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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

McCormick & Schmick's - Santa Ana

2791 N Main St.
Santa Ana, California 92705
(714) 558-1963

I feel it is only fair that I start this article with a disclaimer stating that I hate McCormick & Schmick's. I don't hate them because of other bad things I have heard about them. I don't even hate them because of the whole "Condom in the soup" incident in Irvine a few years ago. I simply hate them because of my own experiences at this restaurant. I have never had good food, or particularly good service at this restaurant. So this is going to be a bad review. It is very possible that I just hated McCormick and Schmick's this visit because I went there with my mind already set on hating it. It could also simply be because they suck. If you don't want to read a bad review of McCormick and Schmick's because you are a big fan of them, maybe you should skip this article and wait for my next one.

By now you're probably wondering, "If Griffin hates this place so much, why did he go eat there?" Well that's a good question, and here is my answer. My wife and I were invited out to dinner by J a little while ago, to dine at McCormick and Schmick's. My gut reaction was to immediately and politely decline the invitation. J then proceeded to tell me that she made the reservation on OpenTable through their "ShareOurStrength" charity promo. She told me that McCormick & Schmick's was one of a few local restaurants that promised to donate a portion of the proceeds to ShareOurStrength if we made our reservation through OpenTable. I decided that since it was for a good cause, I would try them once more.

Our party of 5 arrived at the new Santa Ana location at our reservation time. After a couple of minutes we were seated at a nice table. We looked over the menu and started deciding what to order. The waitress came over to introduce herself and take our drink orders. After we placed our drink order, we told her that we were there because of the ShareOurStrength charity promotion. The waitress seemed confused and wasn't quite sure what we were talking about. She said she would go ask the manager. She returned a short while later and said that if we wanted any money to be donated to charity, we had to order one of their four nightly specials. I asked her if she was certain, because the advertisement had said that they were donating a portion of our entire dinner proceeds for making the reservation through OpenTable. She went to go double check with the manager. A few minutes later she came back. This time she told us that she was wrong the first time. In fact, money was not donated for the nightly specials. She pointed at a stand-up card on the table and said that we had to order one of the two items on it if we wanted them to donate anything to charity. I looked at the card and saw two overpriced $30 entrees that didn't interest me at all. At this moment, I was annoyed to say the least. I didn't care for either entree that they were donating money for, so I looked for something on the menu that was cheap. I didn't want to have to give this place any more money than I had to. J decided to order the Wild Mixed Grill Seafood Trio special ($29.99) just so that some of our money would go to charity. Her special included a Creme Brulee' for dessert.

After looking over the menu, I finally decided to get a cheeseburger($8.95), medium rare. I asked for cheddar cheese, bacon and bleu cheese on the burger. The waitress said she had no idea if they had bacon or cheddar cheese. She said she'd have to ask the cook. V decided to get a pasta dish with Mahi Mahi ($14.95), S went for a stuffed salmon dish ($24.95) and R decided to get fish and chips ($16.95).

My cheeseburger arrived with the cheddar, bleu and bacon ($1.95 extra) that I had asked for. The waitress asked if I wanted anything else for my burger. I asked for some mustard. About ten minutes later, she dropped a jar of mustard off at the table. I tried to open the jar but it seemed to be glued shut. I tried and tried and tried and finally the lid came off. Crusty, gross, black stuff fell off the rim of the previously sloppily closed jar on to the table. The brown goop inside the jar barely resembled mustard. I decided to pass on the mustard. I always wonder how health codes can allow restaurants to have jars of condiments that everyone sticks their dirty utensils into, be then delivered to other tables. It sounds like a bacteria breeding nightmare. Especially when it looks like this jar of mustard had probably originally been opened months and months ago. The cheeseburger wasn't cooked medium rare as I requested. It was more medium-well and the outside of the patty had been charred to a crisp. It tasted like I was eating a piece of charcoal.

