Monday, June 13, 2005

Authentic & Tasty Taiwanese Food The Easy Way

I went into the 99 Ranch Market on Jeffrey and Walnut in the City of Irvine. I like this store. Its so incredibly clean. Even when you go into the fish section, it doesn't reek of beat up fish. Those of you that only go to this store and complain of its slighty higher prices, go to a random supermarket in Little Saigon and you will have a new appreciation for the lack of stank.

If you go to the far left of the store you will find a refrigerated display and you can get eveything pictured in the round containers. If you go to the far right you can get everything you see in the square containers. I would think that they would put these things together in one section. But I am in sales and we think we know everything as sales people.

Starting from far left: Sticky rice with mushrooms, dried shrimp, and pork. Just like Mom makes. When you re heat it, put it in another container as this one will melt and it needs to steam to soften up. Otherwise some of the rice will remain hard. Great blend of textures with a soy sauce type of base.

Fried Tofu Salad in red chili oil. Probably my favorite. You eat it cold. Tossed with green and red chili peppers, juilliene celery, and fresh cilantro. Not spicy at all. Great flavor and I like the texture of fried tofu. Pretty firm and holds up nicely while absorbing the dressing.

Soy Sauce Stewed Pork Stomachs. Sliced of course. Its sliced so thin that it feels tender rather than chewy. Not too salty either. I love this stuff. You eat this hot

Soy Sauce Stewed Sliced Pork Ears. A lot of people can't get past the crunch of the cartlidge. This is sliced so thin, its like paper. You can barely feel the crunch. Its surrounded by gelatinous goodness. A little too much of a concentrated soy sauce texture and taste. A little too salty. But you usually eat this over white steamed rice. This would have been perfect and for all you Whities out there, who pour soy sauce directly out of the bottle on your white rice like you are not supposed to. You eat this hot.

Soy Sauced stewed eggs. Same flavor as above but with hard boiled eggs. The soy sauce doesn't penetrate 100% so they are not too salty. You can eat them hot or cold. I did. Taste like....well... hard boiled eggs in soy sauce!

Pickled cabbage. Eat this cold. Mild flavor with a slight sweet taste too it. Crunchy and refreshing. The flavor of the vegetables is accented rather than covered up (ie Kimchee).

Not pictured are those egg custard cups that I missed at Dim Sum a couple of weeks ago. They were too sweet and the crust was not flakey. Kind of soggy from sitting in a container all day. Get them fresh at a bakery.

All of these items run 2 to 3 bucks each. Its like if Mom cooked them for you and you had leftovers and put them in tupperware. I love the convenience of this and I love the selection of things they have. The authenticity is there as well. Many of these items are unique to this store. I can't find them at the stinkier other locations.

The Maharaja Palace , Orange - great taste, great value! - CURRENTLY CLOSED

Consistency. Its so important these days. Be consistently bad or consistently good. Don't ever change. Help me live my routine life. When ownership changes at restaurants, I get nervous. Hardly ever does it stay the same. I used to be a patron of Maharaja Palace but it changed owners a year or so back. The old owner got to know us and he was the nicest guy. You could tell the food was made from scratch and the flavors were so much more intense than any of the other Indian places I tried.

I also feel Indian food is way over priced unless you get it in a buffet. Its one of the few foods that holds up in a buffet as well so I do not feel that having it in a serving line diminishes the taste.

I haven't been back until recently. The first thing I noticed was a ton of wait staff on a Saturday afternoon at 11AM. This struck me as strange as this place isn't usually busy in the afternoon. Under the old ownership this place would have parties until 3 AM on the weekends! The waitstaff was there because a party of 80 wanted to come in for lunch and wanted a buffet.

So the fact that Indian people were still drawn to this place was a good sign. As we sat, several other parties came in. All Indian people. I was optimistic!

I was informed that they were going to do things a little differently today. The party of 80 were vegetarians so everything in the buffet was without meat. However they were going to bring the meat out separately for us. SCORE!

Shortly after we sat down they brought out Tandoori Chicken. It was better than I remembered. A stronger "smokey" taste. Tender and moderately juicy. Mild in its taste, yet distinct. They did change the Raita and I didn't like it as before. Not as "cucumbery" and it had more spices in it. I like it blander. The green relish stuff was the same.

They brought out Garlic Naan. Its still awesome. A microlayer of crackery crispness, then soft and chewy beyond that. Great garlic flavor without being over powering. I use it to scoop up everything.

When you plate everything, it looks like a real meal! But with the buffet, you get to try so much stuff.

They brought out "Butter Chicken". Lots of tender morsels of chicken. A faint butter taste. A strong creamy tomato taste. This was my favorite. Its great with the naan. My only complaint is there could have been more chicken in it.

I only took pictures and ate off the right side of the buffet line. The other side was like a salad bar. I can get salad bar stuff anywhere. So I was not going to waste valuable stomach space with salad. However I think they had Indian variations on the salad side and many of you may like that kind of roughage.

The vegetable pakoras were pieces of various vegetables that were dipped in batter and fried. They had a faint taste of Indian spices. Its so hard for me to distinguish Indian spices for me, so forgive me. These were crispy but not greasy. Maybe a little on the chewy side. Probably the one item that does diminish in a buffet rather than fresh. But nevertheless good.

Vegetable Samosas were next. These are pastry that is filled with chickpeas and potatoes and fried. Very close to a Falafel. Looks like a slice of Jimmy Dean Sausage. Crispy outside. creamy and smooth like mashed potatoes on the inside. Only more of a nutty flavor.

