Sunday, October 14, 2012

ROC - Brunch at Memphis Cafe and Afternoon Drinks at Habana

After having too much fun on a Friday night, one's stomach is in need of some good food... and possibly could go for another round of drinks. My friends and I decide to go out to brunch at Memphis Cafe located in The Lab within Costa Mesa.

Feeling jazzed up for the day, I've decided to kick it off with a Manhattan made with rye bourbon along with ordering a Bloody Mary for the meal. The others ordered a Greyhound and a Bloody Mary as well. My Rye Manhattan was standard but still delicious nonetheless. In addition, I really did enjoy their Bloody Mary.

I've had the Grilled Pork Chop with Caramelized Apples along with two eggs sunny-side up and Cheesy Grits. The pork chop was delicious and moist. On Yelp, someone had mentioned that either that person or other people had pushed for the pork chop to stay on the menu; kudos to them! My side of the Cheesy Grits were full of flavor.

One of my friends ordered the Crawfish Omelette. She said it was very delicious although there was a lot of egg. I think it was labeled as the potato hash but I've had the potato fritter served on the side and wished there was more seasoning on them.

The other friend ordered a Blackened Catfish Po' Boy with Mac and Cheese. It looked delicious especially the side. He said it was and the Mac and Cheese was very cheesy.

Our brunch was very good at Memphis. It certainly is a great brunch spot in Orange County. Some of the other brunch spots I recommend are Plums Cafe and Old Vine Cafe both located in Costa Mesa as well. I'll definitely plan to make a post on those places in the future.

After brunch, we've decided to walk around The Lab and ended up having more drinks at Habana. They too also had brunch which is why a place known for intimate dinners and amazing drinks is opened at that time. The environment at Habana's very intimate as it's lighten up by candlelight and they have an outdoor fireplace in their patio.

I've ordered a Caipirinha which is a Brazilian cocktail made with Cacha├ža (sugar cane rum), raw sugar, muddled limes, and soda water. It's a strong cocktail that although made with fruit screams of masculinity.

The friends ordered Sangria Roja (Red Wine Sangria) which they've certainly enjoyed.

In addition to ordering a couple for Caipirinhas, I've also ordered their Buena Vista cocktail. It was certainly on the sweeter side for a short cocktail.

Habana definitely is one of the great spots in Orange County to have amazing cocktails. It's also a great place to bring a date to.
Memphis Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

ROC - Houston's, A Peaceful Sunday Lunch.

Houston's in Irvine is part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group. Technically, it's a chain as there are other locations in the States. With the food and restaurant culture growing, chain restaurants tend to have a negative connotation of simply having food that's easily replicated, processed and just flat out not delicious. Be that as it may, Houston's no where fits that image as there's little doubt that the food is made from scratch judging by the high quality of ingredients on the plate.

I've been here for dinner before and was greatly impressed. Before dining at Houston's for the first time, I was extremely hesitant of trying it out due to their relatively small menu. However, this formula worked as the restaurant can concentrate on fewer types of dishes therefore making their food much more delicious while maintaining the consistency of its quality. One thing that stands out about Houston's is their extremely high commitment to service; the waitstaff is very friendly and accomodating to a customer's needs especially when the prices on the menu are extremely reasonable. Although I personally wished it was slightly rubbed with more herbs, spices and salt before its cooking process, their prime rib is amazing and would definitely consider it a signature item of the restaurants. Also, their appetizers such as their smoked salmon and sides such as their mashed potatoes were very delicous.

As I was bored on a Sunday afternoon as most of the restaurants were closed after 2pm as they have to prepare for dinner service, I was in luck that Houston's was open around that window. As I entered into the restaurant, the decor and environment is classy yet unintimidating. I walked up to the bar and was told dining at the bar is fine as they layed a cloth napkin in front of me. I would always order a Manhattan whenever I would dine at Houston's as their Manhattans are very delicious.

The bartender and servers were very warm and willing to adress a customer's questions about the menu. Unfortunately, the prime rib wasn't available. I then opted for their Cajun-spiced Grilled Trout. Even though trout may not be as expensive as say salmon or that some seafood chefs such as Brian Malarkey on Top Chef Season 3 may not consider trout as a seafood, it's a highly underestimated fish as trout is extremely delicious and readily available to us in the US. In addition, I've ordered the Peruvian Corn and Zucchini as my side. When my food was delivered to me, it looked amazing. I've tried the fish before drizzling the rest with lemon: it tasted very delicious as the fish was cooked perfectly. After applying the lemon juice, the acidity from it along with the flavor of the fish and the Cajun spices all worked together in order to create a harmonious sensation on my tastebuds. My side of Peruvian Corn and Zucchini tasted very delicous as well since I've noticed they were cooked with butter.

Although I'm only in my 20s, I much would rather, compared to the rest of the people in my age group and  if I had to choose only one of the two, end the meal with a top shelf spirit such as Cognac or Single Malt Scotch rather than dessert. After my meal, I've concluded it with a snifter of Remy Martin V.S.O.P. Cognac. With its more of an alcoholic bite compared to the smoother Courvoisier V.S. that was available, it was a great way to end the meal after eating fish.

