Thursday, May 31, 2007

Maggie Moo's

With a bevy of new restaurants and other businesses popping up in the new Crossroads Entertainment Complex, Maggie Moo's has joined other businesses such as Harkins Theaters, Juice It Up!, Que Paso, a new medical building complex and a Hampton Inn.

Another contender in the marble slab/mix in ice creamery, Maggie Moo’s is slowly making its way into California. While most locations are in San Diego and Orange Counties, a few are popping up in other places.

Although the mix ins are a good idea in theory because you can customize your ice cream, I now think of it as more of a marketing ploy. I think the mix ins detracts from the ice cream, and I wonder if these types of places are trying to hide the fact that their ice cream may be less than premium. You know, the fact that the flavor and richness of their ice cream can’t stand on their own. High end super premium ice creams will be made with very few ingredients allowing the quality of each ingredient to shine on its own.

Some of the ice cream at Maggie Moo’s looks like it’s been made in a nuclear reactor because of their bright and fluorescent colors. The Twizzlers is a shocking bright red, like a pool of fake arterial blood; and the Very Yellow Marshmallow is a disturbing shade of yellow, like somebody blew up Tweety Bird and turned him into ice cream.

The peanut butter is a rarity to find. Many places have a variation of peanut butter, such as peanut butter and chocolate, but not straight peanut butter. Maggie Moo’s makes their peanut butter ice cream with the addition of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It has a strong peanut butter taste, but it doesn’t taste like fresh ground peanuts. I could not discern any chocolate taste from the Reese’s, so in my estimation it’s still a pure peanut butter ice cream. The ice cream leaves a greasy mouth feel, which I believe is from the peanut butter and not how the ice cream is made.

The Espresso Bean ice cream has a strong coffee flavor with specks of ground coffee beans infused in the ice cream. The sweetness of the ice cream offsets the bitterness of the coffee beans. Unlike the peanut butter ice cream, the espresso bean ice cream leaves no oily after taste.

The ice cream at Maggie Moo’s is on par with what you’d find at Cold Stone Creamery. It will do in a pinch, but I’d rather wait for $1 scoop night at Baskin Robbins for this type of ice cream, or wait and go to Fosselman’s or Lappert’s for the truly super premium stuff.

Maggie Moo’s
3090 Chino Ave.
Chino, CA 91709
(909) 628-5368

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Taqueria Mi Ranchito

Finding a great hole in the wall is one of the pleasures in dining. It’s all about taking chances; looking at a place from the outside will certainly deter many people, but by not taking that chance you may deprive yourself of some good eats.

Taqueria Mi Ranchito is such a place. Located in a non-descript strip mall, one would likely pass is by many times without giving it a second thought. The interior is sparsely decorated and nothing on the outside would indicate the wonders that are to be found inside.

The taco al pastor ($1.30) is a taco filled with spit roasted BBQ pork, marinated in chiles with just a hint of sweetness. The pork is then diced and has a nice crunch to it with just enough fat to give it extra flavor. The taco is dressed rather simply with minced onions and cilantro. With a squeeze of lime and some green sauce, this turns out to be a great treat.

The carne desebrado burrito ($4.25) is a 12” flour tortilla filled with mounds of shredded beef, rice, onions and cilantro. This burrito must weigh close to two pounds, with over a pound of shredded beef. The beef is marinated and slow roasted which makes it very tender and flavorful. There was no discernable fat or gristle in the meat. Paired with the rice, onions and cilantro this is a very hearty meal. Just a squeeze of lime and hot sauce makes this a perfect lunch.

Taqueria Mi Ranchito will certainly never win a James Beard award, but for a very satisfying and filling meal, this one is a hit.

Taqueria Mi Ranchito
4724 La Sierra Ave.
Riverside, CA 92505
(951) 352-0528

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bravo Burgers

After having recently moved into new digs, Bravo Burgers now occupies an old Burger King location. It is very attractively decorated and has a new, clean look.

The curly fries ($2.29) are cooked to a nice crispy finish without a hint of being oily or greasy. The inside is tender and moist, like a deep fried baked potato. Unlike most curly fries that I’ve had, these were not seasoned very well. A light batter could be seen on the outside of the fries, but these could use a dose of salt, or even better, some seasoned salt.

