Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Inka Mama's Aguadito de Pollo - Santa Ana

This is the aguadito de pollo that came with the lunch special at Inka Mama's. It's one of those soups that has everything going for it. Literally everything. Peas. Carrots. Onions. Garlic. Serrano chile. Potato. Rice. And of course, pieces of chicken and the lovely broth that carries its flavor.

I love this soup and soups like this, because no matter what culture you hail from, nothing comforts your soul and satisfies your gullet like a good soup. This one checked all the boxes: simple but well-seasoned, spicy but soothing, thin but hearty.

I'd tell you about the main course of chicharron de pollo (Peruvian crispy fried chicken strips) that came after the soup. It was served with scrumptious rice, a fried potato, and enough salsa criolla to make my breath lethal for the rest of the day, but it's the soup I'm thinking about as I write this. Funny how 40-degree weather does that.

Inka Mama's
3930 Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

El Fishawy - Tustin

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ruth Chris' 3-Course Prix Fixe - Irvine

I have a love/hate relationship with high-end steakhouses like Ruth’s Chris and Mastro’s. While I love the steaks, I bristle at the fact that something as cheap as mashed potatoes are never included with the already exorbitant cost of the meal. It’s always sold “a la carte”, which doesn’t mean “We’re going to overcharge you for fries” in French, but seems like it should.

Enter a Ruth's Chris’ 3-course prix fixe menu, which is a direct response to gripes like mine. With this deal, a $50 investment can actually pay for the ENTIRE meal, not just the meat. For my dinner, the special--which is a permanent part of the menu and changes only slightly with the seasons--included not just a healthy helping of mashed potato I needed to enjoy my steak, but also a big, satisfying bowl of butternut squash soup as the first course.

The soup hit all the notes a good butternut squash soup needs to hit: savory, sweet, silken, rich but not too rich--potage that can actually function as its own meal, especially when eaten with the entire basket of free bread.

Of course, there’s the steak itself, which, at the lowest tier, was a 6-ounce filet topped with a crown of butter-basted shrimp. Like the full-priced version of the same steak, it’s served on a super-heated plate with a sputtering puddle of butter that is Ruth’s Chris’ signature.

And finally, there’s the dessert of a salted caramel cheesecake served with ice cream, which I could only nibble on because I was already full. It was then I realized why I liked this prix fixe so much: being satiated from a steakhouse meal and not feeling ripped off shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Ruth's Chris
2961 Michelson Dr Suite A, Building 10
Irvine, CA 92612

Hai Ky Mi Gia - Santa Ana

Monday, February 04, 2019

Jun's Omakase at Sushi Noguchi is Even Better Now!

It’s common knowledge now that the Japanese word “omakase” means “chef’s choice”, a sort of free license you give your sushi master to serve you whatever he/she thinks is best. But lately, the word has come to mean something else: an ultra-expensive multi-course sushi meal that can tick up to the triple digits.

Sushi Noguchi, the Yorba Linda institution, has always been a pioneer of omakase in Orange County. And to me, if you’re going to spend upwards to a hundred bucks per person for omakase in OC, you can’t do better than trust your investment with Hiro Noguchi, an old-school sushi artisan whom I regard in the same league as Jiro Ono from Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

But the best thing about Sushi Noguchi is that the $100 “Hiro’s Omakase” isn’t your only omakase option. As I’ve written before, Noguchi’s “Jun’s Omakase”—named after Hiro’s lovely wife Jun—costs $50, and it’s just as enjoyable as Hiro’s top-tier meal.

And these days, when other omakases in Orange County are quickly climbing past the $100 mark, Hiro and Jun have done something quite remarkable: not only have they kept “Jun’s Omakase” the same price it has been for years, but they’ve actually upgraded and upped the quantity of the dishes you get with it.

Our recent “Jun’s Omakase” meal consisted of the following six-courses:

- Seared albacore salad with mixed greens, baby corn, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and crispy onions.

- Olive-oil slicked Scottish salmon carpaccio with thinly-slivered red onions and red peppercorns.

- A cooked foods sampler plate of fish-stuffed shishito tempura, a buta kakuni (braised pork belly) with hot mustard, and a crispy-fried shrimp katsu on a stick.

- Two crispy wontons dolloped with spicy tuna.

- A platter of four sublimely-made nigiri pieces with Bluefin tuna, Yellowtail, salmon, and sea bream.

- And finally a baked blue crab hand roll in soy paper that was so sweet, it could double as a dessert confection.

After I ate this meal, I came to the conclusion that “Jun’s Omakase” doesn’t just prove that you don’t have to pay a premium for a quality omakase experience, it also shows that “omakase” can actually mean “bargain”.

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

Descanso - Costa Mesa