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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cest La Vie-Laguna Beach

373 So. Coast Hwy.
Laguna Beach, CA. 92651

Phone: (949) 497-5100

I was down in Laguna Beach on Monday night attending the summer art festivals. After the four of us walked around looking at tons of art that we couldn’t afford, we decided we were hungry. I remembered eating at a little French restaurant called Cest La Vie for lunch a while back. I remember that the restaurant had an amazing view of the ocean from their back patio, but had just ok food. I thought it would be nice to stare at the ocean as the sun went down, so I suggested it. Since no one else had any ideas, we decided it was worth a shot.

Cest La Vie is located off of PCH just south of Laguna Canyon Road. As you walk into Cest La Vie, you will see their pastry cases to the right, where they sell various cakes, croissants and other pastries. There is an average sized dining room to the left, and the most popular dining area, their back patio, is in the rear. We asked for a table for 4 on the back patio and were directed to a table by a female that turned out to be our waitress.

I looked over the menu and I was surprised at how different it was from their lunch menu. The last time I ate here for lunch, it was more of a coffee shop menu. The dinner menu looked more appropriate for a French restaurant. Out in front of the restaurant, they had a sign advertising a $14.99 early bird dinner from 4:30 PM-7:30 PM. I couldn’t quite recall the three dishes that were offered with this special though. The waitress came over and told us about a special fish dish they had for the evening as well as a steak and shrimp special for $40. When she was done, I asked her about the early bird special. She looked at me with a look of confusion and said, “I just told you tonight’s special.” I told her I was asking about the early bird special they had advertised in front of the restaurant that included lobster. (Keep in mind that this was a permanent plastic sign, not a hand written special.) She said she didn’t know what I was talking about and would have to go ask.

After a few minutes the waitress came back and told us that the early bird dinner was $14.99 and we had our choice of a lobster tail, filet of sole or something else…..I think it was pork. I asked her if she knew how the lobster was prepared and what it was served with. “No,” she said. J asked her if she knew how the fish was prepared. The waitress then responded with “No…..I don’t cook it, how would I know how it’s prepared?” We were dumbfounded to say the least. J asked is she could find out how it was prepared. The waitress rolled her eyes and said that she’d have to ask the chef.

The waitress came back and said that the Filet of Sole was grilled and topped with a lemon butter caper sauce. The lobster was steamed and served on a bed of Fettuccini Alfredo. She also brought four wine glasses with one sip of wine in each of them. “This is our recommended wine for the evening,” she said. “Since tonight is Monday, all bottles of wine are 50% off.” I asked her how much a bottle of this featured wine was and she told me she had no idea and would have to check. She seemed really annoyed that I asked. After a few minutes she came back to the table and said, “We don’t have any more of that wine. It’s just for tasting.” Ok………..whatever……

She asked us if we were ready to order and I told her that we were. “GREAT!!!…..I can’t WAIT to see what YOU guys are gonna order!” she said extremely sarcastically. I thought her response was kind of odd, but just laughed it off and ordered my meal. I ordered the Lobster special ($14.95), J ordered the Filet of Sole special ($14.95) and V ordered Pasta Provencal ($16.00). Then it was R’s turn to order. There was only one burger on the menu and it was called the Cest La Vie Supreme ($14). R told the waitress, “I’ll have the burger.” The waitress looked at him and said, “You want a hamburger? Do we serve burgers?” R responded, “Yes, you have a burger on your menu.” The waitress asked him to point it out on the menu so he did. “Oh…..I didn’t know we had that. The only burger I know about is on the kids menu. I thought you were trying to order off the kids menu.” As the waitress wrote down his order and started to walk away, I casually said to her “Did you say you were new here?” “No…I’m not new here,” she said and walked away.

After a while, the waitress returned with 4 small espresso cups. She told us that they were filled with the chef’s taste for the evening, Lobster Bisque. The lobster bisque was quite good. It was really creamy with a good punch to your mouth of lobster flavor. I would have considered buying a full cup or bowl of this but the waitress didn’t offer, and I didn’t ask.

Our food arrived and I thought that all of our dishes looked great. The lobster tail on my plate was actually bigger than I was expecting. It wasn’t huge, but bigger than I expected for $14.95. The lobster was coated in a lot of Cajun spices that took me by surprise. It wasn’t bad, but I could have done without it. The noodles that the lobster was served on seemed to be more like buttered noodles with a little garlic and Parmesan than Fettuccini Alfredo.

J said that her fish was pretty good but thought that it could have used more lemon.

R’s burger was served with avocado, bacon, cheese, lettuce tomato and onion. R said that it wasn’t bad, but didn’t think it was particularly special either.

