Shuji's Top Five Restaurants for 2012

Lucca's lemon curd

We wrap up the waning weeks of every year with a list of our favorite restaurants. Normally, I pick a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a small menu and a narrow specialty where you can pick any random dish and come up a winner. Looking at my list for 2012, your odds are not as heavily stacked. The common theme among my winners is that each brought out a sleeper of a dish from that blew me backward like Bruce Lee's one-inch punch.

In no particular order, here are my top five that delivered a knockout blow.

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Former Filling Station Owners Open Juliette Kitchen & Bar

Courtesy Juliette Kitchen & Bar

When John Hughes and Hyun-Sook (Juliette) Chung, the husband-and-wife original owners of Orange's Filling Station sold their restaurant in 2010, we broke the news with a heavy heart. Chung, the woman behind the best pies in Orange County had burned out from being a one-woman bake shop. But we just got word that they've taken over the former Traditions by Pascal space in Newport Beach, and will open Juliette Kitchen & Bar next Friday.

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Pandor Boulangerie Brings French Breads to Newport Beach

Pandor Boulangerie opens this week
Though we have lots of great ethnic food in Orange County, great French food is hard to come by. Spurred by the dirth of worthwhile French breads in these Orange Acres, Raffi and Tiffany Sepetjian decided to open a bakery and make their own. Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Café opened Monday in Newport Beach's Westcliff Plaza.

Click here to see yesterday's slideshow of Pandor's beautiful pastries and café menu.

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A Slice of NY Pizza Opens (Finally!) in Huntington Harbour

The Seal Beach store, not the new HB store!
Any time we hear of a new restaurant's opening, we have a healthy fistful of salt on hand. Good intentions and strict timetables always seem to get waylaid by construction delays or permitting issues. So it is with A Slice of NY Pizza's second location, which opened this past weekend in Huntington Harbour.

We reported the news of the expansion last July. The managers of the Seal Beach location told us it was supposed to open some time in September. We checked back in November, and there were still not open due to construction delays. Honestly, we stopped making the periodic phone calls to check in, so many thanks to tipster CynD for news of this weekend's grand opening.

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OC BBQ Festival This Weekend! Extends to 2 Days

Eat competition-grade ribs and you too can be THIS happy
Orange County's longest-running and best-attended barbecue contest returns to the Fairgrounds this Saturday June 9, and Sunday June 10. I have participated as either a cook or a judge in every edition since 2007, and I'm proud to see this home-grown event expand each year. Close to 70 teams from all over the West Coast compete in the Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned contest, which sets a record for the largest ever organized in California.

This year, the event is a two-day affair. This event was among the first to embrace the People's Choice vote, which allows the public to sample meats from the competitors. These days, most true BBQ contests in Southern California offer the public a chance to vote for their favorite team. Five years ago, sanctioned contests tended to be closed off to the public, and you weren't able to ask teams for food because organizers didn't want to hassle with Health Department requirements to feed the public.

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Real Life Homer Simpson Refused More Fish At An All-You-Can-Eat Fish Fry

Sometimes it just doesn't get any better than real life to show you that The Simpsons isn't a parody of America, it IS America. A Wisconsin man who ate a dozen pieces of fish at an all-you-can-eat fish fry was reportedly cut off by the restaurant when he asked for another. The restaurant says they were simply running out.

To placate the insatiable customer, the restaurant sent him home with eight more pieces of fish, but the guy, still unsatisfied, called the cops and is now picketing the restaurant with a sign that says "Poor Business Practices." Now, does that sound like a man who had all he could eat?

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First Taste: Izakaya Ku Opens in Fountain Valley

Introducing the Ku Roll

After months of anticipation and delays, Fountain Valley's Izakaya Ku held its grand opening on May 1. The new restaurant takes its name from the kanji character for "eat," and sets up shop along a short stretch of Brookhurst Street I'm naming Izakaya-Dōri, the street of Japanese pubs. They're nestling into a neighborhood where Kappo Honda and Shin Sen Gumi Robatayaki already have a strong following.

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Become a Certified BBQ Judge!

BBQ judges at the Dana Point BBQ Championships
​The last time we talked BBQ for the New Year's Eve contest at Knott's Splash Mountain, I promised you an inside view of the judges' tent of a sanctioned barbecue contest. This week: a video and a discussion of how competition barbecue is scored, plus information on where you can become a certified barbecue judge in Southern California next month!

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Shuji's Top Five Restaurants for 2011

Tacos & Carnitas Sahuayo

It's the time of year again when I select a short list of five favorite restaurants. I love places with a tiny menu, tightly focused on producing one thing or variations on the thing at which they excel. Often, that specialist is an ethnic hole-in-the wall, but this year, I've also chosen two somewhat more upscale restaurants that excel at their particular brand of obsession.
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Recipe Results in Explosions and Lawsuit

Fire Prevention Week 2009
Flickr user heraldpost

A cautionary tale to cookbook authors, publishers and recipe-writers (oh hey, that's me) everywhere: don't instruct your readers to deep-fry with oil so hot it'll cause explosions, fire and maim your trusting audience.

Hispanically Speaking News reports that yesterday, Chile's Supreme Court upheld a ruling that the daily newspaper La Tercera must pay damages to 13 people injured in explosions that resulted by following their 2004 directions for a fritters recipe.

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