Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Maki and Sushi Fusion Sushi Cafe: The Full Review

If you were a early reader of Eat. Travel. Eat!, you might remember Maki and Sushi Fusion Sushi Cafe from a previous post. However, the post only talked about one visit, where I took pictures of 2 bento boxes, the interior, and some miso soup. In my opinion, one visit should not simply sum up a entire restaurant with a few photos. So, today, I am writing about Maki and Sushi for two reasons:
1. I have tried more of their menu and have more pictures to show you.
and
2 (what made me bump this post up the queue). They gave us a dish "on the house" on our visit a few weeks ago, which is certainly something of interest. I'll tell you at the end of this post.

Interior
(A "better" interior picture which shows more of the seating area available)

And also before I start talking about the food we had these several months at Maki and Sushi, some updates on how is the restaurant:
1. Weekends are busy. And sometimes, we are the ones who start the flow of customers! At first, the restaurant has a few customers. We go in, and then suddenly at least 10 groups of people come in, and the restaurant becomes full. Interesting!
2. Edamame is actually not served anymore as the free appetizer before your meal. We do see edamame available for the customers at the sushi bar though. But that is it!

Miso Soup

4. They still give you miso soup. And still, after countless attempts, my photo of miso soup is blurry yet again. Why? Is the reflection not biding well with our Sony W90 after 5800+ shots taken in a year?
5. Maki and Sushi has a new sushi chef who has an annoying "Irashaiamase" (I spelled that wrong obviously?) greeting to customers! This was on our most recent visit. The waiters say the welcome greeting, and then he pops in and gives it in a low deep accented tone. With what we caused with the 10+ customers coming in after us, the accented greeting got very repetitive. Especially also since we were sitting right near the sushi bar.

Anyway, onto the food. And lets start with sushi.

Sushi- Bluefin Tuna and Dragon Roll
(Dragon Roll top, special Bluefin Tuna nigiri below)

Above you see a Dragon Roll (11.95 USD) and some Bluefin Tuna nigiri (5.95USD for 2 pieces). The Dragon roll was filled with eel, imitation crab, and shrimp tempura and was topped with a layer of thinly sliced avocado and a sprinkling of white sesame seeds. To go along with the roll, the sushi chef then added some teriyaki sauce for flavor. Obviously this is fusion food, but it tasted pretty good, with the ingredients melding together perfectly. After all, I have to say as a young child I would use to dip California rolls in teriyaki sauce. Only problem was the price. For 12 dollars, the portion was small, and I could have gotten a bento and more for a loaded meal!

The Bluefin Tuna nigiri was an interesting experience for us as it was our first time ordering nigiri at Maki and Sushi. The plate total was 11.90USD, and on the side came some gari (pickled ginger) and wasabi. Each slice of the bluefin tuna was exceptionally thick- pretty much as thick as sashimi pieces, but in a different shape. What was also interesting was the rice- like at our experience at Itamae Sushi in Hong Kong (a rotating sushi bar which if you want, I will talk about. Anybody want a post on it?), the rice was warm, and was slightly vinegary and sweet. I do not know if it is because the rice was piled up into a nugget instead of laid out for a roll, but the sushi rice for the nigiri felt radically different to the rolls. As for the tuna, the tuna was exceedingly meaty and had a big chew. As you can see in the photo, it was not fatty. Coupled with a bit of soy sauce and wasabi, it went down nicely.

And before we move onto something else. We did not eat our sushi like in this video with all of the intricate dipping. Let me not spoil it for you. Go see it!:


(sushi, posted by Youtube member Boyok. How I found it: Danny Choo's archives on his website)

Anyway... hope that was an interesting video. It was to me! Up next now is a salad. Now, this is yet another first for us. Other than ordering the tofu salad at Tokyo Table, we have never specifically ordered a salad in a Japanese style restaurant. So, suddenly on one day where we did not feel much like having too much meat, we ordered a salad. In this case, the California Salad (6.50USD).