V’s pasta was served with goat cheese, olives and bell peppers. She thought it was a little bland but liked that it had a lot of goat cheese in it. She also felt that there were a few too many olives in it.

Overall, everyone thought that the food here was ok, but not spectacular. The best part about this restaurant is the gorgeous view from the back patio. The prices are also pretty reasonable. If you’re looking for an average restaurant, with a nice ocean view, Cest La Vie might be your place. I just hope that you don’t get the same waitress that I did!

C'Est la Vie on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jack in the Box is SO Cheesy!

I stopped at Jack in The Box the other day for lunch. I noticed that they had not one, not two, but three new cheesy items! Whatever should I do?!?!? I think I’ll order them all! Jack in the Box is now serving a Nacho Cheeseburger ($1.49) a Nacho Chicken Sandwich ($1.49) and Cheesy Macaroni Bites (Fried Mac and Cheese $2.99 for 6).

I ordered all three and took them to go. I got back to my office and unwrapped my cheesy feast. I was excited about all three items, so I didn’t know where to start. I finally decided to start with the chicken sandwich. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. This was really good. The nacho cheese and jalapenos added a burst of cheesy flavor.

Next, I moved on to the burger. This was of course very similar to the chicken sandwich. I felt that the flavor of the burger patty didn’t go quite as well with the nacho cheese and jalapenos. I still enjoyed the burger, but I thought the chicken sandwich was better.

Last up were the cheesy macaroni bites. I was so excited to try these little fried triangles. I took a bite and my excitement faded. They weren’t horrible, but they were pretty greasy and bland. At $2.99 for an order of 6, I think these are way overpriced. Maybe if they were 6 for 99 cents, I’d order them again.

I went on the Jack in the Box website to try and find the nutritional value of my meal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything on the nacho sandwiches. They had the info for the cheesy bites though. An order of 6 cheesy bites had 444.2 calories and 25.4 grams of fat including 9.6 grams of saturated fat and 4.2 grams of trans fat. Blech. I think I’ll avoid these in the future.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pacino's New York Pizzeria- Lake Forest

22641 Lake Forest Drive
Lake Forest, CA
(Behind Mimi’s Café)

Alternate location:
39112 Winchester Road
Unit 107
Murrieta Hot Springs, CA

I was driving down Lake Forest Drive last Friday with a coworker. We were fully intending to stop at Jack In The Box to get something for lunch. As we approached the parking lot we saw two girls jumping up and down, waving signs that read, “Large Pizza, One Topping $5.99!” I turned to my coworker and said, “I guess we’re getting pizza then!”

We pulled into the parking lot and saw that a new pizza place called “Pacino’s” had taken over the spot where Pizza Mona used to be. We walked inside and went up to the counter. A couple of girls were frantically working two cash registers, fielding phone calls and yelling in to the back for more help. We looked around the restaurant and discovered that they had a whole Al Pacino theme going on. The walls were covered with pictures of Al and all of his movie posters. Each table had a copy of his filmography and biography on it as well. The owner must really be obsessed with Al Pacino.

We looked over the menu. The menu here boasts “A Taste of Da Bronx.” What I liked the most about the menu was the variety. Pacino’s serves chicken wings, pizza, salads, calzones, pastas and strombolis. They have no less than 21 special “Artistic Creations” pizzas, many of them named after Al Pacino movies like “Carlito’s Corner” and “Scent of a Pizza”. They also offer 38 pizza toppings if you’d like to create your own. Some of the most unusual pizza toppings I saw here were coconut, caramelized pecans and mandarin oranges. I also saw 16 different flavors of chicken wings on their menu.

In the end, my buddy and I both decided to stick with their grand opening special $5.99 large pizza. He got a large sausage pizza and I got a large pepperoni and added an extra topping, fresh garlic, for $1.59 more. We were told that our order would take about 15 minutes. We went and found a seat at one of the tables and watched as the girls behind the counter ran around trying to do everything. While there, I believe I saw no less than 8 different girls working and running around. It looks like the owner purposely tried to hire young girls to run the place. The only male employee was the lone pizza chef. Even with 8 or so girls taking orders, collecting money, taking phone orders, slicing pizza and passing out orders, they couldn’t keep up. There was a steady stream of people coming through the door and the phone was always ringing.

