Break of Dawn Part II

As previously discussed: birthday brunch, stew for breakfast, etc. and so forth.

Now, here’s everything else. We like to share our food.

Starters: Hawaiian Sausage, Tempura Eggs, Homemade Braised Bacon

Excellent sausage seems to a focal point at Break of Dawn, appearing not just in an à la carte starter but several entrées as well. Hawaiian Sausage is a rich, porky, and spicy (not so much hot as just well spiced) experience. So in other words, my kind of sausage. The herby sauce underneath and crispy coleslaw-like accompaniment beside both go very well, again demonstrating the extensive thought put into everything on the menu.

Tempura Eggs seem more reminiscent of something a ramen place might introduce as a special topping, as a twist on the usual soy sauce egg perhaps, but here it is a wonderful starter. They were perfectly cooked with a crispy crust and still-runny yolks. It’s a simple enough combination, the tempura batter and an egg, but it’s a great pairing.

The Homemade Braised Bacon is house cured, cut very thick, and served with a house-made ketchup. Expertly cooked and finished with a nice crisp on the surfaces and perfectly activated fatty parts.

The Vietnamese coffee and mimosas were also excellent.

Entrées: Kabocha Squash, Green Eggs

The eponymous kabocha is just a single component of the beautifully smooth bisque served with shrimp and chicken egg rolls. For an avid soup lover like my mom, this dish was a perfect breakfast. And who doesn’t like egg rolls?

One could call the Green Eggs a more conventional breakfast dish, but Break of Dawn elevates this dish to a level far beyond any regular ham and eggs. The ham is house-cured, and the green comes from the Thai Basil pesto, which I surprisingly enjoyed as part of the dish. Poached eggs and steamed-then-fried potatoes round out the plate wonderfully.

Deserts: Cinnamon Bun, French Toast Crème Brûlée

I love cinnamon buns. I don’t eat enough of them. Nicely presented with a coffee and almond glaze lending nice nutty notes and aromatics from the coffee with whipped cream melting on top.

I love french toast too. I eat it even less than cinnamon buns though. This french toast is solidly in desert territory, though, with Mexican chocolate sauce lining the bottom of the plate and soy caramel. Of course the french toast itself was great, with the requisite crust and moist middle and all that.

Overall, I loved every presentation, as well as the food itself, of course. So often one sees presentations that are overwrought or trying too hard, but Break of Dawn’s plates are neither of those.

Break of Dawn: Kangaroo Sausage

After quite a long time of hearing about Break of Dawn and having friends highly recommend it to us, we finally tried it! We loved it, of course.

Now I’m always the first to come to Orange County’s defense when someone starts calling it a “culinary wasteland” or “land of chain restaurants” (those are both actual insults I’ve heard), but even I was surprised that a restaurant of this caliber is nestled in the quiet, slightly rundown Laguna Hills Mall. We met friends for a birthday brunch, and as soon as we sat down, we were off. The attentive waiters immediately took orders for starters and drinks (see Break of Dawn Part II).

Interestingly, this was one of the few times I had difficulty deciding what to get. Everything sounded, and looked, as I could see on surrounding tables, great. But a closer reading of the menu turned up a surprise. Beef tongue!

The name of the dish may not shed much light on its actual form, but I sprung at the not-so-common chance to eat one of my favorite meats in a non-Mexican setting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very pleased with what was set before me: a stew! Yes, a stew for breakfast. I can honestly say I had never thought of that, and I have had some unique things to break my fast. I’m probably more surprised than I should be, to which I can only say “I am as god made me.”

Upon eating, I was even more surprised to find flavor the likes of which I hardly ever find outside of my house and my mom’s cooking. The dish obviously had much thought put into its construction and preparation. Everything had its place. The beans, the two proteins, the romano cheese, and even the egg all played in the orchestra that was playing the symphony of flavors in this dish, conducted by Chef Dee Nguyen.

Cajun baked beans, beef tongue, fava, bourbon, romano.

Cajun baked beans, beef tongue, fava, bourbon, romano. The crust (I use that term with love) of rustic bread was a nice touch too.

Umami Burger’s Manly Burger

Again, another place that’s been popular for a long time but I’m only just trying.