California Salad

What a large spread of vegetables! Avocado, julienne cucumber, shredded carrots, sprouts, and various mix salad greens were drizzled with a sesame, soy sauce, and vinegar dressing, and topped with sesame seeds. Not only was the salad fresh, the flavors of the dressing were not too bold and gave a slight addition to the pronounced taste of the vegetables. What a great deal for 6.50. Considering that almost the same amount of veggies was equivalent to CPK's BBQ Chicken Salad. But now, I am comparing apples to oranges. Moving on...

Veggie-Udon-and-Salmon-Roll

...is a combo that I have ordered and liked for several years now. In their menu they have a Veggie Udon and roll combo which goes for 9.95USD, and it is a great item for any cold day, or anytime where you would like to have some noodles and soup. Basically as part of the deal you get a large, cast iron bowl of veggie udon, and then you also get to pick a roll from their sushi menu. In this case, I picked the salmon roll, which had some decent quality salmon and thin matchsticks of cucumber. Like the bluefin tuna nigiri served with wasabi and gari.

The veggie udon was a simple dish consisting of chewy but not gummy udon, a soy sauce broth, and various vegetables including broccoli, carrots, and onions. There was also green onions, mushrooms, and bits of seaweed in the udon. Filling and tasty!

Bento Box with Chicken Teriyaki and Salmon Roll

Now that we are talking about combos, lets not forget about the bento box combination which made me talk about Maki and Sushi in the first place on the earlier post. Of course this isn't just all!

To recap if you have not read the older post, each combination comes with a salad with iceberg lettuce and a veggie mix that comes dressed in either ginger or peanut dressing (ginger is our favorite and we have never picked peanut), a cooked oyster with a smoky sauce and green onions on top, a mound of steamed rice, and edamame. Then, you pick either one or two items to go along in the bento box, which can range from items like meats to sushi. Plenty to choose from.

The bento box you see above had chicken teriyaki and eight pieces of salmon roll. The chicken teriyaki was pretty good, with flattened chicken meat which was then cooked to a slight crisp on the edges, and then topped with a lightly sweet teriyaki sauce. Nevertheless it was filling! The salmon roll was good too just like the salmon roll in the udon combo.

Of course, that is not the only bento box! There are more bento boxes below...

Bento-Box-1

Now above you see a bento box of beef teriyaki and salmon roll, and then another bento box with BBQ beef ribs and albacore tuna roll. The beef teriyaki had lean pieces of beef which were firm and tender, and the sauce was the same as the chicken teriyaki. The beef ribs on the other hand were grilled and marinated with a mixture of sauces that almost seemed like Korean BBQ (the owner I think is Korean...as is some of their employees). Slightly charred, but not significantly...so I am fine with that.

The albacore tuna roll came with smooth, lightly flavored pieces of tuna and also came with a sauce which added a hint of salty and sour. I can't really remember the taste now...just shows why I need to write first, post later when the photos are done? I guess I should do that. Any bloggers have any ideas?

Bento-Box-2

These two bento boxes I can fully remember though, as my dining companions and I have constantly ordered them in the past and still do now! Anyway, up above again is a beef rib and crab roll bento box (which I had), and a salmon teriyaki with seaweed salad bento which a dining companion had. Why I wanted to try out the crab roll was because I was thinking it would be real crab. It was not. Instead, it was basically a California Roll, but the imitation crab was not flaked. Sigh. If I were you I would order the California Roll. But the crab roll did seem to have more of the seafood flavor stand out compared to the California roll.

The salmon teriyaki had a fillet of tender salmon (probably farmed...) which was fatty and cooked to a point where it was between melty smooth and coarse and dry. The sauce was the same as the beef and chicken teriyaki.

Now the seaweed salad on the other hand was something different. The last occurrence of seaweed salad on the blog was a post on Full House Seafood Restaurant's dim sum. Their version, for 1.58 a serving, had a small mound of seaweed, but below was also a pile of pickled vegetables. Maki and Sushis version, which costs 3 dollars (this is the step up cost between a one item bento and a two item bento), does not have any extra filler, and comes with probably two to three times the seaweed that Full House gives. Not only that, their seaweed is very moist with plenty of the marinade (sesame oil and other ingredients) around the seaweed. This also means that the seaweed has not been sitting out by itself for a long time either. So what can I say...this is a great deal! Especially compared to the local area where this salad is 15 dollars a pound (OC offers it for cheaper, but that is another post for another day (hint: the next post). Order it if you have a want for seaweed.

