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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blanca - Newport Beach/Lido

3420 Via Oporto
Newport Beach, CA 92663


I recently attended a FoodBuzz Featured publisher dinner at Blanca in Newport Beach. Blanca is a fairly new restaurant that specializes in Crudo, which is Italian raw fish dishes. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try any of the Crudo dishes that night. We did however get to try some excellent food.

Blanca is tucked away behind a tiny street overlooking the docks where all the fancy dinner yacht cruises take off from. As we stood and enjoyed a cocktail when we first arrived, we were able to watch all the people boarding the boats and taking off for their dinner cruise. The restaurant has a pretty nice view once the boats aren't blocking it.

After everyone arrived, we were seated out on the large patio/boardwalk where most of the tables were. At each seat was a copy of our menu selections for the evening. Our meal was to start off with an Asparagus Salad. We then had the choice of Dover Sole of Flank Steak as our Entree. The meal would then be capped off with a "Chocolate Decadence" dessert.

As we were looking over the menu, we were brought a basket of bread and what seemed to be a dish of Creme Fraiche. The creme fraiche was so bland though, it was almost completely tasteless. I would have much rather had butter. The bread was also pretty hard and chewy. Oh well, I wasn't here for the bread anyway.

We placed our entree order. The Roasted Dover Sole was prepared with Tuscan White Beans, Spanish Chorizo, Market Carrots and Parsley Espuma. The Flank Steak came with whole roasted garlic, Taleggeo Cheese Potatoes, a Red Wine Reduction Sauce and Herb Salad. I had a really hard time deciding. In the end though, I decided to go with the flank steak.

After we placed our orders, the waiter returned with an Amuse Bouche. We each received a Chinese soup spoon with a Lemon Drop Sphere covered with Tangerine Pop Rocks and Tangerine Leaf. The Sphere popped in your mouth and gushed with lemon flavored liquid. I barely got any pop rocks on mine, so they were barely noticeable. The tangerine leaf tasted more like mint to me. It was very interesting, and pretty tasty.

Our salad course was next. The asparagus salad came with two of the fattest asparagus I have ever seen. Beneath the asparagus was some Burrata Cheese. It was then topped with toasted hazelnuts, arugala and truffle vinaigrette. The salad was very good. The hazelnuts were crunchy and went well with the creamy Burrata cheese. The dressing was very light. I couldn't really taste the truffle in it.

(Sorry for the extra crappy picture.)

My flank steak arrived and it looked delicious. Three fat slices of medium rare flank steak sat atop a thin pool of pureed potatoes. It was surrounded by some roasted cloves of garlic, mushrooms and some greens. Everything on the plate was fantastic. I quickly finished the entire dish.

Last up was the Manjari Grand Cru Chocolate Decadence. This was a really dense chocolate cake that was almost fudge-like. It was topped with salted caramel ice cream and Italian almonds. The dessert was creamy, rich and very good. The entire dessert was gone before I knew it!

All in all, this was a very good meal. I would like to thank our FoodBuzz hosts Kiersten and Ryan The Girl for hosting this wonderful event. It was great to share some wonderful food with all the other FoodBuzz featured publishers in the area. This was a wonderful experience and I look forward to doing it again sometime soon!

Blanca on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Taste Buds - Costa Mesa

130 East 17th Street Unit N
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 722-1177 phone
(949) 645-1359 fax

Is it tastebuds or taste buds? I always thought it was one word....Ok....I just looked it up. I'm wrong. I guess it is two separate words. There you go....I can eat and write about it but I can't even spell "taste buds" correctly. Anyway, however you spell it, Taste Buds the restaurant is a freakin' delight to the taste buds in your mouth. I decided to go down to Taste Buds for lunch recently. I have heard good things about this place but had a hard time getting down there because of their odd hours. Taste Buds is only open for lunch Monday-Friday and for brunch on Sunday. Their hours seem to change often though because the kitchen is also used for their successful catering operation. If you're planning on heading down there, you may want to call ahead and make sure they are open. You may be thinking now that going to this restaurant may be more trouble than it's worth. Well you're wrong. Even if this restaurant was only open 1 hour a week, I'd still try to make sure I found the time to go back.

I visited Taste Buds with V and J. We looked over the menu of gourmet salads and sandwiches. The restaurant was pretty empty. I think there were only two other tables occupied. Taste Buds has about eight indoor tables and another eight or so on an outdoor covered, enclosed patio. Everything on the menu looked so good, I had a hard time deciding what to order. I finally decided to get the Steak Frites Sandwich ($12.95). V chose the Panini sandwich($11.95) but substituted eggplant for the chicken. J selected the Grilled Veggie Salad ($9.95) and a side of Truffle Fries ($5.95).

