>6ix Park Grill — a secret no more

>Living in Asia, it was customary to go to a restaurant inside a hotel when one wants good food. Since moving here, I’ve realized that there really isn’t a hotel restaurant culture, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any good restaurants within an ordinarily unassuming hotel in your area

The Hyatt hotel group has recently been surprising me with their in-house restaurants, starting with TusCa at the Garden Grove location and now, 6ix Park Grill at Hyatt Irvine. I recently was invited to attend one of the monthly mixers held at the restaurant and was shocked at how many people were there. The outside area was packed with people enjoying the wine that night — each month, the sommelier chooses a wine and that wine is featured at the mixer — an Alexander Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

I sat down and was immediately greeted by our server who was very knowledgeable about the menu and was friendly and chatty. We ordered some appetizers off the happy hour menu while we sipped on the wonderfully full-bodied wine of the month.

We started with Kobe Beef sliders ($8), two nicely done American Kobe sliders with white cheddar and tomato. The meat was moist and the buns were thoughtfully toasted. I enjoyed this very much.

Grilled sea scallops ($10) were absolutely divine. I loved these very much. The sea scallops were plump and very tender. They are also offered on the regular menu ($28) and served with haricot vert, morel risotto and a red pepper coulis.

Chef de Cuisine, Ted Hill, found his way over to our table and insisted on bringing out some of the house specialties for us to try. I was pretty damn full already but didn’t want to be rude and ended up sampling the Ahi Poke ($11), with cucumber, soy and onion. The menu does not include the fresh ginger, but there was definitely ginger in this very refreshing poke. Served with chips, this could be a meal in itself for those with smaller appetites.

While we were sitting there, the servers come around with complimentary appetizers and one of them happened to be the fava bean bruschetta ($7 on the menu). I love the taste of fava beans and this was indeed a treat. Our well-informed server told us that the fava beans are individually shucked and then pureed to make this delicious spread.

Our 12oz prime USDA rib eye ($41) arrives grilled perfectly at medium rare. Each “chop house” selection comes with one side of your choice and when I looked through the offerings, the whole kernel corn with lime, sea salt, red bell pepper and a touch of cream totally shouted at me. The steak was great, but I could not stop eating the corn. It was THAT good. Chef Hill even divulged his recipe to me so I can make it at home if I wanted to!

I had no room left for dessert, but my dining companion has a sweet tooth so we ended up with pumpkin creme brulee ($7) and chocolate chunk croissant pudding ($8). Both were good, the pudding was a tad too sweet for me with the vanilla sauce, but the Belgian chocolate with the croissants was addictive. The creme brulee was rich and creamy and surprisingly, not as sweet as the vanilla sauce for the pudding. I enjoyed this immensely and wished I had room for more.

The restaurant also has a prix fixe menu ($26) which changes regularly. Entrees at the moment includes chicken, salmon or short ribs. A soup du jour or Californian greens are also included.

Happy hour runs from Monday to Friday between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. The outside patio is a great place to enjoy a drink and some appetizers and if you so choose, move into the main dining room for dinner later. The food is surprisingly good and wine selections means there is something to please everyone! Complimentary valet parking is offered when you dine at the restaurant — just get your ticket validated before you leave.



6ix Park Grill, Hyatt Irvine, 17900 Jamboree Road, Irvine, CA 92614. Tel: (949) 222-6666

6ix Park Grill

>Peking restaurant — a family favorite for comfort food

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potstickers

***An abridged version is available at OC Register’s Food Frenzy blog***

My family loves Peking restaurant. For generations, they would come here for Sunday lunches with my aunts and uncles, grandparents, great uncles and aunts in tow. I used to tag along whenever I used to visit and so my Peking restaurant experience spans about two decades.

After moving here, I somehow found my way back here again eating the same things I used to all those years with my extended family. Although we don’t come here often, on those times that we do, we end up eating basically the same things each time.

The restaurant specializes in what we called “mian shir” or, “foods of starch”. Basically, it is a northern Chinese staple, of noodles, dumplings, breads as opposed to rice. Food is generally heavier and greasier in the north to combat the harsh winter months. The cuisine focuses more on casseroles and stews rather than the stir-fries of the south — Cantonese food.

beef roll

The minute I enter the restaurant, the servers will ask if I wanted the roast beef with green onion pancake roll ($7.85) and potstickers ($6.25/10 pieces), called pan fried dumplings on the menu. I tell her “of course” and she rushes off into the kitchen to place my order.

