Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Champurrado at Cancun Juice - Santa Ana

It’s been so long that I’ve had champurrado, I’d forgotten how good it is, especially when the weather is as cold and wet as it has been.

So what is a champurrado, you ask? If you looked it up on Wikipedia, it’s a “traditional corn- or masa-based beverage of Mesoamerican origin”.

Not to be reductive, but to me, champurrado is what happens when a mug of hot cocoa gets it on with a warm bowl of oatmeal.

It’s a meal that you drink (or is it a drink that’s also a meal?) and it's the only thing you need in the morning.

Cancun Juice’s rendition is pretty wonderful--the real breakfast of champions, which actually has the word "champ" already in it.

Cancun Juice
2302 S Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Mighty Kitchen - Los Alamitos

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hanna's - Rancho Santa Margarita

This was one of the last meals we ate in the waning days of December, before the New Year dawned.

Why? Well, because sometimes all you need in life is a big, bloody top sirloin (Wagyu, no less), a mess of crispy fries served in a cone, and one of the best, most understated beef Stroganovs in OC.

We consumed it all with reckless abandon under an oversized American flag and as out butts sank slowly into a soft leather booth.

And for dessert, since we were already a few thousand calories into it, we capped off the night with a hunk of dense butter cake, which was basically an oversized Danish butter cookie topped with ice cream.

It was a good introduction to Hanna's, arguably the best steakhouse in Rancho Santa Margarita, if not South County. Our good friends who live in the area have raved about it for years. They finally took us as a last hurrah to 2016.

So I thank them, but I should mention that this meal was one of the reasons I started using the treadmill again.

22195 El Paseo #110
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
(949) 709-2300

Mix Mix - Santa Ana

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Frozen Banana at Sugar 'n Spice - Newport Beach

"There's always money in the banana stand."

If you know where that quote is from and what it's referencing, then congrats, you're a real Orange Countian!

It's from Arrested Development, one of the best TV shows ever produced about OC, and what it's referring to is a peculiar speciality of Balboa Island: the frozen banana.

There are two places within feet of each other on Balboa Island that sell frozen bananas, both claiming to be the "original". The real story is a bit more complicated. But on this particular Sunday, Sugar n' Spice had the longer line.

The recipe for a frozen banana is quite simple--take a skewered frozen banana, dip it in melted milk chocolate, then roll it in whatever topping your customer wants, be it crushed Oreos, almonds, peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, Heath Pecan Crush, rainbow sprinkles, "Sweet 'n Salty" (crushed pretzel and chocolate sprinkles)...or what you see in the picture above: all of it in the "Everything".

Right now you might be asking: "So what distinguishes frozen bananas at Sugar n' Spice or Dad's Donuts from those you get at a theme park?"

The answer is that they're not rock hard; they melt in your mouth like actual ice cream. Also, they were part of the lore of Orange County way before Arrested Development made the world aware that Balboa Island was the place to get them.

Sugar 'n Spice
310 Marine Ave
Newport Beach, CA 92662
(949) 673-8907

Northgate González Market - Anaheim

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Sushi Gozen at Sagami - Irvine

I've eaten at Sagami in Irvine for at least a decade.

I wrote this about the place six years ago:

Sagami has been around for as long as I can remember. It made a name for itself as a quick-pick-up-and-go lunch stop for sushi rolls and teriyaki bowls. And for the most part, it still is. But since Flame Broiler opened next door, or maybe it was before that, Sagami shed its work-a-day cred and became a full-fledged Japanese restaurant and izakaya.

Dinner diners range from the casual family out for a meal to Docker-decked business men on expense accounts. The dining room is separated into two parts, both awkwardly claustrophobic like a mouse maze, due the building's Tetris S-block footprint. The space was originally conceived to occupy two stores but they busted through a wall to expand.

But the more I went, the more dishes I uncovered and the more articles I wrote, such as the one about the hitsumabushi and, most recently, the ultra comforting hot pot called oden.

Which brings me to this post: the part where I reach the same kind of realization that a prototypical rom-com protagonist comes to in the third act of the movie. You know, when he/she realizes the one who's always been there is the one he/she should've been in love with all along!

So here's my running-through-the-airport, jumping-over-security-check-points proclamation:

Sagami, you're the most authentic and the very best Japanese restaurant in Irvine!!!

This epiphany came because of the last meal I had there--the Sushi Gozen. It was a dinner that, when I first saw it on the menu, looked kind of expensive at $25.95 but was, in actuality, one of the best prix fixe bargains in OC.

It included not just six pieces of assorted nigiri and cut rolls, but also rice, soup, salad, an entire plate of lacy tempura, pickles, and best of all: four intricately prepared seasonal dishes that's about the closest thing to traditional Japanese kaiseki as you'll get in this part of Orange County.

On that night, my kaiseki-style dishes included:

- Poke with avocado
- Simmered kabocha with homemade fish dumpling and fried shiitake
- Agedashi tofu
- A meltingly soft and deeply flavored braised pork belly that turned out to be the biggest star of them all.

So, Sagami, in keeping with rom-com movie tropes, I have this message for you:

3850 Barranca Pkwy B
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 857-8030

"How My New Year's Eve Plans Have Changed"

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Brazi Bites at Costco - Tustin

Of the many reasons Brazilian churrascarias are great, chief among them is pão de queijo.

What's pão de queijo? They're those ping-pong sized balls of cheese bread that come piping hot and free as soon as you sit down to begin your Brazilian meat marathon.

They have a thin, crispy crust on the outside but are wondrously pliant and chewy on the inside. If you've never had them, the best way I can describe them is that they're a cross between a gooey fried mozzarella stick and a Pillsbury crescent roll.

Trust me: they're wonderful. And for the longest time, I thought the only way I could have them was by paying the steep AYCE churrascaria entry fee. Last year, I finally realized that Taste Brazilian Style Gourmet, a Brazilian bakery in Huntington Beach, actually makes them fresh--without the churrasco requirement.

But when I told a Brazilian friend of my discovery, he revealed that Costco actually carries pão de queijo in its freezer section!

As soon as he sent me a photo of the bag in his Costco shopping cart as proof, I bolted to the nearest one, and there it was...Brazi Bites--raw morsels of frozen dough that you bake on parchment paper in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Although I overbaked it a touch, when they came out, they were exactly like--if not the same as--the ones at Agora, Texas de Brazil, et al.

I served it to guests over the holiday break along with Cream Pan's strawberry croissants and, for the first time, the strawberry croissants played runner up.

Costco at The District
2700 Park Ave.
Tustin, CA 92782

Water Grill - Costa Mesa