19 November 2015

orange county. (where we ate)

We ate like kings while we were in California last month, and honestly that was all I asked.  Here's where we ate, what we ate, and our recommendations for anyone in the area who's hungry.

University Center at UC Irvine
First off, this area was amazing.  So many cool places to eat and hang for those students.  (If only Mill Ave at ASU was a center instead of a dirty street with questionable lurking and waiting for a good grope)(still recovering from that)  There are lots of different kinds of offerings, and pretty much any cuisine you could possibly be in the mood for is here.  Especially abundant were various Asian cuisines, the need for which is obvious as soon as you look around at who is at the center, too.  We visited three places:

  • Slapfish Seafood: I ordered the lobster roll, and Jon had their clam chowder.  Both were so incredibly delicious.  The lobster roll was fresh and lemony and Jon couldn't stop thinking about the clam chowder pretty much for the rest of our trip.

  • California Gogi Korean Grill: I was craving some Korean food and ordered the beef bulgogi bibimbap.  It hit the spot just right, and I have to admit that I was disappointed to have to share some with Theo.  The establishment is set up Chipotle-style (is Chipotle the precedent here??), like many new restaurants seem to be nowadays, so it's easy to pick out what you want.  Much to my delight, they had both cucumber kimchi and classic kimchi.  Kimchi is creeping its way into the mainstream so it's less daring, but it's never a bad idea to order both kinds.  Never.

  • Mendocino Farms sandwich market: Jon ordered here while I tried to keep Theo away from my bibimbap, and then when I was done we joined him here.  It was a fun place with lots of seating and even a corn hole game set up.  There was also a large, comfortable couch in the center of the place where a few students were set up.  If we had another day to stay, I would have liked to come back here to order something for myself.

Irvine Spectrum
We went to this outdoor mall area when we were bored, when Theo needed to get out of the hotel room, when we just wanted to walk around and avoid going back to the hotel room.  It was a fun place with a ferris wheel, carousel, and a train for the kiddies.  Theo loved to stare at the carousel.

  • The Melt: This place was honestly a disappointment.  We went twice to give it another shot, but we weren't really wowed.  We did like the "well dressed" fries with cheese and bacon, but both of the sandwiches we ordered during the two trips (the mac daddy grilled cheese and the cheesesteak grilled cheese) were too one-note.  Nothing stood out flavor-wise, and it just was just boring.  Definitely a bummer.
  • Umami Burger: Okay, to say I loved this place probably doesn't really convey anything, but I loved it.  Honestly, now I'm a disappointed that Scottsdale is getting a Shake Shack instead of an Umami Burger.  I just want to eat Umami Burger for the rest of my life.  We visited twice (!!) because towards the end of the trip I was just like, "we have to go back."  We ordered: Ahi Poke, Truffle Fries, the Umami Burger, the Throwback Burger, and the Manly Burger.  Both of the sides were perfect, and Theo 100% recommends the Truffle Fries.  (Also, I was in love with their special ketchup.)  The Umami Burger is good - it's got a big ole shiitake mushroom in the middle and when I bit into it, it was an explosion of juices.  The Throwback Burger was the first double patty burger I've ever eaten, and it was probably the best one to lose your double-patty virginity with.  It had miso mustard and soy pickles, and though the miso and soy flavors were slight, the burger wouldn't have been as good without them.  But easily the best burger we ordered (twice) was the Manly Burger.  It is soooooooo so so much better than the others.  Honestly, if you order multiple burgers that you're sharing with someone else (as we did), eat the Manly Burger last.  The other burgers are definitely good, but once you eat the Manly Burger you won't want to eat anything else.  The onions strings and the bacon lardons just take it to a whole other level.  And if you think well I've had burgers with onion rings and bacon strips before, I say to you: NOT THE SAME THING.  Order the Manly Burger.  Twice.  Eating it is the least ladylike thing I have ever done, and I don't even care.  If you can, go to Umami Burger before it becomes a full-on national chain.  That doesn't necessarily ensure the quality or taste diminished per se, but why take the risk?

4th Street Market in Santa Ana
Another thing Phoenix needs: a food hall.  LA has Grand Central Market, Orange County has 4th Street Market.  Inside there are 16 different places to eat and it's a cool space to hang.  We ate an entire day's worth of meals here (breakfast and dinner), and we didn't love everything we ate, but it was still such a fun place to be.  I only wish we could have eaten at every place there!
  • KTCHN DTSA: We ate here for breakfast and ordered the breakfast sandwich and the BLT-E (me).  My sandwich was probably the hardest thing to eat because it was so tall and my jaw can only open so wide.  But it was delicious.  The pork belly was perfectly crisp and chewy, and now I need to figure out how to get pork belly into every single breakfast item I ever eat.

