Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cha For Tea - Irvine

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I've grown tired of boba milk tea. There was a time that I craved it like a crack addict, when I relished the forever chew of those marble-sized pellets, yearned to feel the thunk-thunk-thunk of them being propelled up through the oversized straw. It was something I discovered in my late teens, then gorged on for a decade, then got sick of.

These days, I pass on the boba. Don't get me wrong. I still go to Tapioca Express on a fairly regular basis. It's just that now I always order the taro milk tea, sans the tapioca pearls.

Taro milk tea is, to me, the closest I can get to a malted milk shake without actually committing to all the ice cream fat and calories. It has the same mellow Ovaltine sweetness--that union of the slightly starchy and the creamy. And it comforts me, every time.

Tapioca Express makes my favorite rendition, which I'm not sure even has any tea in it; but just as good, if not lighter and with a more tea-like tannins in it, is Cha For Tea's.

And whenever I get a taro milk tea there (or anywhere, for that matter), an order of spicy popcorn chicken is a must. And Cha For Tea's chicken is one of the spiciest and crispiest in town. The drink complements the chicken, a pairing as essential as milk and cookies, beer and pretzels, but even better than that.

Cha for Tea
4187 Campus Drive M173
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 725-0300

Kettlebar - Tustin

Friday, May 22, 2015

Napa Rose's Chef's Counter - Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

Here are 9 essential tips you need to know about dining at Napa Rose's Chef's Counter.

1. There are three Chef's Counter seating areas.

The two that fill up the quickest are the group of seats in front of the main kitchen. The last is in front of the dessert station, where we sat with front row seats as two pastry chefs assembled strawberry tarts and torched creme brûlées.

2. There are two seating times: 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

You need to reserve at least a week or two in advance. The 8:30 slots go quickest, so plan ahead. You probably want the 8:30 time slot. It's the most relaxed since no one comes after you, so you can pace yourself. This brings me to my next tip.

3. Plan for a 3-hour dinner.

Course by course, one by one, 'til you shout, "Enough! I'm done!"--a meal at the Chef's Counter is a slow, pleasureable affair. When you think you've reached the last course, you haven't. It's like one of those but-wait-there's-more informercials.

When the chef noticed a person in our party had hardly touched a steak dish, she asks if anything's wrong.

"No, it's great," my lovely companion replies. "I'm just so full!".

"But we've got another dish lined up for you guys!" said the chef.

4. Expect a five-course meal, not counting the small tastes of other things in between.

If I counted everything that came at us, there were actually about seven courses. The amuse bouche. A salad or appetizer course. The fish course. A savory mushroom cappuccino in an espresso cup. A meat course. Another course after that where anything can happen. A dessert course. And finally, a tiny box of chocolates we took home and ate two days later because it took us that long to digest this meal.

So budget your stomach space wisely. No matter how divine those cheese-crisped triangles of lavash in the basket of bread are, save them for the doggie bag. You've got courses to finish.

5. The cost per person as of this writing is $100. Wine pairings, $45.

The a la carte menu and the $100 Vitner's Table prix fixe are also available at Chef's Counter. But it would be a waste of your reservation not to surrender your evening to the whims and talents of Napa Rose's chefs and sommeliers.

Besides, if you're a fussy eater, the Chef's Counter is made for you. You don't like a certain kind of meat? Allergic to shellfish or peanuts? Have an irrational fear of vegetables? This is the time you get to tell them all your weird food aversions and fetishes. They will customize every course to you as much as they can.

Here's an example: my lovely companion told them early on she doesn't eat anything rare and doesn't like duck; so on one course, she got a lovely risotto while another friend got a still-bloody slice of duck breast.

On that same course, I (who told them "I eat everything") got the most advanced dish of all: pan-seared sweetbreads.

6. Contrary to other reports, the person who will be taking down your likes and dislikes might be your sommelier, not the executive chef or chef du cuisine.

Be sure to tell who ever asks exactly what's on your mind, or else you might get something you won't particularly enjoy.

7. For every single course, each person in your party will get a completely unique dish.

This is the mind boggling part of Napa Rose's Chef's Counter: they cook individual meals for every member of the party for each course. If you go with 3 other people, you will potentially get to sample at least 20 distinctly different dishes. You won't ever see the same dish twice. No other restaurant I know of that offers prix fixe meals would do this willingly. Napa Rose thrives on it.

8. If you do the wine pairing, you will also get a unique set of wines different than anyone else in your party.

I tasted 5 different wines that went with 5 different courses, each one completely different than what another friend was served. And be prepared to drink a lot of wine--the sommelier is not stingy with his pours. This brings me to my final point.

9. You will gain weight from this meal.

After going home fuller than I've ever been in years, when I got on the weighing scale the morning after this feast, I weighed three pounds heavier than the day before.

Napa Rose
Disneyland Resort
1313 Disneyland Dr.
Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 635-2300

Crispy House - Artesia

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wei-Chuan's Microwavable Stewed Beef Noodle Soup

Ah, noodle soups. What better dish is there when it's cold and rainy? It's the kind of meal I crave all the time, but especially during downpours, which is exactly the kind of weather that's not conducive to going out to get it. But what are you options? Well, short of calling delivery, there used to be just two: make it from scratch or phone it in with instant.

Now there's a third option: nuke it from frozen. Wei-Chuan, the Taiwan-based manufacturer of oyster sauces, pickles, and frozen dumplings has started selling these babies: frozen beef noodle soup, a.k.a. niu rou man, the dish served in more restaurants in Irvine than burgers, tacos, or pho.

Wei-Chuan is actually not the only producer of microwavable noodle soups; it just seems to be the only one that's making this specific kind. And it is delicious. The noodles, a shade thinner than udon, are a pleasure to chew. The soup is fragrant of anise, rich, dark, with a meaty richness, sweetness, and tang. And although there isn't as much meat in the bowl as it shows on the box, it's real stewed beef, with, you know, beefy fibers and stuff. And there's actual spinach, you know, with spinach-y fibers and stuff.

In fact, if you served me this noodle soup at a restaurant, I probably wouldn't be able to tell it was microwaved. Honest!

Each box retails for about $4. I found mine at H-Mart. And though the instructions--involving tearing out a perforated circle from the cardboard to make a sort of cradle for the bowl and pouring a measured amount of water in two separate steps--are slightly more complicated than for a Nissin Cup Noodle, the rewards are worth the effort. Besides, what else are you going to do? It's pouring outside.

So buy it now and then save it for a rainy day...literally.

Fins Poke Fusion - Mission Viejo

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Fast 5 Pizza - Santa Ana

The pepperoni pizza you see above is $5.50. Yes. $5.50 for 8 slices: the highest satisfaction-to-price ratio of anything I've ever paid money for.

I don't know how the economics of it works. Fast 5 Pizza--a growing chain that gets its name from the fact that they actually used to sell these puppies for $5 each--must operate on the thinnest of margins. And though Little Caesars offers a similar deal, the difference is that these are pizzas I'd actually want to eat.

They're thick crusted, baked in pans within 8 minutes of your order, and actually all ready to go if you want the pepperoni during the dinner rush. But they're more than I expected them to be for a whole pizza that costs less than foot-long at Subway.

I got a whole bunch of them to feed a gathering of friends for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, which, I don't think I have to tell you, had the LOWEST satisfaction-to-price ratio of anything I've ever paid money for.

Fast 5 Pizza
1473 S Main St
Santa Ana, CA 92707
(714) 550-4115

Vegan Nirvana - Huntington Beach