Archive for the ‘bakeries’ Category

The Tip Top Point

January 16, 2010


In the banh mi diaspora of Little Saigon, opinions on where to find the best baguette are as authoritative and polarized as HuffPost and the Heritage Foundation’s combative takes on global warming. And it’s not just the bread. At a local salon, I’ve seen trash talking sessions about sandwich fillings get as hot as a Conair Infiniti dryer.

 A teeming social hub well-respected in the cult of the Vietnamese sandwich, Tip Top’s is crammed with loyal congregants gossiping and reading Nguoi Viet. Bread comes out of the massive ovens hourly creating a market so competitive that attempting to sell a cooled baguette in this neighborhood is as dismal a prospect as trying to trade mom’s Weight Watchers protein bar for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at the grade school lunch tables. 

A Tip Top baguette has a scored and slightly bubbled outer crust that shatters on contact like a pane of sugar on crème brûlée leaving shards of flakiness in its wake. The core, still warm from the oven, soaks up the juicy, fat marbled savory pork  tangled with cool, sweet pickled daikon, shaggy carrot slivers, fresh cilantro sprigs and jalapeño spheres. The experience is at once crispy, spicy, warm and crunchy. And at $3.45, the price is as sweet as the cafe sua da.

A shrill bell channeling an elementary school’s fire alarm sounds before your order number is read. Forget the uninspired American-style sandwiches and leave the Patisserie to Pierre’s Boulangerie down the street, but hustle to the take-out counter: that baguette won’t be warm forever. Tip Top’s Sandwiches 14094 Brookhurst St. Garden Grove. 714.530.9239. Lunch for two, $8.00,  food only.



Chilling Station

November 6, 2009

I’ve come to the grim realization that my personal assistant, whom I haven’t seen in months, may never be coming back. And now they’re saying I might have never even had one. Eerie. Got to sort that one out. In the meantime, I’m a sucker for establishments that eradicate several nagging errands at once, especially if I can make a lunch date out of it!


A MARKET 'oreos'.

Has the assistant you never had disappeared? A lot of this going around. Pastry chef Shelly Register will hook you up at the one-year-old former filling station-turned-sandwich shop, gourmet food purveyor, newstand and coffee-house known as A Market.

Where else in OC can you get a dozen red velvet cupcakes, holiday hostess gifts, boutique wines (a bottle of luscious Bitch Grenache for that special someone?) and pick up hand crafted dinners with easy parking?AMARKET 016

While you’re there, stay for lunch. Register’s sandwiches are gorgeous and fastidiously proportioned. No wayward gobs of mayo here. My personal fave: lightly toasted artisanal corn marble rye with slices of juicy bird, micro-planed avocado, a whisper of arugula and a thinly spread layer of honey mustard and pear marmalade served with dainty house-made coriander, clove and red pepper flake-laced pickles.

Register’s giant ‘oreos’ that were so popular at The Camp’s Village Bakery are back along with lily pad sized chewy, sugar-flecked ginger-molasses cookies. A Market 3400 West Coast Hwy., NB 949.650.6515. . Lunch for two, $23.00, food only.

Top Chef at Zov’s

October 23, 2009

A small faux-painted sign on the wall above an antique buffet in Zov Karamardian’s Bakery reads: Zov’s Queendom. It goes largely unnoticed by the throngs panting on the bakery cases, politely purchasing and then mauling pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies with velvety chocolate cream cheese frosting and ogling the key lime tartlets with meringue peaks toasted the impossible golden brown of a perfect campfire marshmallow. One thing is clear to Zov’s royal subjects: she’s in the details. If you get the sense it wouldn’t be the same without her physically there, you’re right.  

Chef chat.

Chef chat.

That’s why when the Bravo reality show Top Chef Masters asked Zov to be a contestant on the show this year,  she demurred.The show offers the winner $100,000.00 cash for their favorite charity. Still, to earn it, chefs have to be sequestered from family and friends, contend with sleep deprivation and such insane elimination competitions  as creating an amuse bouche from items out of a vending machine. What’s next, dumpster diving for power garnishes?  

Chef struck!

Chef struck!

In a moment of serendipity, Top Chef Season One veteran Dave Martin ate at Zov’s recently and hit it off with Karamardian. Last Sunday,  Martin led a cooking class at the bistro. I like to cook, but all that tedious standing around and manual labor can make me cranky and hungry. Especially when the only consolation is a meager sample of my own cooking. In this class, I watched a demo while the steps were fully explained and questions were answered, ate a full-sized meal and went home with the recipes-hooray!  

He's not your bitch.

He's not your bitch.