The Bacon Avocado Burger ($4.99) is a 1/3 lb. patty, topped with two slices of crisp bacon, sliced avocado, diced onions, lettuce, tomato and a thousand island type sauce. The lettuce was fresh and crisp, the tomato ripe and full of flavor, and the onions were minced to give an extra punch to the burger. The only thing I found wrong with this burger was that there was a little bit too much lettuce which tended to mask and water down the other components of the burger. This is definitely a two fisted affair. Overall, this was one of the better Bacon Avocado Burgers that I’ve had.

The Colossal Burger ($4.79) is a 1/3 lb. patty with pastrami. The burger also comes with lettuce, tomato, minced onions and dressing. Although visible fat could be seen on the pastrami, it merely added flavor. No gristle or strands of fat could be discerned. The only complain that I had with this burger is that the pastrami was placed on the bottom bun and the burger on top of it. The moisture of the pastrami slowly disintegrated the bottom bun, so it was a messy, albeit wonderful, affair. This burger blows the Six Dollar Pastrami Burger that Carl’s Jr. sometimes has on their menu out of the water.

Bravo Burgers has an extensive menu that I would love to slowly work my way through.

Bravo Burgers
14698 Pipeline Ave.
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 393-5595

Monday, May 28, 2007

Canyon City BBQ

Oddly situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood on a one way street, Canyon City BBQ has piled up numerous awards for their “Q”. Most of their awards have come in the pulled pork division, but have also won awards for brisket and chicken. An old house converted into a restaurant, this quaint space churns out some pretty good food.

The Rib Tips are 2 pounds of St. Louis rib “scraps” covered in barbecue sauce and served with French fries. The ribs are dry rubbed before being smoked, and the tips are very meaty and tender, although some of the pieces were dried out and tough. The French fries are nothing to write home about. They are standard fries that you get at most mom and pop burger stands.

The pulled pork is smoked 12-14 hours and leaves a nice smoke ring to the meat. The amount of smoke time allows for the smoke to penetrate the meat and give added flavor. The pork is tender, although a slight bit dry and chewy in some spots. The pork is sauced with a minor amount of molasses based BBQ sauce, which is on the sweet side.

Similar to the pulled pork, the brisket is smoked for 12-14 hours. A nice smoke ring can be seen on the edges of the meat. The brisket is very tender and it almost falls apart when you pick up a piece. There is a very thin layer of fat surrounding the brisket, giving it even more flavor. A fair amount of sauce comes with each serving, but there are two types of sauce on the table should you need more.

The sides here are very uninspiring. We had the cornbread, which is a little dry; the Texas toast, very nice grilled piece of bread; the mashed potatoes and gravy, the potatoes were okay, but the gravy was heavy, salty and didn’t have much taste; the chicken and rice soup was also very salty.

For my taste, the BBQ sauce here is cloyingly sweet. A very small amount is okay, or mixing it with hot sauce to spice it up a little will also do the trick. This is Texas style BBQ so a sweeter sauce should be expected.

Canyon City BBQ
347 N. San Gabriel Blvd.
Azusa, CA 91702
(626) 815-4227

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Italian Tomato

The Japanese bakery with the funny Italian name, the Italian Tomato is situated in the food court of the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa. The Italian Tomato is half café and half bakery. The bakery portion has a small but impressive looking line-up.

The Maccha Tiramisu was something that I had never seen before, so I thought, why not. The worse I could do was being out $4.00. The best, find an impressive new pastry.

The Tiramisu is made up of two layers of genoise cake sandwiching a white chocolate mousse layer. The top layer of cake is then covered with whipped cream and then sprinkled liberally with green tea powder.

The genoise cake was light, moist and had a rich, yet subtle vanilla flavor.

The white chocolate mousse was very light; not heavy at all. The white chocolate was folded into whipped cream to lighten up the filling.

The combination of flavors may sound good in theory, but sadly, this missed the mark badly to me.

I am not a big white chocolate fan, and the heavy use of green tea powder gave the whole thing a sort of bitter after taste. This dessert does have a very subtle flavor, so if you’re looking for an over the top type of dessert, this one probably won’t do the trick.

