Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Shrimp and Grits at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen - Anaheim

To me, an Orange Countian, Downtown Disney has become like The Strip to Las Vegas native or Hollywood and Vine to Angelenos--I don't go there unless I absolutely have to.

Not only is it overcrowded and overpriced, there's now the added inconveniences of the long line at the TSA-style security checkpoint and validated parking that needs at least a $20 purchase from a table service restaurant.

It didn't use to be like this. There was a time when locals could enjoy a leisurely night out--maybe catch a movie and then eat at somewhere better outside Disney property, which, come to think of it, is probably why Disney instituted the changes. They know locals don't eat here.

But now, since I’m forced to spend every time I come, there really is only one option: Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, one of the original Downtown Disney restaurants.

This last visit was for a birthday party. I ordered the shrimp and grits. And even though it was still expensive for the portion size, at least it was well-made, reminding me of shrimp and grits I’ve had in the actual South--comforting, saucy, spicy, and blubbery.

I’m not recommending you go there and get it, but if you’re going to park at Downtown Disney, you’re going to have to eat at Downtown Disney, so you might as well eat this.

Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen
1590 S Disneyland Dr
Downtown Disney District
Anaheim, CA 92802

Terrace by Mix Mix - Costa Mesa

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Capitol Market - Charleston, WV

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. A lot of it for pleasure and some for work. But the real reason we racked up a lot of miles and travel points was that we had a goal to visit all 50 states before the year's end.

I'm happy to report we achieved that goal last week. We flew into Cincinnati, Ohio; drove up to Indianapolis, Indiana; drove down to Louisville, Kentucky; and finally crossed over to Charleston, capital of West Virginia. These states were our Final Four.

There isn't much I can say about Charleston, though. There’s a river in front of the Capitol Building, but as far as attractions, Charleston is not exactly Travel Channel material…at least from what we saw.

We went to Capitol Market, advertised as a hip, new gathering of grocers and food vendors who all moved into a converted train station now made into something that wants to be something like Seattle’s Pike’s Place. It was, however, about a tenth the size, no bigger than a Los Angeles area Whole Foods. And around the neighborhood, we saw rows of boarded-up houses.

Upon looking online to see what food West Virginia was known for and what we could buy while we were there at Capitol Market, we found that something called “pepperoni roll” was on the top of most lists.

A pepperoni roll, it turns out, is basically a hot dog bun that's stuffed with wads of rolled up pepperoni slices and mozzarella before it's baked. We saw it in factory-wrapped plastic as though it was destined for a truck stop vending machine.

We bought it anyway. Not quite a calzone, not quite an Italian sandwich, it wasn’t what I was expecting to eat in a state I knew nothing about, except that it was the last one on our list--a list that is now complete!

Capitol Market
800 Smith St.
Charleston, WV 25301-1213

Ocean Snack

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sup Noodle Bar - Cerritos

Did you know that Sup Noodle Bar, with locations in Buena Park and Cerritos, is an all-you-can-eat pho restaurant?

I didn't. When I first ate there at the invitation of friends, I thought the prices were a bit high. I figured it was because of toppings like the beef rib bone and deep fried pork belly, which are never cheap. What I failed to notice was the fine print: every bowl you order comes with unlimited refills of broth and noodles.

So after finishing my bowl, I was surprised to have been asked by our server if I wanted more. After I answered in the affirmative, what I got was essentially a fresh, new, hot bowl of pho.

I didn't need it, I didn't want it, but I ate it anyway. It’s not in my nature to refuse an offer like that go unaccepted, even as I felt the previous bowl sloshing around in my stomach. Besides, the noodles were al dente, the broth lip-smacking.

Of course it costs almost nothing for the restaurant to do this. Noodles and broth are cheap, but the gesture of good will and good hospitality went a long way, because I ended up liking Sup more than I probably would've if they didn't do this.

The other main dish I tried--a version of Peruvian saltado--was decent. It even came with a side of aji verde. But seeing this very capable Vietnamese restaurant doing it was like watching Michael Jordan play baseball. You know it's not what they're meant to be doing.

