Del Mar Food Truck Festival

Over the weekend, I made the drive to Del Mar Racetrack to check out the Food Truck Festival featuring about 45 food trucks from OC and San Diego. Running simultaneously was the Craft Beer Festival, where I had read Ballist Point and Stone were going to be.

We arrived very soon after the festival opened at noon. There were already a lot of people there, but the parking lot was only about a third full. A shuttle transported people from the parking lot to the location for those who didn’t want to walk.

I’d never been to the racetrack before and was quite impressed by the architecture.

We started off with an OC installation — Dos Chinos — with two of my favorites: Bolsa Pork Belly with the crispy pork and a tomatillo sauce.

Oahu Shrimp is another delicious taco I get all the time off this truck! The shrimp has a great snap and the flavors just pop in your mouth. SO GOOD!

Since I don’t get the chance to try many San Diego trucks, we decided to take this opportunity to do so starting with a Cuban truck called K’Paza. Since we didn’t want to fill up, we decided on ONE item from this truck and ended up with a chicken empanada. It was delicious! The chimichurri sauce is also perfectly executed! Simply fantastic.

Next came Epic Eatz, another San Diego truck. Kalua Pig Taco was our choice but sadly, it didn’t hit the spot. The pork had a strange smokiness to it, not the kind you find in kalua pork — and I *know* kalua pork. It was bland and flat in taste and when my friend, who never wastes food, told me “I’m going to have to toss this”, I had all the confirmation I needed. Sorry, but it was no epic eats that’s for sure based on that one taco.

We took a break after this to drink some craft beers, but I couldn’t find Ballist Point anywhere. No Stone either. We ended up getting some Pyramid Apricot Ale which was quite light and refreshing in the heat. We got some sausages to pair with the beers.

Underdogs Gastro Truck had an array to choose from and since we were already kind of full, we opted for the no bun option. We ordered a beer brat which was really tasty with a nice texture. They had a few kinds of mustards so we chose their house-made one.

The guy also suggested the lamb sausage which is served over a Greek-style salad of romaine lettuce, feta cheese topped with a cinnamon slaw. The lamb sausage was great, but I didn’t care much for the slaw.

At some point, we moved up to the stands to watch the races. Luckily we didn’t bet any money because every horse we picked didn’t win.

After three races, we proceeded back down to finish our day with some dessert. We chose another San Diego truck, the Sweet Treats truck. We decided on an ice cream sandwich where there is an array of cookies and ice cream flavors to choose from to make your own combination. I chose the peanut butter cookies with the Kona coffee ice cream. They were good, but not fantastic. I like Chunk N Chip a lot better.

So that’s pretty much it. A fun day at the races with fun times eating and drinking. That’s a really good weekend!

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The Generous Pour is back at The Capital Grille!

Last year, I hosted The Generous Pour event at The Capital Grille where guests were treated to a taste of the nine wines offered. This year, The Generous Pour is back and I visited the restaurant to see what Master Sommelier George Miliotes has selected for 2012.

We began our meal with a lovely champagne Lunetta Rose, a sparkling rose from Trentino, Italy. It was a beautiful pale salmon in color and had a hint of sweetness to it.

I started with the French Onion Soup ($10), one of my favorites from TCG menu. It is one of the best onion soups in OC and possesses a hearty, beefy, rich flavor topped with gooey cheese served in a crock.

My friend had the Lobster Bisque ($14) which comes with chunks of sweet lobster meat and sherry is served table side, drizzled over the bisque. This is another of my favorites!

White wines were next: Simčič, from Rebula, Goriska Brda-Slovenia was definitely my least favorite of the wines. It had a harsher finish than I ordinarily prefer and passed on another sip.

The Gary Farrell, 2009, Chardonnay, Carneros from Sonoma was light and a good, easy to drink white with fruity hints.

We moved onto entrees and Snake River Farms Wagyu Filet ($46) was an outstanding piece of 7oz melt-in-your-mouth meat. We ordered it medium rare and it arrived perfectly cooked.

Five reds were available and I enjoyed all of them, but there were definitely ones which I liked more than others. Chateau du Pin, 2009 a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux, France is a light red, perfect with almost everything on the menu.

Falesco, Assisi Rosso, 2000 a Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Umbria, Italy was also a respectable red which is easy to pair with all foods.

Our other entree was Bone-In Kona Crusted Dry Aged Sirloin with Shallot Butter ($46), required a stronger wine to hold up to the robust and decadent flavors of the steak.

