Monday, August 27, 2018

Ruling the Roost at El Pico De Gallo Grill


El Pico de Gallo Grill
901 West 17th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92706

I get my restaurant tips from a lot of sources; the newspaper, magazines, OC Weekly, other blogs, reader tips, friends, social media, and doing my own research online. This is the first restaurant tip that I have gotten from a podcast. My commute to work is only about ten minutes, which is not much time in the car to listen to a podcast, so I have not really gotten into the podcast craze.

The only one I have listened to with some semi-regularity is the I Know But...podcast and the only reason I started listening to that one is that I know the guys that are on it. They are both great guys and people I have had the wonderful pleasure of meeting while writing this restaurant blog, Niyaz Pirani and Jeff Fliegler. They talk about what is going on in their lives, have some solid guests on their show, and occasionally drop some great places to eat that I may have missed. That's what has brought us to El Pico de Gallo Grill.

I believe it was Niyaz who mentioned this restaurant, which is located on the corner of 17th Street and Flower on the podcast. If not, my apologies Jeff. Anyways, this restaurant has been in business since 2008, and before that this location used to be a restaurant named Nachos Supreme. I'm not sure what was the downfall of that restaurant, but I know people have enjoyed El Pico de Gallo for the last ten years. They have a mighty respectable 4-star rating on Yelp with over 200 reviews, so that along with the recommendation I got from the podcast was good enough for us and our good friends Angel and Rebekah to give it a try on a recent lazy Sunday early evening.


I had a feeling we were going to be in for a treat when we were walking into the restaurant and saw this delicious spinning al pastor being tended to near the entrance of the restaurant. Another plus was seeing a lady making tortillas just as we walked in. Man, I was getting excited. Ordering is done at the register, and then the food is brought out to you. The menu at El Pico de Gallo has a little bit of everything. Tacos, burritos, Mexican breakfast specialties, tortas, and entrees can be found on the menu here. We quickly made our selections, found a table in the very comforting dining room, and waited for our food to arrive.



True to form, Katie started us off with a side of Guacamole and Chips ($4.99). This was an excellent guacamole. Very fresh with a great texture to it. It had the right consistency of creaminess and chunk to it. A very delicate balance to achieve. It also had a little kick to it, as I think they might have added some chili to it. Not overwhelming, but just enough so you could get a hint of it. The chips were solid, but not over the top great.


Not sure what made Angel get this Crema Poblano Soup ($4.99) to start with, but he's always been a little odd. I tried a spoonful and thought it was okay, but a little on the drab side. Before I knew what it was, I thought this was a cream of asparagus soup. I wouldn't have had any idea that this was a poblano soup, as it had no spice to it, even though poblano chile peppers are very mild. Interesting soup, but nothing I would probably try again here. 



When tortillas are made right in front of you, it's hard not to order tacos. Because of this, Katie could not resist trying the Chicken Taco Plate ($8.99) on this early evening. She went with flour tortillas for her chicken tacos and could not have been happier. The chicken was seasoned well, tender, and made even better with some of their mild salsa from the salsa bar by the register. The beans and rice were pretty stellar as well. You could tell that the refried beans were made with lard, but they did not leave a gritty residue after eating them. The rice was nice and light as well. One of the better taco plates Katie has had in some time.


One of the most comforting foods in the world is a good Quesadilla ($6.99). Again, because the tortilla was made right in front of me, I could not say no to ordering this at El Pico de Gallo. Slightly grilled on the flattop, this quesadilla had just the right amount of cheese, so it did not overshadow the very well made tortilla. There was also not a lot of greasiness, which was much appreciated. It went well with the extra guac that we had left over. 



Here's the first of the two items I ordered at El Pico de Gallo, the 2 Taco Plate ($8.99) with a Pastor Taco and a Carne Asada Taco.  Both were excellent, but I'd have to give the edge to the carne asada, which was marinated well and made it stand out a bit more than the pastor that I saw spinning on the trompo outside when we walked in. The tortillas were superb, soft and pliable, but did a great job of holding everything together. The beans and rice were good as well, and I enjoyed my tacos even better when I added some of their beans to the tacos.



