Mango mochi ball from Irvine’s J Sweet Bakery

I love mochi. I love the soft bite-sized rice cakes sprinkled on my frozen yogurt. The taste of the traditional Japanese mochi filled with red bean reminds me of my childhood – my parents would buy it all the time. And of course mochi ice cream… whether it’s green tea, mango, or strawberry, I will devour it in one bite despite the fact that I’ll get brain freeze. Yum!

So I couldn’t help myself when my friends showed me the Mango Mochi Ball at the Irvine Taiwanese bakery, J Sweet Bakery. They had tried it before at a different bakery but not at this one. We couldn’t help ourselves and each ordered one.

The size is 2-3 times larger than the traditional Japanese mochi. Also, it’s shape is closer to the dome of an airy steamed bun.

The mochi is pillowy and airy and surrounds the outer layer of the Mango Mochi Ball –  which is as soft as  marshmallow. When I take my first bite, it feels like I’m biting into a mango cloud! Inside the layer of the gooey rice cake is a layer of sponge cake and at the center is a mango mousse with fresh bits of mango. The overall flavor is subtle and fragrant.

Bit of advice, if you eat this, don’t pick it up with your hands – pick it up with the cellophane or the wrap it comes it because the warmth of your hands will make the mochi stick to you and it will get very messy.

Driving my first boat in Newport Harbor!

I made an impulse Groupon purchase at the end of last year. I don’t know what came over me but I bought an hour-long boat ride in Newport Harbor in Orange County. I completely forgot about the purchase until I got a reminder email saying it was going to expire. I made a few calls and one of my friends said she’d take the ride with me. We parked at the Balboa Fun Zone area and got to Marina Boat Rentals to get our boat tour. We found out that we got our own boat and were supposed to drive it ourselves in the harbor! We got into the boat and I immediately took a right and ended up getting caught in fishing lines. Oops!

After we got untangled, here’s the view we had of the harbor. And yes, that’s me driving the boat!

I have to admit that the coolest thing about being out in the water was the peace and quiet. We heard the faint sounds of the Fun Zone rides but as we got farther into the harbor, we just heard the humming of our boat motor and our squeals.

We tried to stay away from the big boats and tried to steer towards the center of the harbor (you’re not allowed to leave the harbor into the ocean).  But the most amazing sight we saw were the sea lions that were hanging out by the docks near the residential homes. On our way back to dock the boat, we even saw one of the sea lions swimming beside us.

After the ride, we saw someone eating a burrito (it smelled amazing!) and asked her where she got it. She told us to go across the street to Great Mex. The place is tiny – just a few tables and a place to order your food. I ordered the breakfast burrito with chorizo… take a look:

The burrito was the perfect size and had great flavor. The tortilla wasn’t soggy – I could tell it was lightly toasted on the grill. The chorizo had a nice crisp layer which I like and it was served with eggs and cheese – it was a no frills kind of burrito. I added a little bit of hot sauce for some extra kick. This meal was very filling and satisfying.

Afterwards, we had to get some Fun Zone sweet treats.

I saw a kid buy the snow cone and I was very tempted by all the colors and the refreshing look of the gigantic cone.

My friend and I decided to end the day with a traditional fair food… funnel cake! We found a bench near the ferris wheel and ate our funnel cake and looked out into the harbor. It was nice to blow off weekend errands and just have fun. I’m looking at these photos and thinking to myself that I need to do that more. Don’t you agree?

Orange County Eats

I live in Los Angeles but grew up in Orange County. Why does this matter to you? I get to explore food not just in LA but I often trek down south to visit my family and friends and… to taste what the OC is serving up. This is the REAL OC – not the fictitious world that Fox’s The OC or Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County. Let me take you on a tour of some of my favorite eats that span from Garden Grove to Buena Park and Costa Mesa. Let’s start…

1. Brodard Chateau is a Vietnamese-French restaurant right by the 22 freeway in Garden Grove. The food is good but what brings me back to this place are the spring rolls – more specifically, Nem Nuong. What is Nem Nuong? It’s grilled Vietnamese pork that is savory and has a nice crunch on the outside. It’s wrapped with rice paper and inside is a crispy surprise (which I think is actually a piece of fried egg roll skin) and fresh veggies. But the best part is the orange dipping sauce – it’s a family recipe and they won’t give it up. Trust me… I tried and I’m still going to try to get it out of them.

