Friday, September 23, 2016

Ike's Love & Sandwiches - Newport Beach

I don't think I'm alone when I say that the prices at Banh Mi Che Cali have spoiled me for life. Now, if I see a sandwich that costs more than $5, I'm immediately skeptical. Will it be worth it? Will it be better than one of BMCC's banh mis that costs half that much?

Usually, the answer is no.

Walking into the new Ike's Love & Sandwiches in Newport Beach, my skepticism was again tested.

The cost of an average sandwich here, at this San Francisco-based sandwich chain that's currently taking over spots that a retreating Capriotti's has abandoned, is $10.

Also, the Ike's in Newport Beach (and presumably all the other OC locations of Ike's current and forthcoming) will automatically tack on a 50-cent "healthcare surcharge" onto your bill.

But not only that: If you ask for the secret menu, you'll discover that there's a sandwich that tops out at $26.

Yes. You read that right. Twenty. Six. Dollars.

Do you know how many sandwiches $26 buys at Banh Mi Che Cali? A DOZEN (as of this writing), which means you could feed an entire football team and still be left with an extra one for the water boy.

But all of this seemed moot when I bit into my enormous $10 "Paul Reubens" Sandwich at Ike's. For the half hour I spent eating it, I kind of forgot about the price or the fact that--if I'm correct on my sandwich taxonomy--it should've been called a "Rachel McAdams" as it contained pastrami instead of corned beef, and coleslaw instead of sauerkraut.

What mattered at the time was that it weighed as heavy as a shotput despite being named after the actor who played Pee Wee, and it used Dutch Crunch bread--loaves that have crusts with the cracked pattern of a parched desert floor.

And when I ate the thing, it dripped, crunched, and satisfied me as a sandwich like this should.

Yes, I could've netted three banh mis and three che's (those Vietnamese desserts BMCC sells at $3.50 for 3) for the price I paid here, but what's this? Ike's has included a free apple-caramel sucker with my order...wait, are they telling me something?

Ike's Love & Sandwiches
4221 MacArthur Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 783-3390

Ironwood - Laguna Hills

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jun's Omakase at Sushi Noguchi - Yorba Linda

If you are still unacquainted with the wonderful, mind-bogglingly great restaurant called Sushi Noguchi in Yorba Linda, let me point you to the first few stories I've written on it over the past year:

- Sushi Noguchi - Yorba Linda
- The Best Sushi in Orange County
- 10 Essential Sushi Joints to Say "Omakase"

Okay, are you back?


Convinced that this may be the best sushi restaurant in Orange County yet still can't see yourself spending the $100 per person for Hiro's omakase? OK. Then keep reading, because there is an answer.

It is called "Jun's Omakase".

Jun, you see, is Jun Noguchi, wife of Hiro, and the lovely proprietress who handles the front of the house. If you sit at the table, you'll likely be served by her.

Her eponymous omakase set is priced at $50 per person and though it doesn't include some of the more expensive cuts of fish you'll find in Hiro's top-of-the-line omakase, it satisfies just the same.

I recently tried it and here's what was included in our meal:

A salad of dressed greens in a martini glass with chunks of raw and briefly-seared fish, sprinkled with crispy fried shallots.

A large plate with a lightly tempura'd fish resting on shiso, a bowl of chilled soba to slurp, and Japanese pickles.

Sliced hamachi topped with sliced fresh jalapeno in a pool of ponzu.

Seared tuna steaks floating atop puddles of sesame oil and ponzu.

An assortment of nigiri from the sushi bar, each one with a distinct topping, such as yuzu-kosho.

Gobs of fresh chopped spicy tuna wrapped as a hand-roll in crispy nori.

It's the right price for just the right amount of food and decadence.

If you still consider it expensive, think of this: in OC, there's now a sushi restaurant that charges $170 per person for their lowest level of omakase and $250 per person for a kaiseki meal.

At those rates, $50 seems like nothing.

Sushi Noguchi
18507 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, CA 92886
(714) 777-6789

PRIME by Shenandoah - Long Beach

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Pho Poem

The rain clouds above us were ominous; the air, a frigid chill.
It feels like a soup night, we said.
Yes, a big bowl of pho! That would fit the bill!

Somewhere close, not too far.
And it must be cheap!
Not more than seven bucks! And ten minutes by car!

We zoomed out. Got there in eight minutes tops.
It was an old school, local place,
In a room that smelled of old mops.

The service, well, it was absent at best.
Green neon. Placemats with Chinese zodiacs.
But that soup! That made up for the rest!

It was hot; it was good.
Yeah, it tasted like any other bowl of pho,
Yet it warmed us from the inside out, as we knew it would!

Pho Hung Vuong
14182 Newport Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 731-1933

Stadtgarten - Fullerton

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery - Boulder, CO

From the the reviews I read of Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery in Boulder, I knew that it was a "laid back" establishment in a town known for being "laid back". But I had no idea that it was so "laid back", it warrants a redefinition of the phrase.

Here's the conversation we had with our waiter, who, as soon as we were seated, got on his knee so that he could talk to us at our eye level.

First of all, welcome to Mountain Sun! My name is John*. I am not your server. Your server is Mary*. But everyone here carrying a tray or who looks like they work here, can help you with everything you need. Also, we only accept cash. There's an ATM machine in the back that charges $1 per transaction. But if you don't have cash or an ATM card, that's okay too! We'll give you a self-addressed envelope with a stamp already on it. You just can just send us the payment whenever you get home.

(Our mouth open in disbelief)
You're serious?

Oh absolutely! And also if you're thinking of a beer, we don't want you to order a beer that you're not absolutely in love with. So ask for as many samplings as you like, as often as you like! It's free.

*Not their actual names

Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery
1535 Pearl St
Boulder, CO 80302
(303) 546-0886

Tenkatori - Costa Mesa

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Acorn - Denver, CO

If you're going to be in Denver and have about two or three weeks lead time before you actually arrive, make a reservation at Acorn. Seats for the restaurant--arguably the hottest joint in town at the moment--book up about a month in advance for weekend evenings. Or you could do as we did: go there at exactly 5 p.m. and hope to get lucky with walk-in.

Acorn is located in an industrial area next to warehouses and auto body shops. It is, itself, inside a building that used to be a brick foundry back in the 1880s. The building was recently converted into an "artisan food market" called The Source with cheese mongers and microbreweries among them.

Yes, it's a gentrified food hall like those we've seen in OC, but the charm of the place is that it's out of the way and not even close to downtown--it takes a concerted effort to get here. And when you do, you are rewarded with some of the best food you'll ever find in a room covered in sheet metal.

This is where Mad Max and Furiosa would go on a date.

The restaurant is actually one of two inside the place, but it's the shining jewel of the entire hall. The menu is a hodgepodge of small plates sold for $15 on average. All are good to excellent. The New York Times agrees.

The spaghetti we had was electric with a sauce that's not quite marinara, not quite puttanesca, but somewhere in the middle. The meatballs were fall-apart-soft, served fuming with creamy polenta in an iron skillet. There was crispy pork belly added to a Thai mango and sticky rice dessert; and hamachi was served so beautifully it belongs in an art gallery.

And oh, that reminds me: when you're in town, also visit the Denver Art Museum.

3350 Brighton Blvd.
Denver, CO 80216
(720) 542-3721

Mountain - Buena Park