I also had the cream puff ($1.50). The pastry shell is cut in half and a generous serving of pastry cream fills the middle. Compared to Beard Papa, this pastry shell is a little heavier. The pastry cream is a little heavier than Beard Papa as well. This type of filling was more to my liking, as I prefer an almost pudding like filling. The pastry cream at the Italian Tomato is also a little flatter too, as it is a very straightforward vanilla flavor. Beard Papa, in comparison, has a crème brulee type taste. This is not a bad cream puff, and if I were in the area again, I would be happy picking up one of these.

Italian Tomato
Mitsuwa Marketplace
665 Paularino Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 557-6699

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Manja Resto

Lurking in the shadows of the Duarte Inn, there is a new Indonesian. With the limited amount of Indonesian restaurants in Southern California, Manja Resto is a nice addition. For those familiar with Asian Deli in Diamond Bar, you will find the food here to be very similar.

The Ayam Goreng Garing ($5.95) is a half chicken that is lightly battered chicken and deep fried. It is very crunchy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. It was not oily at all. The flavor of the batter is very mild, so adding a condiment such as sweet soy sauce or chili sauce may be a welcome addition.

The Ayam Bakar Kecap Pedas ($6.75) is chicken marinated in sweet soy sauce and hot chili sauce. It is very crispy on the outside and covered with a sweet chili sauce and fried shallots. The sauce is sweet upon first hitting your palate but then a nice heat shows up on the finish. This dish is not overly spicy, although you could add some Sambal Oelek if it’s not hot enough for you.

The Lontong Cap Gomeh ($6.95) is a virtual smorgasbord in a bowl. It has Beef Rendang, a beef curry that is spicy with a hint of sweetness; stewed chicken; a spicy hard boiled egg; and sticky rice in a yellow curry broth. It is topped with shrimp chips. The curry broth has a lot of flavor but is not hot. The Rendang are big cubes of beef that are slow cooked until they fall apart. The beef gets imparted with a lot of flavor in the curry sauce that it is cooked in. The chicken is slowly cooked in the yellow curry broth and is falling off the bone tender. The hard boiled egg is coated in flour and chili and deep fried.

The service is very friendly. It has a definite family atmosphere, and you will feel welcome from the moment you step inside the door.

Manja Resto
1206 East Hunting Drive #A
Duarte, CA 91010
(626) 359-7564

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fosselman's Ice Cream Co.

Fosselman’s has been churning out ice cream for over 80 years. It has won numerous awards and is considered an institution. All ice cream is made on the premises. This is super premium ice cream (16% butterfat) and does not contain any preservatives. They use only top quality ingredients and fresh fruits in their ice creams, sherbet and sorbet. They typically have over 40 flavors at any one time, and this can change daily depending on the season and what’s available.

Their Banana Walnut Ice Cream is made with fresh bananas and big chunks of walnuts. There are small chunks of bananas throughout their ice cream, and biting into one of these nuggets is a real treat. It has a smooth mouth feel, and melts slowly in your mouth. The ice cream is not overly sweet, but its subtlety is part of its charm.

The Lychee Ice Cream is another spectacular treat. Mixed in throughout the ice cream are small pieces of lychee fruit. Upon putting in my mouth, I really didn’t taste anything, just a creamy, delicate top notch ice cream. As the ice cream ran down my throat, big waves of lychee flavor exploded in my mouth. It tastes like a fresh picked lychee, full of flavor, strongly sweet then slowly dissipating leaving that wonderful taste on your palate.

The Taro Ice Cream has a shockingly purple hue for those who don’t know what taro looks like. For those who have tried poi before, don’t worry; it tastes nothing like poi. It has a slightly earthy taste upon hitting the palate, but then quickly mellows out into a creamy, slightly sweet treat. Upon first tasting it, it had a strong coconut like flavor, and one would think that this was actually coconut ice cream with a Barney-like purple disguise. Upon further tasting, one can distinguish the taro taste coming out. There are also very small pieces of taro throughout the ice cream. When I first ran across one of the taro pieces upon eating, I had to take it out of my mouth to make sure it wasn’t coconut. After being re-assured that it wasn’t coconut, the whispery taste of taro could be discerned.

It’s hard to call yourself an ice cream fan if you haven’t tried Fosselman’s. The employees are super friendly, and being in their small store gives you a sense of nostalgia.

