Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dim Sum from Sam Woo - Irvine

I risk sounding like an old fuddy-duddy when I say that nothing is cheap anymore. Thrifty ice cream is well over a dollar these days. I remember when it was 15-cents a cone! Yes, 15-cents! And last week Philippe's in LA raised the price for a cup of coffee a whopping 500%. It went up from 9-cents to 45-cents. But the important thing is there was an onion on my belt...which was the style of the time...

This is why I'm amazed that Sam Woo's take out has seemingly stayed the same price. Has it always been $5.50? It seems like it's always been. That's about what I remember paying when I was a college student and needed something to feed me over the span of two days, which it still does. If the price has risen over the last two decades, it must have been just to cover the cost of Styrofoam.

Since I've got a slight increase in salary over my college days, I opt for the take out dim sum over the combo meals. I did so last weekend. I ordered a whole stash of items, exactly 20 dollars-worth, then gorged on it at home, in front of the TV while watching an excellent kung fu movie called Ip Man on Netflix.

The har gow was thin-skinned and shrimp inside still wriggly; the egg custard cup called dan taat was still so fresh and warm it collapsed upon itself when I tried to pick it up. The juicy pork dumplings, however, is no match to Din Tai Fung's (it never was nor will be). But dim sum like this, it must be said, is perfect for TV viewing, especially when you can't take your eyes off the screen since the film is subtitled.

I might do the same again next weekend. I've got another twenty bucks and apparently Ip Man has a sequel.

15333 Culver Dr. Ste 720
Irvine, CA 92604
(949) 262-0688

The Playground - Santa Ana

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pho So 1 - Irvine

I remember eating at a Pho So 1 in either Reseda or Van Nuys or whatever mini-mall-blighted part of the San Fernando Valley I happened to be at the time. Point is I was visiting a friend, and he took me there after proclaiming that it was the only worthy Vietnamese place in the area. I don't remember much about the meal, except that I was hungry. I would have to assume that I liked it well enough, because when a Pho So 1 opened recently in Irvine, I immediately recognized the name.

The first thing I have to tell you about the Irvine Pho So 1 is that it looks un-Irvine. It has to be the most utilitarian dining space in the entire city--a pho joint, which like the best of them, doesn't bother with much decor. If there is pho in the distant utopian future where bald people in all-white jumpsuits have bar codes as nametags, the restaurant that serves it might look like this--clean, sleek, so large it echoes, and so brightly lit it wakes you up even before you order the ca phe sua da.

I like that it gets down to the basics, that there's not much to see or distract. You eat. You pay. You get out.

I ordered what I always order, which if you know me or this blog, isn't the pho, but the mi. And the broth is everything it always is: the same recipe for the sweet, salty, clear yellow soup that I've slurped at every pho joint and Vietnamese restaurant that serves the dish. The main differentiators are the toppings, and it is very good here. The roast pork is plentiful and thick, so tender and so soft it can be masticated by the toothless. The shrimp isn't overcooked and the noodles are still firm enough to be called al dente.

I didn't have the pho, but I did taste a sip of the broth and steal a few meats like the tripe and the tendon, and it was fine. A more thorough review of the pho will have to wait until I recover from what seems like a permanent case of pho-tigue.

Pho So 1
3831 Alton Pkwy. Ste. B
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 251-8829

Boiling Point - Irvine

Monday, January 16, 2012

Zcafe - Costa Mesa

There are several areas of refuge in the shopping mall of shopping malls we all know as South Coast Plaza. Macy’s Signature Kitchen is one of them. In the deserted food court where no one really eats, Marcus Samuellson’s MarcBurger still puts out one of the best frozen custards around. But even that oasis of calm isn’t as good or as cozy as Zcafe’s semi-outdoor lounge.

So let’s just keep this tip between you and me, mmm’kay?

Zcafe’s space, shaded by the building’s overhang but otherwise open to the air at the west end of the Bridge of Gardens (the pedestrian bridge that connect SCP to Crystal Court), has plush couches, TVs, heat lamps, Wi-Fi, and what appears to be an actual futon for napping. I have used this space to sit, rest my calves, and even taken a five-minute snooze.

