Burger Parlor

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I already went over a brief background on the inception of Burger Parlor in my Early Bird post, so let’s just say that this was one of the OC’s most anticipated openings in 2012, having been named as having the best burger in the OC Weekly while in its pop-up iteration early in the year. Greg’s been hyping up the opening for months, and was obviously all over it when Burger Parlor finally opened earlier this month. Despite a rocky start (due to service issues that were just ridiculous to complain about – damn Yelpers; see SinoSoul’s post for more info), I was confident that the quality of the burgers would be up to par as I’ve read/heard before the brick-and-mortar opened.

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I went last Thursday (via 1.5-hour-drive) to hang out with Greg and Han while pulling off the trifecta of watching three games at once – the 2 MLB ALDS matchups + the Steelers-Titans game. Via Greg’s advice I texted the restaurant’s “mailing list” to get a secret deal of a burger + side for $10.50. My burger was the Chip Shot, with fontina cheese, potato chips, tomato confit, mushrooms, arugula, and chipotle aioli – sounds like it could be from a gourmet place like Father’s Office or Umami, but devoid of any pretentiousness (I mean, it’s in Fullerton after all). It’s a bit small for what we’ve come to expect from these types of burgers (roughly 1/3 lb.), but man is it well put together. Patty was cooked medium by default, but oozed of meaty flavors and plenty of juice. The supporting cast was just enough as to not take the spotlight away from that patty (although wished the chips were more crispy), as was the bun (brioche obviously, but was light and just the right proportion).

Best burger in the OC? I can dig it. Best burger I’ve had in 2012? You can dig it.

Chris Hei grade: N/A (no official grade < 1 month of opening, but arguably the best burger I’ve had this year – enough said)

Burger Parlor

204 N Harbor Blvd
Fullerton, CA 92832
(714) 441-2003

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Early Bird

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Early Bird is a breakfast and lunch spot from Chef Joseph Mahon, who was manning the kitchen of Michelin-starred Bastide in West Hollywood before it closed early last year. After his time at Bastide, he was holding a permanent burger pop-up in the form of Burger Parlor in Fullerton, which spawned from his famous Burger Mondays during his time at the French restaurant. While he was moving the pop-up to a brick-and-mortar restaurant nearby (which opened recently – post to follow shortly), he spent the downtime opening this upscale diner of sorts. To say that this was Mahon’s Chungking Express while he was taking a break from Ashes of Time, I am not, but Early Bird is quite the masterpiece for a breakfast joint in the OC.

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I came here last month for brunch with the entire Diaz family + Jen for Greg’s birthday. Greg has been a vocal supporter of Mahon’s since his first bite of the burgers at Burger Parlor (which I take credit for in guiding him there after reading about it online). The menu is short and sweet, with less than a couple dozen of options fairly evenly split between sweet and savory. It’s a pretty well-constructed menu, but one item immediately caught my eye: Teemu’s Duck Confit Hash (no doubt named after the Finnish hockey legend). Yeah it’s duck confit, arguably the most outplayed ingredient in restaurants currently, but I’ve been in love with it before it went all Hollywood, when I knew it as “Chinese dry cured duck leg.” The portion here isn’t big, but it’s quite glorious – perfectly fried eggs sunny side up, nice chucks of duck confit, and a nice rendition of home fries that included some golden raisins, which helped balance out the saltiness from the duck. Definitely California Dreamin’ for some more.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Early Bird
1000 B E Bastanchury Rd
Fullerton, CA 92835
(714) 529-4100

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Hen House Grill

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I’m currently watching the season premiere of Homeland, so I thought it’d be appropriate to choose a Middle Eastern restaurant off my queue (by the way, the actor who plays Abu Nazir goes to Attari Sandwich Shop – I’m totally going to bust a Carrie and stalk him). Went to Hen House Grill in Irvine with Han and Natalie over a couple of months ago, and I was pleasantly caught off-guard by: 1) there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant in the OC that’s decent, and 2) there are Middle Eastern people in Irvine? But yeah, we were the only non-Persian patrons during our visit, and that can only be a good thing (Han was very proud of this).

