Monday, December 27, 2010

Omakase at Sushi Shibucho - Costa Mesa - A Re-Review In Haiku

It has been five years
Since my first haiku review.
This is the second.

It is still the same:
A temple of quality.
Consistency reigns.

We visit often,
Devotees of the master.
No one else compares.

His wife pours green tea,
As Shibutani slices.
Next to him, his son.

Say "Omakase",
To eat the best on offer,
The freshest he has.

Thick cuts draped on rice,
Sculpted by masterful hands,
Each one beautiful.

It starts with stewed fish.
An unctuous specimen,
As rich as sardine.

On the first platter,
Come bright hues, textures, and tastes,
Arranged to impress.

Some feel like Jell-O.
Others crunch, bursts, melts into
Pleasure-filled mouthfuls.

Salmon is pristine,
As brisk as a cold river.
A good silken piece.

Second platter comes
With even more loveliness,
Even more colors.

Toro is marbled,
As fatty as kobe beef:
Luscious and tangy.

Ocean-y crab meat,
Stripped from its shell and salty,
Reclines on the rice.

The ginger cleanses.
The miso soup is soothing.
But later comes more.

Cucumber salad
Has fish bits and sesame.
It tickles our tongues.

For dessert: pickles.
Cucumbers, seaweed, daikon.
Who needs something sweet.

Like I said before:
Shibucho makes sushi art.
Next door: In-N-Out.

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

Bruxie - Orange

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry's House of Chicken - West Covina

Go forth fellow Orange Countians, out of your comfy cul-de-sacs, to the equally quiet foothills of West Covina. There you will find the Southland's newest Indonesian restaurant, peddler of foods from the spicy archipelago and a fried chicken specialty that will result in more return trips north.

The chicken dish in question ayam goreng kremesan, which roughly translates to "fried chicken with crispy crumbly things"--a golden brown, half-bird deeply seeped of its marinade and showered with the granular crumbles of its disembodied crust. Think of this addictive substance also as a seasoning, because it is. This crisp rice-flour-based batter sings the same notes that the bird does, but concentrated in a molecular sense, a flavor present in every explosively crunchy, tempura-crossed-with-granola crumb.

This is the same kind of chicken that begat KFC-like empires in Indonesia, the least of which is called Ayam Goreng Suharti, arguably the closest thing Indonesia has to a homegrown Colonel Sanders.

Dollop each morsel of bird you tear off from the well-fried carcass (note: Indonesians prefer their chickens fried to the point of dryness) with the house-made sambal, an intensely sweet, and intensely hot chili and tomato paste inflected by the stinky, funky, umami-rich accents of terasi, Indonesia's indigenous fermented shrimp paste. Instantly, your lips numb, your tongue blazes, your brow begins to dampen. And yet you add more, and more, finishing the first saucer and asking for seconds. You admit to yourself that you can eat this homemade fire balm for days, your internal organs be damned.

Your tastebuds will not have fully recovered when you move on to the other dishes, like the nasi goreng petai, a fried rice dish with little bits of noodle, meat, chili, and most notoriously, petai beans (sator beans), a fragrant, nutty tropical legume with a lima-bean-like texture, and a propensity to make your pee smell worse than if you ate a whole bushel of asparagus.

And since you're already drenched head to toe in your own perspiration, Merry Istiowati--the Surabaya native who, by the way, opened this ode to the poultry (and Indonesian cuisine) after closing 368 Noodle House so many years ago--makes an estimable nasi bungkus, banana-leaf-wrapped-rice, which is what a take-out meal would look like if drive-thrus existed in the jungle. But be warned: this is a dish as piercingly hot and sweat-inducing as noontime in the tropics.

Once you unfurl the butcher paper and leaf packaging, you see a green-chili sambal waiting furtively, nay, dangerously in one corner. A hard boiled egg is stewed in more chili. A piece of beef rendang is covered with its cooked-down brown seasoning paste. On top of the pile, a turmeric-colored chicken leg and a spoonful of curried vegetable provides the only non-spicy reprieve. All are heaped into a football-mound of rice which has taken on the vanilla-like perfume of its botanical container.

It's about then you thank Merry's House of Chicken for supplying an ample amount of sweat-blotting napkins in a convenient basket next to the kecap manis.

Merry's House of Chicken
2550 E Amar Rd., Ste A5
West Covina, CA 91792
(626) 965-0123

Happy Family - Costa Mesa

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hooters - Costa Mesa

If you are of the opinion that Hooters objectifies women, I agree with you and so do Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who produced a hilarious send-up of the chain on South Park. In it, Butters becomes enamored by a waitress at Raisins. If you haven't, see it here.

But the truth is, come in and you encounter just as many women customers as men. And on this trip (my third in over a decade), there are more families with babies in tow than I expected. PG-rated posters a typical teenager would consider standard bedroom wall decor are the most risque thing about the place.

"Tacky" is the word they use to describe themselves. But a better word is "American". I would argue that Hooters is the truest representation of American culture in a themed-restaurant than Hard Rock or Planet Hollywood.

