Monday, June 27, 2011

The Boiling Noodle - Westminster

As far as I know, The Boiling Noodle is not affiliated in any way to The Boiling Crab. Even if there was a connection, familial, aspirational, or otherwise, the only thing The Boiling Noodle has in common with the Cajun Vietnamese crawfish restaurant is the font it chose for the sign.

The Boiling Noodle, as you may have deduced, peddles noodles, rice, and more noodles and rice. They don't do pho, but as with pho shops in Little Saigon, expect to be served quickly but not warmly. It reminds me most of Mi La Cay. Except it's not like Mi La Cay. This is a cheap noodle joint that doesn't look cheap. Not in the least. The solid wood chairs are heavy, expensive-looking, and embellished by marble. The tables are actually made of polished stone.

So far, within weeks of its opening, everything sparkles and gleams. You'd expect them to host lavish wedding banquets with room for a dance floor and maybe a dancing lion.

But the reason people come is the reason I did: for the $2.95 bowl of wonton noodle soup. It's on special for the grand opening. Since the price is also printed on the laminated menu, it'll probably stay $2.95 for some time to come.

The noodle crinkles, has good bounce, and is stretched as thin as an egg noodle can be stretched without disappearing. In the bowl beneath, micro-cubes of pork cracklings float in a clear, golden broth that nourishes like amniotic fluid. This is the same soup that most mi joints in Little Saigon serves, almost genetically identical down to the molecule. Sugary, umami-rich, and salty, it's like the concentrated essence of bird and hog. I could drink nothing but this soup and survive an Alaskan winter.

The wontons, however, were merely decent. These aren't the fat, bulging, bursting globes that would fill the mouth with pork and shrimp you will find everywhere in SGV; but rather just a thimble-sized pocket of meat, the kind I'd serve my customers if I were charging $2.95.

The Boiling Noodle
9081 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 105-106
Westminster, CA 92683

Summer Issue - A Treatise on Icy Treats

Monday, June 20, 2011

Berkeley Dog - Irvine

I've never been to Top Dog, but have known Cal alums who swear on its greatness the same way a Chicagoan would bleed for Superdawg or Portillo's. But I had my doubts. This is why: I've been disappointed by highly-touted hot dogs before. When I tried Pink's at their Knott's Berry Farm store for the first time, I found it kind of...ordinary. It turned out to be just another dog that just happened to have a bit of history and the enviable monopoly of what represents an L.A. hot dog on food and travel shows.

So when Berkeley Dog opened in Mission Viejo, then Brea, and finally Irvine, I tempered my expectations for this unaffiliated outlet of Top Dog, the hot dog joint that's been feeding collegiate bellies at UC's oldest campus since 1966. They purportedly do everything that Top Dog does, including the use of its sausages and buns, just without the Top Dog name.

The Irvine store resides where the old Arriba's used to be, the place where I used to get my fill of $1 greasy tacos on Tuesdays. Berkeley Dog has transformed it into a spotless and clinical space so clean and hygienic you could perform surgery there. The chopped onions, relish and pickles can be found behind a sneeze guard with not a drip dropped or errant piece out of place. It also gets points for plastering the place with UCI banners and pennants. Obviously, it wants to be the Anteater's own version of Top Dog; and after tasting the food, I think it deserves to be.

The fries are done well, cooked to a golden and rigid crunch at least two decibels louder than the drive-thru. The sausages are roasted properly to a shiny burnish flecked with char and bursting with juice. Along with frankfurters, their menu boasts an eclectic array of tube steaks from a rattlesnake sausage to a milky bockwurst made of equal ratios of pork and veal. Sauerkraut is free, but you could top your dog with kimchi for small upgrade fee should you want to channel your inner Roy Choi.

But what I like most about the are the buns, which aren't just buns but a sesame-seed-crusted, crackly-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside baguette-type roll. They're exactly the kind of bread that can answer the thick snap of the natural-skinned Lousiana Hot Link I chose with the sturdy and tactile crispness of its crust. Too offset the hotness of the sausage, I slathered it with a sweet Hawaiian mustard and a touch of sauerkraut; but it still kicked my ass. My forehead became soaked with sweat halfway through it.