After we are settled and perusing the menu, she comes back and brings us tea and tells me that my order is in and what else I needed. I tell her I wanted the beancurd with chives and pork and some preserved vegetables with pork soup noodles. I pondered about ordering boiled dumplings but she looks at me and tells me I already have potstickers and I don’t need rice either seeing I’ve got a carb-packed meal to come. Ahhh you’ve gotta love these old Asian servers who think they are your aunties and know better than you do.

beancurd, chives and pork

The potstickers are awesome here. I love the crispiness of the bottom side with the juicy meat filling inside. These are greasy, but oh so good. I usually make a sauce of 3 parts vinegar, 1 part soy sauce and a spoon of chili sauce for the potstickers to dip in. One portion of 10 potstickers don’t last very long since everyone is fighting over them.

Stir fried beancurd with chives and pork is very tasty and I wish I had some rice to go with it, but I didn’t want to ask. Whenever I eat here I feel like if I asked for something they already told me no, I would get yelled at, like how I would at home. Funny, but true. But she was right, I didn’t need anymore starchy foods. We had more to come.

chive turnover

Roast beef with green onion pancake roll is very filling and I like the sweet sauce on the side. I always request they put it on the side because otherwise they will slather way too much on to the sandwich and I can’t taste the beef anymore. It’s just a mouthful of sweet. This way, everyone can add as little or as much as they like and everyone is happy. The beef is like what my mother makes, a braised five spiced beef, sliced and rolled into a scallion pancake (cong you bing) along with fresh scallions and cilantro. It always makes me happy eating this regardless of where I have it and how it is made. It reminds me of my mom’s home cooking except my mom would use the beef on regular bread to make sandwiches with or in a noodle soup, which brings me to the noodle soup we ordered.

hand cut noodles

Preserved vegetables with pork in a soup noodle arrive and I immediately knew it would not be satisfactory. We asked for hand cut noodles which were the only good thing going for it. There wasn’t enough broth and the noodles quickly soaked up whatever little broth was in the bowl. The preserved vegetables and pork to noodle ratio was about 1 to 4 which made for very unsatisfactory eating. I like my soup noodles with a lot of soup and much more toppings than this. I brought it home and re-hashed it into another noodle soup meal a few nights later.

Service is brisk and abrupt. If you are looking for a smile or a joke, this isn’t the place to find it. What you see is what you get. They will take your order, bring your food, perhaps a box for your unfinished food, bring you the check. Don’t expect anything more and you won’t be disappointed. With that in mind, come for the potstickers, the beef rolls and steamed dumplings if you are not getting the potstickers. Know that whatever northern “starch” specialty item you order, it’ll be good.

Peking Restaurant, 8566 Westminster Blvd, Westminster, CA 92683. Tel: 714-893-3020

Peking Chinese

>Orphans’ Christmas Dinner 2010

>Each year, my new friend Paul Lyttle cooks Christmas dinner for his friends who are alone, or don’t have family around. He calls it the “Orphans’ Christmas Dinner”. This year, 12 people stopped by and Paul himself cooked the extravaganza with only a little help from everyone else. I just want to be clear that I did nothing except stuff myself full of food.

The menu this year as modeled by the lovely Amber who arrived in all her festive Christmas gear — and her mom did too!

Each guest was asked to bring stocking stuffers to put into everyone’s stockings and when I arrived, Danni was busy wrapping some of the gifts and placing them into the stockings.

I raided the fridge and got myself a beer and Austin and I ate some raspberry turnovers and brie en croute while we waited for the food to be ready.

Paul is from England and the menu was a testament to his roots as well as his adopted home. He had been slaving away all day and by the time we got there, he had already finished making the roast beef and the turkey was in the oven

The stove had pots of water boiling with potatoes, carrots, swede (rutabaga), and the smell was incredible.

Soon, the turkey was done, carved, gravy, sauces completed and the table was set for the Christmas night feast.

There was roast beef with a British style sauce, more like au jus, but a little thicker, but not thick like gravy.

roast beef

My favorite thing to eat with roast beef is Yorkshire pudding and Paul almost didn’t make these but I pleaded and begged and Cory ended up making them. I poured the sauce over the pudding and scarfed down three of them.

I was told the Yorkshire pudding is easy to make, and I’ll take their word for it. Maybe, just maybe I’ll try to make some next year.

Yorkshire pudding

Roasted turkey was so moist and flavorful and Amber’s mom did a fantastic job carving the bird. Being the only Asian at dinner, I had my pick of the dark meat which was very tasty and I went back for seconds and thirds.

traditional roasted turkey

Lovely thick gravy for the turkey as well as a creamy garlic sauce which Paul made, but for me, the roast beef sauce was what I liked on EVERYTHING!
 
Side dishes included a carrot and swede (rutabaga) mash. I like the mixture because the texture isn’t mushy and had a slightly sweet taste from the carrots but it wasn’t overly sweet.

carrot and swede mash

Mashed red potatoes were awesome, I loved how Paul left the skin on. That’s the way I make my mashed potatoes! The gravy made this dish very delicious.