The vegetable rice was simply basmatti rice with mixed vegetables (the kind you buy in your grocers freezer and come in a bag). However the rice was fluffy, moist and had that awesome popcorn aroma. Most importantly it tasted great with just the right amount of saltiness.

The Aloo Gobi was awesome. Cauliflower and Potatoes sauteed in mild herbs and spices. Bright yellow in color with a nice curry like taste. Both vegetables had the right amount of "firmness". I didn't try the lentils pictured. But Mrs. Dog said they were excellent.

The Navratan Korma was tasty. It was the same type of "bag" mixed vegetables, but in a creamy sauce that is slightly sweet.

Saag Paneer was creamed spinach with a great spinach taste. Very creamy, but holds up. Nice mild spices and lots and lots of bits of that cheese cube stuff. I love this dish.

For desert they usually have the Gulab Jaman which are fried doughnut hole type things made out of milk cheese balls in a honey syrup. These are the so good. But the party of 80 wanted Gajar Halwa which is mashed carrots in a cheese sauce that is sweetened and mixed with almonds and nuts. So guess what was served. I like this. If you can stand carrot cake, you can eat this. Although it tastes nothing like carrot cake. I really enjoyed it. Mrs. Dog couldn't get past the carrot thing.

The whole bill which includes soft drinks came to $23 for 2 which included the tip. Monday through Friday the buffet is only $6.95 including your drink. This is why I get so bent when people go to places like Nikki's.

Aside from the Raita, everything is as good as it ever was. Very flavorful and made with care and attention to detail. I would highly recomend this place and for the price its a steal considering all the items you can try.

The Maharaja Palace
421 Tustin Ave
Orange, CA 92867

Monday, June 06, 2005

El Portal, Orange - Our specialty is chicken or ice cream with your menudo on a Monday or enormous pinatas

We have passed this place many times and what always grabbed my attention was the sign outside the store. I always love to go to places that specialize primarily in one thing and do things well. Zankou chicken, Pho places, In & Out Burger, etc. So this is what I thought this place was. I thought they specialized in Rotissere Chicken. I have never seen the word Rostiseria and got all excited about this. Maybe this was a whole new type of food only the Hispanic people were privy to and I was going to discover it and let the whole world know about it. Never mind that it says in small signage "pizzeria" & "neveria" underneath it. Their specialty MUST be Mexican Rotisserie chicken because its in the big letters. I was planning on discovering the Hispanic Zankou!

Located in a strip mall next to Albertsons on E. Chapman in Orange. Keep in mind this place is very small and the space is narrow. As I list all these things they make, you have to keep that in mind.

I walked in and grabbed a business card. In big letters it says Taqueria & Neveria and in small letters it says Rosticeria, Jugos Naturales, Ensaladas de Frutas. Totally different than the sign. What is this place?!

Looking around I see a serving line with all kinds of meat. Menudo on a Monday (you usually only see it on the weekends), another soup, some kind of carmalized bananas, grilled peppers and jalepenos, some sort of potatoes, Rotiserie chicken, some kind of dark sauces, beans rice. There is a full on ice cream counter, A juice station and then all of these Mexican pastries like in a bakery! There are huge pinatas all over the ceiling. I am talking big ass pinatas.

Huh, what's going on here? There is no menu, no prices listed anywhere. I can't even figure out how to order. I see specials and there are so many varied things on there that I can't figure out what regional cuisine this is. There are pictures of various things that are the standard items as well. I am totally lost. You have your basics, Tacos, burritos, tortas, but then you have things like pupusas, carintas stuffed in Pablanos, cuban sandwhiches, pambazo, Enchiladas and all kinds of things with combinations you don't typically see.

I ask the counter girl (thank God she speaks great English), How do I order? She is confused though by my question. I ask her about the Rotisserie chicken and she says I can get a whole one or 1/2 with beans and rice. I say OK. Mrs. Dog is Hell bent on getting pupusas. She orders one. "What kind?". Oh please oh please stop.... We had no idea. She said you can get cheese, carnitas, beans and some other things we couldn't understand. We stood there like deer caught in headlights. You have to remember there is no menu or signage that you can mull over to make your decision. Then she says "or I can make a combination".. Bingo! We'll take that. Mrs. Dog also orders a Bean and Cheese burrito. I tell her "You are going to eat all that?" She says yes. So not to be out eaten I ask her if she has Tacos Dorados as I have been fixated on Titos Tacos lately. She says "yes" even though they are not on any of the pictures. I get a Mexican Lime Soda and Mrs. Dog gets a med drink. Total comes to $19.75

First the pupusa. Incredible. Perfectly cooked. Nice soft yet with a thin thin layer of crispyness. Creme Fresh made it awesome. The filling of beans, meat, and cheese all worked in harmony. Mild corn flavor. I just loved the texture of this whole thing. But the BEST THING I HAVE HAD IN A LONG TIME was the slaw that comes with it. Its a vinegary cabbage slaw but with a spicyness to it. Not a hard hitting spicyness, but a flavorfull, slow to come on spicyness. It was so unique and seriously delicious!

The chicken was awesome as well. So incredibly tender. Nice firery roasted taste with Mexican mystery spices. Totally different than something like Zankou, but similar in its wow factor. Not like El Pollo Loco either. More of a red chili kind of taste. Skin is soft rather than crispy. Throw it in a corn tortilla and you are there. When you put the sauce on it, the flavor totally changes. The sauces doesn't accent the chicken in its original state. It totally changes it. But its a good thing. I can taste hints of honey in the sauce and its kinda spicy. Hard to describe. The beans were a little bland, but good. They are the runny kind with the Mexican White Cheese. The rice was awesome. Such a great firery red flavor. Is red a flavor? Too often Mexican rice is bland and lacks complexity. This rice is one of the best.

