Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Eatery - Ramen Yamadaya (CA) Revisited

Ramen Yamadaya on Urbanspoon

1175 Baker St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Pricing - $/$$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Japanese, Ramen

Why yes, I did return to Ramen Yamadaya so soon after my first visit [read the first review here]. Why is that, you ask? My little brother loves ramen, and I had taken him to work with me earlier that day. After being cold and doing a lot of physical work, we wanted to warm ourselves up with some delicious broth.


I actually convinced him to get the combo which was the ramen + gyoza + mabo tofu (there are other choices but this is what we got). The mabo tofu was very delicious - we both gave delighted thumbs up for it. The sticky rice made it very filling. I enjoyed how the gyoza was made to order and came out very hot. The filling was pretty good though could've been less salted.

I ordered the takoyaki as a side and found it quite delicious save for the saturation of sauce. I wiped off what I could since they seemed a tad drenched in sauce and savored the squishy freshness of the octopus.

As for my broth itself, I got the standard since last time, I had gotten the soy sauce noodles. It was definitely lighter than the other bowl I had had but just as good. The richness of all the marrow infused in the broth and the firmness of the noodles in my mouth made the night feel so much better. I only wish my stomach were big enough to handle all the food we ordered and my wallet large enough for how quickly everything added up!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quips & Anecdotes - More Salads

More salads! I've noticed that ever since I've started work, it's been more difficult to get exercise time in. Because of this, I want to get more aggressive with what I eat since the physical activity is limited unfortunately. Fortunately, I've managed to convince Duc to join me in this venture (and he didn't resist at all!). What this has meant is that I have been trying to get creative by eating a heck-of-a-lot more greens in well-balanced salads, and he's been joining in on the meals! It's actually been quite great since salads always taste so refreshing. We just recently stocked up on supplies to fix ourselves our veggie-heavy meals so here's to a fun next few weeks. If you have any favorite salad recipes to shoot my way, please do so! Meanwhile, I'll post whatever concoctions we create if they tickle our fancies (and look good on camera like the picture above).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Eatery - Seafood Palace (CA)

6731 Westminster Blvd, Westminster, CA 92683
Pricing - $$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Chinese

 My family wanted to head over to get dim sum on Sunday before my brother moved to New York but we didn't end up being ready to leave until around 11:00am. While we normally go to Monterey Park to get dim sum, we didn't want to go so late in the day all the way there. My mom had heard of a place nearby that recently opened that served dim sum.


So off we went. I should've immediately been alerted when she mentioned how all dim sum was $2. Even the sign outside was a red flag for me. Inside it looked strange with all the tables with chivari chairs (clashing!). There were few dim sum carts around but we managed to get food albeit slowly. Of the food, I only liked the two tripe dishes we had (one was the spicy blood/tripe stew and the other a slick bell peppery dish) and the crispy octopus which was so fried that it was just like eating crispies.


All the dim sum standards were quite sub-par (shu mai, har gow, shrimp rice noodle); they were larger than normal but bigger doesn't mean better. We also got chicken feet which I didn't try, wontons which were alright, and soup dumplings which were terribly dry. Everything, including the dishes I liked, was way too salty. I was so thirsty after the meal.

For dessert, there wasn't any dan ta! The HORROR! Instead we got the egg custard filled pastries but the bread was basically just that, not the sweet Chinese buns I'm used to. Sadness indeed. Not planning on coming back here despite the cheap prices.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quips & Anecdotes - OC Restaurant Week

It's here! The Orange County Restaurant Week starts today and goes on until March 3rd! You can click here to get to the full website to see more information. If you're curious about which restaurants are participating, they are listed below in alphabetical order. Fixed menu prices range from $10 - $40 for both lunch and dinner. Anyone want to take me out on a date this week?

