Monday, April 30, 2007

Pho Dac Biet from Pho 54

Price: $5.49
Rating: ***** / *****

You. Yes, you specifically reading this right now. Why haven't you tried pho yet? You say you have? Awesome. Now, the rest of you...why not? Pho is ambrosia and nectar all in one. The soup that really does eat like a meal, unlike the processed bullshit that is Chunky Soup. And really, is it wise to eat a hot bowl of soup after a long session of hitting the weights at the gym? My flactoids beg to differ.

Anyways, this weekend has been pretty uneventful. After an embarrassingly strenuous hike up a hill for a field trip in my geology class, I could find no better thing to do than unwind with my newly bought copy of Pokemon Diamond. If you think that it's odd that a college student still plays Pokemon games, please seek out the nearest hole available and crawl in it and die. So I played that for a few hours, then found my mind adequately numbed. I was in the mood for some comfort food, so I thought I'd go out and eat some pho.

This really isn't a fair review. I've never had a bowl of pho that wasn't at least edible. I even eat the instant pho that is basically rice noodles and mystery powder that tastes like plastic and feels like plastic. I probably shouldn't be surprised the first ingredient listed is plastic. Still, I throw in some beef and basil and it's a viable meal. This isn't a review of fake pho, however, this is the real deal. Every Vietnamese person with half a soul is going to give pho 5 stars, so I guess I'll just take this time to talk about what makes pho so great.

For the uninitiated, pho is the national dish of Vietnam. It is how we kept the French from taking over during the years they colonized. Don't ask me how, but pho did the trick. Pho is also the reason we are so awesome at school, with relatively few exceptions. So what is it? It is rice noodles with various cuts of meat in a beef broth that rids your soul of the sins you've accumulated during those drunken stupors. The broth consists of beef bones, star anise, onion, and other good stuff that makes your soup yummy.

Look at it in all of its glory. This is called Pho Dac Biet, which is with all the fixins'. Tripe, brisket, rare beef slices cooked by the soup, and tendon. You can have it with just beef slices, or chicken if you're a sucker, but I prefer all the pieces of the cow. There are many different textures in the bowl. The tendon basically melts in your mouth as the gelatin softens after many hours of cooking. The tripe is firm and chewy, though not so chewy that you'll be chomping on the pieces for long. And the beef should be thinly sliced and tender, suitable for dipping into hoison sauce or Sriracha if you're so inclined.

Pho is traditionally served with a plate of basil, bean sprouts, and lime. I like to throw in a good amount of basil and lime, cutting down on the saltiness and bit and making the soup delicious and drinkable. Eating goes as follows: taking a piece of meat, and then following it up with a spoonful of rice noodles and soup. Repeat until you're finished. Then unbutton the top of your pants and hope nobody notices how out of shape you are.

Anyways, go out there and give it a try to see if you like it. I've had a few friends try it and love it, but one that didn't care for it. I couldn't let her live after that. If you are in the Orange County area, you can easily find a pho shop in your neighborhood, so there's really no excuse for not seeking it out.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff

Price: $2.00 + $3.00 for beef
Rating: * / *****

During my weekly trip to buy water, I noticed that it was raining. I was the one cussing at the sky because it ALWAYS rains a day after I wash my car. That's not the only reason I hate rain, though. When I was little, my mother said that rain was Buddha peeing on us. I'm not exactly sure why she thought that was a good idea, but it was probably a big contributor to my hatred and fear of it. A fear shared by many other southern Californians, who all huddle together like ants and cry in unison to the beat of the droplets. But I digress...while I was driving, I saw a huge torrent of water on the right side of the road next to the sidewalk. And there was a guy who was careening his car into the water every time he saw a pedestrian, thus completely soaking them in the dirtiest water this side of the Mississippi.

Needless to say, I found it rather peculiar. I can't really explain it, but I imagine that he was singing "I make it rain on dem ho's" and taking it a little too literally. Either way, it immediately reminded me of this meal. Sure, the reactions of the people was twistedly funny, but if it happened to me, I could think of no better revenge than serving him this meal. Revenge, they say, is a meal best served cold. I disagree: revenge is a meal best served lukewarm with Hamburger Helper. Holy shit, there were a lot of comma's in this paragraph. I apologize.

Maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit as far as revenge goes(I'm a stickler for giving the guy a paper cut in the eye myself), but this meal was an all around disaster. What should be a cheap and easy meal that can serve a family turned out to be an ugly mess that I wouldn't even feed to the dog. And if you're one of those weirdos that considers your dog part of the family, I wouldn't even feed it to you either. It was bad in every aspect, and the worst part of it is Hamburger Helper can't even get their proportions right.

