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Chanko nabe, a.k.a. sumo stew, is the thing I crave when the temperature dips below 50 degrees and it starts to rain. It is, like all hot pot dishes, cold weather food. But this dish, which is famous because it’s what Japanese sumo wrestlers eat to bulk up, is also pure comfort food. The problem is that there’s only one restaurant in OC that serves it: Torizo in Fountain Valley.

Fortunately, chanko nabe is not very hard to make at home. The broth can be dashi or chicken broth, flavored with sake or mirin, but the recipe is not hard set. So long as you have lots of vegetables and lots of protein, you can make chanko nabe and, most importantly, make it your own.

I’m not going to give you my recipe for the meatballs because I basically followed the one outlined by one of my favorite YouTube cooking shows, Cooking with Dog. Also, I don’t need to tell you what other ingredients I dumped into my pot, because you can see it arranged in some sort of order in the video I shot above.

I follow the rule that anything that works well in a shabu shabu pot is fabulous in a chanko nabe. As they never overcook, mushrooms are ideal. And for me, tofu is always required. But the most important ingredient of all? Heat. Constant heat. Everything has to be piping hot from the first morsel to the last drop.

I once had an office mate who’d make a face when he saw me eating cold pizza for breakfast. For him, the first meal of the day couldn’t be more complicated than cereal. Anything possessing flavor or was the least bit savory was disagreeable to him. "It’s too early!" he’d say.

I thought about him as I slurped this sotanghon chicken soup for breakfast at Jollibee. I’m not sure how often it is eaten for breakfast in the Philippines, which is the country from which Jollibee hails; but I know that soto, one of my favorite Indonesian breakfast dishes, is a soup of similar constitution.

In fact, the components of Jollibee’s dish is almost identical to soto. You’ve got bits of boiled chicken, translucent bean thread noodle, and a hot, mildly-spiced broth that ties it all together. You’re even supposed to squeeze a lemon into it, which is also what you do to soto. The only thing missing is the rice.

More than anything, eating this soup brought me back to the last time I was in Semarang, Indonesia. We’d get up at the crack of dawn while the early morning air around us was still cold and dewy. We’d walk to our family’s favorite soto stand, a roadside shack covered in tarp.

At $90 a pop, this is probably the most expensive 9-inch birthday cake I’ve ever bought. And it’s not the first time I’ve bought it. It’s from Lady M, which, to my knowledge, is the only bakery in these parts that offers such an item–a cake made up of at least twenty individual crepes layered on top of each other, one-by-one, whipped cream in between.

As you may remember from my previous post, they call themselves not a cake bakery, but a “cake boutique”. Also they post a uniformed guard outside the door as though what they’re selling was made of diamonds and gold instead of flour and sugar.

It was from speaking to the unusually formal-sounding phone representative–who I imagine is sequestered in an all-white room located in an all-white tower in Midtown Manhattan–that I found out they won’t write "Happy Birthday" on the cake for you unless you pre-order and pay at least two days in advance.

She told me that to reserve a cake (which I was going to pick up that same afternoon), I’d have to pay for it now, over the phone. She asked for my credit card, which was immediately charged the $90. When I got the receipt via text, it said that all sales are final.

I point this out not because I am opposed to paying up front nor the fact that this is the only bakery I know of that insists on full payment for reservations; I point this out because it made me uneasy that they’ve now got all my credit card information scribbled on a random piece of paper. I was also told (not asked) to bring a photo ID when it came time to pick up the cake.

When I went to the store to pick up the cake, I saw, for the first time, that the uniformed guard wasn’t at the door. I walked up to the cashier, showed her my ID, and saw her pull out a three-ring binder in which my credit card information was written in pen.

As this blog’s purpose is to highlight great places to eat rather than tearing the bad ones just for giggles, I’ve decided not to name the sushi bar I’m reviewing here. But there should be plenty of clues to tell you which restaurant I’m talking about.

Things started well. The ingeniously-placed mirrors in the waiting area, which is separated from the bar and the dining room, had the effect of disorienting me like I was in a carnival fun house. And then there was the professional appearance of the staff. The chefs wore blue kimono uniforms while the waitresses, red ones. Blonde wood slats surrounded the booths and the whole interior design evoked the rustic presence of a well-kept Japanese country inn. The place looked like another Honda-Ya, one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Orange County.

We began with something called "bonta", a sort of Scotch egg-like concoction. They were quail eggs encased in balls of shrimp, which were deep fried and served on a small hill of tempura crumbs. As I dipped them into its mayo and piquant red pepper sauce, I realized I liked them so much I told myself I need to come back and have more during Happy Hour, when it’s discounted by half.

After that, things slowly slid from being merely mediocre to deeply disappointing. The sashimi platter–a standard assortment of salmon, ahi, hamachi, yellowtail and albacore–was sliced with no uniformity. Some parts were fat and others thin as carpaccio. The presentation was also lacking, looking as though it was just slapped together in haste and only slightly more appetizing than a Sea World chum bucket.

Then the nigiri part of the omakase combo set came, which was the most disappointing of all. It was a repeat of the same roster of fish I had already eaten in the sashimi box, of which, at this point, I had already grown tired and bored. But the rice was barely there and what was present was gummy. Worse, the method in which the fish were cut was again haphazard and sloppy. Some pieces were ragged; some were as thick as slabs. And the flavor and consistency was on par with what I’ve had at those all-you-can-eat sushi emporiums, which isn’t a compliment.

Maybe I should’ve ordered the dinner combo with the cooked dishes. Maybe I should’ve stuck with the rolls, such as "Orange City" named after the burg in which this restaurant is located. Or maybe I should’ve known better that a place that dabbles in Groupons (which I used) and offered free ice cream with a Yelp check-in (which I did) would not and could not, in any way, measure up to the Sushi Noguchis and Nana Sans of the world.