Exploring Asian Cuisine at Diamond Jamboree, Irvine, California

By Ray Pearson

Marco Polo, that well-trod explorer who introduced the world to the wonders of Asia, would have hyperventilated at discovering Diamond Jamboree in Irvine, California. If this bustling retail center featuring dozens of culinary options has an anchor, it would be H-Mart, an Asian-centric superstore. The retailer, with about 40 locations across the U.S., features everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to fuzzy rice cookers and health and beauty products. Among the dining destinations in the center are cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and take-outs offering international selections from Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, and others. Mr. Polo might have felt a bit homesick at the European Bon Epi Café, with its selection of continental breads and desserts. Taiwan's counterpart to Starbucks is 85oC Bakery Café (that's the ideal temperature to serve coffee). One of the many specialties of the house is sea salt iced coffee. There's a technique to experiencing this tasty treat; begin by licking the salty foam to jumpstart your senses, then swoon over the sweet, creamy coffee underneath. The contrast of textures and flavors of salt and coffee on a warm day is magical.

At the Japanese restaurant called SWSH Shabu Shabu, the spelling-challenged "Swish" describes the onomatopoeic Shabu Shabu ("swish swish"). This is the sound created by submerging thin slices of meat back and forth in boiling kelp water. Similar to the fondue craze of the 1960s and ‘70s, guests cook their own selections right at the counter or in comfortable booths in their own hot pots. (Note to Mrs. Robinson, my seventh grade English teacher: I finally got an opportunity to use that word in a sentence.)...