Monday, October 29, 2012

Ahi Poke at California Fish Grill - Irvine

I'm of the opinion that Hawaii's greatest contribution to the world isn't the hula, Don Ho, or those flowery shirts people like to wear on designated casual Fridays at the office--it's poke, the dish of raw marinated fish you would eat with rice if you had some, next to the beach of you were only so lucky.

With all due respect to plate lunches and shave ice, poke, without question, is my favorite Hawaiian food. When I'm lucky enough to be on a flight to paradise, I seek it out the moment the plane touches down on the Tarmac.

I can say that even the most mediocre mounds of poke I had there still far exceeded the best stuff here. I've not yet been brave enough to touch the stuff Whole Foods sells in those self-serve, sneeze-guard-protected islands next to their fishmonger, and I'm really in no hurry to try. Da Luau in Irvine does a decent one, but when I'm there, I'm enjoying their pancake breakfast too much to care about the poke. North Shore Poke Company in Huntington Beach comes pretty darn close, but it's too far.

What it leaves is California Fish Grill, which surprisingly makes a great one when they have it available on special, even if they've, well, Californized it by cutting the fish in cubes so small it can be mistaken for pico de gallo and serving it with tortilla chips instead of plain white sticky rice.

I can excuse it because this poke is not after authenticity, not that that word means anything. Even in Hawaii, the dish has been so bastardized by the waves immigrants that kimchi and shoyu versions are now just as popular as the indigenous one with limu and sea salt.

California Fish Grill's rendition is its own unique kind of awesome and is, by the way, very spicy thanks to a not-so-secret ingredient of Huy Fong Food's seed-inflected chili paste, soy sauce, and green onion.

I admit that it does indeed go well with the fryer fresh chips they serve it with; and yes, I also agree that $6 is a steep price for the pleasure...but then again, have you checked what airlines are charging these days? Now if only I were Larry Ellison.

California Fish Grill
3988 Barranca Parkway #B
Irvine, CA 92606

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Makino Seafood Buffet - Irvine

From Las Vegas, the land of buffets, and the creator of Todai comes Makino, an all-you-can-eat restaurant that seems the culmination of the efforts of its founder and field-testing in AYCE-rich city from whence it came. And contrary to what you have been accustomed: it's the sushi you want here.

For far too long, at too many all-you-can-eats around these parts, what they put out on the sushi trays of most seafood buffets are largely to be avoided, even feared; but not at Makino. They have, for now, what I consider to be the best and most immaculately curated sushi offering to be found in an Asian buffet. (Note: do not take this to mean that you should eat sushi here instead of a Sushi Shibucho or a Sushi Wasabi)

There are about three sushi dudes, busy at all times, forming little nori cones filled with freshly cut fish, sculpting cute nigiri cuffed in seaweed belts, and molding delicate rolls bejeweled with multi-colored fish eggs. This is the reason Makino can get away charging what is probably one of the more expensive entry fees in Irvine (Monday - Thursday, lunch $16.95, dinner $25.95; Friday, weekend, and holidays, lunch $18.95, dinner $26.95)--though not as pricey as Agora, which is just steps away.

The hot foods are what you expect, with varying levels of success depending on whether you just happen get the tail end of a serving tray or just when it came off the fryer or wok.

They also have a noodle bar, where a dedicated attendant will pour you a fresh bowl of ramen topped with sliced roasted pork. But consider it filler. Consider everything you eat here filler. As with any buffet, focus in on the item that takes the most effort, the most expensive ingredients, which for Makino, seems to be the sushi.

Makino Sushi Seafood Buffet
1818 Main St
Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 724-1204

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cocohodo - Buena Park

The first question you will ask yourself passing by this branch of Cocohodo is "What the heck is a Cocohodo?"

The second question you will ask yourself when you find out they sell walnut pastries is "What the heck is a walnut pastry?"

Soon you find out that Cocohodo is Korean purveyor of hodo gwaja, the walnut pastry in question. Hodo gwaja is, in fact, uncannily shaped like a walnut; but for all intents, it's just a bite-sized version of a Japanese taiyaki with a walnut morsel embedded in the azuki paste filling.

Since it's as big as a donut hole, you can fit one in your mouth. Doing this, however, is very stupid idea. When a hodo gwaja is just freshly made, formed in a walnut-shaped waffle press, the azuki will be a scalding, sticky equivalent of red hot lava.

Wrapped up in tissue paper and boxed up like precious truffles, you wouldn't think they'd be such a first-degree burn hazard, but be warned! Eat them. Enjoy them. But bite into them carefully, blowing to cool it off.

Do it as you ponder the last question you'll ask: "Where has this been all my life?"

Note: Irvinites don't have to go to Buena Park to try Cocohodo. There's a store inside Zion Market on Irvine Blvd.

5327 Beach Blvd
Buena Park, CA 90621
(714) 994-5965

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Anmitsu at Sagami - Irvine

What is it? Why, it's an anmitsu, a dessert in the same vein as halo-halo and Taiwanese shaved ice, except it has no shaved ice.

Look at it.

It is simplicity defined.

A scoop of ice cream, a plop of sugary azuki, wiggly agar-agar gelatin and some fruit. I suppose the closest facsimile is fruit cocktail, but then, do people even eat fruit cocktail anymore?

I had this at Sagami in Irvine, a Japanese restaurant that seems to do everything from soup to nuts, well not nuts...anmitsu. That's what's for dessert.

3850 Barranca Pkwy. Ste B
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 857-8030

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