Since things were so hectic, I stood near the viewing window into the kitchen. I watched my pizza go from the prep table to the oven to the box. One of the girls messily sliced up the pizza, and shouted, “Pepperoni Pizza!!!” I grabbed the box and said, “Pepperoni Garlic pizza, right?” knowing that it was, since I watched the whole time. “Um….yeeeeah,” she replied. If they continue to be this busy, they are really going to need to come up with some kind of order number system or something. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one there ordering pepperoni pizza. If I hadn’t been watching my pizza, someone else might have snatched it up. I was also watching for my buddy’s pizza. He ordered his right after mine. I was already holding my pizza in my hand and his had not even gone into the oven yet. I think that with so many orders coming in, they got all mixed up in the kitchen and his got pushed to the back of the line once or twice. After another 15 minutes or so, we both had our pizzas and we drove back to the office.

I got back to the office and opened the box. The pizza smelled delicious and looked fantastic. I took one of the greasy, floppy, foldable slices out of the box and took a bite. The pizza was just as good as it looked, and it was still hot despite coming out of the oven a good 20 minutes earlier. There was plenty of sauce on the pizza, which I like, and all the flavors were prefect. I stuffed myself with over half the pizza and sat back satisfied. I sent an instant message to my buddy. “Pizza is good!” He responded “Yup…it’s so good”. I think we’ll be back at Pacino’s again soon, especially if they keep this $5.99 special going. (Regular pizza price is $8.99 for the 14” large cheese pizza, toppings $1.59 each)

*********UPDATE 7/29/2008*****************
I went to Pacino's again for lunch today. I asked if they still had the large 1-topping special for $5.99. They told me that it was now $6.99. I tried to order a pizza with half pepperoni and half sausage, but they told me there would be an upcharge on that. Even though there is only one topping on each half of the pizza, they still consider it two toppings. Weird. I ended up just getting a pepperoni pizza. The pizza was still really good.

Pacino's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Roy's - Newport Beach

453 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach CA 92660

(949) 640-7697

I recently attended a dinner party at Roy’s restaurant in Newport Beach. This was the second time I had eaten there, and oddly, both times were dinner parties. Therefore, I do not really know how the prices are at Roy's. I’m sure it’s not cheap though!

Our meal here started off with some edamame topped off with a little spicy salt. My wife liked these so much that I didn’t really get to try them.

Next we were served an appetizer platter that contained Lobster Potstickers, Tempura Crusted Ahi Tuna Rolls, and Seared Shrimp Sticks. The menu said we were also going to get Szechuan Calamari, but we got some sort of pork ribs instead. I tried one of each appetizer and they were all very good.

Next up, they brought us a small dinner salad with a creamy herb vinaigrette. It also was very good. The portion was a little small, but I think that is because this was a dinner party. I’m sure the regular portion off the menu is much bigger.

For dinner we were given the choice of Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi, Fire Grilled Filet and Shrimp, Slow Roasted Half Chicken, Rustic Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Hawaiian Style Misoyaki Butterfish or Slow Braised Charbroiled Short Ribs. I had a really hard time deciding, but finally decided on the Fire Grilled Filet and Shrimp. I was also able to snap pictures of other people’s Butterfish, Short Ribs and Mahi Mahi.

Fire Grilled Filet and Shrimp
Red Wine Soy Natural & Lobster Essence

Hawaiian Style Misoyaki Butterfish
Sizzling Soy Tri Pepper Vinaigrette

Slow Braised Charbroiled Short Ribs of Beef
Roy's "Super" Power Natural Sauce

Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi
Maine Cream Lobster Sauce

After dinner we were presented with Roy’s combination dessert platter that included a mini chocolate soufflé, a coconut crème fraiche tartlet and lilikoi pound cake with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream. They were all very good, but my favorite was the lilikoi pound cake.

All of the food that I tried here was very good. I remember it being very good last time as well. I also didn’t hear anyone voice a single complaint about the food all night. This is a very good restaurant to go to, if you’re in the mood for a nice meal with an island flair.

Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Taleo Mexican Grill - Irvine

3309 Michelson Drive
Irvine, CA 92715
(949) 553-9002

For coupon, visit OC Mex Food

I’ve been meaning to go down to Taleo for a while now. I’ve heard so many good things about it. I was in the mood for good Mexican food the other day so I finally decided to go and try it.

I went down to Taleo as a party of four. The restaurant was fairly empty at around 6:15 on a Tuesday evening. For some reason though, they decided to seat us at the one table that seemed to be getting all of the sunlight through the windows. The sun was shining so brightly on to our table that we all had to wear sunglasses indoors until the sun set further.

We looked over the menu and decided to order the Vegetarian Queso Fundido ($10.00) as an appetizer. They brought it out after a while with a basket of warm chips and two different kinds of salsa. One of the salsas was mild, the other was spicy. The Queso Fundido was pretty good, but unlike any queso fundido I have had before. This was more like a spinach mushroom dip made with béchamel sauce.

