Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Shrimp and Grits at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen - Anaheim

To me, an Orange Countian, Downtown Disney has become like The Strip to Las Vegas native or Hollywood and Vine to Angelenos--I don't go there unless I absolutely have to.

Not only is it overcrowded and overpriced, there's now the added inconveniences of the long line at the TSA-style security checkpoint and validated parking that needs at least a $20 purchase from a table service restaurant.

It didn't use to be like this. There was a time when locals could enjoy a leisurely night out--maybe catch a movie and then eat at somewhere better outside Disney property, which, come to think of it, is probably why Disney instituted the changes. They know locals don't eat here.

But now, since I’m forced to spend every time I come, there really is only one option: Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, one of the original Downtown Disney restaurants.

This last visit was for a birthday party. I ordered the shrimp and grits. And even though it was still expensive for the portion size, at least it was well-made, reminding me of shrimp and grits I’ve had in the actual South--comforting, saucy, spicy, and blubbery.

I’m not recommending you go there and get it, but if you’re going to park at Downtown Disney, you’re going to have to eat at Downtown Disney, so you might as well eat this.

Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen
1590 S Disneyland Dr
Downtown Disney District
Anaheim, CA 92802

Terrace by Mix Mix - Costa Mesa

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Capitol Market - Charleston, WV

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. A lot of it for pleasure and some for work. But the real reason we racked up a lot of miles and travel points was that we had a goal to visit all 50 states before the year's end.

I'm happy to report we achieved that goal last week. We flew into Cincinnati, Ohio; drove up to Indianapolis, Indiana; drove down to Louisville, Kentucky; and finally crossed over to Charleston, capital of West Virginia. These states were our Final Four.

There isn't much I can say about Charleston, though. There’s a river in front of the Capitol Building, but as far as attractions, Charleston is not exactly Travel Channel material…at least from what we saw.

We went to Capitol Market, advertised as a hip, new gathering of grocers and food vendors who all moved into a converted train station now made into something that wants to be something like Seattle’s Pike’s Place. It was, however, about a tenth the size, no bigger than a Los Angeles area Whole Foods. And around the neighborhood, we saw rows of boarded-up houses.

Upon looking online to see what food West Virginia was known for and what we could buy while we were there at Capitol Market, we found that something called “pepperoni roll” was on the top of most lists.

A pepperoni roll, it turns out, is basically a hot dog bun that's stuffed with wads of rolled up pepperoni slices and mozzarella before it's baked. We saw it in factory-wrapped plastic as though it was destined for a truck stop vending machine.

We bought it anyway. Not quite a calzone, not quite an Italian sandwich, it wasn’t what I was expecting to eat in a state I knew nothing about, except that it was the last one on our list--a list that is now complete!

Capitol Market
800 Smith St.
Charleston, WV 25301-1213

Ocean Snack

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sup Noodle Bar - Cerritos

Did you know that Sup Noodle Bar, with locations in Buena Park and Cerritos, is an all-you-can-eat pho restaurant?

I didn't. When I first ate there at the invitation of friends, I thought the prices were a bit high. I figured it was because of toppings like the beef rib bone and deep fried pork belly, which are never cheap. What I failed to notice was the fine print: every bowl you order comes with unlimited refills of broth and noodles.

So after finishing my bowl, I was surprised to have been asked by our server if I wanted more. After I answered in the affirmative, what I got was essentially a fresh, new, hot bowl of pho.

I didn't need it, I didn't want it, but I ate it anyway. It’s not in my nature to refuse an offer like that go unaccepted, even as I felt the previous bowl sloshing around in my stomach. Besides, the noodles were al dente, the broth lip-smacking.

Of course it costs almost nothing for the restaurant to do this. Noodles and broth are cheap, but the gesture of good will and good hospitality went a long way, because I ended up liking Sup more than I probably would've if they didn't do this.

The other main dish I tried--a version of Peruvian saltado--was decent. It even came with a side of aji verde. But seeing this very capable Vietnamese restaurant doing it was like watching Michael Jordan play baseball. You know it's not what they're meant to be doing.

They do, in fact, do other Vietnamese things well. The fried banh baos are delectable: the savory, meaty filling of a classic steam bun was crossed with the crunchy outside of a cake donut. They were so good, I wanted more than what I ordered. So I waited for an offer of a refill. It never came.

Sup Noodle Bar
11314 South St.
Cerritos, CA 90703

Best Of Issue 2018

Sunday, November 18, 2018

12 Ireland Travel Tips

Here are a few tips I’d like to pass on to you if you're thinking of going to Ireland.

Don't drive if you can help it. The Irish drive on the left side of the road (steering wheel on the right) and the roundabouts there are disorienting and dangerous for those of us who are used to driving on the right.

Do splurge for an automatic transmission at the car rental agency if you choose to drive. It will take your mind off of shifting gears with your non-dominant arm and focus it on the road.

Do go to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Don't worry that it has been kissed by millions of lips, not counting the hundreds who are lined up ahead of you in line. The climb up the castle’s narrow and steep spiral staircase, where there's hardly enough space for one person to fit through, is already worth the price of admission.

Do visit the Waterford Crystal Factory. The tour is of the actual production floor where the artisans are more than eager to show you their work and let you touch it. And if you buy something over a certain amount, it's tax free!

Do go to the Guinness Factory in Dublin. It's to Dublin as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. The admission price includes a pint which you can redeem at the many restaurant and pubs within the premises, including the Gravity Bar, which boasts a 360-degree view of Dublin and is uncomfortably packed with too many people.

Don't expect a guided tour at Guinness. The part open to tourists is less a factory and more museum with exhibits that takes you through the history of Guinness and the beer making process.

Don't waste your money on food at Guinness. You can find better Guinness and Beef Stew, or just about anything else edible outside in the city.

Do eat fish and chips at Leo Burdock, which has been cooking the fried delicacy for 100 years and has a long list of celebrity customers to prove it.

Don't skip the salt or the vinegar. The fish, which is thickly covered with a batter almost as substantial as a beignet, is not seasoned. So pour it on!

Do eat a full Irish breakfast. They're everywhere, such as this one served from the breakfast buffet at the Cork International Hotel.

Don't forget the baked beans or the black pudding or the soda bread or the mushrooms. Forgoing any of it means what you're having is merely “breakfast”.

Izakaya Wasa - Irvine