Saturday, December 27, 2014

MasalaCraft - Santa Ana

As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as a bad Indian take-out joint in OC. Yes, some are better than others. Heck, my Indian friends and even some of my white friends have dismissed Natraj Tandoori in Irvine as the lowest common denominator--the Indian take-out equivalent of Panda Express. But I still like it because I happen to like Panda Express, and Natraj was the place that introduced me to Indian food back in college--it was cheap enough for a student and there was always chicken tikka masala, a dish that I didn't know at the time was actually British.

But when I graduated from college I also graduated from Natraj, eventually moving on to the wonderful lunch buffets at Vishnu, India Kitchen, and Haveli for spice-ladened meals eaten in gut-busting portions. And then I eventually made the pilgrimage to Artesia's Little India, where the Gujarati thalis of Rajdhani opened my eyes (and also my palate) to the complexities of a cuisine I was only beginning to appreciate. If you haven't tried Rajdhani, you must do so, post haste! And no, there won't be a trace of tikka masala near the place.

When I don't want to overstuff myself or can't go to Artesia, there's Santa Ana's MasalaCraft--an Indian take-out joint to rule them all. The parking is atrocious at lunchtime, but the combo plates ($7 for a 2-item) is one of the best and freshest I've had in a long time. And there's the part that it's served in portions that might as well as be two trips to the buffet line.

One distinguishing trademark of MasalaCraft is actually the naan, the Indian flatbread that's made so tender here it tears like wetted tissue. Across the brown mottled surface, you also see a sprinkling of spices including sauf (which is what Indians call fennel seeds) for more flavor per square inch than some pizzas have in a square foot. The bread is, of course, perfect for dipping and sopping up all of the chicken tikka masala, because, let's face it, authentic or not, your ordering the chicken tikka masala.

2 Hutton Centre Drive
Santa Ana, CA 92707
(714) 696-6272

"What Happens To Me During The Holidays" Cartoon

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cafe Hiro's 2014 Christmas Eve Prix-Fixe - Cypress

Christmas Eve is one of the best nights of the year to visit Cafe Hiro. Six years ago on this blog, I literally waxed poetic on the wonderful Prix-Fixe meals it offers there the night before Christmas.

This year, I'll let the iPhone pictures and the menu descriptions speak for themselves.

Herewith is what Chef Hiro Ohiwa and crew served this evening--a 4-course dinner for $45 per person.


Diced ahi tuna and fresh mozzarella cheese with daikon radish, cucumber salad and mentaiko sauce.

Sauteed oyster on seasoned daikon radish and sweet miso sauce.


Seabass spring roll with sautéed mushroom salad, white truffle oil, and yuzu vinaigrette.

Seared beef tataki and poached cabbage with Italian parsley, parmigiano-reggiano and anchovy vinaigrette.


Roast beef served with mashed potato and garlic soy sauce.

Sautéed salmon with sea urchin "uni" sauce and served with seasonal vegetables.


Croissant bread pudding.

Panna cotta.

Cafe Hiro
(714) 527-6090
10509 Valley View St
Cypress, CA 90630

Settebello - Newport Beach

Friday, December 19, 2014

Grill City & Crispy Town - Irvine

The name Crispy Town may sound like it's inspired by the catchphrase of a certain Food Network host with spiky hair. It's not. It's Pinoy through-and-through--a turo-turo joint that caters to the best kind of food there is: the kind that's deep fried golden brown and delicious.

Everything--I mean EVERYTHING--at this food stall at the back corner of the new Seafood City in Irvine is either made of pork, deep-fried, or both. They have crispy pata here, bone-in pork hocks, that are to-go-boxes of heart-disease. They have Filipino-style fried chickens with nary a batter--which is to say they're more authentic than those sold by the bucket at the more popular Jollibee at the front of the market.

And boy, are there are egg rolls--four kinds. Chicken. Pork. A veggie that's thicker than the previous two combined. And the cigar-sized lumpia Shanghai, which are great to take to potluck parties at $20 for a 60-piece tray.

But if you can't live on fried food alone (a truer statement than you realize), you also must make a stop at Grill City where foot-long skewers of pork and chicken "barbecue" are roasted over hot grates behind a glass window. They sell 'em 4 sticks for $10, which is easily a meal for two if you have a pot of rice waiting at home.

If you must, Grill City also has chafing tables (let's call them "neighborhoods") of veggie dishes such as the lumpia sariwa, which is the anthesis of the deep fried egg rolls found at Crispy Town. Lumpia sariwa translates to "fresh egg rolls", which in this case is just the filling of cooked cabbage, carrots, tofu and other veggie matter served with a garlicky sauce.

Other "veggie" dishes like kare-kare aren't technically vegetarian as there's often always some sort of meat or pork in it. This is probably a good time to point out that in no Filipino supermarket, Seafood City included, is there ever gonna be a stall called Vegan Ville.

Grill City & Crispy Town
2180 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606
(310) 834-9700

Eqeko Peruvian Tapas - Santa Ana

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Leelin Bakery & Cafe - Cerritos

We go to the Filipino food haven that is Artesia and Cerritos maybe once every two months. As such, we suffer from a month-long lag in news of developments in the area. We only found out last week that Magic Wok (my favorite Filipino restaurant of all time) closed suddenly and has been closed since October (No need to worry though: I just got word they will reopen soon).

And one day a few weeks ago, after deciding we were overdue for a meal at Goldilocks, or at least a mocha roll, we discovered that it has turned into a bakery and cafe called Leelin.

But when we walked inside, it looked as though nothing has changed. The cafe was still there, to the left. The array of breads were stacked on its usual shelves to the right. But most importantly, the mocha roll tasted as good as it always has.

In fact, everything was the same--down to smell. The only different was the rebranding. The new name and logo replaced all that used to say Goldilocks, as though someone went through a bad breakup and photoshopped any traces of an ex from a stash of old pictures.

Word is that after 38 years, a rift developed between the owners of this Goldilocks and the rest of the family. (All L.A. area Goldilocks are now Leelin).

It reminds me of that old adage about doing business with friends and relatives. But perhaps more apropos here is the one that says: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Leelin Bakery & Cafe
11489 South St
Cerritos, CA
(562) 924-5990

SOCIAL - Costa Mesa

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Sam Woo Seafood & BBQ - Cerritos

What did you do last Saturday? Me, I got this $8.25 lunch special of a tofu and seafood hot pot at Sam Woo in Cerritos, which with tax and tip was essentially free after I paid for it with American Express. Yes, it was Small Business Saturday: an annual event that, to me, is way better than Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Charge $10; get credited back $10. Still, even it wasn't covered by the offer, what a deal!

I've always been amazed how Chinese restaurants, Sam Woo especially, charges so little for so much food. Not only was I served this massive, gurgling, steam-billowing pot of tofu and various sea critters simmered in a gingery gravy, I also got a container of rice enough for five people, a bowl of egg drop soup, all the hot tea I could drink, and two fortune cookies for dessert.

I only made a dent in the hot pot, a smaller one on the rice, and the rest of the leftovers fed me for one and a half more lunches. Which goes to show: if you want a bargain, you don't have to wait for some made-up sales day--just go to a Chinese restaurant and get their lunch special.

Sam Woo Seafood & BBQ
19008 Pioneer Blvd
Cerritos, CA 90703
(562) 865-7278

Waterman's Harbor - Dana Point