V didn't like her pasta very much. Her pasta came swimming in sauce with small chunks of mahi mahi mashed up into it. She said it was overly fishy tasting and had way too much sauce. She ate a few bites of it, but quickly got sick of it and couldn't bring herself to eat any more. I think this dish is made with old, leftover pieces of mahi mahi that were trimmed off (or fell off) the filets for the more expensive dishes. Her meal looked like a big mushy mess.

The salmon that S ordered was stuffed with a mixture of crab, shrimp and brie cheese. She said that it was pretty good and didn't seem to have any complaints about it. S felt that the mashed potatoes were really bland. She thought that since the fish was so rich, maybe it was a good thing that the potatoes were so bland.

R ate his fish and chips and said they were nothing special. They were just your basic fish and chips. I definitely don't think they were worth the $16.95 we paid for them. If you look at the picture, you'll see that he didn't even get that much fish.

J liked her Wild Mixed Grill ok. It came with three very small pieces of fish covered with different sauces. She felt that the sauces were overly sweet, but could see how some people might like them.

At the end of the meal we decided to order an additional dessert so we could enjoy dessert with J. I was really hoping that the dessert would be better than the food. We ordered a cheesecake ($6.95) to go along with J's Creme Brulee'.

The creme brulee' was really firm and had a strong scrambled egg flavor. I've had much better creme brulee'. The cheesecake was nothing special either. It tasted just like the cheesecake you can get at Jack in The Box. Maybe they have the same supplier.

After this most recent visit to McCormick & Schmick's, my opinion of them has not changed. I'm not sure how they continue to be successful and are able to keep opening new locations. If you're looking to go out and get seafood, I would recommend going to King's Fish House or even Red Lobster instead. Just do yourself a favor, don't go to McCormick and Schmick's.

McCormick & Schmick's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Chicken Coop - Costa Mesa

414 Old Newport Blvd
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(949) 645-6086‎

The Chicken Coop is an unusual little place. In the words of my father, "It looks like this place hasn't been cleaned in a decade." It's the kind of place where you walk in and find peanut shells all over the floor. It's also a strictly cash only joint. I kind of like places like this though.

I visited the Chicken Coop for lunch the other day with J. We waded through the layer of sawdust and peanut shells on the floor and found a table. We were handed a couple of sticky menus by a friendly waiter. We looked over the menu and everything sounded yummy. J was in the mood for breakfast. She asked the waiter if they still served breakfast at lunchtime. They did. She decided to order the pancakes with bacon and eggs ($4.99). Since she made breakfast sound so good, I decided to order the Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs ($8.95) instead of the lunch special I had been pondering.

After we ordered I started looking at the table. It had logos from a bunch of different restaurants in Orange County. It seems as if they were all related to The Chicken Coop. I hadn't heard of any of them before though, so I have a feeling that they're all gone. I could be wrong though. It also looks like this place is also known as Zubie's Chicken Coop. On the awning outside though, it looks like the word Zubie's was taken off, so maybe Zubie doesn't own it anymore. Some of the other restaurants on the table were Zubie's Pizza and Zubie's Dry Dock (which I just discovered is still open in Huntington Beach).

Our food arrived pretty quickly. My meal looked delicious. On my plate was a nice sized chicken fried steak, three perfectly poached eggs and some hash browns. I believe that the chicken fried steak was made from a pork cutlet instead of the more traditional beef steak. It was juicy and tender. The batter on it seemed to be more of a beer batter than breading. It made it extra crispy and very good. It was a little on the bland side, but some salt really helped. The picture also makes the portion look small. I think the plate was just big though. It was actually big enough that I couldn't finish everything on my plate.

J said that her meal was just average. It's kind of hard to go above average though with pancakes, eggs and bacon.

Halfway through our meal, J commented on how weird it was that the floor was covered in peanut shells, yet they didn't serve us any peanuts. I stopped and thought for a minute and realized I had never had peanuts there. I asked the waiter if they actually served peanuts and he said he would bring us some. I guess if you want some, you have to ask.

The Chicken Coop is a nice place to go if you are looking for a casual, no frills, inexpensive meal. Just make sure to bring cash with you if you go.

