Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's Boba Time - Tustin

If you've been to any new boba shop or Asian drink/dessert shop lately, you've probably noticed that they like lists--Top Tens, to be exact. It could be just scribbled on a chalkboard, displayed on their flatscreen monitors, or made-up as a poster. Whatever the medium, these are countdowns of their most popular items--the things most customers go there to consume and basically suggestions of what you should.

"It's Boba Time" (yes, that's the whole name), the new outlet of the drink chain that recently opened at The District in Tustin, has such a list, and when you go, you'd be foolish to choose anything outside of it. I did once and was stuck with a nearly $5 artificial-tasting and too-sweet smoothie that I had to force myself to finish.

Now I know better. The last few trips I made, I had the so-called Coconut Strawberry, which is #9 on the countdown list. I asked the cashier as to what exactly was in it. He said ice cream, milk, ice, coconut powder and macerated strawberries. And as the list foretold, it was a glorious drink. Creamy without being too rich, sweet without being cloying, it's like having a frothier, lighter version of a shake or a frosty pina colada with strawberries on the bottom.

Confident that I knew what to avoid, I also tried a Frosty Milk Drink with "Honey Boba, Pudding & Caramel", which gets it close enough to my favorite maker of the drink, Meow Meow Cafe in West Covina, without driving to West Covina.

Next time, I might try the #1 item on their Top Ten: The Cookies-n-Cream milkshake, but then that's already in my Jack-in-the-Box Top Three (after the mystery-meat tacos and Sourdough Jack, of course).

It's Boba Time
2481 Park Ave
Tustin, CA 92782
(714) 677-2820

Restauration - Long Beach

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cafe Gelato at Bellagio - Las Vegas

Over the years we've developed certain habits when we go to Sin City: we avoid the buffets, eat off-the-strip as much as possible, and then come back to Bellagio for dessert at Cafe Gelato.

It's located in a deserted hallway on the casino floor, next to the art museum, which is, by the way, even more deserted. I always order a small--about $5 for a serving that I always forget is too much for me, and that I should've shared it with my lovely companion instead of getting two orders.

The flavors I default to: half scoop Bailey's, the other half Stracciatella, the Italian version of chocolate chip.

The Bailey's has that distinctive Irish Cream, almost-malty finish at the end, and the fine-shavings of chocolate in the Stracciatella melts on contact on my tongue. Gelato, in my opinion, doesn't get better than this--lighter and fluffier than ice cream, but with more body and richness than soft serve.

We always eat ours outside in the hallway in the plush armchairs next to the window--yet another habit we've developed. And after all these years, Cafe Gelato still serves theirs in a specially-designed cup, which we rinse out and bring home as a souvenir.

How many of these souvenir cups have we accumulated in our cupboard? The answer: Enough to prove that we go to Cafe Gelato habitually.

Cafe Gelato
Bellagio Las Vegas
3600 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 693-8133

Crazy Chi Mac - Anaheim

Monday, October 13, 2014

Uoko Japanese Cuisine and Sushi - Tustin

I eat a lot of sushi. I can't have a steak or burgers two days in a row, but sushi I could eat for every meal if I were given the chance. This is why you see a lot of sushi joints on this blog, and why you will continue to see more.

Last night I went to Uoko. It was the second time for me in two weeks. And I'm sorry it's taken me this long to try it, because judging by the faded sun-bleached photos tacked up on the walls, the cozy tatami room, and the sheer volume of accumulated trinkets and doodads all over this Japanese restaurant's interior, Uoko has been here a while.

On this visit, I decided not to eat in a booth like last time, but at the sushi bar itself. We would pick out our meal from what ever was written up on the white board.

After last night's meal, I realized Uoko is one of the best sushi bars in OC, certainly Tustin. It's the kind of place where I heard a white customer say to the itamae, "Please make me something with natto! Anything!" And he did: a hand roll with natto and squid pulverized to bits with the edge of his knife.

We, too, ordered things on a whim. There was a luminous conch nigiri that had the crunch of cartilage, the subtle sweetness of the sea, and a bullet of rice that was still slightly warm. After that, there was some ponzu-doused raw oysters. This was followed by asparagus, enoki mushroom, and scallops sauteed with butter, garlic, and sake--the whole thing served sputtering on a fajita platter.

When we asked for the poke bowl, it was for its quantity-to-price ratio--something to fill our stomachs with. And it came with salmon, octopus, tuna, and various other scraps of slippery/tender fish and seafood, tossed in soy, sesame oil, lemon, and other flavorings, piled on top of sushi rice.

The uni we got was the very last piece they had in supply that night, and it was luscious. And then came the best thing we ate: red snapper collar, smoked in hickory--not a typical sushi bar fodder--intensely aromatic, practically caramelized, and so sweet it was fish candy.

Still kind of hungry, we asked for some of the tempura that made us swoon two weeks prior, and it was just as good this time as it was last--freshly fried, hot, lacy, everything tempura should be.

After we signaled we were done, dessert came free. It was some sort of wiggly delicious red bean mousse with a slice of orange.

The total for our meal for two? A little under $55.

Uoko Japanese Cuisine and Sushi
17582 17th St #103
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 838-2300

The Copper Door - Santa Ana
The Best of OC 2014

Sunday, October 05, 2014

California Plate - Santa Ana

At the food court sandwiched between the ground floor and the theater at MainPlace in Santa Ana, your choices are the usual mall food offerings of Sbarro's and Hot Dog on a Stick, and then what seems like carbon copies of the same teriyaki chicken bowl restaurant. California Plate is one of those; but for some reason it transcends them all.

At first you may have your doubts. The chicken they'll use to assemble your massive $4.99 plate is already pre-cooked, sitting in a mountain on the griddle. The vegetable pile sits opposite. And when you order, they take some from the top, push it around the hot surface a few times to get a sear, and then slide it over a Styrofoam plate with rice on it. But when you eat it, you're floored on how good, hot, simple, and satisfying it is. The rice is fluffy; the shredded veggies still snap; and the chicken is surprisingly wonderful.

Cut not into pieces, but whittled down to pebbles, the final sear on each tiny bit's surface area caramelizes and transforms to become crispy shards of concentrated flavor akin to candy.

California Plate's staff comes not from the land where teriyaki originates, but then neither does this dish, which is as Californian as the hard shell taco.

California Plate
Westfield MainPlace
2800 N Main St. # 916
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(714) 900-3399

A&O Kitchen + Bar - Newport Beach