Monday, August 18, 2014

Juicy Pork Dumplings at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza

By Dru Chai

Let the juicy pork dumpling madness begin. Today marks the official public grand opening of Din Tai Fung at South Coast Plaza. Din Tai Fung is a high-end Chinese restaurant that has earned countless accolades for their food. South Coast Plaza is the largest upscale shopping mall on the West coast with sales of over $1.5 billion (yes, billion with a "B") every year.

South Coast Plaza location: Replaced the old McDonald's spot by Sears 

You're probably saying, what? Isn't this a BBQ blog? Yes, you're right. But it's also about the ingredients and the meat. I'm all about the MEAT, especially when pork is involved.

Din Tai Fung is a restaurant that specializes in steamed dumplings. But they're not just your average, standard ho-hum dumpling. What makes these dumplings special is that they are filled with seasoned pork meat AND hot pork broth inside these porkalicious dumplings. Yes, I wrote porkalicious.

10 juicy pork dumplings, coming right up
Scalding hot and juicy pork broth inside

Now there are many different restaurants that serve these hot juicy pork dumplings (In Chinese, it's called xiao long bao). But what makes Din Tai Fung's version stand out from the rest is the attention to detail. They have an army of workers simply dedicated to making these dumplings by hand, from scratch. They go through countless hours of training just to be able to meet Din Tai Fung's high standards.

I wonder if they're allowed to make funny faces at customers walking by?

I can easily put down 30 of these hot-pork-broth filled dumplings. They're that good. Sure, I may burn every square inch inside of my mouth in the process, but that's how good they are. I love the intense pork flavor that's packed into each one of these dumplings, and the juicy hot broth is the best part.

While there are hundreds of locations throughout Asia, there are only a handful in the U.S. -- all of them on the West coast. If you find yourself with the opportunity to try these porkalicious dumplings, then jump on it. You can find more pictures on my Facebook page:

Din Tai Fung
3333 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eating Out: Wood Ranch BBQ Burnt Ends

By Dru Chai

I'm not kidding when I say that I dream about burnt ends. Seriously. I was at a tropical island and I was being fed burnt ends by some beautiful bikini-clad women. Anyway, never-mind that part. What we're talking about are the perfect burnt ends -- the outside with just the right amount of smokiness and bark, the inside juicy and tender meat with the fat rendered down.

So it's no coincidence that when I smoke a packer brisket, I most look forward to making burnt ends. Proper burnt ends are made from the "point" of the brisket -- cut up into cubes, seasoned again, then thrown back into the smoker for another couple of hours. I like to take an extra step and caramelize the burnt ends on a grill plan for extra AWESOME-NESS.

Back when I first started this blog, I mentioned that I didn't hear of any restaurant in the Southern California area offering burnt ends on the menu. Nowadays, it's a different story -- there are more restaurants marketing and selling burnt ends. Famous Dave's recently introduced burnt ends, and now there's a new competitor to enter the ring -- Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill.

For Southern California residents, finding good BBQ can be a challenge -- especially in Orange County. For someone like me, and for many other backyard grillers and smokers, there's really no need to spend money going out to eat at BBQ restaurants. Unless, of course, the food is close (if not better) to your own BBQ.

Recently I had a chance to sample a few burnt ends dishes from Wood Ranch. They are from the "WR Test Kitchen"and served every Wednesday from 4pm until they sell out (from what I've heard, they usually sell out around 8pm). Wood Ranch uses a Southern Pride commercial smoker with oak wood. Based on what I tasted at the Irvine Spectrum location, I think Wood Ranch should make burnt ends a permanent item on their menu.

As far as the texture and tenderness, the burnt ends were fairly similar to the ones I smoke at home. The beef had a nice smoky flavor, but not overpowering. The burnt ends were not dry -- a common occurrence for many attempting to make proper burnt ends (some think that they should be burnt, literally). The fat was rendered down, so I didn't have mouthfuls of white fat jiggling around in my mouth.

In regards to the overall taste of these burnt ends, they are on the spicy side. For someone like myself who loves spicy foods, it was fine -- there was a good amount of kick. But for a customer who can't eat spicy foods at all, I doubt they can finish eating one or two burnt ends before waving the white flag. Wood Ranch mentioned that the spice was part of their dry rub recipe. I would recommend either a note on the menu or a mention by the server.

Traditionally, Kansas City burnt ends aren't really on the spicy side -- if you want additional flavor, the BBQ sauce should be on the side. It's good to pick either a sweet or spicy flavored BBQ sauce to accompany the burnt ends. For me, a perfectly made and seasoned burnt end should taste great without any sauce whatsoever. But hey, I'm more of a BBQ traditionalist.