I finished off my meal at Pico de Gallo with this Carne Asada Burrito ($6.99). The guys on the podcast had talked about their carne asada, which made me want to try it in a burrito. Great choice. The same flavorful and tender carne asada that was on my taco was in this burrito with rice and refried beans. Next time I'll get some guacamole on here to make this burrito even better. Good sized too, I took half of it home for lunch the next day.


Both Angel and I were blown away by the Carnitas ($14.99) that would be his meal. Even though this is not the most photogenic of dishes, it put a smile on both of our faces. The cubed pieces of crisped pork were a little fatty, full of flavor, and meaty all at the same time. The carnitas here rocked my world and has gotten me excited to come back here again real soon to have these in a burrito. Angel went for double beans with this because he's not a fan of rice. These are some of the best carnitas I have had in OC up until this point.


Last but not least, Rebekah, Angel's much better half finished up our meal at El Pico de Gallo with her dinner selection, this Carne Asada Torta ($9.99). This was a pretty good sized torta and definitely filled Rebekah up. The sandwich contained plenty of beef, shredded lettuce, and a smear of refried beans. The bread was very soft and pliable. I have never really gotten into tortas, but maybe one with carnitas will be in my future. 

The boys on the I Know But... podcast definitely steered me in the right direction by recommending this restaurant. El Pico de Gallo is in the upper echelon of Mexican restaurants we have eaten at in Orange County. Very unassuming and low key is how I'd describe this restaurant. All the food was good, and I look forward to making return visits frequently. If I did have to ding them on something, it might be that the prices might be a tad too high, but I'm willing to pay a little extra for food that gets me this excited. Service was nice and cordial, and the food runners made sure that we had everything that we needed and were quick to clear our table when we were done.

Out of five rooster beaks, (because pico de gallo translates literally to rooster beak in English), five being best to zero being worst, El Pico de Gallo Grill gets 3.5 rooster beaks.

El Pico de Gallo Grill does not have a website, but you can find plenty of info about them on their Yelp page, which you can access here: https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-pico-de-gallo-grill-santa-ana-2

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Shawarma Search Continues


Ikram Bakery 
9895 Warner Ave. Ste. F
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

We've been on a real Mediterranean kick lately. Maybe it has been because this kind of food is lighter than others, and with the heat, we have been having lately, the last thing you want is a real heavy meal which can make you feel even more uncomfortable. It might be that, but it's probably just because food from the Mediterranian region tastes so darn good.

I had written down three or four places that were suggested in Orange Coast magazine about two years ago as having some of the best shawarma in our great county. Shawarma is meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, just like doner kebab from Turkey, gyro meat from Greece, and a little closer to home, pastor tacos which are cooked vertically on a trompo, just like in Mexico. This is the second place on the list we have visited, (the first was Little Arabia Lebanese Bakery and Cuisine), which had some pretty solid shawarma, but we were on a search for the best, hoping we would find it at Ikram Bakery in Fountain Valley.

Fountain Valley has been on a roll recently with some very good restaurants that we have eaten at. My love for Paderia Bakehouse is well documented on this blog and also on my Instagram account with all of my return visits to have some of the best cookies you can get anywhere around these parts. We are also very fond of Tio Flaco's, which grills their meat over wood and make some excellent tacos. Speaking of tacos, Fountain Valley is the city where the rebirth of the beloved fast food restaurant, Naugles has taken place and it's just as good as back in the 70's and 80's. There's also Istanbul Grill, which is Turkish, but if you are familiar with Mediterranian restaurants, you'll definitely see items on their menu that you are familiar with. We were pretty excited to see if Ikram Bakery could keep the streak going of excellent restaurants in Fountain Valley.

Ikram is located pretty close to the corner of Warner and Brookhurst, right by Mile Square Park. They are in a little strip of stores that includes a pizza and chicken restaurant, nail salon, Taco Bell, and Hamle Market, which specializes in European and Mediterranian items.

