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Winter in Orange County looks very similar to the rest of the year, except for a flurry of rain days and occasional sweater weather. While the struggle to remain open continues for most independently-owned restaurants, a select number of kitchens quietly debuted in recent months. From a ghost kitchen within a beach city hotel to kosher fare, here are a quartet of eateries seeking your takeout business.
Remember that delivery services cut into the profits of small businesses, so if you can, order directly from them and go the extra step to pick up meals whenever possible. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
New Kids on the Block
LAKE FOREST: Over at the intersection of Bake and Trabuco is Umma’s. Korean for ‘Mom,’ owners Melody Chin and June Choe are both sisters and mothers, hence the name. Their take on KBBQ comes by way of Oahu, where the dish that drew me in, meat jun, is a specialty. Thinly sliced, marinated beef takes a dip in egg wash before being introduced to the grill. While jun appears omelette-like, it is a tender, ono take on island plate lunches.
Proteins are grilled to order, and meals include your choice of four banchan (side dishes). Epitomizing comfort cuisine, Chin learned banchan recipes while residing in Seoul before joining Choe in Hawaii to open multiple restaurants. Be sure to load up on their “Hawaiianized” versions of mac salad and spicy cucumbers.
LAGUNA BEACH: The term “ghost kitchen” refers to a menu served without a dedicated dining room or storefront. In the case of La Casa del Camino’s boutique hotel kitchen, The Rooftop Lounge, it now has a variety of Asian-themed take-out menus representing sister properties in L.A. One addition to the dedicated takeaway service, the Super Rich menu is a nod to savory onigiri (rice balls) normally found in Echo Park. I was partial to the yuzu salmon with opal basil. (The Super Rich menu is not on the website, but can be found on delivery service sites like Seamless. If you call La Casa directly, it’s worth asking about this menu.) The new Surf Panda menu plates familiar Chinese entrees including chicken with mushrooms and hearty beef broccoli over duck fat fried rice.
Yamashiro Beverage Company crafts bottled cocktails originating from its Hollywood Hills hotspot. Choose from Silk Whisperer (green tea vodka), Double Happiness (tequila/mezcal), and Brand New World Rickey (lime leaf infused gin). Food service is available for takeout and delivery, plus La Casa’s website reminds visitors that it is open and steps from the beach. When the weather cooperates, grab a blanket and finish your meal al fresco.
TUSTIN: While not the sole Kosher option in Orange County, the newest can be found off El Camino in Old Town. Nosh House is an offshoot of longstanding OC Kosher Market a couple of doors over. Cooking up an eclectic menu that includes ahi tuna salad, schnitzel and kebabs, my initial visit was for its pastrami and corned beef panini. Chef Odi Magana recommends the fried chicken sando; try the optional pretzel hoagie over the standard burger bun as your vessel of choice.
Nosh’s menu is under the watchful eye of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County plus Glatt Kosher, and is closed on Saturdays for Shabbat.
IRVINE: Hailing from Northern California, Marufuku Ramen’s entrance into Orange County a few weeks ago brings the city’s ramen count up to nine (10 if you count J San Ramen’s second location) – not that anyone’s complaining. Bay Area transplants know the primary reason to frequent this particular soup specialist is for chicken paitan: simmered chicken in a poultry-based broth. I checked it out over the weekend, and was pleased with the alternative to pork-laden tonkotsu flavors.
Bonus: If you can stand the rain, the unattended shared patio maintains overhead heaters to slurp your noodles while they’re piping hot. Its reheating instructions and takeaway packaging are second to none. Find Marufuku in the Los Olivos Marketplace, adjacent to Burnt Crumbs.
Commonly Confused Food Terms
If it’s frustrating to learn there’s no difference between chickpeas and garbanzo beans or that green onions and scallions refer to the same thing, this section is for you. There are times when culinary terms are as confusing as the person who doesn’t use there/their/they’re properly. Below I clarify a few easily mistaken items with the help of some experts in their field.
Macaron (Filled Cookie) vs. Macaroon (Coconut-Based)
Often misspelled and pronounced incorrectly when referring to the other, the macaroon/macaron debacle is an ongoing comedy of sorts. Time to set the record straight. If what you are referring to is a macaroon (mack-a-ROON), then this particular treat is of Italian origin. Primarily consisting of coconut, it’s often consumed during Passover. The word comes from maccarone, or paste, as almond paste was once the primary ingredient. Relatively easy to whip up, most aspiring pastry chefs lean more towards the other term.
