Meat Me in Hell

A guide to great food

Two of OC's most venerated steakhouses observe a strict "no tie" policy, which means that not only is there the promise of a great cut of meat, but you also might catch someone running with scissors. Just keeping things informal, hoss; these be steak joints, not a fashion show. Oldest is Pinnacle Peak. The Garden Grove institution has been searing up the carne for a couple of generations now, and, surveying the dining room's yard-sale-at-the-honky-tonk vibe, it must be the sirloins that keep folks coming back, because it shore ain't the décor. The restaurant's signature steak is a mesquite-grilled affair prepared with passion and a barbecue sauce that can actually activate the salivaries from across the room. The portions are generous, big enough for you and the horse you rode in on. Toss in a tossed salad, baked potato and Pinnacle's tasty corn and you've got a dinner that's both rootin' and tootin'. If Pinnacle Peak is a fun place you might take someone on a first date, the Trabuco Oaks Steak House is where you take your new special someone after the second divorce. Dark and cozy with a great wine list and two trees growing in the middle of the building, Trabuco has been a favorite of everyone from the Cook's Corner crowd to former president Nixon—say what you will about him, but Dick knew meat. The Panhandle-size "cowboy steak" is almost as thick as it is wide, flame-broiled and fork-tender, an unforgettable filet especially when chased with a side of Trabuco's hand-cut fries. Order up and settle in—considering you'll lose your tie, you might not feel so bad loosening your belt. Pinnacle Peak, 9100 Trask Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 892-7311; Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse, 20782 Trabuco Oaks Rd., Trabuco Canyon, (949) 586-0722.

POOR DEFENSELESS LAMB

If you really must eat poor defenseless lamb that never done you no wrong, you'd at least better ensure that the flavor's worth the karmic burden. Whenever I'm so overcome with wrath at a lamb that I could grind on its bones, I go to Orchid, a Persian palace in a Costa Mesa strip mall. If your own brother tasted as good as the lamb kebabs there, you wouldn't have a brother anymore. They're marinated in something or other, and then grilled to perfection or sometimes a little beyond. I wish I could describe them better, but the restaurant was out of them the last time I was there. Yet the memory of the lamb kebabs persists over a year after I had them. The chops are only $8.99 at lunchtime. When ordering those, pony up an extra $2 and the Orchid owners will substitute the marveliffic adas polo rice (lightly fried with dates, lentils and currants) for the standard rice. 3033 S. Bristol, Costa Mesa, (714) 557-8070.

LINKED & UNPRONOUNCEABLE

The irony of an authentic European wursthaus sharing a parking lot with a Wienerschnitzel hot dog hut boggles the mind, but for 26 years Mattern Sausage & Meats has done just that. The Mattern family sells and pack meat the way they like it in the Fatherland: ground, spiced, cured, cased, linked and labeled with names you couldn't pronounce even if you donned lederhosen. That said, in case you don't know the difference between a jagdwurst and a leberkäse or a Nuernberger bratwurst and a frankfurter, remember that it's all just meat—usually beef or pork ground coarse like salami or fine like pâté, then blended with scads of spices. Most of Mattern's nearly 75 offerings are available daily, in addition to an impressive selection of breads, cheeses and packaged cold cuts. If you're not feeling particularly Teutonic, you can even take home a spicy Italian sausage, a Polish kielbasa or even a Hungarian hurka. 4327 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. (714) 639-3550.

THEY INVENTED BÒ BAY MÓN

There are porterhouse steaks whose weight in ounces approaches triple digits, sandwiches featuring cold cuts the size of Frisbees, pizzas with about half a cow crammed between the melted cheese. But the ultimate paean to red meat remains the bò bay món, the celebrated Vietnamese dinner involving seven courses of beef each more decadent than the previous. Ánh Hong Restaurant in Garden Grove claims to have invented bò bay món at its original Saigon location in 1954 by combining the various beef appetizers native to South Vietnam and presenting it with French refinement. Whether that's historical fact or American-style hoo-ha is uncertain, but the classy restaurant does such a superb version of bò bay món and is so boastful of its star serving ("7 Courses of Beef," screams a massive billboard looming over Westminster Boulevard) that we'll take their word for it.

The seven courses are presented in the following order, each brought seconds after you finish the previous:

A salad of sautéed beef mixed with pickled carrots, daikon and peanuts. It's sour, it's wet, and could easily obstruct the upper half of your digestive tract. Eight slices of bloody raw beef served with a pot of boiling vinegar, assorted vegetables and stacks of rice paper. Plunge the beef into the fondue until it achieves an ashy color, then wrap it in the rice paper along with bean sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, a splash of fish sauce and a good amount of chili sauce. Dunk it into a canister of peanut sauce. Pay no attention to the drippings that ensue. A cold, fist-size meatball comprising not just meat but noodles, nuts, mushrooms and other goodies, as smooth as pâté but without the bitter aftertaste. Greasy-good minced-beef sausages. Greasy-good minced-beef sausages wrapped with some type of Hawaiian leaf that's more aromatic than tasty. Greasy-good tenderloin bits laced with lemongrass and peanuts. The greatest soup in Orange County—ground beef bits hiding in a rice lagoon that's spiked with enough ginger and pepper to cure any malady that may afflict you, whether physical or emotional.
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