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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Veggie Grill - Irvine Spectrum Grand Opening

81 Fortune Drive
(Across from Dave & Busters)
Irvine, CA 92618

Alternate OC Location:
4213 Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

The Veggie grill at the Irvine Spectrum is having their grand opening to the public today. I was lucky enough to attend a pre-grand opening event the other night. The Veggie Grill serves 100% plant based food. They don't like to use the word "vegan" though, because they think people associate that word with bland, tasteless food. This is definitely not the case with Veggie Grill though. This is a place where even us hardcore carnivores can go and be happy.

I attended the pre-grand opening with V. We looked over the menu and decided we would start our meal out with the Chill Out Wings ($6.25). V decided to get the Bayou Chicken Sandwich ($8.95) and I opted for the Carne Asada sandwich ($8.95) with avocado ($1.50 extra). The sandwiches and burgers here come with a side of red cabbage slaw. If you're not in to slaw though, you can substitute Chili (free), Steamin' Kale ($1.50), Spring Mix Salad ($1.95), or "Sweetheart" Sweet Potato Fries ($2.25). V decided she would get hers with the Sweetheart fries. I'm not a big fan of sweet potato fries. I wish Veggie Grill served plain fries. I decided to just get the chili as my side.

V and I took our number and found a nice table on the large outdoor patio. We sat down and began to enjoy our beverages. The Veggie Grill does not serve regular sodas or beverages. All of the beverages are all natural as well. You can choose from Iced Tea, Fresh Lemonade, Fresh Strawberry-Raspberry Cooler or Natural Root Beer. I decided to get the natural root beer. It was very good.

After a few minutes our food arrived. The Chill Out Wings were 100% meatless "chicken" strips. They looked just like chicken strips, and surprisingly enough they tasted just like chicken strips. The flavor and the texture was all there. If I didn't know this was vegetarian, you would have a hard time convincing me this wasn't chicken. The chicken strips were really good and came with two dipping sauces. I really liked the lighter of the two sauces. It was kind of like a spicy ranch dressing.

My carne asada sandwich was made with grilled veggie "steak", southwestern vegan mayo, red onion, lettuce, tomato and avocado. It looked just like a lot of carne asada tortas that I have eaten before in my life. I took a bite and was amazed that it tasted better than a lot of carne asada tortas I have eaten before. The carne asada really tasted like steak and it had a nice spicy kick to it. This sandwich was very good. I will definitely come back and get this sandwich. The chili tasted just like a vegetarian chili. It wasn't bad, it was just chili.

V's Bayou Chicken sandwich was made with a grilled veggie "chicken" patty that was blackened with cajun spices. It was served with lettuce, onion, tomato, avocado and spicy vegan mayo. V thought that it tasted just like chicken. She said it had a very strong smoky, grilled flavor. She really enjoyed her sweet potato fries. I have a feeling V is going to be eating at this restaurant a lot.

For dessert they brought us out some chocolate pudding to try. I didn't take a picture, but it looks just like chocolate pudding. You all know what that looks like, right? It was amazing how good this pudding was considering that it had no dairy in it at all. It was creamy and delicious.

I know I've said it many times throughout this article, but I'm going to state it again. All the food here is 100% plant based. No meat, no dairy, just plants. It all tastes just like it has real meat and dairy in it though. It also tastes really good! Vegetarians finally have a place that they can take their carnivore friends to that they won't complain about. The service here is also fantastic. Everyone was friendly and very helpful. I definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a good, casual meal.

The Veggie Grill (Fortune Drive) on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Auld Dubliner - Tustin

2497 Park Avenue
Tustin, CA 92782


Alternate OC Location:
(Known as The Auld Irisher)
1547 W. Katella #102
Orange, CA 92867


4 other locations in California, 4 more in other states

I went down to The Auld Dubliner (aka The Old Dubliner) in The District at Tustin Legacy last Saturday night. The Auld Dubliner is an Irish Pub and restaurant that I have heard some buzz about. I have heard that it can get pretty crowded. As I walked through the door at around 6:30 PM, I fully expected to find a packed restaurant and pub full of rowdy people. I even half hoped people would be standing around singing Irish drinking songs. Instead what I found was a mostly empty restaurant. (It might have also been extra empty due to all the fires this day.)