Fosselman’s Ice Cream Co.
1824 W. Main St.
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 282-6533

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Joe's Italian Ice

Located near Disneyland, this 5-year-old spot has been cooling customers during the hot summer months. An offshoot of the Philadelphia Joe's Italian ice, their delicious Italian Ice is slowly gaining popularity. In what looks like an old taco stand with an over the top Italian colored awning, this unassuming business churns out some delicious treats. Their Italian ice is like a very refined Slurpee, but that description doesn't do it justice. It is made with fresh fruit juice and the texture and mouth feel is similar to ice cream but without the dairy. It is very refreshing; just the thing to hit the spot on a hot day.

The Strawberries and Cream Italian Ice, tastes like peak of the season strawberries mixed in with thick, heavy cream. It is not overly sweet, but has a dense texture like ice cream. As the fine ice crystals melt in your mouth, the flavors get more intense and burst like a Starburst fruit rainbow.

If you haven't given this place a try, it's definitely worth a try. The next time you're near Disneyland, drop by Joe's to start the day off right, or to end the day on a high note.

Joe's Italian Ice
12302 Harbor Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92840
(714) 750-1076

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Family Pastry

Well regarded for their baked Char Sui Bao, these don't disappoint. About half the size of a shot put, the pillowy soft, slightly sweet bread encases a generous helping of Char Sui (BBQ Pork). The bun is an egg bread, slightly yellow with an egg wash on top. The bread itself is reminiscent of King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread. The inside is filled with a slightly sweet, moist and flavorful filling of BBQ pork. There is a little bit of fat to the pork, which adds to the flavor, but doesn't overwhelm the taste buds or mouth feel.

At 65 cents a piece, these are certainly a bargain. I've seen similar bao's for over a dollar a piece, which are smaller and with certainly less filling.

Family Pastry
715 N. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Saturday, May 5, 2007

El Fortin

Situated in a converted house, El Fortin specializes in Oaxacan food. Everything is made from scratch daily, and they tend to run out of items towards the end of the day as they only make a certain amount of food daily.

I really had my heart set on Mole Negro, but they had run out. Same thing with the Amarillo con Res o Pollo.

I started out with a Tamal de Dulce ($1.50), which is a sweet tamale. The masa was pink in color and had the faint taste of strawberries. It was filled with pineapples and raisins. For those that like sweet tamales, these are very good.

The Tamal de Rajas ($1.25), is a tamale filled with grilled onions, tomatoes, chicken and chiles. Like the Tamal de Dulce, the masa is light and fluffy, not dense like some tamales that I've had in the past.

The special plate consists of a Chile Relleno, Tasajo (thinly sliced beef), Cecina Enchilada (chile paste marinated grilled pork), black beans, fried plantains, fried cheese and guacamole. The Chile Relleno is filled with cheese, battered and fried to a golden brown. It is very flavorful and delicate at the same time. The Tasajo is simply seasoned with salt and quickly grilled, thus allowing the beef to retain its juices. The Cecina Enchilada is also grilled. The marinade has a distinct chile flavor, but is not too spicy. The black beans retain their shape and has a slightly sweet taste. These are the best black beans that I have ever had. The fried cheese, not sure what kind, has a nice golden crust to it, and is soft and chewy in the middle.

The food here is cooked simply to allow the flavors of the dishes to come out, not to be overwhelmed with sauces. Although I did not have a chance to try their mole, I'm sure that it is very complex in nature and very flavorful based on the dishes I did try.

I would highly recommend El Fortin to anyone who would like to try dishes from this region of Mexico.

El Fortin
5368 Riverside Drive
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 464-2227

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Las Cotijas #2

Situated in an unassuming shopping center, this little gem churns out some of the best fish tacos and at a bargain price. This is the type of place that you would normally walk by without giving it a second thought. Big mistake!

Yes, it's true that it's not eye catching either on the outside or the interior, but its lack of "fashion sense" is more than made up for by producing excellent food.

There are only about 10 tables, and they are situated rather close together so you do get somewhat of a claustrophobic vibe.

The fish tacos ($2.19) are full sized, not the kind that you would find at La Salsa. And the fish takes up most of the tortilla. They are deep fried to a crisp golden brown, crunchy on the inside, delicate and flaky on the inside. The are topped with cabbage, salsa and the obligatory white sauce.

Considering that most restaurants that have fish tacos are similar in price for the "baby tacos", these are a steal.

Las Cotijas #2
642 E. 1st Street
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 832-7681