Mrs. Dog said the bean and cheese burrito was "OK". A little bland. It was huge though. With all the choices on the signs and pictures, I have no idea why Mrs. Dog would pick this.

Finally the Tacos Dorados came out. Its nothing like a fried taco like I pictured it. Its more of a taquito. I thought Mexican places called these "rolled tacos" Anyway it was excellent as well. I think they make the meat differently for these. It was beef, but it was very stringy. It was also very dry. Like it was fried for a long time. But it was perfect this way. It made it less greasy and the whole thing crispy. The corn tortilla had a strong corn taste. It was perfect in how it worked with the stringy beef. The sauces on it were great as well. Watery guacamole and more Creme Fresh.

Here is my theory of what this place is all about. I saw a older Mexican lady in the back cooking. I think she cooked for her whole family at one time and the whole family consisted of other Latinos from various countries and regions that married into the family. So she had to get very good at cooking various regional dishes. Then she combined some of them. Then she thought "I could sell this and make money because I kick ass at making food" Then she opened a restaurant. One of the other family members specialized in Rotisserie chicken and did that somewhere else. (There is a newspaper article featuring the chicken only and some Hispanic man on the wall. It was all in Spanish.) And since they want to appease a wide audience, hey, throw in an ice cream counter and juice counter. Why not a bakery as well? Something is missing...Hmmm.. Oh Yeah..Pinatas! But you have to remember, they do everything so well and you can tell by how they plate this stuff (this is NOT a sit down kind of place) they really care and take pride in what they are making.

I think if you asked them to make anything and just described it to them they would make it for you and it would be insanely good. A lot of Mexican places fall under certain categories "Americanized" "Taquerias" "Seafood" "Baja style". This place can not be categorized by me and I was so taken a back by its uniqueness.

I encourage all of you to try this place because I think its so unique and it could be one of the places that everyone agrees is niche and unique and a great discovery. I would love to be the one that exposed everyone to this place and to have other rave about it like I am.

By the way, I thought the carmelized bananas were plantains similar to Cuban cuisine. But they were served as a desert. Someone next to us got it. It looked so good! But we were too full.

I never saw any pizza or pizza like ingredients anywhere in this place.

If someone can explain what region this place represents in their cuisine or has a better theory of what its all about, let me know. It doesnt matter though as I will continue to come to this place often as its a great find and there is so much I still need to try here

El Portal de Verdcruz
4530 E. Chapman
Orange, Ca 92869

China Garden, Irvine Dim Sum - I feel your pain, Dim Sum Girl!

On a Lazy Sunday afternoon at about 1PM, we decided to go to China Garden in Irvine for Dim Sum. There were only 2 of us and when we arrived the restaurant was full, but clearing out. There were several people waiting outside. However we only had to wait about 15 minutes.

We were sat in the infamous "side room" and I recalled all the posts about how the side room was one of the worst places to be sat due to the fact that people feel that the carts don't go into this room as often as the other room. We did not find this to be true. As a matter of fact, the second we sat down, there was a cart there and the Dim Sum girl was already barking out what she had to offer. Carts continually came and so did the people with trays. So I didnt experience the lack of carts that many others have talked about.

I am convinced that these girls are on some sort of commission system or if they don't sell enough they get tortured in the back. They always slam things around and yell out the selections like they are mad at you. They get pretty pushy at times. I am not Chinese and they seem to get annoyed that I can not understand what they are saying and have to point or ask them to show me what they are referring to. And if you don't take what they are offering, you always get "the look". Notice how this Dim Sum girl is all smiles. These behaviors are not unique to this place. I think its most Dim Sum establishments.

The Taro Cake was pretty good. I think it could have been fried longer to develop a crispier, more carmalized skin. I liked the gooey texture of the inside with the chunks of taro. My mom makes this and I hate to say it, but its not as good as mom makes. But its still very good here. Somewhat bland, but in a good way. Drizzle with a little soy sauce and you are good to go.

The Har Gow tasted good enough. I have never been to a Dim Sum restaurant where I did not like these. I suppose they could have been a little more delicate with a thinner skin, but they had a very mild, yet tasty flavor and when you bit into them, it seemed like they were full of filling.

The Shu Mai were very meaty and dense and had a great peppery flavor to them. Nice size to them as well

I enjoyed the tripe. Thin ribbons of tripe in a gingery sauce. The tripe was delicate, firm, and chewy. You need to eat this one rather quick because as it cools the sauce starts to thicken and gets kind of gloppy. But I really loved the flavor of this one. Very Clean and crisp.

The pork riblets were tasty. Perfect saltiness to them and they had a nice anise flavor to them. Lots of meat on these and the meat was very tender and came off the bones easily.

They had a dish here that I really haven't seen before. The angry dim sum girl called it "Skweh". I would say "Squid?" and she would say "Skweh" again. So I assumed it was squid and luckily it was. However these pieces must be cut from a BIG squid. Big pieces of the top of the squid that comprised most of the dish. Then there were pieces of the tentacles, but very large pieces. So much so, you really couldn't tell they were tentacles. It was in a curry flavored sauce and I really enjoyed this. It wasn't tender, but it wasn't tough either. I would say it was "firm tender".


My favorite Dim Sum dish is chicken feet and China Garden has the best out there in my opinion. I love this dish so much, it deserves its own picture. Deep fried first and then steamed. Completely tender and falling off the bone with so many complex flavors going on. Anise, sweetness, spiciness, saltiness. Nice and chewy tendons. I could eat 3 orders of this stuff. Its like candy to me.