The sign inside the front door said "Seat Yourself." I looked around and tried to decide where to sit. An employee walked up and greeted me. I said "Hi...I'm supposed to seat myself right?" She says "No, I'll seat you. How many in your party?" I told her we had four people and she took us all the way to the back of the restaurant to a room that looked even more deserted than the front room. She sat us at a large booth with benches so far from the table that you almost had to sit on the very edge of your seat to reach the table. It was also very dark in this part of the restaurant, so I apologize for the extra crappy pictures.

I started looking at the appetizer section of the menu and decided that I wanted to order almost every appetizer that they offered. After talking it over with the waitress, I finally decided to order the Potato and Goat Cheese Crostinis ($7.95) and the Spicy Potatoes ($7.95) for the table to share.

I looked over the rest of the menu and realized I had a hard decision ahead of me. The menu has a wide selection of burgers, sandwiches, meats, soups, salads and "Traditional Irish Fayre" including an entire section of Irish Boxtys. After much consideration, I decided to go with the traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage ($12.95). R thought that sounded good and he ordered the same. J decided to mix it up a little bit and ordered the Corned Beef Boxty ($12.95). V ordered the Vegetarian Boxty ($10.95).

The appetizers came out after only a few minutes. The Potato and Goat Cheese Crostinis consisted of sliced, boiled potatoes and goat cheese on top of garlic crostini. It was then topped off with basil pesto and olive tapenade. Everyone seemed to think these were pretty good. V thought that they had too much olive tapenade on them, but enjoyed eating the crostini with some arugala that also came on the plate. I didn't think they had too much olive tapenade, but I really like olive tapenade.

The spicy potatoes were small new potatoes that were deep fried and tossed in the Auld Dubliner spicy wing sauce. They were topped with crumbled bleu cheese and served with ranch dressing. These potatoes were interesting and oddly good. The hot sauce tasted kind of like a hot wing sauce with a slight but distinctive hint of curry. The potatoes also tasted boiled to me. I was wondering if they actually were boiled or if they did indeed deep fry them. If the potatoes were fried, I think they should start boiling them because it would probably taste the same and be a lot healthier.

Our entrees arrived a few minutes after our appetizers. I guess the kitchen was operating really fast since there weren't that many people in the restaurant. I looked at my meal and it looked delicious. I was hoping for more corned beef, but I'm a pig when it comes to corned beef. Every St. Patrick's Day I usually cook up and eat an entire corned beef by myself. Maybe that's why I keep gaining weight.......anyway..... I also received a quarter head of cabbage, sliced boiled carrots and a few boiled potatoes on my plate. The cabbage and the corned beef were drizzled with a traditional Irish cream sauce. Everything on my plate was really good. The corned beef was cut into thin, lean strips. The veggies on the plate were all perfectly boiled. The cream sauce was so good that I asked for an extra side of it. R really liked it too so we each poured more of it on to our food. The sauce was like a creamy, buttery yummy sauce with a slight hint of horseradish. R and I both agreed that we would order this meal again.

J took a bite of her Corned Beef Boxty and said that it tasted fruity. The corned beef boxty comes with an apple onion relish and is topped with swiss cheese and horseradish mayo. A boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake that is stuffed with various things. It's kind of like an Irish version of a crepe. J said that despite the fruity flavor, she still liked her boxty.

V's boxty came filled with zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli and carrots. The veggies were cooked in a white wine lemon sauce. V enjoyed her boxty and said that the sauce was really good.

Overall everyone really enjoyed their food. Our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable. If she ever didn't know an answer to a question, she made sure to go ask someone so she didn't give us incorrect information. I asked her why the restaurant was so empty. She told us that since their live band doesn't start until 10:00 pm, people tend to come in later. She said that once the music starts, the place gets really crowded. This means that if you're looking for a restaurant without a wait, The Auld Dubliner is a great place to go around 6:00-8:00 pm no matter what the day is. I'm looking forward to going back to try more of their food.

