Dave's Top Five Dishes of 2009

Dave's Top Five Dishes of 2009EXPAND
Dave Lieberman

It was a great year for eating, honestly it was. I had to whittle this list down from a hundred (sixty of which were in OC), and that was without having to dig too deep. Anyone who thinks OC is a wasteland of Cheesecake Factories and fast-food drive-throughs is, not to put too fine a point on it, in desperate need of reëducation.

For one of my New Year's resolutions, incidentally, I intend to try one of these tacos acorazados from Alebrije's, because if both Gustavo and Edwin rave about them, there's something to be said for them.

Also, honorable mention must go to the coconut sambal that Gustavo talked about at Wadiya. It got knocked off my list by my #5, but it is a force to be reckoned with. String hoppers (floppy, lacy patties of rice vermicelli) and coconut sambal is a meal all in its own; sprinkle some of it in Wadiya's excellent egg hoppers (crêpe bowls with an egg cooked in the bottom) and it's even better.

My list is in reverse order, saving the best for last.

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5. Smoked salmon plate at Break of Dawn: This place is the finest breakfast in Orange County, bar none. It's worth the punishing drive from the Westside of L.A., it's that good. There are dozens of delicious things to eat at this little place tucked away in a strip mall ten feet off the San Diego Freeway, but while Gustavo covets the Portuguese sausage plate, my vote goes to the platter of smoked salmon. Smoked salmon worthy of Russ and Daughters (and as an East Coast transplant I don't give that laud lightly), paired with absolutely the most perfectly poached eggs I have ever had anywhere on the planet, an herbal sauce and a creamy sauce, all atop a disc of pan-fried oatmeal that contributes an essential ground to the whole dish. Anyone who can create such a dish is clearly a genius.

4. Mul naengmyon at Shik Do Rak: While Shik Do Rak advertises itself as the original home of dduk bo ssam (literally, rice cakes for wrapping) and is a barbecue restaurant through-and-through, they have some of the best naengmyon in OC. Mul naengmyon is a dish of chewy buckwheat noodles in cold broth with a hard-boiled egg, a couple of pieces of beef, a slice of Korean pear, some sliced cucumber and some pickled radish. It comes in a steel bowl, so cold there are chips of ice floating on top. You doctor the dish with the provided squeeze bottles of tangy vinegar and sinus-clearing Korean mustard (called gyeoja, in case you need to ask for it). When it's a hundred-plus in our inland cities and we're choking on smog blown out of the IE by the devil winds, a huge bowl of this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

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