They do, in fact, do other Vietnamese things well. The fried banh baos are delectable: the savory, meaty filling of a classic steam bun was crossed with the crunchy outside of a cake donut. They were so good, I wanted more than what I ordered. So I waited for an offer of a refill. It never came.

Sup Noodle Bar
11314 South St.
Cerritos, CA 90703

Best Of Issue 2018

Sunday, November 18, 2018

12 Ireland Travel Tips

Here are a few tips I’d like to pass on to you if you're thinking of going to Ireland.

Don't drive if you can help it. The Irish drive on the left side of the road (steering wheel on the right) and the roundabouts there are disorienting and dangerous for those of us who are used to driving on the right.

Do splurge for an automatic transmission at the car rental agency if you choose to drive. It will take your mind off of shifting gears with your non-dominant arm and focus it on the road.

Do go to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Don't worry that it has been kissed by millions of lips, not counting the hundreds who are lined up ahead of you in line. The climb up the castle’s narrow and steep spiral staircase, where there's hardly enough space for one person to fit through, is already worth the price of admission.

Do visit the Waterford Crystal Factory. The tour is of the actual production floor where the artisans are more than eager to show you their work and let you touch it. And if you buy something over a certain amount, it's tax free!

Do go to the Guinness Factory in Dublin. It's to Dublin as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The admission price includes a pint which you can redeem at the many restaurant and pubs within the premises, including the Gravity Bar, which boasts a 360-degree view of Dublin and is uncomfortably packed with too many people.

Don't expect a guided tour at Guinness. The part open to tourists is less a factory and more museum with exhibits that takes you through the history of Guinness and the beer making process.

Don't waste your money on food at Guinness. You can find better Guinness and Beef Stew, or just about anything else edible outside in the city.

Do eat fish and chips at Leo Burdock, which has been cooking the fried delicacy for 100 years and has a long list of celebrity customers to prove it.

Don't skip the salt or the vinegar. The fish, which is thickly covered with a batter almost as substantial as a beignet, is not seasoned. So pour it on!

Do eat a full Irish breakfast. They're everywhere, such as this one served from the breakfast buffet at the Cork International Hotel.

Don't forget the baked beans or the black pudding or the soda bread or the mushrooms. Forgoing any of it means what you're having is merely “breakfast”.

Izakaya Wasa - Irvine

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Omnom Chocolate - Reykjavik, Iceland

If you're ever in Reykjavik, Iceland, seek out these chocolates, or better yet go to the factory in which they're made: Omnom Chocolate.

I attended a chocolate class and tour there and learned more about chocolates than I ever wanted to know. Plus I got to sample almost all of their chocolates, including this so-called "gay bar" and a Milk of Nicaragua, a single-source bar that tastes imminently better than Hershey's...duh!

Omnom Chocolate Factory
Hólmaslóð 4
101 Reykjavík

Chaak -Tustin

Monday, October 29, 2018

OC Japan Fair - Costa Mesa

A few weekends ago, I went to the OC Japan Fair. It was as it was last year: a smaller, more intimate version of 626 Night Market. There was a focus on Japanese food, but it wasn’t exclusive—I saw Vietnamese and Korean food there, too.

Since I was going for the purpose of covering it for OC Weekly, some of my expenses were covered. So I enjoyed myself. But in retrospect, I realized as I often do when I attend these kind of events: if I had to pay my own way, I wouldn’t have come.

With an $8 parking and an $8 admission fee, I would’ve been $16 in the hole before I bought a single scrap of food. And the cost of a typical meal at one of these vendors is, at best, the same as it is outside. At worst, it’s more.

So I left with the same thinking as I always do: why do people go to these things when restaurants and food courts provide the same food for the same or less cost with the added benefit of shelter, seating, and service?

The answer is the nostalgia and the novelty, which, I admit, is a good reason to go if you haven’t been. But the more you do, the less it makes sense, especially when you’re sweating in the hot sun, looking for a seat under shade, to eat something you’ve eaten dozens of times before, for which you stood in a long line and paid a premium.