Auld Dubliner on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bagels & Brew - Lake Forest

21771 Lake Forest #100,
Lake Forest, CA
Phone: (949) 951-8985

Alternate Location:
23052-A Alicia Parkway,
Mission Viejo, CA
Phone: (949) 837-6977

Whenever the Mrs. and I feel like going out to a casual weekend brunch, but don't feel like spending a lot of money, we very often end up at Bagels and Brew. Bagels and Brew is located in a strip mall, in a location you can hardly see as you drive by. It's right across the parking lot from Heritage Hill Historical Park. If you're looking for someplace nice to walk after your breakfast, the historical park is the perfect place.

The name "Bagels and Brew" makes it sound like this place has only bagels and coffee (not beer like one of my friends thought) to offer. This is far from the truth though. In addition to their 20+ bagel varieties, Bagels and Brew offers sandwiches, bagel pizzas, omelets, soups, salads and more. They call themselves "Your Neighborhood Cafe," and that is exactly what it feels like. They even have a nice outdoor patio so that you can sit and enjoy your meal with your dog.

On our most recent visit, V decided to get the Baja Scramble ($6.55). I stared at the menu for a long time trying to find something different to order, but in the end I ended up ordering my favorite item here, the Mission Viejo bagel ($4.50). I also added a side of bacon (can't remember the price), because you can't have a good breakfast without it!

I took my number and sat down at a nice outdoor table. The only thing I'm not thrilled about at Bagels and Brew is that they serve Diedrich's coffee. While Diedrich's isn't horrible, I don't really care for it. I wish they would serve Starbucks coffee instead. After about 7 minutes our food arrived.

My Mission Viejo bagel came with my choice of bagel. I chose the Jalapeno Cheddar bagel. The bagel is toasted and topped with cream cheese, fresh tomato and avocado. It is then sprinkled with a generous portion of lemon pepper. This bagel is so good that after the first time I had it, I went to Costco and bought a huge container of lemon pepper so I could re-create it at home all the time. The bacon was crispy and delicious.

V's Baja Scramble had bacon, tomatoes, cilantro, onion, green chiles and pepperjack cheese. Her meal also came with her choice of any bagel with cream cheese. She also chose Jalapeno Cheddar for her bagel. V and I are both very big fans of Jalapeno Cheddar bagels. The Jalapeno Cheddar bagel that Bagels and Brew offers is pretty good, but not the best we've ever had. The problem with the bagel here is that it is basically a plain bagel topped with melted cheese and jalapenos. We both prefer to have jalapenos and cheese mixed into the dough of the bagel as well.

Bagels and Brew is the perfect place to go if you're looking for a quick and tasty breakfast or lunch. You can also stop by and pick up some bagels to take home or to the office. They offer discounted bagels after 3:00 PM and close at 6:00 PM everyday except Sunday when they close at 5:00 PM. They also have a variety of prepackaged cream cheeses and specialty coffees. If you're in the area, I highly recommend that you stop by.

Bagels & Brew on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cosi - Costa Mesa, Metro Pointe

901 South Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone: 714-957-6191
Fax: 714-957-3384

More than 100 locations Nationwide

Cosi is a little sandwich cafe that reminds me of Panera. You order at the counter and then wait at a cozy table for your food. They also offer free wi-fi. In many ways though, I think Cosi is much better than Panera. I kind of wish there was a Cosi on every corner around me, instead of Panera.

Cosi is modeled after a small Parisian cafe. This is not to be confused with a small Persian cafe like someone I know thought. It's Parisian, as in Paris, France. The menu at Cosi consists of salads, soups, hot and cold sandwiches and flatbread pizzas. In the evening, they also serve hearth baked dinners like grilled salmon and chicken in alfredo sauce.