On the House: Fishcake

And what is this now? If you still remember from the beginning of the post, I said there was a item on the house on our most recent visit. This is the dish. We were not the only customers to receive the dish- other tables received it too. The item was actually a fishcake which had actual flakes of fish, which was then also combined with miniature pieces of vegetables, and then fried. The fishcake itself was slightly peppery and the fish was certainly not mild in flavor. To counteract these flavors on the outside were pieces of shredded cabbage which had no bitterness to it (soaked in water...), masago, green onions, and a thousand island like sauce (like what you would find at Tokyo Wako...crab sauce?). All played nicely along with the fishcake, and when eaten together it was YUM. Will we see this as a future item on the menu? Maybe. They did ask us how it tasted like. Now my critique is on the internet. How nice...

In conclusion, Maki and Sushi is still a great place to eat for the Arcadia area. Not only does it have a clientele that is now making the place busier during meal times, the food has still stayed decent, and portion sizes have still stayed the same. Service is still friendly as before. Now I wonder what will happen when I visit them again! Another on the house item? Who knows ;).


Maki and Sushi Fusion Sushi Cafe
302 E. Huntington Dr.
Arcadia, CA 91006
(626) 462-9600

Maki & Sushi Fusion Sushi Cafe on Urbanspoon


And hint hint as to what to expect next week (or two): A post all about Diamond Jamboree in Irvine: BCD Tofu House, 85 C Bakery and Cafe, and HMart. You know why...we went to the OC again! Expect the post in a week or two, depending if I have the time or not.

Post originally written on 9/18/2009- it took me 11 days to write a post? Too long!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Clubhouse- Costa Mesa: Labor Day at South Coast Plaza

Having seen the recent Station Fire cover up Mount Wilson and our surrounding area with its thick smoke, and in return making us closing the windows for a continuous three weeks due to the smoke, we decided it was worth going out on Labor Day weekend to Orange County, where the air quality was "good", and not "moderate" (actually worse with the smoke smells) in our area.

We expected people to be flowing in with their cars to South Coast Plaza with the Labor Day events, sales, and weekend, even though we were going to arrive before lunch. Every time we have gone to South Coast Plaza, there was always a wait for the nearest spots to the mall entrances.

Empty Parking Lot at South Coast Plaza
(Facing the street from the parking lot at Nordstroms)

Most definitely not this time.

To our amazement, approximately 75 percent of the parking lot closest to Nordstroms was completely empty. Sliding into a parking space was easy as cake. Even the main streets for cars to move around were empty. There were no lines at the stop sign intersection at front of Nordstroms. At all of our previous visits to South Coast Plaza, there were at least 10 cars waiting at the intersection. Not today.

How could you call this even a Labor Day weekend? Did people go on holiday and go out of the OC? After all, the vibe going on was way less compared to our local Westfield Mall (which always seems to have the parking lots full on the weekends, and shopping is horrendous). That is scary. What happened?

Walking around in South Coast Plaza, we found out the amount of people walking around was still less than normal. However, there was more traffic at the other sides of the mall compared to Nordstroms. Nordstroms was not flowing with customers. We had no problem walking around at all. A very unusual visit at South Coast Plaza most certainly for us at the time.

As we walked towards Bloomingdales a sign to go to the restaurant named "The Clubhouse" popped up. Since we already were close by to it within footsteps, we decided to have lunch there. It would be a revival of a visit that I had about 6 years ago. Although we did have other restaurants to choose from looking at blogs with easy to find restaurant locators (after all a smartphone doesn't allow for easy navigating with its small area, and going to page to page at the archives takes too much time to load onto a phone which will suddenly do weird things...) like Chubbypanda.com, Cindy's Food Makes Me Happy, and Elmomonster's Monster Munching, as well as restaurants that we remembered reading about previously, going to those restaurants would involve more walking and/or driving away from South Coast Plaza (and then get into a parking fiasco). The Clubhouse it was for lunch.

