ooh la la it’s Pandor Boulangerie

If you’re in Newport Beach, you need to check out the newly opened Pandor Boulangerie. The bakery has an artisan French baker at the helm and everything, from the breads to the desserts are made in-house.

When you first walk in, you might be overwhelmed by the cafe’s glass display case with a ton of sweet treats just waiting to tempt you.

I want to point out that the photos are not reflective of how the dishes are served. The photos are from a tasting so they are a lot smaller than what you would be getting when you order them.

Let’s start with the Gourmet Plates. There are five different ones to choose from including the Assorted Italian Cold Cuts ($16.95) which included prosciutto San Daniele Red Label, Salami Nostrano, Speck & Mortadella.

Burrata E Crudo S. Daniele ($16.95) is just a refreshing plate no matter how you look at it. Cantaloupe, heirloom tomatoes, basil aged balsamic & extra virgin olive oil with the creamy burrata is just fantastic.

I love smoked salmon and the Wester Ross Scottish Smoked Salmon ($14.95) with fingerling potatoes salad, creme fraiche and chive was my favorite. I couldn’t get enough of the lightly salted salmon and while I didn’t care for the potato salad underneath, the creme fraiche and chive was awesome.

We also got a sampling of three different salads from the cold display window. Red Quinoa Salad with roasted squash, roasted zucchini, cauliflowers, roasted shiitake, parsley, mint, lemon and extra virgin olive oil was tasty even if the quinoa was a little overcooked so it didn’t have that familiar crunch I love.

Red Beets Salad with sunflower seeds, grilled fennel, Manouri cheese & shallots dressing makes use of the wonderful beets in season, but my favorite was the Beluga Lentil Salad with carrots, parsnips & shallot dressing.

Moving on to sandwiches, I would totally suggest getting one of the pressed paninis on offer. They are all $7.95 and I was surprised at how lovely the Tuna panini was. It consisted of capers, Maui onions & Vermont Cheddar cheese and together, it was just delicious.

If you are vegetarian or just wanting something lighter, try Grilled Vegetables panini. Packed with zucchini, Italian eggplant, roasted bell peppers, local goat cheese and pesto dressing, this comes together beautifully in every mouthful.

In terms of sandwiches, try the Habano ($12.95), this is Pandor’s version of the Cuban sandwich. Roast pork, cured ham, pickled jalapenos instead of pickles, Swiss cheese and deli mustard is served on a Chef’s baguette.

All sandwiches are served with pickled heirloom carrots and cornichons.

For those with a sweet tooth, Peanut Butter & Jelly French Toast ($7.95) is sinfully delightful and served with mixed berries, you can even say it is healthy!

Here’s an added incentive for you to visit. Pandor has generously donated two $25 gift certificates for my readers to win this week. Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite artisan bread is. Like Pandor’s Facebook page for an additional chance to enter. Good Luck. Winners will be announced on Monday July 2nd.

Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Cafe
1126 Irvine Avenue
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-209-5099

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Veggie Grill opens today in Long Beach

The latest Veggie Grill opens in Long Beach today and I was there yesterday for a sneak peek of the new location. I’ve always been a fan of Veggie Grill from its inception in Irvine on the UCI campus to its many expansions. Long Beach is the 10th location and has adopted a stunning new look. The interior is reminiscent of a diner with booths, a counter and the addition of red to its ubiquitous orange and green color scheme.

We decided to order new menu items I hadn’t tried before, but began with the Tomato Basil soup ($2.95/cup and $4.50/bowl), a really delicious soup filled with tomatoey goodness and hints of basil.

Crispy Chickin’ Plate ($9.95) offers my favorite steaming kale as a side with the delicious sesame dressing drizzled on top. A fried chickin’ cutlet is cooked to perfection and honestly, tastes just like a piece of fried chicken to me but without all the calories and cholesterol.

VG Rollers ($7.95) are like mini wraps stuffed with blackened chickin’, cabbage, creamy Santa Fe spread and rolled in flour tortillas. A salsa is served on the side, but I love their housemade tomatillo sauce even more on these.

My favorite was the “Crab” Cake ($9.95). I was so blown away by the taste and texture I was honestly shocked that this was a faux crab cake. A spiced tartar sauce, pickles, tomato, lettuce and red onion is served on the sandwich.

The Buffalo Wings ($6.95) aren’t new, but they are so delicious that I had some of those too. My son eats two orders of these on his own.