Whenever I judge BBQ at a KCBS sanctioned BBQ competition, I tend to give higher scores to brisket entries that include excellent burnt ends in addition to brisket slices from the "flat." Whether you call them brisket bacon, or brisket bon bons, burnt ends should be offered at any serious BBQ restaurant. You can bet that a majority Southern Californians have never even heard of burnt ends. Glad to see Wood Ranch make a respectable version.

Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill
57 Fortune Dr, #230
Irvine, CA 92618

Eating Out: Fresh Brothers in Newport Beach

By Dru Chai

I love buffalo wings. Whenever I'm at a restaurant or bar, I always look for buffalo wings on the menu. And yes, I'm that guy who goes after the drumstick first. One of the things I look for in a good chicken wing is the texture -- Is it soggy or crispy? Is it meaty or skimpy? Sometimes, you have to sacrifice one over the other and it's a major let down.

I recently checked out the grand opening of Fresh Brothers in Newport Beach, the chain's first location in Orange County. They have a dozen LA locations under their belt, and I knew they served pizza, but what really intrigued me were the "pizza AND wings" part of their tagline. I immediately dove right in.

Fresh Brothers' buffalo wings comes in various flavors, and I tried both the sweet chili and the "super hot" flavored wings. The sweet chili wings had an ever-so-slight kick finish, just enough to offset the overall sweetness. The sauce reminded me of this popular sweet chili Thai sauce, used most often as a dipping sauce for egg rolls or spring rolls.

As spicy food lover, I knew that I had to see what the "super hot" wings were all about. There's no habanero or ghost chili, so the Scoville scale rating isn't off the charts, but the wings give off a slow burn. I liked it -- especially paired with bleu cheese (or Ranch dressing, for all you bleu cheese haters). On a spicy scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hottest -- I'd rate these wings at a 6.

What I liked about Fresh Brothers' buffalo wings is that they're baked, not fried. Surprisingly, there was a good amount of exterior crisp to the wings -- obviously not entirely super crispy if they were deep-fried. But hey, it's a bit healthier. I also liked how the wings were meaty, and not the super skimpy and boney kind. I don't want to be eating skinny chicken wings, that's for sure.

Another one of their popular appetizers are the meatball sliders. The meatball is super tender -- made with a blend of beef and pork, topped with crispy mozzarella cheese, sandwiched in between a King's Hawaiian sweet roll. The crispy cheese is what sets this apart. Crispy cheese is awesome. This world needs more CRISPY CHEESE.

Fresh Brothers' standard pizza reminds me a bit like Pizza Hut or Domino's, which isn't necessarily a bad thing depending on your taste buds and audience. But there's definitely a lot more variety and choices in customizing your pizza -- like gluten-free, thin crust, vegetarian options, etc. Options are an absolute must for a family or large kid party where everyone is picky. And with wall-to-wall TV coverage inside, everyone is sure to find something good to watch as well.

Fresh Brothers
1616 San Miguel Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92625

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Grill Daddy Heat Shield Tongs and Spatula

By Dru Chai

BBQ is a multi-billion dollar industry -- that's BILLION with a "B." A large chunk of that are the accessories. Everyone knows you just can't have a grill and be done with it. There's just so much more to improve upon your BBQ grilling and smoking experience. According to HBPA's 2013 State of the BBQ Report, some of the most popular utensils are long-handled tongs (72%) and long-handled spatulas (54%).

Recently, I spent a few grilling sessions using a couple of GrillDaddy's products:

- Grill Daddy Heat Shield Stainless Steel Tongs
- Grill Daddy Heat Shield Stainless Steel Spatula

I had to entertain some guests during my backyard BBQ, so I wasn't able to capture "in action" photos with food and fire, but you get the idea in the photos below. Both products obviously did its job as a pair of tongs and a spatula, but what sets these apart from the competition is the heat resistant shield that keeps your hands, fingers, and knuckles from being burned on a flaming hot grill.

These Grill Daddy tools are sturdy and made well, so nothing felt flimsy. Time will only tell on how long these tools really last, but it all depends on how frequently you use these tools. From the grip to the length of both the tongs and the spatula, they were a good fit with my 22" Weber Kettle Grill.

You may be asking yourself, so what's the point of having a heat shield when I already have a heat resistant glove? That may be true, but I know there are many grillers who refuse to wear a heat resistant glove or mitt because it's just not "manly" enough or they feel like it takes too much time putting it on and taking it off while grilling. With these tools, you quickly grab and use them with ease.