Houston's is an amazing restaurant in Irvine, albeit a chain. With food made from quality ingredients, a classy yet unintimidating atmostphere, and extremely friendly & attentive waitstaff; it's a great restaurant for all sorts of occasions such as celebrating with close & amazing friends, going out on an exciting first date, or just simply dining alone looking to fill that void in time.

Updated 1/14/2013:

Recently, I came back to Houston's for another lunch but this time, I went back for their famed Roasted Prime Rib.

Guided by the lovely hostess, I sat at the bar and started out with my usual Manhattan. When I looked at the menu, I was glad that their Prime Rib was available at that time (It usually is but there are few times throughout the year when they don't have it).  Immediately I order it but like with last time during lunch, the mashed potatoes weren't available. I then opted for coleslaw on the side while ordering my Prime Rib rare. Very quickly within ten minutes, the simple yet beautiful plate of Prime Rib, Au Jus, Horseradish, and coleslaw was laid out before me. Oh boy, although to most people it looks bloody as hell, it was very delicious especially more for me as I highly enjoy meat when it's cooked rare. It was more seasoned than what I've remembered from the last time I had it. In addition, the au jus and horseradish complemented the prime rib quite well.

After finishing my prime rib while going through my second drink of a Gin & Tonic made with Tanqueray gin, the coleslaw served as a refreshing side while cleansing my palate. At the end of the meal, I opted for a digistif of Remy Martin VSOP Cognac like last time.

If it's your first time coming to Houston's, I highly would recommend getting the prime rib; you won't be disappointed!

Another Update - 1/19/2013

I came back to Houston's for a Saturday Lunch. I was feeling wanting something in the middle of having heavy like Meat & Potatoes vs. something light like Udon. I looked at the menu and after seeing the person who had the Rotisserie Chicken next to me when I last ordered their Prime Rib which looked delicious, I decided to order that for the day.

It's within most foodie's minds, including mine's, that chicken would never be a consideration on a menu that offers much more, that it would be for those that don't have any sort of interest in food whatsoever except only for fuel. However, the Rotisserie Chicken at Houston's was quite the exception. It's a great choice for those that don't feel like something too heavy but still want to consume some heavier protein other than fish. When it was presented right before me, it looked amazing. The (Half) Rotisserie Chicken was coated in an Apricot Glaze & Herbs with gave it its just-the-right-amount sweet component while remaining savory. The chicken was very moist and delicious. Not only wasn't it heavy but the skin gave the chicken the right amount of salty flavor without being overwhelming. On the side, it came with a barley salad with almonds, cherry tomatoes, French radishes, and mint topped with grated cheese (either Feta or Parmesan) which was quite refreshing and complementary with the chicken. I have to say, this was one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had. It also serves as a real contender to their prime rib, especially if you want something not heavy but will give you satisfaction for your taste buds as well.

Link to my other blog, A Concierge for the Fellow Man, for an insight in regards to bringing a date:
Houston's - Irvine, CA: An Extremely Versatle Date Spot

Houston's on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 1, 2012

ROC - Ikko (2nd review), The Notorious Act of Introducing Edo-Mae Sushi to Newcomers

Above; besides their giant, orange, neon sign is what you first notice about Ikko as they mean business in terms of authenticity of their Edo-Mae Sushi. Ikko doesn't serve any rolls such as a California Roll or a Spicy Tuna Roll. They've put that on their chalkboard on the front of the restaurant where they would used to post specials of imported fish. But seriously, they've had customers wanting and expecting these Americanized rolls: as soon as they would notice that they wern't on the menu, they would just flat out leave the restaurant. This is to save both the restaurant and those kinds of customers from dealing with the hassle.

Ikko is my favorite sushi restaurant in Orange County, CA. This post is a followup from my previous review. After seeing "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (Youtube Trailer Link) many, many times; it's inevitable that I would frequent Ikko as they're one of the only places serving pre-seasoned, Edo-mae sushi in Southern California, let alone Orange County. Living with new roomates and taking them to Ikko, I once again continue this infamous cycle of getting new people to try this hidden gem. Although it was their first time trying sushi of this style, they were very willing and adventurous of trying cuisines outside of their norm; any person with a passion towards food is greatful to be around people like them. An amazing thing about Ikko, compared to the other sushi restaurants, is that they have a very extensive list of authentic sake from Japan (Nihon-shu is what the Japanese call it as Sake actually is a general term for alcohol such as Nihon-shu and plum wine). From what I can remember, they carry brands such as: Otokoyama, Kubota (be sure to try Kubota Manju as that's like the equivalent to Opus One), Kamatsuru, Kikkusui, Taisetsu.

I had them start off with the dish that always hooks people I bring to the restaurant: the citrus vinaigrette carpaccio. The fish used this time was Hata (Grouper).  With the acidity from the vinaigrette along with its refreshing tones and the sea salt, Yuzu Kosho (fermented yuzu), & peppercorn for the bite, this dish tasted amazing with its clean and refreshing flavors.

