Monday, February 27, 2012

Hanging out on THE RANCH

There's a strategy folks over at THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon have that gives them an edge: The element of surprise. Not only being the new kid, but situated by the train tracks (on the ground floor of an office building) your average diner would question its quality by this first impression alone. I don't blame them. But if it prevents visitors from ever kicking their heels up, I say you are missing out on a gold mine.

Once thru the heavy doors, one realizes that they're definitely not in an industrial neighborhood anymore. Where a patron might expect hokey, they receive handsome.  A welcoming warmth from our hostess, she leads us past expansive wine displays,  reminding us we are in a house Master Sommelier Michael Jordan helped build. Depending on your party, you could find yourself in the main dining area with a panoramic view of their expansive back of the house. Our corner booth is adjacent to the Carolina Room, an intimate space for formal meetings or special occasion. There's at least two other spaces, not including the banquet rooms they're completing on the sixth floor. This operation is a serious workhorse. 

Chef Michael Rossi's (wine) country cooking gives tribute to many a things lassoed and hung over a spit to roast, yet carefully incorporates thoughtful plates of seafood, greens and other fare. Our starter course includes their hand crafted sweet potato gnocchi. Lounging in a luxurious sauce of plump San Marzano tomatoes, braised Petaluma rabbit and Maitake mushrooms, my urge to lick the bowl was quelled only by my expert spoon scraping abilities. The rabbit was subtle, making the dish more approachable than it reads.

A generous portion of deviled eggs, which aren't easy to come by in these here parts, are tinged with sweet pickle relish and bacon made in-house, courtesy of pastry chef (and Michael's brother) David. Poufy popovers are slightly burnt on one side, but otherwise maintain their delicate texture and curious pockets of space within. Once dipped in berry preserves, they're almost dessert-like. Between this and their inspiring "wagon wheel" bread, I cut myself off before our next round. 

While the cowboy started on a platter of fish and chips, their house steakburger taunted me. You see, this was no ordinary patty. Four cuts of beef made their way under the bun: sirloin, brisket, short rib and hangar. Each chew felt like a Man vs. Food challenge. My medium-rare meal rendered me helpless around the half-way mark, but I wasn't complaining. There were still the sweet spoils of dessert to ponder.

Nicknamed s'more with a twist, our attentive server (who we recognized/confirmed came from Studio at Montage) told us it was his favorite. Resembling more Rorschach test than desirable masterpiece, silky Cordillera chocolate braids adorned the center of my platter, dotted with fluffy marshmallow. An icy, yet mild scoopage of honey graham cracker cream was an inventive neutrality in a sea of hazelnut crunch. Playing with our food involved dragging our utensil around like a Zen garden rake, crisscrossing textures until we were content. His trio of ice creams included dulce de leche, malted crunch (Whopper flashbacks!) and an unbelievable popcorn version. Just a taste was akin to cramming a mouthful of the real thing during a matinee, but without the crumbly mess.

Despite a lack of oceanfront property, THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon embodies a certain nostalgia-- the old glory of Crazy Horse, a childhood of Hungry Hunter, even some college outings at In Cahoots. For a Texas 10 step (oh yes, I can) and draft, I'll go next door to The Saloon. When I'm done horsing around, THE RANCH ribeye and Cabernet will be waiting.

THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon is located at 1025 East Ball Road in the city of Anaheim, located on the ground floor of the Extron building. 
(714) 817-4200

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicken Bowling

"Flame Broiler or Kush Bowl?" he offered, as my friend double-checked the Entertainment Guide I'd given them for Christmas. "There's a coupon here for Flame Broiler." Being the frugal bunch we are, why did he even give the option? Both locations were a five-minute drive. We've ordered take-out (but not dine in) from both at some point. It would've, no should've been an easy choice. Our factors were the following:

Time - By the time we make up our mind and head out, it would be noon. Did we want to go to Flame Broiler, where we suspected longer lines of chain disciples? Or should we support the local business and hope for the best?

Company - We had a 2-year-old in tow. Anybody with children of their own understands this trumps pretty much anything else. Would the little man (whose vocabulary of the quarter was the ever popular "NooooOOOO!!") remain in his stroller long enough within tight quarters? Exploring the larger, enclosed space of the second option sounded appealing in theory, at least to us. But would the boy approve?

Price - Typically this would end the discussion. I'm all for saving a few bucks. Ok, it could be because my friends know I have somewhat picky taste. Let's get something straight -- hitting up a fast food or drive-thru joint is fine with me. I prefer walking inside, actually (saves some wear and tear on my ride). I read about Kush last year and shared food previously, so they knew cost and quality involved. Plus, they were treating for a favor I did. As a 'guest', they exercised unnecessary politeness. I was thankful, but didn't need want to be the deciding vote.