While the food here isn’t destination-worthy even if it was in LA, I think Hen House Grill can easily blend in in Tehrangeles and succeed. Both the beef and chicken koobideh tasted authentic, and more importantly, tasted good. Same goes for the eggplant dip. I would actually choose the food here over the popular Sunnin near me. Prices are comparable with the Persian/Iranian restaurants, portions are more than fair, and we got so much sangak we needed two tables just to have enough room for it. Overall, a good choice if you want something different for those of you in Irvine. For me, who has lived near Tehrangeles for almost a decade, it’s a nice familiarity.

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UntitledWas helping Han move that day – my housewarming gift.

Chris Hei grade: B

Hen House Grill
18040 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 786-2000

Hen House Grill on Urbanspoon

Brodard

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Kind of cheating here, since I had Eugenia and Linh-Nam bring me back the food, but Brodard had been on my OC to-dine list for some time (I actually don’t have a to-dine list for the OC, but Brodard is one of the restaurants that was on the Hei radar – or as Lawrence suggested, the Heidar). Didn’t know what else to ask them to bring back, so I just requested the Nem Nuong Cuon (pork paste spring rolls) and the Chao Tom Cuon (shrimp paste spring rolls). They also brought back an order of the more common shrimp spring rolls as well.

What else can I say, other than that these are the best Viet spring rolls I’ve ever had? Really, they are. Not drive-down-to-the-OC-from-West-LA good, but damn good. The pastes were grilled well, the veggies complemented them nicely, and the fried egg roll wrapper inside is such a great contrasting touch. And they’re wrapped so nicely! The Nem Nuong Cuon and Chao Tom Cuon came with a special dipping sauce that was equally as good. Not overpowering like the sweet fish sauce or the peanut plum sauce that most people associate Viet food with, this had a nice balance of sweet and savory, with a nice meaty ragu-texture to it.

I basically ate all three orders in one sitting. Need someone to bring these up to LA on a more regular basis. Eugenia, please keep going to the OC.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Brodard
9892 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 530-1744

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The Red Pot

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Went to the OC for dinner with Han and Natalie after eating at Chang’s Garden with the grandparents for lunch. Basically a variation of what you’d find at Little Sheep (half broth w/ herbs, half spicy broth w/ herbs), but all-you-can-eat. And a lot of Chinese and Viet people (it is Garden Grove, after all). There was a fairly wide selection of items to choose from, and not bad quality for all-you-can-eat hot pot. Just don’t expect too much out of it. A good value that will leave you satisfied. Come hungry, and bring a group that’s fun to eat with. Or bring Han.

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Chris Hei grade: B-

The Red Pot
12119 Brookhurst St
Garden Grove, CA 92840
(714) 636-7168

The Red Pot on Urbanspoon

Tsuruhashi

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Been a bit lazy with the frequency of posts (what’s new?) – sorry! Anyways, as I mentioned in my Bruxie post, I went down to the O.C. on a Saturday a few weeks ago – first to visit Greg, then Han. So I went to Bruxie for lunch that day, then I met up with Han and Natalie in the plaza next to the one that housed Tsuruhashi, for some needed karaoke. This couple claims that they’re quite the karaoke pros. They sure are passionate about it, I’ll give them that much. Although it’s a bit disturbing Han sings as many show tunes as Natalie…

After a couple of hours at karaoke, Han said that we were going to a Japanese BBQ places he’d heard good things about in the adjacent plaza. For some reason, Tsuruhashi immediately came to mind. I’m actually not familiar with the restaurant at all, but I remember reading about it on KevinEats and LA in Stilettos, and coincidentally, even read about it on OC Weekly’s 100 Favorite Dishes post not too long before that day (at #4 for their Kobe beef). The fact that we were in Fountain Valley helped my wild guess, since this is the only restaurant in the city that I know of.

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The Han-thom of the Opera

Upon entering the restaurant, the aroma of the meats being grilled immediately reached me. It was hard not to drool from that point on. But like us, there were plenty of eager diners waiting their turn at the fairly small restaurant, and we ended up waiting 45 minutes for a table. But I was comforted by the majority of the diner being Japanese – kind of lame, I know, but seeing such native clientele usually assures me of a good time forthcoming at ethnic restaurants. That brings us to the question of: was it worth the wait? The answer: you bet!

