Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Maruhide Uni Club - Torrance

If you're an uni lover, and I mean you love it so much you're willing to spend as much money as it takes to get into Disneyland, this is the place for you: Maruhide Uni Club in Torrance, the restaurant arm of Maruhide Marine Products, a company that harvests uni from the waters off Santa Barbara and ships them to Japan.

We thought we fit into the category. We thought we wanted to stuff our faces with uni all night. We thought there was no possible way we'd get tired of it. And most importantly, we thought we'd be okay paying the high toll to do it.

But as it turns out, we were we wrong. We realized after eating what ended up being more uni than we've eaten in a year--straight up, on top of rice, in an elaborate bento box, even as bottled sauce--we were kind of bored and, worse, not particularly full nor satisfied.

And then there was the cost. For the meal you see documented here, we became $150 poorer, but also wiser, learning once and for all that there's, in fact, such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Maruhide Uni Club  
2130 Redondo Beach Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90504
(310) 323-2864

Pepper Lunch - Irvine

Monday, March 19, 2018

Rinjani - Glendale

I tried a new Indonesian restaurant this weekend. But I should've known it wasn't meant for me.

Here, instead of grimy tabletops and warbly Indo pop that are often fixtures of a typical SoCal Indonesian hole-in-the wall, there was Pottery Barn furnishings and eclectic jazz as soundtrack.

The prices reflect the atmosphere. And when I ordered the soto ayam for $13.95, it came with no rice. Instead this turmeric-tinted chicken soup of my youth--the food I fondly remember eating in Semarang street stalls for breakfast and still routinely enjoy at mom's--is served in a big bowl meant to emulate pho.

It tasted as good as it should. And although I found what seemed only about a tablespoon's worth of shredded chicken meat, it was at least garnished with emping, slightly bitter crackers made from melinjo, a bean-like seed of a plant only an Indonesian could love.

The other dish I tried that day was the siomay Bandung, which can be equated to dim sum. Unfortunately, I liked this dish even less than the soto. The siomai was so dense with flour it was almost like eating hardened PlayDoh that happened to taste fishy. Potatoes, boiled cabbage, and hard-boiled egg rounded out the plate, all of it drenched with a peanut sauce that lacked depth and sweetness.

It's a pity that the restaurant did not serve nasi rames and nasi uduk when I was there. It does so only on weekdays as a lunch special. It also offers a rijsttafel, which is more a Dutch colonial thing. Here it's done as a prix fixe for $24.95 per person, where everyone in your party has to order it.

If I'm being very critical here, it's because I grew up with this kind of food and know it by heart. I'm pre-wired to have strong opinions; but it doesn't mean that I'm not glad Rinjani is here. The more exposure the food of the world's fourth most populous country gets, the better. And it will take the more accessible higher-end places like this to make the cuisine more familiar to virgin palates, of which there are many.

So go, you Indonesian food virgins! Get your cherries popped, even if it's just with the nasi goreng!

107 E Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(818) 546-1273

Cambalache - Fountain Valley

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Yakitori at Honda Ya - Tustin

Smoke inhalation. Intense heat. Cramped work environment. Food bloggers taking videos. This man endures a lot to produce the best kushiyaki and yakitori in Orange County.

Consider yourself lucky if you are seated in front of him. Then marvel at how this grill master flips, prods, salts, and bastes the perfectly grilled sticks of meat, fish, and vegetables that will soon be your dinner.

Everything he makes is spectacular, but the salmon belly is transcendent--so fatty and soft, it's like its made of butter.

Honda Ya
556 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 832-0081

Wreckless - Fullerton

Thursday, March 01, 2018

El Guero Canelo - Tucson, AZ

I was going to say that I finally ate at the one and only El Guero Canelo--the Tucson institution that recently won a James Beard Award for its Sonoran hot dog--but I realized that statement would've been inaccurate. There used to be only one, but there are now actually four.

I went to two of the locations. The first visit was the original store, which, if you go at night, is in a sketchy-looking part of town with barely anything open or many streetlights around it.

To me, it made El Guero Canelo look like a beacon in the dark. But when I went in, I wasn't prepared for what I saw. It's inside a structure that looked like it had been put together with spare parts from other structures, and not on purpose.

There was a walk-up window where the kitchen is. Connected to this, through another set of doors was a dining room that I hesitate to call a dining room. What it was is basically an indoor space where people can sit down and eat--nothing more. It was all concrete floors and furnished with a series of tables and benches that were bolted to the ground. Think of the food court area at Costco and dial it down a few notches.

There was, however, a salsa bar in the middle, stocked with more kinds of salsas than I knew what do with.

And then there were the hot dogs, which cost $2 more than Costco but worth at least $5. They are the pride of a town already brimming with a lot of food pride.

A skinless wiener is wrapped in bacon, then cooked till crisp. It's then inserted into a top-split bolillo roll and covered in pinto beans, grilled onions, diced raw onions, a zigzag of mayo and mustard.

When you break it down, it's just a bacon-wrapped hot dog like the kind you get outside Dodger Stadium on the way to your car; but in my opinion, what makes them so wonderful is the steamed roll, which has a sweetness and moistness akin to the bread that surrounds char siu bao.

Also, there's the side item that comes with every order. Instead of a pickle, they give you a roasted guero pepper, which is sweet, slightly hot, and adds more to the experience than you would ever thought possible.

It should be noted that this kind of hot dog is a relatively recent invention--a complete bastardization of American and Mexican flavors--originating in the late 1980s in Hermosillo, Mexico. But no one would argue that it puts to shame all Taco Bell Frankenmeals to date.

El Guero Canelo
5201 S 12th Ave
Tucson, AZ 85706
(520) 295-9005

New Moon - Buena Park