Stay or go - In the end, we left the decision to the fourth person -- my gal pal and wife/mother to the males in our hungry group. She wanted to sit down and relax. It was settled. We were headed to the car wash.

There was no crowd. Only a couple of guys already seated, awaiting their meals. We ordered and settled in a table, as father accompanied son around the retail wares of floor mats and air fresheners. Soon after, our neighbors received their plates. Ties flipped over their shoulder and they focused on digging in. When our meals came, I was taken aback by the clink the square plate made as it was put down in front of me. I expected black Styrofoam, not dinnerware. 

At first glance it looked more Asian fusion than teppan. The flourished drizzle of sauce visually enhanced, not seemingly coated my meal. Thin carrot slices and a couple of broccoli florets found their way to one side of my square, grounded by cabbage. I opted for chicken and brown rice, and it was finished with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and spoonful of cooked scallion. All that was missing was the cloth napkin and glass of tea. Seriously. This was a chicken bowl?! It was maybe a buck more than where we almost drove to. I was eating with my eyes, and it bamboozled me.

Grumbling took over, so our senses inhaled the aroma and went to work on lunch. A pile of protein and rice is about as exciting to me as a ham and cheese sammich. Yet I was loving it. Wasn't just about sauce, but the dark meat mixed with oniony and sesame flavors played well together. They were having a party. And it wasn't just me. My friend, born and raised in Hawaii, remarked that it was some of the best teri he's had on the mainland. It validated my thoughts. I never expected to find fulfillment in a bowl of chicken, but I was won the car wash.

5890 Lincoln Avenue
Cypress, 90630
Here's their Facebook page

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Four short french fry stories

Disclaimer: I know the number four is unlucky in Asian culture, but since I'm Pacific Islander (or as my dad has said, I'm American of Filipino descent) it should be alright....right?

January has seen more highs and lows than I'd like to admit. I've not only recovered from a complicated holiday season, but an awkward stomach flu all the way to Vegas and back. This month has been bittersweet in more ways than one. So to balance out all the crazy, my method will be stream of consciousness, encouraged by one Mr. Conlon back in AP English. Today's topic: Our friend, the french fry.

(1) I remember the first time I saw someone dip fries in their soft serve. I thought they had gone mad. Why would anybody want cold and hot food to mingle? Especially dessert and an obvious non-dessert. Weirdo. That's likely where a glimmer of savory/sweet obsession began. Not the fries in ice cream. More like salt or bacon in chocolate.

(2) Long before Adam Richman found dives back East stuffing their burgers with spuds, it was done around here. It was considered childish (probably because only the kids were doing it). I didn't understand that either. Eat some fries, take a bite of burger. What's the problem? Multi-tasking our food, especially that salty duo, doesn't equate to greatness. It's lazy. You take bigger bites, leaving more chance of choking. See? Not good.

(3) Let's jump, oh, 12 years to my first job after college. I was traveling around the country (and Canada) as a "Training and Installations Specialist". Most of my meals involved room service. It was a belated Freshman 15, for sure. I was in Birmingham, Alabama ; my co-worker and I were invited to grab lunch down the street, at a place called Chick Fil-A. I didn't give it much thought, until the gal who brought us there proceeded to dip her waffle fry into mayonnaise (or maybe it was Larry?). WTH!? I don't get it. Ranch dressing, yes. Maybe even BBQ sauce. But this was bizarro.

(4) Then a few years ago, I celebrated my birthday at a Peruvian restaurant. Their lomo saltado featured steak and fries cooked together. Maybe because it looked cool, but I was digging it. Actually, I bet it's because that's how the dish was supposed to be served. It didn't seem like such a strange merger of tastes. The onion and tomato gave it more street cred. I initially tried it months prior over lunch. Steak and potatoes for the on-the-go crowd? That's what my life has become: An endless list of multi-tasking.

But wait, there's more?

(5) I spent this morning craving eggs and anything besides toast. Rice? Nah, it would take too long. I opened my fridge to see what I could throw together, and you'll never believe what I decided to make:

Spinach leaves, fresh grated Parm, a couple of eggs, and a handful of fries. It was tossed in the same pan as last night's sausage, so there was a little grease left over for extra flavor. And I still had some compound butter infused with herbs to flavor things up. In retrospect, it needed another egg and extra cheese. Not quite a Joe's scramble, but it was brekkie. And it was good.

I've come a long way, baby.