Newport Beach is now home to the most innovative Whole Foods ever

Last week, I was invited to a preview of the latest Whole Foods Market to open, this time in Newport Beach. This is now the closest location to me and I was excited to get a first hand look at what this particular location has to offer.

Like the other markets, fresh produce welcomes you into the store and a wide range of bulk goods are available — always my favorite! If you haven’t been to a Whole Foods Market lately, you will also be happy to know there are various types of oils you can buy in bulk including avocado oil which is great in salad dressings.

The first thing which struck me about this location was the specialty tea cafe named Tea Hive. This concept tea bar offers delicious tea infused drinks including a whole range of fresh brewed iced tea with fresh fruit puree mixed in, as well as sparkling tea infusions for an even more refreshing finish.

We were treated to a sampling of both varieties including Tropical Burst and Raspberry Lime “Ice Me” teas, and from the “Sparkle Me” category, the Strawberry Lime, Peach Julep and Ginger Citron.

These teas are $5 for 24oz while the other three categories of teas run a dollar more for the same size.

A made-to-order pizza station stands next to Tea Hive, one which is available at some of the other Whole Foods in the area.

A few steps away is an outlet with more than 10 beers on tap including Bootleggers, Deschutes and Firestone.

Apart from all these new additions, this location has a restaurant within the market. Back Bay Tavern is a pub-style outlet offering an extensive range of wines and beers you can either drink on their own, or enjoy with some food from the rather impressive menu created by an in-house chef. You can read about Back Bay Tavern next week on my blog with a full post.

Cheese lovers will delight in the Artisan Cheese department here, with a small area for cheese tasting. There are signs proudly proclaiming the “grass fed” cheeses available. Definitely check that out when you’re there.

Whole Foods Newport Beach offers free valet parking for its shoppers. When you valet, tell them you will be shopping at Whole Foods and the valet will give you a key FOB, and when you are done shopping, click the FOB button and your car will be brought to you. Alternatively, if you didn’t valet, golf carts will be available to help take you and your groceries to your car. That’s TOP NOTCH service!

No matter what type of shopper you are, everyone will be excited by the giveaway this week, a $50 giftcard to shop there! Leave me a comment telling me why Whole Foods Market is important in your life. Don’t forget to leave your full name in the comment. Good Luck!

Whole Foods Market
415 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660


Formosa is always comforting and tasty

Whenever I am in a slump, or I’ve eaten too many non-Asian meals, I find myself gravitating to Formosa, a little hole-in-the-wall in Lake Forest which provides me with a lot of comfort. I’m not sure whether it is because Charlie and Vivian, the couple who runs the joint with Charlie’s brothers, are just so warm and treat us like family, or, whether the food tastes like something I make but am too lazy to.

My son and I came for brunch over the weekend and it is one of my child’s favorite Chinese places. He starts with a bowl of Salty Soy Milk ($1.65) which I take a few spoonfuls of. I generally like mine a little thicker than this but it suffices when I’m not in the mood to make my own or when I run out of the condiments which go into it.

When I forget to order the home-made Taiwanese Sausage, Vivian quickly reminds me to do so. After all, my son has been coming here for years and his dining repertoire never changes. Soy milk, Taiwanese sausage and a few other items he can’t do without. Sorry, we’ve eaten this for years and I still don’t know how much it costs.

My son is addicted to Scallion Pancakes ($2.50) because he’ll eat really bad scallion pancakes as well. He’s not fussy when it comes to that. Luckily, the ones here are pretty decent.

I like the Chinese Beef Pancake ($2.75)  — weird name for them because they’re more like Chinese beef sandwiches. Five spiced beef is tucked between sesame pockets and topped with cilantro, scallions and pickled vegetables.

For me, I like to order off the lunch specials menu which is available every day of the week and is served with fried or steamed rice. Dried Beancurd with Pork and Bamboo Shoots ($5.95) is my son’s favorite. The ingredients are julienned and stir fried in soy sauce with scallions. It’s one of those dishes my mom makes and so comforting.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp ($6.50) comes shell-on, crispy and salty. I like to chew on the shrimp head and then slowly make my way to the body, savoring all the flavors stuck on the shell.

I’m a bit of an eggplant fiend, so I always end up ordering it. Eggplant in Hot Garlic Sauce ($5.95) isn’t authentic but it’s good. But then again, I like eggplant no matter how you cook it so maybe I might not be a good gauge? But seriously, it IS very tasty!