Mrs. Bean - Santa Ana

Monday, October 22, 2018

Sashimi Gozen at Sagami - Irvine

I've said it once; but I'll say it again: Sagami's gozen meals are one of the best Japanese food bargains in Irvine. This one is the sashimi gozen. It's priced at $31.50 and includes all that you see--a veritable kaiseki-type meal that looks like a regular-sized bento box went through cellular mitosis.

Though some of the dishes changes with the seasons, the meal is always filling, always interesting, and always a great deal.

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

Higo Chicken - La Habra

Monday, October 08, 2018

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur - Reykjavik, Iceland

This is the hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It is arguably Iceland’s most famous hot dog, if not its most famous food. I went to Iceland for these hot dogs. Sure, it was also because the airplane tickets were cheap and The Blue Lagoon is there, but mainly it was because of the hot dog.

I was not disappointed. This hot dog has a lot going on. The sausage itself is made of not just pork and beef, but also Icelandic lamb. And it’s got a snappy skin unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

Bill Clinton made this hot dog famous when he ordered one with just mustard (they now call that dog “The Clinton”), but everyone who lines up at this shack near the harbor in the frigid cold asks for “Ein með öllu” or “One with everything”.

And when I did, a cashier assembled my sandwich. It started with crispy fried onion, raw onion, and a smear of an apple-based ketchup, all of which got tucked into the base of the bun. Then the boiled plysur (that's Icelandic for “hot dog”) went on, which was slathered with a topping of sweet mustard and a mayo-like remoulade.

It's wonderful. Sweet, tangy, savory, with a flavor unique to this hot dog—a hot dog that I flew halfway around the world to eat.

Sure, it didn't hurt that Iceland is also the home of Gullfoss, one of the most breathtaking waterfalls I’ve ever seen—a so-far unrecognized Wonder of the Natural World. But damn, that hot dog!

Tryggvagata 1
101 Reykjavík, Iceland
+354 511 1566

Parallel Pizzeria - Dana Point

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Seasons Kitchen USA - Anaheim

Finding Malaysian food that I like in Orange County usually involves driving to Anaheim on the weekends for Seasons Kitchen USA (@seasonskitchenusa), which I reviewed last year for OC Weekly.

But sometimes its Malaysian food finds me, especially now that Seasons Kitchen's Khim Teoh has set up a traveling pop-up lunch shop at certain Irvine, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and Tustin office parks during the workweek.

And that's good news, because let's face it, for us Malaysian/Singaporean/Indonesian working stiffs, the workweek is when we need this food the most!

Seasons Kitchen USA
641 N. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92801
(714) 608-1375

Quan Bun Co Giao Thao - Garden Grove

Monday, September 17, 2018

Icy Cream Roll - Buena Park

It’s trendy. It’s overpriced. It’s rolled ice cream and liquid-nitrogen-dipped cereal that causes you to huff and puff white vapor like Pete’s Dragon. And where I got it, Icy Cream Roll, is one of the latest in a slew of eclectic eateries to open at The Source in Buena Park, which is quickly becoming the epicenter of eclectic eateries in Orange County.

Rolled ice cream isn’t new to OC. Other vendors offering the made-to-order frozen delicacy has been around for a couple of years. And the concept of freeze-from-scratch ice cream—whether smeared on a freezing pan or poured into a liquid-nitrogen-filled mixer—has been around for longer than that.

It’s all about the gimmick. In the case of these specimens, the ice cream is so cold, it’s hard as a rock for the better part of ten minutes. And those cereal balls add nothing but special effects.

In the end—after you realize you can get two pints of Haagen-Dazs for how much you spent— it’s still ice cream. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t fun. And what is ice cream if it’s not fun?

Icy Cream Roll
6980 Beach Blvd H-118
Buena Park, CA 90621
(714) 202-0303

Circle Hook - Newport Beach