Another potato dish was roasted potatoes with garlic, rosemary and thyme — a Gordon Ramsey Christmas dinner recipe. Soft on the inside and crisp on the outside.

potatoes with rosemary and thyme

Parsnip strips are also tasty and it’s nice to have a bunch of different root vegetables to put together a hearty winter meal.

parsnips

Bread stuffing was done two ways. One was traditional, the way I’d make it in a baking dish, while the other one was made into “cakes”. They looked like scones but were just the stuffing mixture made into balls and baked.

stuffing balls

There were two home made cranberry sauces — which I didn’t taste because I don’t like cranberry sauce, not even when I make it. I did return back to the table several times to eat more roast beef, turkey and of course, the Yorkshire pudding.

There were other dishes I didn’t take a photo of, but if you take a look at the spread, there is a lot of food and for the meal to have been cooked by one person — that’s serious kudos right there for ya! I’ve made meals like this before and I know how much work goes into it, so I am SO very appreciative when someone cooks a meal like this for me. Thank you Paul and Cory for yor hospitality and thanks for including me in your Christmas festivities!!

>Soho Taco — addictive like gourmet crack

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Chef Gabe at the helm (left)

Funny story. A friend of mine was wanting to organize a surprise birthday party for his wife and asked me which caterer he should use — namely, tacos! I told him I’d never used one before but I’d look into it for him. I did some research and came up with a few places and I email them to him.

Weeks go by and I didn’t hear from him so I shoot off an email and asked if he hired a caterer for his wife’s birthday and he said “oh yeah, I went with Soho Taco, they were awesome, thank you”.

Fast forward to a Yelp elite event in October and Soho Taco was catering the event. As all Yelp events go, the line for food was long and I had no patience to wait for tacos. Some of my friends offered me one of their’s and I scarfed it down very quickly — yes hunger does that to you — and it was a seriously tasty taco, even though it was cold.

portabello and veggie taco

I thought about it for a while and now that I wasn’t about to keel over from hunger, I decided to go stand in line and after about 40 minutes, I finally got to the front of the line and was presented with a plate of 3 tacos — carne asada, carnitas and vegetarian. Condiments are set out for you to dress your taco any which way you wish and I immediately was hooked on the ‘green’ salsa which is predominantly made with jalapenos.

I’m no vegetarian, but out of the 3 tacos, the veggie definitely won me over. Meaty slices of portobello sits with onions, peppers to make for a taco unlike any other. These are the best veggie tacos you will ever eat! I promise you this!

Last month, I attended a customer appreciation event at BMW Crevier which Soho Taco was catering and managed to eat another 3 tacos there — this time, one of their specialty, cecina de res — thin strips of beef which has been aged and partially cured in salt.This Mexican delicacy is so tender and flavorful and makes for a perfect filling for absolutely delicious tacos. I asked about it but was told it was a fiercely guarded Zambrano (Chef Gabe Zambrano) family secret so I didn’t probe any further.

carne asada, cecina de res, pollo tacos

Last week I attended a preview at Proof Bar where Soho Taco was showcasing their tacos to potential customers and I was there like a lightening bolt. I must’ve been seriously hungry because I managed to eat 5 of their tacos, this time, besides the veggie, carnitas, cecina de res, I also sampled the mahi mahi and the shrimp tacos — both outstanding! In fact, I think those two might just be my absolute favorites, although, don’t quote me on that seeing I ate those two first and still managed to wolf down 3 others.

There are 3 sauces, one of which is guacamole style, avocado-based. The roasted red tomato salsa is tasty and will suit those who like a milder salsa. Pico de gallo is another option and uses ripe heirloom tomatoes when in season. However, the green salsa is my crack! It is very addictive and I found that it goes well on almost everything I’ve put it on.

salsas and condiments

I urge you to keep these guys on your radar because I predict HUGE things for them. Once the public gets a taste of these insanely delicious tacos, I fear it will become almost impossible for me to get to them as easily anymore.

Soho Taco is currently still a catering-only business, although word has it they are in the process of acquiring a food truck in the near future. Until then, you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter and find them at various events around town, some, open to the public. That’s how I stalk them for these delicious tacos!

Soho Taco

>ECCO is now even more affordable

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calamari fries

Ever since I discovered ECCO during Restaurant Week this year, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I’ve come back several times after to eat the various items on the menu, but time after time again, I find myself going back to the same menu items which I come for time and time again.

A couple of weeks ago, ECCO revealed a $15 prix fixe — a 2 course, full portion of your choice of an appetizer and an entree. What totally sold me on was the calamari fries, offered as an appetizer on this menu — one of my favorites.

