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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sundried Tomato Cafe - San Juan Capistrano

31781 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA

Alternate Location:
361 Forest Avenue
Laguna Beach, CA

Coming Soon to San Clemente

My wife and I stopped in San Juan Capistrano last weekend on the way back from San Diego. We were fully intending to have brunch at Ramos House Café. We hadn’t been there for a while, but we remembered it fondly. We walked up to the Ramos House Café and looked at the menu. The first thing I noticed was that their price for brunch had gone up again. The price is now $35 per person and includes one beverage, one small appetizer and one entrée. If you want dessert it is $7-$10 extra. Most of the entrees also just seemed to be scrambled eggs with a few toppings thrown in. My wife and I discussed it for a minute and decided our money would be better spent elsewhere.

We walked back across the train tracks and made a right on Camino Capistrano. The first restaurant we saw was called Sundried Tomato Café. They had a large banner that proclaimed they were now serving breakfast. “Perfect,” I said. We went into the restaurant and were immediately seated at a nice table on their outside patio. Since it was 1:30 PM on a Sunday, we were given both a breakfast and a lunch menu.

We were both in the mood for breakfast, so we just looked at the breakfast menu. I immediately spotted something called “Wild Mushroom Lasagna ($13.00 I think).” It was made with layers of wild mushroom, tomatoes and red potatoes. I decided that I would order this with a side of their Mustard Pepper Bacon ($4.00). My wife decided to order Eggs Benedict ($13.00). We both ordered a cup of coffee to go with our meal ($3.00 each).

After a few minutes the waiter brought us a breadbasket and our coffee. The breadbasket was filled with slices of baguette and then topped off with a couple of pine nut cinnamon rolls. The coffee our waiter poured was good but had a lot of coffee grounds in it. The cinnamon rolls seemed to be made out of puff pastry and were very light. They were ok, but I wasn’t crazy about them.

Then came the bad news. They were out of Wild Mushroom Lasagna. I was devastated. I really wanted to try this dish. It took me forever to find something else to eat. Not because they didn’t have anything good, but because my mind was already set on eating the wild mushroom lasagna. After looking over the menu a few times I finally decided to keep my side of Mustard Pepper Bacon and also order a cup of Sundried Tomato Soup ($5.00) and an order of Mini Filet of Beef Tacos ($12.00).

Our waiter apologized and said that he would rush our order. He kept his word and we received our food a few minutes later. My wife’s Eggs Benedict looked delicious. The hollandaise sauce looked a little watery to me but she said it was pretty good. She added a little lemon juice to it and said that it was perfect. She really enjoyed her entire meal.

I looked at my bacon and noticed that it looked really shiny. I was expecting this bacon to be completely savory with lots of black pepper and mustard. Instead, it was very sweet. It must have actually been “Honey” Mustard Pepper Bacon. They really should have stated that on the menu. It kind of reminded me of a Honeybaked ham. It was pretty good though considering I’m not a big fan of sweet bacon.

The Sundried Tomato soup had a much lighter color than I expected. I expected it to be as red as sundried tomatoes. The soup was made with cream and gorgonzola cheese. It was pretty good but I felt it could have had a stronger tomato flavor.

The steak tacos were served with blueberry radish salsa and goat cheese. The saltiness of the steak combined with the sweetness of the blueberries and the creaminess of the goat cheese was absolutely fantastic. The squiggle of hot sauce they put on the plate was actually pretty spicy and really tasted good with the tacos.

Overall I really enjoyed eating at this place. Eating on their outdoor patio was really peaceful and the food was pretty good. I would definitely eat here again if I were in the area. I’m looking forward to trying a lot more of their lunch and dinner items.

Sundried Tomato Café on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Johnnie's New York Pizzeria - Irvine

(Not to be confused with Johnny's New York Pizza in Laguna Beach, that I had to report to the health department for being so gross.)

