Normally, when I write about food, I write primarily about the positive experiences. If I have somewhat of a bad experience, I leave that at the door, thinking that maybe it was just a bad night for the restaurant. But this is a tale of one city-----Mission Viejo----and three restaurants. A cautionary tale, for it was the experience before I could even order food that serves to enlighten you, dear reader. Indeed, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Twas one of those nights, the nights we know so well, when the day just gets out of hand and the evening's meal and libations get spoiled by the events of the day. This night, all my dinner plans went awry. The only solution, at 8:10 in the PM, was to pick up some takeout food on the way home from the visit to the Shops at Mission Viejo. My task was such----to bring home a quick meal, something to satisfy the cravings that I had been informed of----------some ribs. Gone were the plans for the visit to Lucille's and in their place, only the dreaded words "pick up anything". Fortunately, I knew that there was a rib place at the corner of Marguerite and Crown Valley Parkways. With that thought in mind, my heart lifted as I saw a solution to the heavy weight placed upon me.
At 10 after 8 o'clock, I pulled into the mini-mall where EJ's is located. The music was shaking the windows, so I thought that there must be a merry party going on inside. As I opened the door, a telltale scent hit my nose. Not, as I had so unwisely presumed, the aroma of ribs covered with a mouthwatering sauce. Instead, the scent was-----bleach! As I walked in, I saw someone mopping up. I yelled above the music, "are you open?". Still, with the lilting sounds of heavy metal rap hip-hop in the foreground, I heard, "no". Okay, I thought. I asked for the establishment's menu, at least to peruse their offerings for the next time we had a craving for ribs-----at least for the midday repast. I was given one, and with that, I bade the worker adieu.
A sign directly across from me beckoned-----"OPEN". It was at Crown Valley Chinese Restaurant, a place that I had dined from in the past but had been unimpressed with. On the other hand, I knew that many restaurants of this type had pork spareribs, so I went in. For you, gentle reader, the ones who have not read my reviews of Chinese dining, I beg forgiveness. I grew up eating Chinese food-----my family's twice a year pilgrimage to Chinatown, to eat at the Grandview Gardens on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles; one of the highlights of my childhood. Later, as I learned to drive the four-wheeled combustion-driven motorcar that so defines our life these days, I drove to Mon Kee and Yang Chow for food-not chop suey and chow mein, but rather the regional specialties both places were known for. Next, I travelled some, deciding the best food I had in Europe was not coq au vin or Homard l'Amoricaine, but the Chinois food at a small Chinese restaurant in the Montmartre district of Paris' 18th arrondissement, perchance the same area frequented by Monsieur Defarge.
Later on, during my campus days at a well known University very close to downtown, I would stop everyday at the Chinese Bakery on Alpine Street, to imbibe a daily cup of coffee and some Chinese pastries with some denizens of Chinatown, grizzled Chinese who came to enjoy seeing and talking with the Anglo who came in, ordered what they did, and was never afraid to try something they suggested. Perhaps you have even read my rambling words about Capital Seafood, the min-chain that is now my benchmark for fine Chinese regional specialties and fresh-from-the-tank seafood. Thus, when I walked in and asked for the To-Go menu, I was looking at it with the eyes of someone not entirely unawares of the intricacies of Chinese cuisine.
I interrupted my perusal of their menu as my eyes fixated on the daily special board. "Beef Stew Noodle Soup $6.95". Since I had been craving some Vietnamese Bun Bo Hue (the delicious spicy beef and pork Central Vietnamese noodle soup) the past few days and had not dined on Shabu Shabu for several weeks, I asked the proprietor to tell me about it. And yes, dear reader-----she did tell me something. "Asian soup, Americans no like taste. Not for you". I had magically been transported from Mission Viejo to the land of the Soup Nazi. Just then, a young waitress walked up to the counter where I stood. They exchanged some words and I got a funny look. To put them at ease, I told them that I knew Chinese food and that I regularly dined at Capital Seafood in Irvine for my Chinese food. The response, much to my enlightenment, was this---"we no do much seafood", after which they chatted in Chinese and gave me a few unfriendly looks. I quickly bade them farewell and removed myself from the establishment.
Thus, with a heavy heart, I gave up my search for the fabled "rib." Before I exited the mini-mall, however, I spied several establishments. I had dined upon sushi twice in the last week, so that was out. Mexican was the meal of choice only two nights before, so I sought out the open sign that said "Jojo's Pizza Kitchen". As I walked in, they were also cleaning up, but the gentleman there was quick to welcome me in. Thus, I saw the first friendly face in my night's search for food to redeem myself at home. I asked about the pizza (I had seen a sign on the front door for a special that had quickly piqued my interest) and the gentlemen told me about the special, a 12" pizza with two toppings of your choice for only $10.00. With hopes of redemption at hand, I called home to make the offer of "one topping for you and one for me". Forthwith, I began to order my pizza------half my choice and half hers. Sensing impending discord, the kindly gentleman advised me that we could get the pizza with half her choice and half mine.
With those words, I committed to all mushroom, with half green pepper and half Italian sausage. My dilemma solved, I sat down for a glass of one of the establishment's fine beers on draught. Before my last swig of the pale nectar, my pizza was ready. As I bid a fond farewell to the gentlemen who manned this fine dining place, the words of some famous Bard slipped into my head, and before I knew it, I saluted them with "I'll be baaaack". And thus my tale comes to an end. The pizza was delicious, the crust not paper thin but not thick either. The toppings were generous and the sauce and cheese flavorful. The crust had just the right ratio of crunchy and soft, chewy goodness to it. I had redeemed myself, as well as having found a pizza place worthy of the name "Pizza Kitchen". So, my tale of woe ends on a positive note, my esteemed reader. Not only had I found a gentleman in action, but also a restaurant to replace the pizza parlor that I had decided had lost their touch for making fine pizza. And to you, the soul of Dickens past, I beg forgiveness for this parody. But as they say, "itis a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better restaurant that I go to, than I have ever known."
With apologies to Charles Dickens---any misquotes are intentional but done with reverence.
Jojo's Pizza Kitchen
27620 Marguerite Parkway #G
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
Edward Simon has written many restaurant reviews, blogs and cooking how-to's. His work can be read at Roadfood.com, OCFoodies.com, Examiner.com and his own blog, Soundz Delicious.
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