When you walk inside you'll see the beef and chicken shawarma spinning behind the counter, and the guy shaving bits of it off for the plates, sandwiches, and wraps. There's a counter when you first walk through the door where you order your food and they assemble it just the way you want right in front of you. You have different sauces, vegetables, and condiments to choose from. Prices hover just around the $8 mark for sandwiches, while the plates will set you back about $10 or so. As you turn the corner towards the register, there's also baked goods behind the glass case as well as on top of the counter. No time for baked goods, as I was pretty excited to give the shawarma a try here at Ikram.



Let's start things off with Katie's meal, the Chicken Shawarma ($9.99). This is a lot of food for ten dollars. When they were creating Katie's meal, she went heavy on the veggies here. Pickles, cucumbers, pickled red cabbage, tomatoes, and red onions were placed on top of the shredded chicken shawarma, and the tzatziki sauce and what I assume was a yogurt sauce was placed on top of that. Katie was very jubilant about this plate. She liked the interaction between the sauces, pickles, and the very tender and flavorful chicken. The pita here was not my favorite though, as it was not as soft as I usually like. I did not finish mine, but Katie did and she seemed to like it. The hummus was okay, as it was a little on the gritty side and needed some flavor added to it.



I always like getting a variety when eating in a restaurant, and that meant I got the best of both worlds by ordering this Beef and Chicken Shawarma Plate ($10.99). Again, this portion size was very generous, as I took half of it home for lunch the next day. I think this has taken the crown as best shawarma I have had. The beef and chicken were incredibly flavorful and interacted well with the rest of the plate. The next time I'm here I'm going to try the shawarma in a sandwich, as I think it will highlight the meat way more.


Katie had an impulse buy when she was paying at the register. She wanted to give these Sigara Borek ($1.49) a try. This savory pastry was filled with feta cheese and lightly fried. I'm not really a feta fan, but Katie liked these and would get them again.

For what we came here for, shawarma, Ikram Bakery and Grill exceeded our expectations. Like I said earlier, this was the best shawarma I have had and it made the trip up to Fountain Valley worth it yet again. The streak of great restaurants we have been to in FV keeps on going. Ikram Bakery might be no frills when it comes to ambiance, but it's definitely destination dining if you are looking for great shawarma. Service was warm and friendly while we were up at the counter. So far the list of great shawarma that I jotted down from Orange Coast Magazine two years ago has been right on. Can't wait to try the last one on the list very soon, but this one will be a hard one to top.

Out of five comic books, (because at the end of The Avengers, Iron Man expresses his desire for shawarma and is then seen eating shawarma with other superheroes, many of whom are seen in comic books), five being best to zero being worst, Ikram Bakery and Grill gets 3.5 comic books.

For more information about Ikram Bakery and Grill, head to their website by clicking here: http://www.ikramgrill.com/

Monday, August 20, 2018

As Katie Hits the Ground, I Hit up Ground House Burger


Ground House Burger
Trade Food Hall
2222 Michelson Dr.
Irvine, CA 92612

This will be one of the shortest reviews I have ever written. Part of the reason for this is that it was just me visiting Trade Food Hall, as I was in the area to pick up Katie at John Wayne from one of her recent business trips. I came here to specifically try one thing that I have seen plastered across my Instagram feed, which resides at Trade Food Hall in Irvine.

Trade Food Hall kind of gets overlooked as one of the premier food halls in OC. I have always enjoyed my times here, even though parking can be challenging to say the least. Even on this Thursday evening, I had just missed some great parking spaces as they got snatched up right before I got there.

Once you have safely parked at Trade my best bets here involve the chicken sandwich from Two Birds, the Stoner Papas from Dos Chinos, and the Mediterranian food from Gyro King. I'm a little sad that Pig Pen Delicacy and their Mac Daddy Burger is no longer available here, being replaced by Ground House Burger earlier this year. The good news is that they are both owned and operated by the same people. but the Mac Daddy is now only available at the SteelCraft Food Hall in Long Beach or the Corporation Food Hall in Downtown LA. Definitely worth a try if you are in either of those areas though.

