced by something else green. The important thing is the rest are there to assist whatever's fresh, verdant and stalky. The egg, asiago, prosciutto and breadcrumbs form the indelible quartet that is the engine and driving force behind the dish. The egg is fried till the edges get crispy and lacy. The prosciutto gets rendered to taste like a salty porcine potato chip. And the asiago and breadcrumbs glues the once disparate flavors and textures together. Think of these components as the bassist, lead guitar, and drums.

The asparagus, which is grilled to take on some char and bring out the sweetness, is perfectly cooked to crisp-tender--it still snaps and has smokiness seeped into each spear. Still order the dish even if you see it being subbed out by broccolini--it's a worthy successor as Arnel Pineda is to Steve Perry.

Three Seventy Common
370 Glenneyre Street
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 494-8686

Little Sheep - Irvine

Friday, June 22, 2012

Z'Tejas - Costa Mesa

If I don't often write about chains here, it's not because I don't occasionally go to them, it's because I figure there isn't much more for me to say that you won't already know.

The Z'Tejas chain, for example, has been a staple for South Coast Plaza shoppers for a while now, and was generally regarded among my co-workers for decent if not excellent food. But I'd never been. So that's why I'm writing about it now: because it's new to me and because it allows me to discuss a seasonal item that you might not have known about.

It was called the Southern Crab Salad, a dish that looked good when I decided to order it off their summer menu (translation: just a separate leaflet from the main one) for $15.95, and one that tasted exactly like I hoped it would.

The crab, a bit bland and probably coming out from a can, was otherwise fine, molded atop a cylinder-stack of diced cucumber, avocado and sliced grape tomatoes. It was as light as advertised, the dressing on the side in a soup bowl for dabbing onto any forkful that needed it. There was a bundle of still crisp-tender grilled asparagus and a separate pile of whole Romaine lettuce leaves tossed in a oily dressing that was different from the one I used for the crab stack. My point is that the salad demonstrated an investment in effort than most chains would bother to put into a salad. And because they did, it worked and I loved it.

But the true star of the dish was the deep-fried hard-boiled egg, which, believe it or not, is something this frequent diner has never seen before.

It's not a Scotch egg, which is a different beast. This baby is a plain, perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg with none of that green tint between the yolk and the white, breaded lightly and dropped into hot oil to form a perma-crust of crunch. Yes, the breading slipped off in a hurry with barely a nudge, but because I'm both a sucker for hard-boiled eggs and deep-fried things, it was a thousand times better than a crouton, and in my opinion, automatically makes Z'Tejas better than the average chain.

Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill
3333 Bristol St. Ste. 1876
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 979-7469

Slapfish - Huntington Beach

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teriyaki California Plus - Irvine

California Teriyaki Plus is one of those food court mom-and-pops that ply the usual bento boxes to the cube farm lunch crowd not because it wants to provide any epiphanies about Japanese food, but because it knows that what it does it does just as good or better than Flame Broiler and the like. It's main purpose is to fill you up today and hope that you come back again tomorrow. And the fact that I'm here at this food court nearly three times a week, alternating between Thai & Chinese Express' pad see ew and their California rolls, must mean that I think they're doing quite well, generic name notwithstanding.

I've recently decided that the California roll they serve here is one of the better bargains in this food court, perhaps Irvine. For $3.95, you are given eight made-to-order cut rounds, each creamy of avocado, crispy of cucumber, and stuffed with a core of imitation crab minced to bits, the foot-long span sliced to pieces thicker than the usual California roll. It's become a noon-time staple for me. Like I said, I eat this almost twice weekly. I'm sure by now I've eaten more of those California rolls than any other in my entire existence.

If you try it for yourself, do not expect to be somehow instantly enlightened or be lifted to some higher plane of sushi nirvana. C'mon. It's just a California roll. But it is cooling, soothing, and you don't feel like you've consumed something unwholesome or unhealthy afterwards.

I often pair it with their "small" salad, which in itself is kind of a meal, and also one of the better side salads I've ever seen any restaurant produce for $1.95, food court or otherwise. A whole half an avocado is sliced to be fanned out, a few apples are cut, and some cucumbers go in as well as a half-moon of orange. I'm not sure if the Asian-style dressing is homemade, but it tastes like it. The salad is peppy, fresh, and somewhat citrusy because of this vinaigrette.

Another reason to like the place is the owner, a woman who also owns and manages the Baja Fresh in the same food court. She is never without a smile. Seriously, I've never witnessed a day when she doesn't appear to be happy to be there, and that, in turn, makes me happy to be there.

Teriyaki California Plus
2540 Main St. Ste. H
Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 261-6607

Simmzy's - Long Beach

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Korean Quesadilla From Bon Epi Patisserie & Cafe - Irvine

Have you noticed that you can get a Kogi taco or burrito without so much as a five minute wait these days? The pioneering luxe lonchera that once boasted three hour long lines--no seriously, I was in one of them until I threw up my hands and went home--seems to have become just another food truck now. 

I spotted them at K1 Speed in Irvine this week and noticed they had at most three customers. A few years ago during the height of the hype, it was there at this same parking lot that I witnessed a crowd in the hundreds forming even before the truck arrived. How things have changed.  It seems that the Kogi demand has calmed so much, one truck out of their fleet has been put on semi-permanent dry dock. 

What happened? Well, I'll leave that to the business school case study writers, most of whom will undoubtedly argue that food trucks aren't the most sustainable of businesses; that people tire of moving targets; that hype, by its very definition, is not everlasting. 

I would still contend that Kogi's food is still great, though. But the revelation that Korean kimchi and meats go quite well with Mexican tortillas and cheese is not much of a secret anymore. The cat's out of the bag.

Take the pictured Korean spicy pork quesadilla I recently had. It was not from Kogi. As you should've figured out by the title of the post, I ordered it from a Korean bakery; but it sure tasted like it came from a Kogi-like food truck. Red grease streaked the plate and my napkins as I ate the thing, leeching out from the melting cheddar as it combined with the Korean pepper marinade of the pork. It had onions. It had peppers. It had everything a Kogi truck would make, priced at about what a Kogi truck would charge ($5). 

Yes, Korean quesadillas like this inspired crazed hipster mobs to drool and congregate in ridiculous queues three years ago; but now it's just another thing to order at this relatively unhip corner bakery. I believe those business school case study writers have a word for this, too: Commodification.

Bon Epi
2750 Alton Pkwy Ste 101
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 251-0070

Bistro Bleu - Anaheim