Friday, December 28, 2012

Hitsumabushi at Sagami - Irvine

You'd be right in thinking that Sagami is another teriyaki and California roll lunch box factory; but you'd be only 10% right. The other 90% is what makes Sagami beloved among actual Japanese people. There are seasonal lunch special bentos that change, well, seasonally. Last fall, I had a mench katsu teisyoku there, the closest thing Japan has to a country fried steak, except lighter, crispier and eaten with plenty of rice.

Then there's the Nagoya-style dishes that turn this small space next to Subway as serious a temple to tradition as the sandwich shop is to the opposite. Try the hitsumabushi, roasted eel on rice served in a wide-brimmed bowl that you eat in three stages: first with just the rice; second with a sprinkle of nori, scallions, and wasabi; then, finally, with dashi broth for the finish.

Be forewarned. It is an expensive dish at $18.95. But when you consider that this is quite possibly the only place in Orange County that serves this dish, there's really only one other alternative: make it yourself.

If you'd rather go with that option, I turn you to Francis, who will also show you how to eat it. See below:

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

The Attic - Long Beach
Year-End SaFII Roundup

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ruby's South Coast Plaza - Costa Mesa

Last week, we had a goal, and it’s a rather silly one: we were going to attempt to not spend any money on anything. Dinner would have to be cobbled together from stuff we had in our pantry, freezer or fridge. Lunch was going to be leftovers from dinner, or it would have to be paid for by gift cards that were either generously given to us as presents or that we won during company Christmas party raffles. But alas, our experiment did not last long.

Two weeks before Christmas is apparently the wrong time to start tightening one’s purse strings.

There were gifts to buy, errands to run, sales too good not to take advantage of—basically all the usual trappings of living in a first world country.

But here’s where things went (overdramatic alert!) downhill. We realized the $25 gift card we had to Ruby’s barely covered lunch…and to think, we shared one burger!

Granted, I probably shouldn’t have ordered the soda; but what’s a burger and fries without a icy tall glass of Coca Cola to wash it down, especially here, at Ruby’s, where denying yourself a Coke in one of those curvy glasses is almost un-American.

Still, we were trying to be good. The double burger we ordered was one of the cheapest, with two thin patties instead of the big, thick ones that retailed for a buck or two more. When we split the sandwich between the two of us, it went down without incident—decent, hot, sloppy—the kind of burger that didn’t stay in my memory because I’ve had way better and way worse.

But the shoestring fries were “bottomless” and fryer-hot and crisp, so I asked for and ate the second basket even though I didn’t really need to.

And oh yeah, we ordered a basket of fried zucchini whose breading slipped off the coins the minute I bit. We did it, because, well, we didn’t want to look cheap ordering just one burger to share between two people. This is why the experiment ultimately failed. If you want to be cheap, you have to be prepared to look cheap.

3333 Bear Street #120
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 662-7829

Embarcadero - Rancho Santa Margarita

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dol Sot Bibimbap at Sobahn Express - Irvine

I don’t think there’s a people more obsessed with the temperature of food than the Koreans. What’s served hot must be boiling lava hot. What’s served cold must induce brain freeze. Of course, I’m generalizing. I’m not a food anthropologist, just a lover of Korean cuisine who formed his hypothesis after casual observation and countless scorched upper palates. But let’s look at the evidence shall we?

Soondubu (soft tofu soup) roiling in those thick metal cauldrons. Sizzling Korean BBQ plucked seconds from table-top grills, liquefied fat still rippling from the heat. And name me another culture whose answer to hot summer days is as brilliant as naengmyeon, the noodle soup that will sometimes have actual ice chips in the broth.

And then there’s bibimbap, which is never as good as when you decide to upgrade it to dol sot bibimbap, where the rice, veggies, meat and a raw egg is seared to crispness in the hot stone pot bowl it’s served in. This is exactly how it’s done at Sobahn Express inside the HMart foodcourt in Irvine’s Diamond Jamboree. Dozens of these bowls are heated on stoves roaring at full blast, ready to be filled and served at temperatures that can and will burn anything it touches to cinder.

When you eat, the raw egg cracked on top cooks instantly after you mix it up with the rice, the whole thing hissing, sputtering, steaming. Every spoonful you scoop is as scorching as the one you took three minutes ago. When you leave it alone for a while, the rice that sits too long cooks to a crunchy sheet, becoming a cousin to what the Persians call tadig.

But the point is to eat all of it while it’s hot, hot, hot. You squirt gochujang, chew on a piece of bulgogi, the rice, blowing so that you don’t cause permanent damage to your tongue and inner cheek.

Sobahn Express inside H Mart
2600-2100 Alton Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 660-8085

Au NatuRaw - Santa Ana

Monday, December 03, 2012

Congee at Capital Seafood - Irvine Spectrum

Jook. Porridge. Arroz caldo. Congee. Gruel. It takes on many names. A roommate made it by accident once when he put too much water in the rice cooker and we made fun of him; but when it's intentional, has bits of meat, fine juilennes of ginger, a sprinkle of scallions and is served when dark clouds dump freezing rain on every inch of the landscape, it's the kind of food you want, crave, need.

And oh how I want this now, the big pot we ordered a few weeks ago during a Capital Seafood dim sum lunch at the Irvine Spectrum. I gulped down a bowl, felt the all-enveloping sensation of the starchy goop warm me for the inside out, and promptly spun the lazy Susan back around for a second helping and a third.

If there's a secret ingredient, it has to be that ginger. It transforms what's potentially bland and boring into a substance worthy of a better name than gruel.

Capital Seafood
85 Fortune Dr Ste 329
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 788-9218

The Ally - Garden Grove