3939 Portola Parkway
Irvine, CA 92602



Johnnie’s New York Pizzeria has recently opened in the Orchard Hills Village Shopping Center in Irvine. Johnnie’s is a casual, full service dine-in restaurant that also offers take out. Delivery I’m told will be coming soon. In addition to pizza, Johnnie’s offers salads, sandwiches, pastas and more.

I recently went down to Johnnie’s to try their pizza. I was surprised at how nice it looked at first. I was expecting a pizza joint with counter service. Instead I was greeted at the door by a hostess. I told her that I wanted to get some pizza to go so she directed me to the take out counter.

I looked over the menu and decided that I was in the mood for a simple pepperoni pizza. I noticed that you could create your own large one topping pizza for $15.95 or you could order a large “Classic Pepperoni Pizza” for $16.95. I asked the cashier what the difference was between the two pizzas. “Nothing,” she said. “So they are the exact same pizza, but if I say the word ‘classic’ then I pay $1.00 more?” I asked. She went back into the kitchen to ask. She came back and said “The chef said he tries to put more pepperoni on the classic pepperoni pizza.” He tries? I told her that I liked a lot of pepperoni, so I would go ahead and try the classic pepperoni pizza. I also ordered a medium jalapeno pizza for the wife ($12.10).

I was told that my order would be ready in 10-15 and indeed it was. I quickly drove home and opened up the boxes to find two steaming hot, glistening pies. They looked fantastic. I took a slice and eagerly took a bite. The crust was crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle. The cheese was stringy and the pepperoni was deliciously salty. This was a fantastic pizza. However, I would have still liked more pepperoni on the pizza.

The pizza at Johnnie’s is very good. I ate slice after slice until I was stuffed. I thought the price for a large one topping pizza was a little high, but I’ll definitely eat here again, especially if I have a coupon. I was also disappointed that they did not offer fresh garlic or cilantro as toppings. If you combine these two toppings with pepperoni on a New York stlye pizza, you'll be in heaven. Hopefully they will add these toppings in the future.

Johnnie’s is a chain that was started in Los Angeles and is franchised by Kahala Corp, the same company that franchises Coldstone Creamery, Taco Time, Blimpie, Wafflo, Cereality, Surf City Squeeze and more. Johnnie’s has apparently been voted one of the best pizzas in LA. This Irvine location is the first OC location to open, but I am told there will be many more.

Johnnie's New York Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alberta's - Tustin

765 El Camino Real,
Tustin, CA 92780

(714) 838-8226

Since I recently had such a bad experience at Taqueria El Chilito with what turned out not to be “Mexican style” nachos, my wife and I decided it was time for a trip to our favorite place to get nachos. Alberta's.

At Alberta’s they actually call their nachos, “Super Chips,” and super they absolutely are. They take a large mound of fresh chips and smother them with beans, tons of shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and the meat of your choice. I usually get carnitas, but this time I decided to go for the carne asada. Super Chips will set you back $7.33, but it’s well worth it.

(Super Chips witn no meat)

(Super Chips with Carne Asada)

These nachos are usually large enough for two people to share. After our recent experience with bad nachos though, my wife and I decided to be greedy and order one for each of us. We eagerly pigged out on the nachos and they seemed to be even better than I remembered. Of course neither one of us finished our nachos, but I came pretty close. :-)

Alberta's Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Taqueria El Chilito - Tustin

15852 Pasadena Ave
Tustin 92780-5414

I drove by Taqueria El Chilito the other day and I was immediately excited. Looking at the shabby exterior of the restaurant made me think, “I bet they have great Mexican food!” Unfortunately, I had just eaten lunch so I made a mental note to return later to try it out. The next day my wife felt like Mexican food. She felt like having nachos from Alberta’s. I told her about this new place I passed the day before and she agreed to try it. I drove out to Taqueria El Chilito and thought to myself, “I might be discovering our next favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint!

I pulled into a parking space and walked through the door. There were a couple coolers of Mexican ice cream bars. They sounded good since it was such a hot day, but I passed them up.