They didn't have the yellow egg custard cups that I love. I guess its because we came so late. But everything you see pictured was $23.00 including tip and that served 2 people.

In my opinion China Garden does Dim Sum better than anyone, including the places in Little Saigon. And that's from sitting in the "side room" as well.

China Garden
(949) 653-9988
14825 Jeffrey Rd
Irvine, CA 92618

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Perfect Pho,... well as perfect as you can get it

We were hungry at 11pm on a Friday and EVERYTHING in OC was closed except fast food! You gotta love the OC where at the stroke of 10 PM, everything stops. We headed to Little Saigon to Pho Thanh because its open 24/7. We saw some other Pho places open on the way, and agreed that they didn't seem too busy. When we visit Asian restaurants, we usually feel that the busier it is, the better it is. At 11:30pm Pho Thanh must have had 60 people in it!!

Does the perfect Pho place exist? I am beginning to think not. But Pho Thanh in Westmister is the closest thing you will find near perfection. And the reasons it isn't are due to minor things or annoyances. The decor is plain and bright. Mostly Asian diners. Its in a strip mall by Brookhurst and Bolsa. 20 minutes from my house....another annoyance due to the distance. And what is with that construction on the 22?! . But I digress.....

The first thing that is great about this place are the condiments They have all the right ones. Not only do they have the Sriracha Chili Paste in a bottle, but the have the coarser, ground one with garlic in the jar. They also have satay sauce in a jar! The only thing that was missing was the Chinese pepper instead of regular black pepper.

Notice the authentic and complete veggie condiments. Look how they have the Gai (saw leaf) herb. So many places never have this. Since this place must do so much volume, everything is so fresh! The basil was so green and crispy along with everything else. They bring this to you right when you sit down. I like this because you can get to work tearing it up so you can put it torn up in your soup right when it arrives so it has a chance to steep. Too many places bring it with the Pho or (gasp!) even after it arrives!

I ordered the #1 special combination Pho with rare beef, cooked brisket, tendon, tripe. Mrs. Dog had the Chicken Pho. We ordered egg rolls too with 1 coke and 1 iced tea.

First came the Pho. How come so many of these places don't understand what an appetizer is and that it should be brought out first?! My Pho came out right away; before the appetizer! Notice how perfect it is though! Notice how the rare meat is actually rare. Yet the broth is scalding hot! Then tendon is surrounded by gelatinous goodness and lots of green onion. This place BY FAR makes the best Pho. The flavor of the broth is the most complex I have had (and I have tried probably 20 Pho places in OC). Every flavor is so strong, but they all work together. You can taste the ginger a little more than the rest, but I like this. Strong anise, lemongrass, and a slight fish sauce flavor. All with a perfect sweetness to it. Absolutely stunning. Noodles are firm, yet silky. The don't clump together like some places. The meat was so tender and such a treat to have it so rare when its not ordered on the side. The tendon is like eating a melting, chewy morsel that literally melts in your mouth. The tripe is flavorful, crisp and chewy.

Mrs. Dog's chicken was the chicken they pull from the bone. Not like the places that use processed chicken. As a matter of fact some of the bones were still in there. Another small annoyance. A great strong chicken flavor in the broth as well.

Another small annoyance is that the portions are a little small in my opinion. They are not "small", but they are not large. How much more would it cost to toss in a little more broth and noodles? Maybe its because this stuff is so good, I always want more?

You have to pay for water if you ask for it and it comes in tiny bottles (I think 4 oz). A soft drink is $1.00 and comes in a tiny 8 oz glass. NO refills. This is pretty annoying and the only thing I really hate about this place. Its not worth it to be that stingy to your customers.

Next came the egg rolls half way through our Pho meal. Sorry about the bad picture. Notice how much lettuce you get. This is critical as most places always jack you on the lettuce and you never have enough to wrap all the egg rolls with. Also it came with lost of cilantro sprigs. A nice dipping sauce as well. They were not greasy and very light. But not a lot of flavor. I felt it could have used more filling in the inside. I would put these as "average"

Our total bill was $20.00 as I tipped horribly as I don't feel you get any service. They bring everything out to you and then they are DONE with you.

Someday I hope to find a place that is truly "perfect". All the condiments (including Chinese pepper ), great Pho, appetizers out first, big portions, open late, refills on drinks, free water, close to my house. I know, I know....I ask for soooooo much. But until then, this place is the best I have found.

Pho Thanh
9625 Bolsa Ave
Westminster, Ca 92683

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Pho Bac Ky - Pho'in GREAT

For those of you that know me, you know that my favorite Pho (Pho is pronounced Fuh BTW) place, Tan Hoang Huong on Chapman in the City of Orange changed owners recently. This was devastating for me on so many levels. First of all, we tried about 15 Pho places before we discovered this place and it was one of the best. It was 7 minutes from my house, and I formed a friendship with the old owner and when I dined there, I was treated like I owned the place. We would eat there weekly at times. The pho was incredible. The new owner changed the recipe (for the worse of course). So I have been on the hunt for a new Pho place and it had to be close to my house. I know all of you are sick of me referencing my old place, but its an easy point of reference for me so that I can tell my tale.

Enter Pho Bac Ky in Tustin. Its in the Stater Bros Shopping center close to the 5 freeway on Red Hill. The first thing I noticed was the owner greeting me. He was so friendly and you could tell so appreciative we came in. Always a huge smile on his face. He will never be as cool and hip as my previous Pho owner, but his friendliness really stood out. The interior is clean and neat but a little small. Nothing really memorable. At my old pho place it was very spacious. There would usually be cool alternative music playing or 2 TV's to watch. This place closes at 8:30 pm and at 8:30 it was 3/4's full.

