Monday, October 28, 2013

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse - Irvine

If you would allow me to analogize OC’s chain steakhouses to department stores: Mastro's is like Nordstroms--expensive but you get what you pay for in quality, execution and service. Capital Grille, which is flashy, a recent add-on to the landscape, is like Bloomingdales--fashionable with its porcini rubs and coffee-dust applied to its hunks of cattle meat.

Ruth’s Chris is then like Macy’s--predictable, ubiquitous, but also dependable. Which brings me to Morton's, which in my opinion and I’m sorry to say, is like today’s Sears--not at all what it used to be, its heyday long passed.

I ate at Morton’s not too long ago, but I didn’t post about it because, well, if you haven’t noticed, this blog is all about recommendations, not pans. But I did revisit Ruth’s Chris recently, and proved my Macy’s analogy is still accurate.

It was as great a meal as I expected. The 6-ounce filet mignon I ordered I ate hungrily like I hadn’t eaten steak in a long time. I drug each dripping forkful of rare, tender cow flesh through the sputtering puddle of melted butter that sat on a plate heated to the temperature of a red hot poker.

And on top of the steak, there was a halo made of fat shrimp. For a side, I ate roasted Brussels sprouts showered with crispy bacon and simmered in what I would guess is balsamic vinegar and more butter. And from my companion’s side dish, I plopped spoonfuls of mashed potato onto my superheated plate. It hissed on contact.

And before all this, I slurped a gigantic bowl of minestrone soup, a really well made one with juice-bursting tomatoes, crisp-tender vegetables, and bits of the grated parmesan slowly melting like snowflakes. And oh the broth! How good is this broth? I could’ve drank it by the gallon if it were possible. And then there was the salad with beets, roasted walnuts, and a flurry of goat cheese.

All of this was part of a $42.95 four-item prix fixe of theirs called “Ruth’s Classics”, which included a starter, an entrée, a side dish, and a dessert of a flourless chocolate cake that ate like an oversized chocolate truffle.

No, I didn’t pay for this meal, but I would’ve done so gladly, because when it comes to steakhouses, I’m better off spending the money on the Macy’s of steakhouses than the TJ Maxx.

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
2961 Michelson Dr.
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 252-8848

Taco Maria - Costa Mesa

Monday, October 21, 2013

DonerG - Irvine

"There's a hot, spinning cone of meat in that Greek restaurant next door. I don't know what it is, but I'd like to eat the whole thing." -- Ron Swanson

The new DonerG in Irvine isn't Greek. It's Turkish. And it possesses not one, but two hot spinning cones of meat.

But those cones, which are a ubiquitous a sight everywhere as there are stir-fries in China, have many names. As you might have heard, the Greeks calls theirs gyro; the Armenians, tarna; the Arabic word for it is shawarma; and in Mexico, they call it al pastor.

DonerG's twirling meat is already part of the restaurant's name: doner kebab. No matter what it's called, all share the same DNA--these are slabs of marinated meat, stacked (impaled really) in front of heating element that slowly cooks it. As people order, a giant serrated saber shaves it like they're whittling a tree trunk. Since it's done by hand, the meat at DonerG can come in delicate petals or thicker fingers.

My favorite thus far has been the chicken doner pita, wherein a toasted-to-crispy pita swaddles what must be at least three fistfuls of shaved chicken slathered in a thousand island-like sauce. The meat is best when it's gotten a little singed, the edges slightly charred. It's a satisfying sandwich--one of those that you don't think you can finish by yourself, until you do.

And of course they do hummus. Every place that has a spinning cone of meat will always offer hummus. Here, it looks particularly manicured, dimpled with olive oil and dusted with sumac. But it's still hummus and it goes by no other name.

3800 Barranca Pkwy. Suite N
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 861-2626

C4 Deli - Santa Ana

P.S. No one has yet won the $10 Strickland's Ice Cream Gift Certificates I'm giving away to anyone who e-mails me the correct answers to the 5 trivia questions I posed last week! I invite everyone to try again!

UPDATE! (10/22/2013) We have a WINNER!! Congrats to H. Indra for answering all the trivia questions correctly and winning the Strickland's gift certificates! The original post has now been updated with the answers!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Monster Munching Turns 10-Years-Old!

Has Monster Munching really been around (and active) for ten years? Well, technically, it's younger than that. But for the sake of this post, let's just say I have been at this for exactly a decade. And I have, because what's recorded as my first Monster Munching post, dated October 13, 2003 was actually, if I'm not mistaken, the first piece of food writing I ever did.

I wrote it on and simply archived it here when I started the blog. But to me, that post represents a bigger milestone--it was the first time I put fingers to keyboard and thus began this crazy journey that has led to great food, great friends and a great gig at a well-respected publication doing what I love.

