Jun 26, 2014

Mexican Food with a Fine Dining Twist - Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen

Stumbled upon this Mexican restaurant close to the roundabout area in old town Orange. 

Never really ventured into Orange during dinner hours, it's actually quite happening here at night, with some live music playing in the background and pretty lighting throughout the area.

Please spare the grainy pictures since they were taken during evening hours with my iPhone.

It's not the typical Mexican joint where you can find tacos and burritos served by one of the family members. In fact, it's kind of a romantic place with professional servers and a fully equipped bar in the back. 

Not mentioning its trendy wall decor resembling the art work by Dale Chihuly on the ceiling of Bellagio Las Vegas -

There are also some large paintings on the wall -

We were situated in the corner right next to the bar. Small table but at a cozy area in the middle of the restaurant, a good place for people watching -

Very cool bar, makes me want to order a drink no matter what -

Colorful chips and salsa -

Menu (click for enlarged view) -

Valentine's Day special menu -

Entrée - 

Drinks menu -

Wine menu -

House margarita $8 -

White peach mojito $11 -

They also have other fun flavors such as guava and pomegranate.

From my memory that they don't serve regular water, otherwise I rarely order bottled water. Here's glass bottled Sole water for $6. I know. -

Ceviche Yucatan -

"Shrimp, mahi mahi, cara cara oranges, jalapeño, Persian cucumber, avocado, and chicharron."

Nice combination of seafood and cara cara oranges. The dressing is not too spicy with slight hint of fruity acidity.

Panuchos de yucatan $12 -

"Puffed tortillas, black beans, achiote pork, avocado, onion escabeche, and habanero salsa."

Refreshing flavors with crunches from the veggies and the tortillas. Fairly large portion for an appetizer. The habanero salsa on the side is deadly but addicting. 

Esencia de citricos $24 -

"Farmed striped bass, roasted asparagus, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, smoky chile arbol, and grilled Meyer lemon."

Nicely cooked fish. The natural sweetness from the vegetables shined through even more after grilling. 

Puerco poc-chuc $19 -

"Kurobuta pork loin, adobo achiote marinade, grilled onions, habanero salsa, platanos, and frijoles negros."

Always love eating cooked plantain with rice. Its sweetness works well with pork and black beans.

This dish also comes with tortillas.

Dessert, rosas y xocolatl $10 -

"Layered chocolate-raspberry cake, rose water custard, champagne sabayon, and sugar dusted flowers."

The description sounds way better than the actual taste. All the ingredients mentioned above didn't quite shine through, it is basically a chocolate cake with a few fancy touches.

Gabbi's is definitely a nice place to go if you're looking for a romantic meal, or simply searching for a chill place to have a drink or two. Food-wise, it has some hits and misses. It can't compare with authentic Mexican food packed with strong seasonings. Flavors are slightly toned down especially on the spicy ingredients used. However, Chef Gabbi Patrick (thus the restaurant name "Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen") put a few twists and created somewhat different kind of Mexican food. 

It all depends on what you are looking for from a meal, Gabbi's can be a charming place to start the night. I would love to come back again, sitting by the colonial style bar with a few munchies on the side.

Cindy's Rating: 6

Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen
141 South Glassell Street 
Orange, CA 92866
(714) 633-3038

Jun 19, 2014

With Such High Quality Matsuzaka Pork, All You Need to Do is Sear Sear Sear!

You can always find frozen Matsuzaka/Matsusaka pork 松阪豬 in my household. This part of the meat is obtained from the sides of pig's neck, and one pig only yields two little pieces. The beautiful marbled fat on the meat tells it all. The texture is very tender and when cooked right, you can even tear the pork apart without chewing. 

My parents like to order large quantity of pre-sliced Matsuzaka pork directly from the vendor and stock up in the freezer. Usually we get thinly sliced Matsuzaka pork and mostly cooked in shabu shabu or quick stir fry styles. This time, they specifically asked for thick cut Matsuzaka pork and man...it was double the awesomeness. The meat is still very tender but also carries a nearly crunchy/chewy texture after searing. The fat is clean, crisp, and not greasy at all. With such high quality pork, all you need to do is sear, sear, and sear!

Seared Matsuzaka pork served with pepper salt mix -


  • 0.5 lb of thick cut Matsuzaka pork
  • 1 lemon or 2 kumquat
  • Some pepper salt mix (can be substitute with yuzukosho)


Cut the Matsuzaka pork into 1 inch wide strips. Don't worry about the difficulties trying to bite into the pork after cooking. For such high fat content part of the pork, the meat can be easily separated with just a little force from the teeth. 

Use a grill pan and turn to medium high heat. There is no need to brush the pan with oil. Simply add in the pork slices and sear each side till slightly golden browned. Watch out for the heat during the process. If the fire is too low, the pork won't be able to cook through. If the fire is too high, you'll get the grill marks too soon while the center remains under-cooked.

Once ready, serve the seared pork with Taiwanese pepper salt mix 胡椒鹽 or Japanese yuzukosho 柚子胡椒. Also serve with few wedges of lemon or a better alternative - halved kumquat. *Kumquat matches well with Taiwanese pepper salt mix.

Perhaps with additional one or two bottles of beer?  

The grill marks helps bringing out the clean and meaty aroma from the pork. It also adds a slightly crunchy texture when biting into the tender meat. The acidity from the lemon wedges or kumquat also gives a refreshing citrusy finish to this simple dish. Not a bad side dish or appetizer choice in this hot and sweaty summer time.