Teddybearish and disarming, Martin fumbled with the gas burners and introduced his mom during the demo. A pleasant surprise considering his signature line on the show was, “I’m not your bitch, Bitch!”  

Black truffle mac and cheese has become as ubiquitous in OC as chef-celebs with meat-cutting diagram tats and flesh plugs. Still, when done well, who can resist? Bill Bracken serves an elegant version at Palm Terrace and there’s a decent homespun-if-too-creamy take at  Old Town Orange’s Haven Gastropub. Brandy and sherry fortification lended a fondue-like quality to Martin’s version for a result both comforting and upscale. Substituting the usual pasty roux with a liaison to thicken the sauce garnered a lighter result. Though based in NYC, he’s welcome in our kitchen anytime.  

Mac daddy.

Mac daddy.

 Zov’s Bistro, Café and Bakery 17440 East Seventeenth St. Tustin, CA 92780 714.838.8855. Dinner for two, $80.00, food only.

85 Degrees-Worth its Salt

October 6, 2009

Tai Pei treats!
Tai Pei treats!

My friend Zu was hosting book club when she turned me on to a Taiwanese bakery called 85 ° in Irvine that serves sea salt coffee. I had only gotten through one chapter of her pick when she suddenly moved the date up on us. She’s charmingly A.D.D. like that. So, when she raved about the coffee, I knew I had to try it, if only to make up for the neglected tome. I should mention that Zu, with her Rio bikini bod, is dead-on in matters of the palate.

The next morning, I waded into a tong-wielding maelstrom of giddy customers plucking legions of sweet and savory morsels from their cases onto trays like king crabs at a feeding frenzy.

Cases of lavender and cream-colored orbs like the eggs of Jurrassic-age beasts were fluffy as cotton candy and filled with delicate taro cream.Bullet-shaped demi-baguettes colored black as night with squid ink reeked of parmesan and garlic. Vellum-textured tuna croissants burst with sweet, buttery pastry and savory albacore. It could have been a Wayne Thiebaud still life had he done a series on teacakes in Tai Pei.

Think ink: squid ink, that is.

Think ink: squid ink, that is.

Palate-boggling, but never classist, 85 ° serves trashy hot dog pizzas alongside pain au chocolat worthy of Brillat-Savarin. College-age bakery assistants offered flavor and texture descriptions with apparent pleasure. One even denoted best sellers in order by number with a statistician’s panache.

The maniacally popular Taiwanese bakery chain opened it’s sole US location a year ago (Yes! Right here in OC!) and it’s been bedlam ever since.

Sandwiched in the Diamond Center on Jamboree, the casual affordable cafe stands out among nearby Asian bakeries such as Cream Pan and Paris Baguette by being the first to serve sea salt coffee. Yep, that’s the name. Apparently the menu marketing and translation team had a tough time coming up with something more appetizing sounding, say, Salineccino. No? Salty Beans? Sodi-Joe? OK, word lab’s closed. Trust me on this, it doesn’t sound right. But it is right. So right. Like mixing Raisinettes with popcorn in the dark of the theater, but on a more worldly level.



Sea salt coffee is, quite simply, lightly sweetened premium Arabica coffee iced and topped with  salt-infused micro-foamed cream. That’s it. But the cool duality of  the strong sweet coffee and savory cream Hoovered in separate waves through the straw will have you hooked before you can say, ” Wonder Twin Powers, ACTIVATE!”

I was going to break in my blog by attempting to duplicate a batch of the addictive beverage at my best friend’s house since they have a built-in stainless steel Miele espresso maker bigger and more loaded than a Smart Car, but they rudely went on vacation just as I was about to launch. Instead I used my coffee machine: similar in features to the one on the vanity at your local airport Ramada. It tasted like crap.

If you have a behemoth espresso machine with bells, whistles, vanity plates and a VIN number registered with the DMV that would have been featured on Pimp My Ride if it weren’t for the fact that it was pumping out an ocean of lattes for 100 of your closest friends on the day they were taping, go for an attempt duplication and let me know how it turns out. I’ll stick with the real thing.

My botched batch.

My botched batch.

After the botched ersatz batch, I made an ill-advised 85 °-run at 2:00 p.m. on a Sunday.When I saw the line snaking out the door halfway to Tokyo Table, I wanted to grab a set of bakery tongs and snap vigorously like an angry crustacean to cut to the front. But did I? No, instead I took the above pictures for you in the bread line. Enjoy!

85 ° 2700 Alton Parkway. Ste. 123 Irvine, CA 949.553.8585 Coffee and snacks for two, $10.00.