2: Chowtastic Achievement in Grubby Yum Yums and Brown Liquid
Photo by Jack GouldOur first presenter is OC Weekly's managing editor and producer of the hilarious column A Clockwork Orange, or at least that's what I've been told. Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Coker!
[Applause. Coker emerges from the wings in a chocolate-brown corduroy suit and heads directly for Swaim, who is walking toward him. Coker puts out his hand; Swaim ignores it and walks offstage. Coker looks out into the audience which has long since ceased to clap. He walks uneasily to the podium, his suit pants making a whooshing sound.]
MATT COKER: Thank you, Will. For centuries, food has been man's greatest foe: challenging our values, mocking our ways, stroking our . . . What? This doesn't make any sense.
SWAIM [whispering offstage]: Teleprompter screwup . . . unions . . . ad lib.
Anaheim Ducks v. Los Angeles Kings
TicketsSun., Oct. 2, 5:00pm
TicketsSun., Oct. 2, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings
TicketsTue., Oct. 4, 7:00pm
Premium Level - NBA Preseason Basketball: Lakers v Sacramento Kings
TicketsTue., Oct. 4, 7:00pm
COKER [swallowing hard]: Food . . . is . . . a good thing. It is good to eat and to taste, and sometimes it is . . . tastes . . . good.
COKER: We at the Weekly have always believed that food is one thing that people like to do—eat . . . and so we have written food so they . . . eat. You know, food. And coffee, too. Which isn't food. . . . Well kinda, except you drink it . . . but I guess that's what you do with soup. . . . But coffee doesn't have vegetables . . . although it comes from beans, which I think are vegetables . . .
ANGRY VOICE FROM CROWD: Imposter! Beans are legumes! He mocks our ways!
COKER: No! No! I like your ways . . . our ways. . . . The ways are . . . good. I just want to give out the awards for Best Restaurant, Best Fast Food and Best Coffee. And to do this, I'd like to bring out OC Weekly food writer Kelly VON EMERT.
You know, around the office, Kelly has the reputation of being the perfect woman. She's beautiful, smart and sophisticated, but most of all, she's kind. You know, we joke that Kelly not only looks like Snow White but she's also just as nice. Ladies and gentleman, please give a warm welcome to the Queen of Serene, the Nice Princess, Kelly Von Emert!
[VON EMERT emerges from the wings. She struggles to walk to the podium because she is tremendously pregnant,USS Enterprise-like pregnant. Coker walks over to help her, but she slaps him away and leaves him in her wake. She finally gets to the podium, looking straight into the camera with a severe expression.]
COKER: You know, Kelly, as a food expert, I know a thing or two about buns.
Kelly VON EMERT: Eat me.
COKER: But when I look at you, I can safely say that nothing looks more radiant than a woman with a bun in the oven.
VON EMERT: Shut your goddamn pie hole.
COKER: I'm just reading what it says.
VON EMERT [in mocking whiny baby voice]: Oh, are we just weading duh itty bitty Tewepwompter? Be a man! I'm about to drop a kid right here, and I'm stuck with Shirley Temple with a 5 o'clock shadow. Would someone please find my husband and have him feed me ice chips and make the heeh-heeh-heeh noises from Lamaze class?
COKER: Is there anything I can do?
VON EMERT: Just read the nominees, pencil dick.
COKER: But I thought you . . .
VON EMERT: Pussy! The nominees for Best Restaurant this year are an eclectic mix of styles that share a common touch.
Matt: That's right, Kelly.
VON EMERT [pulling salad shooter from behind her back and pointing it at COKER]: Just gimme a reason, slime hole! Just gimme a reason!
[COKER puts his hands up and backs off.]
VON EMERT: All of our nominees are establishments run by chef/ owners who also cater and have managed to keep a hands-on, personal touch at their restaurants.
First we have Table 10 Grill of Placentia.
COKER: Placentia? That really must hit home for you, huh, Kel?
VON EMERT [cold stare]: . . .
COKER: You know . . . because Placentia . . . you know . . . Placentia, placenta . . .
COKER: . . . You know, the placenta, the flattened cakelike structure formed by the intimate union of the allantois and chorion with the uterine wall of the mother that serves for the respiration and nutrition of the growing young. . . . You know, because you're preggers . . .
VON EMERT: I want to make you a promise. And I want you to listen to this promise. Are you listening?
COKER [meekly]: Mmm-hmmm.
