Thursday, July 26, 2012

Genki Sushi - Santa Ana

Yes, it's yet another revolving sushi bar. This one, though, is an import from the Aloha State. I'm actually familiar with this chain, if you can believe it. You can't go into a mall in any of Hawaii's more populated islands without seeing a Genki Sushi. Genki Sushi to Hawaii is like In-N-Out in California; they're everywhere, and as far as I can tell, quite respected for what it is.

This fact should explain why there's a deep-fried Spam sushi roll on the menu. It's actually better than you might think. If you already embrace Spam as the best thing modern food processing ever devised, I suggest ordering it fresh and not like I did from the conveyor belt, where it had equalized to tepid and become not particularly crispy.

The salmon is surprising good for a kaiten sushi joint, and the pico de gallo mounded on top of the veggie roll actually had bite, thanks to those micro-diced jalapenos. You won't see uni rolling by though, ever. You have to order it from the menu. But it's just as well. Those who would be daring enough to down the custard-y slobber of these sea urchin gonads know better that it should never be put on the conveyor train--it must be ordered fresh.

Possibly the best bite I had is the salmon skin nigiri; an item that most sushi-philes wouldn't consider true sushi. The thin sample of fish epidermis is fried with just a millimeter of the meat still clinging on. Then the crispy fleck is brushed with touch of Thai sweet chili sauce and put atop a ball of rice. It's excellent.

Like the other Genki's in Hawaii, this one is inside a mall. And it's exactly where it belongs. It isn't sushi for the hard core. Like its kin Gatten and Kura, this is sushi for the gum-snapping set, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's certainly better for you than a Hot Dog on a Stick...though there's nothing wrong with that either.

Genki Sushi
2800 N Main St.
Ste 1040
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(714) 972-4677

Roe Restaurant - Long Beach

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Monster Munching's Californian-Chifa Saltado Recipe

By popular demand here's my recipe for saltado. OK, I admit, I only got one request when I mentioned it as part of my post last week on Inka's; but I'm like a caffeinated-but-still-barely-lucid DJ on an all-night radio station--I'll occasionally take requests to keep things moving.

In this recipe, measurements are approximate. Most of the time I go with what feels right. If there's anything I should say before you read on, it's that any sort of instruction I provide can't substitute for practice practice practice. Like all good stir fries, saltado is about technique, so repetition and getting the feel of it for yourself is more important than any advice I can offer.

Also, a well-seasoned wok and a whooshing hot high-BTU burner (I use an Big Kahuna Burner from Eastman Outdoors that's capable of outputting 65,000 BTUs) will always help.

You could do this on an electric stove, but it's unlikely that you'll get that "wok-hay", the soul and breath of a well-seasoned wok--a nebulous flavor harder to quantify than The Force...that is until Lucas came up with midichlorians...Sigh...

And if you're a stickler for authenticity (whatever that means when dealing with this melting pot dish of chifa descent), know that my saltado is probably not going to be the same as those you may have had in Lima. It does, however, approximate what saltados in Southern California taste like, which is why I'm calling this dish.....


Los ingredientes:

1 garlic cloves minced
1/2 red onion cut into small wedges (separate from each layer)
1 large tomato cut into wedges
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
1/2 cup of diced green onions
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips (optional, but a nice touch)
1 cup of frozen french fries (not shoestring fries)
soy sauce
black pepper
white wine vinegar
peanut or cooking oil
a few ounces of steak or chicken cut into very thin strips

Los instrucciones:

In a bowl or Ziplock bag, place meats and pour a few tablespoons of soy sauce, a few healthy dashes of cumin, and paprika to marinade. Leave to marinade for 15 minutes or more.

In the meantime, in a wok or deep bottomed pot, heat enough oil to deep fry the frozen french fries. You could also bake the french fries per the instructions on the bag, or, better yet, make your own fries from an actual potato like a Peruvian would; but the point here is to make saltado. Making your fries from scratch is admirable but not necessary.

However you do it, cook the fries until crispy golden brown. Get them to a crispier state than you normally would as they will be later tossed into a saucy stir fry. The crispier they are, the less likely they'll break apart. Once the fries are done, set it aside to drain on a paper towel-lined bowl.

If you used your wok to do your fries, drain off all the oil and wipe it clean with some paper towels. Then heat the wok until it is rocket hot--as hot as you can get it without burning the house down. If the metal glows, you're there.

Pour in a tablespoon or so of cooking oil so that it coats the surface. Then drop the drained meat strips and quickly stir fry until seared. Do not overcrowd the wok, or you will get a mushy soup instead of a stir fry. Work in very small batches if you have a lower BTU burner. The idea is to have very little liquid leeching out from the meat onto the wok. If this happens, you won't get a nice caramelization. If it's getting burned too quickly, toss it around. Once you think it's done, remove the meat from the wok and set it aside in a bowl.

