Sunday, April 26, 2009

Original Buffalo Wings - Irvine

This one snuck right by me. And I usually keep a close and watchful eye on the goings-on at Diamond Jamboree. So when I finally noticed them this week, it was like Homer Simpson finding a twenty dollar bill between the couch cushions.
Homer: Aw, twenty dollars! I wanted a peanut!
Homer's Brain: Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts!
Homer: Explain how!
Homer's Brain: Money can be exchanged for goods and services!
Homer: Woo-hoo!
This, however, was much better than a peanut: a Buffalo wings restaurant, the first of its kind in Irvine, if I'm not mistaken. Not only that; it's perched just two doors down from BBQ Chicken, who's been roosting peacefully and serving fried hens of its own before this new business even hatched.

BBQ's reaction to the new chick in its turf? Hand-made signs on poster boards, which proclaim that they, too, make Buffalo wings!

But Original Buffalo Wings (which is part of Northern California franchise that's migrating south) shouldn't be seen as competition. As far as I'm concerned, they're doing very different things. Both fry their birds, yes. But the end products are as different as Blue Man Group and Penn & Teller. There's room in town for both.

We ordered OBW's Buffalo Dozen, which supplies you with 13 assorted upper arms and forearms of the animal ($11.95, chips & soda included). More meat, as everyone knows, surround the humerus, better known as the "drums". But both the "drums" and the "flats" start out as blank canvases, deep-fried plainly until their skins render to a crispy golden brown.

What paths they are to follow next, after their boiling oil bath, depends on your appetite for adventure and tolerance for pain.

There are a little less than a dozen saucing options to choose from, which include:
Original Spicy
Extra Spicy
Spicy B.B.Q.
Spicy Teriyaki
Hawaiian Spicy
Non-Spicy (Plain)
Honey B.B.Q.
Lemon Pepper

Since we had more than a few wings to flavor, they gave us the opportunity of choosing three. The Mild was hot enough to summon the sweat to bead on my brow. The Honey B.B.Q. was so sugary it practically rotted my teeth on contact. And the Hawaiian Spicy looked and tasted as though they just took the Mild Sauce and mixed it up with the Honey B.B.Q. sauce.

I'd recommend sticking with the original flavors at OBW's, especially if you're a wing aficionado. After all, there's a reason why the tried-and-true formula of hot sauce and melted butter (as originally concocted by the Anchor Bar in Buffalo) is now as ubiquitous in appetizer lists as Asian eateries are at Diamond Jamboree.

OBW's originals are just as good as all others. Including Anchor Bar's, which I can actually say I've had.

What was surprising here, though, were their homemade chips. As wide as coasters, these warm, greaseless, ameoba-shaped cross-sections sliced off an actual potato crunched as light as a wafer.

Hmm...on second thought, maybe there is something that potato-chip-less BBQ Chicken should worry about.

Original Buffalo Wings
2750 Alton Parkway, Ste. 131
Irvine, CA 92606

Ice Bar - Long Beach

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Carl's Jr. Truck @ SchoolsFirst's Shred Day - Tustin

Three things blew my mind last week. First was that Susan Boyle YouTube video, which I haven't been able to stop watching. Second was Jonathan Gold's latest opus on something I wouldn't have thought any food critic, let alone one with a Pulitzer Prize, would touch: corporate-branded fast-food. More specifically, Carl's Jr.

What prompted L.A. Weekly's esteemed critic, known to delve the depths of the interesting and unexplored, to write an instant classic on the virtues of Carl's Jr.'s Six Dollar Burger? Well, it's Padma Lakshmi. Or more precisely, her cleavage and other comely assets, featured in a Carl's TV ad that already had tongues wagging in more ways than one.

Mr. Gold's article, my friends, is even better than the commercial -- a titillating read that puts new meaning on food porn, veering dangerously into Penthouse Forum territory, and that's only when he was talking about the burger.

Here's a choice quote:

"She hikes up her dress when it appears that the hamburger is about to spurt, and she tongues the viscous fluids from her wrist and her lips, leaving conspicuous evidence of the money shot streaked on her glistening cheek."
So what was the third thing that blew my mind?

Well, serendipitously, after I read Mr. Gold's article, I found out that SchoolsFirst (formerly Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union) was holding an event called Shred Day on Saturday at its Tustin administrative offices, wherein you get to haul out two boxes worth of documents, get it shredded for free, AND as a reward for coming, receive a Carl's Jr. lunch, complete with fries and a fountain drink.

Some days, the stars align. In this case, Famous Stars! And they were free, served from their mobile unit and eaten in the beautiful outdoors (okay, it was picnic tables in a parking lot), while a souped-up garbage truck turned mountains of paper into confetti.

So, how did I like my burger? It was fine, thanks. Slightly smoky, messy, and drippy just like they always say it is. And the fries were much better than I remember, halfway between regular fast-food french fries and steak fries.

Me? I'm more of a Western Bacon Cheeseburger guy, even before the Padma commercial. But it's a fast-food indulgence that I haven't had in a long time, since immediately after consuming one with my usual gusto, I'm usually racked with guilt that I just ate something very, very good, which is also very, very bad. And now, after Mr. Gold's review, something a little pervy too.

The Dock - Newport Beach

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shenandoah at the Arbor - Los Alamitos

Add Shenandoah at the Arbor to a list that already includes Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, and Hallmark stores. These are, of course, places where the dominant chromosome of the customers is X. If you're a dude, and you find yourself in one of the mentioned establishments, you will be outnumbered, as I always am.