Let me start off by briefly summarizing the concept of Japanese BBQ, or yakiniku. It’s basically the Japanese take on Korean BBQ, where it isn’t all you can eat and the meats aren’t all drenched in marinade, but the meats tend to be of higher quality (like the use of “Kobe” beef here). Plus, no banchan. Most people are familiar with Gyu-Kaku and Manpuku, but this is the real deal. I’ll pay for quality, and the meats offered at Tsuruhashi are definitely of great quality. Let me break down the various things the three of us devoured that night:

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Pork Belly ($6.75) – with some green leaf lettuce and miso sauce

This was their take on samgyeopsal, down to the accompanying lettuce and bean paste (not pictured). I have a weak spot for all things pork belly, and I definitely would give up the goodies for this. Delicious!

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Fresh Tongue ($7.75)

Unfortunately, they were out of the premium version of the beef tongue. But the regular one was good enough. Another winner here. There was a separate lemon juice dip for these specifically, and a block of fat to rub on the grill before putting the tongue on.

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Cap Rib Eye ($10.95)

This meat has a good balance of fat and tenderness. Yet again another winner.

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U.S. KOBE Premium Short Rib ($16.95)

My goodness, this melted in my mouth! While Han mentioned (correctly so) that the amount of marbling on this makes it hard to eat too much of, this was arguably my favorite of the night. Too bad I got too impatient with the photo-taking…

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Natural Sausage ($6)

These little wieners were good. Not as good following the previous meats that arrived at our table, but were juicy and well-seasoned.

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Seared Raw Rib Eye Sashimi ($8.75)

While we were waiting for our table, a regular who was waiting as well recommended this beef tataki appetizer. I liked it, but it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.

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Kimchi Fried Rice ($9.95)

This was much milder than I had expected, but that was good because it ended up being a nice compliment to all the meats. It also came with an egg drop soup of sorts (not pictured), which was surprisingly decent as well.

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Prime Outside Skirt ($8)

At this point, we had finished our first wave of ordering. Han asked one of our servers (very helpful) on what else to try. This was one of them. Similar to the cap rib eye, but a bit meatier.

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Tsubo Kalbi ($11.95) – short rib marinade overnight w/ our secret sauce

Their take on the galbi. While the other meats we had were served as is or lightly seasoned, this one was marinated and came in a small pot. There were four big, thinly cut slices of meat, full of flavor.

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Kurobuta Pork Rib ($4)

Last, we have the pork rib. This was just one rib, but came pre-cut. A lot of meat for a single rib, and tasted like a meatier version of the pork belly.

I was very impressed with our dinner at Tsuruhashi. Everything we ordered was great, and some were just downright amazing and delicious. Also of note: the service was great as well. All the servers were courteous and gracious, and water was constantly filled. In the end, those 45 minutes of waiting seemed like nothing. Sure, we had to do our own grilling, and in the end it’s just Japanese BBQ. Not much skill and variety involved. But it’s amazing how good quality meats can make such a difference. Of course, it’s pricier than your AYCE Korean places, but all the food we had above still only came out to around $30-something per person. I’ll happily pay the extra for such quality every time. Too bad Tsuruhashi is so far away…

Chris Hei grade: A-

Tsuruhashi
18798 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(714) 593-8393

Tsuruhashi on Urbanspoon

Bruxie

2/4/12

I had never been to Bruxie until a couple of Saturdays ago, when I drove down to the OC to visit Greg (and Han later in that evening), because it’s so damn far. Even though I’m the one who told him about the place to begin with, Greg acts like he’s the ambassador of Bruxie when the place is brought up in conversations (the same goes for Burger Parlor). But in addition to raves from Greg, I read plenty of positive reports from fellow bloggers. So I was fairly enthusiastic about trying these waffle sandwiches…

We went to their second location that opened late last year in Brea, since it was the location closer to Greg’s apartment. The line was out the door (not nearly as long as Farrell’s though), but moved very quickly. Being the fatty that I am, I wanted to get one savory one and one sweet one. Like I previously mentioned, these are basically sandwiches that use a waffle in lieu of bread/buns. It’s an interesting take on it. The waffle wasn’t sweet, and was light and airy, with a slight crisp to it. Kind of like a puffy crepe. In fact, that’s probably how you should imagine these concoctions, as savory and sweet crepes, except waffles are used as the vessel.