So the heat resistant shields on the Grill Daddy products are meant to do exactly that -- shield your fingers from the flame. They definitely do get rather hot (of course, it's steel) so it's perfect for a quick flip of the burger while the flames are going up.

A few other things to note. Despite what the packaging or advertisement says, the "telescoping" feature isn't really that reliable. I tried to extend it, but it just didn't really work that well. The pop out meat thermometer from the bottom of the spatula handle is a cool feature in theory, but the thermometer isn't the most reliable. Think of it more of a temperature gauge, more than anything. It's best to have your own dedicated digital thermometer. I recommend the Thermapen.

Overall, a couple of solid BBQ accessories if you spend a lot of time grilling over a flaming charcoal fire. It's also a good gift for that grill master in your family.

Dirty Smoke rating - (3.5 out of 5 stars)
Grill Daddy Heat Shield Stainless Steel Tongs
Grill Daddy Heat Shield Stainless Steel Spatula

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Deep Fried Doritos: The Negative Response on Twitter

By Dru Chai

Now, I've never experienced anything on social media that went full blown viral on the Internet, no matter how many times I want my dogs to do something funny or stupid. But in my little world of food and BBQ blog readers, it occasionally happens to me -- just on a much, much, smaller scale.

A couple of years ago, my Facebook and blog post on the Big Beefy Rib went on a mini viral spree for about a day leading up to the OC Fair. Earlier today, I tweeted a couple of photos from the OC Fair -- deep fried bacon wrapped pickles and bacon wrapped churros on the grill. According to Twittersphere (and by Twittersphere, I mean my 400 followers), it was yawnsville. A few retweets and favorites each. No replies. Crickets chirping.

Then I posted this:

The deep fried Doritos was something that was on my radar this year to try. Chicken Charlie's is always coming up with new deep fried concoctions every year, so I make it a point to try something different at every OC Fair visit. Within minutes and probably for a good hour or so, my phone was blowing up with notifications. Retweets and favorites -- yes that was somewhat expected. But the tweet seemingly struck a chord with Twitter users from around the globe and garnered reply after reply after reply.

So here's the play by play...

It was either a passionate "NO" or the long-winded and dramatic "omg... NOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

Other replies included the Sylvester Stallone impression of "YOOO??? DEEP FRIED DORITOS??? WO??"

Others were short and simple like "SMH" or "hell no." Just in case... (SMH = shaking my head)

Someone was probably hallucinating and tweeted "looks like a mini roach is on one of them so nope." Uhh, there was no roach (it was a piece of burnt cheese). But hey, whatever you need to see to convince yourself there, buddy.

So there you have it. When it comes to deep fried Doritos, Twittersphere has a strong and passionate opinion. With food, especially with something as widely known and beloved snack like Doritos, people tend to get really riled up if you mess with a good thing.

I think that's why some people were so quick to judge and form an opinion -- even without giving it a try. People were probably really scratching their heads thinking why someone would deep fry a bag of Doritos, since... it was already deep fried in the first place become a chip. Minds were blown.

In the end, I tweeted something to the effect of "don't knock it until you try it." Which... if you want to go on a deeper level, should be applied to anything in life. Be open minded. You just might surprise yourself. So go ahead, challenge yourself and go outside the norm and your comfort zone! Eat those deep fried Doritos without prior judgement.

I'm glad I did.

Rollin Smoke BBQ on Food Paradise, Travel Network TV

By Dru Chai

It's been a little over a year since I visited and wrote a review on Rollin Smoke BBQ in Las Vegas. While I enjoyed my beef rib and brisket, Rollin Smoke has garnered some attention on Instagram, Yelp, and other social media sites for some of their other unique menu items. Both their Outlaw Burger and the Smoked Meatloaf were recently featured on Travel Network TV's Food Paradise.

Food Paradise has quickly become one of my favorite food-related shows to watch on TV. There's no annoyingly loud host desperate for attention or cracking jokes with the chefs -- it's all about the food. Quick and snappy, a half hour segment of Food Paradise takes viewers through to different cities around the country looking for the best food -- and only about the food.

Given the lack of good BBQ in Vegas, it was great to see Rollin Smoke featured on Food Paradise, because this bit of TV exposure will likely result in long lines. You can't tell on TV, but the restaurant is a definite hole-in-the-wall. I hope their success results in a bigger, better location in Las Vegas.

I have yet to return to Rollin Smoke since my initial visit back in July '13, but that Outlaw Burger and Smoked Meatloaf looks like a mouth-drooling, must-order. And in the spirit of Vegas buffets, there is even a $24.99 all-you-can-eat option -- anything on the menu, any day, any time. Someone's definitely going to be eating so much, that they'll be "rollin'" out of the restaurant.