My old place had a much better condiment selection. Pho Bac Ky is missing some of the things I loved. Satay sauce for one. They had a paste in a jar that looked like it, but it was really some sort of chili paste in oil. It wasn't very hot and sweet in taste. It wasn't bad. Maybe it was satay, but it tasted nothing like what I was used to. They also were missing the ground red chili paste with Garlic. On the plus side they had the Chinese pepper (white pepper I believe) instead of the regular pepper at my old pho place. I have a fetish about condiments at Pho places for some reason and most places are always missing the satay, chili garlic paste, and the saw leaf herb!

The spring rolls were incredibly average. Not as good as my old place. They lacked depth and complexity of flavor. My old place had the "pink mystery meat" in it and this only had some veggies, shrimp, vermicelli. The wrapper was soft and tasty. I found 2 shrimp kind of chintzy as well. The sauce did not have the peanuty flavor I loved and was kind of strong and salty. I probably will not order this again. I saw another table get some fried egg rolls and those looked really good.

I ordered the Pho with rare beef, tendon, tripe, and brisket. This is not the best picture because I already dumped all my veggies in it. The veggies you get are slice jalepenos, bean sprouts, cilantro, and basil. I miss the saw leaf (Gai) herb we used to get at our old place. It seems like very few places have it. But the Pho was AWESOME. The noodles were firm yet tender and had a great flavor to them. The meat was very tender and flavorful. The tripe was tender yet crunchy. The tendons were like beefy soft gummi bears (without the sweetness of course). You could taste the complexity of the broth. The anise, the beef, the slight sweetness. It was some of the best broth I have had. It also had a great "mouth feel" I don't know how else to describe it. When it went into my mouth it felt like it almost would vaporize in my mouth and release all its flavors. Then it would slide down my throat in a silky way. I drank the broth so the bowl was completely dry.

Mrs. Dog had the Chicken Pho which uses chicken stock instead of beef. I tried that as well. I could swear there were wisps of ginger. Very chickeny flavor in the broth. And the chicken is pulled from the bone as opposed to pre processed chicken.

This is why I will be back to this place....because of the Pho!

Finally we ordered some drinks. Cafe Su Da and a blended Lychee drink with Boba. I have not found better Cafe Su Da than what was served at my old Pho place. They used to import the coffee themselves as it was a special blend. I think Pho Bac Ky has a slight edge. Intense coffee flavor. Not just strong, but flavorful. You can almost taste chocolate under tones, but I know they don't add chocolate. Very creamy and a little thicker than most Cafe Su Da's. This is why I give it the edge. Great great great drink. They have it listed as French Expresso or something like that. When I ordered it I said "Cafe Su Da" please and the owner asked "are you Vietnamese?" I said "no, I am Taiwanese" He kept staring at me like he didn't believe me. He finally said, "I though you were Vietnamese because you pronounce Cafe Su Da perfectly" I guess I have Phillip to thank for that!

The Lychee drink wasn't that good. Too sweet and I don't know why its red. The boba's were very mushy and the drink separated (ice from the liquid) almost right way. At my old place, they were nice and thick and the ice was blended so smoothly it was like drinking a milkshake.

Total price for 2 bowls of Pho, Spring Rolls , Cafe Su Da, and the Lychee drink was $24.00. I found this to be a tad bit expensive. This would probably have costed $20.00 at my old place.

However the good far outweighs the minuses here. Its convenient and I really liked how the owner was so friendly. Service was fast and efficient and cheerful. And the Pho is spectacular. For these reasons, this will probably be our new regular place. I wish it would open later than 8:30 pm though.

Pho Bac Ky
14207 Red Hill Ave.
Tustin, Ca 92780

Guarana Soda

Last week I was selected as the "designated driver" So it was soft drinks for me all night. We went to this bar in a Brazilian BBQ. We didn't eat there. We are anxiously awaiting the opening of the new one on the Corner of Mac Arthur & Main by John Wayne Airport.

Anyway, I had an Antarctica brand Guarana soda. It was awesome. So awesome I bought 6 to take home and now I decided to do a review on the drink I had there.

From a Guarana Website :

"Guarana (pronounced gwa-ra-naa), a berry that grows in Venezuela and Brazil , takes its name from the Guarani tribe in Brazil, who believe that the plant first grew from the eyes of a divine child who had been killed by a serpent. The botanical name of this plant, Paullinia Cupana, was derived from the name of the German botanist C.F. Paullini who discovered it in the18th century. Guarana may indeed boost energy, since its main ingredient is guaranine, which is chemically identical to caffeine "

You will feel pretty neat-o drinking something from a rain forrest! The color of the soda is the color of apple cider. The flavor is not too strong. Unlike an energy drink (Red Bull, Monster, etc) its not so sweet and flavored like vitamins. It is simply delicious. It has a berry like taste combined with a faint apple taste. Its pretty bubbly and is one of the best soft drinks I have ever tasted. Very light and very refreshing and a unique flavor that I believe will appeal to most people. The added bonus is you get a "kick" of energy when you drink it!

Just about every Brazilian BBQ restaurant has it. So you can get it there. I also found a Brazilian Grocery Store in Los Angeles that has it and its pretty cheap there. You can even mail order it.

There are other brands of Guarana soda. But they pretty much taste the same from what I have been told (ie Coke vs Pepsi).