Back to OC and Ground House Burger. They have a pretty basic menu of five burgers which are all priced at under ten dollars, but if you combo them with fries and a drink your meal will not exceed $13.49. They get a lot of love for their Pinoy Burger, which uses a 50/50 blend of ground beef and longaniza, which is Spanish sausage that closely resembles linguica. I have to admit I was intrigued by this burger, but I had another burger that captivated me ever since I saw it scrolling through my Instagram feed. I quickly ordered it at the register and hoped that I had enough time to finish it before Katie could get off her plane and be waiting for me curbside.




So here she is, one of the most photogenic burgers around, The Lone Star Burger ($13.49 with fries and drink). Two pieces of Texas toast with a ground beef patty, blue cheese crumbles, two slices of bacon, beer-battered onion ring, jalapenos, caramelized onions, and a horseradish bbq aioli. This burger had a lot going on with it naturally. First, it was probably the juiciest burger I've had in a while. I liked it, but some of the components did not come through as much as I would have liked. I did not really get too much of the blue cheese coming through, and the very well made onion rings were better once they were removed from the burger for easier eating and dunked in what I believe to be the same horseradish barbecue aioli that was on the burger. I liked the sauce, which was oddly satisfying with its conflicting notes of horseradish and sweet from the barbecue coming through at different times. The Texas toast hung on as long as it could, but kind of dissolved into a sloppy mess at the end. A good burger, but I'd probably try the Pinoy or Santa Fe burger on my next visit. The fries were overly salted, and tasted like fast food fries, even though the menu board claims they are fresh cut here. I'd get the excellent onion rings over the fries next time.

Okay, maybe this review wasn't as short as I had planned. Sorry about that. All in all, I feel that Ground House is a good addition at the Trade Food Hall, which needed a burger place to replace the pork-centric Pig Pen Delicacy. This Lone Star Burger was good, but as with the case with burgers, sometimes simpler is better. This burger had a lot going on with it but the big flavors kind of canceled each other out. On my next visit, I'm going to go simpler. The guy taking my order was very nice and checked on me more than once. He was also very pleasant to the other customers that drifted towards their booth after me. I ended up finishing my last bite of the burger just as Katie gave me a call letting me know she was waiting for me curbside at the airport. Perfect timing.

Out of five cacti, (because the number one destination out of nearby John Wayne Airport is Phoenix, Arizona, where you will see tons of cactus), five being best to zero being worst, Ground House Burger gets 3 cacti.

For more information about Ground House Burger, head to their website here: https://groundhouseburger.myshopify.com/

Monday, August 13, 2018

Panini Kabob Grill Part of the Comeback of the Kaleidoscope


Panini Kabob Grill
27741 Crown Valley Parkway #212
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

I have passed the Kaleidoscope in Mission Viejo nearly 2,500 times, give or take a few in the last four years. I guess I should explain, we live a block away from this often maligned shopping and entertainment complex. When we first moved to this part of town the only reason to come to the Kaleidoscope was for the movie theater and Island's. About two years ago now the tide started to turn, and there are more reasons than ever to visit this center.

It was around this time that the Union Market opened here, after some lengthy delays, and that has spearheaded the revival at the corner of Crown Valley and the 5 Freeway. After that, the hits just kept on coming. Tapas  Flavors of Spain, Portola Coffee Roasters, and one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Sol Agave have set up shop here. The management team of this shopping center has also seemed to be committed to their guest's positive experience by keeping the escalators running and adding more dining options to fill the vanishing empty storefronts.

Panini Kabob Grill did not occupy one of those empty storefronts, they took over what used to be the loading dock of the Kaleidoscope, which is easily seen from the cars driving south on Crown Valley Parkway. This high visibility spot has worked out well for Panini Kabob Grill, as everytime we pass by, we see a full patio of people enjoying fresh and delicious Mediterranian cuisine. We were recently invited to experience what we have seen so many others enjoying as we drive by.