Exterior Entrance
(Side Entrance)

We were promptly seated after we had gone to the cashier's desk, and actually had our own selection of tables to choose from! Again, another unusual thing. Previous visits always had a wait of some sort and no choosing of table. The opposite happened this time.

Interior

As we settled down, we noticed the two story interior which had a multitude of details to it- full pane windows, intricate moldings and details at the walls, small and private sitting areas, and the various themes of colors. What a nice place.

Sourdough Bread and Fresh Butter
(the first portion of sourdough bread and freshly piped butter)

Sourdough Bread with butter Slice
(The butter spread onto the slightly oily and salty slice of bread)

A basket of warm sourdough (?- tasted like it) bread which was slightly slathered in a thin coating of salty oil along with a ceramic bowl of creamy, fluffy, and soft freshly made butter came to our table as our asked for our drinks order. The bread had semi-hard crust that was chewy and a soft interior, which all became a bit too salty for our tastes which their coating of oil that was salty. On the other hand, the butter was of the freshly made variety, and thus it was ultra creamy, fluffy, sweet. Yum! We did ask for a refill of the bread and what we got back was double the amount of bread you see in the photo; too much too eat.

Passionfruit Green Tea from the Republic of Tea

Speaking about drinks, our server gave us a selection of iced teas to choose from from our inquiry about it. We picked the Passionfruit Green Tea by the Republic of Tea (5 USD) and it was served in a bulbous stem glass with a slice of orange and ice. The iced tea however was very bland for our tastebuds. There was a fruitiness from the passionfruit, but the tea flavor was non existent. I think the reason is that the tea had zero calories. Yes, zero. No wonder why there was not much taste.

The ice water here was not normal either. Each glass of water tasted great with a thick wedge of lemon to go along with it. I also found a white and black striped fly in my glass. How did that get into the glass, I do not know. The busboy immediately gave me a new glass free of bugs as soon as I told him about the situation. Good service!

We ordered later on (service is a bit slow- and the clientele here seem to be very relaxed), and the waitress kept saying words like "you made a great choice" or "excellent". How nice. We did not order an appetizer for this visit as the portions here are very large, in contrast to other restaurants at around the same price range. Also, the appetizer that we liked (mushrooms with goat cheese) had vanished.

While we were waiting we ate more of the bread. It was about a 12 minute wait before everything came to our table. So, in the meantime, we took a glance at the dessert cart.

Dessert-Cart

The servers will roll the cart after you finish your meal to your table so you can glance at what to have for dessert. We were not fond of having any dessert but did take a glance at it while we were waiting. Unlike some restaurants, all the food was edible! At first to me it looked fake, but then as I got closer I could smell the flavors of the desserts.

Kobe Burger

All of our items arrived at once, and the first item that went onto the table was the Kobe Burger, which according to the website consisted of an 8oz. Kobe beef burger, Monterey Jack cheese, watercress, tomato, caramelized onion, garlic aioli, and a brioche bun. We also got to select either coleslaw or french fries as the accompaniment to the burger. However, the server also suggested having both together- and so we did. No extra $$$ added, and yet the servings of the coleslaw and fries did not go down by half.

Closeup of Burger
(Closeup Shot)

The burger was extremely thick and was cooked longer than what we suggested (medium) to our server. The Kobe beef was juicy, but also charred on the outside. Charring is one of our dislikes when having meat (Would you like cancer please?), and this came with too much for our liking. We scraped it off.

The cheese and caramelized onions added components of flavors and textures to the meat, and the watercress gave a nice crisp texture to the burger. The bun however, was again not to our liking, as it was very dry and the meat to bread ratio was off. Too much bread to eat!

Overall, we felt like we should have ordered their cheaper burgers at 13-14 dollars each. The meat and the bun made the dish not as good as it would have been!

On a side note, both the cole slaw and fries were very good. The cole slaw was light, crisp, and slightly creamy from the dressing, and the fries had a soft center and a crisp exterior. Salted properly too.

