Edwin's Top Five Restaurants of 2012!
3. Izakaya Ku
When you order the mackerel dish at Izakaya Ku expect the waiter to show up with a hand-held flamethrower. The blue flame will lick the slab of mackerel as tenderly as a lover's tongue, the oily skin will sputter and hiss. Fine spatters of grease will fly like sparks, and just as the smoke will begin to rise, it will be done. He'll push the still-fuming plate toward you and tell you a dip in soy sauce will be all it needs. The fish will be delicate, the surgical cuts made so that each piece comes loose from the whole. It will be as if you were taking apart an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. In the middle of each morsel a shallow slit allows you to tuck in a dab of mustard. The welding torch may well have burned itself a permanent spot in your retinas, but so will this dish in your memories.
2. Mare Culinary Lounge
You know you're in for a good meal at any of Alessandro Pirozzi's restaurants, but Mare Culinary Lounge seems to overachieve. The venison filet mignon, two cubes the size of a baseball sitting on opposite sides of an oblong plate, was red meat epitomized: the outside burnished close to char, the inside a sinew-free crimson soft enough to be cut into by the dullest spatula. And then there was the way it was served: each piece perched atop a warmed, halved peach in which a sweet/tart port wine reduction pooled into the wells left by the pits. Who knew that peaches are to deer meat as apples are to pork chops? Or that amarena cherries, which Italians preserve with sugar for topping ice cream, work even better in a game meat-centered main course? In the middle of the plate, cupped in a rigid basket made from deep-fried pasta sheets, were the golden, home-style potatoes I remember fondly from Pirozzi's other Laguna Beach restaurant, Alessá. I've always been a sucker for crispy, buttery, fried potatoes, and these were pretty damn close to perfect, which is exactly what I have to say about the restaurant.
15361 Culver Drive, Irvine, CA