The waitress came back to take our order. J decided to get the Carnitas Plate ($21.00), R ordered the Enchilada Suizas ($15.00), my wife ordered the Fish Sandwich ($13.00) and I finally decided to get the Carne Asada plate ($21.00). At the last minute I also decided to order another appetizer called Tuna Tostar ($15.00).

We waited for a long time and eventually ran out of chips while eating the salsa and fundido. We wanted to ask for more chips but the waitress was nowhere to be found. After a what seemed like forever the waitress finally walked by our table. I flagged her down and requested more chips. “Right away,” she said. She lied. It took a really long time before she came back with any chips. I’m guessing 10-15 minutes. Right after she finally brought the chips, the Tuna Tostar arrived.

The Tuna Tostar was described as diced sushi-grade tuna tossed in cilantro wasabi soy dressing, topped with micro-greens and served on ciabatta toast or romaine hearts spread with avocado-wasabi. For some reason I was expecting smaller pieces of toast. On the plate were four very long pieces of toast topped with the ingredients above. It was pretty good, but absolutely Asian. Since Taleo is a Mexican restaurant, I was hoping they would do something with this dish to “Mexicanize” it, but they didn’t.

After another long wait, our food arrived. My carne asada plate was not what I expected. I was thinking that I was going to get some thin flat steaks as is usual for carne asada. Instead I got two thick steaks. I cut into one of the steaks and took a bite. It was pretty good. It tasted more like just a steak though, and less like marinated carne asada. The beans that were served with my meal tasted more like BBQ pork and beans than Mexican style beans. This would have been good if I was at a BBQ. Throw in some corn on the cob and you've got a party.

J’s carnitas was a huge chunk or glistening pork on her plate. She enjoyed her carnitas very much and said that they had a slight sweetness to them. I usually don’t like sweetness in my carnitas, but they looked so good, I wanted to try them anyway. I stole a bite from her plate. They were sweet, but they were also very good. They were very tender and very flavorful. I would probably order this next time if I return.

R liked his Enchiladas ok but didn’t seem to think they were anything special. He didn't have much to say about them.

My wife was amazed at the amount of coleslaw that came on her fish sandwich. She scraped most of it off and took a bite. She said that the fish in her sandwich was so overly fishy tasting that it made her eyes water. It was almost if the fish was rotten. She couldn’t bring herself to take another bite. When the waitress came by after our meal, she saw that my wife had only taken one small bite and asked if she wanted a box. My wife just replied with a “no” and the waitress took the dish away. I think a good waitress would have asked if there was something wrong with the meal. We probably should have said something, but we didn't.

As most of you know, I really love Tres Leches cake. I saw it on the dessert menu and couldn’t resist ordering it ($8.00). It arrived at our table beautifully presented. The four of us took a bite. I liked the cake, because I pretty much like any Tres Leches cake, but it was nowhere near as good as the Tres Leches at Gabbi’s. No one else seemed to be very impressed with it either. J said that the Tres Leches cake from Fresh & Easy was better.

Overall, the food at Taleo was pretty good, but not as good as I expected. The service also left something to be desired. Anytime we would ask for something, i.e. more chips, more water etc., it would take forever for them to bring it. I might go to Taleo again if someone was offering to take me, or if I had a really good coupon, but I think I’ll stick to Gabbi’s for upscale Mexican food.

Taleo Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 3, 2008

King & I Thai Cuisine and Fish and Chips-Lake Forest

22421 El Toro Rd
Lake Forest, CA 92630

(949) 855-3970

That’s right. You read the title of this review correctly, and no I am not writing about two different restaurants. In an old strip mall off of El Toro Road, you will find a little Thai restaurant that specializes in authentic English fish and chips. I found this place by accident one day. I was just driving around aimlessly looking for somewhere new to eat. I actually drove by this place once and didn’t stop. After driving for a while longer I decided that I was driving too far from my office (darn those gas prices) so I turned around and started driving back towards Laguna Hills. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign that said “Thai Cuisine.” I turned into the parking lot and parked right in front of the restaurant. I got out of my car and looked at the front window. That is when I noticed the little neon sign that said “Fish & Chips.” “Whaaaaaaaaaaa,” I said. Did this Thai restaurant take over an old fish and chip place and forget to take down the sign? I looked at the menu in the window and found out that this place does indeed sell both Thai cuisine and fish & chips.