VON EMERT: I promise that as soon as I get this demon seed expelled from my once-taut body, I will endeavor to become proficient in the art of Krav Maga, the self-defense method of the Israeli Defense Forces. And then I will grow anxious to follow through, and I will go out and find me a big metal stick, a beam really, and I will take this beam, and I will find you, and I will kill you with this beam in ways I'm not sure of at this moment but will most assuredly be messy. This is my promise to you.
COKER [shrinking]: . . . Mmm-kay.
VON EMERT: Table 10 Grill is a progressive restaurant that not only features creative dishes such as corned beef tacos that are to die for, but is also moderately priced and has excellent service. In fact, partners Treva Caron and Kathy Jordan split duties in this regard: while one is cooking, the other is serving. And they are serving a lot because Table 10 has become a destination restaurant in North County.
VON EMERT: Our next nominee is located in a hotel, the Countryside Suites in Orange. Having a restaurant in a hotel can be a death knell for an establishment since hotel restaurants have a reputation for blandness. But Sun Dried Tomato Caf of Orange, located just down from The Block at Orange, is a wonderful exception. Owner Rob Quest and partner/chef Mark Jacobi have created a restaurant so good that I know of some serious foodies who stay at the hotel just so they can eat at the restaurant several times. The Tomato's signature dish just may be its sun-dried tomato soup, with its pumpkin colored appearance and slightly smoky flavor with bits of pulp. It is absolutely one of the best dishes in the county.
COKER: Sounds great.
VON EMERT: I'd imagine paste would sound great to you, huh, Sir Assalot?
COKER: Well, as a kid . . .
VON EMERT: Our third nominee is Plum's Cafe of Costa Mesa. Recently renovated and reopened, Plum's does for Pacific Northwest cuisine locally what Zov's did for Mediterranean. Owner Kim JORGENSON has incorporated ingredients from her native Oregon into wonderful dishes that range from salmon to homemade granola to a coconut papaya French toast for breakfast. The food is incredible, as is the atmosphere, replete with terrific art on the wall. Add to this the fact that Plum's is actually a great place to bring kids, and you have a restaurant that seems to be hitting on all cylinders.
VON EMERT: Our final nominee is Issay which has defined fine dining in our county for years. In fact, Issay has been the recipient of several OC Weekly Best Restaurant awards and, in many ways, was the yardstick by which others were measured. The kind of place where disappointment didn't seem a possibility. The kind of place where you never seemed to order off the menu because you had such trust in the chef's ability and the staff's recommendations. Sadly, Issay recently burned down, but we believe it's only right to include it among our nominees.
VON EMERT: And the winner is . . . Plum's Cafe!
ANNOUNCER: Accepting for Plum's is owner/chef Kim JORGENSON.
KIM JORGENSON: Thank you, thank you. . . . Oh, I think I'm going to cry. You know, years ago, working as a waitress in a Portland caf, I envisioned a culinary experience in which everyone could enter and share the memories of home in the Northwest as it relates to the unique spirit of Oregon dining. Our dream has become a wonderful reality. Warm thanks to the Native Americans and travelers of the Oregon Trail who inspired the creation of our menu. My gratitude to the staff —every day working to bring the sense of the Pacific Northwest to our guests. To our magnificent patrons: thank you for patiently watching us grow, offering your praises, and helping to make Plum's a comfortable and cozy part of your day.
[Applause. Orchestra begins playing.]
JORGENSON: Wait! Wait! I forgot to thank the Chinook salmon of the Pacific Northwest, whose flavor entices our loyal guests with hints of alderwood smoke and herbs!
[Applause. Music louder.]
JORGENSON: Oh, and the abundant harvests of hazelnuts and juicy apples of Oregon and Washington would just kill me if I didn't thank them for giving Plum's the ingredients for a delectable menu.
[Applause. Orchestra in full swing.]
JORGENSON [fighting her way back to the podium despite being restrained by three security guards and one spokesmodel]: AND I'D NEVER HEAR THE END OF IT IF I DIDN'T GIVE A SHOUT OUT TO THE ANCIENT DISCOVERIES OF FRESH OREGANO, ROSEMARY AND BASIL THAT COMPLEMENT THE SPIRIT-LIKE AROMAS DRIFTING THROUGHOUT OUR DINING ROOM. . . . AND THEN THERE'S MEMORABLE SUNDAY-MORNING FLAVORS OF BUTTERMILK PANCAKES AND TENDER OREGON PEPPERED BACON. . . . THANK YOU! THANK YOU ALL! EVEN THE DUDE IN THE BAD BROWN CORDUROY SUIT!
