Sunday, January 24, 2016

Woody's Wharf - Newport Beach

If you're reading this before January 31, 2016, you still have time to take advantage of Newport Beach Restaurant Week, which began this past Monday, January 18, and lasts until Sunday, January 31.

Those who are good at math are probably saying right about now, "Wait, shouldn't have it been called 'Newport Beach Restaurant Two Weeks', then?"

Never mind semantics--these are pretty good deals and a lot of restaurants offering them, so you want it to last more than a week.

Those familiar with these post-holidays, city-wide restaurant promotions will know that it involves multi-course meals for $10, $20, $30, $40, or $50.

For my budget, $30 is the sweet spot for a restaurant week dinner. It's enough that you're not stuck with just sandwiches as the main course, but not so much that it's no longer a bargain.

Still, before I chose Woody's Wharf's, I did some research.

I tallied up the most expensive items on its Restaurant Week menu and compared them against the regular prices listed on its website. I determined the specials represented about a 25-30% discount.

That was good enough for me.

And now, I finally had a food-related reason to visit the infamous dock-side, bar-cum-restaurant that routinely makes OC Weekly's Best Of list--last year for "Best Place to Pick Up a One-Night Stand" and in 2010 for "Best Bar in Which to See Fake Boobs".

Quite appropriately, it was a tall, long-legged and big-bosomed Amazonian server who took our order and brought out our first course: a massive bowl of clam-packed chowder that, on a normal night, would probably be the only thing I'd need to get full.

We ate only about a quarter of our bowls, purposely holding back because I had a monstrous rib eye steak coming and my lovely dining companion had a pan-seared ahi with fresh avocado, tomato and crispy rice.

And we were right in doing so. The rib eye was big and bloody--a satisfying beef slab as I've ever had--covered with onion straws, topped with three gigantic shrimp sauteed in a creamy parmesan sauce. And it came with an insurmountable mountain of mashed potato and Brussels sprouts in a balsamic reduction that already constituted more food that I would consume on a typical day. I only managed to get a third of the way into it before my lovely companion told me that she needed help finishing her entree.

She said that the crispy rice in her dish--which reminded us of Persian tahdig and the stone-seared rice at the bottom of a Korean bibimbap--would not fare well as tomorrow's leftovers; so we had better finish it tonight. She was right. But I would've eaten every grain of it regardless, no matter how full I already was from my steak.

Desserts were cheesecake and a warm, cake-like brownie with ice cream, but it was this ahi dish with which warrants Woody's Wharf being finally nominated for something other than boobs and one-night stands.

Woody's Wharf
2318 Newport Blvd
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Hong Kong Banjum - Fullerton

Friday, January 22, 2016

Buns N Rice - Costa Mesa

What do you expect out of a place that's called "Buns N Rice"? Sandwiches, maybe? Teriyaki rice bowls, for sure.

But you would wrong about the teriyaki. Since Buns N Rice is actually a Korean-owned lunch joint, the rice bowls don't have a speck of teriyaki in it. Instead, it's beef bulgogi, chicken, or spicy pork.

And when you order the any of their "bowls", you don't get a bowl; you get a massive clamshell container. And it comes out steaming hot from the griddle. You have to blow on it for a few minutes before you dig in.

I tried the spicy pork--which was in ribbons with onions--and realized, since it was still fuming, it was like eating at a Korean BBQ without having to cook the meat myself.

And then there was the price. For the big pile of hot, made-to-order food you see above, I paid $5.49 (before tax)--less than a Subway sandwich.

Didn't expect that, did you?

Buns N Rice
20048 Santa Ana Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Skyloft - Laguna Beach

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Crazy Rock'N Sushi - Irvine

If you allow me to generalize for a moment: There are two kinds of sushi bars for two kinds of people.

Crazy Rock'N Sushi, just by the virtue of its name, is for the sushi consumer who'd rather have Katy Perry blasting through the speakers as they eat than stodgy shamisen music. The kind of person you'd find here would also most likely chase his meal down with a sake bomb or two.

