Sunday, February 26, 2006

Growers Direct - Costa Mesa

In a messy tangle of streets, in the Bermuda Triangle where the 55 freeway turns into Newport, stands Growers Direct, a small market which sells fresh and seasonal produce. It's mostly known only to locals who enjoy the good fortune of having a veritable farmer's market that's close to home and open everyday.

And lucky they are.

Entering the store, your eyes are immediately assaulted with more vibrant colors than a television test pattern. Then your olfactory sensors are smacked with the floral aromas of ripe fruit and the fresh bounty of the garden. But before you collapse into a botanical stupor, pay attention or else you'll be run over by the ever busy stock boys, who are constantly on the move, replenishing the supply and removing any undesirable pieces from the lot.

Minding your step, pick up a hand basket and help yourself to a sampling of mother nature's greatest offerings to herbivores.

Verdant celery stalks, cold and crisp, its green sprigs are still misted with beads of dew. Tight bundles of spring onions with its hollow tubes standing as straight and rigid as sticks are colored like the deepest and darkest emerald. A carefully arranged pyramid of spherical honeydew melons has a sweet fragrance which snakes up and invites all passing nostrils to take a long, deep sniff. The zucchini has soil still clinging to it, having been pulled out of the ground barely hours before. Crimson tomatoes, round and plump, which has taut, smooth skin with nary a blemish could stand its own against the Noxema girl.

All this at prices you'd normally find at Asian or Mexican grocery stores. By this, of course I mean "cheap." More money left over for paying off that convertible!

Growers Direct
(949) 631-7880
101 E 17th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Jerry's Dogs - Santa Ana

Sausages. Just about every culture in the world has a homegrown version of it. The Chinese have the lap cheung; the Filipinos have the longanisa. The Germans, a sausage loving society if ever there was one, has knockwurst and bratwurst, to name just a few. It seems that the urge to stuff the intestines of an animal with the ground-up meat from whatever is left of the carcass is as universal as the propensity to make love and reproduce.

We Americans, of course, have our beloved hot dog, which we eat everywhere -- at the movies, at baseball games, at the beach...even at the AMPM gas pump while we're topping-off the tanks on our giant SUVs. This is no surprise since Americans are trained to love the hot dog from a young age. Don't believe me? Surely you remember this catchy little ditty:

Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener.
That is what I'd truly like to be.
'Cause if I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener,

(altogether now)

Ev'ryone would be in love with me.
Advertising jingles and Wienermobiles aside, no other food is ingrained into the American experience as the hot dog, since nothing else is so accessible, cheap, and unfussy. A ten-year old can prepare a hot dog for himself. A burger, on the other hand, wouldn't be so easy.

Yet, even as simple as it is, hot dogs can inspire a lot of regional pride in people (second only to barbecue). Case in point: ask a Chicagoan what they think of a New York hot dog, and prepare to put the "earmuffs" on junior. What's even more sacrilegious is to ask for ketchup on a Chicago Dog. Those in the "Windy City" are serious when it comes to their wieners.

But if you ask Steve Doggie Dog, a fellow food blogger, he'll tell you L.A. has some seriously good franks of its own. He's dedicated his blog to all things hot dog in Los Angeles. His conquests are quite impressive. He has a list so comprehensive that I wonder how many more places could be left in the City of Angels that he hasn't visited. I think that there's a time in the near future when Steve will finally have to drag his butt into a Burger King. But no matter how finite the supply of sausage joints in L.A. might be, Orange County has far fewer.

While I'm sure there are good dogs to be had in our many restaurants, O.C. has always been left wanting for a homegrown hot dog joint.

Wait. I know what you're going to say.

Yes, I've heard of Portillo's in Buena Park, which is part of a Chicago chain now open in Buena Park Downtown. I'm sure they do a fine dog, but it's not indigenous to these parts. We shan't claim it as our own as much as China wouldn't claim KFC as Chinese when it opened in Beijing.

Enter Jerry's Dogs.

With only two locations (in La Habra and Santa Ana), this is Orange County's own hot dog joint.

The name of the game at Jerry's Dogs is "Wood Fired". All the sausages get some roasting time above the lapping fires of the grill. And after soaking up a good bit of smoke and char, Jerry's invites you to load up toppings to your heart's content. There's 21 to choose from. But you'll be well advised to stop before sausage and bun get buried under a mountain of veggies, becoming a salad.

My favorite at Jerry's, however, is not the hot dog, but the fat, red sausage called the Jalapeno Hot Link ($4.50). Biting into the sausage's snappy membrane unleashes a juicy torrent of porky flavor and a latent peppery burn that hits at the back of the throat.

My toppings of choice in the prescribed order I ask my grill man to apply them are as follows:

Shake of celery salt.
Squirt of mayo.
Dollop of Dijon mustard.
Grilled onions.
Raw, fresh red and green peppers.
Diced tomatoes.

But most important of all is the request to grill the bun to a toasty brown before application of sausage and topping (which I forgot to do for the one pictured above). This is to fend off the onslaught of moisture until I take my last bite.