VON EMERT: Our next category is Best Fast Food.
COKER: You know, Kelly, fast food gets a bad rap these days, but just because food is fast doesn't make it bad. In fact, as our nominees prove, fast food can still be creative, exciting and, most of all, delicious.
VON EMERT: That's right, butt munch. Our nominees elevate fast food from McMeal to fine dining. As people get busier today, with less time to cook, places like those we're about to mention have become more valuable, providing top-quality cuisine at a reasonable price—in turn saving countless moms who might not have an answer when their squalling brats demand, "What's for dinner? What's for dinner?" And the husband doesn't know what to do because he's a man and he's got more important things on his mind like did he leave his other golf shoe in the car or in the recycling bin, so it's all up to mom because mom's used to making things all right because mom doesn't have a life of her own because she gave that all up when she let those things take residence in her body and stretch it all out, and now she just has to make everything right because people think the babies are sooooo cute and they are. I mean, isn't it cute the way they can't do a flip-flying thing for themselves? Isn't it cute the way they can't go to the bathroom the way normal people do, and couldn't you just soil yourself how cute it is that they don't let mom get any sleep until mom is so tired that she's having conversations with the vision of Squeeky Fromme that lives in the toaster. ISN'T THAT SO GODDAMN CUTE THAT YOU COULD JUST REACH IN WITH YOUR THUMBS AND GOUGE OUT YOUR EYES SO YOU'D NEVER HAVE TO SEE ANYTHING SO GODDAMN CUTE IN ALL YOUR GODDAMN WASTED LIFE AGAIN?!
COKER: The nominees for Best Fast Food are . . .
VON EMERT: Daphnes Greek Caf. In many instances, Daphnes is locals' first introduction to Greek food, and what a pleasant how-do-you-do it is. They do the basics very well, whether its falafel, stuffed grape leaves, humus or baklava. But they also make hearty main dishes and have terrific salads and surprises. It's a great jumping-off point for Mediterranean cuisine. Of course, it's a great place just to stick around and try everything.
[Polite laughter, applause.]
VON EMERT: Next is the Metro Express French Caf and Creperie. I know, I know, it sounds French, and, yes, the food is. But here's the good news: the food is French, but luckily the people aren't. No attitude, just great food with terrific ingredients such as Portobello mushrooms, roasted garlic and caramelized onions. For practically the same price as a Happy Meal, you can get an expertly made gourmet crepe made right in front of you. It's fast;, it's cheap. Uh, yeah, I think this place qualifies. Add to that wonderful coffee and wonderful sandwiches, and you've got a real winner. . . . Oh, did I give something away?
[Polite laughter, applause.]
COKER: That was funny Ke . . .
VON EMERT: Nip it, Captain Asstastic! Next we have Niki's Tandoori in Santa Ana. Niki's is a big favorite around the office, especially Eggplant Monday. The food is fast, the service courteous and efficient, and the Indian movie posters on the walls can easily amuse the lone diner throughout their eating experience. The food is not only delicious and healthy, but to its credit, Niki's also doesn't dye its signature tandoori chicken red as others do. Yet, it's still delicious, as is the naan, the salad, the yogurt, the everything!
VON EMERT: Finally, we have the redoubtable Taco Mesa which, in many ways, pioneered the idea locally of fast food as alta cocina–elevated cuisine. Whether it's their delicious blackened-fish tacos or the squash-blossom quesadilla, the incredible soups—such as roasted tomato or tortilla puree—or everything on the menu including, my personal favorite, the desserts, especially the cream cheese flan, WHICH I DEMAND RIGHT NOW. FEAR ME!!
VON EMERT: . . . Oh. Matt, why don't you announce the winner?
COKER: Oh, okay. But I don't think I'll call them the "winner" since terms like "winners" and "losers" are so subjective.
VON EMERT: Really?
COKER: I think so.
VON EMERT: Well, your theory certainly is interesting. I wonder what the GERMANS WOULD THINK OF IT! YOU THINK THE GERMANS MIGHT HAVE A DIFFERENT TAKE ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WINNER? HUH? HUH, PROFESSOR SHITFORBRAINS? YOU THINK OLD KASIER BILL MIGHT HAVE A THOUGHT OR TWO ON THAT ONE? HOW ABOUT THE CZAR? I ASKED YOU A QUESTION—HOW ABOUT THE FRIGGING CZAR?