Panini Kabob Grill, or as the cool kids call it, PKG used to be formerly called Panini Cafe. The name change seemed to be needed as just like me, I thought this was just a panini restaurant. I had no idea until about a year ago, after my first visit that this is more of a Mediterranian spot. Yes, they still have paninis, but they are also so much more.

After that first visit, I became a fan of this mini-chain, which now boasts 13 restaurants in LA and Orange counties, with a newly announced expansion plan to bring their brand to the people of the Inland Empire and San Diego area in the coming months. Katie and I feel extremely lucky to have a PKG within walking distance from where we live. We grabbed our friends and fellow food bloggers, Tom from Tom's Foodie Blog and the wildly popular Daniele from Dani's Decadent Deals for dinner to experience this Mission Viejo location for the first time.

The restaurant was packed on this particular Thursday evening at 6pm. After an initial wait of ten minutes, we were seated on the busy patio, which was a great choice on this quickly cooling early evening. The traffic noise from busy Crown Valley was not as bad as I was expecting, which was a shame because I was hoping it would drown out Daniele a bit. The menu here includes plenty of appetizers, soups and salad, paninis and sandwiches, and of course, Mediterranean entrees. I've also been told that they have excellent breakfast seven days a week, which we will try on my next Sunday off. For now, let's see how everything worked out for us on this visit.



If you don't start your meal with this Appetizer Combo Platter ($12.95) you are doing yourself and the rest of your tablemates a great disservice. It's the perfect size for a party of four, which we were, and included falafel, caprese, tzatziki, and a trio of hummus, which included garbanzo, black bean, and edamame hummus. The plate was rounded out with plenty of pita bread which was very useful for dipping. I was very partial to all of the hummus varieties and the very well made tzatziki sauce. All were freshly made and provided wonderful flavors. I'm pretty critical of falafel, as I find a lot of them to be too overcooked and hard in the middle. Not the case at PKG. These little balls of garbanzo beans were light on the inside and made even better when dipped into the tzatziki sauce. I left the caprese for the others, as I'm not really a big tomato fan. They all seemed to like it well enough.



Entrees were up next, and let's start with Tom and Daniele's selection on this evening the Lamb Shish Kabob ($19.95). It's not like them to get the same thing, but it limits you my dear reader from having to read too much of my awful writing. Thanks, Tom and Daniele. Tom ordered this dish the way it is listed on the menu, while Daniele always has a lot of questions for the servers, and then makes modifications to what she ends up eating. In this case, she subbed out the rice for roasted veggies. The happy couple really enjoyed the lamb, which like all the proteins here are one hundred percent vegetarian fed and antibiotic and hormone free. The lamb was tender, with a great flavor to it, and excellent when dipped in the tzatziki sauce. The entrees here come with your choice of salad, and they both got the Mediterranean Greek salad which they both loved.




I'm a creature of habit when it comes to eating at PKG, as I always steer towards this Flat Iron Steak Shish Kabob ($15.95). I like that they actually ask you how you want your steak, which is a very nice touch. I, of course, got mine medium rare, which they did perfectly. The flat iron is a flavorful cut, which can sometimes be tough, but that was not the case on this evening. I could almost cut it with my fork. Never one to miss a chance to have a Caesar salad, that's the route I went on this evening. I would have liked a bit more dressing on this, but the overabundance of croutons and parmesan cheese made up for it. As always the plate was rounded out with a big mound of basmati rice which went perfectly with the extra tzatziki sauce we asked for. A very well rounded meal that filled me up.


Katie had a big lunch at work, so she did not really feel like a kabob plate, opting instead for this Chicken Wrap ($10.95) for a lighter dinner. This Mediterranian burrito was filled with grilled chicken breast, hummus, tomato, cucumbers, and greens with fresh mint and basil. She loved that the chicken was as prominent as it was and that the hummus moistened this up a bit. She was also a fan of the pasta salad, which is another option you can get if you are not feeling like a salad or soup with your wrap. There are always lots of choices to make when eating at PKG.


