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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Da Bianca Trattoria - Orange

7448 E. Chapman Ave
Orange, CA


Following up on a tip I received from a couple of readers, Mr. and Mrs. W, I headed down to a little trattoria the other night named Da Bianca. I knew that the restaurant was in the same parking lot as Pacific Ranch Market off of Chapman near Jamboree. What I didn't know was how hard it was to find. I drove around the parking lot and looked at all the storefronts. I drove back and forth in front of the market. I looked at the signboard out on the street. I found no trace of an Italian restaurant in this parking lot. Frustrated, I pulled out my iPhone, told it to locate me and then tell me where the nearest Italian restaurant was. Da Bianca popped right up on the screen. I called the number and someone answered the phone, "Da Bianca!" I asked where they were located and they gave me the intersection that I was currently at. I asked if they were in the same parking lot as Pacific Ranch Market. They told me they were right next to the market. I thanked them and hung up confused. I drove through the parking lot again and didn't see the restaurant. I then noticed that you could drive to the side and kind of behind the market. There it was. If I hadn't known this restaurant was there, I never would have found it. I have been in this parking lot many times and have never seen this restaurant. I'm glad I took the time to track it down though.

We entered the restaurant as a party of 5 around 6:30 PM on a Sunday night. The restaurant is pretty small with about a dozen tables. Half the tables were empty though, so we were seated immediately. The waiter brought over some menus and then propped up a white board with hand written nightly specials at the end of our table. A few minutes later he brought us a basket of fresh, warm garlic bread. It was very tasty and much nicer than just getting plain bread.

I decided to order one of the specials, the Lasagna Verde Al Forno ($15.95). V ordered the Spaghetti Pomodoro ($13.95), R ordered the Tortellini Alla Boscaiola ($13.95), S ordered the Farfalle Genovese ($14.95) and J decided to get the Cioppino ($21.95).

The food took a little longer to come out than at some other restaurants. This is probably a good thing though. This probably means that they are making everything fresh to order instead of just ladling pre-made sauce on to already cooked pasta, like I'm sure some high volume restaurants do. When the food finally came out, it was worth the wait.

My Lasagna Verde Al Forno was sheets of green (probably spinach) pasta layered with bolognese and bechamel sauce. The bolognese was a nice meaty sauce with mushroooms in it. The bechamel sauce was rich, yummy and much better than the ricotta cheese you find in a lot of lasagnas. I enjoyed this dish very much.

V's Spaghetti Pomodoro was made with spaghetti, fresh tomatoes and basil. V liked it a lot. I stole a bite of it and was amazed at how fresh the tomatoes tasted. It was fantastic.

J's Cioppino was made with mussels, clams, shrimp, fish and calamari in a slight spicy tomato broth. J thought that the Cioppino was very good. I tried some of it and thought that the broth could be a little spicier. Since J doesn't like a lot of spice though, she was happy with it the way it was. I also found the seafood to be a little chewy, but overall I thought it was a pretty good bowl of Cioppino.

S ordered her Farfalle Genovese with alfredo sauce instead of the pesto sauce it was supposed to some with. The farfalle was tossed with chicken breast and sun dried tomatoes. S really liked her dish as well.

R's Tortellini Alla Boscaiola was cheese filled pasta with ham, mushrooms and peas that was topped with a cream sauce. R enjoyed his meal. I stole a bite from R's plate as well and found it to be pretty tasty.

Overall, everyone was happy with their food. It's pretty rare these days for a party of 5 to go to a restaurant they haven't been to before, and all completely enjoy their meal. I was surprised that I also liked all the food I tried off of other people's plates. Good Italian food is very hard to find in Orange County. Da Bianca is definitely one of the good ones. My only problem with Da Bianca is the price. I felt that $15.95 was a little high to pay for a slice of lasagna. I might have felt better paying that if the meal had at least come with a side salad or something. In the end though, I decided it was worth it. I would much rather eat this yummy slice of $16 lasagna instead of two crappy slices of $8 lasagna. If Da Bianca had lower prices though, I'd probably start going there a lot more often. Thank you to Mr. and Mrs. W for the wonderful recommendation.

Da Bianca Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2009

1st Annual Orange County Restaurant Week

Today marks the launch of the 1st annual Orange County Restaurant Week. 77 Orange County restaurants are participating and are offering price fixed menus for lunch and dinner. Meal prices are $10, $20, $30 or $40 depending on the restaurant. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions. (Posted on the Orange County Restaurant Week Website.)

What is Orange County Restaurant Week?
Orange County Restaurant Week will give ALL local food aficionados an opportunity to enjoy special prix fixe menus from many participating restaurants throughout Orange County. Orange County Restaurant Week was created with the intention of spotlighting Orange County as a premier dining destination. Orange County has amazing restaurants and eateries from corner to corner now it's time to unite all OC food lovers and restaurants.