Jun 12, 2014

Summer Bites: Brioche Burger with Seared Tuna and Sriracha Uni Sauce

It's truly a blessing when friends around me are all great cooks. We were having a burger cook-off over the weekend and the results were restaurant quality, actually, even better than professionally made burgers. There were a wide variety of burgers including all time favorite beef, bacon, and sausages. Healthier options such as Portobello buns and turkey burgers are also available. On the more exotic side, we have ground lamb burger and my creation of seared tuna burger.

The recipe here is the toned down version of the seared tuna burger. I actually added even few more pieces of fresh uni and torched them till slightly burned before serving to my friends. Please do the same if budget allows, the more uni in the burger the merrier. 

Ingredients (for 4)?

  • 0.35 lb of sashimi grade tuna
  • 0.25 lb of fresh uni
  • 4 mini brioche buns
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple
  • 1/2 lime
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter 
  • 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground green peppercorn
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Sriracha
  • Small bundle of cilantro 
  • Some olive oil
  • Some sea salt


Blend the uni with 1/4 teaspoon of Sriracha and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt with a food processor. Once ready, scoop out the sauce and store in the fridge first.

Cut the Roma tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Cut into smaller squares and mix with about 2 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground green peppercorn.

Peel the Granny Smith apple and cut half of it into tiny squares. Brush with some lime juice to prevent from browning while also adds a touch of citrus aroma at the same time.

Carefully slice each brioche buns in half and brush the inside with some room temperature butter. Heat up the buns with buttered side down on the grill till browned. Do not press down the buns and make sure to keep an eye on it. These buttery buns tend to get burned fairly quickly. 

The sashimi grade tuna I got came in one medium sized rectangular piece. Brush all sides with some olive oil and sprinkle with some salt. Transfer to a non-stick pan and turn to medium heat. Sear till all sides are semi-cooked but the center remains pinkish. Remove from heat and let it rest for couple minutes. Slice the fish, about 1 cm or 0.3 inch thickness. 

To assemble, take half of the bun and top with tomato/cilantro mixture. Line about 3 pieces of seared tuna over the tomatoes -

Top the tuna with Granny Smith apple and drizzle with Sriracha uni sauce -

Add a few more pieces of uni if possible, make sure to torch the uni till the edges are slightly burned in order to further release the aroma.

Top with the other half of the buttery and airy brioche bun before serving. It's a pretty delicate burger so do not press it down like a hearty beef burger. 

The cook-off was a success. It doesn't matter who makes the best burger, it's the process that brings the most fun of it. But of course all these delicious creations were definitely a big plus of the event. Happy tummy indeed.

Jun 6, 2014

Fusion Pasta Recipe: Creamy and Garlicky Kimchi Pork Spaghetti

I was going to use Chinese chives and garlic cloves for this pasta recipe. However, finding fresh garlic stems at a local grocery store was a pleasant surprise because it was nowhere to be found over the past few months. So the recipe now changes from chives and garlic cloves to solely garlic stems. 

If you can't find garlic stems, simply substitute with 1 big bundle of Chinese chives and about 4 cloves of garlic. The result will be just as good but with a different touch of herbal scent. Still equally garlicky no matter what. 

Creamy and garlicky kimchi pork spaghetti -

Ingredients (4 to 6 portion)?

  • 1 pack/500 grams/17.6 oz of spaghetti
  • 2 cups of kimchi (Korean pickled Napa cabbage) 
  • 12/small bundle garlic stems
  • 4 fresh red chilies
  • 1.3 lbs thick cut pork belly
  • Some toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 tea spoon freshly ground black pepper

Kimchi sauce blend:

  • 2 cups of kimchi and some of its pickled juice
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil


Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add a few pinches of salt. Add in the spaghetti and cook till nearly al dente in texture. The pasta should be slightly harder than al dente because we will finish cooking it in kimchi sauce afterwards. Once the spaghetti is ready, drain well and set aside for later use. Try to save about one cup of pasta water in case we need to dilute the sauce.

Chop off and discard the roots from the garlic stems. Chop the remaining into about 2 inch long pieces. Take a few stems and finely chop the tips to use as garnish, about few tablespoons.

Chop off and discard the chili stems, and finely chop the remaining. Chop 2 cups of kimchi into bite size pieces first if needed. Cut the thick pork slices into chunks.

Take a food processor and add in all the ingredients under the kimchi sauce blend section. Blend till smooth. The sauce should be on the saltier side, taste and see if more salts are needed.

Add the pork belly into a big pan and turn to medium high heat. Cook till the fat starts to render, takes about 10 minutes for me. The pork belly is ready when the edges starts to burn and appear in caramel brown color. 

Add in the garlic stems, chilies, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Give it a quick stir and cook till the stems soften. It might take a few more minutes compared to cooking chives, since the garlic stems I got looks pretty tough. We need to break down the fiber in order to get a smoother bite.

Add in 2 cups of kimchi and mix well.

Pour in the sauce blend and bring to a boil. Finally, transfer the spaghetti into the mixture and cook till al dente in texture. 

Garnish the spaghetti with some finely chopped garlic stems and sprinkle with some toasted white sesame seeds. 

Drizzle a few drops of sesame oil over the pasta if a stronger aroma is preferred. 

You can tastes and feel the tiny bits of kimchi pieces and whipping cream curdles clinging onto the spaghetti, that's the yummy part that can't be missed, packed with flavors!