Amazon Brazilian BBQ
1445 S. Lemon St. Fullerton, CA

Brazlian pickup or mail order grocery store
10926 Venice Blvd #105, Culver City, CA 90232
310-837-4291 or 310-837-4299

$2.50 ea. at the restaurant $9.00 for a 12 pack at the store

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Farmer Boys Fish & Chips - Cheap Eats!

The Kentucky Derby cleaned me out and I spent over $100 bucks on that fabulous sushi dinner (see prior review) last night. Although I was hungry, I was feeling especially cheap tonight. Where could we go tonight and eat tasty food and spend little money? Ahhhh, Farmer Boys for Fish & Chips!

There are 3 ways you can get Fish at Farmer Boys. #1 In a sandwich #2 Fish & Chips only #3 Fish and Chips Complete Dinner. Here is the trick. Order the Fish & Chips DINNER and it will feed 2 people. Its a ton of food! You get 4 pieces of fish, and an obscene amount of fries, 2 huge onion rings, toast, and a salad or soup. With a large drink (that Mrs. Dog and I shared), the whole meal was about 9 bucks. For 2! The other trick is to have them give you "regular fries" instead of the "upgraded" steak fries you get only with the dinner. They are not as good as they have some sort of coating on them and some kind of seasoning. The regular bright yellow fries at these places rock!

We got the salad with a creamy Italian dressing. Nothing special. Not bad. Kind of what you would get if you ordered a salad at a cafeteria. Its on a large plate (actually platter) so its easy to satisfy 2 people. You can go up to the condiment counter and get those hot banana peppers for free and eat those too with your salad. I love those!

The onion rings are OK. A little too corn mealy. I much prefer the battered ones better. Onions were tender and juicy though on the inside. Probably because they were so big. Too often they get dried out at many places.

The toast was buttered on both sides. It was like biting into a toasted sponge full of melted butter. There was so much butter in this thing. We did not care for it.

The fish is awesome. Beer battered and crispy. Light in texture and very crunchy at first. It got a little soggy after a while because we drenched it with malt vinegar. The fish they use is pollock. The only thing that could make the fish better is if they used cod. I don't even know why that would be. I just know that cod tastes awesome. But if I didn't know it was Pollock, I would have thought this was cod. If I didn't tell you, YOU would think its cod. I think cod would have been slightly firmer. Anyway, the fish was juicy, firm, and mild. You get 4 huge pieces with the dinner! The tartar sauce is good too. I am not a tartar sauce connoisseur. I only can recognize it when its BAD, and this sauce was not bad and very tasty. This is seriously some of the best Fish & Chips available in Orange County and its so convenient and the price can't be beat. I love it when you find great food at places that don't specialize in the dish you are after. Farmer boys is not a British Pub or anything like that. The fries were awesome too. Light and pure. No funky coating. Just the right amount of salt.

The employees would come by on their own and offer to refill our drinks. They could tell right off the bat I was being a cheapskate and sharing a drink with Mrs. Dog. They could care less. They just wanted to make sure we were happy. And happy and full we were!

Who would have guessed that the long shot at the Kentucky Derby paid $102 on a $2.00 bet and that the the $2.00 Exacta paid over $9,000! If I had picked the horses better you would not know about this great meal.

There are numerous Farmer Boys across Southern California. We ate at the one on the corner of 17th St and Tustin Ave in Santa Ana

Before we left the manager gave us these coupons that do not have an expiration date. Next time we can get the meal for $5.99 which is about a 2 dollar saving and a 3 egg complete breakfast for $3.99. You gotta love this place!

Uoko - Sushi Nirvana in Orange County!

Perfection. Something that we strive to experience, but rarely do. I found it tonight. The perfect sushi experience. NO, its not in New York, Las Vegas, Japan...its right here in OC. South County as a matter of fact. Where everything is about as distinctive as a terra cotta tile roof on a tract home.

I have eaten at so many sushi restaurants over the years. I have eaten at some of the most expensive ones in the United States. Nobu in Las Vegas at $300 a person, Tokyo-Tokyo at the Mandarin Hotel in Honolulu to name a couple. And believe me the sushi experience was great. But its just as good at Uoko in Lake Forrest at a fraction of the cost.

Sushi Bars are like a favorite drinking bar. Its very personal. Many things besides the food make people recommend an establishment. Uoko has great food, but so much more. Its a DINING EXPERIENCE. The food, patrons, chefs, and ambiance all perform to make this place unmatched. Many sushi places have "fresh fish". Other things are needed to set them apart from the others. Uoko has these things in spades.

I have found 2 kinds of sushi bars. Very traditional ones and very progressive ones that fuse different cuisines into their offerings. I have found that the traditional ones offer excellent quality and I appreciate the strict adherence to custom and decorum. However, the offering sometimes gets boring. The there are the new "fusion" restaurants that offer a progressive, exciting offering, but often times makes you wonder if you are eating at a sushi bar or at a Wolfgang Puck's after Wolfgang(aka Elmer Fudd) got back from Japan and wanted to showcase what he saw on his vacation. Tuna in a crepe, perhaps? No authenticity! Uoko is the perfect blend of the 2. You will feel the creativeness, innovation, and exoticness you crave, and at the same time, the tradition, quality, and authenticity you REQUIRE. Our sushi chef Tomo also exemplifies this. Traditional when needed, but a hell of a lot of fun and engaging as well! Ken was also great. He is the other sushi chef on the other side. And Masa is the owner and the master. A jolly man who has a surprisinly humble demeanor and is so concerned that you are enjoying yourself.