What cities are participating?
All of them! Orange County Restaurant Week is modeled after other major metro areas. Just like San Diego Restaurant Week, ours is a countywide event. We don't want you to miss a single delicious meal in ANY city.

When is it?
Orange County Restaurant Week is coming in February 2009. The event will run from Feb 22nd-Feb 28th 2009. Happy Hour Week is coming in April and Kid's Restaurant Week is in June. Families in OC can kick off their summer with awesome family friendly dining

Will the menus vary?
Yes! Orange County Restaurant Week was designed with abundance and diversity in mind. We want you to search many options during restaurant week so you can have a fabulous week of dining out.

Do I need tickets?
No tickets or passes are required for Orange County Restaurant Week. Diners simply dine out at as many participating restaurants as they like.

What Restaurants are participating in Restaurant Week?


118 Degrees
230 Forest Avenue
50 Forks
Antonello Ristorante
Balboa Bay Club
Bistro West
Bluewater Grill
Cantina Lounge
Chaparosa Grill
Chart House
Citrus Fresh Grill
Daily Grill
il Farro Cafe Trattoria
JT Schmid's
Leatherby's Cafe Rouge
Lucca Cafe
Manhattan Supper Club
McCormick & Schmicks Grille- Anaheim
McCormick & Schmicks - Santa Ana
McCormick & Schmicks - Irvine
Naples Ristorante
Nello Cucina
O'Neill's at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club
Orange County Mining Co.
Orange Hill Restaurant
Pinot Provence
Pizzeria Ortica
Quattro Cafe
RA Sushi
Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen
Restaurant 162'
Rockin' Baja Coastal Cantina
Royal Hawaiian
Royal Khyber
Roy's Hawaiian - Anaheim
Roy's Hawaiian - Newport Beach
Ruth's Chris Steak House - Anaheim
Ruth's Chris Steak House - Irvine
Savannah at the Beach
Savannah Chop House
Scott's Seafood
Simply Fondue
Skosh Monahans
South Coast Winery
Spark Woodfire Grill
Stone Hill Tavern
Sundried Tomato
TAPS Fishhouse
Terra Nova
The Californian
The Clubhouse
The Crow Bar and Kitchen
The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach
The First Cabin at The Balboa Bay Club & Resort
The Melting Pot
The Ritz Restaurant and Garden
The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar
Tortilla Jo's
Wildfish Seafood Grille
Wolfgang Puck Bistro at Macy's
Zov's - Tustin
Zov's - Irvine
Zov's - Newport Coast

Friday, February 20, 2009

Topz Burgers - Orange

1632 E. Katella Avenue #A
Orange, CA 92867

714-628-0266 - Online Ordering

I've been telling myself for years to get down to a Topz Burgers to check them out. I saw them years ago on the Food Network and immediately wanted to try them. At the time, the closest location was in Los Angeles. A few years ago, a Topz opened in Orange. I knew about it when it opened, but for some reason it has taken me this long to finally try it.

Topz calls themselves the "Healthier Burger Grill." Their gimmick is that they use really lean ground beef and oven bake their fries. This is supposed to make your meal much healthier than the standard burger meal.

I decided to order a 1/2 lb. Angus Burger ($5.90). I added cheese ($0.50) and bacon ($1.30) to my burger. I justified the extra fat because the burger is supposed to be super healthy, right? I added an order of the baked Aero Fries ($1.80). J ordered a 1/4 lb. Angus Burger ($4.60) with cheese ($0.50). She added Aero Fries and a Soda to her burger for $2.75.

We went and found a table in the mostly empty restaurant. We were there during the lunch hour so I was surprised at how dead it was. I went to get some ketchup from their ketchup bar and noticed that they had garlic ketchup. Yum.

Our burgers came out a short while later. My 1/2 lb burger was actually a double cheeseburger with two 1/4 lb. patties. The burger was served on a wheat bun. The burger itself was pretty good, but for some reason didn't taste like beef to me. It kind of tasted like ground chicken or ground turkey. The fries were pretty good. They were much better than I expected for baked fries.

J thought that her burger was decent, but nothing special. She also thought that the fries were pretty good.

Since this restaurant prides themselves on being a healthy alternative, they proudly hand out their nutritional info at the door. I decided to take this info home and see how healthy these burgers really were. Here is what I found.