Zubies Chicken Coop on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 6, 2008

New Email Address for Griffin

Yahoo seems to be continuing in the grand tradition of the rest of the universe by utterly screwing me over. The yahoo email address that I have been using as my primary address for the past 10+ years has been deactivated for no apparent reason. I spent a lot of time on hold with their customer service department and all they could tell me was that my account was deleted for "abuse". They have no other information to give me beyond that. I have set up a brand new email address. If you need to contact me, please use this new email address,

If you have a yahoo email account as your primary email, I highly recommend that you back up all of your addresses and any files you have in your account. Then you should find a new email provider. I have discovered that Yahoo often seems to delete accounts for no apparent reason.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dickey's Barbecue (BBQ) Pit - Irvine Grand Opening

15435 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92618
Fax: 949-679-0054

I attended the grand opening of Dickey's BBQ today. Dickey's is a large, nationwide BBQ chain that started in Dallas Texas in 1941. They are just now starting to open up stores in California. I believe this Irvine location is the first to open in California. There are 26 in line to open in California, 6 of them in Orange County. I saw an ad that said they were having $2.99 sandwiches all day and giving away a 42" Plasma Screen at 2:30 PM. I had an earlier lunch meeting so I didn't make it down to Dickey's until almost 2:00. It's a good thing because it turns out they were doing the drawing at 2:00 PM. I entered my name in the drawing and went to the counter to order some food. I decided to try one of their sandwiches since they were on special. I ordered a BBQ brisket sandwich ($5.19 regular price). I was told that the restaurant was too full so I had to take my order to go. I gave them my name and stepped aside to wait for my order.

I looked over by the beverage bar and noticed that there was a big jar of large dill pickles and a soft serve ice cream machine. It turns out that both of these are free when you eat at Dickey's Barbecue. They were out of cones, so I got myself a little cup of vanilla soft serve while I waited for my food. It was pretty good. Yay for free ice cream! A few minutes later I was handed a bag with my sandwich and an announcement was made that they were starting the drawing. They actually ended up giving away four $50 gift certificates in addition to the plasma TV. I didn't win anything. Boooooooo!

After the drawing I headed home and opened up my sandwich. The brisket was piled on to the sandwich dry without any sauce. Onions and pickles came on the side. It also came with a little side of barbecue sauce. I put some sauce on the sandwich and took a bite. It wasn't bad, but it lacked flavor. The meat was tender, but almost tasteless. This sandwich could benefit from a lot of salt and some smoke flavor. The sauce helped a little, but not nearly enough.

I was disappointed in the sandwich, but I think I will still return sometime to try out their ribs. The ribs are available as a plate with two sides for $14.99 or by the pound at $16.99. It sounds a little pricey to me, especially since most of the weight in ribs is in the bones. I'll make sure to update this article when I get back to try them. I also really like that this restaurant offers the free soft serve vanilla ice cream and large dill pickles. It's a nice touch that more places should pick up on.

Dickey's Barbecue Pit on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jason's Downtown - Santa Ana

416 W 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Restaurant (714) 347-1120


I recently went down to Jason's Downtown restaurant in Santa Ana. Jason's is in the old school part of Santa Ana across from the Ronald Reagan Federal building. Near the hustle and bustle of all of the Fourth Street vendors, it's kind of a mini adventure to get to. I parked in the garage behind Jason's and went in the back door. I walked down a long hallway that opened up to a elegantly decorated dining room. It was dimly lit and decorated with modern decor. A musician was setting up her equipment in the corner. I walked to the front of the restaurant, checked in my party of 5, and was then seated at a great table close to the musician.

We were there around 6:30 PM on a Friday night. The waitress informed us when we sat down that they currently had happy hour specials until 7:00 PM. All appetizers and drinks were 50% off. I quickly glanced at the menu and ordered up a yummy looking cheese plate ($14.00/$7.00 during happy hour). The women decided to order the Spanish Tortilla ($8.50/$4.25 during happy hour).