  • 118 Degrees
  • 230 Forest Avenue
  • 370 Common
  • 6ix Park Grill
  • Anaheim White House
  • Andrei's Conscious Cuisine
  • AnQi
  • Antonello's Ristorante
  • Avanti Cafe
  • Bluewater Grill - Newport Beach and Tustin
  • Brasserie Pascal
  • Brea Improv
  • Cafe Tu Tu Tango
  • Canaletto by Il Fornaio 
  • Canyon Restaurant
  • Catal
  • Cedar Creek - Brea and San Juan
  • Cha Cha's Latin Kitchen
  • Chapter One: the modern local
  • Charlie Palmer
  • Citrus Fresh Grill
  • Crow Burger Kitchen
  • Crystal Jade -Asian fine dining
  • Cucina Enoteca
  • Duke's
  • Fire + Ice Grill & Bar
  • Five Crowns
  • French 75
  • GG's Bistro
  • Great Maple
  • Harborside Restaurant
  • House of Big Fish
  • House of Blues
  • Il Fornaio
  • Irvine Improv 
  • Katsuya
  • K'ya Bistro
  • K'ya Street Fare
  • Lulu's Creperie Cafe
  • Lumberyard
  • Maggiano's
  • Marrakesh
  • Matador Cantina
  • Mayur
  • Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
  • Memphis at the Santora
  • Mosaic Bar & Grille
  • Mozambique
  • Mr. Stox
  • Nello Cucina
  • Newport Landing
  • Nirvana Grille - Laguna Beach 
  • Nirvana Grille - Mission Viejo
  • No Ka Oi
  • O'Neill's Bar & Grill
  • Opah - Irvine and Aliso Viejo
  • Orange Hill Restaurant
  • Palm Terrace Restaurant
  • Pinot Provence
  • Pirates Dinner Adventure
  • Pizzelle's Bistro
  • Pizzeria Ortica
  • Prego Ristorante
  • Prime Cut CafĂ©
  • Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen
  • RA Sushi Bar Restaurant Tustin and Huntington Beach
  • Rockin Baja
  • Royal Hawaiian
  • Rusty Pelican
  • Ruth's Chris - Anaheim
  • Ruth's Chris - Irvine
  • Sage
  • Sandy's Beach Grill
  • Savannah Chophouse
  • Savoy Restaurant & Lounge
  • Scott's Restaurant
  • Seasons 52
  • Signature Kitchen
  • Simply Fondue - San Juan Capistrano and Mission Viejo
  • Slaters 50/50
  • SOL Cocina
  • Spark Woodfire Grill
  • Splashes
  • Starfish
  • Summit House
  • Sundried Tomato - San Clemente, San Juan Cap & Laguna Beach
  • SWSH Shabu Shabu
  • Tabu Grill
  • Tangata
  • TAPS Fish House
  • The Californian
  • The Capital Grille
  • The Catch
  • The Crow Bar and Kitchen 
  • The Hot Lunch Lady
  • The Melting Pot - Brea and Irvine
  • The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
  • The Ritz Restaurant & Garden
  • The Rooftop Lounge
  • The Winery Restaurant
  • Tommy Bahama - Laguna Beach
  • Tommy Bahama - Newport Beach
  • True Food Kitchen
  • Vue Restaurant
  • Watermarc
  • Zimzala 
  • Zov's Bistro

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Quips & Anecdotes - February Foods

I've already been pretty bad about my new year's resolution but who isn't? Anyhow, my resolution was to celebrate all of the "food months" by eating or cooking with the celebrated food. I'm going to make sure to buy some macadamia nuts this weekend so that I can force myself to fulfill the criteria! Here were the February observations (I need very little more):

  • Berry Month
  • Canned Food Month
  • Cherry Month
  • Chocolate Month
  • Fiber Focus Month
  • Grapefruit Month
  • Hot Breakfast Month
  • Macadamia Nut Month
  • Potato Month
  • Snack Food Month
  • Sweet Potato Month

Friday, February 24, 2012

Eatery - Auld Irisher (CA) Revisited

Auld Irisher on Urbanspoon

1547 Katella Ave, Ste 102, Orange, CA 92867
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Irish, Pub

[You can visit my first review here.] Before going to see the movie Chronicle, Duc and I decided that we'd have dinner at the first place where we had reconnected months ago. On a Thursday night, it was quite empty with only two people sitting at the bar. The bartender looked a bit surprised to see us come in for dinner but he was very nice. We had made it in time for Happy Hour so wanted to take advantage of that by ordering our desired pints of Guinness.

We also got a side of their "Irish Nachos" since it was on the Happy Hour menu, and we weren't starving. We figured a side and an entree would be enough. These were huge! They were basically like regular nachos but atop french fries rather than tortilla chips. I guess that's what makes them Irish, the potatoes. These were actually very good since the veggies on them were fresh and the bacon bits actually pieces of bacon. The fries were hot and fantastic. I'm definitely getting these again.

Our entree was their Guinness beef stew in boxty format. I'd say that these were a little uninspired in terms of flavor. I mean, it was great that it wasn't too salty as a lot of beef stews tend to be but the flavor wasn't very strong otherwise. I liked the potatoes inside because they were quite smooth in texture. The beef was soft, and the boxty slightly crisp. Would I order again? Probably not. Still, it's a cool place to chill at.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eatery - Mama D's Italian Kitchen (CA)

3012 Newport Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92663
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Italian

I wanted to take a friend out for her birthday, and she suggested that we use the Yelp deal she got for $30 for $60 worth of food for Mama D's. I saw that the place got great ratings, and I'm always one for trying new places. I got there first and noticed that the parking situation was tiny but there was complimentary valet parking for the restaurant, so I left my vehicle to the hands of people I didn't know (valet's a strange concept sometimes...). My friend and her sister were still driving, so I put my name down first and waited outside for them. The staff gave me some bread while I waited - delicious! Then they told me I ought to sit down and pretend the rest of my group was in the bathroom or something because they were expecting a heavy dinner rush (it was a Friday night). That was nice of them to seat me first!