There were a few guys in the place watching soccer on a small television. I approached the counter and saw some steam trays of simmering meat.

I looked over their menu board. Oddly, there were no prices posted anywhere. I was ordering for 5 people and this is what I ended up ordering.

(Carne Asada Nachos)

(Meatless Nachos)

(Pork Tamale)

(Carne Asada Taco, Al Pastor Taco)

(2 Chicharron Tacos, I ordered one but got two, I wonder how many I paid for)

(Lengua Taco, Chorizo Taco)

(Chicken Enchiladas)

(I also ordered a Carne Asada Burrito, not pictured.)

Like I said, there were no prices posted, so I don’t know what each item cost. All I know is I paid about $32.00 for all the food. I took the food to go and distributed it at home. We all looked at our food and noticed how bad it looked. “Oh well” we thought, “maybe it tastes better than it looks.” It didn’t.

First off, the two people that got nachos were very disappointed. Now I know there really isn't such a thing as “authentic” Mexican nachos, but there is what I call “Mexican style.” To me, Mexican style nachos are chips covered with shredded melted cheese and toppings. This is the kind of nachos I would expect to get at any really good Mexican place. Instead what we got was chips covered in extremely watery liquid cheese sauce. The carne asada version had a light sprinkling of meat on them. They were horrible. Not only was the cheese watered down, but so were the beans. Everything tasted like water.

The tacos were equally as bad. The carne asada tasted like pieces of dry salt, the chorizo just tasted like grease, the lengua was dry, bland and chewy, the al pastor was so bad I blocked it out of my mind, the chicharron, usually my favorite, may have been the worst of them all. The tacos were all very, very dry as well. Now I’m a strong believer of “A taco is like sex, even if it’s really bad, it's still pretty good.” I’ve always eaten up my tacos, good or bad. This time I just couldn’t though. I took one bite of each taco, and then threw all of them away and went to look for something to eat in the fridge.

I also took a bite of the tamale. It was so hard and dry that it was hard to cut. I don’t know what possessed me to still try and eat it, but I did. I almost choked on it. It was like eating a piece of styrofoam, but much drier and much more bland.

S didn’t really like her enchiladas either. I tried a bite. It tasted like bland chicken, wrapped in a bland tortilla and topped with red water. The rice and beans also tasted just like water. C said his burrito didn’t taste like anything either.

I don’t understand. How is it possible to make food so incredibly bad? No one could even finish their food. Everyone took a bite or two and ended up throwing their food away. Taqueria El Chilito hands down has the worst Mexican food I have ever had in North America. The only time I have ever had worse Mexican food was at this little place in Paris, and everyone knows the French can’t make Mexican food….

El Chilito on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen - Orange

141 South Glassell
Orange, California 92866
Open 7 days a week
11am - 11pm
Phone: 714.633.3038
Fax: 714.633.3344

You might be wondering why there is a picture of a blank wall above. The picture is there because that is what you will see when you are looking for Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen. There is no sign above the door, but there are plenty of people inside. These are the lucky people that have discovered the hidden gem that is Gabbi’s.

I recently visited Gabbi’s for lunch to sample their seasonal squash blossom items. In attendance were CZ from Orange County Mexican Food and a food writer from the LA Times. Make sure to look for the write up in this Thursday’s LA Times (5/22/08). It will be in a special pull out section called “The Guide.”

After we were seated, we received some tortilla chips and salsa. The chips were warm and crunchy and had the perfect amount of salt. The salsa tasted really fresh and had just a little bit of spice. I could have eaten a lot more of these chips, but I didn’t want to spoil my appetite.

Since we were here to sample their new seasonal offerings, we ordered three items for all of us to share. The first item was the Tropical Quesadilla ($10.00) that was served with mangoes, plantains, pineapple, cilantro, roasted peppers and queso Oaxaca. The second item was the Enchiladas Flor De Calabassa (squash blossom enchiladas $15.00). The third item was the Quesadillas con Flor De Calabassa y Queso Cabra (squash blossom quesadillas $9.00).

