Wednesday, July 30, 2014

California Gogi Grill - Irvine

Twenty years ago a car-less UCI student had only a few choices when it came to eating out:
  1. The food court at the Student Center, which had the fast-food usuals and a Chinese steam-tray take-out that no one thought was any good; 
  2. The dormitory cafeterias which only served the edible stuff on Thursday nights; 
  3. Or what was at the time the University Marketplace, where they stir-fried a decent pad Thai at Asia Noodle Cafe or oven-heated a thin slice of pepperoni at Z Pizza. 
That was about it. Yes, there was Chinatown--an Americanized Chinese restaurant that had tablecloths and table settings of forks and knives--but if you were a student, you couldn't afford the place.

These days, University Center (that's what it's called now) boasts so many more choices, from Blaze Pizza, to Yushoken Ramen, to Tender Greens, it almost makes an alumni like me wish he was back in college.


Truth is, the choices there these days are so varied and, heck, downright good, it might have compounded my Freshman 15 to 50. Take for example California Gogi Grill, which copies the Chipotle business model and Asianized it before Chipotle's own Asian concept (called ShopHouse, donchaknow) even sets foot in O.C.

For under $8 (that's about what Panda Express charges for less food), you get two meats, rice and the choice of six side dishes.

But what I can't get over is what a no brainer California Gogi Grill's concept is. Korean panchan is made for this. And the Kogi truck already proved that Korean bulgogi and spicy pork make great burrito filler. Put them together, execute it with some consistency and actually well-prepared dishes like the fried tofu and the mustard-tang of the potato salad, and you've just won over not just the student body, but us townies, too.

California Gogi Grill
4237 Campus Dr Ste B157
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 854-0000

Little La Lune - Long Beach

Monday, July 21, 2014

Plaza Inn - Disneyland

If you're in line for Star Tours or the Astro Orbitor and you suddenly feel hunger pangs creep in, it's because of Plaza Inn. The smell from the fried chicken it cooks permeates the entire area. And if you've tasted it before, you know it’s hands-down the best fried chicken not just in the park, but probably the City of Anaheim.

Plaza Inn, for the quick, cafeteria-style restaurant that it is, will serve its golden, inexplicably non-greasy chicken with mashed potatoes, loads of gravy, a heap of green beans, and a useless biscuit. It’s a monster of a meal. You don't just get one or two pieces of that chicken, you get three--a drumstick, a thigh, and a breast from the Dolly Parton of hens.

But you finish every bit, starting with that crunchy rendered skin, and leaving nothing but the bones. This is fried chicken that not only exceeds your expectations of theme park food but also the dish itself--a fried chicken that’s arguably better than the one that started Knott’s Berry Farm.

Plaza Inn
1313 Harbor Blvd.
Disneyland Park
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-3463

O'Neill's - Mission Viejo

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Flappy Jack's - Orange

I wish places like Flappy Jack's opened past 3 p.m. Its food is the kind I'd rather be eating for dinner. But it closes early because our custom of relegating the best stuff that American cuisine has to offer (bacon, eggs, pancakes and hash browns) to the daylight hours is so ingrained, breakfast-centric places like Flappy Jack's would be deserted if it tried. Proof? The place used to Spires, which is a diner just like Flappy Jack's is, but open at all hours.

The fact is, even though there's nothing in our body clocks that would go haywire if we ate a McMuffin for supper, it's just weird for most people.

And that's too bad, because Flappy Jack's--which has Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis kitsch trifecta of statues in the middle of the restaurant--serves glorious breakfasts that would be great anytime of day or night. These are platters of egg-centered morning meals surrounded by satellites of more food on the side.

My spicy Polish sausage, over-hard eggs, and hash browns in crispy shaved ribbons (oh those hash browns!) came with a separate plate of pancakes I didn't even touch. There was corned beef hash that didn't taste like it was scooped out of a can, but chipped off from a Saint Patrick's feast. There were waffles with pineapple and drizzled with coconut syrup that would sing a sweet Don Ho melody even if it wasn't called the "Hawaiian Waffle". There was a Dutch pancake, fluffy, eggy, like a thicker version of a crepe wrapped around fruit as though a burrito.