Heat the same wok again but now to medium heat. Scrape off the excess caramelized bits if you desire, and apply another tablespoon of oil. Add minced garlic and stir fry until garlic is just shy of golden brown. Now add the onions and bell peppers. Stir fry a few seconds, but do not allow them to wilt. Add a few splashes of soy sauce, and white wine vinegar--not so much that it pools on the bottom, but just enough that you can smell the soy and vinegar aromas coming off the onions. Sprinkle a few liberal pinches of cumin to the onions and stir. Add the tomatoes and green onions. Sprinkle a few liberal pinches of paprika and combine.

You really just want to warm the tomatoes up, not to turn them into mush. Now return the cooked meats into the wok and toss to combine. Add the chopped cilantro and then the fries at the last moment. Toss again lightly to combine and serve mounds of it with hot steamed rice.

Mare Culinary Lounge - Laguna Beach

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Inka's - Irvine

I'm not Peruvian. I've not been to Machu Picchu. But I believe I have mastered the Peruvian dish called saltado. I can make it with my eyes closed.

Everyone who has any sort of interest in food or cooking has one thing they can say they make better than anyone else. Mine is saltado. In fact, my avatar, if you haven't noticed, is a picture of a saltado I made sometime in the earlier part of the last decade.

If you know saltado, you'll also know that it isn't technically Peruvian in the indigenous sense. The dish is actually part of a subclass of Andean-Chinese cuisine called chifa. In other words, saltado is to Peru as chop suey is to the US.

The best restaurant saltado that I've tasted here in the states (disingenuous statement alert; where else would I have tasted it?) remains El Pollo Inka's in Lawndale. My rendition pales. The one I ordered recently at Inka's in Irvine would place somewhere in between.

Though the steak could've been softer, the components Inka's uses are exactly what I'd put in my recipe: just wilted red onion, warmed to near liquefaction tomatoes, crisp fries, cilantro, and a magic wok alchemy of soy, cumin and other spices that make it impossible to not lick the plate clean.

But the best part of eating saltado at Inka's is that I can douse every forkful with their aji sauce, a muted green chili paste that I haven't yet mastered...and then follow the meal with lucuma ice cream, which is a Peruvian flavor made with an indigenous Andean fruit that I haven't been able to find anywhere except at restaurants like Inka's.

And then there's the comforting fact that the daughter of the owner is always a warm and doting host...though I admit the real draw is always because I don't have to clean the kitchen once I'm full and sated.

16277 Laguna Canyon Road,
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 753-1276

Wahoo's Fish Taco - Huntington Beach

Friday, July 06, 2012

Home Town Deli - Irvine

There's more than a few good places to eat at the, well, I don't remember what the plaza is know, the one with 99 Ranch on Walnut and Jeffrey in Irvine? Let's face it, that's how you'd describe this hamlet of Asian-ness to your friends anyway. Meet me at the small plaza with the other Irvine 99 Ranch, you'd say.

I have. And I've posted on just about all the restaurants there. 101 Noodle Express. Chef Chen. Liang's Kitchen. Even Yu's Garden, which was a recent discovery. All of these restaurants get a lot of business, being on the right side of the mall, where the parking lot traffic is as crazy as SGV during dim sum. But on the other side of the plaza, it seems a very different story.

There's so far only two restaurants there: House of Shabu Shabu and Home Town Deli. Home Town Deli opened a few months ago and is owned by the same people that owns Yu's Garden. There's a big difference between the two: Yu's Garden is a take-out joint; Home Town Deli is a proper sit-down with an exhaustive menu you expect of a Chinese restaurant that's catered to Chinese people (the take home flier promises a mix of Taiwanese, Shanghai, Szechuan dishes and Northern-style noodles).

As a challenge to Chong Qing Mei Wei Szechuan Restaurant across the parking lot, the menu has its own Szechuan section that includes pork intestines with pickled chili peppers and mao xue wang, duck blood in chili sauce that the restaurant doesn't bother with an English translation as if to deter any novices who think they can handle it.

Since I have to be in a certain kind of mood for spicy food, the Szechuan menu remains uncharted on this first visit. In fact, I wanted something the opposite of hot and spicy. I wanted something with yin. Something cooling. Cooling in the Chinese sense, that is. I found it in the "sauteed okra and mein jing with soy bean."

It's a stir-fried vegetable dish that if it had anymore gravy, it'd be a soup. Chinese okra, that ridge-backed long gourd that looks like a dragon's tail, is the main ingredient, here rendered silky and slippery and cooked with tofu skin that sops up that corn-starch-thickened clear sauce like a mop. You'd be mistaken in thinking the dish is bland. It isn't. Although I'm sure that when I come back and eat it in concert with the spice-assault of Szechuan specialties, I'm going to be glad for its excess of yin.

Home Town Deli
5394-C.D Walnut Ave.
Irvine, CA 92604

Honda Ya - Fullerton