There are days when you find yourself with absolutely no cash in your wallet, and no desire to rack up bucks on your plastic for just a workday lunch. I found myself in this very situation last Friday, and serendipitously, I had a load of recyclables in the trunk that I needed to get rid of. Plastic water bottles, to be exact.
Plastic bottles = cash = food
Call it an experiment if you will.
What can I get to eat in Irvine with the money from recycling my spent water bottles?
So there I was, behind the 99 Ranch on Culver in Irvine, holding two garbage bags of empty water bottles, standing in line to get cash for 'em. Had I been in L.A., I'd be the odd man out in this line, with my Gap shirt and khakis. But nope, this was Irvine; land of the yuppie, poster-child of urban masterplanning. In line with me was this regal white gentleman who could pass for my CEO and an Asian soccer mom.
I doubt that recycling meant sustenance to these two. A sense of civic duty perhaps, but not lunch.
So my turn was up and lo and behold! $4.75! Not too bad for two garbage bag fulls of trash.
With cash in hand, I made a beeline towards Sam Woo BBQ's Takeout area. There's a row of steam tables full of goodies to choose from. Salt and Pepper Shrimp? Nah. Fish in Black Bean Sauce? No, had that a few weeks ago. Ahh. Kung Pao Chicken? No way. Too bourgeois.
Ahh. Shredded Pork with Pressed Bean Curd. Haven't tried that yet. With steamed white rice please. $3.18? Comes with egg drop soup? Done. Chang-ching!
Rachel Ray, you got nothin' on me!
Okay, so it's not the same as eating in the restaurant. The few scoops of rice dumped into sytrofoam container and the mound of the pork dish I pointed to is unceremoniously served up by a sullen, unshaven Chinese man with a greasy apron. But hey, it's a steal! And for a buck more, I could've even gotten another entree added, like the glistening and crisp green beans.
I took my meal back to the office and ate it. The pork dish had a subtle flavor, not as spicy as I had anticipated. But the tofu, meaty and chewy, had absorbed the essense of the sauce nicely, with the thin strips of pork playing up the back beat. The stray green onion strand added an herby accent.
The soup my lunch came with had cooled enough by the time I got back that the cornstarch congealed into a gloppy goo. I could've nuked it to bring it back to life, but my growling stomach didn't allow it.
With my hunger abated, I finally realized the slight irony; I did use plastic to feed myself after all.
Sam Woo Restaurant
15333 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92604