Depending on my mood, I can be exactly that kind of person. And when the mood does strike, I go to places like Crazy Rock'N Sushi, where no one, not even the chef, will flinch if I make a thick sludge out of my wasabi and soy sauce.

Yes, Crazy Rock'N Sushi is, for lack of a better term, a Bro Sushi joint. But it is a good one, even as the service staff at new outlet of it in Irvine is still earning their sea legs. The food and drink, though, was flawless. The nigiri was cut so thickly and generously, I couldn't see the rice beneath it. And the unagi was nicely broiled--sea candy at its most sweet.

Although I've rarely met a salmon skin roll I didn't like, Crazy Rock'N Sushi's was particularly crisp and particularly good. I enjoyed everything I had here, especially a luscious spicy scallop roll that was actually spicy, a tender-crisp sauté of green beans freckled with loads of garlic, and fried oysters that went rather well with a yuzu beer cocktail--a drink that I can only seem to order at places like Crazy Rock'N Sushi.

Crazy Rock'N Sushi
5365 Alton Pkwy.
Irvine, CA 92604

Spicy Lao - Garden Grove

Sunday, January 10, 2016

O' My Buns - Rowland Heights

If you've never had an O' My Buns bun I don't know if anything I write here will adequately describe it to you. But I'll try.

Think of the sweetness and fluffiness of Filipino pan del sal or maybe a French brioche. Then think of the Mexican pan dulce called concha with its corrugated sugary shell baked onto its crust. Now think of a bread with the properties of all of the above, but also imbued with a coffee flavor and a hollow pocket in the middle, where a single pat of butter was tucked.

These buns--let me tell you--are addictive, especially when they're warm and you're the kind of person who likes the aroma of coffee but not the bitterness. And the only place you can get them right now in our area is inside a Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt store in Rowland Heights.

They have a few flavors on offer, including some with fillings such as cream cheese. But all are essentially born from the same mother dough, risen into domes and swirled on top with a coffee-flavored cream before they're baked.

The first U.S. O' My Buns outlet opened at a Tutti Frutti in Yorba Linda five years ago (and there's an awkward promo video to prove it), but that one fizzled--probably because it was in a non-Asian neighborhood that still favors donuts over these coffee-flavored-butter-pocketed-pan-del-sal-meets-a-pan-dulce things.

O' My Buns at Tutti Frutti
17861 Colima Rd.
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

Holiday Cartoon Issue 2015

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Red Robin - Tustin

Red Robin is just about the only national restaurant chain we go to voluntarily. In fact, we go to it often enough that we are part of their loyalty program, which entitles us not only to a free meal every once in a while, but a free burger during our birthday months.

But I also like Red Robin for other reasons. I like that they don't blink an eye when we tell them that we're splitting our burger (the kitchen cuts the burger in half automatically when we do). I like that they have a wedge salad for $3 with bacon and crumbles of bleu, and it tastes as good as the one Mastro's Steakhouse charges $12 for.

And obviously, I like that they'll still refill the fries that goes with our split burger, even if they're obviously being shared by two people. I also like that if the occasion arises when we can't finish the fries, Red Robin actually let us take them home (they reheat well in a toaster oven).

And although it can vary from visit to visit, I like the burgers--the patties seared on the outside to a crisp, as all burgers should be.

I also like the fried zucchini when we want to kid ourselves that we're eating our vegetables. The kitchen seems to take some care in preparing them, raking off just enough of the green zucchini skin so that there's something for the sheer, tempura-like batter to cling to. They're served so fuming hot they have a tendency to scald us when we forget to let them cool.

On our last visit to Red Robin, I've noticed that the restaurant has installed those tableside tablets that lets you order and pay without so much as interacting with the wait staff. This was, at first, disconcerting to us. But we were assuaged when our Freckled Lemonade was refilled just as often as usual.

Sat what you want about chains--their often impersonal staff and mass-produced food that's cooked elsewhere--but there are some chains, like Red Robin, that bucks the stereotype and that a jaded restaurant nerd like me can adhere to. I have the loyalty card to prove it.

Red Robin
2667 Park Ave.
Tustin, CA 92782
(714) 258-7657

Aji Peruvian Cuisine - Long Beach