For my savory one I got the buttermilk fried chicken, their most popular item on the menu. Basically there’s a big fried chicken strip with some slaw and honey that has a slight kick. It was solid, but not worth the hype. The chicken was a bit on the bland side, and had no crunch to it. I’ll go to Roscoe’s any day over this. For my sweet one I got the seasonal creme brulee. I like this one better than the fried chicken. It was actually like eating a creme brulee-stuffed waffle. The little pieces of burnt sugar was a nice touch.

I can see why Bruxie is so damn popular. It’s fast, casual, and fun – like your girl on the side (not that I would know). But to say that these waffle sandwiches are worth going out of my way for would be a vast overstatement. Still, if I’m in the area, or if Greg’s driving, I would have no problem coming back and trying some of their other interesting-sounding items.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffle

Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffle ($6.95) – chili honey & cider slaw

Seasonal Creme Brûlée

Seasonal Creme Brulee ($6.50) – classic vanilla creme with burnt raw sugar & seasonal fresh fruit

Chris Hei grade: B-

Bruxie
215 W Birch St, Ste 1
Brea, CA 92821
(714) 255-1188

Bruxie on Urbanspoon

Heroes Bar & Grill

Came here to watch the UCLA v. Utah game a few weeks ago with the Diaz family and friends. Needless to say, it wasn’t a pleasant viewing experience. Can’t believe I drove all the way to Fullerton to watch such a shitty game, but at least it was amongst great company, especially Greg, who I hadn’t seen for a month before that.

Heroes has a decent selection of beers on tap. Food-wise, it’s a pretty expansive menu of familiar bar food and American classics, in a super-sized package. I ordered the meatball appetizer, and it was basically the equivalent of a Subway footlong meatball sub. And the nachos that the table split was literally the size of a serving tray. Of course, I didn’t expect the food to be great, and it wasn’t. Wasn’t bad – just…okay.

But I learned that with places like Heroes (and Barney’s Beanery, where I went for my company’s holiday party last week), it’s not about the food. The food is merely a supporting actor in the movie that is the bar scene. These casual bar/grill types are the perfect places to go with your group of loud friends and watch a game in HD, while stuffing yourself fat with junk.

Heroes' Chili Nachos

Heroes’ Chili Nachos ($14.95)

Heroes' Meatball Appetizer

Heroes’ Meatball Appetizer ($11.95)

Chris Hei grade: C

Heroes Bar & Grill
125 W Santa Fe Ave
Fullerton, CA 92832
(714) 738-4356

Heroes Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Kitayama (2)

8/6/11The last of my long past-due posts. I had neglected to write this because Han had already written about Kitayama, and I didn’t want my post to be considered sloppy seconds. The two of us decided to go in early August when I was in the OC for a friend’s party, because it was one of Han’s favorite restaurants in the area. Again, I’ll do an abbreviated post here due to the time away.

PhotoWe sat at the sushi bar for an omakase that night. Besides the sushi bar, which seats a dozen or so and has a room of its own, the restaurant was huge. There a big main dining room, where cooked dishes and shabu shabu are available in addition to the sushi. There’s also a garden outside, as well as a bar and lounge at the front of the restaurant. I didn’t get to take a good look, but Han says that it’s quite a sexy place.

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PhotoJust a general overview of the omakase. The progression was interesting. Three of the sushi early on were blowtorched, and a couple of those had a yuzu kosho topping (minus points for using pre-made though). One sushi also had a pickled jalapeno-esque topping. The ikura had a distinctive taste that was a little different from the usual soy marinate. And the snow crab and avocado combo was like a fancy version of the California roll. Other highlights of the omakase were the uni and the toro, both which were fresh. However, while all the fish were good and the progression was rather interesting, the omakase as a whole didn’t really wow me. Nothing wasn’t a revelation. Just a solid sushi meal. But at least it’s good to know that the OC has decent sushi options as well. And the meal was a pretty good value (around $50/person).