I will concede that places like Nobu fill your senses and ego with the ambiance and atmosphere that is hard to beat. They blast you with rare and exotic delicacies that perpetuate this state of euphoria. Your ego is fed by the "rare" offerings they remind you that you are eating. "I thought this was just an eel"Turns out its some almost endagered species. It tastes good, but is it 50 dollars good for a serving? You tell yourself so to justify the price you paid. But if you ignore the fancy titles (ie "Seasonal Wild Mushrooms that only sprout every 10 years) and close your eyes, and listen with your mouth and not your ears, you will find that the food served at Uoko tastes just as good. I bet if I threw some exotic stories and titles by the dishes, they would taste the same or if not better!

Uoko is in a strip mall in Lake Forrest where Captain Creams is located. I have no idea what goes on at Captain Creams ;). I just hear that people will know where this place is if I threw that name out there. Specials are written on the wall. All Japanese men preparing sushi. Tomo is a younger (34 year old) chef who loves to surf. His Spanish is better than his English. The patrons consisted of mostly Japanese with several Caucasian people mixed in. Our experience was a whole NIGHT affair. We requested Omakase and let the chef decided what was best. We spent over 3 hours there and Uoko is not just a place where you go for dinner, but where you go to be entertained for the whole evening. Its a whole night affair. We partied with the sushi chefs, drank with them, and engaged with all the other patrons. These people were all complete strangers and by the end of the night it was like we were all long lost friends. I have to admit that this added to the experience and probably is skewing my review!

We had to wait as the place was packed. We arrived at 8:30pm and we noticed Kirin on draft. Most Japanese beer in the US is all brewed in Canada now (check the label) and tastes like Hell. Kirin is the same. But they have it on draft which improves the taste exponentially! We ordered a pitcher and drank while we waited. The waitress brought out soybeans without us asking. We made new friends with others that were waiting. I was actually disappointed when were seated as we were having a great time waiting. But we had to eat at some point!

The first dish was Maguro. Very traditional. But the quality was incredible. The texture was like velvet. What I noticed the most though was the quality of the rice! Such complex yet subtle flavor. I have never eaten sushi where the rice demanded my attention. Tangy and sweet. Firm but with a great mouth feel when you bit through the grains. We also had Toro.. It was like melting butter that was cold. If muguro was like velvet, the toro (from Japan I was informed) was like silk.

Next was Tuna Tetaki sashimi. Perfectly seared with poznu sauce. The combination of velvety textures with firm, dense cooked tuna, with the citrus flavor of the Ponzu combined with the explosion of taste from the thinly sliced onions. Simply incredible!

Next were spicy tuna handrolls. The nori demanded attention this time. The chef told me that the nori they use was selected after sampling many different ones by the nori specialist from their supplier. Similar to a wine tasting. The butteryness of the avocado complimented the tuna perfectly and the crunch of the nori with the cucumber was perfectly matched. Someone knew what they were doing. This was the 3rd tuna dish I had in a row and every tuna dish was like a completely new fish.

Next was an asparagus dish with seasonal mushrooms. I am not sure what kind of mushrooms they were. It tasted like buttered veal. The asparagus was cooked to perfection. Firm and delicate. The buttery sauce was like a liquor produced by the mushroom gods.

I hate shiso. Probably because I don't care for mint. When shiso is servered, its usually raw. When raw its very strong and minty in my opionion. I was worried when they brought his out as I noticed the deep fired shiso leafs. I ate one on its own. When they served it tempura style, there was no trace of that minty flavor. It was incredibly subdued and mild. I could not believe what I was eating. The sushi chef "Tomo" stopped me. He told me I was to put the tuna tartar on it with a slice of avocado and eat it. Euphoria! That's all I can say. All of those flavors working in harmony. Keep in mind that this was the 4th tuna dish I had!! This was the most exciting dish I had that night and this is a testament to their skill at blending traditionalism with contemporary techniques. The orange droplets were a spicy mayonnaise based sauce that took the dish to new levels. So many strong flavors balancing each other out. Tomo told me to brush the bites with the lemon slices. "Don't squeeze..just brush" The ability to infuse so much more flavor from such subtleties blew my mind!

Next were king crab legs that were broiled with a buttery, citrus, garlic glaze. This was to die for. But then again, its pretty hard to screw up King Crab. I was amazed at how much flavor they could bring out with the simplest of ingredients!

Elmomonster recently wrote about Super Corokke. I have been there before and found it average. Not that the place was bad, but how excited can you get over a fritter? They brought this out and I was thinking "oh no.....just what I need, another crab cake slathered in tartar sauce." This dish again floored me. Mild and complex was the crab corokke. But the star was the sauce. It resembled tartar sauce but not as creamy. More chunky. More substance. More complex. It was like a salad you would buy at Bristol Farms or something. Not as strong as tartar sauce. Yet it payed homage to tartar sauce. It complemented the corokke perfectly but did not over power. After finishing the fritter there was a lot of sauce left over. I ended up eating the sauce on its own as it could have easily stood on its own as a chilled salad.

On of the specialties at Uoko are the live Ama Ebi. You can not get them fresher than this. Caught in Santa Barbara. Tomo was gracious enough to pick out one we named "Skippy". Skippy was a girl though. She was loaded with eggs. She was served to me alive with the shell taken off and I was told to bite the tail off while it was alive on my plate. It twitched in my mouth and the whole bar was cheering and toasting me with beer. Sweet, delicate flavor with perfect firm, silky texture. I won't put up photos of this so PETA doesn't come knocking on my door. I apologize to Skippy for such a drawn out death, but then again it is your fault for tasting so good.