COKER: . . . The winner is Metro Express French Caf and Creperie!
ANNOUNCER: Accepting for Metro Express is Debbie Barranti, director of operations.
DEBBIE BARRANTI: Thank you very much. Our owner, John Macaluso, is out of town, but I'm certain he'd want to thank all of our customers; the country of France for creating such great food; and probably his wife, Erin, for being French. We have a great team at Metro, and it's helped us grow. We now have three locations—Fashion Island, The Marketplace at Tustin-Irvine and our newest location in Irvine's Oak Creek Village.
COKER: That was nice.
[VON EMERT stares COKER down, breathing heavy.]
COKER: Please, don't hurt me. I'm just going to go back to the cue cards now?
VON EMERT: Whatever.
COKER: Fine. The nominees for Best Coffeehouse are the Coffee Klatch, a little Laguna Beach coffeehouse known for its comfy sofas, cheap prices, Internet access, ultrafriendly service, incredible dessert deals, good mix of tourist and hometown clientele, artwork on the walls that is cool to look at but way too expensive to buy, and really, really, really good coffee.
VON EMERT: I really, really, really wish someone would get this demon seed out of me.
COKER: The Gypsy Den, with two locations in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana. That's not two locations in both Costa Mesa and Santa Ana, which would actually be four locations total, but two locations period—one in Costa Mesa and one in Santa Ana.
VON EMERT: If you don't get on with it, I'll ram this trophy so far up you'll be shitting genuine imitation-brass plating for months!
COKER: You know, Kelly, the Gypsy Den has great organic coffee, a bitchen atmosphere, and terrific and absolutely beautiful servers who cater to your every whim, especially when you sneak out of the office at the height of all-hell-breaking-loosedom for a double mocha with whipped cream. Mmmm. Whipped cream. I also especially love the—
VON EMERT: Goddamn it, COKER, I just broke water.
COKER: Uh, right. And the other nominees are the Coffee Pub in Laguna Beach and J.C. Beans in Dana Point, which—jeez, Kelly, watch where you're swinging that damn trophy!
VON EMERT: You're just lucky I can't get it around this 44-inch waist!
COKER: As I was saying, these final two places I know nothing about because Weeklycontributor Victor Infante—who drinks more coffee daily than Luxembourg—picked those.
VON EMERT: Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod . . .
COKER: And the winner is . . . I'm sorry. I just refuse to call anyone a "winner" because, as everyone knows, anyone who is nominated is a winner. So, instead, I'll just say, "The award goes . . ."
VON EMERT: You, heeh heeh heeh, are soooo,heeh heeh heeh, dead, heeh heeh heeh.
COKER: And the winner is the Gypsy Den!
[COKER and VON EMERT exit the stage. SWAIM reappears.]
SWAIM: We go now to REBECCA Schoenkopf on location at the Gypsy Den in Costa Mesa, where she will present the Best Coffeehouse award to Den co-owner Catherine Graziano. REBECCA?
REBECCA [apparently unaware the camera and mic are on]: Yeah, could you make that a double mocha, please? You know, I'm feeling a little woozy. Do you think I could get some free corn chips? I need something to settle my stomach. Thanks!
CATHERINE GRAZIANO: Sure.
REBECCA: And maybe one of those good sandwiches? What's the one I like?
GRAZIANO : I don't know.
REBECCA: It's got like peppers or something? It's like a Mediterranean sandwich or something?
GRAZIANO : Sure.
REBECCA: Could that be maybe on the house? I seem to have misplaced my wallet, doncha know! Ha, ha!
GRAZIANO: Well, okay. No problem, REBECCA. It's really sweet of you to come by and give us the award.
REBECCA: Oh, yeah! The award! Catherine, congratulations! Here's the award. We're gonna need that back, by the way. We only have one.
GRAZIANO: Well, thank you!
REBECCA: You know, Catherine, we just love this place—truly! Could I maybe get some of that good soup, too? Yeah, the adobe stew! Yum, you know? Ha, ha! [To cameraman] You want anything, Jack? Everything's really good here! And Catherine says it's on the house.
SWAIM: REBECCA? Could you please stop shaking down our winners?