I looked over the menu and was surprised and pleased at the variety of dishes here. I saw many international dishes including French Coq Au Vin, Moroccan Bastilla, and Caribbean Crepes. I came really close to ordering the Bastilla, but ended up ordering the Coq Au Vin ($16.00). I'm in desperate need of a place that serves good Coq Au Vin after the disappearance of French 75 Brasserie. V selected the Carribean Crepes ($17.00), J went for the Chicken Mediterranean ($16.00) on the waitress' recommendation, R ordered the Chicken Pot Pie ($15.00) and S decided on the Filet Mignon ($24.00).

We sat and listened as the musician started to sing. The live music consisted of a lone female musician with an acoustic guitar hooked up to an amp and some speakers. She wasn't bad. The volume made it difficult to carry on a conversation though so we just sat back and enjoyed the music.

The waitress then brought our beautiful cheese plate to the table. The platter had St. Andre, Humboldt Fog Dry & Gorgonzola Spread with Brandied Golden Raisins, Balsamic Figs, Apricot Cranberry Chutney, Grapes & Nuts. The waitress brought some warm baguette with the cheese. I think it was freshly baked. I was so excited and immediately tried all three cheeses. They were delicious. This is a fantastic appetizer or dessert and I highly recommend it. If you go during happy hour like I did, and get this dish for $7, you'll be thanking your lucky stars that you got such a great deal.

I didn't have any of the Spanish Tortilla. The menu described it as a traditional Spanish “Omelet” of layered potatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized onions and fontina cheese, baked with eggs and fresh rosemary - served with aioli mayonnaise and baby French string beans. It looked good and the women seemed to enjoy it.

After we all had our fill of yummy cheese, fruit, nuts, and Spanish Tortilla, our entrees arrived. I looked down at my plate and it looked delicious. My only complaint about this place was that a lot of the dishes came with Basamati rice pilaf with pine nuts. I'm not a big fan of pine nuts and asked if it was possible to get my rice without. I was told that the rice was already prepared and had the pine nuts mixed in. I took a bite of my food and flavor exploded into my mouth. My tongue was inundated with flavors of wine, mushrooms and onions. It was quite tasty. I still wouldn't rate it as high as French 75's, but very good nonetheless. The pine nuts in the rice were a little odd. They gave me the sensation that some of the rice was uncooked and crunchy. I had to keep reminding myself that I was eating pine nuts and not uncooked rice.

V's Caribbean Crepes had fresh Florida rock shrimp and ahi with West Indian curry, coconut milk, red onion, red pepper and celery sautéed in honey butter, flamed in rum and topped with fresh mango sauce. It was served with toasted coconut island rice pilaf with cashews, raisins and baby French string beans. V liked these crepes a lot.

S's liked her Filet Mignon ok, but thought it was a little dry. The filet was grilled with garlic butter and served with a wild mushroom demi glaze, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed green and yellow wax string beans and caramelized carrots.

J's Mediterranean Chicken was a boneless skinless chicken breast topped with spinach and feta cheese, tomato basil cream sauce, mozzarella cheese, basmati Rice with mushrooms & pine nuts and baby French string beans. She thought that the chicken had too many herbs on top. She is not a big fan of bold flavored food though. I have a feeling that I would have liked this dish a lot.

R thought that his chicken pot pie was just average. It was made in the classic style with peas, pearl onion carrots and celery. There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn't dazzle him.

Overall, I think we all enjoyed our meal here. The food was good and the atmosphere was nice. The music is a little too loud to have a conversation, but it's a nice touch. I am really looking forward to returning to Jason's to try more of his culinary delights.

One last thought. V had ordered decaf coffee as her beverage. When she drank her first cup, she was delighted at how good it tasted. She said it tasted like it came from a French press. Her second cup however was awful. I asked the waitress about the coffee. She said that their regular coffee machine had broken, so they made the first cup in a French press. However, they then went next door to Tommy Pastrami to borrow a pot of coffee from them. This is why the second cup was horrible. The waitress apologized and offered to make V another cup in the French press, but V politely declined as she didn't want to put the waitress through the trouble. I think Jason's should make all of their coffee in the French press. If they did, V would probably return to Jason's for the coffee alone.

Jason's Downtown on Urbanspoon