“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” | Henry Miller
“ Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you.” Andrew Zimmern
If I could choose what I would love to do the most, it would be to travel the world. I think the most important part of travel is experiencing the culture of others. When I was asked to join a group to explore Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center, I was elated. The Center is located at 2700-2750 Alton Parkway, just off Jamboree Rd., in Irvine, CA. This was my opportunity to travel by tasting delicious food from Asian countries with a travel time of just over an hour from my home. Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle restaurant greeted us with small bowls of Cucumber Salad and Bean Curd Ribbon Salad—just the right pungency to awake our taste buds. Eddy Huang was our host at this family style restaurant and explained that every broth is slow cooked for at least 16 hours, releasing the juices for more flavor. The restaurant sources as much locally as possible and adapts to what is available seasonally.
The first restaurant started by Chef Hung, known as the “King of Taiwanese Beef Noodle”, was in Taiwan, and since then he has won multiple awards in Beef Noodle restaurants. There are ten locations for his restaurants, but at this time there is only one in the United States at Diamond Jamboree. Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle fits perfectly with healthy eating because the dishes are non-salty and contain no additives. But back to the food! Next on our table was placed Deep Fried Tasty Chicken Wings—the crispest wings I have ever tasted. A fascinating dish of Pan Fried Crispy Pancake with Green Onion, both crispy on the outside and soft inside, rounded out the side dishes. Champion Beef Shank with Noodle in Soup, Champion Beef Brisket with Noodle in Clear Soup, and Champion Beef Brisket with Noodle in Tomato Soup exploded in our olfactory senses as they were placed on the tables. These soups are served family style and are large enough for everyone to have some. My favorite was the Beef Shank with Noodle because the broth was very rich due to the slow cooking process that drew out the full flavor of the shank. Interestingly, Sour Cabbage was served on the side for all three soups as a condiment which added a tart note of interest to the soups.
What would a meal be without dessert? Our treat was a Mashed Red Bean Cake topped with toasted sesame seeds, a traditional dessert surprising our mouths by its crunch and then doughiness and springiness. Truly delightful!
Our next stop in international travel at Diamond Jamboree delighted me because I love bakeries, and we were about to try trays of sumptuous pastries at 85C Bakery Café with 750 stores around the world. The original store opened in Taipei. The Diamond Jamboree store was the first store opened in the United States and is the leading store in this country. The store displays over 100 varieties of breads and pastries.
Upon entering the café, our eyes were barraged by a pastry case full of color with a huge assortment of delectable pastries as well as intricately decorated and beautifully presented cakes. Of course our first question was, “From where does the name 85C Bakery come?” We were told that is the perfect temperature at which coffee should be served. Attention to detail is evident, not only from the preciseness of temperature for serving coffee, but by the freshness and beauty of all the pastries. Badi, the area manager and our host, explained to us that baking is performed hourly unlike most bakeries that just bake in the early morning.
Our tasting started with a “must try”, the Sea Salt Iced Coffee. It arrived with a layer of foamy cream on top and was in a sealed glass. We were told to shake the drink and then insert our straw. This was truly a mythical coffee drink! Next on our table appeared three trays laden with both savory and sweet golden pastries, some traditional Asian delights, but also some French and Italian favorites. We tried a Sugar Cream Cheese Brioche with cream cheese filling that melted in your mouth. Of course, because we were on a travel adventure, we needed to try the Marble Taro Roll which we found to be fluffy with a restrained sweetness and quite delightful. The Chocolate Chip Bowl begged me to taste its milk-flavored bread studded with a plethora of chocolate chips and dusted with powdered sugar. Truly sinful.
My fantasy trip to Taipei via the 85 C Bakery Café made me long for a closer location, but my waist was thankful it is a bit of a drive.
Once our palates adapted from the spiciness and pungency of Chef Hung Taiwanese Noodles by the stop at 85C Bakery Café, we were ready to embark on our third, and my favorite, Asian restaurant, Urban Seoul. Urban Seoul embodies one of my favorite food passions—fusion. Urban Seoul is a borderless kitchen that combines Korean street food with Mexican flavors. Chefs Kacy Jun and Bronnie Lee meld cultures and flavors with their creativity, providing food that is both familiar and yet surprising.
Upon entering the restaurant, we felt a cool, new, contemporary atmosphere that made us believe the managers knew what was happening on the restaurant scene. Chef Andre Valenzuela, the Executive Sous Chef, greeted us and transported us on our culinary travels.
Since we were visiting Urban Seoul on a Tuesday, we were able to enjoy two of their Taco Tuesday specials, a 3-hour braised Pork Belly Taco topped with a Ginger, Garlic, Chili, and Onion Sauce; and a Smoked Tri-Tip Chimichanga smothered in a Barbecue, Cilantro, and Sweet/Sour Salsa. My only issue was trying to decide which taco was the best.
Next, we were served the Pork Belly Soup consisting of pork belly, cabbage, pickled chopped onion, jalapeño, poblano, hominy, and Udon noodles. Delicious and filling!
Chef Andre emerged from the kitchen with two large bowls of a much-loved Korean dish called Bibimbap, or Urban 3B, the name given to this dish by Urban Seoul. This combination salad/rice bowl held shredded pork, shredded romaine lettuce, red cabbage, radish, carrots, fried onions, and white and purple rice. It was topped with a poached egg to be mixed with the sesame oil-vinegar dressing. Scrumptious!
Just when we thought we could eat no more, Mexican Bread Pudding with Rum and Crème Fraiche appeared on our table. The syrupy sweet flavor of the Rum Sauce melded with the creamy smooth taste of the Crème Fraiche. This dessert was not to be ignored!
Destination Diamond Jamboree Center is truly not just a destination but a new way of seeing things. We were travelers, not just tourists. We tried new things, met new people, and looked beyond what was right in front of us.