A revived taste of Claes Ovation

I must admit, the old menu at Claes really needed a makeover, but I was too polite to say anything when I went for a meal with my friends several months ago. The dishes were outdated, but on the positive side, it gave me a sense of childhood nostalgia, bringing back memories of food I used to eat with my parents on Sundays at the dining room of the club we belonged to.

Sentimental feelings aside, when I found out that the menu was getting a complete overhaul with Chef Paul Bauer given full control over the new menu creation, I waited with bated breath to see what was in store for this idyllic dining room with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.

I must warn you though, this review is a long one, purely because I dined with five other people and between us, a lot of food was had and it’ll take some time to go through them all. A little like how it was when we were perusing the menu and deciding on what to eat. While we were doing that, an artistic platter arrived at the table in lieu of a bread basket.

A large sesame cracker sitting atop an easel reminiscent of a large shell is served with two demitasses of dipping sauces — a tomato based chili and ginger chutney.

These delicious crackers are a take on Vietnamese banh da tom and every table gets one (or two) to munch on while perusing the menu.

As the light starts to slowly fade, once again, I started panicking and decided to take charge and order some appetizers for the table while everyone else was enjoying catching up with one another, sipping on wine and munching on the sesame crackers. I wanted to capture photos with natural lighting rather than artificial for the full effect and I couldn’t wait any longer!

Although we didn’t eat everything in the order I will be presenting them in, they will be described in the categories they are listed on the menu starting with Small Bites.

Peking Style Duck Wontons ($9) are fried wontons served in a dim sum basket with lacquered chopsticks in a box to complete the Asian feel. The duck is flavorful and even agreeable to my Chinese palate. I didn’t care for the guava sweet and sour dipping sauce though because, well, I’m just not a “fruit in my savory dishes” kinda gal — I make exceptions though with game.

This was positively one of the favorites! Hand Cut Wagyu Beef Tartare ($12) comes on an elongated plate with all the condiments separate for you to mix as you wish. Finely chopped Wagyu beef is drizzled with juniper oil and piquillo peppers, capers are placed to the side for you to add more or less of according to your taste.

I was given the task of mixing so I took the liberty to incorporate everything into it. The quail egg added a creamy component which we scooped up with crispy lavash points. I can’t even begin to explain how perfect each mouthful of this briny, tart, somewhat creamy concoction did to me. Pure bliss!

I was a little skeptical about Maine Lobster Spring Roll ($12) mainly because I’m a purist but boy was I wrong! It was deliciously crispy on the outside and the lobster was clearly visible both by the eye and also, my mouth. I could totally taste the crustacean. The second piece I ate, I incorporated the fresh Californian uni and wasabi tobiko and WOW! I mean c’mon! Like bacon, uni makes EVERYTHING taste OH SO GOOD! More please!

Moving on to the “Small Plates” section, Mano de Leon Scallops ($16) were beautifully seasoned and I was lucky enough to snag more than the one allocated because someone at the table didn’t eat seafood. Ahhh I was blissfully cutting a scallop in half and then running it through the lavender flower beurre blanc before placing it into my mouth.

The morel mushrooms on the plate unfortunately had no taste. They looked like morels, felt like morels, but lacked any flavor whatsoever. I didn’t need them anyway since the scallops alone were heaven on a plate.

If you think you could finish a bowl of the Bone Marrow Risotto ($13) on your lonesome, think again. This deceivingly small bowl packs one of the richest punches ever imaginable and rightfully so because it not only dons a crispy bone marrow atop the risotto, but the rice itself is cooked with marrow as well.

The result is an unctuousness which made me close my eyes upon tasting because it was utter decadence as far as food goes. I highly recommend sharing this with three other friends if not for the sake of allowing your stomach space for something else, but also, your blood vessels which will most probably thank you later.

Although Angus Flat Iron Steak ($16) is considered a “small plate” it is generous enough a portion for an entree. The steak is meaty and flavorful (unlike another restaurant I shan’t name where my friends and I recently ordered the same cut of steak and deemed it inedible) and not the least bit grisly or chewy. A handful of Japanese nameko mushrooms and a drizzle of Balinese pepper sauce completed the dish.

Surprisingly, when it came time to order our entrees, most of us selected red meats. Of the three, Five Spiced Lamb Loin ($28) was my least favorite. I grew up with five-spice, one of the essential staples in my mom’s kitchen and therefore a flavor I am very familiar with and I like it on meats, very much so.

What completely threw me off was the tamarind glaze which was sweet, and accompanied by sweet and sour cabbage — yet another “sweet” component, it was just too much for my palate to withstand. The sweetness overpowered the dish and the five-spice was lost underneath it all. On a positive note, the lamb was cooked to a perfect temperature and the “fried” red rice was a nice take on the original version.