I walked in the front door as I argued with myself about what I was going to order. There is a counter with a large old school menu board behind it. The faded décor made this place look like it’s been around for a really long time. A little old Asian lady asked me if I was ordering for here or to go. “For here,” I told her. She told me to have a seat and handed me a menu.

I looked over the menu and continued arguing with myself. As usual when I argue with myself, neither side wins. Thai Food or Fish & Chips? Thai Food or Fish & Chips? Thai Food or Fish & Chips? OK!!!! I’ll order both! I finally decided that I would order the 10 piece Fried Wontons ($3.25), Yellow Pork Curry, extra spicy ($5.50) and a 1-piece Fish and Chips ($2.75).

I looked around the restaurant and was amused at the décor. There were posters of Thailand and very Asiany looking decorations mixed with seashells and a large fishing net. There are only 7 tables in this tiny restaurant, and they seem to get a steady stream of customers.

The first item to arrive was my fried wontons. The wontons were fried perfectly and each one contained a little nugget of seasoned pork in it. They were very good. The wontons were served with a watery sweet and sour sauce that wasn’t that great. I asked if they had hot mustard and the waitress stared at me like she had no idea what I was talking about. She then pointed at a jar of hot sauce on the table and said “You could use that.” Oh well.

Next I received my fish and chips. The chips were nothing special, just plain old french fries. The fish though, was fantastic. Flaky, white fish was battered and fried to a perfectly crispy consistency. The batter was crunchy and slightly greasy. My only complaint about the fish was that the piece was a little small. I would definitely go back for these reasonably priced fish and chips.

I then got my yellow curry. I was really looking forward to this, because I love yellow Thai curry. This wasn’t that good though. The curry was a little bland, watery and not spicy at all. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great. I added a little bit of the chili powder that they had on the table and it made it a little better, but not much.

So overall, I think that King & I Thai Cuisine is a good place to go for Fish & Chips, but maybe not for their Thai food. The fish and chips may not be the best you have ever had, mainly because of the chips, but the meal is pretty darn good. Especially since it is hard to find good fast food fish and chips for a reasonable price.

King & I Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hoag Hospital Cafeteria-Newport Beach

One Hoag Drive
Newport Beach CA 92663
Basement, Near West Elevators

Ok. Now I know that most of you are thinking, “Seriously? Griffin is going to review a cafeteria in a hospital?!?!?” I know it seems a little weird, but if you read a lot of Orange County restaurant reviews online, I’m sure you’ve seen brief snippets, ramblings, rumors or comments about the cafeteria in the basement of Hoag Hospital. I know I have. I’ve been meaning to check out this cafeteria for years, but kept forgetting. Recently, a co-worker of mine had to go in to Hoag for knee surgery. I decided to go visit him the day after his surgery. I was happy to go visit a friend in the hospital to lift their spirits, but I was also excited that I would finally get to try the Hoag cafeteria.

I went to the hospital around lunchtime. I went up to my co-worker’s hospital room and saw that they had just brought his lunch to the room. I told him that I’d let him eat in peace while I headed down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. I got to the cafeteria between 12:15 PM and 12:30 PM. It was absolutely packed. Most of the people in the cafeteria were hospital employees, but there also seemed to be a lot of non-employees as well.

As you enter the cafeteria, there is a cooler on the right with things like pre-made sandwiches and sushi. When you venture further in, you will find things like a salad bar, a sandwich bar, a soup bar, pizza, a grill, a couple of daily special stations and a “nibbles” station. A lot of the food here, like the salads, sandwiches and “nibbles” are charged by weight. I think the cost was usually around $0.35 an ounce. The grill made items like cheeseburgers and tuna melts for really cheap prices (Around $3.00). They also offer regular fries, sweet potato fries and onion rings as a side dish. The daily specials were "Greek Chicken" and a "Baja Shrimp Wrap."

After looking around, I finally decided to get a cup of chili, a cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, a couple of sweet and sour chicken wings from the “nibbles” bar and a drink. This was a ton of food and I got it all for around $8.00. Not bad, eh?

The burger was pretty good. Not gourmet, but definitely better than a lot of burgers I’ve had before. The chicken wings were pretty good. Sweet, sour and cooked perfectly. The sweet potato fries were a little cold by the time I ate them, but they were still really good. My favorite part of the meal though was the chili. I wasn’t really expecting it to be that good, but it was. I’m not sure if it was canned chili or freshly made, but I couldn’t stop eating it. I would return to the cafeteria just for this chili. Overall it was a very enjoyable meal for a very reasonable price. I might have to stop by this cafeteria more often, whether someone I know is in the hospital or not.

Hoag Hospital Cafeteria on Urbanspoon