Not that we needed it, but the four of us split a Banana Bread Pudding ($7.95). The bread pudding was paired nicely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A very sweet ending to our stay at Panini Kabob Grill.

Panini Kabob Grill is definitely a part of what I see as a renaissance for the Kaleidoscope. It is in a weird spot if you park in the structure, so head to the plaza level, and it's on the backside of Burke Williams Spa, facing Crown Valley. If you are in the mood for some solid Mediterranian food in the Mission Viejo area, PKG is a great option that will leave you full and satisfied. We look forward to making many return visits when we are in the mood for some great kababs and wraps.

For more information about Panini Kabob Grill, head to their website here: http://paninikabobgrill.com/

Friday, August 10, 2018

Going Back in Time at Yen Ching


Yen Ching Restaurant
574 S. Glassell St. 
Orange, CA 92866

Yen Ching was the very first place that I ever experienced Chinese food. The year was 1982. My family was pretty conservative when it came to the food we ate when we would sporadically go out to eat. We had burgers, pizza, hot dogs, and if my parents were feeling a little crazy, we might even go to Don Jose for some Mexican food. My mom had just started a new job in Orange, and she went to Yen Ching for lunch with coworkers and that's how I eventually got introduced to Americanized Chinese food.

This was before there was a Chinese restaurant in almost every other shopping center. Kind of crazy to think that there are now 1,800 locations of Panda Express doting the US and several other countries. Orange chicken, beef with broccoli, and honey walnut shrimp are now commonplace with American consumers. I have wanted to come back to where my Chinese food journey had begun to see if it was still as good as I remember when I was an eleven-year-old kid.

As long as I can remember the rumors are always flying around that Yen Ching will be closing in the not so distant future, so just in case this happened I wanted to make it back to Yen Ching. Supposedly the land that this restaurant is on belongs to the Catholic church, and there are whispers that they want to expand the nearby Holy Family Cathedral complex. For now, this A-frame restaurant that has been here since 1978 shows no signs of moving anywhere, and they are just as busy as they have been for the last 40 years.

That's why we decided to meet my parents at 4pm on a recent Saturday, for a quick dinner to avoid the sometimes hour wait to get a table, and what my dad calls one of the loudest restaurants in OC. I'm not so sure about that, but the dining room was only filled a quarter full at this early bird dinner hour, so it was quiet enough for my dad's sensitive ears. The dining room has gotten a modern update since the last time we were here a good many years ago. It was lightened up with a paint job and white linens on the tables.

I'm not sure about your plan of attack when eating in a Chinese restaurant, but I like to do it family style, by ordering a bunch of dishes and sharing everything. The menu at Yen Ching is pretty good sized with plenty of seafood, beef, chicken, pork, and noodle dishes. There's also a prix-fixe menu that is priced at $23 per person which includes soup and appetizer, but there are only five entree options to choose from, and we wanted to pick our own, so we went the a la carte route. Let's see if Yen Ching is just as good as when I used to come here as a kid.


Katie is always up for an appetizer, and even though I knew we would be having a lot of food coming our way, we tried these Potstickers ($9.75). These pan-fried dumplings were filled with pork and vegetables and were just okay. The outer dumpling was rubbery and the pork and veggies inside failed to make any impression on my taste buds. These were boosted a bit by a plum sauce, but not enough for us to order these again.


Entrees came out in waves all of sudden and the first to hit the table was the Mongolian Beef ($16.95). This Chinese classic is a favorite at Yen Ching. The sliced beef is served with green onions and a thin brown sauce. I'm always a little partial to this dish. The beef was tender and I like the way the green onions add a tinge of flavor to this. The sauce adds a touch of sweetness but does not overpower the overall aura of this entree.


Our noodle choice on this early evening was this Chow Mein Combo ($12.95). This big mound of noodles included shrimp, chicken, beef, and veggies. I liked this chow mein as it was not too greasy and had plenty of shrimp and meat in it. A nicely done version.