This isn't to say that you can't enjoy yourself if you just happen to be dragged into one by a female. For example, I've sampled lots of lovely (yes, I said lovely) fruit-scented hand soaps at Bath and Body Works' in-store sink. I've marveled at how science and technology has advanced, not in curing cancer, but in being able to fit minuscule speakers into those music-playing Hallmark greeting cards. And Victoria's Secret? Well, where else can one ogle half-naked posters of Adriana Lima without getting bitch-slapped for ogling?

And at Shenandoah, you will be rewarded with a good meal. That's not to say that you still won't feel like you've stepped into a tea party hosted by the Gilmore Girls at the Dragonfly Inn. The room is predominately pastel colored. There are floral slipcovers on the chairs. Outside, there's a patio seating area next to a gurgling pond full of koi -- an idyllic scene for trading gossip and girl-talk.

But the food? It's served in surprisingly manly portions, and starts with a wicker basket of complimentary donuts that will be refilled until you say stop (and why would you want to do that?)

Well, to be more precise: they are apple fritters, deep-fried donut hole-sized balls of sweetly-battered cinnamon-apple-y dough sprinkled with powdered sugar, served with a ramekin of softened butter to dip them in. Why butter on something that's already deep-fried? You're a man, remember? The only question you should ask is "Why not?"

And as long as you've already started on your chosen path of heart-disease, you might as well order the sand dabs, which are advertised as being served with garlic brown butter, and comes out drenched in it, cancelling out any benefits of the fish's omega-3 fatty acid content. In any case, it's a lovely dish (there I go again), tender, flaky, and awesome. It's all thanks largely to the garlic-infused butter, which, by the way, can be soaked up and mixed into the mashed potatoes so as to not waste a single, artery-cloggin' drop.

If the thought of downing what seems like a whole stick of butter for a "light" lunch makes you queasy, there are lots of other options, including the hot turkey sandwich. It consists of real roasted turkey breast, moist, sliced thickly, stacked in layers on top of a toasted sourdough, then smothered with gravy and served with cranberry sauce. It's like Thanksgiving dinner! But without football, and with a lot more doilies.

Shenandoah at the Arbor*
(562) 431-1990
10631 Los Alamitos Blvd
Los Alamitos, CA 90720

Haru Izakaya - Tustin

*Special Thanks to Monster Munching location scout Cecile for the tip on Shenandoah.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Quality Seafood - Redondo Beach

As I've said before, I don't usually get off my duff to drive out of O.C. to get my grub on. But there are exceptions. One of them is Quality Seafood on the Redondo Beach Pier. Unless you can prove me wrong, there's nothing like it in Orange County.

It's not a restaurant, but a seafood market located on the hidden bowels of the pier that just happens to steam, fry, and broil your seafood immediately after you pick it out, and usually while the specimens are still very much alive.

Once your chosen ones are ready, you claim a stone picnic table, cover it with newspapers, and then go medieval on the booty with a mallet and your bare hands.

Neither new or trendy, it's been around for, well, probably longer than you and I have been breathing.

On a recent sunny Saturday, we made our almost-yearly pilgrimage.

First stop was the crab monger, where our crustacean comrades writhed and wriggled beneath vats of of water. We picked out two: a female and male Santa Barbara crab ($6.99 per pound), both of whom were plucked out by a worker wearing a yellow rubber smock. Our clawed friends were then weighed, stuffed inside a plastic bag, and thrown in an industrial steamer where they met their demise by sauna.

Then, it was off to the fish counter where a rex sole ($5.64) that I pointed at was lucky enough to already be dead. His fate was the deep fryer.

Last but not least, it was to the sea urchin vats ($6.99 per pound), where we directed another worker to fish one out and lop off the top, so that we can scoop out its brains like a Hannibal Lecter-hosted dinner party.

Holding it by its spikes, he went to work on scalping the wiggling invertebrate with a knife. Don't worry: It didn't see it coming! (Get it? It has no eyes!). With its shell breached, he shook out the inedible bits, washed it, and served it on a Styrofroam plate, where it stuck on since it had darts for legs. The final indignity for the creature? A plastic fork inserted into the gaping hole where his organs used to be.

Still writhing in throes of death, we took our sea Sputnik to our table. And let me tell you: it takes a strong stomach to take the first scoop. It's one thing to eat fresh uni from a sushi bar; it's another to eat a live one, straight from its body while its antennae flails about, like it's looking for a TV signal.

And inside the crevasse, we saw the familiar, yellow, tongue-like lobes. These were the reproductive organs -- our target -- which we tried to extricate without perturbing it or its surroundings. (Yes, it was exactly like Operation). Also in the pit were unidentifiable mucus-y red globs, and a milky white effluence that covered everything and coated every morsel we managed to scrape out.

In each custardy scoop, we recognized the familiar sweetness of uni, but it was soaked in a saltiness we weren't used to. To me, it tasted like if it was drenched in sad, salty tears.

There was less drama and conflicting feelings when we ate the rex sole. Deep fried with a spicy-seasoned coating, the fleshy fish was 98% meat. After a drizzle of lemon juice, nothing but a small heap of bones were left when we were done. The best part? The bony fins that were exposed to the hot fry oil to become crispy, crunchy fish-flavored chips.

Then it was on to our crabs, which my lovely dining companion dismantled like a pro (see the video). We used our mallet, fingers and nails for the rest. The female was stuffed full of salty-sweet-rich orange roe, which we excavated from the main dome and ate with rice. The male had a slightly sweeter meat, less bitter than the female. Both were elevated by lemon.

It was lovely afternoon of picking out scraps of flesh, spitting out fragments of shell, sucking in the sea air -- every moment worth the escape from O.C. and the lives of a few ocean critters.

Quality Seafood‎
(310) 374-2382‎
130 International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA‎ 90277

Capital Seafood - Irvine