Sunday, August 23, 2009

Waking at the Break of Dawn

Grease is the word. Is the word that you heard.
It's got groove. It's got meaning.
Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion.
Grease is the way we are feeling.

~ Frankie Valli

As much as I savor foods that are not standard fare (i.e. the Dutch baby at Plums, breakfast pasta from Off Vine), I am always drawn back to hearty morning flavors. Bacon, hash browns, omelets. Grease.

That's not to say that chef Dee Nguyen's menu is an homage to Guy Fieri. On the contrary. The heart and soul of Break of Dawn lies in Nguyen's ability to share his Vietnamese heritage to the masses during a traditionally unimaginative time of brunch.

This morning I had the pleasure of joining Kathy and her family in Laguna Hills. While it could easily be overshadowed by a Mexican chain or grocery outlet, the red awning is a beacon to incoming guests. Similar to the Krispy Kreme hot light, but much sweeter. Crossing the open patio to observe content faces and clean dishes, who else should greet me but the chef. I was surprised and pleased to be seated by Dee Nguyen himself. A subtle yet humbling gesture. I attempted small talk by mentioning how I haven't read any new Twitter updates from him lately. Pretty sure the term "tweet" went over his head. Maybe next time.

It's a learning curve with each visit. There's the unmistakable difference between requesting the french toast and wanting the creme brulee french toast. The naughty/nice crunch of two tempura eggs. A three course pre fixe featuring butternut squash soup. Kathy clued me in on the (mystery ingredient) chocolate milk her sons can't get enough of. My pearl of wisdom is the ability to sample multiple items via side dish ordering.

One may read an emphasis on savory meats such as duck and oxtail. However, be sure to take notice of griddle cakes, sticky buns and even cocktails to satisfy that sweet tooth.

The division between dining and kitchen is a long expediting counter. Dee Nguyen's framed chef coats and reviews share space with flourished dining anecdotes. Mellow greens and yellows conjure a relaxed island mentality. Earthy woods down to the salt & pepper shakers.

Today's choice was my childhood craving for meat and rice. In this case, Portuguese-Hawaiian sausage, green papaya and sesame salad, scallion puree and two fried eggs over seasoned rice. The bright salad flavor was balanced by hearty pork dabbed with onion sauce. It brought back business travel memories when I first met a fellow trainer at the Maui Prince resort over Sunday brunch.

I doubt Spamalot has anything to do with canned meat, so I digress from show tunes and thank Break of Dawn for being a non-conformist.

24351 Avenida de la Carlota
#N-6 (To the right of Trader Joe's)
Laguna Hills, 92653

Wednesday to Sunday
8am to 2:30pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

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