To the left you’ll see the dipping sauce. Know what’s in it? PLEASE let me know.

2. Yoko is in a unassuming strip mall in Buena Park next to a Korean Spa. A couple of my friends took me here to feast on dongkatsu (also often spelled as tonkatsu) – it’s one of my favorite foods. Dongkatsu is a breaded pork cutlet served with the katsu sauce. Note: It’s a Japanese dish but also very popular with Koreans. At Yoko, you crush your own toasted sesame seeds to make your katsu sauce. Take a look…

After my friend crushed the sesame seeds, the waitress came by and poured the katsu sauce on top of it.

The portions are huge so be sure to go on an empty stomach. This was my platter and I didn’t share it with anyone because it was that good.

3. Nidaime Tsujita Ramen is located inside the Mitsuwa Market in Costa Mesa and usually serves up your average ramen. But I made a pilgrimage to this specific location on a weekend in November because they were premiering a very special type of ramen: the Tsukemen. I wouldn’t have known about this if it wasn’t for my foodie comrades, Gregory and Emily – thanks, guys!

Direction on how to properly eat the noodle were posted by the cash register. The Tsukemen is served in parts – you get a bowl of noodles with a couple lines and a bowl of a thick sauce. You pick up the noodles and dip it in the rich sauce, then you take a bite. You don’t want to pour the sauce all over your noodles because the flavors are intense and will ruin the experience. You want to take each bite and savor it one slurp at a time.

Once you’re halfway done with the noodles, you squeeze the lime on the noodles and continue dipping and eating. I admit, next time I eat this, I am going to break the rule and squeeze the limes early on because it adds a crisp flavor to the dish that is right for my palette.

Note: This specific Tsukemen was served a limited time here. According to my source, the chef who creates this Tsukemen will be opening up his own restaurant on Sawtelle late spring of 2011.

Let me eat cake!

I know summers are usually associated with fruit pies but for the last few weeks, I’ve just been hankering for some cake – soft, moist, semi-sweet cake with a touch of frosting.

My first stop led me to an oldie but a goodie place… King’s Hawaiian.  Yes, the same people that put out those tasty sweet spongy rolls have a chain of restaurants here in California. The one I grew up with is the one located in Torrance. You step in and the first thing you see is their bakery – full of breads, donuts, and… cakes! It’s a family restaurant that reminds me of the 80’s – it’s pretty awesome.

And what did I order? The dobash cake – it’s a silky cake with a smooth frosting that’s almost like pudding. When you take a bite, the cake and frosting melt in your mouth. The cake is popular in Hawaii and I’m so glad it’s here on the mainland.

Next cake… tres leches cake. It’s probably one of my top 3 cakes.

I was in Orange County for the weekend for a friend’s wedding. I had a few hours to myself and decided to have an al fresco lunch solo at Felix Continental Cafe in Orange. The food is alright but the reason I love this place is really for the dessert. They make the cake onsite and when you get a slice, it’s not all done up like a fancy bakery – it’s simple and tasty. Why is it called tres leches? The cake is soaked in three types of milk – it’s not mushy, just moist. Take a peek…

And I end this entry with the third final cake from the east coast bakery that just opened up here in Los Angeles – Magnolia. My awesome roommate stopped by the bakery last night. She tried to get cupcakes but they were all out. But she didn’t leave empty-handed. She nabbed the last slice of red velvet cake with whipped vanilla frosting.

The flavor of the cake is exactly how I remembered it when I had it in New York – hint of cocoa embedded in pillow-like cake. However, this was the first time I had red velvet without cream cheese frosting. Because red velvet is a delicate cake, the heavy cream cheese frosting is a great compliment. I think the fuffy white vanilla frosting is something to get used to.

By the way, I didn’t mention any cupcakes here… this was an all straight-up cake entry. Perhaps cupcakes another time. I wonder what I’ll be craving next…