End with a dessert like the Chocolate Pudding Parfait ($3.50) with their made-from-scratch pudding topped with chocolate sauce, crushed cookies, walnuts and VG crema. For a non-dessert lover, I totally love this one. Their chocolate pudding has always been one of my favorites with its rich chocolately taste and smooth texture.

The pudding, the sandwiches, salads and everything else in between — vegan or not, it’s simply THAT good.

Veggie Grill
6451 E Pacific Coast Highway
Long Beach, CA
Tel: 562-430-4986

meat, glorious meat at Agora Churrascaria

From my last post of a vegetarian cafe to a meat-filled debauchery. If you’ve never had churrascaria, or, Brazilian barbecue, then you’re missing out. It is one of those things which even if you’re not a big meat eater will find to be a fun experience. It is also great for a big party because it is a set price ($25/lunch and $43/dinner, children 6-10 is half price).

I’ve been to Agora several times before this visit. This time, we were invited as part of a blogger media event where some of my fellow bloggers and I sat down to enjoy some meats, drinks and each other’s company.

We started with a few caipirinhas, probably the most notable Brazilian cocktail made from cachaça, sugar and lime juice, and sat down to begin the night of serious eating.

At Agora, a lavish buffet is laid out for you to help yourself to. You start the meal by selecting items from the salad bar — which by the way, is complete with shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, a myriad of raw salads as well as created ones such as potato salad and sauteed mushrooms.

There is a hot food area as well including steamed clams, mussels, and the feijoada,  a black bean stew, considered by most to be the national dish of Brazil. Although I’m a big fan of feijoada, the one here is usually a little under-seasoned and watery for me. I do love the clams though and can’t get enough of it.

So, before you even start the barbecue chow-down, you might already have filled up on the buffet. This is why I usually wait to visit the buffet and opt to start with the barbecue.

The passadores, or ‘meat waiters’, dressed like gauchos (cowboys), will start circling your table with skewers of meat which they will carve at the table. With the help of your own personal tongs, you aid the gaucho by gripping onto the carved piece of meat while he slices it off. I usually ask for one piece so I can taste everything before embarking on round two.

There are at least 16 types of meats on offer. Specialty items such as chicken hearts are by request only. Generally, various cuts of beef, chicken and lamb is offered and you can work your way through the different items.

While you wait, you can munch on the delicious pão de queijo — gluten free Brazilian cheesy bread rolls — but make sure they are still warm when you bite into one because the level of enjoyment is greatly enhanced that way.

Picauha was definitely the favorite of the evening, a traditional Brazilian cut of sirloin seasoned with rock salt is flavorful and tender.

Linguiça are seasoned pork sausages which are slow-roasted and you can really taste all the seasonings used in them. If you are a sausage lover, these are a must. They’re not too big so you can easily devour one or two and still have room for the other items.

Mamiuha is a whole tri tip steak roasted and brought whole to the table. Depending on your preference of temperature, the gaucho will carve it accordingly and you will get a slice of medium beef, or, a lovely pink medium-rare piece for your plate and belly.

I also enjoyed the bacon-wrapped chicken and bacon-wrapped filet, nicely seasoned with the smokiness of the bacon encompassing the meat. The chicken leg is also beautifully flavored and very moist indeed.

The beef skewers were also tasty with onions and bell peppers interspersed between each morsel of meat lending an added aroma to the beef.

There is also salmon, baked and served table-side. A whole salmon fillet is seasoned and baked and brought to the table in its entirety. I’m not a fan of cooked salmon, but if you like salmon, it is definitely a good alternative.

If you have room for dessert after you can try one of the sorbets they have on offer including cabernet, vanilla bean, or blood orange, my personal favorite.

Or alternatively, the flan is a traditional dessert you might enjoy. It is a little much after all that meat though so maybe you should share it with your dining mates.

I have a $50 giftcard to Agora for one of my readers this week. Tell me your experiences at a churrascaria or there lack of one. Remember to leave your FULL name in your comment somewhere. Entries close on Sunday, June 24th. Good Luck!

Agora Churrascaria
1830 Main Street
Irvine, CA 92614
Tel: 949-222-9910

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Green Bliss Cafe is a vegetarian’s delight

Just as the name suggests, the minute you step into Green Bliss Cafe, you will feel that calm, serene aura of bliss envelope you, especially if you mosey on down through the back doors into the courtyard in the back with the soothing sounds of the fountain trickling away.

