Saturday, August 31, 2019

Pier 76 Fish Grill - Tustin

I think Pier 76 is going to become a weekly Thursday ritual. On that day, the restaurant offers a $3 beer and 99-cent oysters from 3-7 p.m. What kind of oysters are they? I have no idea because when I asked the oyster shucker, he didn’t know either.

At this price point, I don’t think it matters. Oysters don’t come cheaper than this. What’s more important is that they’re fresh, ice cold, and comes with lots of lemon, cocktail sauce, and a decent mignonette.

These condiments are essential as these oysters are also kind of basic—the vanilla ice cream of oysters. They weren’t particularly briny, sweet, or iron-rich. To put it another way: They showed up to class, did the required homework, but aren’t going for any extra credit.

In fact, in retrospect, I think I actually enjoyed Pier 76’s crispy fish tacos that I added on to my order more than the oysters. I paid the regular price for them, $3.25 each, and they’re worth every penny.

The crunchy battered fish filet inside them were so ripping hot from the fryer, the tortilla acts as an edible oven mitt. And they were so good—with two kinds of sauces, two kinds of shredded cabbage, and a tuft of gourmet pickled onion—that I think they might just be better than Los Cotijas across town, which automatically makes them one of the best fish tacos in the County.

And on Tuesdays, these tacos are discounted to $2.99. So I think Pier 76 will become a weekly Tuesday ritual, too.

Pier 76 Fish Grill
15080 Kensington Park Dr #330
Tustin, CA 92782

Gram's Kitchen - La Palma

Friday, August 30, 2019

Pacific Wine & Food Classic 2019 - Newport Beach

These are pictures from the Pacific Wine & Food Classic, which happened a few weekends ago at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort. This is the third year for the event, and like all previous years, it’s a food frenzy and boozy bonanza that happens on the sand and under the sun.

As the all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat affair boasts appearances from virtually every big name chef, restaurateur, vitner, brewer, and mixologist in OC, admission isn’t cheap. But if you drink a lot and have the stomach capacity of a large aquatic mammal, you’d more than reap significant returns on your investment. Me, I don’t drink much and tend to get full quickly. This is why I’m thankful I was invited as part of the media.

This year’s event was as grand as the last two. Lots of restaurants wisely chose to serve cooling raw seafood dishes such as crudo, poke, and ceviche. Let’s face it, the last thing anyone wants to eat out there on the hot sand are heavy soups, chowders, or stews. I even saw a poisson cru this year, which was refreshing in both definitions of the word.

The best bite I had was a crudo from Ellie’s in Long Beach, a restaurant that I had no idea existed. But I think that’s the point of this thing—it’s a speed dating event for restaurants and their potential customers.

Pacific Wine And Food Classic
1131 Back Bay Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Summer Travel Issue 2019

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sam Woo Express - Irvine

This is Sam Woo Express, proof that you can still go somewhere that isn’t fast food and get enough to feed two people for under $7 in Irvine.

I should rephrase that last bit—it is “fast” food. You won’t spend longer than the drive-thru here. It’s just that it’s not processed food. For at least the last quarter century, everything is made from scratch and then dumped into steam table throughs.

Since it’s all cooked in the same kitchen by the same chefs using the same ingredients as the restaurant next door, those still unfamiliar with this Irvine landmark might operate on the assumption that the food here is just as good. This isn’t always true.

The chow mein is always greasy. The fried rice is near inedible. And some items tend to crust over the longer it sits under the heat lamp. As such, my strategy has always been the following:

Take the white rice and pick whatever looks like it just came out of the kitchen, which, when I was there, was the fish in black bean sauce.

Pick only one entree if you want a double portion of it for no additional charge.

Ask for the complimentary chili oil. It will correct any of the meal’s deficiencies.

And for those millennials who are reading this, bring cash. It’s the only form of payment accepted and no one who works there has heard of Venmo.

Sam Woo Express
15333 Culver Dr Ste 720
Irvine, CA 92604
(949) 262-0688

Tim Ho Wan - Irvine

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Charlie Wong Saigon Garden - Kalispell, MT

This is what a bowl of pho looks like in Kalispell, Montana. I had it at a restaurant called Charlie Wong Saigon Garden. Charlie Wong, as you might have already guessed, served not just pho, but also Chinese food of the sweet-and-sour-pork-and-chow-mein variety.

But while this pho may look average at first glance, it was unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. Since Vietnamese restaurants are still a rarity around these parts, the basil served on the plate with the bean sprouts was not Thai basil; it was Italian basil, the kind you put into pesto.

Also, the broth was more sugary than herbal and the rice noodles were pre-cut into two-inch lengths, suggesting that the chef designed it to be eaten by people who are used to soup spoons, not chopsticks.

In fact, chopsticks aren’t automatically supplied with the bowl. I had to get mine by going up to the counter and specifically asking for a pair.

What this pho didn't have in short supply, however, was meat. There was about a half pound of beef in the bowl--an amount equal to a decent steak dinner. And it was sliced into thick chunks, every piece tender and soft.

So was it an authentic bowl of pho? No, not if you're judging it against pho from cities where the Vietnamese population is larger than the family that owns the restaurant; but for Montana, it was everything it needed to be. And if you ate it after a day of hiking in the frigid wilderness of Glacier National Park like I did, you'd agree with me that there's no better bowl of pho in the entire state.

Charlie Wong Saigon Garden
1645 U.S. 93 S
Kalispell, MT 59901
(406) 755-5290

Nourish - Costa Mesa