So far the only souls who seemed to have discovered this hidden asylum are the Apple Store employees who routinely use it as their unofficial breakroom.

But first a background: Zcafe used to be CPK ASAP (the fast food arm of California Pizza Kitchen), but since the Z Pizza conglomerate took it over and the space outside, the pace seemed to have slowed down for the better.

I’m not even going to touch on the pizzas here, which are fine but not great. I will, however, talk about the hummus--the only thing you should ever need to order. It’s the perfect food for the space, which I treat as a rest stop, a respite from my chores--a refueling station, if you will.

You don’t want to be weighed down with anything leaden with cheese. A light iced tea should be the beverage to sip with the hummus, a decidedly Mediterranean meal with spears of cooling cucumber, piquant olives, sweet as sugar marinated peppers, and a crispy plank of pizza bread doubling as pita with which to scoop up the dip. I didn’t expect it to be good, let alone supplied with fresh vegetables, but it was this and more.

On top of Mt. Hummus a pool of olive oil shimmered. And it’s relatively cheap for SCP. This $5.95 appetizer plate will feed two easily and could constitute a light lunch for vegetarians or a mid afternoon snack for the rest of us.

3333 Bear St. Ste. 316
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 545-5500

Tamarind of London - Newport Beach

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mamon from Red Ribbon - Anaheim

I've been eating Red Ribbon's mamon for quite a while now. But it wasn't until recently, before a busy morning, that I can say I thoroughly enjoyed one. I realized then how very good they are. Isn't it amazing how life and food taste so much better when you take the time to savor?

I took my first bite with sip of tea, and in that moment, I was sent into a Zen-state of mind. The eggy richness bloomed in my mouth, the cake's texture is fluffy beyond what's imaginable, so airy it almost wants to float. A swipe of sticky sweet butter and a smattering of grated cheese on top seemed the only thing weighing it down, keeping it from lifting away like a helium balloon.

Despite being packaged like a Twinkie, the pastry cake cuffed inside what seems like a coffee filter is the picture of wholesomeness. It list egg whites, sugar and other pronounceable things as ingredients. The expiration date was about two days from when I bought it. After the first one I ate, the rest didn't last nearly as long.

Red Ribbon Bake Shop
601 N Euclid St
Anaheim, CA 92801
(714) 635-0256

Gen Korean BBQ - Tustin

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Maycar Foods' Crackling - The Ultimate Pork Rind

I have a bag of these that remain half eaten in my cupboard. It's not that I don't want to finish them; it's that I am afraid that I will. This would be the third one I've consumed, and no other foodstuff I've eaten in recent memory has given me more pleasure and levied more guilt than this item. They are literally dangerous--everything that someone with an elevated cholesterol level should not eat.

But oh are they great. They are, in my opinion, the very best pork rinds on the planet. Actually, I'm not sure they can technically still be called pork rinds. The label simply says "cracklings" with the comically matter-of-fact addendum of "fried out pork fat with attached skin" as a descriptor. Actually, I suspect that the product is actually made from fatback.

They are certainly not the garden variety type of pork skin treat. It's noisier by a few decibels, a loud crunch on the lower frequency like Barry White's deep-throated rumble.

There are two separate and distinguishable strata of porcine material at play here: the outer curl, which is puffed-up and light-as-foam, and then the attached inner curl, which is dense and vaguely meaty. When my bite penetrates the latter, a surge of what feels like melted fat gushes out. I know it's not melted fat because the pieces are bone dry and are at room temperature, but it's a thrilling, if somewhat disturbing sensation, all the same.

I've only found them sold at one place, at the counter at Magic Wok in Artesia next to the other chips. I brought a bag to the office once and a co-worker and I finished it in fifteen minutes while we discussed its inherently salty, sweet, magical, and mystical qualities. As he ate, he examined every piece like a curious scientist and concluded that by the end of the bag, we probably just consumed the equivalent of a pack of bacon between the two of us.

No, I never compared the bag's nutritional facts with an actual pack of bacon to see if he was right. I don't want to know.

The Magic Wok
(562) 865-7340
11869 Artesia Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701

What We Learned in 2011