Still, a great burger! It hit all the major points: well formed and cooked patty, good balance between components, and it paired well with a good dark beer, which happened to be Bootlegger’s Black Phoenix (it was the darkest available). For me, a good burger, regardless of where it’s from, always has umami in its flavor profile. At the very least, a patty prepared with good meat and cooked correctly should be a little umami by nature. The beer cheddar is an excellent burger cheese with enough sharpness to be noticed in the mix, and the smoked-salt onion strings impart a pleasant flavor that is between that of raw and grilled, as well as an always enjoyable fried flavor. And of course nothing needs to be said about the benefits of bacon lardons, house made ketchup and mustard, and a good bun. I though the “U” burned into the top was cool too.

Beer-cheddar cheese, smoked-salt onion strings, bacon lardons, umami ketchup, mustard spread. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

The Habit Burger Grill

While Taqueria Guadalupana’s torta lengua is my favorite individual sandwich, burgers are my favorite kind of sandwich. People don’t always think of a burger as a sandwich in the same way as, say, a club sandwich, but you can’t deny it. A burger is just stuff between bread.

Burgers have been my go-to choice when I need to make a quick menu decision (at non-Mexican places, where I’d get a torta). My favorite burger will always be whichever one we most recently made at home, but I still love a good burger from anywhere.

My most recent burger adventure was at The Habit Burger Grill, a small chain originally from Santa Barbara. In classic burger parlor fashion, one’s ordering process begins with the choice between a single or double burger. The menu has several pre-set variations, including a teriyaki pineapple burger, and several more optional toppings. Of note is the by-default grilled onions; I recommend getting extra. I ordered the Double Char with bacon, avocado, Swiss cheese, and extra grilled onions. Well formed and cooked patties, quality toppings, and good construction made for a great burger.

Definitely one of the better looking burgers I’ve had. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

But The Habit doesn’t stop at burgers. Fantastic, hand-made shakes fill out the, in my opinion, classic burger-and-a-shake equation.

I could hardly eat a burger without a nice cold chocolate shake within easy reach.

Drinks are never much to look at, but I could hardly eat a burger without a nice cold chocolate shake within easy reach.

Taqueria Guadalupana: Torta Lengua

Taqueria Guadalupana is my all time favorite Mexican place, and consistently in my top 5 restaurants of all time. This is the place where I first had lengua many years ago, in torta form, and I haven’t gotten anything else there since. While the lengua is, of course, the star for me, the thing that really elevates this torta is the whole avocado that is simply scooped out of the skin and smashed onto the bread. Taqueria Guadalupana’s lengua is very simply prepared—I don’t taste much of anything other than proper seasoning—so the richness and tang of the tongue really shine.

Torta also with a capital T. Also described by me as "Only the best sandwich ever." Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Torta also with a capital T. Further described by me as “Only the best sandwich ever.” Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

I’ve had trouble finding it in the past, so here’s the Yelp page with the address, map, etc.

This concludes the planned Mexican portion of my tongue survey, unless I somehow happen upon a new place in the next two hours before I go to class.

Seventh Tea Bar’s Alpha Dominche Steampunk

I was happy to be invited to Seventh Tea Bar‘s unveiling of their new piece of tea-making machinery, Alpha Dominche’s Steampunk. The AD Steampunk was originally developed as a new tool for quickly producing consistent cups of coffee, but it turns out that the same machine can put out a great cup of tea, too. No single drink takes more than two minutes, and most don’t even take one minute.

As an avid fan of science fiction, I love the Steampunk. It’s a great example of technology and artistry aligning to both benefit and enhance each other. The Steampunk actually looks pretty steampunk itself, with its glass cauldrons, wood details, and integral touchpad. It’s quite entertaining to watch while you wait, too. I tried two teas from Mountain Tea steeped in Seventh Tea Bar’s Steampunk, FengHuang GuiFei Oolong and Dragonwell. The FengHuang GuiFei oolong has quite a story behind it, involving disaster, a triumphant return, and remembrance, but my favorite factoid about this tea was that a rare species of leaf hopper (or “tea hopper) is allowed to bite the leaves to begin the oxidation process on the actual plant! As for the Dragonwell, the first infusion had a rather distinctive taste. I loved the sour and bitter notes, and it was by no means short on aromatics and richness. Multiple infusions dulled Dragonwell’s initial edge, of course, bringing it down to a a flavor one usually expects from this type of tea, but I’d drink it at any number of infusions.

The machine itself and the two teas I tried.

The machine itself and the two teas I tried. Taken from my Instagram.

