Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hang A Ri Noodle House - Garden Grove, CA

Nostalgia. That's the word I can describe when I visit Hang A Ri Noodle House. It takes me back to a time when I was a lil tike,visiting my relatives in the country side of Korea, where everything was made by hand, including the noodles. Among the multitudes of stores and restaurants in Orange County's Koreatown, is this modest noodle house, overlooking the busy main artery.

The Korean name says Hang A Ri Kal-guk-su. The term hang a ri means "clay pot." The various dishes are served from clay pots here. The second term, Kal-guk-su, means "knife noodle." Kal-guk-su, a traditional Korean noodle dish, is made by placing the dough for noodles, laid out flat, then cut into strips via a knife, thus the term knife-noodle is coined.

(Menu in english - the descriptions do not do it justice.)

On my first visit, I ordered the Kal-guk-su, 2 orders with a friend. Before the main dish was served, we were presented with these two items: barley and turnip top kimchee.

The barley is simply cooked. Nothing fancy about it, just something to keep you busy until the main dish comes out.

(Barkley? no Barley.. oh..)

Turnip tops.. not particularly high on my list of kimchi. In fact this is my least favorite. However, the turnip top kimchi at Hang A Ri is actually decent. It is seasoned and fermintated to perfection and compliments the dishes served here rather well.

(Kimchi, one of its many forms.)

The Kal-guk-su came out piping hot, on a huge clay pot (remember this is for 2). Besides the knife-cut noodles, the pot was loaded with clams, mushrooms, green onions, zucchini, potatoes, dried cuttlefish, and shrimp, all floating and hiding in a sea of refreshing broth.

(Almost like how mom makes it.)

This is a smaller bowl that I "assembled. Note the little dobblet of red paste - this is kochujang, the Korean hot chili paste. I used it to make my small bowl a bit spicier. The noodle is firm yet yielding to the bites. The large clay pot keeps the food nice and hot, down to the last morsel.

(I had about 4-5 mini-bowls.)

On my second trip, it was a hot day in Orange County. I ordered the Dong-chi-me-guk-su (#3 on the menu), a cold noodle dish, served in a mild, tangy base. The flavor is rather difficult to to describe. You need to taste this for yourself. On hot days like the days of the past week, this cool noodle dish is awesome. My buddy who went with me, is actually Vietnamese and enjoyed this dish. The noodles are tender and refreshing. The sliced turnip and pears are a nice added touch to this chilled concoction. On the sidelines, are jullienned cucumbers, sliced chili peppers, slice of tomatoe, and pine nuts.

(Chillin out.)

My buddy and I also ordered their Shrimp and vegetable tempura. Nothing outstanding about this dish, but it's a decent size and more than ample for 2 people. Various vegetables, such as onions, squash are served with the shrimp. The oil didn't seem too greasy and it was a nice addition to our meal.

One table across from us ordered the Mo-mil-guk-su (#6 on the menu). Which looked like a salad but has a bed of the arrowroot noodles underneath (sorry no picture).

If you are in the mood for something ethnic and different, Hang A Ri Noodle House is a place to try your palates on.

Hang A Ri Noodle House
9916 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92844

(Edit: Fixed pics)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bluefin, Newport Coast

Bluefin is Chef Takashi Abe's restaurant in Newport Coast. I remember when I moved to Irvine, I had read raves about his former restaurant in Newport Beach, the eponymous Abe. But by the time I finally managed to get there, he had recently sold out to a kindly, but less capable restauranteur. The decor on the outside was little bit run-down. I could see cracks in the concrete steps, and rust in the lamps. The dishes there looked like the pictures adorning the walls, carefully prepared and presented dishes, blown up to 11x14. But they tasted like a little something was missing- almost bland. The temperatures were off- sometimes you can guess that a dish should have had hot and cold components, and if they're left just a bit too close together, a bit too long, they become uniformly warm. Not so good. And really, all this did for me was to put a question in my mind about whether the food had been better before or not. Maybe this Abe guy had seen better days.

Those questions were answered the first time I ate at Bluefin. Bluefin was the new restaurant- a bit smaller than the old one, no longer free-standing, but instead a member of the Crystal Cove Promenade. It is a long rectangular space, carved on one side into tables, and on the other into a lengthy sushi bar with a translucent illuminated stone ledge, and a ridged water sculpture behind the chefs. The effect is dark (so much so that I had a bit of difficulty seeing what I was eating, and actually swallowed gold flakes on a dish without being able to appreciate them visually first), modern, and sleek, not at all aged or worn.

The food was sublime. I rate Bluefin at the very top of the contemporary, fusion Japanese cuisine in Orange County (Sushi Wasabi gets that nod for more traditional sushi). We've been there three times now, over the years, the most recent time just this week. Each time we have the omakase, which at Bluefin is a 6-course menu including an appetizer sampler, sashimi salad, two cooked dishes, sushi, and dessert. They differ quite a bit each time, but my wife and I agreed that last night's was the best we've had.