Not the most popular of chicken dishes here, that would probably be the flaming pineapple chicken, but we got the Yen Ching Chicken ($16.95). Tiny cuts of chicken are coated in their signature sauce which is equal parts savory and sweet and then sauteed with chopped green onions. I liked this as well. It came out nice and hot, the chicken was tender and the sauce kept me interested. They also offer this sauce with their Yen Ching Beef.


My dad has always inspired to be a hand model, and here's another one he can add to his portfolio. I used to love the Sweet and Sour Pork ($15.25) here, but it kind of fell flat for me on this visit. The fried pork was not very tender and the sweet and sour sauce was kind of lackluster. I did like the pieces of pineapple in this though, as I tried to sneak a few extra pieces for myself while no one was looking. 


Shrimp with Walnuts ($18.95)  has always been a favorite of mine, so we gave it a try at Yen Ching. Like the pork dish, this one kind of disappointed. On the plus side the shrimp here were pretty good sized and cooked well, but the sauce was not very sweet and could best be described as drab. Very little flavor to this entree. When this dish is executed well it's magical with the briny shrimp, sweet sauce, and nutty walnuts. This plate was let down by the sauce.


Dessert is almost always complimentary when dining at Yen Ching, even though the Golden Caramelized Apple is listed on the menu for a dollar each. They always bring these and the plastic wrapped fortune cookies with the check for as long as we have been coming here. The apple is baked inside a very thick caramelized crust which has a nice sweet sauce baked into it. A sweet ending to our meal and even sweeter because it was free.

This visit brought back a lot of memories of our numerous family dinners at Yen Ching. The food seemed to be just the same as I remember eating as a kid. Most items we had on this early evening were pretty solid but did not blow me away. I'd call this above average Chinese food, but I know there is better out there. My parents thought the prices here were a little on the high side, but with the food only, we only paid $23 a person and had plenty of leftovers for the next day. A pretty good bargain I would say. Service was polite and professional, but not overly friendly. I'm glad Yen Ching is still around as it's part of my food history that has led me to my love of reviewing restaurants.

Out of five hungry hippos, (because the tabletop game Hungry Hungry Hippos was first made available in 1978, the same years as this restaurant), five being best to zero being worst, Yen Ching  Restaurant gets 3 hungry hippos.

For more information about Yen Ching, head to their website here: http://yenchingoc.com/

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Not a Boneheaded Move Going to Bonefish Grill - CLOSED


Bonefish Grill
3040 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92782

The options for seafood when I was a kid was either H. Salt Fish and Chips or frozen fish sticks when we were going to be babysat. I can remember the first time my parents brought home some swordfish steaks, I must have been about seven or eight. I was surprised they did not have a breading and that my dad was barbecuing them instead of taking them from the freezer and warming them up in the oven. That fresh swordfish opened my eyes to the wonderful world of seafood, and I have been a fan ever since.

Nowadays seafood can be found more readily than when I was growing up. Not just at restaurants, we would consider fancy anymore. Seafood restaurants run the gamut from fast-casual places, to restaurants that feature valet parking and near triple-digit entree prices. We were recently invited to a place that is comfortably in the middle of these two extremes, Bonefish Grill in the Tustin Marketplace.

Bonefish Grill kind of gets overlooked because they only have two locations in California, but I was surprised to learn that they have close to 200 locations in 32 states. They must be doing something right to be able to operate all of those locations, and we were pretty excited to come in and partake in some of their summer specials, including their Bangin' BFG Sandwich that we have heard so much about.

We arrived at Bonefish Grill at 5pm on a recent Saturday. A little earlier than we like to eat, but we had a prior commitment, and knew there would not be great food there, so we stopped at Bonefish first. The restaurant was fairly full when we walked in, but almost all the tables were filled up during our visit. This used to be the site of the former Black Angus back in the day but is now unrecognizable from those times. The casual/modern decor reminded me of the feel of maybe Paul Martin's or a brighter more lively P.F Chang's.