Berkeley Dog also has one of those newfangled Coke machines with the computer touch screens and the infinite flavor combinations. Now if it were somehow tapped to a keg, they'd have a hot dog joint no college crowd could argue with.

Berkeley Dog
4249 Campus Dr. B148
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 387-2111

101 Noodle Express - Irvine

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chef Chen - Irvine

A pang of sadness hit me when I heard that Nice Time Deli in Irvine closed. It wasn't because I was particularly attached to it. To be honest, it had been ages since I last visited. But the fact that it would no longer be there was again a reminder that nothing lasts forever and a lesson that we often take everything for granted until its gone.

The dish that I will miss most is their pai gu fan, better known as pork chop rice--a simple cut of pork, pounded into thin, flat fingers that spanned an area as big as my face. Beneath was an unglamorous plate of rice soaked with soy-sauce cooked ground pork, a humble piece of tofu and a simmered egg.

The dish was comfort food. No bones about it. It's the kind of meal that doesn't aim for anything but sustenance; but one that you come back to, again and again, because of how warm it made you feel.

Pai gu fan is almost a commodity in Irvine. In fact, just next door I found a worthy and close enough replacement. Chef Chen's pork chop comes as a swooping, grand gesture of pig, flattened to a pamphlet's thinness and cooked crisp under its own brand of a sweet golden batter. The requisite rice mound below is moistened with a corn-starch thickened oyster-sauce gravy with bits of ground pork and bok choy.

Like me, other fans of pai gu fan have a Nice Time Deli surrogate in Chef Chen, and it is good.

Chef Chen's Restaurant
5408 Walnut Avenue # B
Irvine, CA 92604
(949) 786-8898

Delius Restaurant - Signal Hill

Monday, June 06, 2011

Breakfast at Da Lu'au - Irvine

There's nothing particularly Hawaiian about two fluffy pancakes, fried eggs, breakfast meat, and fast-food style hash browns formed into a rectangle. Take away the Portuguese sausage from the breakfast I ate at Da Lu'au in Irvine and opt for the available options of bacon or sausage links and you have the prototypical meal some Americans eat every day.

Gloriously priced at $4.97 daily until 11 a.m., the basic model with maple syrup and plain pancakes (and all of the above) is Da Lu'au's least island-inspired breakfast. For an additional fee, there are choices to make the flapjacks with banana, macadamia, or coconut. Other plates feature rice as the starch. But we chose this because it was cheap and on sale. We ate it there with ukelele music and Hawaiian melodies washing over us like a frothy wave.

Though it's located in another Irvine Company-owned neighborhood center, Da Lu'au would make every Hawaii-loving mainlander like me yearn for his next island vacation just by the choice of its soundtrack alone. It's possibly the same mix they play in continuum at breezy Hawaiian hotel lobbies during check-in.

But it's the breakfasts that transports me to road-side shacks and short order diners owned by locals that put out so-called "local breakfasts." With Spam and scoops of rice and Aloha shoyu as condiment, even Hawaii's McDonalds have their own version.

Of course, I asked for Da Lu'au's bevel-sliced Portuguese sausage for my meal--a breakfast meat rarely seen stateside except at places like Da Lu'au. Spicy enough not to require Sriracha or Tabasco, it is imbued with chili flakes and sweats red grease. And the pancakes, oh the pancakes. So thick, so airy, you could conceivably lay your head down on it to take a snooze.

The yolks on the eggs, however, were lamentably undercooked even though I requested over-medium, and the hash browns were just hash browns. But this is a breakfast that lasts, a fuel of protein, fat and carbohydrates that no mortal really needs unless he's going to drive a hatchet into a tree.

I am not a lumberjack, so shortly after I consumed this meal, I slipped into what can be medically classified as "nap time". I went home, collapsed on the couch, and slept for two hours, my body's resources presumably redirected to deal with digesting the meal. I dreamt a pancake was my pillow.

Da Lu'au Hawaiian Grill
14151 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92620
(949) 748-8855

*To read my review of non-breakfast food at Da Lu'au, click here.

Pinoy Pam's Best - Lake Forest