Basil Orange Salmon

My other dining companion ordered the Orange Basil Salmon (19 USD), which according to the website has: atlantic salmon, orange glaze, red skin mashed potatoes, asparagus, orange beurre blanc, and basil oil. As you can see in the photo, the asparagus was substituted to broccoli, which was clean and crisp. I was not able to try the beurre blanc and basil oil but did try a sample of everything else. The salmon had a sweetness from the orange and basil and the orange zest placed on top of it gave a nice fragrant flavor to the salmon. The meat itself was very tender and fatty, unlike Sockeye salmon which we have been eating for a bit (at sale at Costco for only 6 dollars a pound...and it is wild!), as well as having a crispy crust on the outside. Good dish to order here- our server gave the happiest reaction when we told her we wanted this dish.

Blackened Chicken and Shrimp Jumbalaya Pasta

Last but not least, I ordered the Blackened Chicken and Jumbalaya Pasta (14 USD), which according to the website has: blackened chicken, andouille sausage, shrimp, red onion, green pepper, spicy tomato sauce, orzo pasta. I was very happy with this dish. Not only was the serving size larger than CPK's rendition of the dish , the flavors were more pronounced, and there was more meat- tons of shrimp, sausage, and chicken! So much to the fact I felt there could have been more orzo pasta, which was cooked to slightly over al dente but was still chewy. The spicy tomato sauce (not really spicy- more like mild/medium for me) gave the dish a rice richness and the orzo pasta soaked up the sauce. The green peppers and onions gave the dish a bit of perkiness from all the rich and bold flavors from the sauce and pasta. As expected, the shrimp was cooked to a nice crisp and retained its own flavor (and not overpowered by the sauce), and the chicken had plenty of seasoning and was not ultra tender unlike places that add chemicals to the chicken (good sign to see that it is natural). From all the dishes I have to say I liked this the best! My dining companions agreed. Sometimes cheaper is better :).

The check arrived sluggishly in 10 minutes after we told the employees almost five times to get our check. It just seems like we were in Turks and Caicos again! I mean friendly, but exceedingly relaxed and slow service. If you like a quick paced dining experience then you will probably dislike the Clubhouse.
Overall, the experience was very good. Not only were the prices congruent to what they gave back in return, the food was tasty with a few problems. We'll be returning again, but due to our limited eating in the OC we will definitely be trying other places so we have more restaurants to blog and share our experiences on for your reading.


The Clubhouse
3333 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714-957-8308

Clubhouse - Costa Mesa on Urbanspoon

P.S. As we left South Coast Plaza at 3PM, the parking lot at Nordstroms was about 90 percent filled. Still, no crowd of cars waiting for a parking space. However, the portion of the mall where an event was going on near Macy's, the parking lot was full there. Interesting pictures of human nature to see- even if it is just looking at different parking lots.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

99 Ranch Market's Rice Dumplings

Packaging of Zhong Zi
(You can see how behind I am in writing out posts now! This product's expiration date: March 14, 2009.)

Rice dumplings are a holiday food but are also available year round at Asian supermarkets, as well as in Chinese restaurants. Pre-made rice dumplings are quick and easy to eat and can be transported for eating at work or at school.

Usually, these rice dumplings go for more than 2 dollars per rice dumpling at restaurants like Full House (no, not talking about Lor Mai Gai), but they go for less at the supermarket. We like 99 Ranch's rice dumplings, and each package comes with 4 dumplings (so then 1.50 each) for 6 dollars USD.

Zhong Zi in the Steamer

After buying them, we keep them in the freezer for long term storage, and when we want to eat them, they go into the steamer, which you see ours above. Now, you may be thinking, "What is this weird contraption?" Well, if you read my post on Mixed Seafood with Tofu, you have seen this "steamer" before. To recap from before, it is a deep frying pan which we then put a small rack which fits into it. Next, we add approximately 1-2 cups of water, and we put what we want to steam on a plate on top of the rack. Easy and simple. You don't need to buy a special steamer.
And after the sticky rice starts to ozze out, the rice dumplings are done steaming. And so, we take them out of the leaf:
Zhong Zi\
And then, dig in!
Zhong Zi Interior

All the major ingredients as listed in the ingredients list were in the pork and mushroom dumplings: peanuts, pork, mushrooms, and sticky rice. However, the flavorants were left out of the ingredient list. There was plenty of all of the major ingredients, especially with the pork. In general, the rice dumpling was very nicely seasoned, and even had some of the flavor from the leaf, which is a good sign. The pork was in large pieces, and we shredded them as we ate along. Mushrooms in the dumpling were sliced and looked like previously dried shitake mushrooms. There was also a handful of peanuts which were tender around the rice dumpling.

