new fall items at True Food Kitchen

I love True Food Kitchen and am always kicking myself for not visiting more often. I love the natural colors of the interior and the clean, fresh decor of the interior. Everyone here has that healthy, sun-kissed look about them and it is befitting seeing the menu is organic, fresh and always prepared in the healthiest of ways certified and approved by Dr Andrew Weil.

Whenever I am asked what I want to drink, I always say “let me start with your daily water” — which usually is cucumber water unless it is the summer when watermelon water sometimes makes an appearance. In fact, the cucumber water is so refreshing I wish I had a few glasses of it first thing every single morning.

I am here to try the new fall menu items and am happy to find a lot of new salads using fall vegetables. But before we begin, we start with cocktails — The Peacemaker ($10) and Flower Child ($10).

The Peacemaker is a strong whiskey based drink with Averna (an Italian liqueur possessing a herbally bitter taste) , lemon, honey and black tea. If I liked whiskey I might have enjoyed this more, but the overwhelming aromas of the whiskey wasn’t to my liking.

Flower Child with juniper organic gin, St Germain elderflower, pineapple juice, honey lemonade, fennel and mint was very delicious. It also had some fizziness to it which I’m guessing is soda water.

Our first item was Thai Shrimp Dumplings ($12). I found the filling a little too firm but the Thai-inspired sauce was awesome — I detected soy sauce, fish sauce, citrus and chilis. Would’ve liked to see these served in little bamboo steamers which may also retain the heat better — just a thought!

Roasted Beets and Mozarella Agrodolce ($9) was the kind of dish that highly appeals to me. I love beets and these lightly pink-hued chunks were sweet with the right texture. The slight bitterness of the arugula, together with the spiciness of the dressing and fresh pepper lend the perfect flavor components to the dish while the pistachios added wonderful crunch.

I absolutely loved this next salad — Farmer’s Market ($12) — a mixture of kale, romaine, carrot, beet, broccolini, radish, avocado, Manchego tossed in a Champagne vinaigrette. Everything just came together so well and every mouthful was flavorful and crunchy. You could taste the freshness of the ingredients and how the colors and flavors pop in your mouth.

I wasn’t sure I’d like Harvest Chopped ($12), a salad of squash, apple, pomegranate, walnuts, goat cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette. First off, I’m not a fan of both apple and pomegranate, but the latter surprised me. It was perfectly ripen so there was no ‘dirt’ after taste in my mouth. I’ve always experienced pomegranate seeds to have the taste of dirt, hence my dislike for them. I don’t know how they did it, but these were extremely palatable!

Roasted Chicken ($19)  was probably my least favorite dish of the evening. I think the combination of cranberries and walnuts with protein just didn’t fare well with my palate. Though the chicken was tender, apart from the skin, it was under-seasoned and on the bland side. I am also not a fan of fruit and protein together on the same plate, however, the farro and red spinach accompaniments were outstanding!

Perhaps my Asian palate was looking for something more from Red Chili Shrimp ($18). Don’t get me wrong, it was very tasty! The sesame noodles with gai lan, red spinach and shiitake mushrooms was stellar, but I wanted  extra spice and didn’t expect to be presented with red chili flakes and sambal oelek as condiments. The dish also had an overpowering ginger taste — which I don’t mind — but I know a lot of people who aren’t fond of the root and might balk at it. The noodles were perfectly prepared though.

Pan Seared Sea Bass ($24) was stunning. I loved the flakiness of the fish and the ‘umami’ sauce was indeed filled with the flavor of umami — leaving you wanting more. Brussels sprouts were impeccable and the use of purple potato potato was a unique touch. I would definitely order this again without hesitation.

If you still had room for dessert, I suggest Apple Crisp ($7) which is served with pecan maple ice cream but I say have that on the side. I did not like the ice cream one bit. It was grainy, icy and did not appeal to me whatsoever. The crisp though was absolutely delectable and I would’ve been happy with it on its own.

I guess I was the only one who enjoyed the Squash Pie ($7) finding it rather addicting in a strange sort of way. It reminds me of pumpkin pie, but not quite and it is not sweet either. The accompanying vanilla bean ice cream was a lot better than the pecan maple, although, if you are a stickler for the full cream version, I’d say get this on the side also.

True Food Kitchen never fails to impress me with its use of sustainable and locally grown organic produce. You can really taste the difference and know that they take pride in providing the best to their customers while helping the environment at the same time.

True Food Kitchen
Fashion Island
451 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-644-2400

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le pain quotidien — mais oui, merci!

I’ve waited for years for Le Pain Quotidien to open a location in Orange County and now, the wait is no more. LPQ opened at Fashion Island, Newport Beach this week and I am now only 15 minutes away from a pain au chocolat or a coffee served up European style — in a bowl rather than a mug.