This recipe calls for a pound of beef. It sounds like a lot, I know. But I figured they knew what they were talking about so I asked the butcher for a pound of beef and threw it in the pan, thinking that the meal would come out like in the picture. You know...correctly proportional. But like most things in this cruel world, that's just a little too much to ask for. There was about 5x more beef than there needed to be and it was rather grotesque to eat and to look at. What started off as Hamburger Helper turned into Hamburger: Now w/ Some Shitty Noodles In It Too and made it a catastrophic culinary creation.

Not only was it then way too beefy, I found that the few noodles in it were rather chewy and gummy. That is a bad combination, but adding more water and cooking it longer didn't seem to help too much. To add insult to mortal injuries, the sauce was horrifically salty. So much so that I couldn't stomach a few bites of the finished product without having some bread or taking a drink(alcoholic preferably if you're planning on actually finish this thing). I thought about Hamburger Helper as a brand for a few moments, and came to the conclusion that what I was really paying extra for was just the name of the brand, because I could've done this with any other noodles-in-a-box for half the price and with better results.

I always suspected that the Hamburger Helper hand was a two-timing piece of trash who would just as soon strangle me as serve me a hot and tasty dinner. Next time you see him on television, you can be sure that I'll be at home screaming at the family and warning them of their impending disappointment. And you can be sure that the disappointment will subsequently lead to the dissolution of the family unit(you ever see the same family in two commercials? Didn't think so). You heard it here first: bad Hamburger Helper causes divorce and domestic abuse. And remember, everything you read on the internet is true.

Monday, April 16, 2007

No review?!?!?!

Hey guys, sorry about not having a review this week. As you can probably tell, I've been redesigning the site and making it more functional and whatnot. Anyway, I think everyone's pretty down about what happened today. I haven't really been in the frame of mind to write.

Okay, new review on Sunday. Promise!

- Ace

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Jose Ole Taquitos

Price: 4.95 for 20
Rating: *** / *****

I was skeptical of buying Jose Ole taquitos. Not just because a guy named Jose Ole tried to sell me weed in high school, but because frozen Mexican food has burned me pretty bad in the past. Literally and figuratively. Frozen Mexican food has been ingrained in my mind as those 20 cent burritos that are either rock solid or so-hot-its-on-the-verge-of-exploding coming out of the microwave. Much of my childhood was spent figuring out how to spruce them up. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do with a product so cheap. I also found it odd that I never found any beef in the beef varieties or chicken in the chicken ones. "How do the Mexicans live off of brown paste?" I used to think to myself as I walked off to school.

Sure, I had a hankering for some meat rolled in tortillas, but I could go to any local taco shop or Taco Bell and get that. Sometimes, though, you just don't feel like driving down to the taqueria and being the lone Asian guy being stared at as you butcher the Spanish language. Sometimes you don't even want to risk a bowel infection at Taco Bell. A box of taquitos in the freezer can be a humiliation-free and convenient thing.

Taquitos are also important to me for nostalgic reasons. When I was in high school, we would have this thing called "international week". This was a thinly veiled attempt for various clubs to raise money by serving up some unfathomably unauthentic ethnic food and sell it to the students at inflated prices. There was the Asian club and the Asian sports team(Key Club and Badminton respectively) serving chow mein and barbecued beef and everyone else selling tacos, virgin margaritas, and other Mexican treats. I don't drink margaritas for the flavor, so I generally skipped those.

And you know the saddest thing? Everyone looked forward to it.

"HOLY SHIT!!! They're selling egg rolls! And chow mein! And meat on sticks! This is fucking insaaaaaaaaaaane!!!"
"Please sit down kids, class hasn't even started yet!"

Even tepid taquitos served with Pace salsa and imitation guacamole was a gigantic step up from the crap(the soggy fried chicken was by far the best school lunch) we normally had to endure. So when it came, I embraced it. I still remember the price: 3 taquitos and a soda for $1.49. It was salvation for me. I went through high school stealing pigs-in-a-blankets in the morning and eating nachos drenched with cheese sauce for lunch. Don't judge me, you would've done the same thing if you were in my position. I'm the one who has to look at myself in the mirror.