  • Waffles Inc: Every food item on the menu here had a waffle incorporated somewhere.  Jon ordered a waffle empanada - a "wafflenada."  All I have to say is: thank you, Leslie Knope, for making the waffle super cool.
  • Noodle Tramp: I ordered the Khao Soi, a Thai noodle bowl.  I ordered the smallest size - a Regular - and it was a little too large for my liking.  The bowl was good, but I finished feeling like I would have liked it much better if it had been smaller.  And had more sprouts.
  • Torch S'more Co: We were pretty excited for this.  A friend of mine told me that she had an idea for a s'mores bar business (which is an amazing idea), and after hearing about this place we were like, "awesome!  let's see how this would play out!"  Sadly, the execution just wasn't up to our expectations here.  But the idea is still awesome, so we will be on the lookout for the perfect manifestation of it.

South Coast Plaza
A restaurant I wanted to visit was in the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa (right across the street from where we missed Ina by a week!!!)(insert crying emoji).  Walking through the mall to the restaurant was hilarious because we kept passing stores like Balenciaga, Harry Winston, David Yurman, Prada... All during that walk my mind flashed back to all of their ads from the mid-2000s that I always saw in Vogue magazine.  But I kept asking Jon, where are all the stores for us poorsies?!  We kept seeing people carrying bags from the affordable stores, but we just didn't see them in the area of the mall we were in.  I did find it interesting that most of the high-end stores had their doors wide open.  In the mall I went to growing up, the high-end stores always had their doors closed.  To me the message was, you've got to be rich enough to open this door.  I guess the difference is that most of the people who go to South Coast Plaza are, in fact, rich enough to open the doors, so why not have them already open?  Anyway, we are talking about food.

  • Marché Moderne: I was most excited to go here, if only to try to baptize Theo (and Jon) into the wonderful worship of good cheese.  Our cheese plate had Pecorino Ginepro, Bayley Hazen Blue, Chaource Aoc (a soft cow's cheese), and a fourth kind whose name I don't recall, but it was an off-menu cheese that our waiter suggested and by far the stinkiest cheese I have ever eaten.  The blue cheese was our favorite, and Theo was significantly less enthusiastic about it than us (please appreciate his face below as it morphs from happiness from getting food, to realizing a mistake was surely made).  Then I ordered a charcuterie plate which was amazing and really hard to share, and Jon ordered a steak with potatoes (basically his favorite meal ever, but probably the fanciest form of it) with the most delicious Armagnac jus that I kept reaching across the table to steal with my bread.  This was easily my favorite meal of the trip, and probably the best lunch I've ever had in my life.

Other places we ate

  • Pokinometry: I was bonkers excited to try this place out.  The world is going poke-crazy, and I am okay with it.  The first time I had some poke salad was when we were in Hawaii, and I only got a little bit because I was pregnant, but I think I regret not getting more.  Anyway, if you have an aversion to raw fish: GET OVER IT.  I mean that in the nicest way possible, because you are seriously missing out!  Anyway, Pokinometry is also set up Chipotle-style, but don't let that deter you.  And don't let the long lines and lack of seating and hard to find parking scare you off either.  It's worth it!  I recommend filling your order with everything but the onions, wasabi and ginger (last two can be on the side if you want).  The happiness you get from your meal will fill the sadness and longing that comes when you drive to Pokinometry and see the top of the Matterhorn on your way there.
  • Paris Baguette: This bakery is actually inside Zion Market, which is a Korean market.  It is confusing, but also hilarious because you have to walk past an entire aisle of just kimchi to get to the French pastries.  I came here only a million times and loved to see the cute Korean girls behind the glass perfectly frosting the perfect cakes that perfect people buy for their perfect child's perfect birthday parties.  Our favorite treat was the pain au chocolat, obviously.  We ordered many many many of them.
  • Manassero Farms Market: We signed up for a lunch and cooking demonstration at this cute farmstand in Irvine.  The setting was super cute and the food was amazing.  To start we had toasts with sliced radishes.  Then the main course which included a salad of kale, butternut squash, red potatoes, and vinaigrette and sandwiches with caramelized onions, smoked gouda, pork confit, and mustard.  And finally, the dessert was this crème brûlée served in the cutest way - in a tiny hollowed out pumpkin with a ghost cookie coming out the top.  The entire lunch was so delightful and delicious.  Again, we wish we had something like this nearby.

  • First Class Pizza: This was a place I wish we'd visited twice (instead of visiting the Melt for a second time!).  We ordered two pizzas: The Porker and Ultimate Thin Crust.  The Ultimate Thin Crust had pepperoni, parmesan, sliced pepperoncini, and FCP's special seasoning.  It had the perfect amount of spice and heat, and the level crunchiness was just right.  The Porker was a doozy with pepperoni, bacon, canadian bacon, sausage, and meatballs.  We liked this pizza, but after we fed Theo some of the meatballs and ate parts of the pizza without them, we decided that the whole pizza would have been so much better sans meatballs.  They just didn't seem to fit with the texture and taste of the other ingredients.

Orange County, we love to eat you.  And we'd love to eat some more of you another time.

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