Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Bun at Ha Long - Irvine

It’s 101 degrees right now—too hot for pho.

Enter bun: The Vietnamese dish designed to beat muggy weather.

It’s basically a salad. A noodle salad.

Wiggly cool rice noodles topped with grill-charred pork and shrimp. Crispy egg rolls. Fresh herbs, bean sprouts, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon. And a fish-sauce dressing that ties it all together.

I ordered this refreshing supper a few weeks ago from Ha Long, a Vietnamese take-out joint located in an Irvine Company shopping center. I ate it next to a soothing fountain.

An appetizer of crispy tofu preceded it and their famous Black Sea drink finished it.

I have a mind to order it again today…but I think I’ll take it home to an air-conditioned room this time. Bun is cooling, but not THAT cooling!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Umma's K-BBQ - Lake Forest

Have you heard of meat jun? If you’ve been to Hawaii, and you got a plate lunch, and that place where you got the plate lunch is Korean-owned, you’d know that meat jun is tender, thinly sliced beef dipped in egg and pan fried.

Does it kinda look and taste like an omelet crossed with a milanesa?


Is it like the softer cousin to katsu?


Is it totally mind-boggling that it's not on the menus of every Hawaiian BBQ joint here on the mainland?


It is, however, completely apropos that I found it at a mom-and-pop takeout joint in Lake Forest called Umma’s (which is Korean for “mom”), because meat jun is said to have been invented and popularized by a Korean mom-and-pop in Oahu in the 1970s.

Umma’s has the spirit of all the Korean-owned plate lunch joints I’ve tried in Hawaii where meat jun has since proliferated. And for about $20 for the combo, you get your choice of two proteins to build your Mauna Kea pile of meat.

Your first choice should, of course, be the meat jun. Your second choice could be galbi, BBQ chicken, spicy chicken, bulgogi, spicy pork, chicken katsu, or the fish version of the meat jun.

Next, pick four sides from their panchan array. The mac salad is almost required. The spicy cucumbers are a must.

Then you go home to find another person with whom to share all this food, because if you know anything about Korean-style Hawaiian plate lunches, it’s that it is designed to make new Hawaiian islands out of people who can finish it by themselves.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Ini Ristorante - Fountain Valley

I came to Ini Ristorante on the promise of the uni pasta, because any restaurant branding itself Japanese-Italian must have a good one.

I came to Ini Ristorante on the promise of repeating the experience I had at Kei Concept’s other restaurant, Gem Dining, which I contend is still one of the best restaurants in OC.

But I’ll come back to Ini Ristorante for the watermelon salad, because I don’t think there’s a more perfect bite of food to eat when the weather is balmy.

I’ll come back to Ini Ristorante for the pastas, like the duck ragu pappardelle, which has the unmistakable bounce of something made by hand just minutes before I ate it.

And I’ll come back to Ini Ristorante for the ethereally crusted pizzas, because if the young Asian chefs in the kitchen can make a pizza this good in the middle of Little Saigon, anything is possible!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Most Affordable Sushi Meals in OC

 Because it’s too damn hot for ramen…

…In my latest piece for TimesOC, I go for a deep dive to find the most affordable sushi restaurants in the county. I came up with three for:

- Most affordable omakase

- Most affordable for ordering from the menu

- Most affordable revolving sushi