The decor doesn’t stray far from its other locations with a clean rustic atmosphere and the ubiquitous communal table situated in the middle of the dining room. You are welcome to purchase pastries and coffee at the front for a fast to-go service, or, if you have time to sit down and enjoy table service, that is highly recommended. After all, do like the Europeans do, take your time, enjoy a coffee and a pastry, don’t rush.

We ordered a few items to try and I was surprised I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet offerings here. I think it’s due to the fact that they’ve stuck to the original roots of keeping everything on par with the European sweetness level and haven’t bastardized it to the heavier sweeter palates of North Americans. I never order sweet breakfast items when I frequent restaurants because one or two bites later, I’m over it.

Not normally a coffee drinker, I decided I wanted one today so Cappuccino ($3.95) it is. I smiled when it arrived because it was served in a bowl like they do in France, as well as some coffee houses in Australia. The cappuccino was frothy and rather delicious. I would’ve liked another one but was not looking forward to the jittery, antsy outcome coffee always has on my system.

Tartine — an open faced sandwich Belgian-style — topped with ricotta with mission figs, organic acacia honey, and black pepper ($9.50) was simple and fulfilling.

The flavors were bold, never over-powering but still allows all the natural ingredients such as the fresh figs and strawberries, to stand on their own. Ask for extra honey, I definitely enjoyed it more with a slightly heavier drizzle. Tres magnifique!

Another sweet option was the Whole Wheat French Toast with Strawberries and Agave Nectar ($7.95). Not laden with a heavy egg wash, the toast was light and sweetened with the milder agave nectar instead of syrup. I said I only wanted a bite, but ended up eating a lot more than that.

Normally, I am a savory fiend, but on this day, the sweet offerings won me over. I liked the Goat Cheese and Asparagus Omelette ($12.50) but it wasn’t the one that stood out for me.

The accompanying bread slices were absolutely delicious, so fresh and crusty. Ask for the trio of spreads to dollop onto your bread. Apricot preserves was tart and fruity while the berry conserves was equally tasty. However, if you’re a fan of Nutella, the noisette spread, or hazelnut spread will be the one to win your heart.

I would love to return for dinner one night to try the entrees only offered after 5pm. You can buy loaves of bread too such as the baguette which, if you catch them at the right moment, comes out to you still warm to the touch.

LPQ Fashion Island also offers bread baking classes every Tuesdays and Saturdays at 5.30pm at $55 per person. Classes are limited to 6 people. Click here to book your spot.

Le Pain Quotidien
401 Newport Center Drive
#1101 (near Macy’s, next to Victoria’s Secret)
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-287-5592

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the rarity that is Silver Trumpet

I wasn’t sure what I’d find when my friend Austin of The Hungry Dogg blog asked me along to dinner one night at Silver Trumpet. Truth is, I had only recently heard about its existence but not much else other than it was in Costa Mesa. After visiting the website, I was quite impressed with Chef Robert Biebrich’s resume and was looking forward to dining here.

The restaurant is decorated with various musical instruments throughout the inside dining room. An outdoor patio is also available overlooking a lake.

After perusing the menu and a table-side visit from Chef Robert, we decided to leave our meal in his hands which ended up being a Four Course Tasting Menu ($55) of various menu items. I have listed the a la carte prices of the dishes for your reference.

Amuse bouche of fennel and leek soup with popcorn garnish was a nice start to the meal. The creamy soup was tasty but I couldn’t detect any fennel or leek flavors. The popcorn added a textural component to its rich silkiness giving it a whimsical touch if you will.

Our first course of Sauteed Sea Scallop ($27) is to-die-for. I love scallops and when cooked to perfection like this is makes me weak at the knees. Perfectly seared on the outside and tender on the inside, a cauliflower puree (cream), crispy house-cured pancetta and cipollini onion accompanied.

The minute I put our next course of Local Halibut ($24) in my mouth I knew Chef was a super-star. I’ve been trying to stay away from halibut of late because 99% of the time it’s not cooked right. Basted in herbs with a puree of Weiser Farms Nantes carrots — delicious even though I don’t like cooked carrots — marinated artichokes and roasted trumpet mushrooms, the fish was not the least bit dry and well seasoned. I was blown away at how spot-on this dish was.

Iberico Ham ($25) was a special treat of the evening. The restaurant had just gotten it in and it was available to offer to us. The black pig meat had a strong meaty flavor and only a little bit of salt was used to season it allowing its natural taste to shine. I’d only had cured Iberico ham before so this was definitely a huge treat. You can also enjoy it as an appetizer for $16, but of course, when you’re lucky to visit on an evening when it is available.

I wasn’t sure I’d like Short Rib Bourgoignon ($24) because everyone seems to be putting it on the menu and I felt it was really over-played. However, I should’ve had more faith in Chef from the dishes we’d already enjoyed. The meat was fork tender and decadent. Potato puree, lardon, root vegetables and a horseradish gremolata paired well together.

I would’ve been happy to have stopped here since my stomach was really full but we had to try something from the dessert menu and Hedgehog ($9) was just the thing to stave your chocolate cravings. This was basically a huge chocolate truffle with liquid caramel and malt and a chocolate lover’s dream!

Artisanal cheese plate ($14) was more my thing and although I couldn’t tell you which cheese Chef presented us with, I can say it was the ideal way to complete the meal. The fig jam was addictive and I would’ve liked a jar of it for my breakfast in the morning, but on the cheese, it was heavenly!

Silver Trumpet surprised and impressed me.  They also offer complimentary parking for up to 3 hours in the self-parking adjacent to the restaurant. This is truly a hidden gem in every sense of the word!

Silver Trumpet
at The Wyndham Hotel
3350 Avenue of the Arts
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-442-8591

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Sabores Flavors Expo

A week from today, the Hilton Costa Mesa will be the site of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce’s first-ever Culinary Showcase and Tri-City Business Expo (includes Costa Mesa and Tustin) on Wednesday, November 2 from 4pm to 7pm.

With live entertainment, free samples of some tasty food Orange County has to offer, and an array of products and services on display, this will be an event to check out.

On the food front, you will get to sample offerings from Nothing Bundt Cakes, McCormick & Schmick’s and Memphis to name a few.

Admission is only $10 which includes parking (ordinarily $8 alone) and I will be there as one of the judges for the food competition. Stop by and say hi if you get the chance!

Mi Casa makes some stiff and irresistible drinks

It had been a very long week. To make matters worse, I was driving back from Winnetka stuck in the parking lot that is the 405. I was meeting some friends for cocktails and a bite at Mi Casa and it was a miracle I actually made it in time — two hours in my car mind you — that alone was enough reason to want to throw one back.

Hmmm I think I mentioned my doctor didn’t want me drinking right? But am I listening??

Mi Casa offers an extensive and IMPRESSIVE drinks menu, spanning three pages ranging from margaritas, martinis, cocktails, specialty shots and after dinner drinks to choose from. There was NO way I was going to not have a drink tonight. Not only did I need one, but these looked too good to pass up!

We started with Cucumber-Jalapeno Margarita ($10) with 1921 Blanco Tequila, muddled cucumber and jalepeno, organic agave nectar and lime juice. I know this isn’t an issue for most people but I found it WAY too strong and hence, masked the cucumber.

Grapefruit Margarita ($10) uses Corralejo Blanco Tequila, Cointreau, sweet & sour and lime juice and possesses that sweet/tart taste I love in margaritas. This was quite tasty indeed!

Complimentary chips and salsa are brought to the table while you peruse the menu. The house salsa is very good although not spicy, but ask your server and he or she will be more than happy to bring you an array of salsas including something spicy if you so wish.

Moving on, we decided on a few plates to share. Mi Casa recently added a few Fall Entrees section to its menu with healthier options for those not wanting a heavier meal.

Chile Relleno Puebla ($8.95) is a fresh pasilla chile stuffed with queso fresco and covered in your choice of ranchero sauce or salsa verde. The dish also comes with beans and rice and the portion is a hefty one! I love how the chile is not heavily battered with only a light egg coating. We asked for the sauces on the side and opted for the one with Ortega chiles rather than the salsa verde.

Grilled Mahi Tacos ($11.95) are two tacos on corn tortillas with Mi Casa’s creamy avocado sauce, cabbage, pico de gallo and queso fresco. This also comes with rice and a salad, making it an even healthier option with the beans topped with cheese.

Another round of cocktails were in store, this time, the Mangorita ($9.50) proved to be my downfall. This Herradura Silver Tequila blended with mango, organic agave nectar, Triple Sec and lime juice tasted more like a smoothie than a cocktail and was so delicious I couldn’t stop drinking it.

Patron Prickly Pear ($10.50) was also a mouthwatering concoction of Patron Silver Tequila, prickly pear cactus juice and lime juice! Again this had the sweet tart flavor I love! Hard not to resist drinking more except, well, I still needed to drive home!

The restaurant was packed and bustling with energy, lots of people waiting for a table, but we couldn’t leave without trying a highly recommended new cocktail on the menu — X-O ($9.50). This Patron XO, Tres Leches and Frangelico drink topped with cinnamon was our dessert. Sweet, chocolatey, with hints of hazelnut from the Frangelico was such a treat — an adult one though — and we were sad to have to give up our booth but were full and immensely happy from all the tasty drinks we had.