The interior of the restaurant was very nicely decorated. The decor gives you the feeling that you're dining in a nice upscale bistro. We only saw one employee while we were there, our waiter. He seemed to be in charge of running the entire front of the house. My only complaint was that he did not seem to clear the tables after people left, so there were a few empty tables with dirty glasses and plates. This kind of took away from the nice atmosphere of the restaurant.

Our food arrived fairly quickly and it looked and smelled delicious. My Steak Frites sandwich was made with thinly sliced ribeye steak marinated in red sea salt and fresh citrus juice. The meat was piled on to a freshly baked baguette with crispy ribbon fries and a gorgonzola cream. I took a bite and was transported to heaven. The sandwich was amazing. The red sea salt and the fresh citrus juice gave the meat a fantastic bold flavor. The baguette was perfectly crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. The sandwich was served with a Vegetable Chow Chow. It tasted liked a dressed up coleslaw. I didn't care too much for it.

V's sandwich was made with pan-fried eggplant (instead of the cilantro lime chicken), smoked gouda, caramelized onions and sundried tomato pesto on a rustic chibata (sic) bread. (Isn't it spelled "Ciabatta?" That's what Jack's kid taught me.) V enjoyed her sandwich very much. It was served with "Escabesh" which seemed to be pickled vegetables that were slightly spicy. She said the Escabesh was pretty good as well.

J's salad was a bed of lettuce covered with grilled zucchini, squash, artichoke hearts, roasted roma tomatoes, kalamata olives and cilantro lime pesto. It was tossed with a herbal creme fresh (sic) dressing. She liked the salad very much, but it was so big she had to take half of it home. She ate her leftovers the next day and said that the salad was wilted, but still delicious.

The truffle french fries were enjoyed by all of us. Perfectly crispy french fries were drizzled with white truffle oil. The closer you got to the bottom, the stronger the truffle flavor was. Yummy.

Overall I really enjoyed this restaurant. It was a little pricier than your average lunch, but I think it was worth it. Writing this review makes me want to go back to get the Steak Frites sandwich again. I did have a dining certificate, so this helped out with the pricing a bit. You can also get a certificate to Tastebuds to help you save a little money.

Tastebuds on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cha Thai - Orange

1520 W Chapman Ave
Orange, CA 92868

(714) 978-3905

Taking more advice from Dan over at EatInOC, I decided to go down to Cha Thai to try their food. Dan insists that their food is far superior to my favorite Thai place, Thai Lingo. I visited Cha Thai on a Saturday night with the couple that usually eats with us at Thai Lingo. We had no trouble getting in to the restaurant around 7:30 PM. The restaurant was almost empty.

We looked over the menu and saw most of the standard Thai dishes. There was an article posted in the front window from the OC Weekly, talking about the Tom Kha Chicken soup here. I decided to give it a try and ordered a bowl for myself ($4.50). The rest of the meal we decided to order family style. We really wanted to compare this pace to Thai Lingo, so we ordered dishes that were similar to our favorites there. We ordered the Spicy Thai noodles with beef($7.50), Spicy Thai Fried Rice with pork ($7.50), Garlic Beef ($8.50) and Veggie Green Curry ($6.50). We ordered all of our dishes "extra spicy." I asked the waitress if there was a scale of spiciness we could choose from, but she said no.

The first to arrive was my bowl of Tom Kha Chicken soup. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I've had Thai soups before, but I don't think I've ever had this particular soup before. I took a big spoonful and put it in my mouth. POW! It was like a sour citrus fruit kicking you in the crotch while a can of coconut milk is hurled at your neck! BANG! ZIP! BOOM! YUM!!!!!! The flavor of this soup was strong, but addicting. My wife tried some as well and exclaimed, "Whoa! That's weird!" She then proceeded to take about 10 more bites. I would definitely order this soup again.

Next up was the Garlic Beef. The garlic beef was similar to Thai Lingo's. Strips of beef were pan fried with some soy sauce, garlic, white pepper and spices. It wasn't bad, but the beef was pretty tough.

The Spicy Thai Noodles were also pretty good. However, they weren't that spicy. They were stir fried with vegetables, beef and basil.

The Spicy Thai Fried rice, again wasn't very spicy to me. This is really odd because Thai food is usually pretty spicy. When you order it "extra spicy," it's usually spicy enough to singe your nosehairs. Now don't get me wrong, the food was spicy. It was probably even "too spicy" for people that can't handle spicy food. Since I really enjoy super spicy Thai food though, the spice level was very disappointing.

I didn't try any of the green curry. My wife and the other female we were with said that it was pretty good, but both of them much preferred Thai Lingo's green curry.