First course choices include: minestrone soup, calamari fries, or chopped salad consisting of garbanzo beans, red onions, fennel salame, tomatoes, pepperoncinis tossed in a white wine vinaigrette.

chicken piccata

For the second course, manicotti with spinach, ricotta, mozzarella in a red and white sauce or the Margherita pizza are both perfect for vegetarians while chicken picatta and linguini with salmon are available to those wanting more protein to their meal.

Chicken piccata is very good, chicken is moist and tender and the lemon caper sauce works well with the linguini.

Of course if you wish for some of the awesome pizzas ECCO has to offer, try visiting on Tuesdays when pizzas are 2 for 1. Three choices are available: sausage, Magherita and white — my favorite being the latter.

white pizza

The service is still very good and the timeliness in which the food is brought to the table has improved tremendously since our first visit. All in all, ECCO is fast becoming a favorite spot to grab some good grub in a casual but trendy environment.

ECCO, 2937 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Tel: (714) 444-3226

Ecco Italian

>Pupuseria San Sivar — it’s all about the chicken soup

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***An abridged version of this runs on the OC Register’s Food Frenzy blog***

My first experience with El Salvadorean cuisine was not a good one. I remember going to a restaurant in the Bay Area and thinking how awful these pupusas were. I was bent on never eating them again.

Fast forward several years later and we’ve moved here and I’m looking for places to eat on Yelp and come across this little place, a solid 4-stars and there were other items people raved about other than the pupusas. I thought “okay, let’s give this another try” and I guess, the rest is history.

Drink orders are taken almost the minute you sit down and when they bring those, a bowl of curtido –lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar — is also brought to the table.

queso y frijole pupusa

On my first visit to Pupuseria San Sivar years ago, I remember didn’t order a pupusa. I ordered the caldo de gallina criolla, a very flavorful chicken soup, another Yelper favorite. On that first visit though, I did end up trying the pupusas that were ordered and found that they tasted nothing like the horrid things I tried years ago. These pillowy, soft, doughy pockets were filled with the most flavorful concoctions ever.

Pupusas are traditional tortillas El Salvador. These thick, hand-made corn tortillas are filled with different things, but namely, cheese, beans or pork, or all of those. The pork used in the pupusas is called chicharron, but is different to the chidharron used in Mexican cuisine which refers to pork skin. In El Salvador, chicharron is cooked pork made into the consistency of a paste.

The two most common pupusas are the pupusa de queso (cheese) and more popular pupusa revuelta which includes a mix of cheese (queso), beans (frijoles), and and pork (chicharron) and you will find both of these on the menu.

caldo de gallina criolla with everything

I’ve tried all the pupusas except the camarones y queso (shrimp and cheese) and so decided to order that on my most recent visit. Of course I couldn’t go without the queso y frijole (cheese and beans) pupusa either.

However, pupusas aside, my main reason for coming on this latest visit is the chicken soup. I’ve been sick for over a week now and after eating pho ga and Chinese porridge for most of the week, I was now tired and needed something new, but at the same time, comforting and soothing. My thoughts immediately turned to the chicken soup here.

Hens are used here for the chicken soup and it is clearly evident by the droplets of yellow fat on top of the soup. The quarter chicken that is served alongside also displays yellow fat, as opposed to white fat from regular chickens you get from the market. I ask about these chickens and was told that they used to get it from a poultry vendor in Westminster (probably Dakao Poultry where I get my chickens from) but now get it from a poultry vendor in LA because the owner likes to personally select each and every chicken he buys for the restaurant. Apparently the vendor in Westminster didn’t allow him to do that.

rice, quarter chicken and condiments

Carrot, potato, chayote are all found swimming in the hearty broth. Sometimes you may even find a piece of neck bone or parts of the carcass you didn’t want to find, but fish it out if you don’t want to look at it because that is what makes the broth so utterly flavorful and different from the rest.

For $8.50, a big bowl of broth with vegetables arrive with two plain pupusas, a small scoop of rice, a quarter chicken and condiments. You won’t find a better deal than this one when you’re feeling under the weather and in dire need of some comfort food stat!

Salvadorean chicken tamale

I’ve also had the mojarra fritta (deep fried Tilapia), tacos and quesadillas here, but those can’t compare to the Salvadorean food they offer.

The Salvadorean chicken tamale is highly recommended and although the texture of the masa is a little bit different to that I’ve eaten at Mexican restaurants, the one here is infused with wonderful flavors and is very smooth in consistency. I’m not sure which I like better. I think I prefer the texture of Mexican tamales but like the flavor of these better.

The food here is always good but whenever I come here, I always order the caldo de gallina criolla!! It’s absolutely THE best.


Pupuseria San Sivar, 1940 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92627. Tel: 949-650-2952

San Sivar