For me, the highlights were the sliced duck breast, held into place by a dollop of mashed potatoes, topped with a rich, soft, perfectly cooked (read: not overcooked) serving of foie gras. I had to deconstruct its tower of greens to eat it, but Miss Manners has my back on that one. Also excellent was the lobster appetizer, which was in a sauce that I still cannot quite describe, other than to say that it was a light cream sauce that accentuated that crisp snap you feel when jawing into a freshly cooked piece of lobster tail. Yum.

My only complaint, if you can call it that, was that the dressing in the sashimi salad, while good, masked a bit the very freshness of the fish included. Several thin slices of hamachi and It almost seems a shame to mask the very high quality of the fish at all, so you can imagine the inner horror I experienced when my neighbor, a very kindly older gentleman, asked Chef Daisuke to chop up "live scallop" (bought live, shucked that very morning, returned to its shell for serving) into little bits, and mix it with lots of green onions, masago, and a spritz of lemon. Any other place, and this would be a great way to enjoy scallop- but it was live, that morning!

In the sushi platter, the stars were the ruby red maguro (tuna), and the smooth uni. This maguro was so richly dense and completely lacking in any kind of fiber, that it almost seemed like it wasn't a fish at all. The uni was clearly uni, but without the fishiness and liquidity that make it unpalatable at lesser places. I traded my piece of mirugai for a second piece of the albacore, which instead of being drenched in ponzu, was topped with almost like a light tartar sauce. It was intriguing, and I wouldn't mind having that again.

Dessert: this was a dollop of vanilla ice cream, served in a tiny fish shaped bowl atop a much larger plate that had berry reductions around its rim. Sharing the plate was a martini glass filled with ever so light clear gelatin that was so soft that it practically melted in my mouth. It was lightly sweetened, had more than a hint of yuzu and alcohol, and was topped with fruit. Like an amuse bouche, but at the end of the meal. A refreshing way to end the meal.

And just so I don't leave my poor neighbor, who actually was very entertaining company, and spoke a few phrases in Japanese surprisingly well ("mou chotto gari kudasai", although I might have chosen "sukoshi"), coming off seeming like a rube, he left us with a parting piece of advice on finding out we were young parents: "If you can teach your kids two things, they'll be fine: one, 'life isn't fair', and two, 'I don't deserve'." I'm still kicking that one around in my head three days later.

Elmomonster's yummy review.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

In The News

OC Food Blogs got a mention in an Orange County Register article on July 2, 2007. The article also mentions OC Food Blog contributing bloggers ChristianZ and Elmomonster. Congrats guys.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Tony's Little Italy Pizza

Having just won the 2007 AOL City Guide Dining Out Contest for the Best Pizza in Orange County I really wasn’t sure what to think. Many times, when a restaurant wins an award as voted by the “locals” it usually screams out mediocre at best, but I was willing to give Tony’s Little Italy Pizza a try.

Hotly debated about the authenticity of their deep dish pizza on Chowhound, was there any debate about what to get? I have read mixed things about Tony’s but mostly positive.

The restaurant is very small and is adorned with wall to wall Chicago sports team memorabilia. There is even a hand painted overhead picture of Wrigley Field to help get you into that Wrigleyville state of mind.

I ordered a Canadian Bacon and Mushroom Stuffed Pizza. This is the classic Chicago style deep dish pizza. The crust was a nice golden brown and had a nice crunch on both the bottom and sides. There was also a distinct buttery flavor to the crust. When I asked the owner if they used butter in their dough, my query was quickly cast aside.

The bottom crust is a fairly thick layer upon which mounds of cheese are layered. The toppings are then placed on the top of cheese. I was sort of dismayed by the amount of toppings that were placed on the pizza. For a pizza of this magnitude, with its thick crust and huge amounts of cheese, a fairly substantial amount of toppings should be added to balance out the pizza. Sadly this was not the case. The Canadian Bacon was sliced pretty thing and was hit and miss on the pizza, some slices had a good amount of it while others had barely of whisper of any. The use of fresh mushrooms was nice to see. I am not particularly fond of the canned mushrooms that some places use. Again, the rather meager amount of toppings seemed to get lost in the huge pool of cheese.

The toppings are then layered with tomato sauce and once the pizza is finished cooking a light sprinkling of parmesan finishes everything off. The tomato sauce had a nice acidic kick to it and the perfect amount of sauce was placed atop the pizza. I could taste both oregano and basil mixed into the sauce which added a nice herbal punch.

This pizza must be eaten in small bites. With the huge amounts of cheese on it, I almost choked several times when big melted cheese balls got stuck in my throat. Now I know what a cat feels like when hacking up hair balls. I think the addition of more toppings would help alleviate this problem. The large pizza is pretty substantial. You could probably make 3-4 meals out of pretty easily.

Overall this is a pretty good pizza. I’m not sure if I would go out of my way to eat here, but if I was in the neighborhood and felt like having pizza this would be a great option.

Tony’s Little Italy Pizza
1808 N. Placentia Avenue, Unit B
Placentia, CA 92870
(714) 528-5159

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