Friday, July 19, 2019

Barbadian Fish Cakes in Barbados

These are the Barbadian fish cakes I ate while on vacation in Barbados. They’re to Barbados as pizza is to New York and donuts is to Boston. Rihanna probably grew up eating them.

I had them three times from three different places.

The first time was as hors d'oeuvres at the free cocktail reception hosted by the hotel I stayed in. The next two times I ordered it at restaurants just outside the boundaries of the resort. When I did, I came to a few conclusions.

First, these fish cakes are essentially a cross between a hush puppy and a beignet, except with flakes of dried fish added to the batter.

Second, they’re delicious, especially if there’s a bottle of a local hot sauce within reach.

Third, I should’ve tried them at restaurants farther from the hotel, because even with local delicacies that ought to be cheap, the closer you are to the rich tourists, the more expensive things gets...even fried dough.

Marco Polo Bar & Grill
Lower Crane BB18079, Barbados
+1 246-271-2583

Cutters of Barbados
Diamond Valley BB18079, Barbados
+1 246-423-0611

Kyung Bok Kung - Buena Park

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Chirashi Sushi at Sushi Shibucho - Costa Mesa

This is Sushi Shibucho’s chirashi, the happy intersection of a bento box and a nigiri omakase meal. It is one of the most economical and instantly gratifying ways to eat at Shibucho. You’re essentially getting a complete run of the fish in stock, served over a bed of sushi rice.

And what you save in the time the itamae would’ve used to sculpt them into individual pieces, you see reflected in the price. Currently the cost of this meal is $21.50, which is not cheap. But when you compare it to what you’d pay ordering by the piece, the savings are significant.

Inside this compartment, I counted at least 16 pieces from at least 7 different species that I would’ve probably eaten in succession over an hour during a proper omakase meal. Some were oily, others tangy, sweet, or salty. All of it was sublime. And when I had them in concert with the same seasoned rice as the nigiri, the experience was like a self-guided tour rather than a guided one. Either way, I was eating sushi at Sushi Shibucho!

Sushi Shibucho
(949) 642-2677
590 W 19th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

The Chicken Rice - Santa Ana

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Tsukemen at Kashiwa Ramen - Costa Mesa

This is Kashiwa Ramen’s tsukemen. It’s, by far, my favorite thing to eat there. It wasn’t mentioned in my OC Weekly review because it wasn’t yet on the menu at the time. They were likely still developing the recipe, tweaking it to get it just right. But when I got around to having it in later visits, I realized it was worth the wait.

Kashiwa’s tsukemen is a ramen for all occasions. In the summer you can request the noodles be chilled; in the winter, heated. Either way, the strands has the al dente bounce of pasta but with a lightness that doesn’t weigh you down.

And since they’re coated in sauce rather than submerged in soup, tsukemen (if you’ve never had it) is halfway between a plate of spaghetti and a bowl of ramen. The dish is the best of both universes.

When you dip and slurp it, you experience and then appreciate all the nuances of all the components: the acid tickle of the squeezed lime, the concentrated umami of the reduced-to-gravy soup, the chewy comforts of the ramen.

Kashiwa Ramen
1420 Baker St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(657) 232-0223

Bistro Provincia - Dana Point

Friday, June 14, 2019

Sushi Imari - Costa Mesa

There was something specific I really liked about the original Sushi Imari in Costa Mesa. It wasn’t the complimentary items that were doled out at random. It wasn’t even the sublime piece of uni nigiri I had there several years ago. It was actually the size of the dining room.

Sushi Imari was tiny and cramped. And because it was, it felt intimate and cozy. It was as though I stumbled into a hidden spot no one knew about. The reality is that, of course, everyone knew about this place. It’s one of the most reviewed sushi bars on Yelp, largely due to its generosity with those complimentary apps. People love free stuff.

It got so popular, in fact, it recently felt the need to move to a bigger space on Harbor, in what used to be I Love Sushi and EON. And in so doing, I think it has lost what made it special. It now looks like a diner and for reasons I cannot explain, the sushi has taken on the personality of those made en masse at an all-you-can-eat joint.

I didn’t like what I had here at this new location nearly as much as what I had then, at the original place. The rolls tasted pedestrian and the uni I tried had an off flavor. An appetizer of gyoza is offered as the complimentary item. But since the things are fried in huge batches and every diner gets one as soon they’re seated, it felt more like it was done to fulfill an expectation than something that’s supposed to be welcoming.

At the new Sushi Imari, bigger isn’t better.

Sushi Imari
2340 Harbor Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 641-5654

F & H Shack - Anaheim

Monday, May 27, 2019

TeaAmi - Monterey Park

Several weeks ago I was invited to a sneak preview of TeaAmi, a unique pop-up experiment that my friend, Chef Bonnie Jiang, is launching at her Beard Papa’s franchise in Monterey Park.

The idea behind TeaAmi is simple: Chef Jiang—who was formerly the sous chef at LA’s The Spice Table—is a passionate about tea, and when you sit down for a session, which is limited to six guests at a time, what you will taste are three teas personally curated by her.