Chris Hei grade: B

Kitayama
101 Bayview Pl
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 725-0777

Kitayama on Urbanspoon

Sushi Shibucho

This will be more than a food post, just as my experience was more than a meal. Food was great but not the highlight of the day. The highlight was definitely the interaction. As some of you know, I have been watching Curb Your Enthusiasm lately and this encounter was straight out of the book. I won’t bore you with a minute-by-minute detail but a broad stroke.

I decided to visit this upon reading http://www.kevineats.com/ review on the restaurant, claiming it to be one of the top sushi restaurants in OC. I thought I’d tried most of the good sushi restaurants in the OC so I decided to stroll over here on a random Thursday night for a meal with Natalie since she had the day off. Last omakase meal I had was with Hei at Kitayama who btw still hasn’t posted his meal yet, lazyass. Anyways so I’ve been craving sushi and decided to try.

Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of sushi/sashimi but by no means an expert. I just love it. Some of these pictures I couldn’t even ID the fish so I needed help from others. In fact, I can’t even be sure all these fish are correct. I’m just going to dump all these photos on here and let you guys figure it out yourself.

To say the neighborhood is ghetto would be a correct statement. There were a few non-Caucasian nor Asian people milling around outside. We quickly scurried inside and sat down. There is an older Japanese couple sitting at the bar, which seats 8, already in front of the old chef, while few seats are available in front of the younger chef. I knew they were father-son and there’s a friendly waitress there. So I sat down at the younger chef and said hi. Hot towel and daikon with hot green tea (perfect temp) later, the chef asked us what we’d like. I told him I’d let him choose and had the biggest smile as I was quite excited.

We started off with tai:

After this dish was served I kindly asked how we should address the younger chef. Chef said, and I quote, “Just call me hey. My name is not important.” Hm interesting. So I sat patiently waiting for the next dish. He was dead serious too so I just kept going along.

Next up maguro:

Im just going to put the rest up in order since I can’t be sure what they are and it’d be fun to let you guys figure out what’s what. Sorry for the blurry pictures

I know for a fact I had the following:
roe
abalone
albacore
salmon
squid
clam
mackerel
spanish mackerel
salt water eel, with and without sauce
tuna
uni
scallop
snow crab
red snapper
snapper
kanpachi

In order of served:

In between these dishes the chef was also preparing a sushi chirashi as well as some rolls (!) for two Japanese ladies that came in earlier. I remember I read they don’t serve rolls so it was interesting to see him roll one up. They must’ve been important. Anyways after this (which I know for a fact is anago (salt water eel) I told the chef that Natalie was really full but I was still pulling full steam ahead! So the chef nodded and I kept going. He decided to serve me the next two dishes.

But wait! Natalie saw the chef took out salmon. She loves salmon and can’t pass it up even though she was full. Welp. Since she wanted the salmon I told her she can ask the chef herself. Alas, I was kind enough to explain to the chef and asked him to kindly spare her a piece of salmon. The salmon wasn’t good at all (which he later told us as well). Our faces were flushed and as someone that never gets embarrassed I was sure my face was red. So I used this chance to ask him what his name was and he said, and I quote, “My name is not important.” Hm. okay. So we kept eating. The salmon was rather tough.

So after the squid (which I’m sure is squid) chef told us he had served us everything and if I’d like anything else.

During this time the other couple that was sitting next to us got a couple of grapes so we asked him what kind of grapes they were. He told us and we asked him about his history and how long they’ve been here. He said the restaurant’s been there for 8 years and they were in Japan prior.  Nice. The grapes are from their own garden which they grew. So we asked about what crops and he kept talking. Somehow, he told us about how his dad made him work in the kitchen since 14. He then said, in the most solemn voice, that sushi is the only thing he knows how to do. oooooooooooooookay. Anyways Natalie being the nice lady she is kindly told him he is very good at it. I swear I could’ve taken that sushi knife on the table and…I won’t go into details.

So after the tuna he kindly gave us some grapes! Awesome! Then afterwards, I, for some dumb reason, asked him if there were any desserts. Yikes. He then told us that he only stores seafood in the freezer and no room for ice cream. Even if there were, he’d eat them all before we’d see them. Fine fine fine fine. We told him thank you very much and he told us he’d tell us his name next time we stop by

This is what went through in my head at the time

El Fin

Sushi Shibucho
590 W 19th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 642-2677