The items arrived at our table and were all beautifully presented. Pictures were taken by all, and then we dove in. The first item I tried was the squash blossom quesadilla. The first thought to enter my mind was, “My god, these tortillas are delicious.” I knew they must be made fresh on the premises. My suspicions were confirmed later when I walked by the kitchen and saw them cooking fresh tortillas on a large spinning grill. The quesadillas were fantastic. The delicate flavor of the squash blossoms melded perfectly with the saltiness in the cheese. Yummy.

Next up was the tropical quesadilla. I’m not usually a big fan of tropical fruit, and the thought of it in a dish that I usually consider to be savory was throwing me for a loop. I took a bite and was happy that I did. The medley of fruits inside this quesadilla perfectly matched with the cheese to create a harmonious flavor of yum. The guacamole that was served with the quesadilla had a spicy kick to it and made this dish even better.

Finally I tried the squash blossom enchiladas. Inside the enchiladas were corn, pasillas, caramelized onions, chicken and cheese. It was all topped off with a roasted red-pepper chipotle sauce. They were crowned with slices of fresh avocado. They were wonderful. I was truly impressed with all three dishes.

For dessert we all agreed to share a Flan ($7.00). This is one of CZ’s favorite desserts here. At the last minute I decided I also wanted to try the Coconut Tres Leches Cake ($9.00).

The flan arrived and it looked amazing. A perfectly firm, silky smooth flan was sitting in the middle of a pool of pinkish guava sauce. It was topped off with Gabbi’s signature “G” made out of what I think was a fried tortilla. The flan was really good but I really wanted to try the Tres Leches.

The Tres Leches cake was served with banana gelato and had a few berries on top. I took a bite and I nearly fell out of my chair. An explosion of coconut flavor brought a tear of joy to my eye. The cake was soft and perfectly moist. I was in heaven. This is the best tres leches cake I have ever had. I immediately announced that I wanted one of these cakes in “giant” size for my next birthday. Just when I thought this dish couldn’t get any better, I tried the banana gelato. It was served in a florentine cookie bowl. It was smooth, creamy and full of fresh banana flavor. The cookie bowl was crispy and delicious.

Overall I was extremely impressed with this restaurant. Everything I tried here was fantastic and full of flavor. I’m already planning my return trip so I can order about a dozen more of those Coconut Tres Leches cakes.

Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Zito's Bar and Grill - Tustin

17320 E. 17th Street
Tustin, CA 98272
(714) 730-0003

Zito’s Bar & Grill is located in a stand alone building in Enderle Center, the same parking lot as Zov’s Bistro and El Torito in Tustin. For many years the building housed my beloved Hof’s Hut. After Hof’s Hut closed it became a new restaurant. I think it was called Fire Dancer Grill or something. It didn’t last long. It then closed and reopened as Zito’s Bar & Grill. Zito’s apparently started as a pizza joint and now has four pizza locations. Zito’s Bar & Grill is a full service casual dining restaurant.

I recently visited Zito’s for dinner with a party of four. We arrived around 5:45 on a Thursday evening and there was barely anyone there. Zito’s offers live music on Thursday and Fridays. The music is out on the patio however, and we were in the dining room. Therefore we didn’t hear any of the music.

We were seated in a booth that felt cramped to me. The table and the benches were unmovable and I felt like I was sitting way too close to the table. A larger person would not have fit into this booth. I also felt like I didn’t have much elbow room. While we were looking over the menu, we were brought a basket of warm, freshly baked bread. They also brought us a small dish with balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs on it. The bread was soft and delicious.

