I'm taking a quick break from my Canada series to post this time sensitive article.)
Last month, Cat began her new job as a lecturer at Irvine Valley College. Although she was initially brought on board for one semester, she found out on Tuesday that the college wanted her to stay on for the full year. We were both very excited. Cat absolutely loves teaching. It's her passion, and I'm happy to see her career taking off.
To celebrate, I decided to take her out for a night on the town. I'd gotten my hands on some tickets for the 12 Girls Band (Wikipedia entry) concert that night at the Grove of Anaheim. Since Cat had wanted to see them perform for quite some time, it seemed like a double stroke of good fortune. We had two extra tickets, so I invited Mama Bear and the Shire Nomad to join in the merriment. Of course, we had to take Ton-Ton. He looooooves the 12 Girls Band.
But first, we needed some food. Everything I'd read online told me that the pre-show dinner at the Grove was not something one should willingly experience. Instead, I selected the Catch, which was the closest restaurant to the Grove with a good reputation.
(Lions and pandas, oh my!)
Directly across the street from Angel Stadium, the Catch is a steak and seafood restaurant popular with local baseball fans and theater-goers. Even Angels players occasionally pop in for post-game celebrations.
During baseball season, the Catch is a frenzied hive of bustling activity as Angels fans fill the restaurant to capacity, trying to get a bite to eat before going to see a game. In the off-season, however, the pace is far more relaxed. Cat, Mama Bear, and I were able to enjoy an intimate dinner in peace and quiet.
Cat and I arrived early and in the mood to celebrate. We decided to start the evening off right with a few drinks. Since she was already pretty tired from a full day of teaching, Cat ordered a Virgin Mary with extra celery salt. The Virgin Mary was quite tasty; thick and rich with a peppery bite and a smooth finish. Sadly, the Catch doesn't normally use celery or celery salt, and couldn't find any in their kitchen. No matter how good it was, a Virgin Mary without that hit of celery just wasn't the same.
I picked up a Pomegranate Mojito for its sweet and sour kick. The refreshing blend of crushed mint, lime juice, sugar, and club soda was accented by a tart bloom of pomegranate syrup.
While we waited for Mama Bear, we enjoyed some bread...
... flavor-blasted up by an in-your-face blend of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and an amazing amount of minced garlic. I pity the vampire who walks in to the Catch.
I'd decided to order the Catch Ceviche for my appetizer when Mama Bear arrived. It's normally served with chips, but I requested cucumber slices instead.
While Mama Bear and Cat pored over the dessert menu and discussed their ordering strategy, Ton-Ton and I split the hearty mix of lightly poached scallops, shrimp, lobster, and crab marinated in a spicy tomato puree. The cucumber slices proved to be an effective foil for the seafood, providing a cool, cleansing crunch that counterbalanced the thickness of the lurid sauce.
The ladies decided to stick with just entrees in the hopes that they might have enough room left afterwards for dessert. Mama Bear, who has been hard at work studying for her civil engineering Principles & Practice Exam (PE/PS) decided to treat herself to the 8oz Filet Mignon, a simply seared slab of beefy goodness glistening with its own delicious juices.
To alleviate her guilt, Mama Bear also got a side of Blanched Asparagus. The heaping mound of meaty stalks was so large that if the restaurant had flooded, she could have lashed them together to make a crude raft.
Cat had taken the opportunity to read some of the restaurant's reviews, which were hanging in frames in the vestibule, while we'd been waiting to be seated. One of the professional food critics had raved about the Catch's Fish & Chips so effectively that she'd decided to order it. When it arrived, she found the parsley French fries (chips) to be delicious. Unfortunately, the fish was far less satisfying.
Although it had been fried to a beautiful golden brown, the meat was bland and unseasoned, needing every drop of lemon juice and dash of salt Cat was able to add. In addition, the review had led Cat to expect beer-battered fried fish. Instead, her filets were coated with panko breadcrumbs. Even though the pieces were crunchy and blessedly devoid of grease, they weren't the malt vinegar bearing vessels of deep fried fun she'd been expecting from traditional Fish & Chips.
My curiosity was piqued by a number of the interesting sounding fish dishes on the menu. I eventually settled on the Drunken Mahi Mahi. A good sized slab of mahi mahi had been rubbed with spices, blackened, and deglazed with tequila. It was served on an oozy pillow of tomato risotto and surrounded by three miniature lobster tostadas topped with Cotija cheese, guacamole, and fresh tomatillos. The tomato risotto, with its creamy sweetness and gentle flavor was my favorite part of the dish. While hefty and moist, I would have preferred it if the mahi mahi had been crunchier, with stronger seasonings to provide a better contrast to the tomato risotto. As it was, the uniqueness of the mahi mahi was swallowed by a sea of tomato and cheese.
The lobster tostadas were awesome, reminding me extremely kicked up Doritos. Liberace's Super Bowl snacks must have tasted something like this.
The ladies were too stuffed after their entrees to even consider dessert. Instead, we mosied on down to the Grove to meet the Shire Nomad and take our seats for the 12 Girls Band concert. As you can see, Ton-Ton was really excited.
Shining Energy, one of the songs they performed.
Formed in 2001, the 12 Girls Band is composed of classically trained female musicians who use traditional Chinese instruments to perform a blend of classical, pop, rock, and New Age. Their imaginatively crafted medleys challenge set notions about the sounds and harmonies Chinese instruments are capable of producing, pushing the bounds of Chinese music.
The concept is admittedly gimmicky. The girls are all in their twenties or early thirties and very pretty. While their use of traditional Chinese instruments is distinctive, many of the sounds they produce could just as easily be accomplished by a Western string orchestra.
However, let's not forget the skill factor. These girls are good; amazingly, blazingly good. It takes real talent to be able to manipulate Chinese traditional instruments into producing Western harmonies, a fact thrown into sharp relief during the concert by erhu player Zhan Lijun's virtuoso solo performance. This girl blew our socks off, taking us through though a dazzling river of sound as her instrument sang, chirped, warbled, hummed, throbbed, and soared. I've never had a musical experience that came anywhere close.
(My actual distance from the stage during the entire concert.)
After two hours, plus a call back and several encores, the girls finished to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. What a night!
The Catch - Good food and an excellent location. I highly recommend it if you're attending a show at the Grove, but avoid it during game night at Angel Stadium.
Virgin Mary - $3.75
Pomegranate Mojito - $9.00
The Catch Ceviche - $13.00
8oz. Filet Mignon - $32.00
Blanched Asparagus - $7.00
Fish & Chips - $15.00
Drunken Mahi Mahi - $26.00
1929 S. State College Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92806
For those of you curious about the type of food served at the Grove, one of my table companions was kind enough to let me get a shot of his dinner. It's a fist-sized hunk of seared albacore tuna on a round of nori seasoned rice with a sesame miso sauce. The vegetable side is sautéed bok choy, and the tuna is topped with a Japanese seaweed salad. My new friend told me that the dish was excellent, and I had no reason to doubt him. The smell alone made me consider ordering a second dinner. However, $20+ a pop for something I could crank out of my own kitchen in few minutes didn't strike me as having a particularly good ROI. Sometime later this month or next, I'll attempt to recreate this dish and make the recipe available to you all. I promise it will take 30 minutes or less. Take that, Rachel Ray.