One of these pork and mushroom dumplings, along with some vegetables, pretty much makes a meal! The amount of sticky rice is enough and fills you up quite quickly, and the amount of pork is just the right amount of protein for a meal. Along with some vegetables, a meal with one of these sticky rice dumplings is a well balanced meal. It is just why these pre-made but tasty rice dumplings are so convenient for meals...whether it be on purpose (for a quick lunch), or for a celebration.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fresh and Easy's French Baguette: Today's Special

One of the things that keeps us coming back to our local Fresh and Easy other than its convenient location and store layout is their Today's Special area. Unlike other markets like Ralph's or Trader Joe's, Fresh and Easy displays all of their older inventory that is about to be past its due/expiration date in a special area which is easily accessible and shown to everybody (and not hidden behind a counter or a hallway), and a special red tag notifies the customer of a new reduced price which is 25-75 percent off the regular price. At the beginning of Fresh and Easy's concept of displaying old produce, people actually would crowd the area to see what they could get; after all, the fridge for the Today's Special section was packed with items. Not were the prices only exceedingly cheap when compared to even markets that had cheap produce (like Dogwoods also on the same street in Monrovia), the produce was still edible for at least several days, and depending on the item, weeks. Even for bread, the day the bread molded was at least 4 days after the best buy date. This made us wonder how long conventional supermarkets put their produce. 1 week? A month? That just could be, according to our findings. A pack of organic roma tomatoes which was on sale for 50 percent off at Fresh and Easy still did not rot after an additional 2 weeks in the fridge at our house.

But as Fresh and Easy progressed along the months (and got smarter- less coupons and the coupons require a larger minimum purchase), the inventory of the Today's Special section dwindled, and at times, almost empty with only 10 or less items on the shelves instead of 50. Instead of produce, what was the bulk of the Today's Special inventory was F&E's convenience foods, dairy, damaged produce, and meat. However, routinely there was (and still is) plenty of the good produce available. And on Thursdays to Saturday, the deals primarily focuses on...bakery items, which I have said before, still last extra days after the best buy date.

Bakery items like baguettes, cakes, cupcakes, demi baguettes, donuts, french bread, sourdough, and the like appear on the racks on Thursday to Saturday. Always a wide selection for some reason! Especially with the baguettes. And so...

Fresh and Easy Baguette

We decided to try out their French Baguette and was not expecting much from it. At 1.14 USD, it was 50 percent off from the original price. One time, we even bought this long baguette for 54 cents. Think about it. 54 cent probably only pays for the energy that needs to be applied for the bread to let the bread rise and bake! A steal. Anyway, now this French Baguette has gone back up to 1.14USD for the Today's Special price. Still a good deal in any way.

Fresh and Easy Baguette
 (This photo makes the baguette look drier than it actually is)
After purchasing the baguette we cut the portion we wanted to eat at the moment (then sliced the portion into personal slices) from the baguette and followed Fresh and Easy's directions for the crispier crust. Then, it was taste test time!
The crust was a bit thick and slightly chewy, but mainly crispy where the bread was exposed to the heat source. The interior of the bread was moderately chewy and soft, which we expected. Unlike Ralph's French Bread, Fresh and Easy's French Baguette retained its moisture even after cutting the bread up. With Ralph's French Bread, the bread dried up the day after; almost rendering the bread useless for eating purposes.
Overall, Fresh and Easy's French Baguette was very good especially since it was on the Today's Special rack! It might have even tasted better if we bought it when it was freshly produced. However, the baguette was certainly not as delicious compared to places that specialize in making bakery items like baguettes. For a supermarket bread though, we were pleasantly surprised.