Fat Grams-
Topz 1/4 lb. Burger - 25 grams of fat*
Tops 1/2 lb. Burger - 40 grams of fat*
McDonalds Quarter Pounder With Cheese - 26 grams of fat**
McDonalds Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese - 42 grams of fat**

Topz 1/4 lb. Burger - 507 calories*
Tops 1/2 lb. Burger - 735 calories*
McDonalds Quarter Pounder With Cheese - 510 calories**
McDonalds Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese - 740 calories**

So it looks like choosing a "healthy" Topz burger, instead of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese from McDonalds, saves you a whopping 3 calories and 1 gram of fat. Then I realized that the nutritional info on Topz was not including cheese. This most definitely means that a Topz burger has MORE fat and calories that it's equivalent at McDonalds. Take it from me, you're much better off with the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. A McDonalds Quarter Pounder without cheese has 410 calories and 19 grams of fat**. That's almost 100 calories and 6 grams of fat LESS than Topz.

While I was eating my meal, I was also looking over a copy of their takeout menu. Topz advertises that they make "healthy" milkshakes by using frozen yogurt and fresh fruit. I saw that they offered a Chocolate Banana shake ($3.25). I decided that since it was healthy, I would grab one on the way out for dessert. I watched as the girl behind the counter put some soft serve frozen yogurt into a drink tin. Next she got some chocolate syrup out of the fridge and squirted some in. She then pulled out a tub from the fridge that looked like dark brown swamp sludge. She started scooping it into my drink. That's when I realized that these were the "bananas." She blended this concoction together, poured it into a cup and handed it to me. I grabbed a straw and hoped for the best. I hopped in my car and took the first sip as I pulled away. It was disgusting. I can't believe I wasted $3.25 on this. I tried to drink more to get my money's worth, but I couldn't. I made J try it and she agreed that it was horrible. It tasted like the bananas had been sitting in that fridge for weeks.

Since it doesn't look like you're making much of a healthier choice by going to Topz, and because their shakes are disgusting, I doubt I will ever return to Topz. In fact, I am writing this article now after having just eaten a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. It was much cheaper and much better than my burger from Topz.

*Info pulled from

**Info pulled from

Topz on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

K'Ya - Anaheim

1221 S. Harbor Blvd.
Anaheim, CA

Alternate Location:
1287 S. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA

I recently went down to K'ya restaurant in Anaheim to celebrate C's birthday. K'ya (pronounced Ky-yuh...just imagine a super sneaky ninja doing a karate chop and yelling "Hi-ya!", then replace the "H" with a "K"...) has two locations in Orange County. There is one location in Laguna Beach and the Anaheim location is in the Hotel Menage (Formerly Holiday Inn) right across the freeway from Disneyland. I had never heard of this restaurant before J made the reservation for C's birthday. I thought the restaurant must be fairly new, but the hostess said they have been open for about 2 years.

We were seated at a nice table in a dimly lit dining room. The atmosphere was a lot nicer than I expected from a place that used to be a Holiday Inn. There were hundreds of candles around the restaurant. We sat down and looked over our menus. The menu was divided into two sections. The main section consisted of a lot of fancy sounding meals with fairly high prices. There was also a "bistro" section on the menu that had more casual fare and much cheaper prices. I was told that this "bistro" menu is only available in the Anaheim location. K'ya also had a fairly nice wine selection with very reasonable prices. We decided to order a bottle of red wine for the table to share ($21.00).

We had heard a few good things on Yelp! about the calamari here, so we decided to order it. The Flash Fried Calamari ($10.00) was served with a sweet and spicy Thai glaze, bean sprouts, carrots, peanuts, cilantro and green onions. The people on the internet were right. This calamari was pretty freaking good. The calamrai was crunchy and covered in a glaze that wasn't too sweet and wasn't too spicy. I really enjoyed this dish, as did everyone else that tried it.

While many of the items on the bistro menu sounded delicious, like the Loco Moco ($8.00) or the Gyro Pita ($9.00), we all decided to order from the main section of the menu. A few of us chose to start off with a soup or salad.

V and J both started off their meal with the Honey Poached Pear and Bermuda Triangle Goat Cheese Salad ($10.00). The salad was served with marcona almonds and a chive vinaigrette. V and J both thought that the salad was pretty good.

I ordered the Golden Beet, Baby Tomato and Feta Cheese Salad ($9.00). My salad wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting a salad with large slices of sweet golden beets. Instead, the salad was mostly lettuce with some diced, white, under-ripe, flavorless beets. The salad might as well have not had them at all.

For dinner I ordered the 1/2 lb. Kobe Beef Burger $(15.00) with bacon ($1.50 extra). The burger was supposed to come with swiss and cheddar cheese, but I asked for crumbled bleu instead of the swiss. I ordered my burger medium rare, but it arrived extremely well done. The burger itself wasn't bad, but the perfectly round, pressed patty reminded me of a frozen sirloin burger patty from Costco. I think this may have been the first time I have ever ordered a Kobe burger. It didn't seem any different than any other regular restaurant burger. The other thing about this burger was that I think it smelled like fish. At first I thought it was because I was sitting next to S and she had lobster in her dish. The more I ate the burger though, the more I came to realize that it was my burger that smelled like fish. It wasn't a really strong smell and the burger tasted ok. Maybe they just grilled the burger next to a piece of fish or something.