When my friends finally got there, we proceeded to get two appetizers to stuff ourselves after the bread. The bread, by the way, was excellent and garlicky as well as the garlic-infused oil they gave us. So anyhow, our first appetizer was the bruschetta. Interestingly, they had melted the mozzarella onto the bread. I only had one because I had just recently gotten over food poisoning so wanted to keep my tender stomach away from too much dairy but it was delicious. The tomatoes were fresh and the bread crisp. Not sure how it would've tasted cold though. Our other appetizer was the calamari. Oh my was that delicious. I'd put it in the top three dishes of calamari I've had for its crunchiness, good amount of seasoning, texture of the squid, and abundance.

My dish itself was one of the specials, the Pasta Puttanesca. I know everyone raves about the pink sauce but I was trying to stay away from dairy (which I'm sure is in the pink sauce since it's creamy). This entree I got was in the fra diovoli sauce; I had it with angel hair pasta and it was tossed with mushrooms, capers, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and olives. They're pretty much all of my favorite things. The sauce had a nice kick to it (the waitress had already told me there would be a tad bit of heat), and everything tasted so fresh. Loved it!

We couldn't finish everything so took some home. The staff wrote some funny messages on our boxes which is awesome. Our waitress was so kind - she made an effort to get to know our names and chatted us up often despite how busy everything was. Thanks Jodie for making our night splendid!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eatery - Ramen Yamadaya (CA)

1175 Baker St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Pricing - $/$$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Japanese, Ramen

Though we had originally decided to get udon that night, an impromptu trip to IKEA resulted in Duc and me trying to find somewhere else nearby to eat since we were on a time schedule. Yelp helped us in finding a well-ranked ramen place so we stopped here - trading one Japanese noodle dish for another. I noticed that we were pretty much the only non-Japanese there when we walked in. That's a pretty good sign though, especially since the guests were in the older crowd. I like to believe that if older Japanese people frequent a Japanese restaurant, it's a sign that the food is authentic and good enough to merit visits (and this applies for other ethnic foods as well).

Anyhow, the menu was pretty much varying dishes of ramen and a few sides. I got the tonkotsu shoyu (Tokyo-style soy sauce flavored ramen) with extra chashu pork. Yummy! Aside from the slight saltiness that was due most likely to a little bit more soy sauce than I would've preferred, the entire thing was delicious. It was odd though because I hadn't like ramen when I had had it at Shinsengumi but I really enjoyed what I had here. The noodles were a good texture and the soup very hearty, the type that makes you feel warm inside and out. It was a good thing the night was chilly too because it sure made everything feel more comfortable. The broth had a lot of flavor from the pork bones themselves.

Duc got the tonkotsu kotteri (fatty ramen w/black garlic oil) style which was very thick in my opinion; he had also stacked on two kinds of chashu pork, an egg, menma, and extra nori). It wasn't thick in a bad, unbearable way. I just didn't think it adequately was to my taste because it made me full even after just one sip. A hearty soup indeed. He slurped the whole thing up before I had even gotten halfway though my bowl! We're definitely coming back another time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eatery - Taps Fish House & Brewery (CA)

Taps Fish House & Brewery on Urbanspoon

101 E Imperial Hwy, Brea, CA 92821
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Casual, Dressy Casual | Cuisine - Seafood

My friends and I actually came here because one of them is obsessed with Portola Coffee Lab and heard that there was a collaboration between the coffee place and Taps Brewery. It was for a mocha stout. Being the stout lover I am, I gladly joined in on the fun as the seven of us went for some beer and appetizers. I was starving so was very glad for the very delicious bread and balsamic/EVOO dip.  The mocha stout was very strong on the coffee side of it and less so on the chocolate; it was pretty decent but not something I'd choose to have often.

Since we had caught on during Happy Hour, we decided to grab some small plates as the general dinner entrees were a tad pricey. We were also sitting outside in the outdoor bar area so there was definitely a different atmosphere than inside. I guess we were there at Taps Brewery rather than the Fish House. Anyhow, our first order was for the housemade chips which I honestly could've done without. Usually when I get housemade chips at a place, they still have a bit of potato "meat" to them but these were the real deal in terms of thinness as chips. That's not bad on their part but I suppose I was just expecting something else.