Conn Creek, Anthology, 2007, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is very full bodied and paired so well with our entrees. This wine left a really rich film in my mouth and the finish is insanely potent.

Sam’s Mashed Potatoes ($9) was fluffy, buttery, creamy and oh so sinfully mouth-watering, especially when eaten with the shallot butter from the sirloin steak.

Ferrari-Carano, Mountain Reserve, 2008, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley is another deliciously strong red which is able to stand up to any of the steaks on TCG’s menu.

Our second side of Roasted Cremini, Portabella, Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms was also delicious. It was a lighter alternative to the mashed potatoes but filled with the rich meatiness of the combined mushrooms and offered a complex flavor together.

My favorite wine of the evening was Villa Mt Eden, Grand Reserve, 2007, a Pinot Noir from Russian River. This wine was so smooth, making it a dangerous choice for me because I am able to drink more than I should.

We shared the Cheesecake with Seasonal Berries ($9), another of my favorites. This ricotta cheesecake is light and airy, and isn’t too sweet, which makes it one of my top desserts to eat.

To pair with the cheesecake, we had Kanu Kia Ora, 2006, a Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa. It has the consistency of a light nectar and flavors of orange peel and honey. Absolutely delicious!

The Capital Grille is one of my favorite places to dine in Orange County. The food and service is always stellar, and the experience is second to none. The Generous Pour event runs until September 2nd and is offered at only $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner in addition to your meal and allows for unlimited pours of any or all of the nine wines offered.

TCG has generously offered one of my readers a $100 gift card to enjoy The Generous Pour event. Leave me a comment with your full name for a chance to win. You won’t want to miss this one! As usual, get your entries in by Sunday and winner will be announced Monday, July 30.

The Capital Grille
3333 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-432-1140

Mokkoji: a gourmet shabu experience

It’s summer and I have my son every day which means an endless amount of thinking about lunch and what to feed him. I love it when he suggests something he wants to eat and last week, he wanted to go to shabu shabu (again!) and I wanted to go someplace we haven’t been before.

Since we had just visited California Shabu Shabu in Costa Mesa last week, I wanted to take him to SWSH to take advantage of their Monday/Tuesday 40% off your second entree deal. In the past they had accepted an online coupon but now, they required a print out and my printer was on the brink so I was frustrated. Yelp came to the rescue and we ended up at this new place which was in the stages of a soft opening (we’ve been here twice now during the soft opening) with a grand opening just yesterday.

After we were seated, we immediately put our order in and I watched one of the chefs working in the open area getting some things ready. Our ponzu and goma sauces arrive and after my usual four hot drops were added, I added garlic, scallions and their house special daikon/jalapeno mix as well. Note: their sauces are all made in-house and not from a bottle!

When the pot was brought out, I was pleasantly surprised to see jujubes, green onions, ginseng and black garlic floating in the broth — and yes this is broth, not just water pretending to be broth. I really dislike a pot of water with a piece of kombu floating in there with no taste whatsoever. How is that supposed to make your proteins taste good? Or make a good stock for your udon or porridge?

While we were waiting for our food and my friend Brenda to arrive, I started chatting to the young man behind the counter. I find out that chef/owner Tommy Kim was previously at the St Regis, Dana Point, and sous chef Andrew told me he joined Chef Kim when he opened Mokkoji. A light bulb went off in my head! NO WONDER the condiments were a little different, and the stock pot was definitely oozing style and pizzazz unrivaled to any other I’ve experienced.

My son ordered the large beef ($14.98) which was a beautifully sliced plate of meat, perfectly thin, but without any tearing.

My 3-item combination plate ($25) of beef, white shrimp and Diver’s scallops also came with a pat of house-made shrimp paste for you to make shrimp meatballs with. A micro-planing of fresh lemon zest over the sushi-grade scallops is how a chef trained in fine dining sets himself apart from the rest. An extra touch here and there, a little bit of innovation and creativity makes all the difference. And the best part? His prices are comparable to the other shabu outlets in OC.

The two item combo will only set you back $21 and if Jidori chicken is part of your order, you can be sure Chef has thrown in a pat of minced chicken with raw quail egg for you to make little meat balls with. By incorporating the egg into the minced chicken, the end result is a moist morsel which isn’t at all hard.