Even though I’m not a huge fan of short ribs, I took a taste of the Chimay Braised Short Ribs ($22) and found it fork tender and lovely with the blue cheese broth atop — baby corn accompanies.

My choice of Natural Angus Filet Mignon ($30) was indeed the star of the entrees for me. The steak was tender and cooked at a perfect medium rare. The oxtail ragout can stand as a meal on its own with the potatoes Dauphinoise and accompanying organic carrots. The spicy Bernaise was delicious! I love the little bit of kick it had and it was just the right consistency for me.

When the time for desserts came, naturally I wasn’t as eager as everyone else. So I told them that since I ordered the appetizers, it was now someone else’s job to order the desserts.

Berry Tart ($8) with Sambuca Strawberries and a Berry Consomme served in a demitasse is great if you love berries — and they are currently in season which means they are at their finest. The berry consomme is intended for diners to ‘sip’ on and was a delightful ‘sauce’ to accompany the tart with.

I definitely didn’t care for the Green Tea and Chocolate Mousse ($8). I wasn’t a fan of the green tea and chocolate combo — sorry, I didn’t even take a photo.

I did however enjoy The Ovation Sorbet ($7) which was a trio of flavors from their sorbet selection. My favorite was the cantaloupe. It was so aromatic and flavorful with the ripeness of the fruit just wafting up olfactory senses.

It was late when we realized that it we were the only ones left in the restaurant, but when you’re enjoying the company, five hours just flew by. When you come here for a meal, make sure you allow plenty of time to take in the view and to enjoy yourselves at a leisurely pace. There is no rushing here at the Hotel Laguna!

Claes Ovation
425 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-376-9283

Claes Ovation on Urbanspoon

It isn’t all bad at the Chicken Coop

It is always a difficulty when trying to find a breakfast place because I’m not a big breakfast person. However, after much consultation with friends, I decided on Chicken Coop mainly because it sounded like a place with a lot of character.

We arrive at this dive bar/restaurant and the first thing that hit me was the smell of bacon. I noticed the old school structure the restaurant is situated in and had a good feeling about it.

The restaurant was virtually empty except for a few people seated at the bar — wasn’t sure if they were drinking or eating — and I found a spot with the most lighting to sit at.

The menu has breakfast, lunch and dinner items but lunch wasn’t served until 11am so I only had breakfast options to choose from. That’s agreeable to my friend, but I was hoping to have something else fill my stomach other than breakfast items.

I went with the Turkey Sausage and Eggs, which comes with a choice of country potatoes or hash browns and biscuits and gravy or toast ($7.95). They were definitely not stingy with the food — three “poached” eggs arrived with four turkey patties, a nice mound of hash browns and butter-slathered toast.

My poached eggs didn’t look like traditional poached eggs but at least they weren’t completely hard.

The yolks were still a little runny, but definitely cooked a bit too much to my liking. The turkey sausage patties were nicely flavored, not too salty and lean.

I had asked for extra crispy hash browns, but the mound in the middle was too thick so I ended up with a lot of soft potatoes anyway. I just picked off the crispy bits and ate those.

My friend had the Chicken Coop Combo ($4.95) which was a great deal, with pancakes, bacon (which my friend swapped out for sausage) and eggs.

It was terribly sad that my pancake-loving friend found the pancakes to be undercooked with the center gummy and pasty.

It is with a heavy heart when I say, they were quite disgusting. My friend was so disappointed I could see the sadness loom over the uneaten pancakes on the plate. I was told the scrambled eggs were good (I’m not a scrambled eggs fan) so at least there was some salvation at the end of the day.

Service was lukewarm. No smiles, and no checking back to see how things were. This is definitely not a place to come for service. However, if you’re looking for a bargain of a breakfast with half-way decent food, Chicken Coop is a good place to stop by to get that. It is cash-only and if you forget, they have an ATM located inside for your convenience. My word of advice is — don’t come here on a first date! Just don’t do it!

Zubies Chicken Coop
414 Old Newport Blvd
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Tel: 949-645-6086

Zubies Chicken Coop on Urbanspoon

Lake Forest’s Twisted Noodles is just okay

Been on a Thai kick lately and came here for lunch with some friends recently just to check it out. I’d always thought it strange that they offered Thai and sushi, but upon arrival, noticed that the “sushi” sign was blacked out and it is only Thai on the menu now.

The restaurant still possesses a sushi bar style seating, although it feels strange to sit there. We opted for a table instead. The decor is a lot more modern and chic than I had expected to find especially in this strange little strip mall.

I always choose Crying Tiger to gauge the restaurant’s authenticity. Twisted Crying Tiger ($8.95) resembled glazed teriyaki beef rather than Crying Tiger which should comprise of distinctive grill marks since the meat should be grilled. The accompany spicy citrus sauce is very good as well as the chili sauce, and both of these brought the dish to where it wasn’t able to stand on its own.

We were intrigued by Three Flavor Soft Shell Crab ($12.95) and were amazed at how huge the one soft shell crab was. It is battered and then deep fried and topped with a house special chili sauce with onions, carrots, pineapple, tomatoes and Thai basil. The sauce was interesting even though it wasn’t super exciting.

I really enjoyed the House Special Fried Rice ($9.95) with scallop, mussels, shrimp, green beans, crab meat and served with boiled egg halves on the side. The rice is slightly spicy but full-flavored and very tasty. I felt it required some acidity to it and a spritz of lime juice would’ve done the trick.

Black Pepper Garlic ($6.95) with your choice of protein — we chose chicken — was liked by all even though neither the pepper nor garlic overpowered one way or the other. It was a nicely seasoned chicken dish, but didn’t stand out as a black pepper or garlic one.

Even so, we enjoyed our meal and service was passable. Would I return again? Possibly, but there are other Thai restaurants serving up dishes more suited to my palate than Twisted Noodles and those are the ones I’ll be sticking with.

Twisted Noodles
23808 Mercury Road
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Tel: 949-855-9888

Twisted Noodles on Urbanspoon

Chinese breakfast at Four Seas wins my vote

My BFF recently moved to the area and it is so lucky that this place is right down the hill from her house. So when I last visited her, we dropped by Four Seas to grab some Taiwanese breakfast.

The only person who speaks or reads the menu (it’s all in Chinese) was me, so I ended up getting the task of ordering. Note: you place your order and then the food is brought out to you. The trick is to find a spot to sit at when the place is jam packed.

Salty soy milk is one of my favorites. It has really good consistency and with a few dashes of vinegar, soy sauce and hot oil, it was perfect. I like mine to curdle a little so the more curdle means more vinegar. The milk soup is filled with bits of dried shrimp, pork sung, scallions and slices of you tiao (Chinese crullers/doughnuts) but I don’t like them in there, preferring to order them separately so they stay crispy.

The you tiao are excellent but naturally, greasy. They are crispy and chewy — of course, not as good as those you get in hong Kong — and some of the best you can get state-side.

Niu Rou Shao Bing (beef sandwich) comes withor without pickled mustard greens inside. I prefer them with the pickled greens but some people might not. I like the fact that it adds moisture and a fresh crunchy component to it. The bread isn’t bad either, but it is too flaky and doesn’t hold the sandwich up as well as it could have.

Most of the items here are carbo-filled and to counteract that I like to order the soy braised eggs to give me a little more protein. The ones here are milder than those I make at home and not as salty or flavorful.

Potstickers are greasy but oh so delicious. Stuffed with pork and bits of vegetables, the wrappers had the right amount of thickness. These are definitely not to be missed but they are just very oily. Don’t let that deter you though, they are so good!

I always like chives turnovers but here, the pastry is different to the ones I’m used to, flakier but also drier. The filling consists of chives, egg, glass noodles and some dried shrimp for added flavor.

Four Seas is one of the best places to get this type of food. For me, it is too far to drive all the way there to grab a bite, although when the hankering hits, I may be inclined to do so. These days, I have an added excuse to visit BFF with Four Seas only 5 minutes away!

Four Seas
2020 S Hacienda Blvd
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
Tel: 626-330-3088

Four Sea Restaurant on Urbanspoon

get READY for some Rooster PM

Rooster Cafe does a good job for breakfast, but what I have been enamoured with has been the little pop-ups which have taken over the space in the evenings starting with Hidden Kitchen. In fact, I celebrated my birthday at Hidden Kitchen that year and enjoyed it several times before it closed its doors.

Then, Boqueria arrived, a Spanish tapas place worthy of praise since I had been disappointed with the other tapas I had encountered in Orange County. Sadly, that didn’t last long either.

Rooster PM has managed to do what its predecessors have not and that is, stay in business for longer than just a handful of months. I’ve visited on several occasions with friends and each time enjoyed my experience. Most recently, I spent a late night supper here with my friend Michael Harris of the Chronicles of a Charmed Life blog. I was relieved that for a change, it was someone else who was getting fawned over instead of me. After we were seated, co-owner Frankie dropped off some juice glasses for wine — yes, they do it the European way here — telling me “Mike likes his wine”. Ummm, yes, I know!

I was kind of reluctant to come at first stating I’d been on a low-carb diet for a week and wanted to adhere to that. Naturally, the ever convincing Mike insisted and we order an array of small plates to accommodate my self-induced disciplinary diet. I was so good I even abstained from wine!

We started with some roasted shishito peppers ($6) which always puts me in a good mood. I love these Japanese peppers which are most often than not, sweet without much of a kick to them.

Once in a while you’ll find one which knocks your socks off and I am tickled when it is me as I love spice in any shape or form. So how happy was I to find that 80% of this plate had peppers pumped with heat but Mike choked on a couple at some point — nothing another glass of wine can’t rectify!

Grilled salmon ($10) was nicely crisp on the outside, while lovely and moist on the inside. It is served with a house-made ponzu sauce which has a good amount of tartness but honestly, the salmon was stellar enough to stand on its own. The ponzu does help cut the oiliness of the fish a little, but I was enjoying the well-seasoned flaky fish on its own.

I am very impressed by how everything was seasoned. There is nothing worse than protein that’s lacking in flavor. Grilled lamb chops ($10) are succulent and flavorful, and while I like pesto — the one here is good —  again, I wasn’t sure it really needed any.

The chops were beautifully prepared and required no additions to enhance it whatsoever. Next time I’ll request the pesto be put on the side!

Of course, some veggies had to grace the table and just my luck, Mike ordered mushrooms prepared 3 ways ($8) — crimini with cheese in the middle, sliced criminis and some that are battered and deep fried.

This is where Rooster PM gets an added star in my book. They use the freshest ingredients and they don’t mess it up by adding unnecessary ingredients to it. The mushrooms are simple, flavorful and not a lot is added to it allowing the natural taste to shine. I hate fussy dishes where too many things are on a plate but what is worse is when the ingredients distract one another rather than complement.

Our last plate of the night was also my favorite. Prawns with lemon and capers ($8) are large plump prawns sauteed to perfection, topped with a caper mix and strewn over bits of bread.

The prawns are so delicious I could’ve eaten the entire plate on my own. I wasn’t happy that carbs were my enemy tonight and sighed as I watched them take that plate away with the cubes of bread left behind soaked with the juices from the prawns and capers. Just as well I was pretty full by now.

I can attest to the fact that nothing is better than a meal shared with friends and with a friend like Mike, you can be sure the evening won’t be boring — read his blog and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

We are the last ones left. The staff are sweeping the floors, cleaning up for Rooster Cafe’s morning crew the next day. Mike takes his last sip of wine and as we say our goodbyes, I promise I will be back again soon, and next time, I shall be ready to consume carbs!

Rooster PM
750 St Clair Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-697-0200

Open Wednesdays to Saturdays — evenings only

Farm to table fare at McKinley’s Grille

It surprised me when I read that McKinley’s Grille’s Chef David Teig prepares his menus using a selection of farm-to-table produce grown on-site at McKinley’s own farm. What is even more surprising is that McKinley’s Grille is situated inside a hotel — Sheraton Pomona!

I was visiting friends in the area and we decided to stop by for a leisurely lunch. It was a nice day and not scorching enough for me to say no to sitting outside for our meal. The menu offered some small starters which was perfect to sample various items without filling up too quickly.

Ahi Tuna Sahimi ($4) looked strange the minute it was placed on the table. The tuna had a strange color and texture but it tasted okay. The tuna was ‘crusted’ with shichimi (togarashi) drizzled with a passion fruit vinaigrette.

I love scallops and Japanese Lantern Scallops ($4) caught my eye. These are small scallops the size of a small cherry tomato. They are flavorful and I was glad the citrus ponzu was reduced to a rich flavor instead of left au naturel. I could’ve eaten two plates of these.

House cured olives ($2) is a perfect accompaniment if you’re having cocktails and I was sad it was too early for me to indulge in one. The feta added a saltier, but tastier dimension to the olives, while farm herbs added a touch of zing. Think I might re-create this at home!

Unfortunately, the Jicama and Cilantro Salad with prickly pear vinaigrette ($2) was rancid. I had taken a bite and the odor permeated my mouth so quickly I couldn’t spit it out in time. Such a shame because I love jicama and I could tell if it had been fresh, it would’ve been refreshingly delicious.

The Short Rib Dip ($13) is served on a baguette and stuffed with richly braised meaty short rib. The caramelized onions were abundant but too sweet, and the au jus too brothy and lackluster. However, the house-made horseradish dressing swooped in to save the day and brought it all together with just one small dollop.

I love fish and chips and the version here uses Pacific Ling Cod ($13), a nice mild white fish.

The vandouvan aioli (vandouvan, or vadouvan is an Indian-inspired French spice with curry and masala flavors) is lovely but I preferred it with my friends’ fries (I got salad instead) instead of the fish.

I requested tartare sauce because I just like to eat fish and chips the traditional way (maybe I should’ve asked for malt vinegar).

The atmosphere is relaxed and the food good. Just the fact that they grow everything makes it enough for me to want to come back for more. Next time you’re out this way, make it a point to stop in and see for yourself how fresh everything is. You won’t regret it.

McKinley’s Grille
601 W McKinley Avenue
Pomona, CA 91768
Tel: 909-868-5915

McKinley's Grille on Urbanspoon