Through the intimate experience, Chef Jiang will guide you through each tea, brewing, pouring, and pairing every cup with food such as a quail egg toast topped with Neuske bacon, herb mayo, Hawaiian lava salt, and Japanese sansho pepper.

If you’re interested, she holds the tastings on Sundays and Mondays. The cost is $25 per person and the sessions last about two hours. Text 626.366.0933 to RSVP.

Beard Papa's
141 N Atlantic Blvd #106
Monterey Park, CA 91754

Nishi Poke & Ramen - Buena Park

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Baja Fish Taco's Salsa Bar - Santa Ana

To me, Baja Fish Tacos isn't about the fish tacos; it's all about that salsa bar, especially the pico de gallo, which is free for the taking for anyone who eats there. But the reason I ALWAYS spring a few bucks for the chips is that they provide an extra big bowl for the salsa so that I don't have to make multiple return trips.

Years ago, in leaner times, I would go to Baja Fish Tacos, buy a bowl of their rice and beans and then go loco at the salsa bar. I'd pile the pico de gallo so high, what I end up with looked like a monument made of chopped tomatoes. But I can tell you now, that lunch was as satisfying as anything with meat and cheese. Who needs carne asada when all the flavor and freshness comes from the salsa anyway?

Even now, after I finish a meal there, I always bring a little bit of extra pico de gallo home to make the next morning's eggs extra delicioso!

Baja Fish Tacos
3664 South Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Nishi Poke & Ramen - Buena Park

Friday, May 10, 2019

12 Years At OC Weekly!

Today marks 12 years since I became the food critic at OC Weekly.

But did you know that along with writing weekly reviews of restaurants, I also drew cartoons when a special issue calls for it?

Here's all four I did for OC Weekly from 2013-2016.


I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow Weeklings, especially Cynthia Rebolledo, Lisa Black, Nick Schou, and Mercedes Del Real for everything. Also a big "thank you" and "I love you!" to my life partner, dining companion, and wife, cookiemonster, for her support and encouragement.

Last but not least, I'd like to thank you all who are still reading this blog and my OC Weekly reviews for sticking with me all these years!

Clyde's Hot Chicken

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ted's Bakery - Oahu, Hawaii

I like pies more than cake, and the pie that I like best is chocolate haupia. So while I was on Oahu, I knew I would have to go in search of a slice. After some online research, I found more than a few bakeries on the island that make it. But according to many sources I read, the one I wanted is Ted’s.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to go far. I stumbled upon the brand in the bakery section while shopping at Foodland. And when I took my slice back to the hotel and ate it, I realized Ted’s makes the chocolate haupia of my dreams.

Existing in stratas of salty pie crust, not-too-sweet chocolate mousse, creamy coconut pudding, and fluffy whipped cream topping, this is a perfectly constructed pie. Every layer correctly proportioned and complementing the next.

Ted's Bakery
59-024 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI 96712
(808) 638-8207

CdM - Corona del Mar

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Chun Wah Kam - Oahu, Hawaii

Ask a local where to get the best manapua on Oahu and they’ll likely tell you to go to Libby’s. But this chain called Chun Wah Kam seems to be the most accessible from wherever you happen to be on Oahu.

And the manapua it steams is fluffy, sweet, and filled with some things you’d expect to be in a steamed bun, like red bean; and some things you never thought could be, like curry.

The most popular is the char siu, which is chopped to hash, food-colored to a rosy shade of pink, and tastes like pork candy. Eating one is a good snack. Eating two counts as a meal. And if you’re planning for a day at the beach, I would argue there is no better picnic food in Hawaii.

Chun Wah Kam
885 Kamokila Blvd
Kapolei, HI 96707
(808) 693-8838

Qin West Noodle - Irvine

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

McDonald's - Oahu, Hawaii

On the mainland, I am averse to McDonald’s. But when I’m in Hawaii, McDonald’s is a required stop. It’s as important to me as the beach because of two reasons: the Local Breakfast Platter and the fried haupia pie.

The local breakfast is something you can only enjoy at the McDonald’s here in the Aloha State. It consists of steamed rice, an omelet, and your choice of Hawaiian breakfast meat: either Spam or Portuguese sausage.

On Oahu, a platter of this breakfast with one meat costs about $6, or you can have both for a dollar more. And now because of the company’s All-Day Breakfast push, the Local Breakfast can be had for lunch or dinner.

The all-day availability, as I discovered on this trip, seemed to have only improved the quality. My platter tasted like everything was cooked to order. The Spam had that just-from-the-griddle crust, the Portuguese sausage was juicy, and the egg was creamy. All of it, of course, was perfect with rice, which I promptly seasoned with a packet of Aloha, a locally-produced soy sauce.

This brings me to the haupia pie, which is so good and unique to Hawaii’s McDonald’s that I always buy a bunch to bring on the flight home. It is simply a marvel of the old-school McDonald’s fried pie crust filled with the light, clean-tasting Hawaiian coconut pudding oozing from the inside.

4600 Kapolei Pkwy
Kapolei, HI 96707
(808) 674-4010

La Super Birria - Santa Ana