The star small plate items were the ceviche tostadas. Oh my goodness, I'm eating dinner right now but I already want the tostadas again. I don't know what godly recipe they used but these sent me into a food bliss. The ceviche had a great amount of flavor/tang/citrus/everything. Loved them immensely and for $3 for two during Happy Hour, fantastic.

By the recommendation of our waitress, we got the fish tacos. I thought they were a tad salty but hey, the guacamole was good. I'm coming back for Taps' Happy Hour for sure and maybe one day when my wallet feels comfortable enough, I'll try for the regular menu.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Articles & News - Ski-Thru Starbucks

Oh innovation. Looks like even while skiing, people want their daily cup of joe. A new ski-thru Starbucks has opened in Squaw Valley on Lake Tahoe at a nice 2,400 meters above sea level. Customers can order whether or not they take advantage of the ski-thru window service. Inspired by base jumper JT Holmes who was usually seen skiing with coffee in hand, this Starbucks lets skiiers drink while they ski. I wonder how that works though; also, do the baristas come out on skis to chase down any ski-thru robbers?

Reader questions: What do you think of this store's opening? Would you want coffee while you skiied?

Original article:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quips & Anecdotes - Spice Gift

So one day when I was out and about, I saw a cute package of "miniature novelty test tubes" that I thought would befit one of my friends. It was so near her birthday that I figured I'd do something with them. The idea popped in my head of making her own tiny spice set so I set about looking on how to do it. An avid fan of lemons, she made me think that zest in spices would be a great idea.

So I did just that. Since there were 5 different types of test tubes (2 of each color), I decided to create 5 concoctions using zest. For zest, you want it to be fairly dry before adding with other spices lest it mold. Alternatively, you can mix it in with sugar, for example, when it's fresh so the citrus oils get rubbed in but then you'd have to dry that out too. I just opted for sticking the zest in the oven on warm for a few minutes just for drying purposes.

I decided on lemon pepper (with freshly ground black peppercorns), lemon sea salt, lemon sugar, lemon basil, and lemon poultry seasoning (she's a chicken person). It was actually quite fun mixing things up. I felt like a mini-kitchen chemist.

The end product of the tubes was playfully wrapped in Chenille stems of appropriate color and tied together with green tissue paper as if a bouquet. I gave it to her Friday night and hopefully it will be of use. It makes me curious about making actual blends with a grinder (I'll need to buy one). Anyhow, think of it as a gift idea! Make spices for your friends, and let me know if you've got any recommendations on grinders for me to look into. I'd love to experiment.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tips & Techniques - Packed Lunches

My friend asked me a few weeks ago (sorry for the delay) to look into figuring out meals that could be packed that wouldn't require a refrigerator or microwave once taken out for the day. She's got days jam-packed with school and nowhere to prepare meals; she'd also grown incredibly tired of sandwiches of any shape and form. I had done the research but kept failing to post it so I figured it'd be a good idea to do it on her birthday. Happy virtual birthday gift! Hope this helps =]

Equipment & prep
Things that will be your friend are a thermos, insulated lunch bag, ice pack, tupperware, and plastic wrap. To use your thermos smartly, pre-heat it by filling with hot water the morning of when you get ready to go wherever you're going. Then dump out the hot water and put in whatever needs to stay warm. It should keep until you eat! As for when the heck you're going to have time to do these things, strive for the weekends or the night before. Make several prepped lunches on days when you are less swamped with work so you don't have to worry day-to-day.

Sandwiches and wraps
Yes my friend got tired of these but you can't deny that they're one of the easier foods to make for packed lunches. You'll have to have to learn to switch it up a bit with the fillings. Keep in mind that if you're going to be without refrigeration all day, mayonnaise and other like spreads will spoil quite easily. Be careful of what you put in with them. To avoid soggy sandwiches, you can pack your vegetables separately or toast your bread on the inner sides. Mix it up with the type of breads you'll be using - sliced bread, bagel halves, flatbread, tortillas, etc. Though technically not a "wrap," I've found that stuffed grape leaves are small but pack a delicious and filling punch too. You could also try non-raw sushi or onigiri.

We're using this term loosely here. I had mentioned earlier not to use perishable spreads so ranch dressing and such are not the best to think about. Pasta salads are a good choice here (tortellini salad, rotini salad, couscous, etc). I liked having rotini tossed with peas, carrots, lemon juice, and olive oil back when I was in school. With caution to the weather, you can also bring potato/chicken/tuna salad with you and some crackers. Try tabbouleh (had a lot of this too!) which is an Arab salad made of bulgur, tomato, cucumber, parsley, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. How about a caprese salad of mozzarella and grape tomatoes? Chickpea salad?