I was having a little bit of a difficult time finding something to order. Everything on the menu sounded ok, but there was just nothing that was exciting me. One thing that I thought was odd was that they had a “Burgers” section on their menu. The only two choices though were sliders ($10.00) or a turkey burger ($10.00). You couldn’t even get just a plain cheeseburger. The menu said that the sliders came with American cheese. I asked the waitress if they could be made with cheddar instead. She looked at me and said “uhhh….we have American…”

After looking over the menu over and over again, I think I started to annoy my dining companions. I finally decided to get the Rotelle dinner special ($16.99). The rotelle was described as pasta hand rolled with ham, mozzarella, paremesan, béchamel and marinara sauce. The dinner special came with your choice of soup or salad. None of the other meals came with soup or salad. Their soup of the day was corn chowder so I decided to go for the soup.

I didn’t have to wait very long before my soup arrived. I received a much larger portion than I expected. It was almost enough for a meal. Unfortunately the soup was served to me lukewarm. Other than that it was ok, but not spectacular. It was creamy and corny and soupy. It did taste like it was freshly made though. I added a lot of black pepper to make it taste better.

Our dinners arrived shortly thereafter. My rotelle basically looked like two giant hockey pucks, covered in cheese and smothered in about a gallon of pink sauce. I took a bite and hoped for the best. I didn’t like it. It was fairly bland. It just tasted like bland pasta sheets with a generic watery tomato sauce. I tried to add a lot of parmesan cheese to make it taste better. It didn’t work.

J was having a hard time eating her coconut shrimp ($16.00). She said that it was so hard that the shards of coconut were cutting up the inside of her mouth. She was trying to cut it up into bite size pieces, but she was having a hard time. She said that even the veggies were hard. She kept eating bread because it was soft and she said her mouth needed some relief.

R seemed to be having as much trouble eating his food as J. He ordered a small 10" pizza with pepperoni and cilantro on it ($12.00). Even though the pizza had sufficiently cooled off, every time he tried to pick up a slice, all the cheese and toppings slid right off. He said that they put way too much tomato sauce on the pizza. He said that the flavor of the pizza was ok though.

V didn’t really like her food either. She ordered Tomato, Basil Angel Hair ($11.00). She said that it was really bland. She kept adding salt and parmesan cheese to try and make it taste better. She finally gave up. She said she’d try to salvage it by taking it home and doctoring it up.

Overall, the food wasn’t inedible, but I don’t think I would visit Zito’s again. There are much better places to eat for much more reasonable prices.

Zito's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dave & Busters Irvine

71 Fortune Drive
Suite 960
Irvine , CA 92618


Locations Nationwide

Most people think of Dave & Buster’s as just a place to go play video games and grab a few drinks. Everybody passes the restaurant on the way to the midway arcade, but most people I know have never stopped to eat. This is their mistake. I have eaten at Dave & Buster’s many times and I have never been disappointed in my meal. They are constantly updating their menu and introducing new meals that I am always anxious to try.

Recently, my buddy and I headed down to Dave and Buster’s for lunch to take advantage of a special they were having. They were offering free billiards with the purchase of lunch. We walked up to the front desk, stated our intentions and were escorted to a pool table by a friendly member of the staff. He racked the balls for us, handed us a couple menus and wished us a good meal.

We looked over our menus during our first game of 8-ball. For lunch here I usually order a burger or a sandwich but since we were playing pool and using a bunch of chalk and such, I decided it was best to order something that didn’t necessitate me eating with my hands. I spotted something right away. I’ve seen it on the menu many times but I’ve never ordered it. Today for some reason it seemed to jump out at me. Lacy’s Chicken ($7.99* for lunch)-A grilled chicken breast covered with Boursin cheese and peppercorn sauce. It was served with loaded mashed potatoes and green beans. I guess my buddy wasn’t thinking about the fact that his hands were covered in chalk, so he ordered the Buffalo Bar Chicks (Mini buffalo chicken sandwiches-$8.99*).

