Friday, August 24, 2012

Strawberry Basil Lemonade at Mick's Karma Bar - Irvine

I've spoken effusively about the burger at Mick's Karma Bar more times than I can count. I estimate I've written about a half dozen posts here on this pitiful blog and at OC Weekly's Stick A Fork In It.

But I've yet to even mention Mick's strawberry basil lemonade. It deserves at least an an equal amount of words as I've devoted to everything else about this juice bar turned burger destination.

What? You haven't had it? Well, I'm sorry to say that you've been doing it all wrong.

If you've only ordered the burger but not the combo, or the combo but opted for Coke instead of this lemonade, you've missed the point. This beverage, which is now probably the best thing at Mick's after the burger, is drinkable gold. To not order it with the combo is tantamount to throwing away money.

Here's why.

The burger by itself is $5.50. The lemonade by itself is $3.25. The fries by itself is $3.95. But the burger combo with all of the above? $8.75.

What you need to know about the drink is, of course, already in the name: mulled strawberries, crushed basil leaves, topped off with lemonade and ice. While the sweetness of the strawberries softens the tartness of the lemon, the basil leaves tames them both. It is absolutely the perfect thing to sip after a bite of burger and a mouthful of fries. There's something about this ambrosia that resets your mouth, much like what a swirl of good red wine does to a rich steak. Is it the herby basil? The fleshy strawberries? The citric acid?

I think I'm over-analyzing. It's refreshing. Period. And so popular these days, they've set up an assembly line of cups with the basil and chunky strawberry puree ready to be mixed with a pour of homemade lemonade. The drink will be made-to-order before you have the time to pay for it.

Heck, I'd go as far as to say it's worth the $3.25, if you just want the drink and not a meal. And there's this: it's apparently refillable with more lemonade!

So there. If you haven't already, go to Mick's, order the strawberry basil lemonade with your combo. Next post you'll see from me will be about the fries. Oh those fries!

Mick's Karma Bar
2010 Main St # 165
Irvine, CA 92614-7267
(949) 851-6316

The Corner - Huntington Beach

Friday, August 17, 2012

Funnel Cakes at The Lazy Toucan - Costa Mesa

It took me this long to go to the OC Fair. Through apathy and a general aversion to large, sweaty crowds crammed together on a hot asphalt parking lot under the blazing sun of August, I’d never, ever gone before. But I finally did this year. And I barely made it under the wire. It was the very last night on the very last day that I made my pilgrimage, paying next to nothing to enter. And you know what? I’m kicking myself for not going sooner.

My eyes, nostrils and ears were overfed even before my mouth was. It was like the first time I went to Disneyland. There was simply too much to see, too much to smell, too much to hear. Over here, smoke billowed from mountains of ribs and roasting atop gigantic fire-breathing grills. Over there Chinese acrobats piled on top of each other into a pyramid of contorting bodies. And oh the billboards, those billboards--literally enormous enough to be seen a mile away, screaming in gaudy fonts so tacky it makes Times Square look classy. They advertised everything that’s either fried, pork-related, or both!

Thinking that I should eat something somewhat nutritious prior to coming, I consumed a huge dinner before I came. So I ate one thing at the OC Fair this year, and one thing only: a funnel cake.

There are what I estimate to be at least three funnel cake vendors there, and I’m sure whatever differences there were between them were nominal. The one we chose was this one, called The Lazy Toucan. It came out quick--a golden fried bird’s nest looking-thing dusted in a snow flurry of powdered sugar and piled up with an excessive amount of whipped cream. We stuffed our faces. What was salty and deep-fried-to-crispy-noodle-shapes counteracted the strawberry sweetness and the fluff pillow of cream. It was wonderful. Unlike other non-fair funnel cakes I’ve had, it was tender, not too over-fried, and ate almost like a breakfast pancake or freshly-made waffle.

I’m already looking forward to next year to eat it again and pig out on pig. So I’ll query the audience: what was your favorite OC Fair food?

OC Fair
88 Fair Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 708-1500

Juliette Kitchen & Bar - Newport Beach

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Fried Okra at Memphis Soul Cafe & Bar - Costa Mesa

I’ve written about Memphis before, about the Happy Hour, about the fried chicken plate. Seriously, you should get the fried chicken plate. Yes, $17 is a a bit expensive for poultry, but KFC this is not.

This post, though, is about another dish that I discovered recently. This dish is the fried okra, and having had my share of fried okra before, what I got is much different from what I expected. Instead of the usual pencil eraser-shaped wheels, these are thin, reedy and crisp. What they did to prepare them was shaved the pods on the diagonal as if by whittling. They're then lightly breaded in a corn meal and fried to golden wisps.

What results is fried okra that even the okra-averse would love. They're devoid of the usual okra mucus, but still silky once the crunch subsides. They're obscenely light too. I believe I could’ve eaten the whole plate and ordered another and another. They're the perfect fried app to eat with a cold glass of beer, by the way. But you already knew that.

Memphis Soul Cafe & Bar
2920 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 432-7685

Izakaya Ku - Fountain Valley

Friday, August 03, 2012

China West Express - Tustin

Have you read The Fortune Cookie Chronicles yet? I thought about Jennifer 8. Lee's inquisitive book on the history of Chinese food in America when, for the first time in my life, I phoned in for Chinese delivery. There was a whole chapter on this very act, how it came to be and a few sordid stories behind it; and another one on the dish that I would order, Orange Chicken, which is a variant of General Tso's chicken, an entree that no one in General Tso's hometown in China have ever heard of; and of course, when the cheerful delivery woman came in a compact car with her kid in the passenger seat, she made sure the food came with a few fortune cookies, which as you may have already heard, were actually invented by the Japanese.

As far as the meal goes, you don't need to be told how it was. It shares the same DNA strands of every American Chinese food from here to Peoria--the same dependable and delicious, cornstarch-laden, steam tray staples you see from food court to food court. The only difference here is that China West makes the dishes to order, and yes, delivers them when your total is over $12.

Like the people on TV, we ate our still piping hot food in front of the TV, hunched around the coffee table rather than the dining room, scooping the rice from those pagoda boxes, dousing it in the excess of brown gravy from the Sha Cha Chicken, which was a mushroom, spinach and white meat chicken stir fry with a touch of satay sauce that tasted eerily similar to the sauce that coated the beef and broccoli.

And the Orange Chicken was as it always is--sweet, tangy, faintly crispy, shellacked in a syrupy goo, but with a few dried chili pepper pods that I gobbled up like Cheetos. Orange Chicken, like General Tso's, is, as Ms. Lee said, a favorite of Americans for obvious reasons--"he is fried, he is sweet and he is chicken--all things that Americans love." If you should find a few stalks of broccoli in there, consider it garnish and not a significant part of the meal...and thank want every inch of that plastic delivery tub to be occupied by chicken.

Here's a video that gives you a summary of the stories and ideas told in Fortune Cookie Chronicles.

But seriously: you should get this book, or borrow it. While you're at it, you should also read Gustavo Arellano's recently published Taco U.S.A. I have them side by side on my bookshelf--both essential tales about two of the tastiest cultures to influence this one. Speaking of which are there any good taquerias around here that deliver?

China West Express
17292 McFadden Ave. Ste E
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 544-2222

Lola Gaspar - Santa Ana