REBECCA [drops coffee. She turns to the camera, her cheeks stuffed with chips]: Shaking them . . . ? Will, I . . . Oh, the Mediterranean sandwich goes right here! Thanks! Jack, do you have any money for a tip? Thanks! I've got to go, Will. We'll be back soon, mmm-kay?
[Screen goes black.]
SWAIM: Thanks, REBECCA. And thanks also, Matt and Kelly—and good luck with that anger-management seminar. [Looking directly at Teleprompter] You know, the ability to vote was one of the inalienable rights our wise forefathers were adamant that every American have, as long as they were white, male and owned a lot of land. It's a comfort to all Americans that through centuries of sometimes tumultuous change, this basic principle has remained constant. And so it goes with OC Weekly. Every year, we give over valuable space in our newspaper to publish a readers ballot, which gives you, the reading public, the opportunity to pick the best of everything, whether it's restaurants, bands or public officials. We collect those ballots and put them off to the side and rarely ever look at them again, save for those times when we need a laugh, and then we'll take a look and see that listed for best local artist, some porpoise has cast his vote for "Vango."
Then we get down to the real business of picking the winners. It's an arduous task that involves a lot of abuse, pleading and humiliation. . . . Wait, that was my third marriage. Anyway, the winners get picked, and that's all you really need to know. Then there is the matter of keeping the winner's names confidential because it wouldn't do that you find out that Ken Widmann is about to award the Best Gelato trophy to The Gelato Factory. So we give a list of the winners to our friend here from the accounting firm of [unintelligible] . . . [under his breath] What's your name?
Man: . . . What?
SWAIM [staring straight ahead with forced smile]: . . . Your name, dingus, your name?
SWAIM: We give the list to Ed here from [unintelligible] and . . .
Ed: Um, I don't wanna . . .
SWAIM [testy]: What is it, Ed?
Ed: It's just that I'm not from Price Waterman or whatever it is you're saying. I'm from Battle Creek, Michigan.
SWAIM: Yes, I don't think any of us will forget the day the music died. But, Ed, tell us, how do you manage to keep the winners' identities to yourself. I imagine a lot of people try to drag it out of you.
Ed: . . .
SWAIM [laughing hard]: Is that a true story?
Ed: . . . Wha . . . ?
SWAIM [shoving Ed offstage]: Ed, ladies and gentlemen! Ed!
[Smattering of applause.]
SWAIM: Well, I hope that answers any questions about the Best of OC awards' authenticity, eccentricity, reciprocity, synchronicity and Carson City.
SWAIM: Now, as any veteran of this awards show knows, every year we give out technical awards in the food category before the show and then air taped highlights somewhere in the middle of the ceremony. Unfortunately, this has been a veritable green light for many of you to go outside and smoke your "clove" cigarettes. Well, we're changing things up this year. We'll be showing the highlights of the tech awards right now.
[Rustling in crowd, people excusing themselves.]
SWAIM [over the din]: AND DON'T BOTHER TRYING TO GET OUT—WE'VE BOLTED ALL THE DOORS AND PAID OFF THE FIRE MARSHAL!
[After varied screams and cries, the audience settles back down.]
SWAIM: So, now that we're all paying attention . . . [A large video screen descends from the ceiling as the lights dim.] You know, food is too large a category for just a couple of awards. There are all types of cuisine, all of which are important. That's what the OC Weekly technical awards seek to recognize. They took place last week at the back table of the Arby's on Edinger in Huntington Beach.
[Grainy footage comes onscreen; it appears to be shot with a hand-held video camera.]
SWAIM [onscreen, holding a microphone and pressing something to his ear]: Thank you and welcome. Can you hear me in the back?
[Camera pans back to reveal about eight to 10 people sitting close to SWAIM while other patrons eat their Arby's fare.]
SWAIM: I think we all love chicken pie. And I think we've all found ourselves in the position of looking for a great chicken pie shop. And you're looking and looking, and, oh, you think you've found one! But then when you wander in, it turns out it's a shop that makes prefabricated, portable rowboats. Okay, so now you've discovered you're dyslexic and you still don't have any chicken pie. Well, we have the chicken pie shop for you. It's called—and you might want to get a pencil for this—it's called Chicken Pie Shop, located in Anaheim. That name again: Chicken Pie Shop. See? 'Cause they make and serve chicken pie amidst walls, furnishings and—hey!—waitresses that scream 1955. The prices do, too. For a paltry $3.95, you get a chicken pot pie chock-full of chicken and other pie-related materials like vegetables and chicken-flavored ooze—mmm, ooze . . . Oh, sorry. You also get mashed potatoes, salad and a roll. It's all good. It's all cheap. For dessert, wander into the bakery on your way out, and sample one of the big cookies they sell for mere pennies. That name again, Chicken Pie Shop, or for you dyslexics, CHEKCIN PEI SPOH. Ask for it by mane.