The veggie plate here is much more than just the usual napa cabbage, carrot, tofu and udon. Also included are baby bok choy, mizuna, chives, shiso, brown and white shimeiji mushrooms as well as hen of the woods or maitake mushrooms. Sometimes it’s a mix of maitake and shiitakes. It is essentially a gourmet shabu meal.

The proteins are all top quality. Shrimp are plump and large with a great snap while the scallops were beautifully melt-in-your-mouth tender — just don’t overcook them, because that would be your fault, and your fault only. I couldn’t even finish my scallops and udon I was so full (and I didn’t even eat my bowl of rice), but luckily my boy was there to polish everything off and more!

When you’re done, the server will prepare one of two rices with the remaining broth in your pot. Both rices start with a few spoonfuls of finely diced onions and carrots. The arroz negro includes squid ink and sofrito which ends up tasting somewhat like a squid ink risotto.

Arroz blanco omits the squid ink and sofrito, but instead, adds furikake for flavor. Both are delicious but I was way too full to eat more than one bite. Ask to bring it home because you won’t want to waste it, and the flavors are more intense the following day.

Chef Tommy Kim has taken shabu shabu to a whole new level and I for one thank him for it. The myriad of shabu places popping up like weeds has created a string of cookie cutter restaurants which really doesn’t set one apart from the other. Mokkoji has taken it to a whole new level, one which I hope others will take notice and up their game a bit.

Mokkoji Shabu Shabu Bar
14041 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92620
Tel: 949-451-0011

Mokkoji Shabu Shabu Bar on Urbanspoon

creative culinary tastes of Chef David Man

I’ve been visiting the Island Hotel on and off for a few years now for different events, both food related and non-food related. Therefore, it is just mind-boggling that I had never visited Palm Terrace for a meal until now. But it is just as well that I waited since Chef David Man has since returned to the hotel after a stint elsewhere and was on hand to introduce his creations to us.

We started with Pear & Blue Cheese Flatbread a thin crust pizza topped with Point Reyes Blue Cheese and thin slices of pear finished with wild arugula. What is better than the saltiness of the cheese paired with the sweetness of the pear? Nothing!

“Share Burger” ($13) is the Chef’s version of sliders and comes either in beef or chicken. We had the chicken with applewood smoked bacon, swiss and avocado.

One of my favorites was the Grilled Skewered Prawns, wrapped with prosciutto and brushed with chimichurri sauce. This comprised of two of my favorite items together — what’s not to love?

The Island Ahi Tartare is definitely a take on the traditional with the addition of Asian pears, pecans, cilantro and mint. Delightfully refreshing with a nice crunch coming from both the pears and the pecans.

“New Edamame” was so good we had to order another. Roasted fresh garbanzo beans tossed with sea salt and harissa are not only fun to eat but such a unique alternative to the usual edamame you find everywhere. We loved it!

Salmon poached in California Sparkling Wine is tender with a fabulous spring succotash, potato puree, mache, sauce vierge ($24). The succotash makes use of the beautifully sweet corn that’s currently in season (smaller portion pictured).

Prime Beef Short Ribs ($28) sous vide in California Red wine for 48 hours is fork tender and rich in flavor. Potato puree, gremolata and local braised greens accompany (smaller portion pictured).

One of the more interesting items we tried was Compressed Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Idiazabal sheep milk cheese, Jerez sherry and California olive oil. Both watermelon and heirloom tomatoes are in season right now and are in their prime in terms of flavor — paired perfectly together here with the salty cheese.

One of our favorites was Sauteed Soft Shell Crab amandine style with haricot verts, pea shoots, and Marcona almonds. I’m a huge fan of soft shell crab and honestly I could’ve eaten that entire plate on my own. Crispy on the outside and oh so delicious. I wanted more of those pea shoots!

As if that wasn’t enough food, Executive Pastry Chef Andy revealed some of his sweet creations (all $6)  including Valrhona Guanaja chocolate mousse cake with corn sorbet and fleur de sel opal — the corn sorbet was strangely delicious!

My favorite was the Lemon Cream Cheese Tart with mascarpone ice cream. Nice and tart with nice textures, I wish I had more room to eat more.

Almond cheesecake with honey and blackberry coulis was also delicious! I’m a huge fan of cheesecake, and this one had a nice blend of sweet and tart for me to try a few more spoonfuls.

My friend loved the Salted Caramel S’more in a jar with housemade graham crackers. The s’more part was too sweet for me, but I loved the graham crackers with a hint of cinnamon.

