Wednesday, July 28, 2004

JJ Bakery & Cafe - Irvine

JJ Bakery in Irvine, which has been a favorite of mine for some time for sublime petite cakes (which are never too sweet) and crispy buttery cookies has now expanded.

The bakery shop is still the same, but their back wall has been punched through to provide easy access to their brand new Cafe. The cafe menu serves sandwiches, hot and cold (prices range from $4.75 to $5.25), as well as coffee and boba drinks (prices range from $1.50 to $4.75) and shaved iced ($3.50) topped with three items of your choice.

But I think the stand out is their Cafe Special Combos for $5.25. During lunch time (between 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, an ice tea or milk tea is included for free).

The types of dishes they offer for the Special Combo are:

1. J.J. Fried Pork Chop
2. J.J. Fried Chicken
3. Fried Breaded Pork Chop
4. Pork Chop with Onion (Boneless)
5. Beef Stew
6. Soy Sauce Boiled Boneless Pork
7. Curry Chicken
8. Shredded Chicken with Diced Pork

I had the J.J. Fried Pork Chop plate yesterday; a big plate containing rice topped with ground pork cooked in soy sauce, the fried boneless pork chop cut into strips, a fried egg, some diced pickled chinese vegetable, sweet corn nibblets, broccoli, and cucumber pickles. The pork chop was sweet and moist, very mahogany in color from the marinade. The topping on the rice was good, just like the one used at Nice Time Deli, and the veggies lent a nice balance to the dish. The best part of eating here was you were a few steps away from the bakery, where you could get dessert.

J.J. Bakery & Cafe
15333 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92604
(949) 653-1678

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Le Chef de Continental - South Gate

My friends and I tried yet again to have dinner at L.A. Bistro Cafe in Downey. The last time we tried to come here on a Friday night, around 7:30 pm, the restaurant was closed eventhough the hours posted on the window clearly said that 9:00 pm was their closing time. This time, I even called in for a reservation 8 hours before. No one answered the phone, but there was an answering machine which said to leave a message with the number of people in my party, what time they should be expecting us, and a phone number for them to contact us. I did this. Twice. I got no call back, and no confirmation. We should have given up then, but we decided to chance it. So we drove up through traffic from Irvine to Downey...and what did we discover when we arrived at 7:15 pm on Friday? CLOSED again! This time there was a note on the door, hand written by the chef, whose name is Fausto, that said "Sorry, will be back at 5:30 pm". The restaurant was dark. Not a soul was there. That was their last chance with us and we won't be trying again.

It was about a year ago that we had a very memorable meal there. When we arrived, the chef who greeted us informed us that the original owner Zaya Mirzaie had sold him the restaurant. The name had changed from "La Chef" to "L.A. Bistro Cafe". Chef Zaya Mirzaie, this new chef informed us, had moved to bigger quarters in South Gate. We stayed at "L.A. Bistro Cafe" and feasted on this new chef's French dishes and desserts for a reasonable price.

But now, here we were, starving in Downey, on a Friday night. Now what? What were we to do? Then it struck me. Why, in heaven's name, didn't we consider just going to South Gate and try Chef Mirzaie's new digs? So we bolted and found "Le Chef" at "El Paseo" complex in South Gate, about 10 minutes away. First of all, this El Paseo Entertainment and Dining complex looked very foreign to me. I felt like a stranger, in a strange, but wonderful land. It was like the Latino version of Irvine Spectrum. Aztec architecture, Mexican food and Latino people were everywhere. The atmosphere there was rowdy, raucous, the crowd was the same as you'd find on a Saturday morning at the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet. As far as eateries, there was a Fatburger and your usual mall-type eateries, but the most prominent and largest building, second only to the Edwards Theater was El Gallo Giro. I've heard about El Gallo Giro in Santa Ana, which is the proverbial hole-in-the-wall, but this monolithic building we were gazing and craning our necks at was something else. "Focus," we said, "focus on what we're here for."

French cuisine was the order of the night, but we did find it odd that of all places, we would find fine French dining here, amidst all this. We finally found "Le Chef" tucked away in an assuming alleyway away from the hustle and bustle. Upon entering the restaurant, we found ourselves entering another world. White linen tables. Exquisite overhead lighting. Plush designer chairs. A well-stocked wine rack. A beautiful mural of French landmarks on one wall. A full bar where most of the customers were. I remarked that this is certainly a different space than his previous post in Downey, which literally could hold no more than 8 customers. It was 8:00 pm, but the restaurant area was deserted, except for two other parties. We immediately recognize Chef Mirzaie, a small man, running about in the kitchen along with his sous chefs, who were twice his size.

We ordered the "Manila Steamed Clams" ($9.95) as a starter. It came out on a plate swimming in a thin white sauce consisting of garlic, shallots and white wine. Delicious! We sipped each drop of that sauce with our spoons and sopped any remaining with bread.

The clam chowder soup they had that night was good, but nothing particularly spectacular.

For a main course we ordered the "Chef's Taste" ($17.95) which had a small cut of Filet Mignon, Chicken Marsala, Crispy Salmon with a side of mashed potatoes and vegetables (steamed broccoli, haricots verts and a sliver of red bell pepper). Each meat was served on a pool of its own delectable sauces.

We also ordered the "Seafood Lover's" ($17.95) which had Sauteed Jumbo Tiger Shrimp with Mushrooms flecked with caramelized garlic, Seared Halibut and Crispy Salmon. The sauce on this dish was a light and creamy, made with chardonnay, garlic and butter. The dish was also served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The veggies were crisp and not overcooked.

For dessert, we ordered the Chocolate Souffle ($5.95) (ordered at the start of our meal), which was light and decadently chocolaty, served with a ramekin of creme fraiche.

After we left, we thanked our lucky stars L.A. Bistro Cafe was closed, or else we wouldn't have rediscovered Chef Mirzaie's cooking and his new elegant restaurant.

Le Chef - French Cuisine & Cocktails
8724 Garfield Ave #101
South Gate, CA 90280
Phone: (562)776-6067