[Smattering of applause.]
SWAIM: Next, we have the fish-taco category. It seems people are always asking me where they can get a great fish taco. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, I've taken this inquiry the wrong way, thought it was some kind of code for something else, which, in a roundabout way, explains why I'm wearing this electronic anklet. Ahem. Some of our staff believe the best fish tacos are at Taco Mesa. They love the salmon tacos, their simple and delicious ways: light flour tortillas stuffed with pink chunks of grilled salmon, covered with papaya butter and juicy papaya relish. They suggest you order two with Mexican rice and black beans. I suggest our staff are out of their minds because everyone knows the best fish tacos are at Wahoo's.
WOMAN SITTING NEXT TO SWAIM: I agree with the sleazeball editor! Wahoo's fish tacos are the epitome of simple mastery. Clean, bursting forth with flavor, delicious with lime and salsa. They're the best.
MAN IN GIANT FOAM COWBOY HAT: Pedestrian! I will allow that Wahoo's has achieved a certain Zen-like balance in their simple construction of the fish taco—I've enjoyed many there myself—but Taco Mesa has pushed the form to a new level. Like Picasso, like Joyce, like Magic Johnson, who, as we all know, is the greatest basketball player of all time. Each has taken an accepted and respected form and transformed it into something even better.
WOMAN: Well, I agree with Giant Foam Cowboy Hat Man that Magic is the greatest player of all time. But that's obvious to any thinking person. I mean, you'd have to be a real tool to think otherwise—a gurgling heap of festering goo that believes whatever Nike wants him to. But this has little to do with fish tacos. Then again, when you think about it, Magic's greatest strength was his mastery of the fundamentals—ball handling, passing, vision—of his particular art. That's exactly what Wahoo's has done.
GIANT HAT: Uh, excuse me, the man's name is "Magic," not "Basic." His legacy is Showtime—excitement, flash, innovation—and that's what you get in a Taco Mesa fish taco. A melding of spectacular ingredients to create an even more spectacular taco.
WOMAN: I love you.
GIANT HAT: I know.
[They begin getting it on. Camera zooms in for a closeup. You leave the room, get a cup of coffee, water a plant, consider the headline in today'sRegister and return to find the couple still at it.]
SWAIM [leering at the couple, is poked by a stick from somewhere behind the camera]: Huh? Oh. I think we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The first meal of the day. [Beginning to leer at the couple again.] A meal to replenish the body after a good . . . long . . . sleep. A real hard sleep. A sleep that goes on for hours and hours and hours. You like that sleep, don't you? Say it! [Poked by stick.] What? Oh. I think we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Our readers and staff think one of the best you can find is at the Original Pancake House, where you can order one of more than 20 specialty pancakes. Our personal favorite is the apple pancake, with its custardy center filled with caramelized apples. Yes, custard and apples, melding into each other in a delicious, naughty dance. Yes, you like that, don't— [Poked with stick.]
SWAIM: And who doesn't like hamburgers? Hamburgers have long been a staple of the American diet. Deliciously clogging our arteries, killing us softly with their song of grease. Where is the best burger? Well, my friend, that is something so elemental that every man must decide this for himself. But you'd have to be an idiot not to consider T.K. Burger, where they serve up charbroiled, fully but not overdressed hamburgers that taste so damn good I always order one to take home and eat later when my stomach has made some room—the less said about that the better. With just two locations—one by the pier in Newport Beach and the other on PCH in Huntington Beach—T.K.'s is a study in simplicity. The menu has about five items, almost all of them grilled and wedged into a bun—kind of like Barbra Streisand. You can tell by the way they're carefully flipped and hand-wrapped right in front of you—the burgers, not Streisand—that these cheese-topped masterpieces are made with love. T.K.'s patties are thin enough for each bite to balance itself with the toppings and bun yet thick enough to retain their warm juice. Ah, yes, warm juice. Warm, hot, mind-numbing jui—
[SWAIM is hit with a bucket of cold water.]
SWAIM: Thanks, Davey. So who wants Italian?
WOMAN [pulling a roast beef supreme from her mouth]: I want an Italian!
