Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spires - Tustin

It may or may not surprise you that I've never eaten at Spires. IHOP? Denny's? Plenty of times. But Spires? Not even once.

And I'm glad I waited until this afternoon to eat in one and not twenty years ago, because just like a time capsule, the more decades you let pass before you peer into it, the more interesting its contents become. Denny's and IHOPs may get updated with the times, but it would appear that Spires has been locked in amber since the era of disco.

I went to the one in Tustin and when I walked in, I was surrounded by a non-ironic lunch counter and crescent-shaped, pink Naugahyde booths, some of which were already cracked. Norman Rockwell prints hung on the wall.

But the best clue that things haven't changed much here? The customers. These were regulars who knew each other, knew the wait staff, and presumably ate the same meal every time they came, week after week. And came they did, one after another, inching slowly, with their canes and walkers. I'm not exaggerating here. Of the ten who people passed our booth, only two of them were able to walk unassisted. If gastropubs are for hipsters, diners like this are for hip-replacements.

Looking at the menu, I realized why there were more senior citizens here than at a Murder She Wrote convention: underneath every price was a lower one for seniors.

Yet even the regular rates were more than reasonable for the amount of food served. For $9.69, my lovely dining companion had the filet of sole, with which she chose a gravy-glopped mashed potato as a side and a bowl of starchy clam chowder for the soup.

For $8.99, I opted for the half fried chicken (that's four pieces of hen!) which also came with a soup and a mountain of French fries. Added to every platter were griddled vegetables in the form of zucchini and carrots.

The fish was better than expected--tender, milky and moist. The chicken could've been crispier with its skin. But the best part of the experience wasn't the food; it was the feeling that I stepped out of the DeLorean and into the movie Cocoon*.

13451 Newport Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 544-0631

*And yes, I do realize that by using that movie reference, I'm actually dating myself. I am, in fact, much closer to becoming a senior citizen than some of you reading who weren't even born when that film came out. But one day, when I'm inching my way into Spires with my walker, I now know that the Naugahyde booths will be soft and cushy.

People Issue 2016: Kristin Nguyen of Garlic & Chives
People Issue 2016: Paul Tran of Halal Guys

Kitchen Republic - Huntington Beach

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Best Sushi in Orange County

Lately, every birthday we've celebrated tended to end in zeroes, and to commemorate another one, we again went to Sushi Noguchi--where the cost of the top-tier omakase also tended to end in zeroes (two of them, in fact).

But when every morsel we ate had us mouthing to each other the words "Oh my God!", I knew it was worth every penny.

If I haven't said it before, Hiro Noguchi makes the best sushi in Orange County.

He has no equal.

Last night, he fed us an omakase dinner that topped the last one, which was already hard to top.

As usual, he introduced us to fish species we'd never heard of; new preparations we'd never seen.

There were teensy weensy Japanese icefish, needle fish with its eponymous pointy nose on display, and golden eye snapper with a shock of brilliant strawberry pink skin.

We ate a luscious ootoro, crunchy deep fried amaebi heads, and a steamed fish ball draped with a creamy slice of halibut.

And then there was his masterpiece: a sashimi plate teeming with flowers and leaves. He took several minutes sculpting, decorating, and tweezing it into perfection. It was so meticulous, it wasn't just a sashimi plate; it was ikebana--and it was breathtaking.

Sushi Noguchi
18507 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, CA 92886
(714) 777-6789

Tani - Tustin

Monday, March 07, 2016

Bánh Cuốn at Tan Huang Huong - Tustin

Even if you're not Vietnamese, you've surely heard of bánh mì, those Vietnamese sandwiches constructed from crusty French bread, homemade charcuterie, and pickled carrots and daikon.

But have you heard of bánh cuốn? First of all, bánh cuốn has nothing in common with bánh mì. It's not a sandwich--it's cross between a dumpling and a crepe.

To make bánh cuốn, rice batter is spread thinly on a cloth stretched out over boiling water. The steaming transforms the batter into delicate sheets of noodle that's carefully peeled off, then wrapped around bits of pork and wood ear mushroom.

But the reason I mention bánh mì in a post about bánh cuốn is though there are restaurants in Little Saigon solely dedicated to making the dish, you're more likely to encounter bánh cuốn at a bánh mì shop.

Such is the case at Tan Huang Huong in Tustin. The bánh cuốn is laid out next to register, wrapped in plastic and offered in about three varieties. The one you want is the complete kit you see above. It's sold for $5 and includes crisp fried onion, a side of julienned vegetables, slices of chả lụa (Vietnamese bologna), a fried tofu, and a nước chấm dipping sauce.

To eat it, you dip the meat, veggies, but especially the translucent parcels of the bánh cuốn into the fish sauce, slurping all the way.

Since bánh cuốn is typically eaten for breakfast, Tan Huang Huong's stock tends to run out the later you go in the day. But I've always been lucky to score one for a light lunch or, if I'm feeling peckish, bánh cuốn is actually a great first course before tucking into one of Tan Huang Huong's bánh mìs, which, by the way, are great, too.

Tan Huang Huong
14081 Newport Ave
Tustin, CA 92780

What A Dish Cafe - Dana Point