The next dish that came out was Chu-Toro (Medium Fatty Tuna) Sashimi. Ikko's beautiful presentation of their sashimi sets the bar against other sushi restaurants. As it's from the belly of the tuna but it being medium fatty versus its much fattier O-Toro counterpart, the Chu-Toro is buttery in flavor while carrying out the flavors of the tuna that you would find in Akami (lean tuna) sushi/sashimi. However, I do wish that Ikko would carry O-Toro as well. Be that as it may, this was my dining companions' favorite of the evening.

Onwards came the sushi segment of the meal. From left to right is the Katsuo (Bonito) topped with green onions and tare (pronounced "Ta-re", simmered seasoned soy sauce), Hotate (Scallop) topped with sea salt and yuzu kosho, and Okoze (Stingfish) with sea salt. The Katsuo tasted amazing as the tare complemented with the flavors of the fish. In addition, the Hotate and Okoze were delicous as well as the salt and the yuzu kosho on the Hotate brought out their clean flavors.

Next came Shiro Maguro (Albacore) and Akami (Lean Tuna). The Shiro Maguro was topped with green onion, tare, ginger, and a fried garlic chip. The toppings on the sushi is what brought out the albacore's flavors making it very delicious and having a refreshing aftertaste. On the otherhand, the Akami was lightly brushed with Tare. The tare complemented the complex flavors of the lean tuna thus bringing out its subtlety.

The roe sushi served "gunkan" style were next. On the left is Masago (Smelt Roe) and the right is Ikura (Salmon roe). Tare was added on top of the Masago giving it depth in flavor. The Ikura was of course very delicious as well. Both of these gunkan roe sushi tasted amazing as they wern't overtly salty as the salty characteristic is inevitable not to avoid when having roe of any kind.

After enjoying the Ikura and Masago, out came the pinnacle of the sushi segment: Uni and Chu-toro. The Uni at Ikko is divine as they use the best Grade A Uni off of the Santa Barbara Coast that's usually sent to Japan and for some restaurants here in the US. It certainly is the best Uni I've had ever, even compared to the amazing Hokkaido Uni I've had in Japan although I still have yet to try it at the high end sushi restaurants in Tokyo; the Santa Barbara Uni tends to be more bolder in flavor and larger in size whereas the Hokkaido Uni is smaller in size and much creamier in texture and flavor. Their Uni along with its Nigiri (fish on top of rice) preparation definitely makes Ikko stand out against the rest! Next to the Uni was beautiful, luxurious Chu-Toro as this sushi piece was more marbled compared to the sashimi. Usually at Ikko, they would sear the Toro with a blowtorch in order to carmelize the fat but I usually prefer it unseared. Both sushis were topped with tare. The flavor and texture of the Uni was certainly heavenly as it was served extremely fresh. In addition, the fat in the Chu-Toro along with the tare complementing it made the sushi elegant in flavor. As my dining companions were in the spirit of adventure to try Uni, they've actually enjoyed it as Uni tends to be more of an acquired taste. Although they wern't used to its texture, the freshness and its extreme high quality made them enjoy it for the first time. I'd imagine if they were to try Uni at another place where they didn't serve this quality of sushi, let alone Uni, they probably wouldn't have liked it at all.

The last piece of sushi for the night was the Iberico Ham sushi. It's was crosshatched with a knife, blowtorched to carmelize its fats, and then topped off with a garlic chip. This sushi totally worked as it's like eating Korean barbeque with rice: the unique combination of meat and carbs chewed up together creating sensations of Umami on one's tongue and releasing endorphins into the brain.

After the amazing sushi, it came to the end of the meal - dessert. I apologize for the terrible picture quality and angles for the following pics; It probably was from the buzz of the great sake we've all enjoyed. I've orded the Rose Ice Cream topped with Rose Petal Tempura and Rose Sugar. My dining companions split amongst themselve a Cinnamon Apple Dessert with Vanilla Ice Cream. I'd imagine their dessert tasted great but mine's was certainly very delicious. The Rose Ice Cream was loaded with flavor yet it was light and importantly not overly sweet which is why I like the desserts at Ikko as I'm not really a dessert guy whereas I would much rather end the meal with Cognac or Single-Malt Scotch. The not too oily batter from the Tempura gave the refreshing ice cream contrast which made it even more delicious.

I wished that they have, as mentioned earlier, O-Toro on hand. In addition, I was also dissapointed that they didn't have Live Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp/ Spot Prawn) as well. To be fair, it might have been that they wern't available to them during that time. However, Ikko has done it again of impressing my dining companions; they've certainly enjoyed the meal and have a new appreciation for sushi. Be that as it may with some of the items not being available, I've too certainly enjoyed my meal. As highly recommended from my previous review: be sure to dine at the Sushi Bar instead of the table as to not only enjoy sushi at its freshest, optimal form but to also fully enjoy the experience at the sushi bar as each sushi is served piece by piece by the sushi chef.

Ikko Sushi on Urbanspoon