Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice - Singapore

Walk a few paces outside in Singapore and you turn into a hot, sweaty miserable mess. It's about then you wonder why anyone would want to live in a city with the climate of an equatorial swamp. Then you remember: it's the FOOD, stupid! And that's exactly why I went again to a place where eating is the national pasttime.

And one of the best things to eat is the beautiful plate you see above: Hainan chicken rice. This one comes from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, which is famous because Anthony Bourdain made it famous. Though I'm sure it was highly regarded among locals before the itinerant travel host came around, it's practically a national icon now.

I ordered it from the stall (which now occupies two spaces and has Anthony Bourdain's face on a poster) and when I did, one of the men took a bowl to scoop up rice from a repurposed 10-gallon cooler and plopped it to a waiting plate. Meanwhile his co-worker got to work with a cleaver chopping up the chicken. Shortly thereafter, my small plate of Hainan chicken rice (S$4) was assembled.

And was it glorious!

The rice was scrumptious, inexplicably warm despite where it was stored, but also rich, and as Anthony Bourdain said, worthy of a meal on its own. And the chicken, which is served cold, was moist, juicy, with its skin jellied--probably the best and most unadulterated piece of chicken I've ever had in my entire life. This was the essence of poultry purity.

Before I went to Tian Tian, I read that the original chef (the one featured in Bourdain's show) apparently had a falling out with the owner and quit to open his own shop a few stores down. But I couldn't not try Tian Tian. If I were in New York, I wouldn't not go to Kat's to follow the guy who used to make the pastrami...or would I?

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
1 Kadayanallur Street
#01-10 Maxwell Food Centre
(65) 9691 4852

KOC Crawfish - Garden Grove

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Popcorn Chicken - Irvine

As we were eating this Taiwanese popcorn chicken combo plate at the new Taipei-night-market-inspired restaurant Popcorn Chicken in Irvine, two blondes went in, saw what was offered, then left.

One of them said to the other, "Ugh, too ethnic!"

"What's so ethnic about fried chicken and corn dogs?" I whispered to my date.

"They must've seen the gizzards-on-a-stick next to the fried chicken and the corn dogs," she said.

"Oh right, that!" I said.

Popcorn Chicken
15333 Culver Dr. Ste 420
Irvine, CA 92604

Boathouse Collective - Costa Mesa

Monday, November 10, 2014

Izakaya Wasa - Irvine

There are two Japanese restaurants at the Irvine Spectrum; but only one you should go to: Izakaya Wasa.

If you recognize the Wasa name, it's because it's once part of Chef James Hamamori's empire. You may have been to the original, Wasa Sushi, where he fine tuned his sushi "Treasures", which are upgrades on pieces of nigiri with such things as wasabi cream sauce, jalapeño and crispy onion as toppings or garnishes.

These days Chef Hamamori spends most of his time at his eponymous restaurant in South Coast Plaza, and his connection with the Wasas may just be spiritual now. But Izakaya Wasa is still a very good Japanese restaurant doing real Japanese food.

The "Treasures" are present and accounted for, but so are the dishes you liked at the original, like miso marinated sea bass and the fried baby octopus that you eat in one bite and chew and chew and chew--head, tentacles, and all.

As this is an izakaya, there are more cooked dishes than there are raw, but the Wasa ahi poke is particularly good, with the cubes of fish silken, seasoned lightly with a spicy, citrusy-soy sauce and a hint of sesame seed oil.

What's the other Japanese restaurant at the Spectrum you ask? Well, it's the one you're not going to.

Izakaya Wasa
59 Fortune Dr
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 453-9500

Amor Y Tacos - Cerritos

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

India Kitchen - Tustin

Last week, in celebration of Diwali, I ate at India Kitchen in Tustin, which was previously Traditions--a restaurant I reviewed long ago for The Weekly. I had their lunch buffet. It was great. But to be honest, if the place hadn't changed its name when new owners took it over, I probably wouldn't have noticed.

After the feast, I thought about why. Traditions was, after all, a Northern cuisine specialist, which rely on breads. India Kitchen now offered food from the entire subcontinent, even the Indian take on Chinese food. So why did it taste almost exactly the same?

I concluded that an Indian lunch buffet, no matter the kitchen's proclivities, must serve the same cast of characters. Red-tinged tandoori chicken. Fat samosas. Sludgy saag paneer. And of course, everyone's favorite: the chicken tikka masala, which is not actually Indian.

It must do all this because Indian buffets, especially around these parts, must cast the widest possible net to please the widest possible audience.

That's why the tikka masala--Great Britain's national dish and the Indian bastard child equivalent to Panda Express' Orange Chicken--had to be refilled by the kitchen more than once during my visit. And it tasted as gloriously creamy here at India Kitchen as it did at Traditions.

Still, there were standouts. The biryani was shotgunned with so much spices and herbs I had to spit out a few bay leaves. The sambar was a sweat-inducing, hellish chowder that I ate with the idli, puffy little life-rafts that soaked up the spicy soup like a loofah sponge.

But in the end, I left India Kitchen the same way I do most other Indian lunch buffets: overstuffed, happy, and my clothes reeking of curry.

India Kitchen
14131 Red Hill Ave
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 505-0300

Capital Noodle Bar - Irvine