And if you read that first post on Honda-Ya, you'll see what I initially intended this blog to be back then: just a personal diary to remind myself of the places I liked. I never imagined that anyone else would actually be reading.

So to all of you who have been reading and stuck with me through all these years: Thank you!

As a special treat for the occasion, I went out, bought $10 worth of gift certificates at my favorite ice cream parlor, and will give it out to the first person to correctly answer all five of the Monster Munching trivia questions below (THAT I'VE UPDATED WITH MORE HINTS!)

1. What weekly periodical do I write reviews and blog posts for?

2. What poetic Monster Munching post became my first review for said periodical?

3. What is the name of the dish that serves as my Monster Munching avatar (the picture on my Blogger user profile)?

4. What was the actual first post that started this blog (Hint #1: I ate noodles; Hint #2: The post is dated April 20th)?

5. What violent online games inspired my nom-de-plume (three possible answers are acceptable here)?

Send an e-mail to with your answers and I will announce the winner (and the answers) in another post soon!

Seasons of Japan - Irvine

UPDATE! (10/22/2013) We have a WINNER!! Congrats to H. Indra for answering all the trivia questions correctly and winning the Strickland's gift certificates! The answers are as follows!


1. OC Weekly
2. Sushi Shibucho
3. Saltado
4. Hakata Ramen - Shinsengumi - Fountain Valley
5. Doom, Quake or Descent

Monday, October 07, 2013

Les Halles - Manhattan, New York

We had just gotten out of the subway station, walking on 28th Street and about to round the corner to Park Avenue when we noticed something curious: Why is there water gushing out of that pay pho...oh my God...that's not water! That's some guy pissing into the phone booth!!

It wasn't one those phone booths that Superman would use to discreetly change into his supersuit either. No, this was just a pay phone on a pole on the sidewalk, out in the open at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night. And this dude was urinating into what I presume must be the coin hole, in full view of kids in strollers, business people in suits, a street full of traffic, without a trace of shame.

We averted our eyes and went about our way with the best poker face we could've mustered, trying not to gag. That is to say, we tried to be as oblivious to it as everyone else was. To New Yorkers, a guy pissing into a pay phone on Park Avenue must be as normal a sight as pigeons crapping in Central Park.

But for better or for worse, that image had now become an indelible memory of this visit to New York. It may not have been as momentous as seeing Jon Stewart skewer politicians live a half hour earlier, but so far it's been one the first things I mention to anyone who's asked me, "So what did you see in New York?"

The second thing I mention is where were headed when we saw that, um, performance art piece.

Yes, Les Halles was just around the corner from that now piss-soaked pay phone. It is cavernous and dark and pretty much a tourist mecca more than just a local's joint because of its association with Anthony Bourdain, who cooked here when he wrote the New Yorker article that launched his second career as a food celebrity.

Les Halles--how shall I put this--is no longer new. The dark wood interior seemed dated, the tiles on the floor were cracked where it wasn't chipped. But the servers should be examples of efficiency for the rest of the restaurant world to follow. These guys were old pros. Water glasses were topped off without me even noticing they had been. Our apps came out scarcely minutes from when we ordered it. Dishes were cleared without asking. And the restaurant was packed, with people waiting outside.

The whole room stunk of the dozens (if not hundreds) of French onion soup in fuming pots topped with drum-tight seals of malodorous Gruyere cheese. We ordered our own, plunging our spoons into that steam spewing vessel, extracting a lovely amber brew of liquefied onions, brandy, and chewing on the stretchy cheese as though they were noodles. We also had some deviled eggs, because, well, we're suckers for that dish no matter where we are, be it the Big Apple or Peoria; and we were delighted to see it come out on a dimpled dish designed for deviled eggs. The eggs, we notice, weren't cut in half lengthwise as they usually are, but width-wise, and the yolk was piped into a floret with some pickled mushrooms served on the side.

Soon, I tucked into what I came to Les Halles to eat: steak frites, perhaps the best deal for a meal of this magnitude in New York. For $21, Les Halles offered a thin swath of beef as wide as my keyboard, seared to medium without a drip of sauce but served with a whole mess of fries--curvy, crisp, golden pencil-thick beauts that Bourdain is right to be proud of. On the side, there was a pile of tender leaves in a salad that I thought would be unnecessary but became a welcome respite in between bites of meat and potato.

Yes, that was a great meal and one of many memorable experiences I was lucky enough to have in New York to celebrate another year in the life of me. Call me a glass-half-full kind of guy, but witnessing the reason why the city has a show called Urinetown was also one of them.

Brasserie Les Halles
411 Park Ave S.
New York, NY ‎
(212) 679-4111

The Blind Pig - Rancho Santa Margarita