Jerry's also fries up homemade potato chips ($1.95), freshly prepared to order. But unfortunately, the chips have a short half life, quickly degrading and becoming limp if not eaten within seconds out of the hot oil. The fries ($1.95) are better, but also has the tendency to get soggy. I eat them as fodder, a palate cleanser between bites of the sandwich.

But you can use as much ketchup on the fries as you want. Heck, put some on your hot dog! They won't stare at you.

Jerry's Dogs
(714) 245-0200
2276 E 17th St
Santa Ana, CA 92705

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Genki Living - Irvine

With a name more appropriate for either a health insurance policy or a lifestyle magazine, "Genki Living" wouldn't be a place you'd expect to find food. This begs the question, "So what does 'genki' mean anyway?"

Yet after looking it up and finding out that 'genki' is the Japanese word for "energetic," I'm still not any closer to explaining what it has to do with crepes, which is the specialty of this newly-opened Irvine franchise.

But the name isn't the most beguiling thing about the restaurant. A bigger head-scratcher is the place's most striking feature; a life-sized mock-up of a Japanese subway train which dominates an entire wall. It looks so real that you can almost imagine the Japanese salary-men in business suits going to work, being stuffed into this diorama's sliding doors like sardines, their faces smooshed up against the glass.

The rest of the store looks like a pre-teen girl's bedroom. Mismatched "Easter" pastel colors, faux picket fences, posters of cherubic Asian teen idols, and pink flower patterns gives the room a distinct "Sanrio-ness". The vibe is a little kooky, but still oddly charming.

The menu board, however, is hung so high up that I had to crane my neck like I was watching a movie from the first row. It also doesn't help matters that the list of items they offer is encyclopedic and the font size is two sizes too small. But how else are they to fit all their choices on it? With so many crepe permutations, both savory and sweet, they'd give Baskin-Robbin's 31 flavors a run for their money. If this weren't enough, they also have boba drinks and tea.

I opted for the classic crepe filling of Nutella, sliced banana, and ice cream topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Each crepe is prepared to order, with the batter poured fresh onto a round steel griddle and cooked until leathery brown and crisp. The pliable disk is then folded into a conical shape and the toppings are piled inside the well. This gigantic mass is meant to be eaten like an ice cream cone, although it's definitely a more awkward experience, since you need to grip it firmly with both hands, lest you want the whole mess to come tumbling down onto your lap.

But as I nibbled around the edges, working my way to the goopy, chocolatey, and Chiquita center, I found that the crepe skin withstood the onslaught of the moisture working against it. Instead of tearing, the slowy melting contents made it supple and chewy, because unlike its more delicate French cousin, this Japanese crepe is of a thicker and sturdier stock -- the lovechild of a pancake and a tortilla.

Genki Living's friendly Taiwanese proprietor, William, also cooks up a decent okonomiyaki. His rendition employs stir fried noodles and wilted cabbage, set atop a thin crepe membrane. It comes with the traditional topping of katsuo-bushi, thin shavings of dried bonito fish flakes, which have the uncanny ability to writhe and billow from the emanating heat of the noodles like disembodied worms. Japanese mayo and a tart okonomiyaki sauce is sluiced on top for a finishing touch.

Good crepes and okonomiyaki served in a place with an inexplicable name and fake subway train. Yup...sounds like just the type of thing boring Irvine needs!

Genki Living
(949) 857-3683
15435 Jeffrey Rd. #110
Irvine, CA 92618

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Breakfast at Ikea - Costa Mesa

Having recently read Eat, Drink & Be Merry's excellent post "An Evening of Elegance, Affluence and Taste", where he catered a lavish dinner for a wealthy family, I felt this was as good a time as any to write about my 99-cent Ikea breakfast.

Yes, the plate of scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, and bacon shown above set me back $0.99 ($1.07 with tax) at Ikea; served on real Ikea china with real Ikea silverware!

Now I know that anything that costs $0.99 should be immune to criticism. I mean, it costs $0.99 for crying out loud! But being that I review restaurants on this little blog, I feel obliged to tell you that the eggs, since it's served from a heated trough, were overcooked to tight little curds resembling cottage cheese. But the bacon was crisp and the potatoes tasted like good old home-fries. In any case, all shortcomings of my bargain-basement breakfast disappeared when I doused it with a few scorching hits of Tabasco.

And as long as I'm being honest, I also must confess that I had to buy a second plate to fill up. But if you're feeling like a big spender and you just cashed in that winning Lotto ticket, you can order the Deluxe Breakfast for $1.99, which will add Swedish pancakes with lingonberry compote and a cup of coffee to what you see above.

It's all obviously a marketing ploy to lure customers in to shop for their assemble-it-yourself Swedish furniture; but if you're going to eat breakfast on the cheap, you could do a lot worse. So if you're like me and you gravitate towards the 99-cent value menu when you find yourself at a fast-food joint, your inner cheapskate will rejoice when you feed it an Ikea breakfast.

And oh yeah, unless you brought your own butler to Ikea, don't forget to bus the table when you're done.

(714) 444-4532
1475 S Coast Dr
Costa Mesa, CA 92626