Macarons (mack-a-RHON) are a more laborious sweet, and a favorite of Marche Moderne’s co-owner and resident pastry chef Amelia Marneau. She waxes poetic about the distinction, explaining how the fragile pastry consists of two meringue and almond-based cookies filled with ganache, jam or buttercream: “Macarons are a way of life in France, especially in Paris. You’d walk around, pick up a dozen here and there with your fresh baguettes.”
At the restaurant, Marneau’s versions are on a grander scale. Freshness is the key to producing a dessert that is simultaneously decadent yet delicate. “I bake them close to service and like to use mousseline instead of buttercream,” she said. Flavor-wise, she is only limited by seasonality and her imagination. “I love to change the macaron flavors up depending on what’s fresh at the market, like fresh strawberries from Harry’s Berries that I’ll pair with a strawberry and lychee espuma with bits of yuzu-coconut gateau and white chocolate croustillant, or a cafe au lait macaron filled with coffee and cream panna cotta and vanilla bean mascarpone.”
Bone Stock vs. Bone Broth
After reading about the health benefits of bone broth, I stopped by the grocery store to pick some up, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. Broth had very few options, but there were numerous brands for stock. How much of a difference was there? Chef consultant Amy Lebrun (formerly of Lido Bottle Works) shed some light on the subject. Spoiler: There isn’t much of one.
“For me, stock consists of water, bones, mirepoix (typically celery, carrots and onions) and aromatics. It is a base liquid to build recipes from. Stock is cooked for longer periods of time to extract collagen from the bones. I always use its gelatinous property for a more refined texture in sauces and soups.
“Broth is essentially another term for stock. In the professional kitchens I’ve worked in, broth isn’t a cooking term used, but it has surfaced in the last few years.” Lebrun simmers her stocks for eight to 24 hours, depending on the protein and the quantity desired. When she wants to treat herself, Lebrun heads to The Fermentation Farm in Costa Mesa for bone broth.
Truffle (Sweet) vs Truffle (Savory)
Before I ever experienced savory truffles, I was led to believe they were strictly a dessert reference. Chocoholics are quite familiar with the filled bites. Comprised of heavy cream and gourmet chocolate, they are among the fanciest sweets in a candy shoppe. Upon further research it turns out that a confectioner’s truffle is named after the other one, due to its similar appearance. That is where the commonality ends.
A savory truffle is a fungus in the tuber family, likened to a mushroom. Sourced from around the world, but most prominent in Italy and France, truffles have very specific growing conditions and require the use of dogs (It was primarily pigs, but they tend to put up a fight.) to sniff out. Due to their difficulty to harvest, fresh truffles are highly sought after and command a starting cost of a few hundred dollars per ounce. Contributing an intense umami flavor when incorporated into or shaved over an entree, a small amount makes an impact. According to chef Tony Esnault of Knife Pleat in Costa Mesa, “The black winter truffle is magical and mysterious, hiding underground and hard to find. But when found and used properly, the experience of inhaling and tasting it is utterly ethereal.”
To celebrate the Black Diamond (France’s term of endearment for this seasonal truffle), Knife Pleat is featuring a four-course dinner on February 6. A two-guest experience at $240, your takeaway packages sunchoke ivory soup, diver scallop gratin, pasture bird chicken and a white chocolate panna cotta, all showcasing winter truffles. An optional Brie de Meaux cheese course is available upon request.
Community Burger from Slapfish: Andrew and Lauren Gruel’s awareness project to raise funds for out-of-work hospitality workers is at $319,000, over a third of the way to their $1 million goal. They recently added a seafood-less item to Slapfish’s Huntington Beach menu. Named the Community Burger, recipients are eligible to receive one after making a contribution of any denomination to the 86 Restaurant Struggle GoFundMe page. Thanks to a generous donation from West Coast Prime Meats, WCPM owner Craig Nickloff covered all the beef in this fundraising bonus. The burger is loaded with eight ounces of prime meat and signature Slapfish sauce; complete your meal with some chowder fries. This special is only available at the Huntington Beach Slapfish location only.
Farmer Boys/Valencia High School Fundraiser: The newest branch of Farmer Boys celebrates its grand opening on Saturday, Jan. 30 at 663 S. Placentia Ave. in Fullerton. Celebrating 40 years in business this year, the SoCal institution has partnered up with Valencia High School to donate all proceeds on that day to the school, aligning with its company mission to give back to the community. Students, parents and locals can participate by giving code VHS100 when placing an order. Hit them up for all-day breakfast and seasonal soups.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at email@example.com.