I came here with a friend to see what the buzz was about and seriously, this is one of those places which I wish we had in Irvine. It is cute, eco-friendly, a coffee house if you will which serves food. VEGETARIAN FOOD!

We started with some coffee and although I’m not a coffee drinker, I tried some of my friend’s coffee and it was smooth and very flavorful. Let’s just say, it was very easy to drink.

We quickly moved on to some food and Avo Campania Panini with Salad ($9) was our first sandwich. Consisting of lightly sauteed mushrooms, avocado, artichoke hearts smeared with a hemp basil pesto on multigrain sourdough from OC Baking Company, the sandwich was substantial due to the use of portabella mushrooms, I didn’t miss the meat whatsoever. A small side of greens accompany.

A lot of major outlets, including 5-star hotels and restaurants use breads created by master artisan baker Dean Kim and some places do not showcase the breads the way they should. Not here. Green Bliss has done a great job pairing the filling with the bread and it absolutely shines through here.

The Curried Chickpea Salad Panini with Salad ($9) did not sound like something I’d like because I imagined it to be somewhat of a hummus-based sandwich. I was wrong. It was THE BEST vegetarian sandwich I’d tasted in a very long time. The chickpeas (garbanzo beans) were left whole and a handful of crushed almonds were thrown in to give it a nice crunch. It was the best mixed of flavors and textures in one mouthful. mixed greens, This is served on OC Baking’s marbled rye bread.

If you wanted a salad on its own, I suggest Spring Greens and Beet Salad ($9). Beets are in season right now and they are roasted, tossed with mixed greens, spiced walnuts, chunks of goat cheese, tossed in a dijon vinaigrette, and served with garlic crostini — yes, made with OC Baking bread.

Green Bliss is such a gem and I wish it were closer so I could visit more often. Those of you living in the area would be remiss if you do not pay them a visit. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and you can relax in the chill atmosphere to enjoy your food or drinks in. It definitely won me over, that’s for sure!

Green Bliss Cafe
305 N Harbor Blvd
#103
Fullerton, CA 92832
Tel: 714-773-0018

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leisurely lunch at Sapphire Laguna

One of the most relaxing places to have lunch is on the patio at Sapphire Laguna. On a clear day, the view of the ocean is soothing and a breath of fresh air compared to sitting inside staring at walls.

My friend Selene and I came for a leisurely lunch and found some new menus have been added since our last visit. Lahmacun ($15) are what I call Middle Eastern pizzas. Typically, a pizza-style dough is used, but here, crisp lavash is used instead giving it a really great crunch. It is topped with Turkish spiced ground lamb, tomato, fresh herbs and dollops of dry mint yogurt sauce. This is a MUST!

Both Selene and I eyed the Sauteed Jumbo Shrimp ($16.50) which were succulent shrimp served over handmade spinach ricotta tortellini, grilled artichoke and rosemary garlic milk (a creamy sauce). It was a little under-seasoned, but other than that it possessed everything I like in a dish.

The Kalua Pulled Pork Quesadilla ($15.50) with oaxaca cheese, roasted poblano chili and mango black bean relish, is so flavorful but a tad greasy.Make sure you use the salsa roja and avocado-tomatillo to help cut it a little.

Carlos’s Blackened Fish Tacos ($15.50) had an over abundant helping of cabbage slaw, over tender fish which could’ve done with a little more seasoning. Drizzled with remoulade and served with a side of pickled vegetables, this is a healthy generously portioned item which will appeal to most people.

We finished with Australian Passion Fruit Pavlova ($6.50), one of my mother’s favorite desserts. This light, airy meringue is layered with fresh berries and served with mango and passionfruit coulis. It wasn’t overly sweet and I enjoyed it very much.

Here’s an opportunity for you to try Sapphire Laguna for yourself. They have generously donated a $50 gift certificate for one of my lucky readers to win. Just tell me why you should win lunch at Sapphire Laguna and don’t forget to leave your FULL name. Entries close on Sunday, June 17th. Good Luck!

Sapphire Laguna
1200 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-715-9888

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new tasting menu at Stonehill Tavern

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to sample the new menu items at Stonehill Tavern. I’ve been to several Michael Mina’s restaurants when living in the Bay Area, so I am well versed with the quality and the opulence of his menus.

My friend and I were invited to sit on the patio to enjoy our Tasting of Seasonal Shellfish as we watched the sun just about to set over the horizon. It was beautiful and so serene as we sat back and enjoyed our cocktails of Moscow Mule and Violet Turning Violet.

The Shellfish Platter ($29) consisted of Kumamoto Oyster, Spot Prawn Cocktail, Marinated Abalone Sashimi, Dungeness Crab Leg, Uni Flan, Giant Clam Ceviche. I, of course, wasn’t able to partake in the oyster (and I LOVE Kumamotos!) but I thoroughly enjoyed the other items on the plate, especially the uni flan which was like an orgasmic explosion in my mouth. It was just exquisite!

We were then led inside the dining room to embark on the journey that is the Chef’s Tasting Menu, an 8-course meal ($148)  which you have the option to pair two ways —  Sommelier’s Wine Pairing ($95) or Sommelier’s Alternative Pairing ($65) and both are listed beneath each course.

But before our main meal was served, we were treated to a taste of the Ahi Tuna Tartare ($21) one of Michael Mina’s signature dish in fact, which consisted of chunks of sushi-grade ahi, bosc pear and pine nuts drizzled with a habanero infused sesame oil and topped with a raw quail’s egg yolk.

Our Tasting Menu began with Smoked Salmon, cucumber, dill, greek yogurt topped with a delicately crispy pumpernickel slice. The subtlety of this dish is the perfect start to the menu, showing off the intricacy of the lightly smoked fish, paired with just the right amount of acroutrements and the ideal blend of textures all around.

Leitz Riesling “Dragonstone” Rudesheimer, Rheingau, Germany 2010
Heirloom Tomato Water & Ketel One Shooter

Next came Three Eggs, an uni custard with a local chicken egg scrambled topped with wasabi tobiko. The egg overpowered the uni custard so I wasn’t able to detect much uni flavor, but the presentation was outstanding.

Chartogne-Taillet “Cuvee Michael Mina” Champagne, France NV
Huchu Homare-Junmai -Gingo Sake “Watari-Hune”, Ibakaki, Japan NV

Day-Boat Halibut was by far one of my favorites of the night. Asparagus, green almonds, ramps and pancetta shared the plate creating one of the most pleasurable mouthful ever.

Sauvion Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2010
Brokenwood Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia 2010

Maine Lobster was a pot pie, served table side with bits of peas and carrots, ricotta gnocchi, morels and sweet garlic. The full portion is ginormous and should be shared by several.

Francois Mikulski Meursault “Poruzots” 1er Cru, Burgundy, France 2006
Berthet-Bondet Cotes du Jura “Tradition”, France 2007

For your entree course, there are two to choose from. Grimaud Farms Duck is tender and flavorful and I loved the black barley, baby turnips, confit rillette with an anise cookie garnish.

Kosta Browne Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California 2010
Braida Barbera D’Asti “Bricco Dell’Uccellone”, Piedmonte, Italy 2006

What I loved even more was my friend’s Wagyu Striploin, but it was the marrow served in the bone that blew me over. I love marrow and this was gooey and oh so decadent. Porcini and broccoli accompany.

Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino “White Label” Tuscany, Italy 2007
Zaya 12 Year Old Rum, Trinidad

Our meal slowly comes to an end with a cheese course first — Melted Camembert — served with pickled baby leeks and rhubard confiture, I could’ve had two more servings of this!

Adrien Camut “Aperitif Normand” Normandy, France NV
Gonzalez Byass “Aspotoles” Palo Cortado Sherry, Jerez, Spain NV

My not-so-dessert-palate thoroughly enjoyed Raspberry Curd, our dessert and final course. Chocolate graham, cocoa nib, cassis and marshmallow completed the plate. The marriage of tart and sweet gave it the perfect balance. It was light and oh so delightful in my mouth.

Smith Woodhouse Late Bottled Vintage Porto, Portugal 2000
The Bruery & Bootlegger’s Black Rye Lager “Chocosaurus Rye”

It was a perfect meal, one which I am sure you will also enjoy for a special occasion such a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or any other reason you can think of. Or, you can sit at the patio and enjoy a few cocktails and enjoy the seafood platter while watching the sunset. Either way, Stonehill Tavern is a spot where superb service will blow you away and the food will tantalize your tastebuds.

Stonehill Tavern
at The St Regis
1 Monarch Beach Resort
Dana Point, CA 92629
Tel: 949-234-3318

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