The menu is predictably seafood-focused with many grilled options, signature favorites, and handhelds dotting the menu. Not a fan of creatures from the sea? There are three steak selections for you to choose from, along with a burger which I've heard good things about. We were here to try their new sandwiches from their specials menu, which on this evening also featured a delicious sounding Spinach, Bacon, and Blue Cheese Grouper that I'll have to come back and try next time. For now, let's see how this visit went.


Every meal at Bonefish Grill starts with their fantastic bread service, which is hard to resist. It came out warm and fresh with a side of olive oil and pesto for dipping. They were not shy about refilling this frequently, as Katie and I could not stop eating this. We finally managed to stop at two loaves, but the struggle to have more was real.




Katie is almost an addict when it comes to ahi, so she had to succumb and give their Ahi Tuna Sashimi ($15.50) a try. This is listed as a starter but could easily be an entree option for some of you lighter eaters. The sushi grade tuna was seared to a nice rare and was sesame crusted. It was presented on a bed of greens and topped with Bonefish Grill's signature Bang Bang sauce, which is one of the better sauces around, as it has a nice creamy texture and provides a kick of spice at the tail end of it, without being too overpowering. Katie was very satisfied with this starter.


I went without an appetizer on this evening, instead opting for this Classic Caesar Salad ($4.50 with the purchase of an entree). This was a nearly perfect simple Caesar. It came out on a nicely chilled plate, with plenty of chopped romaine, garlic croutons, and plenty of grated parmesan. I would have liked a tad more dressing on this though, but still pretty solid.



Now on to the real reason we were invited here, to try their Bangin' BFG Sandwiches ($19.90). They offer three varieties to choose from; grilled, fried, or the one that Katie selected, blackened. At this Tustin location, they use rockfish as the centerpiece for this sandwich. It is joined on the very well made bun with sliced tomato, coleslaw, and the Bang Bang sauce that was used earlier on the tuna appetizer. Katie loved this sandwich, calling it delicious. She liked the spiciness of the blackening seasoning and felt that the bun really held up well. She thought the fries were done nicely.



Not surprising to longtime readers of this restaurant blog, I went with the fried version of the Bangin' BFG Sandwich. I liked that the breading was not greasy at all, which allowed the natural flavor of the mellow rockfish to shine through. The breading did have a good crunch to it, but the sandwich was a little hard to eat, as the piece of fish was too big for the bun and fell out frequently. I eventually just ate the rockfish with a fork dipping it into the addictive Bang Bang Sauce. Even though the menu said this was served with fries, our server told us we could pick any of their signature sides to go along with this sandwich, so I selected the Potato Au Gratin, which was fine, but I liked Katie's fries better.


Fresh Strawberry Shortcake ($8.30) was offered as the lone dessert on their specials menu on this evening and that just happens to be one of Katie's favorite desserts, even though it's not one of mine, but we got it anyways. Sometimes I can be a good husband. This utilized a split shortcake biscuit which was topped with strawberries, whipped cream, and creme anglaise for a little sweetness. Katie enjoyed that Bonefish Grill did not feel the need to douse the strawberries in a heavy syrup, which made this a lighter summer dessert that you can feel less guilty about eating.

This visit to Bonefish Grill has reopened our eyes to this wonderful seafood restaurant which we have in the past overlooked for one reason or the other. Not only were the Bangin' BFG Sandwiches good, but we look forward to coming back again real soon to experience their popular Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer, some of their signature seafood offerings, and maybe their coconut pie for dessert. Our server Brett was fantastic on this evening, as he met our every need and we got to know him a little bit. We also had a great visit with Managing Partner Donna Maniscalco who was working the dining room to ensure that every guest was enjoying their visit. We enjoyed our chat, Donna. I also am happy that seafood has evoved from when I was a kid, and there are tons more options than way back in those long ago days.

For more information about Bonefish Grill and to keep track of their specials, head to their website here: https://www.bonefishgrill.com/