DIFFERENT WOMAN: Ah, yeah, a warm, juicy Italian, with just a hint of Euro-stench. Uh-huh, momma like! Momma like!
SWAIM: I said Italian, not an Italian, though I do find the irrepressible Roberto Benigni strangely . . . Italian restaurants. Our readers and staff suggest Caffe Piemonte in Tustin, where they serve both lunch and dinner. The ravioli is made fresh daily, and it will be one of the best you've ever tasted. The delicate pasta is filled with lobster and topped with a light tomato sauce or Swiss chard and ricotta with a sage butter sauce. And hey, did someone say pizza?
GUY AT TABLE: No.
SWAIM: Glad you asked because we just love the pizzas at Nick's in Costa Mesa. We think they're the best in Orange County—hell, anywhere. And if you don't believe that, just ask Nick. And if you don't believe Nick, don't tell him. Dear God, don't tell him. All the pies taste as if the ingredients were made to order. The crust would make a damn tasty bread without the toppings. But, oh, those toppings: fresh—never-frozen—mozzarella and the same flavorful, homemade tomato sauce used in Nick's amazing pasta dishes. Damn, we're hungry.
MAN BEHIND COUNTER: So am I.
ANOTHER MAN: Me, too. I also have the hunger.
[Their eyes meet, and they start getting it on.]
SWAIM [genuinely moved]: That's great. But what I meant is that when I'm hungry nothing fills me up quicker than metric tons of Mexican food. Delicious, spicy, flavorful Mexican food that you have no idea, really, what's in, and you don't care. Well, you do, but you don't want to know. But it's all good. It's especially good at El Ranchito in La Habra. Go there for three reasons: (1) to watch the tortilla makers do their thing inside glass booths; (2) to max out on the light, flaky chips and succulent salsa; (3) to have the camarones rancheros, a drool-inducing shrimp dish with lots of ingredients I'm not very sure of, though I'm pretty certain I saw some rice. Delish! And a fourth reason: it's in La Habra. This may be the best thing in La Habra, although some have suggested a doughnut shop. . . .
MAN AT ADJOINING TABLE: I don't like the Mexicans. They manipulate my sleep time.
SWAIM: And how! What do you think of Indians?
MAN: They make light of my trousers.
SWAIM [horrified by the discovery]: But you're not wearing trousers.
SWAIM: Anyway, I was talking about India Indians. And the award this year for Best Indian Restaurant goes to India Cook House in Irvine. Buffet is the only way—value and variety-wise—to eat Indian. For $6.95, this restaurant offers a daily lunch buffet with tandoori chicken—its specialty—chicken curry, fried fish, five vegetable dishes, and all the typical sweet and spicy Indian trimmings. Served with fresh garlic naan, the buffet is so good that the Weekly's Calendar editor once stuffed her face there three times in one week.
[Ooohs and aaahs.]
SWAIM: Hey, do you know what my Favori restaurant is?
SWAIM: Hey, hey! I said Favori, not favorite. I bet you all feel like jerks. . . . Hey, you ate my curly fries!
[Fight ensues. Camera operator is knocked over, so for the rest of the melee, the camera films nothing but feet. People tussle on the floor, punching and eating scraps that fall from the tables. Screams of "That's my horseradish!" are heard. Video cuts out; it comes back on with a disheveled, agitated SWAIM.]
SWAIM: . . . And that's the name of that tune! What? Oh, yeah—the best Vietnamese restaurant is Favori Restaurant in Santa Ana. As anyone familiar with Vietnamese haute cuisine knows, it has a distinct French influence. At Favori, there aren't just dozens of traditional Vietnamese meals to choose from but a host of French plates, too, which makes it the best East-meets-West dining experience in Orange County. So, there: Are you happy, you hogs? This technical awards show is over!
[The lights go up and the screen ascends. Stunned silence.]
SWAIM [back at podium]: Don't mess with the man's curly fries. . . . You know, ladies and gentlemen, if the technical awards taught us anything, it's that very big problems can come from very small spirochetes, and that everyone loves gelato . . . [Pauses, looks up at director's booth.] HOW DID GOING TO ARBY'S TEACH US THAT EVERYONE LOVES GELATO?
SWAIM: Jeez! Here's Ken Widmann's report on the Best Gelato place around. Ken?
[A screen rises behind SWAIM like a white-hot sun.]
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss OC Weekly's biggest stories. Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts