The Orange County Register has published a profile on me which runs in the print version of the paper today. The online version is available by clicking here.

Thank you to Jeff Overley for the story!!


>Chaparosa Grill offers cooking demos with your meal


duck and mango quesadilla

Chef and owner Tony Corke is definitely a character and his personality shines through when you sign up for one of his ‘cooking demos’ held on the last Monday of each month at his Tustin location and the last Tuesday of the month in Laguna Niguel.

I spent an evening recently at one of these cooking demo/dinners enjoying Chef Corke’s humor and watching his passion come to life when he demonstrated how to make his 3-course dinner of tomato basil soup, duck and mango quesadilla and chocolate almond torte. With every dish, Chef Corke will bring his concoctions around to show everyone and upon completion, the dishes are magically brought out from the kitchen by his staff for everyone to enjoy.

chocolate almond torte

The next demo is on October 25 (Tustin) and October 26 (Laguna Niguel), on the menu will be crab and asparagus salad, salmon en croute and panna cotta.

November’s demo schedule is slightly different due to Thanksgiving and will therefore be held on Nov 15 (Tustin) and Nov 16 (Laguna Niguel) and the menu will include cream of corn soup, beef prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, black berry and apple compote.

Chef Corke

Dinner is $44 per person (which already includes tax and gratuity) and diners can enjoy a 3-course meal, 2 glasses of wine and coffee. Demos begin promptly at 7pm and guests are given copies of the recipes of each dish presented and simple directions on how to make the dish. Chef Corke will also do a step by step to show you how easy it is to prepare these dishes.

*** Photography by Mahesh ***

Chaparosa Grill at the District in Tustin, tel: 714-259-9888 or at 27221 La Paz Road, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677. Tel: 949-916-3815

Chaparosa Grill on Urbanspoon

>ECCO — the new kid shows huge promise

>I kick-started OC Restaurant Week off with a visit to ECCO, a restaurant I’d been wanting to try out for a few months now, since it opened at The Camp. The 3-course menu had some interesting items which I wanted to try and at a mere $10 for lunch and $20 for dinner, it was a no-brainer that it was on my list of ‘to-tries’.

The restaurant sits right next door to Old Vine Cafe and consists of both indoor and outdoor seating. We opted for the patio hoping to catch the last remnants of natural lighting for the purpose of photography. We were seated by someone who introduced himself as Danny — incidentally, the owner — who was more than happy to comply with our seating request.

After perusing the menus: a la carte dinner menu, Restaurant Week prix fixe, happy hour menu, I noticed that most of the items on the prix fixe were selected from the regular a la carte, which made it all the more enticing to me knowing that what I sampled today would continue to be on the menu should I return at a later date.

A basket of foccacia was placed on our table with a pot of pesto and after we ordered, it seemed that was the only thing edible to grace our table for a very long time. When two appetizers went to the table next to us — the same two items we had ordered — I thought perhaps everything was coming out at the same time for both our tables, but sadly, that was not to be. Our neighboring table received two appetizers for the four diners while we had none. It took another 15 minutes before our appetizers arrived, by then it had been close to an hour after we’d stepped foot through the doors.

calamari fries

The long wait was definitely an issue, but I’d have to say despite the length in time for food to arrive, when it actually hit the table, it was well executed. The calamari fries were strips of calamari coated with bread crumbs and fried to perfection! The calamari strips were so tender and were tossed in some sprigs of fried rosemary. The flavors of the rosemary were there, but did not overpower the calamari making it nice and aromatic without being offensive. An accompanying arrabbiata sauce was served alongside and added an extra kick of flavor.

Minestrone soup — at least that was what our server introduced it to us as — was a vegetable soup without the traditional tomato base if a minestrone was absolutely delightful. Zucchini, potatoes, white beans were all brought together so subtly yet so flavorful and was reminiscent of what a good lentil soup tasted like but with a myriad of vegetables. I was very impressed by this and would definitely order again!

Our server was very sweet and attentive, filling our water glasses whenever it was low and checking back with us from time to time. I understand that the timing of the food was not something within her control and thus did not begrudge her when the entrees took yet another 20 minutes to hit our table. We noticed that we were not the only ones experiencing the long wait and all I’d hoped for was that the entrees were as agreeable as our appetizers had been.

Wood grilled natural chicken was a very generous portion of a chicken breast served with braised cavolo nero kale, cannellini beans and au jus. The chicken was served in two pieces, one was cooked to perfection tender and moist, while the other, the piece attached to the drummette was a little dry. The flavors were there, well seasoned, however, I would’ve liked more au jus on my plate just to counter-balance the slightly dry meat. The two accompanying sides were excellent choices, the beans were flavorful and perfectly cooked, while the kale was absolutely divine! I would’ve loved more of this on my plate!


Orecchiette Salsiccia was a pasta dish of little pasta discs (little ears) with swiss chard, crimini mushrooms and sausage. While the crimini mushrooms did little for the dish, the swiss chard was an ideal choice to the fennel-flavored sausage. This dish could’ve used a little bit of sauce because it was on the dry side, but taste-wise I found absolutely no fault with it.

The portions were extremely generous and by now we were very full, but we still found room to taste the desserts — which incidentally were served in a timely fashion. Ricotta orange pound cake wasn’t very exciting and I wasn’t particularly keen on the strawberry accompaniment. The cake itself was unimpressive, but when combined with the sweet cream, changed the whole aura of this dish. My advice? Make sure you spoon everything presented in one mouthful for that complete effect.

Chef Kris Kirk

Tiramisu was the other dessert option and while I have never been a huge fan of tiramisu, a very close friend of mine is a tiramisu-fiend and whenever we’re at a restaurant and tiramisu is on the dessert menu, you can be sure we’ll be having that. So even though I wouldn’t ordinarily order tiramisu myself, I’ve had my share of tiramisu — more than I’d like that’s for sure — so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about tiramisu. The one here is good, in fact, it tasted better than it looked. The top layer of lady fingers was a little too hard causing the end product to lose that airy and light texture so required of tiramisu. Still, putting that aside, it was still very respectable and I thought it good enough to eat more than one spoonful of — and you know that says a lot!

Putting the hiccups from the kitchen aside, I still feel ECCO deserves a pat on the back being the new kid on the block and for the quality of fare it offers to diners. If you haven’t given ECCO a try yet I highly recommend you do so this week because the deal is second to none and you will not walk away disappointed — not by the food that’s the sure! For whatever reasons the kitchen was having trouble churning out the dishes, I hope that it was just a one-off thing and that it is resolved soon. As for me, I will definitely return to ECCO in the future to try out some other things on the menu. For now, ECCO is definitely a keeper in my book!

*** Photography by Mahesh ***

ECCO at The Camp, 2937 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Tel: 714-444-3226

Ecco Italian on Urbanspoon

>Kappa Ramen — a friendly and welcoming place

>Anaheim isn’t a spot I’d venture to out of the blue, but when I heard a new ramen place had opened up I asked a friend if he’d join me there to check out the fare since he lives that way. When I got to the location, I realized that Kappa Ramen had taken over the old Lai Lai Ken space, and I was hoping they would serve me a decent bowl of ramen (after such a big fail I’d experienced at Shizuma last week).

We were given menus almost immediately after being seated and drink orders taken. Our server stopped by to answer any questions we may have regarding the menu (which incidentally turned out to be the owner Nick Reid we later found out) which helped us finalize our decision.

My friend ordered the Kappa “signature” ramen (above right) while I opted for the Kyoto style — the more traditional pork bone soup base — with a side order of chicken karaage. Our meals were definitely cooked to order because it didn’t come out instantaneously and I liked it that way.

I took a sip of my friend’s broth and found it rather tantalizing in its richness and how full bodied the flavor was. I also liked that it had a kick to it. There were bean sprouts, corn, ginger, scallions, kimchi, chashu, half a soy braised boiled egg and most interestingly, slices of fresh avocado. My friend seemed to enjoy his ramen tremendously.