I went to the counter to place my order. I decided to get a dinner sized flatbread pizza ($9.99) that I could customize with my own toppings ($1.49 each). I asked the cashier if they had fresh garlic and cilantro available as toppings. She looked at me and said, " fresh?" I laughed and said that I just wanted garlic on my pizza that wasn't roasted or cooked in any way. She had no idea and yelled back to the cooks, "Do we have fresh garlic?!?" They responded with a quick "No." I asked if they had any kind of garlic. The answer again was no. "Ok, what about the cilantro?" She yelled back again, "Is our cilantro fresh?!?!?" The cook yelled back "Uhhh....yeah...." So in the end, I ended up ordering a pizza with pepperoni and fresh cilantro.

As a side note, if you have never tried this combination on a pizza, you are really missing out. Pepperoni and Cilantro pizza is probably one of the best kinds of pizza you can get. The only thing that would make it better is fresh garlic. If you haven't tried these toppings together on a pizza, stop reading this article, go out and find a pizza place that offers these toppings and go get it. You can come back and read this article later. But I digress....

T went up to the counter and ordered the Wasabi Roast Beef sandwich ($7.39) and a cup of Tortilla Soup, which was advertised as the soup of the day. The cashier told him that they didn't have Tortilla soup. She said that it was coming soon, but not yet available. He ended up getting a cup of the Tomato Soup ($2.19 with purchase of entree) instead.

V decided to get the T.B.M sandwich ($6.39) that had tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese. The cashier asked if she wanted it grilled or cold. V decided on grilled (which makes the sandwich $6.59). The cashier then asked if she wanted chicken in the sandwich. V responded with, "No....No Chicken....No meat of any kind." "Ok" responded the cashier.

A fourth was dining with us, "I", but to be honest I forgot what she ordered. I also forgot to take a picture of her food, so shame on me....Sorry.

Cosi also has a unique dessert that we decided to try. They offer "do it yourself" S'mores. The menu says that you have your choice of graham crackers or giant Oreo cookies to make your S'mores with. An order for two people costs $7.79 and an order for four people costs $13.59. We all just wanted to try it, so we decided that all four of us would share the order for two. We tried to order our S'mores with the Oreo cookies, but the cashier looked confused and again yelled into the kitchen, "Do we have Oreos?" Of course, their response was "No."

They handed us our number and we sat down at a table. The atmosphere is really nice. The decor reminds me of Panera as well. It seems more like you're in a cozy coffee shop than a restaurant. We didn't have to wait long for our food at all. My pizza was the first to arrive.

I received a pretty large pizza that was rectangular in shape and 15 inches long. The pizza was made on the same flatbread that everything here seems to be made with. I took a bite of pizza and was pleasantly surprised. It was quite good! The sauce had a nice bold tomato flavor and the pizza overall had a nice fresh taste to it. The amount of pepperoni wasn't bad and I liked that they gave me plenty of fresh cilantro. I was only able to eat about half of this pizza since it was so big.

Next they brought V's sandwich. "Chicken TBM Sandwich?" they said. "" V replied. "I was very clear that I did not want any meat in my sandwich." They apologized and took the sandwich away. I'm wondering if we actually got charged for the chicken sandwich. I have no idea though because we were never provided with a receipt for our dinner, just a number.

They then brought T's sandwich and soup. All of the sandwiches here seem to be served on the same flatbread that is split in half. It kind of reminds me of having a sandwich in a pita pocket. T thought the soup was ok but was very disappointed in his sandwich. The menu was not really clear on whether the sandwich was hot or cold. T was expecting a hot roast beef sandwich, but it was ice cold. He also thought that the sandwich was really, really sweet. He couldn't stop talking about how sweet it was. He said he could barely force himself to eat the sandwich because it was so sweet.

A few minutes later they returned with V's correct sandwich. Her sandwich contained three slices of mozzarella, three slices of tomato and three leaves of basil. She thought the sandwich was just average. V thinks she would prefer to have a sandwich from Panera. I think they could have put a little more into the sandwich. Her sandwich seemed like it barely had any filling at all.

When we finished our dinner, we went up to the counter and told them we were ready for our S'mores. They brought us out a large round platter with a mini fire pit in the middle of it. On the platter was one Hershey bar, eight marshmallows and four graham crackers broken in half. It was pretty fun making s'mores at the dinner table over this tiny fire pit. V thought that since they charge almost $8.00 for this dessert, which is more than any of their sandwiches, that they should have given us more marshmallows. V is a marshmallow addict though.

