Monday, February 29, 2016

Wanna Hear My Voice on a Podcast?

You know the phrase that goes "that guy has a face fit only for radio?" I think that's me. I also have a speaking voice fit only to be transcribed into text.

But I let go of my personal insecurities when April Balotro and Vanessa Yee invited me to come chat on their "The Bull and The Badger Podcast".

We recorded it on location in Costa Mesa last October, but it was published today.

On the show, we covered the Orange County food scene and how I got into this crazy business of reviewing restaurants. And though I mumbled incomprehensibly a few times, stuttered more than once, I had a blast. The hour and a half I spent with them gabbing flew by, and it was over before I knew it.

So if you have some vacuuming to do around the house, or you're in between episodes of Serial, you can listen to the interview by clicking above or downloading it through iTunes.

A big thank you again to April and Vanessa for the invite!

Abyssinia - Anaheim

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Garlic Noodles at Krave Asian Fusion - Irvine

My gushing OC Weekly review of Krave Asian Fusion was nearly all about the fried chicken. In it, I said:

The chicken skin wasn't just fully rendered of its fat by the double-fry method, the hallmark of all Korean-style fried chickens; it was detached with an air gap in between meat and skin, forming a hollow, crunchy, candy shell you could rap with a spoon. We couldn't decide whether it was like Peking duck, a crème brûlée or a combination of the two. But we agreed everything about it was perfect—this was a new level of achievement in the art of Korean fried chicken. If Kyochon and BonChon brought on the culinary trend's renaissance, this masterpiece was its Sistine Chapel.

But in my zeal to rhapsodize about the chicken, I completely forgot to mention the garlic noodles I tried there, which were also great. I was reminded of it when a friend bragged about the garlic noodles he recently ate at AnQi.

I've eaten AnQi's noodles. These are better than AnQi's.

Heck, I would pit Krave's dish against anything that calls itself "garlic noodles". Perhaps its greatness comes from its subversiveness. I never saw it coming. The menu treats them like a throwaway side dish. So when I took my chopsticks to it, I was immediately floored. Here was something that reminded me of the oil-dressed noodles of my childhood in Indonesia. It had all the markings of that seminal dish--chewy, stretchy pasta that was pepper-flecked and slicked in savory-flavored oil.

Before I knew it, I'd Hoovered the entire serving, even after I ate all that fried chicken.

So let me offer this addendum to my earlier review: if Krave's chicken is its Sistine Chapel, these noodles are its Statue of David.

Krave Asian Fusion Restaurant
2819 Main St.
Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 379-6075

Blackmarket Bakery - Santa Ana

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Poetic Review of Cafe Hiro's Valentine's Prix-Fixe

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Last night for Valentine's,
We went to Cafe Hiro, as we always do.

They had a prix-fixe dinner,
For forty-nine.
Each person served five courses,
Extra was wine.

There was ahi tuna sashimi,
With cheese mozzarella.
And anchovy, and mango, and daikon.
The combo was stellar.

Next was tartare of salmon,
and raw scallop on chips.
The drizzled balsamic
Tickled our lips.

Beef tataki was on poached cabbage,
The dominant flavor: reggiano cheese.
Since my date doesn't eat rare meat, we said,
"Could you make ours well-done, please?"

And of course, they did.
It's why Cafe Hiro is always our pick.
Next course to arrive was
A giant crab and shrimp spring roll two fingers thick.

At this point we were nearly full,
Our appetites done.
Yet there was still uni spaghetti,
And an arabiata to come.

I chose the steak with mashed potatoes,
as my main course dish.
She had a miso-marinated salmon,
With sauteed veggies under the fish.

Dessert was the usual croissant bread pudding
On a bitter caramel sauce moat.
We also ate a panna cotta with berries,
Our stomachs starting to bloat.

But we loved our meal;
It's our Valentine's tradition.
Till next year, the next prix-fixe,
For my next poetic edition.

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

Vaca - Costa Mesa

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Din Tai Fung Story

We were having dinner at Din Tai Fung South Coast Plaza when a Caucasian guy in his twenties wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap and camouflage pants sat down at the table next to us. He was with an older gentleman, a man of about sixty who looked like a frazzled version of the Dos Equis guy.

Since the tables at Din Tai Fung are close together, we couldn’t help but overhear the conversation. Turns out they were father and son. As they looked at the menu, the son tells the dad that he’ll order “the good stuff”.

“Leave it to me”, he says to the older man.

The dad, who obviously had not been there before, looked apprehensive. His hands were folded across his chest. Though he didn’t say it, you could tell he was uncomfortable.

“Why couldn’t we just get a burger somewhere?” I imagined him thinking.

Then their food started arriving. And as the older man sampled each dish, we watched how he reacted with baited breath. On the stir fried broccoli, he exclaimed “Wow, this is so fresh!” On the wontons in chili oil, he repeated one word: “Delicious!”

When it came to eating a juicy pork dumpling, the son instructed the father on how to pick it up with chopsticks, dip it in the vinegar and then sip the soup after biting off the top.

He loved it.

Dish after dish, we witnessed this man’s conversion from skeptic to believer. All throughout the meal, the son kind of beamed--and so did we.

Din Tai Fung
3333 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 549-3388

Krave Asian Fusion - Irvine

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Avo - Newport Beach

I think I ate more red meat last week than I have my entire life. If I get gout, gain a few pounds, or need to be put on cholesterol meds, I have only myself to blame.

It's not that I like to eat steak that often. But steak happens to be expensive, and when you're rooting out the best Newport Restaurant Week deals, I had to order the steak to get the best bang for my buck.

Avo, the restaurant inside Fairmont in Newport Beach, had a particularly irresistible deal: a $30 3-course dinner that included the flawless 10-ounce flat iron you see above, which by itself would've cost $34. But with the shrimp cocktail app and dessert, the Restaurant Week price represented at least a 50% discount on the whole meal.

As great as it was, it was probably a steak dinner I didn't need to be eating. I probably also shouldn't have eaten the whole basket of the restaurant's cool version of curly fries. And I probably shouldn't have consumed all that bacon they showered the fries with.

The good news is Orange County Restaurant Week isn't for another few months. Until that time, I guess it'll be salad for me. Lots of salad.

Avo at the Fairmont
4500 MacArthur Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 476-2001

Saint Marc - Huntington Beach