To me, and actually, to a lot of people, Hooters is more about the wings than breasts. I regard Hooters' wings as better than any of those from the major wing chains, including Buffalo Wild Wings.

And what is more American than Buffalo wings? Answer: All-you-can-eat Buffalo wings on Tuesday nights. This is the night where where you disregard all common sense (you really don't need to eat all the wings you can eat), pay $12.99, then spend the rest of your evening trying to recoup it by consuming about the worst thing a dietitian and your doctor could ever imagine: fried chicken soaked in melted butter and hot sauce.

Doing so is dangerously easy to do. I discovered a disturbing fact about myself that night: I can polish off a round of 10 wings in the time it took the television to take two commercial breaks. By the end of it, I had in front of me the remnants of my gluttony: the cleaned bones of 22 wings, a half-finished basket of curly fries, and a throughly soiled WetNap.

If you choose to attempt to break my record, you should know to avoid filling up on those fries. To quote Admiral Ackbar, "It's a trap!" It is included in the deal as Hooters insurance policy that you don't eat them out of their profits. For sure, resist the temptation to munch on them in the lull between when you've finished your current plate and are waiting for the next. That's what they want you to do.

There are two frying options for the wings: "naked" and breaded. The "naked" way, wherein the wings are dropped as is into the oil, lends itself well to a number of seasoning paths.

The best, in my opinion, is to have them "naked" and coated in Cajun spice, a caustic, sweet and salty dry rub popularized as "bammage". The skin, thoroughly rendered and expertly cooked (yes, I said expertly), takes on a thin-sheened crispness and the presence of a BBQ-potato chip.

A spicy-garlic sauce is second best, a butter-soaked and just-hot-enough lubrication to encourage and propel you to the lip-smacking break-even point on your $13 investment in over-eating.

If you opt to do the traditional hot wing, better to ask for breaded than "naked", as it absorbs the hot-sauce so well that you'll notice there's not a lot of it left to pool on the plate. And for goodness sakes just do the "Hot". The "Medium", it turns out, is equivalent to just asking for it to be soaked in plain butter. It's bland and tasteless.

You'll know you've done well when you toss and turn in bed, suffering from heartburn and swearing off hot wings and all-you-can-anything for as long as you live. And you'll know you are an American when you wake up the next morning and look forward to next Tuesday.

1507 South Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626-1529
(714) 427-0755

Olives Gourmet Grocer - Long Beach*

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

Monday, December 06, 2010

Rick's Atomic Cafe - Costa Mesa

I've not been to Rick's Atomic Cafe enough to ask owner Rick LeBlanc what the story behind the "Atomic" name is. And I'm sure there is a story.

But since I don't know it yet, I'm going to use "atomic" to describe the smallness of his eatery. It is, in fact, atomic--the tiniest eating space known to man. His office-park lunch stop is akin to Harry's Deli. Both exist as an anomaly in unadorned, spartan kitchens buzzed by passing John Wayne-bound planes. Both are in rented office spaces in anonymous office parks, hidden unless you know it's there. The only difference is that Harry's is easily three times the size of Rick's.

More than half of Rick's Atomic Cafe is his kitchen, which if you've read Gustavo's review a few month's ago, he commands himself, whipping up things from scratch, salting things with care, being exactly what a short order cook isn't: a bonafide gourmet.

I ordered what I thought would be a normal $5 egg breakfast, but what I got was much more. The toast is from artisan bread, buttered by Rick, ready to be spread by a thimble of preserves he selected out of a bigger jar. And oh, the potatoes! It's from a batch freshly made. Onions are wilted and just barely singed by the heat of the griddle. The cubed spuds burst with flavor, steam, and toe-curling homeyness. The eggs? Cooked just as I requested: over-medium and seasoned ever so slightly with pepper and salt--whites ready to be forked up and yolks dipped into by the crispy points of that buttered toast.

I need a new paragraph for the bacon. Look at the bacon. It's as straight as rulers. You can spank naughty children with this bacon. No bacon I've ever had, and perhaps no bacon I ever will have can be as perfectly rendered as Rick's. It's crispy from end-to-end. The uniform consistency is almost unnatural, as if Rick somehow managed to arrange the bacon molecules to conform, yes, subatomically.

In between bites, I washed my breakfast down with orange juice, squeezed by Rick's own hand and a juicer by the sink. The sink, by the way, is stocked tall of whole oranges standing by for this very purpose. For my order, Rick filled up the glass to the brim with the pulpy nectar and juice of many, many citrus. $2.50 seemed a really low toll for all the labor he had to go through, and how many fruit he had to dispatch.

It goes without saying that I left with quite a bit more than a good impression of Rick's Atomic Cafe. It's small, but it is, by no means, insignificant, as other things dubbed atomic have shown.

Rick's Atomic Cafe
3100 Airway Avenue,
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 825-0570

Mariscos Licenciado #2 - Anaheim