The other shrimp was prepared regularly. Tomo name him Steve. He gave me an extra tail for Mrs. Dog as well. We will call him John Doe as he was not named. The heads were deep fried. The roe in Skippy was incredible. Salty goodness that was like a million individual explosions in my mouth! May the 3 of you rest in peace and please know that your deaths were not in vain. You made me very happy that night!

Next was Tako. Perfectly tender. Not too salty like a lot of places. Drizzled with eel sauce. The sweetness was a good call. This was like eating candy. I admired Tomo's skill in bringing me back to "tradition" with this dish.

Next was halibut. Tomo said that I was in for a surprise. I received 2 pieced of Halibut and 1 piece of Halibut fin. The halibut was mild with a slight kiss of ocean saltiness. Hints of lemon and spiciness from the red stuff on it. It had a poznu sauce which opened my taste buds with its citrus magic. The fin might as well have been another species of fish. Chewy and more gelatinous. Served with nothing except a brushing of lemon. I wanted it to keep coming, but I was full. Damn you stomach!

Tomago is typically eaten at the end of a meal. When I try a new sushi bar I usually order it first. Its one of the only things a sushi bar makes. A lot of the other sushi is up to mother nature. If I taste the Tomago and its bad, I will order tempura and udon or I will simply ask for the check. Its a testament to the skills of the sushi chef. I have been known to walk out of a bar after tasting one order of bad tomago. Yes I am a sushi snob. At Uoko, the chef who makes the tomago "brands" his personal seal into the "loaf". It looks like a pieces of branded cattle. Each chef makes it slightly differently with his special recipe. Tomo's tomago is perfect. Not too sweet, but sweet enough. You can fell the many layers as you chew it in your mouth. Surprisingly complex. Flavors of egg, mirin, sake, and sugar danced in my mouth. No need to try this first at Uoko. After this we received the traditional oranges drizzled with plum wine. But in addition we got a log of tempura banana and a scoop of plum wine ice cream.

2 people $83.00 with 2 pitchers of beer that were $15.00 each. I would put Uoko up with the most expensive sushi bars in the world. You may not have the over the top decor of those places (although the decor is just fine at Uoko), but your taste buds will short circuit your eyes and make you realize that when you eat doesn't matter! When you open your wallet you will be overjoyed because you will still be able to see shades of green. Or was that the 3 pitchers of beer causing me to see things? (Tomo bought me one)

Uoko 23600 Rockfield Blvd, Lake Forest, 92630 - (949) 837-7231

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Burmese Food Festival

The festival was relatively small. It was in a park and was about the size of a large get together in a park. If you didn't know about it, you probably would not have guessed it was a festival. I felt that it lacked the "authenticity" and ambiance of the Thai festival. No temples or anything like that.

The entertainment consisted of various people getting up and singing Karoke in Burmese. It was God awful and CONTINUOUS. If you want to hear some kickass Brotha's singing, go to

The food was extremely authentic and in my opinion too "advanced" for American tastes (as was conveyed by Mrs Dog, who is Caucasian but very adventurous). I am Taiwanese so I am accustomed to "advanced" food. But even some of the food they had there was a little funky for me. Many of the booths had the same things. Pictured here is a sampling of pork stomachs, ears, and tongues stewed in soy sauce. We eat this all the time on the Taiwanese table, so I thought I would start with something I was familiar with and enjoyed. It was GREAT. Gelatinous goodness with a great flavor. They only difference between this style and Taiwanese style is the spicy orange colored sauce they had for it. This made it awesome. Slightly tangy with a great flavor. Nice crunch in the pig ears and the tongue was firm and flavorful.

There was nothing written in English so I can not tell you what we ate. We had no idea what we were eating. We just picked things that looked interesting. This dish started out as a shredded cabbage and vegetable slaw in a bowl. We thought that's what it would be. Then they ladled over this soup. So we were wrong and it turned out to be a soup. It tasted like a Burmese version of chicken tortilla soup. There were fried won tons in it and bits of pork meat. Then they also had chick peas and potatoes. Slightly tangy, but not a sour soup. It wasn't that bad, but it wasn't great.

Next were these fried vegetables and the orange sauce again. I think it was some sort of squash? The batter was heavier than a tempura. It was pretty good. Rather oily though.

Beef on a stick. This had a strong flavor. I can't describe it (and I am usually pretty good at identifying flavors). I guess the sauce was peanut sauce, but it tasted nothing like peanuts. It wasn't bad, but again, not that great. Cucumber salad was mild and good, but kind of uneventful and similar to Japanese pickles, but very light

Mrs. Dog wanted something sweet. She was going to get an ice cream cone. I said "You can't eat that here, you have to get something authentic" So we got this. I HATE milk by the way. Its probably the only food I can say I hate. Mrs. Dog loves things like rice pudding. Rice with MILK! I am wretching just typing that out! This was some sort of milk drink flavored with rose flavoring with green balls, chunks of gelatinous red cubes, pieces of ice, ice cream, cake, and pieces of milk custard squares. There was a lot of stuff going on in this desert! Mrs Dog said it was rather funky and sweet and ate about 1/2 of it. I tasted some and it tasted like 7 courses of milk (with chunks). I am the wrong person to give a review on this as I hate milk so much.

Welcome to milk Hell. Just kidding. Other people may like this. It reminded me of what your sink would look like if you were cleaning up after a 2 year old's birthday party and I just couldn't get past it.

Monks with cell phones. I just found this interesting so I snapped a picture; and it goes back to my authenticity comment. I don't think Buddha is with Cingular so I cant use my in network free calls to call him without paying. Salvation should be free