I'm pretty sure these Jose Ole taquitos are the same ones that were sold during international week. They have the same coarse and mealy corn tortilla shell and thinly shredded beef center. There are directions to fry them, but having a twice-fried taquito just seems like overkill. I put them in the toaster oven for about 10 minutes and they came out crunchy on the outside and hot on the inside. I also like the fact that I can actually recognize meat tissue in the beef and not just a brown mystery paste. It's not spectacular fare, but it's pretty good in a pinch. I like to serve mine with guacamole(homemade when I'm not lazy...which is not often), salsa, and sour cream.

It's comforting in a weird way, but also a sad, sad reminder of those days stealing sausage from the high school cafeteria.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Hooters Hot Wings

Price: $32.49 for 50
Rating: ** / *****

Yesterday was April Fools', a very fun day for most people who are more creative than me. I generally try to take notes from Jim on the show The Office about how to prank a person. Not only do I identify his struggles with members of the opposite sex all too well, I also revel in the plight of overzealous people like Dwight Schrute. Unfortunately, I don't work in an office so when I put people's staplers into Jell-O it just comes off as awkward and petty. Hence my struggle with April Fools'.

April Fools' is special for a different reason, though. My friend was born on April Fools'. She has mentioned for years that it has caused her great grief when dealing with people who laugh when she tells them that fact. It probably doesn't help that I regularly call her God's joke on humanity, but it's all in good fun. I generally ignore the tears that stream down her face soon after. So it was supposed to be her birthday dinner yesterday, and after I drove 25 miles to pick up another friend in Riverside, I find that the dinner has been cancelled for reasons probably having to do with a long night of binge drinking.

Very funny, April Fools', I get it. Oh, you got me!

"Yeah, I'm pretty tired."

Not everything in life turns out as you plan, kids. Like last week's visit to the Hooters next to Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Nothing at Hooters is as great or fun as it is made out to be. Hooters, however, makes for a conveniently fitting review, since today is the Men's Basketball NCAA Championship game. Not only does the game feed my gambling problem, it also gives me reason to write a review. Now that crazed college basketball analyst Dick Vitale is endorsing it, I felt that it could do not wrong. I has all the things that I enjoy about living: hot girls, hot wings, college basketball, and of course, hooters. It's a slam dunk, baby!

The wings at Hooters have been hyped up for a long time, so there came with it some lofty expectations. Every time I order wings from my favorite wing place called Wingnuts, I always get one or two douches that say, "Yeah, but have you had the wings at Hooters?" I used to think I was missing out on the greatest experience ever, but now I know...Hooters wings are just like any other hot wings you order at a restaurant.

I know I've been disjointed thus far, but let me give you a proper narrative. I was with a group of female friends and we were trying to decide what to eat. Finally, one person decided on Hooters and off we went. She tried to explain to me the disappointment she would have if we had an ugly or flat-chested waitress.

"Why does it matter if she has big boobs? I mean, you're not the one checking them out."
"Yeah, but it's Hooters."

Good point. You want a blonde with an unnatural tan and even more unnaturally large breasts. Not because you like it, but because that's the Hooters experience promised in their commercial. Thinking about this coming in, we were disappointed to see that our waitress was a rather thin and meagerly endowed woman of the latin persuasion. Sure, she was attractive and attentive, but that's not what we're here for!

So I figured that the wings would have to be as good as everyone was hyping them up to be. After all, $33 for 50 wings is a heavy price. They have boneless wings as well, but we all know the taste of wings comes from the ridiculous amount of fat. When they finally came out, they were definitely smaller than the ones at Wingnuts and covered in Hooters wing sauce. We got half breaded and half naked, which probably applies to both the staff and the wings. The blue cheese dressing was some of the weakest I had ever had and didn't have any chunks of real blue cheese, so already they had made a bad impression.

The hot sauce itself is your basic vinegary sauce that's probably just Frank's Red Hot and butter combined and served piping hot with the deep fried wings. I can't say that I was very impressed with it because it had no discernable heat at all. In their defense, they do have flavors called "911" and "3 Mile Island" that probably pack the spice I'm looking for, but with such vague names how the hell am I supposed to know what they taste like? The wings themselves didn't really have any meatiness to them, they were merely vessels to the sauce and that's unfortunate because they should strive to be so much more. I must give them credit for being hot and crispy, but they weren't better than the ones at most sports bars and definitely not better than the ones at Wingnuts which is a place I'll be reviewing in the future.

Other things we had included curly fries that were literally covered in salt(I am convinced that they tried breading it with salt and fucked up), onion rings that were foolishly paired with thousand island dressing, and nachos that I didn't taste. None were really that good.

So that was my experience. I can't say I'm eager to go again, but I wouldn't be adverse to have someone treat me there.

Chime in with your Hooters experiences and feel free to disagree.