Our food arrived very quickly and it looked absolutely delicious. I dove right in. The chicken was grilled perfectly and wasn’t dry at all. The creamy boursin cheese on top was fantastic and the peppercorn sauce added an explosion of flavor. The loaded mashed potatoes were filled with bacon, cheese and sour cream. They were perfect when eaten together with the chicken. The green beans were pretty standard and maybe a little chewy, but I still ate them all.

My buddy dusted some chalk off his hands and grunted something about wishing he had ordered something he didn’t have to eat with his hands. He said that the buffalo chicken sandwiches were “ok” but felt they were a little too tangy. He also thought they were served to him a little luke-warm. I tried a small piece of his chicken and disagreed. It may have been a little cold, but I thought the tangyness was right on. I thought the chicken was so good that I told myself that this would be what I ordered the next time I return.

Overall I was very happy with my meal. Dave & Buster’s has once again proved to me that not only are they a place to drink and play overpriced video games, but it’s a great place to get a good meal for a reasonable price. I can’t wait to return again to hopefully try something new and get some of my old favorites. Some of my favorite food items are the Philadelphia Steak Rolls, the Potato Skins, the Firehouse Buffalo Wings and the Hot Sugared Donut Holes. I’m making myself hungry now……I think I’m gonna go eat.

*Prices may be slightly off. I’m trying to recall them from memory

Dave & Buster's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Park Bench Cafe - Huntington Beach Central Park

(Photo Courtesy of
17732 Goldenwest Street
Huntington Beach, California, 92647

Open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday-Sunday

I recently visited the Park Bench Café in Huntington Beach Central Park for my dog’s birthday party. That’s right….I’ll admit it. I had a birthday party for my dog….. But let’s move on. The Park Bench Café is a 100% outdoor seating environment where dogs are more than welcome to dine with their owners. They even have a special dog menu with food items just for the dogs.

I actually visited this restaurant a couple weekends ago during the brutal heat. Even though it was close to 100 degrees in Irvine, it was a lot cooler in Huntington Beach Central Park. It was also full of giant bugs. The Park Bench Café has about 20 outdoor tables and almost every one of them has a dog at it. You will see all kinds of dogs here, big and small.

One of the first things I noticed about this restaurant was that even though they have created a place for dog lovers to come and bring their “furry family members,” they still treat them just like dogs. You can get a bowl of water for your dog, but don’t expect to get something clean. The bowls were all dirty and it doesn’t appear that they are even rinsed out after a dog uses them. The restaurant requests that you get water for your dog from a special dispenser that was full of leaves and dirt when I looked in it. Luckily, I brought my dogs portable water bowl and a bottle of water for it. (I swear I’m not crazy, I just love my dog.)

Anyway, on to the food. In addition to the “dog menu,” Park Bench Café serves your typical breakfast and lunch fare. Some of the items include omelettes, breakfast burritos, pancakes, salads, hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches. Most of us decided to order burgers ($8-$10), except for J who ordered a Monte Cristo Sandwich ($9.50). I also ordered a “Wrangler Roundup” ($2.75) for my dog. This was just cooked, ground turkey.

The burgers came with regular french fries, but you could substitute chili fries for $1.99 extra or onion rings for $1.25 extra. Drinks were $2.25 a pop. Most of our burgers looked the same, so I will just post a few of the pictures below.

(Wrangler Roundup)

(Cheeseburger with Chili Fries)

(Monte Cristo Sandwich, I don't know why the plate is so big)

(Western Burger with Onion Rings)

(Supreme Melt with Chili Fries)

(Blue Cheese Garden Burger with Fries)

Everyone seemed to agree that the food wasn’t that great. The burgers were bland and generic. I would have rather eaten at McDonalds. I’ve made better fries at home by opening a bag of frozen fries, dumping them on a baking sheet and sticking them in the oven. The food here was basically overpriced "snack bar" food. Their gimmick to bring people in is the dog menu, but I wasn’t even impressed with the meal my dog received. It was a fun experience to visit here once so my dog could order off the menu, but I don’t think I will return again.

Park Bench Cafe on Urbanspoon