Last but not least, Blueberry Orange Crisp with ginger ice cream again mixes sweet and tart in one mouthful which epitomizes what a good dessert should possess.

Some items have prices listed while others do not, the reason being, those are new items which are making their way onto the menu. The Island Hotel has graciously offered one of my readers   a prix fixe menu for two created by Chef David Man especially for the winner at Palm Terrace. To enter, simply leave me a comment with who you would bring if you win and why. Don’t forget to leave your full name in the comment. Entries end on Sunday and winner will be announced on Monday. Good Luck.

Palm Terrace
690 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-760-4920

Palm Terrace Restaurant and Lounge - the Island Hotel on Urbanspoon

The Ranch doesn’t kid around when they say farm-to-table

In my 20+ years as a food writer/critic, I’ve been invited to a myriad of events, meals, experiences on different continents even. Some I wish to forget, but others, will remain etched on my memory for years to come. This is one of them. But I must warn you, this review is long, but deemed necessary, in order for me to recant the truly remarkable afternoon I spent in the company of other food writers and food lovers alike.

Over the weekend, I was invited to a luncheon at the Edwards Ranch Estates, the farm which supplies produce to The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim (and is owned by Andrew Edwards, owner of the restaurant). I had visited when they first opened and if you are interested in reading my post from that visit, you can find it here.

It was a hot and balmy day and I balked at the thought of having to be outside for three hours lingering in the hot weather I loathe. Tents were set up but my easily over-heated body was already breaking out in perspiration as I sipped on my iced tea trying to catch the cool mist spraying down on us.

I grabbed a Tempura Zucchini Flower stuffed with Sierra Nevada Goat cheese, garden herbs and meyer lemon off a passing tray. It was deliciously hot and richly gooey, just one of the 17 items we were to taste over the course of the afternoon.

Next came the refreshing Baja Stone Crab Gazpacho with sweet crab meat, gala apple for crunch, both swimming in a soup of champagne mango and Valencia orange juice, dressed with Easter egg radishes. It was a tropical delight in my mouth!

After the mouth teasers, we took a tour of the Farm, home to about 400 heirloom tomato vines, ranging from Brown Sugar, Persimmon, Brandywine to name just a few.

If you wonder why everything you eat at The Ranch tastes so damn good, it is because everything grown on the Farm is picked the morning of the day you’re enjoying that evening. Cucumbers, chilis, citrus, fresh herbs, the gorgeous variety of squashes, tomatoes etc is truly a farm-to-table experience.

When we return to the table, our feast begins with a Trio of Spreads — eggplant hummus, a tart creamy concoction eaten on grilled naan bread. In fact, we dipped everything on the naan — fennel tzatziki and black Mission fig & olive jam, the latter being my absolute favorite. The figs are grown on the Farm and the salty sweet mixture of olive and figs is absolute genius.

Grilled Peaches so sweet and aromatic is served with La Quercia Prosciutto, Di Stefano Burrata, Wild arugula and lemon verbena honey. Seriously, no words are necessary to describe this super simple dish with a highly complex marriage of flavors.

This next dish is the epitome of summer. Not only is the presentation outstanding, but the flavors are sublime. Chilled Cucumber Soup is light and refreshing while the hot smoked Skuna Bay salmon lends a salty, decadent contrast to the subtle coolness of the cucumber.

Heirloom Tomatoes pretty much sum up the Farm on a plate. These beautiful tomatoes required nothing but a sprinkling of sea salt and a drizzling of Napa Valley olive oil to enhance the natural flavors. The fruits speak for themselves, each embodying a unique taste with its own personal texture — a symphony of color and the true essence of summer.

Making use of seasonal fruits, Watermelon & Heirloom Tomato Salad is not only vibrant in color but vivacious in personality. Lemon basil, mint, feta, radishes and red onions are tossed together with the sweet watermelon cubes and luscious tomato chunks, and definitely what I want to eat outdoors, so our environment was the perfect setting for this dish.

Up till now, I had taken only one bite of everything put in front of me. However, it was really hard to resist just one taste of the Country Fried Petaluma Quail. The fowl was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside with the distinctive taste I so love. Home-made agave mustard was an ideal accompaniment as well as the apricot jam if you preferred a sweeter alternative. This was indeed my favorite entree.

Maplewood Smoked Jidori Chicken was incredibly aromatic and the smokiness wafted into the air the minute the platter was placed in front of us. Served with The FARM’s version of panzanella (bread and tomato salad) using jalapeno cornbread, picholine olives, heirloom tomatoes, yellow corn and torn purple basil, it was the perfect summer meal.