El Toro Carniceria: Taco Lengua

El Toro Carniceria of Santa Ana is a very well-known spot at 1st Street and Bristol, a stone’s throw from the hip Arts District. It’s actually a two-part affair, composed of the main store and the smaller prepared food annex. The main store is very useful in its own right, but the tacos, among many other things, come from the prepared-food annex. The annex isn’t tiny, but it fills up fast. El Toro’s lengua has pleasant aromatic notes of cilantro and onion, and, like all their meats, is always cut up to order and steaming hot. Like any taqueria, you can of course get any meat in any form, and everyone has their favorite dish with their favorite meat. The star of any taco from El Toro is definitely the meat, although every component has its place in the dish. Usually, I go for a torta, but the first time I went to El Toro Carniceria, I saw some tacos being made for another customer, but it was how they make their tacos that really appetized me. For a taco lengua, the person behind the counter simply grabs a handful of lengua, kept in large pieces in the case, runs a cleaver through it a couple of times, and scoops it into double-layered house-made corn tortillas. A generous pinch of onion and cilantro finishes the simple, delicious, and massive taco. There are a variety of great salsas available, but for me that just detracts from the simple perfection of the meat, tortillas, onion, and cilantro.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Tacos Ensenada: Wet Burrito Lengua

I have no idea how I did not about Tacos Ensenada before a couple of months ago. I had always thought the area around El Toro and the 5 was something of an culinary wasteland – Guitar Center and Smart & Final were always the main reasons to venture to the area. To illustrate just how bleak my perception of the area was, I can say that I was genuinely happy when Lee’s Sandwiches opened there! Tacos Ensenada is somewhat hidden from view off Raymond, a small side street, in one of the many subdivided shopping centers running along each side of that stretch of El Toro. I don’t usually get wet burritos, but the first time I went there, the person taking our order offered the wet option. Without really thinking, I said yes, and chose green sauce over red. Going to a new place always spurs me to try something new, and it turned out I had no idea what I was missing. The burrito is massive, wet or not, and filled simply with meat, rice, and beans. Wet, it comes covered in melted, not to mention activated, cheese and your chosen sauce. Silverware is, of course, needed.

I did say it was big.

I did say it was big.

Cismontane Brewing Company’s Coulter IPA and Citizen California Common

I think I’m still in the honeymoon phase after turning 21 about 6 months ago, so what better thing to have located a scant 10 minutes from my home than a brewery?

Cismontane Brewing Company is just a couple hundred feet from El Fenix, and mere steps away from Rancho Canyon Music, where I take drum lessons and many of my friends teach. Cismontane always has four core brews, as well as a couple of seasonal or otherwise variable offerings.

The Coulter IPA, one of their four core brews, has a pleasant, citrus-like sourness—lemony, specifically—and it has a noticeable orange hue in the glass.

A rather sour beer. Crisp and refreshing with a nice body and good strength.

Crisp and refreshing with a nice body and good strength.

The Citizen California Common, my favorite Cismontane brew, is a mellower experience than the Coulter. Citizen has a comparable body and mouth feel to the Coulter, but from the first sip you know this is a hoppy beer. I like a hoppy beer.

My idea of a good, all-purpose beer. I can imagine eating this with most anything, but it worked especially well with a burrito lengua from El Fenix.

My idea of a good, all-purpose beer. I can imagine eating this with most anything, but it worked especially well with a burrito lengua from El Fenix.

The warm, inviting tasting room, good friends, and Jenga enhanced with some silly rules make for a wonderful experience. Cismontane actually encourage customers to patronize neighboring eateries and bring food to eat with their beer; the Thai place next door even brings your order right to you in the tasting room!

El Fenix: Burrito Lengua

El Fenix was a godsend when it first opened in little ol’ RSM, but thanks to the city’s weird (or possibly nonexistent) zoning logic, it was slotted in just two doors to the left of a well established Mexican restaurant. Fortunately, El Fenix distinguishes itself from its neighbor not only with far superior food, but with a very useful market, the opening of which spawned my family’s Taco Friday tradition. The Reuben’s Tortilleria tortillas delivered daily, hot off the shelf, their wonderful salsas, and great prepared and pre-marinated meats make every Taco Friday an excellent Taco Friday.

El Fenix’s lengua is a lengua verde—nice chunks of tongue in a slightly spicy green sauce, with the tongue’s richness complementing it nicely. It adds a wonderful saucy element to whatever you use it in. Pictured: burrito lengua with rice, beans, serrano salsa, and guacamole.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it's dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it’s dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

It went very well with Cismontane Brewing Company’s Coulter IPA and Citizen California Common.