I really like the environment at Cosi. It is exactly as the name implies, cozy. I think that this is a great place to go get a casual inexpensive dinner. I will definitely get the pizza when I return. I will also probably order the S'mores again because it was really fun. I just hope that they have the giant Oreo cookies next time.

Cosi on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 3, 2008

BBQ Chicken - Irvine

Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center
2750 Alton Parkway #111
Irvine, CA 92614


After hearing all the hype about BBQ Chicken, the new Korean fried chicken joint in Irvine, I decided I had to go down there and try it. With a name like BBQ chicken, most people would assume that this place specializes in barbecue chicken. It does not. While they do have barbecue chicken on the menu, this place specializes in Korean Fried Chicken that is fried in pure olive oil. Their sign says that "BBQ" stands for "Best of the Best Quality." BBQ Chicken is the second branch of this chain to open in Orange County. BBQ Chicken though, claims to be the world's largest fried chicken chain with over 3500 locations worldwide.

I walked in the front door completely expecting to encounter an environment like KFC. Instead I found myself in a small restaurant with modern decor and comfy looking leather chairs. We were asked if we were going to eat there or take our food to go. We pondered for a minute and finally decided to dine in.

They brought us glossy paper menus that appear to double as the take-out menus. Most of the chicken here is served in 5 or 10 piece orders. Their Original Olive Chicken was also available in a 2 piece combo with fries. After looking over the menu, J decided to get the Original Olive Chicken Combo with fries and cole slaw ($5.99). I wanted to try their Drumsticks of Fire. It wasn't available in a combo though, so I ordered the smallest order, a 5 piece for $8.99. I felt I should have something other than a large plate of fried chicken for lunch, so I ordered a side of fried rice for $1.75. The waitress told me that my chicken would take 15-20 minutes to prepare. I told her that would be fine.

A few minutes later the waitress dropped of a small salad at our table with two plates. I guess this is something that everyone gets with their meal. The salad kind of tasted like a weird cole slaw.

While we were trying the salad, the waitress brought us a small bowl of white cubes in a clear liquid. "What is that?" I asked. "Radish.....Daikon," she replied. "Oh....." I tried a piece. The daikon radish was pickled in a brine of vinegar and sugar. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't for me. I guess the Koreans have a really different idea of side dishes with fried chicken.

After about ten minutes, J was served a wire basket with a fried chicken wing, chicken thigh, french fries and cole slaw. I tried one of the french fries. They were pretty yummy. They must be fried in olive oil too. J thought the chicken was ok, but wasn't overly impressed.

About 5 minutes later I finally received my Drumsticks of Fire. Five very large drumsticks were in a circular pattern on my plate and had been drizzled with a bright red hot sauce. I eagerly took a bite. The coating was crunchy and crispy. The first thought to enter my mind was "Wow, these are sweet." Shortly after though I could start to feel the heat. The chicken was pretty spicy, which is usually a good thing. I think I'll stick to the original chicken next time though. If it were just spicy it would be fine, but I'm not really a big fan of the sweetness in my hot sauce.

My fried rice was brought in a styrofoam cup. It was really bad. It tasted horrible at the same time as it was really bland. I can't explain it. It had no flavor, but really bad flavor at the same time. I could only bring myself to eat a couple of bites. J tried it and said that it was so bad, she didn't think she'd be able to eat fried rice for a while.

Overall, the chicken was pretty good. It was very crispy and crunchy which I really like. Frying the chicken in Olive Oil seemed to also give it a nice clean flavor. However, I feel that the prices are a little high, especially since you only get dark meat chicken. I do prefer dark meat, but I know it's a lot cheaper than breasts. I realize the prices aren't that high, but I tend to think of fried chicken as a fast food meal. If I'm going to pay $9.00 for a meal, I want it to at least come with a side dish. Going to BBQ Chicken was a fun experience, but I think I'll just make it an occasional splurge. When I want to pig out on fried chicken, I think I'll stick to the 10 pieces of KFC Extra Crispy for $7.

BBQ Chicken on Urbanspoon