My second favorite entree was Citrus Grilled Mexican White Shrimp. The shrimp are skewered on thin sugar cane slivers and when eaten with the red quinoa, cucumbers, radishes, Hass avocado and watercress salad, the complexity of textures and flavors were an explosion in my mouth, blowing me away.

If you are a fan of salmon, then Skuna Bay Salmon with heirloom beets, English peas, spring onions, Sicilian pistachios and dill yogurt is sure to please.

Meat lovers can enjoy Certified Angus Skirt Steak, rare slices of meat served atop plump chunks of eggplant and summer squash with bits of rainbow chard and sweet baby carrots.

Or, Certified Black Angus Tenderloin, a roulade stuffed with fontina, sopressata and pine nuts brushed with basil pesto using incredible grass fed meat, is seasoned perfectly and cooked to a medium rare. Moist, tender and succulent are all the words I have to describe this.

If I loved the tenderloin, I was IN love with the Miniature Lamb Chops! These mouthwatering chops are cut thick and no words were needed to describe how tasty they were. The silence surrounding our side of the table spoke volumes!

As everyone waited patiently for dessert to be served, I knew my  meal had come to an end. No matter how enticing dessert was going to be, there was no room left for even one bite. When the platter containing Peach Parfait with elderflower sabayon, Miniature Blueberry Crostatas with Meyer lemon frozen yogurt, Hand Crafted Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches — butter popcorn and mint n chip was brought to the table, I snapped my photo and then sat back and watched the debauchery surrounding me.

I watched as those around me took a bite of the macaron and their eyes rolled back, letting out a sigh, and then immediately take another bite. I didn’t have to taste any of it to know they were a hit.

As the meal drew to an end, and guests, one by one, left the premises, I realized that the heat was a minor interference, a non-issue if you will, to this exquisite repast I’ve had the honor of being invited to. It will eternally be remembered as one of the best meals of my life.

**everything mentioned above is available on the menu, or, will be available within a few weeks of this post**

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

a fast casual trip to South Africa

I’ve been enjoying South African food lately both in San Diego and now here in OC. Peri Peri Mozambique is a fast casual spot in Newport Beach which offers a taste of South Africa in an easy and accessible manner.

I arrived a bit late and my friends had started with Peri-Peri Prawns ($14.95) seven grilled prawns (well, they left a few for me) basted with garlic lemon butter, served with Mozambique rice and vegetables. I love prawns although they don’t love my cholesterol, but, I still eat them. These were still very tasty at room temperature with a great char taste.

Fries Gone Wild ($3.95) is the Peri Peri version of loaded fries or carne asada fries. Seasoned fries are baked in Peri-Peri sauce — a delicious sauce of various spices which you can buy a bottle of and take home — and melted sharp cheddar cheese. It is hard to overload on these because that Peri-Peri sauce is seriously addictive. I poured more over my fries, oh yes I did, and brought a bottle home as well!

Combo Maputo Platter ($13.50) is a good item to order because it gives you a good selection of menu items on one plate. You get two prawns, 1/4 Peri chicken and one Boerewors sausage, but I would totally just order items separately on a second visit.

The Boerewors sausage is a South African specialty meaning ‘farmer’s sausage’ and based on a traditional Dutch sausage. The one here is milder in taste than the ones I’ve had before which probably appeals to a wider audience. Served with a pineapple slaw, mazavaroo (a spicy chili) fries, and black eyed peas

And while Mac n Cheese ($3.50) is on the kids’ menu, if you love this comfort food, the one here is quite delicious. Cheesy, creamy and definitely good enough for my very picky mac n cheese palate.

Finish your meal with Mango Mousse Cake ($5), not too heavy with a nice touch of tartness so you’re not returning to work feeling you need to take a nap!

Prices are so reasonable you are basically getting a meal for $10 or under, and the platters can feed two comfortably with an additional appetizer — just something to think about!

This week’s giveaways are two $25 giftcards to Peri-Peri Mozambique. Leave me a comment by telling me your experiences with South African cuisine (or lack of) with your FULL name for a chance to win. As usual, you have until Sunday to enter. Remember, you have to leave a REAL full name to enter. Winners will be announced on Monday July 16. Good Luck!

Peri-Peri Mozambique
1332 Bison Avenue
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-718-0956

Mozambique Peri Peri  on Urbanspoon