Crackers & accompaniments
If you don't like crackers, you've got other choices such as flatbread, crispbread, tostadas, tortilla chips, pita chips, pita bread, and crostini. Pack some cheese (Babybel - good for individual portions, Laughing Cow for spreading, cheese cubes, string cheese for snacking, etc) or dips (hummus, white bean dip, salsa, etc). True, this won't be the most filling part of your meal but it's a good quick eat in between bigger meals. You could even make your own "Lunchables" by slicing up meats and cheeses beforehand. Try salumi (dried) with your food or even canned tuna/salmon/chicken.

Fruits & Vegetables
A healthy go-to, fruits and vegetables can make life easier. There are some that you can bring whole but some that you can also slice up the night before (lemon or saltwater will keep from browning). Some examples of fruits to tote along are apples (with caramel dip maybe?), oranges, grapes, bananas, melons, tangerines/clementines, berries, mango, pineapple, grapefruit, peaches, and watermelon. Don't have fresh fruit on hand? Get some healthy individual fruit cups or even applesauce. Dried fruits are delicious as well. Don't forget juice boxes (just be wary of added sugar)! For veggies, try sugar snap peas, edamame, green beans, celery, broccoli, and baby carrots. Marinate some mushrooms to pop into your mouth.

Breads & dried goods
Carbs for energy! Without getting into the different varieties of breads, keep in mind that muffins and bagels can be your filling friends. There are also hearty flavorful breads that will keep you feeling more stuffed than plain ol' white such as banana, pumpkin, or even raisin breads. Cornbread is a nice accompaniment to a meal. Heck, you can even bring pancakes and waffles with you! Pasties of any kind will do whether fruit or meat. To get more adventurous, pack cold soba or buckwheat noodles to slurp up. How about seasoned polenta, tempeh, or fried tofu? Falafel's a nice change as well as pan-fried risotto cakes. For dried snacks, look to trail mix, granola, jerky, and nuts.

Heated foods
This is where the tip with the thermos comes in handy. Fill it up with hot water while you're getting ready in the morning and then empty before popping in your food. You could have any type of soups in your thermos or hearty chili. Stick boiled eggs in there (which can also be had cold). Put tamales or enchiladas in the cozy container. Chicken cutlets or grilled chicken breast? Baked potato? If it fits, it'll be good!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eatery - Il Farro (CA)

111 21st Pl, Newport Beach, CA 92663
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Dressy Casual | Cuisine - Italian

I love it when you walk into an Italian restaurant and the staff there is all speaking Italian. I wish I remembered more from what I had learned, so I could be a better conversationalist with the staff. Oh well. It was date night for Duc and me since we hadn't gone out in a while (or so it felt like), and he had a Groupon he needed to use. The restaurant's right by the Newport Beach pier which is pretty awesome. We were welcomed right when we came in and seated promptly. It wasn't too busy on a weeknight.

Just as Yelpers had mentioned, the complimentary bread was delicioso! Well the herb & garlic infused olive oil was what made it extraordinary. We were quite hungry and munched on this with such gusto that the waiter brought us another plate right away. Props!

Since we had missed out on getting calamari when we went to San Francisco, we decided it was necessary to get some here. We got a good portion to start off with, and it was quite good. I only wish they had been a tad crunchier and the marinara sauce a tad chunkier. Nevertheless, good fresh starter.

After a long time pondering, I ended up choosing their crab & lobster ravioli which was topped with scallops and shrimp. My oh my does their fresh pasta taste wonderful! The texture in my mouth of the ravioli pasta was awesome - I actually ate a bit of the "skin" before even delving into the filling. The filling itself was plentiful and delicious. I enjoyed the sauce because it didn't overpower the taste of the lobster & crab. Loved it and it wasn't even too pricey!

Duc got the "fili con gamberoni alla diavola" - "farro spaghetti pasta with tiger shrimps, white wine, garlic, red pepper, tomatoes, basil." So the place is called Il Farro because of the farro wheat they use (similar to spelt); we wanted to have at least one of us try it out so he opted for it. Great texture to it as it has got a bit more yield than semolina. Everything else was perfetto.

The best part was that we didn't feel overly stuffed with the food we had had, so we opted for their hazelnut gelato which they served cutely to use in a single large glass cup to share. Buttery biscotti topped it off. Smooth gelato with very much hazelnut punch, it was the best way to end the meal. Il Farro, I'm coming back for you and your delicious eats!