My Kyoto ramen (above left) wasn’t bad either. The pork broth was rich enough for me and wasn’t overly salty. There was half a soy braised egg and although I would’ve liked a few more pieces of chashu,  two pieces seem to be the norm at all ramen places. Next time, I’ll get an extra order of the chashu to boot. The noodles also had some scallions and julienned ginger which generally cuts the porkiness of the meat if it is a little gamey.

Chicken karaage (above right) is something I like to order at ramen places and most places does a decent job in taste but often it is too dry. Here, it was nice and crispy on the outside and moist on the inside! Very nice! There are also gyozas, fried noodles, fried rice, cold noodles on the menu but there was only so much stomach space between two people so I’ll have to save the rest for the next trip and I definitely see myself coming back here when I’m in the area next!

Very enjoyable meal especially when Mr Reid offered us complimentary desserts — shave ice (above left) for my friend and a milk pudding (right) for me. Both were refreshingly welcoming after the meal, but I’d have to say, the milk pudding blew me away! Very light with a perfect texture! Bravo!

Kappa Ramen, 3024 W Ball Road, Anaheim, CA. Tel: (714) 828-2210

Kappa Ramen on Urbanspoon

>OC Restaurant Week 2010 — you snooze, you lose!

>OC Restaurant kicks off on Sunday, September 26th and ends on Saturday, October 2nd. Participating restaurants include several which I’ve already blogged about such as Catal in Anaheim, Haven Gastropub in Orange, Kimera in Irvine, Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, and one of my current favorites, Seasons 52 also in Costa Mesa. 

During this week, diners can sample some reasonable fare on prix fixe menus offered by participating restaurants. For a list of restaurants, go to OC Restaurant Week‘s website and don’t forget to make reservations!!

>Blackmarket Bakery — sinfully good!


sweet treats

Almost every Saturday you’ll find me at the Irvine Farmer’s Market, bright and early, as I like to get there before 8.30am to beat the crowds.

Most often than not, I’m there on an empty stomach and after I’ve parked my car, my usual trip from the parking lot to the vendors involves walking past the Blackmarket Bakery stand. The array of baked goods are staring me straight in the eye as I go by and often I will march right by them resisting their temptation, but some days, the lure is too strong and I’ll stop and allow myself a little browse.

at the Farmer’s Market

Usually I’ll just stand there for a while because I can’t make up my mind as to which foccacia pocket I want that morning –am I feeling for a roasted red peppers, or am I in the mood for the mushroom? Mmmm eggplant sounds good too! I saw on my last trip, a new addition, an artichoke and garlic pocket bread, but I ended up getting the mushroom instead.

mushroom focaccia

Sweet treats such as scones, pastry twists, cookies are also available for those with a sweet tooth, but what I love about their sweet offerings is that they aren’t super sweet so I’m all for that! Their scones are excellent and I’ve tried several although I can’t tell you now what was in them. The most recent one I bought was an apricot and ginger scone — very tasty! If you’re off to a party or going over to someone’s home, their cookie assortment is a great gift idea, however, my favorite are their Russian tea cookies — perfectly crumbly and totally decadent!

FIFA World Cup cake

If you’ve ever been to Haven Gastropub and have tried their cabernet pasta, you’ll know how crazy good it is and yes, you guessed it, it’s created by Blackmarket Bakery. Various types of cabernet pastas are available for sale and you can bring some home to enjoy. They sell it at the Farmer’s Market as well as their store, but just remember, if you do go to the store, there won’t be as big a selection of non-perishable baked goods on offer. The non-perishables are always plentiful but if you’re wanting to try the foccacias, please just go to the farmer’s market for those because you’ll definitely be disappointed if you go to the store and none are available.

I’ve also tried several cakes made by them — birthday cakes and a FIFA World Cup Final cake at a party I went to — both were incredible and an absolutely perfectly unique way to celebrate a special occasion! Blackmarket Bakery definitely gets a 5-star thumbs up from me!

Blackmarket Bakery, 17941 Sky Park Circle, Irvine, CA 92614. Tel: 949-852-4609 or at the Irvine Farmer’s Market on Saturdays at Campus and Bridge 

Blackmarket Bakery on Urbanspoon