V just wanted a bowl of their soup of the day ($9.00) for dinner. The soup this day happened to be Tomato Bisque. V said that the soup tasted pretty good but was a little too chunky for her liking. V had also ordered a Diet Coke with her meal. Halfway through her drink she noticed that there was lettuce, onion and various other bits of food stuck to the inside of her glass. She pointed this out to the waiter and he replaced her drink, but never apologized.

C and R both ordered the Seared Flat Iron Steak ($22.00). The steak was served with a gorgonzola cheese gratin and caramelized onions. Both of them enjoyed their meal but they agreed that there was nothing special about it.

J and D both ordered the Hunan Braised Beef Shortribs ($20.00). The shortribs were served with white rice, wok'd vegetables and caramelized pineapple. D liked the shortribs and thought that the sauce was pretty good, but she thought it could have been a little sweeter. J didn't like the shortribs at all because she felt that the sauce was way too sweet. I guess some people will think the sweetness is juuuuust right..... J and D both agreed though that the shortribs were burned which made both of them like this dish less.

S ordered Striped Cheese Ravioli ($23.00). The ravioli was served with little chunks of lobster and wild mushrooms on top. It was then covered with a lobster cream sauce. S enjoyed this dish a lot and thought that the bits of lobster were very tender and tasty.

Overall, everyone thought that the food here was decent, but not great. We mostly enjoyed our meal, but I don't think any of us will be racing back to dine here again. K'ya might be a place to consider if you are at Disneyland and you want a nice meal, but don't want to pay the overinflated prices at Morton's, Ruth's Chris or some of the other places down the street. If I were looking for a reasonably priced meal right outside of Disneyland though, I think I'd go to Gardenwalk and eat at Cheesecake Factory or Louie's Bar and Grill (Hmmm...I think I forgot to write up my review of Louie's...)

k'ya Street Fare and Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Daikokuya - Costa Mesa

2975 Harbor Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Daikokuya is a little ramen shop in the food court inside the Marukai Market in Costa Mesa. Marukai is a grocery store that specializes in Asian and Hawaiian groceries. The store is kind of similar to Costco in that you need to purchase a membership to shop there. You do not need a membership though to eat in the food court. The food court also contains a Sushi Boy, a Korean restaurant, a Japanese/Italian restaurant and a Beard Papa's Cream Puffs.

The menu at the Costa Mesa location of Daikokuya is pretty limited. They only offer one kind of ramen. This is their specialty. They also offer about 3 other dishes as well as a couple of side dishes like fried rice. You can order your ramen alone for $8.50 or as a combo with one of their side dishes for $11.50. I decided to get the ramen combo with the fried rice. I asked for a glass of water. I was then informed that they only have bottled water, but offer free iced tea. The cashier then pointed to a large metal drink dispenser with a hand written sign that said "Wheet Tea." I decided I would just drink that as my beverage.....even though I didn't know what it was. J ordered a shredded pork bowl ($7.50) and decided to drink the "Wheet Tea" as well.

The ramen here is served in a bowl that is bigger than your head.....well at least most of your heads.... In addition to the fried rice, my meal came with a salad. The salad was pretty yummy. I especially liked the creamy dressing on top. It basically seemed like a Japanese version of cole slaw.

The ramen was served in a murky broth. Daikokuya claims it takes a full day of boiling pork bones at a secret undisclosed location to make this broth. The ramen is topped with a marinated hard boiled egg, seasoned bamboo, bean sprouts and green onions. I have heard a lot of great thinks about Daikokuya so maybe I built it up too much in my head. I was pretty disappointed with my ramen. The broth was a little on the bland side. They had a condiment bar so I added some pureed garlic and soy sauce to my soup. This made it taste a little better.

The fried rice was also pretty tasteless. I added a lot of soy sauce, some pureed garlic and some white pepper. It tasted better, but not great. I ended up taking the fried rice home. I doctored it up at home with salt, pepper and soy sauce and it tasted a lot better.

J ordered her shredded pork bowl without the green onions and pickled ginger that usually comes on top. The shredded pork had been simmered in a sweet teriyaki like sauce with white onions. J liked the bowl but felt that it had a little too much sauce.

Both J and I thought that the "Wheet Tea" was really weird. I thought it tasted like toasted rice tea and J thought it just tasted like a bunch of grains. I probably wouldn't drink this again.

The next time I decide to go out for ramen, I think I will skip Daikokuya. The noodles were ok, but not worth the drive to Costa Mesa or the hefty price tag.

Daikokuya Costa Mesa on Urbanspoon