It is not a secret that people have different tastes in food. Some people can love a dish, while others hate it. I did not like Cha Thai as much as I like Thai Lingo, but I can definitely see why Dan likes it. I would consider Cha Thai to be a good backup if Thai Lingo is closed, or if I'm closer to Cha Thai and I don't want to drive. For the most part though, I think I'll stick with Thai Lingo. The other three people with me agree.

Cha Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lazy Dog Cafe - Orange

1623 West Katella Ave.
Orange, CA 92867
(714) 769-7020

Alternate Locations:
16310 Beach Blvd
Westminster, CA

3525 Carson Street
Torrance, CA 90503

I went to the Lazy Dog once when they opened their first location back in 2003. For some reason, I never returned after that. I don't remember the restaurant being bad, it just didn't leave much of an impression on me. Recently, I've read a couple of articles by Dan over at EatInOC. He raves about how much he loves the Lazy Dog and how it is one of his favorite restaurants. Since Dan seems to be a man that knows good food, I decided to give Lazy Dog another try.

I arrived at The Lazy Dog as a party of four on a Thursday evening. The wait was less than 5 minutes. As I was waiting for the table, I read their special board and saw that they had Barracuda for $19.99. I think this may have been the first time that I have seen barracuda on a menu. We were seated at a large table in a big, open dining room. The lighting was just dim enough to add a little bit of atmosphere.

I looked over the menu and tried to decide what to order. There were so many good looking things here. I thought about ordering the barracuda special, but finally decided against it. In the end I decided to order a bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup ($4.95) with avocado ($1.00 extra) and the Meatloaf Stack Sandwich ($7.95). V was having a little trouble finding something she wanted, but finally decided on Keri's Roasted Vegetable pizza ($10.95). R chose "Mom's Pot Pie" ($11.95) and J decided to have an appetizer meal and ordered the Parmesan Zucchini Fries ($7.45) and some Rocky Mountain Wings with Island Tiki sauce ($9.25). J and I ordered Iced Tea as well ($2.55).

It wasn't long before our waiter brought me my large steaming bowl of Tortilla Soup. The bowl was bigger than I expected. Dan talked about this soup on his blog and said how good it was, so I had to try it for myself. The soup was indeed very good. My wife even tried some of it and liked it so much, she had a few more spoonfuls. The only thing that could have made this soup better, would be if it were a little spicier. I tend to like things spicier than most though, so I understand why it's not. Also, since they charged me extra for the avocado, I thought they could have put a little more on the soup. V really liked the parmesan flatbread that they brought with my soup. She ate it all.

A short while later, our food arrived. It was all nicely presented and looked fantastic. My meatloaf stack sandwich consisted of a thick slice of egg bread topped with mashed potatoes and a fat slice of meatloaf, smothered in brown gravy. The meatloaf was filled with carrots, onions and other vegetables. It was quite tasty and the gravy had the sweetness of caramelized onions. I felt that this dish was a fantastic deal for only $7.95.

V looked at her pizza and was at first disappointed at how thin the crust was. She usually prefers a pizza with a more substantial crust, and this pizza was pretty thin. She picked up a slice though and quickly changed her mind. Her pizza was topped with roasted veggies, portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, goat cheese and a balsamic vinegar drizzle. She loved it so much that she said she was going to try and recreate it at home.

R enjoyed his chicken pot pie and said that it was full of flavor....maybe a little too much flavor. He said that the filling for the pie was less creamy than he was expecting, but bursting with a salty flavor. He said that he could see how other people would really like this, but it was a little too salty for him. He ate almost the whole pie though, and enjoyed it, but said that he would probably order something else next time.

When J ordered her chicken wings, she asked the waiter which of the Island Tiki or Chipotle BBQ sauce was less sweet. The waiter told her that the Chipotle BBQ was really sweet, so if she wanted less sweet, she should go for the Island Tiki. When her wings arrived, they were covered with a gooey sauce that tasted like a teriyaki sauce. She said it was still really, really sweet though. She finally decided she would try and take the wings home, wash off the sauce and try to re-season them. She enjoyed her fried zucchini. V even stole a few for herself and really liked them too.

The thing that I was impressed with the most here was the presentation of the food and the impeccable service. The waiter was always attentive and made sure that our drinks never ran low. He was very knowledgeable about the menu and happily answered any questions we had. The manager also stopped by our table during our meal to make sure that everything was good. When I asked the waiter for extra lemons for my iced tea, he returned with a clean white plate that had three perfectly placed lemon slices on them.

This is the kind of service I would expect at an expensive restaurant, not a restaurant as affordable as Lazy Dog. Overall, I was very pleased with my experience at Lazy Dog. I'm not sure why it took me 5 years to return after my initial visit. I am happy that Dan's reviews motivated me to return. I look forward to making Lazy Dog one of my regular dinner spots. Thanks again Dan!

Lazy Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon