On the Line: Chrystal Nguyen And Anh Phamtran Of Cubed Poke

Focusing on the details.
Focusing on the details.
Photo by Brian Feinzimer

When did we become such a poke-centric county? Not that I'm complaining; I am certainly a fan of cool seafood when the temperatures rise outside. And now that there's a new spot at The District's Union Market, I just had to learn more about Cubed. Now you will, too.

Your earliest food memory:
Chrystal Nguyen: Watching my dad cook. He would always ask us after if it was good. And when we said "Yes.", he would say, "Of course! It was made with love!"
Anh Phamtran: Coming from a huge family, my father had eight siblings and mother had four. We always had family events that centered around food, so earliest food memory would have to be eating stew on a folding table in our backyard.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
C.N.: Asian food. There is such a strong Asian presence in Orange County, it only makes sense that Orange County offers the most diverse and authentic varieties of Asian food.
A.P.: Orange County has the best Asian restaurants, especially Vietnamese restaurants. I love how chefs are being extremely creative with pho.

How does Cubed differentiate itself from competing poke concepts?
A.P.: We allow our customers to be chefs by providing high-quality ingredients and options to make their own poke fully customizable poke bowls. Our customers even have the option of mixing our spices and sauces.

What other dishes do you plan to add to the menu?
A.P.: Cooked poke bowls for customers who aren't in the mood for raw items.

Tell us about the Chex mix for dessert. Who suggested it, and how did you select the white chocolate matcha flavor?
A.P.: I did because Chrystal has a huge sweet tooth. It's a play on the classic Chex mix recipe with an Asian twist.

Chrystal: As a fellow hospitality graduate, what skills have you applied to running the operation?
C.N.: I have learned customer service and anticipating their needs plays a major role in running any operation. At Cubed, we want our customers to come away with an experience that keeps them coming back. A big part of that is knowing that our patrons are very savvy when it comes to food, which is why we strive to provide the best ingredients and options to them. Customer service has been indispensable here. A happy customer is the livelihood of Cubed.

One food you can't live without.
C.N.: Sushi. I love sushi because I like the light, delicate cuisine that goes so well with a wide variety of different flavors. Fusion sushi is versatile, and is continuously experimenting with different ingredients and is one of our inspirations in creating Cubed. We hope to be a front runner in this niche by pushing the limit of flavor profiles and using the freshest ingredients.
A.P.: I cannot live without cereal. Cereal is simply comforting and filling— what a meal should be.

Lasting thing you looked up online:
C.N.: Best business practices. Starting a new business continuously presents different situations and problems. I am always looking to improve not only my business, but myself. 
A.P.: The newest Japanese craze, Japanese-style pizza. But don't think dough and cheese.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
C.N.: Don't forget to add the little things like a dash of pepper or lemon zest. The small details can make a big difference in flavor. 

Anh: What recipes did you husband's "Gran" pass along to you? And do you or your husband have a favorite to make?
A.P.: Infamous teriyaki sauce, loco moco, spam musubi (there's a real technique) . . .just making good food with a Japanese/Hawaiian attitude. He loves Japanese curry. That might just show up on our menu one day.

Chrystal and Anh - all smiles
Chrystal and Anh - all smiles
Photo by Brian Feinzimer

When you're not in the restaurant, what are you doing in your free time?
C.N.: I'm always at the restaurant right now (laughs). But when I do get some free time, I like hanging out with family and friends as well.
A.P.: Always with my family and friends, surrounded by food, drinks and fun.

Where was your most recent meal?
C.N.: My last meal was a while back and was actually California Shabu Shabu in Fountain Valley. I had their beef shabu shabu.
A.P.: Finally a date night with my husband, we had Kali in LA. Everything was delicious, but the chef did something magical with an egg yolk. Somehow he candied an egg yolk in equal arts salt and sugar, which complemented this light gelato. It was creamy, rich and magical.

Tell us something most people don't know about you.
C.N.
: I'm a huge camper. I love the outdoors, and we usually go camping two to three times a year with my family and friends.
A.P.: Hidden talent - I can cut a pineapple pretty quickly.

Where are your favorite places to eat?
C.N.: Anjin, California Shabu Shabu, Hamamori. I guess you can say I really like Japanese food.
A.P.: Miranda in Fountain Valley. Home-style Vietnamese food or Mil Jugos for their arepas and green sauce. Those close early, so if you are trying to go in the evening— get ready for an early dinner. 

You're making breakfast; what are you having?
C.N.: Breakfast burritos or pancakes.
A.P.: I like to keep it simple. Usually fruits, yogurt or cereal.

What's your favorite childhood memory?
C.N.: Swimming pool; can't beat the California weather.
A.P.: Always being at a sunny Californian beach and eating (literally) a SANDwich from our blue Igloo cooler.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
C.N.
: Balancing your work and personal life while opening a business. 

Cubed is located at 2493 Park Ave, Unit 18, Tustin, (714) 258-8182; www.cubedpoke.com.

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