Stop by for their Happy Hour if you have time. The bar area is usually packed at 4pm with hoards of people getting their drink on while enjoying specially priced snacks to munch on. In fact, I think I need one of these today!

Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant
296 E 17th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Tel: 949-645-7626

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nothing common about this

I had JUST gotten used to the lovely bites at Sorrento Grille’s happy hour menu and enjoying them when I heard it was closing its doors. I pouted and felt despondent for a little while until a little birdie told me that Chef Ryan Adams decided to take over the spot and launch his own restaurant.

My wait for this spot to start serving is over as Three Seventy Common opens its doors today with a menu reflecting all the innovative dishes Chef Ryan was known for at Sorrento and much much more.

I was invited to sample some of the dishes on the menu and while the restaurant looked the same structurally, Chef Ryan has put his own style and personality into the color scheme and decor.The dining room is more spacious and uncluttered while the open kitchen I so love remains.

Before the main menu was brought out, a basket of maple bacon popcorn was placed on the table for us to munch on with our drinks. Three Seventy Common has decided to do away with the bread basket all together and I must say, bravo! I don’t need bread filling me up before my meal and even though I don’t particularly like popcorn — yes sue me — I love bacon and THAT made the popcorn seriously palatable!

And on the topic of drinks, make sure you order one or two of these pretty cocktails prepared expertly by the bartender. It is truly worthwhile! They are delicious!

Before I get into the food, please note the photos are for the tasting sizes and not the full portion, however, the pricing I’ve listed is for the portions on the menu.

We started with Broccolini ($8.50) one of my favorite vegetables. Topped with a fried egg, asiago, crispy prosciutto and a sprinkling of bread crumbs, this dish is right up my alley.

There isn’t a lot of carbs here — if you could the bread crumbs that is — and the various savory components melding together is heavenly. I love salty flavors and here, the asiago and prosciutto were paired perfectly. The textures of crispy, crunchy, soft, gooey all in one mouthful is honestly, what I live for.

Wild Mushroom Bruschetta ($12) was absolutely delectable. A medley of chanterelle, oyster, maitake, shimeiji is sauteed in the most luscious sauce and served with a slice of grilled bread and bitter greens. I am very happy eating the broccolini and this with a cocktail and calling it a night.

However, the night is still young and the next dish of Pork Belly ($12) was very, very good. Generally I’m not a huge fan of it, but here, it was rendered just enough so it was mostly crispy with just a touch of the melty fat to give it the unctuousness it needed.

Arugula and fig with a drizzling of citrus vinaigrette cuts the fattiness of the pork while pistachios adds a lovely crunch. I loved this salad on its own without the pork and wonder if they would make an entree portion if I asked.

The next item was again, something I’m not ordinarily fond of. Salmon ($19) is served with the most perfectly cooked radish and turnip on a bed of sauteed Swiss chard and nicoise butter. My ears always perk up whenever I hear “nicoise” because I know there will be capers and anchovies in there!

Honestly, the last time I had salmon cooked this perfectly was by Peter Find, who is currently the executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. I even added Peter’s recipe in my cookbook because I loved it THAT much. I must say, Chef Ryan blew me away with this one!

I wish I could say I love meatloaf, but having not grown up eating it, this is a tough one for me. My first foray into meatloaf was after moving to the US 13 years ago. I then decided to make my own adding my own twist on it.

Bacon wrapped meatloaf ($20) is probably too traditional for me. I loved the idea of bacon-wrapped anything, but not being a big meatloaf fan I guess this dish wasn’t for me. However, the sauteed spinach, country mash and wild mushroom gravy acoutrements were outstanding. Can I just have those as a side?

Our last savory dish of the evening was Butcher Steak (Cap Rib Steak on the menu) served with chimichurri, braised greens and house-made fries ($29).

By now I was pretty stuffed. I managed two bites of the steak which was nicely seared on the outside and a beautiful medium rare pink on the inside. The chimichurri is a take on the traditional one using only parsley. Here, Chef Ryan used a blend of thyme, mint and marjoram giving it a more aromatic finish.

The dessert was a recipe from Chef Ryan’s grandma. Grandma B’s Chocolate Cake ($6) is served with vanilla ice cream and love — which I thought was super cute, until I found out that the ‘love’ actually refers to the strawberry caramel sauce on the plate.

Regardless where the love comes from, it is quite clear that it is there on the plate in every one of these dishes. The use of locally sourced produce together with sustainable seafood and meat is clearly evident in every bite. Don’t take it from me though, try it out yourself. I know I will return again very soon because I saw bone marrow and foie gras on the menu!

Three Seventy Common
370 Glenneyre
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-494-8686

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