The greatest dishes are the omelets--gigantic flotillas of eggs that deliver your chosen cargo of protein, vegetables and cheese inside a hull of fluffiness. Did you know that the French eat omelets for dinner?

Heck, even Ron Swanson eats breakfast for dinner.

Leslie Knope: “Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?”

Ron Swanson: “People are idiots, Leslie.”

--Parks and Recreation

Flappy Jack's
2848 N Santiago Blvd.
Orange, CA 92867
(714) 283-2800

The North Left - Santa Ana

Thursday, July 10, 2014

French Market - Disneyland

Disneyland's New Orleans Square is as authentic to New Orleans as the Jungle Cruise is to Africa--which is to say, not very. But the red beans and rice I ate recently at the French Market couldn't have tasted more evocative of the balmy swamp city if Paul Prudhomme served it up himself.

I once read an article that said the people of Louisiana eat red beans and rice more than anything else, especially on Mondays. It's said that the dish is made with Sunday night dinner's leftovers--a low-simmered, one pot meal that required little effort but filled the gut for not much money.

So when I saw it on the menu at the French Market, it just had to be ordered. But I was still surprised how good it was.

The French Market, like most of Disneyland's busiest eateries, is a cafeteria where you line up with tray in hand and the food is slopped onto plates with little regard for presentation. But the red beans and rice was different. It was downright immaculate.

In the deep-bottomed plate, the red beans--spiced to a lip-numbing but pleasant hotness--was the base layer, with pieces andouille sausage mixed in. Then came a sprinkle of rice, a few beveled slices more andouille, and a cornbread muffin straddling the edge. It was one of the best meals I've had at Disneyland, and I've had the corndog.

And to wash it all down: an icy-cold, green-tinged mint juleps. Yes, real mint juleps aren't this green and should be made with bourbon, but it was still refreshing, recharging my batteries so that I could stand in line for that safari through fake Africa.

French Market
Disneyland Resort
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-3463

Pirozzi - Corona Del Mar

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Gourmet Burgers - Irvine

Contrary to what I previously thought, a good burger is not hard to find in a food court. I was recently floored by a thick behemoth of a burger I had at Aioli, which as you might have read earlier in this blog, is in a food court. So I was ready to accept that good burgers exist at other Irvine food courts, especially the one that boasts not only Franco’s Pasta Cucina but also The Chippy, two of the finest food court eateries in O.C.

But because Franco’s and The Chippy are there, I’ve been putting off trying Gourmet Burgers, because, well, like anyone, I’m a creature of habit, and Franco’s pasta dishes and The Chippy’s flawless deep fried cod are hard habits to break. Now that I’ve finally tried Gourmet Burgers, it confirms my earlier theory: you can find good burgers in food courts.

These are not thick-pattied burgers. The beef is actually as thin as In-N-Outs, but with twice the surface area that extends past the perimeter of the bun, and pleasantly un-uniform in shape. But like In-N-Out, it’s griddle-seared when you order, served hot, slathered in sauce, and in my case, stuffed with crispy onion straws that lent a nice texture.

Judge them not by the fact they use stock sesame-seeded buns. Also, do not underestimate their size; these are gut-busting burgers that are bigger than you anticipate. I peeled back the paper again and again, coming to the realization that there’s still a lot of burger left when I thought I should be done--this is the hamburger equivalent of Hermione’s bag in Harry Potter.

If it reminds me of any previous burgers I’ve had, it’s like the ones served by Yellow Basket. Yet it’s not an apt comparison because Gourmet Burgers uses what I'm pretty sure are hand-packed (Halal) patties instead of frozen discs. And with any burger, it’s how they treat the meat that makes all the difference--not whether it’s served in a food court.

Gourmet Burgers
2222 Michelson Dr Unit 208
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 251-0786

The Big Catch Seafood - Long Beach