A meal at Formosa will never set you back too much. You will be completely satiated, tummies full and for me, it’s a taste of home without having to make it myself.

Formosa Chinese Restaurant
inside the Comfort Inn
23702 Rockfield Blvd
Lake Forest, CA 92530
Tel: 949-458-7125

Formosa Chinese on Urbanspoon

Theorem, a new coffee concept by Portola Coffee Lab

I’m not a coffee drinker, but that’s not to say, I don’t drink coffee. In a year, I average about five cups, give or take, and when I do have one, I usually like to get the best possible ever. Portola Coffee Lab is one of my choices, but the baristas know me best as the “tea orderer” and/or “the non-coffee lover”.

When I received an invitation to preview Theorem, a new barista driven Craft Coffee Bar by Portola Coffee Lab, I accepted, even though I wasn’t sure I would be drinking with vigor, but I love the place and was genuinely interested to see what it was all about. .

The space is intimate — okay! TEENIE! — and seats a mere six. In fact, the number six is a recurring theme throughout and once you hear owner Jeff Duggan (he owns Portola with his wife Christa) gushing about the six steps to brewing the perfect cup of coffee and the six exponentials theorem — all of which escaped my simple mind — you will understand the passion and dedication towards the perfectly brewed cup of Joe.

Our evening started with barista Truman Severson giving us an introduction of the Western Ethiopia Duromina coffee he was using for the tasting. A master in his craft, Truman served up our first cup, a Capuccino, which was served lukewarm. I asked about the temperature but of course, the scientific aspects of it was lost on me. What I did get out of it was the Strauss Family Farms milk used — I love their products —  for optimum taste and I was surprised by how smooth the capuccino was in my mouth.

When Truman started concocting the second drink, the Filtron Fizz — based off a Gin Fizz cocktail — he leaned in towards me and told me he was concerned when he knew that I would be joining them because I don’t like coffee. He was determined to create something I would like and perhaps get me in more often.

The cold-brewed filtron coffee, with a peach, lemon, grapefruit reduction is slightly tart and the orange flavored honey, tonic water and egg whites gave it a creamy, fragrant, effervescent feel on the palate.

Our last course was Affogato, something I absolutely LOVE! Who can resist ice cream?? I certainly can’t! Affogato is an Italian dessert which incorporates vanilla ice cream with espresso which you either sip in between spoonfuls of ice cream, or, I like to take a spoonful of espresso and then scoop the ice cream onto the same spoon. You can also pour the espresso over the ice cream if you like. No matter which way you do it, it is absolutely delicious.

Truman starts by making the perfect espresso and setting it aside. Then, he makes the perfect ice cream by mixing cream with liquid nitrogen and quickly whipping it so the cream would freeze. It was like watching a mad scientist at work, but Truman isn’t mad, just insanely passionate about his work.

Theorem opened to the public this week and is by reservation only because of space. Cell phones are requested to be kindly turned OFF (there is a sign on the door) as a courtesy to the others enjoying alongside you. It is unique, personal, and an experience shared between you and your barista. Therefore, your undivided attention is the respectful thing to do.

Each tasting runs an average of $15 (give or take depending on the menu created by the barista). Make your reservations by clicking on the website.

After I polished off the affogato, I motioned for Truman to come over and I whispered “you want to know how to get me in here? Entice me with affogato!”

Here’s a chance to get in and experience Theorem for yourself, Portola Coffee Lab has generously donated a tasting for two for one of my readers to win. Leave me an anecdote about you and coffee for a chance to visit Theorem. Make sure you leave your FULL name! Entries close on Sunday. Good Luck!

at Portola Coffee Lab
3313 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-284-0596

First Avenue Bar & Grille is a gem revealed

San Diego is fast becoming quite a place for food gems. Who would’ve thought that inside a chic boutique hotel called The Bristol  lies a restaurant worthy of great praise for its menu and service.

The restaurant also provides in-room dining if hotel guests choose not to come downstairs. I personally loved the comfortable interior and the nice booths which makes for intimate dining.

Start with a cocktail (all $10), either a Cosmopolitan, or my favorite, Cucumber Fresh, a blend of tequila, pressed mint and cucumber and fresh lime juice.

While sipping our cocktails, order some Lightly Fried IPA Battered Green Beans ($4.75) served with Meyer lemon aioli. Honestly, the aioli was the best I’ve ever had. I could really taste the Meyer lemon — unlike lots of places touting an ingredient which was lost somewhere in the midst of creativity.

Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels ($7.75) are a must and at under eight bucks, it’s a STEAL! Neuske’s Applewood smoked bacon, leeks and whole grain mustard complete the well-balanced and full-bodied flavor of the broth and mussels.

I really enjoyed the Smoked Chicken Flatbread ($7.75) with caramelized leeks, roasted tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and cilantro. In fact, I took the leftovers with me and reheated the slices in the toaster oven and they were quite delicious the next day.

What really impressed me were the entrees we had next. Grilled Classic Pepper Steak ($17.25) was a no-nonsense, absolutely perfectly seasoned piece of meat cooked medium rare pink. Truffled potato puree and a frisee-chive parmesan salad accompanied. This is an old-school dish done modern-style and executed exquisitely.

The night of our visit, they were doing a special of Roasted Halibut ($17.50) flavored with Neuske’s Applewood Smoked Bacon on a bed of Chino Farms creamed corn, wild arugula and Connelly Gardens charred tomatoes. This special dish was to help the San Diego Food Bank raise money for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. I love it when businesses are aware and give back to their community — just another reason to support First Avenue!

Not that we had room for dessert, but our delightful server enticed us to give the House-made Sorbet/Gelato ($5) which changes regularly. Our caramel chocolate swirl gelato was very welcoming and since the only dessert I can’t resist is ice cream, it was right up my alley.

However, it was the avocado gelato which blew my mind. It was creamy smooth and possessed the taste of avocados which I so love. I ate spoonful after spoonful vowing to try to make this at home.

Our experience at First Avenue Bar & Grille was such a pleasant one with attentive service and a menu which is worthy of praise. But who would’ve thought it known it being hidden inside this little hotel? Right now, they are running a prime rib special every Thursday. Go check it out sometime, you won’t be disappointed. 

First Avenue Bar & Grille
inside The Bristol Hotel
1055 First Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-232-6141

First Avenue Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

enamored with dinners at Anepalco’s Cafe

I’m always shocked when people tell me they’ve never heard of Anepalco’s Cafe, or that they’ve never been there. SERIOUSLY? The BEST chilaquiles in Orange County and beyond and you’ve never been? Sacrilege!!!

I’ve been a fan ever since my first visit to the original Anepalco’s, tucked away in a teenie strip mall next to CHOC Hospital in Orange, years ago and have been going back ever since.

A second location opened this May at a bigger space and the best news of all, with a completely new dinner menu. Chef and owner Danny Godinez has brought his Mexican heritage, together with his French training (his resume includes Montage, Ritz-Carlton and more) to create one of the most eclectic menus around.

Chef Danny’s dinner menu is ever evolving, but customer favorites always remain. Since May, the dinner menu has already been adapted a few times to include stellar dishes which will never come off the menu, or at least, I hope they won’t, and new inspirations his creative mind is constantly flooded with.

One of those is Shrimp Cassoulet ($8.50), large plump shrimp immersed in a mind-blowingly dreamy, rich, creamy chipotle sauce you won’t be able to stop eating. Served with toasted sliced bread, I suggest you ask for more even before they bring it to the table because you will need it. My son can eat this all on his own and he won’t want to share. I wish they will serve it with a side of rice so I can just douse it with the remaining sauce.

Ranchera Flatbread ($8.50) with top sirloin beef cap, roasted tomatillo sauce, Oaxaca cheese and spring onion is the perfect item to share while you sip on one of the many beers on tap. Or, a glass of wine personally sourced by Chef Danny from Mexico.

Continue with Ahi Tuna Tartare ($9) consisting of ahi tuna, avocado, red onion, chiles Mexicanos, lime juice, pepitas oil and egg yolk, which your server will mix together once they bring it to the table. Pumpkin seeds and tortilla chips are added for a textural crunch and it is one of those things my son can’t stop eating. It is just delicious.

The menu offers many entrees to choose from so I’ll focus on my favorites. Cielo, Mer Y Terre ($19) is a combination of scallops, shrimp, Spanish chorizo and Jidori chicken in a dry chile veloute sauce served over risotto style rice with ham. It is addicting and I always wish I had remembered to tell them I want extra sauce when I order.

Chef Danny grew up in Acapulco where his mother owned a restaurant. Acapulco is known for its seafood so it is no surprise that the seafood dishes shine here. Serrano Beurre BlancTilapia ($16.50) is another outstanding item. Sauteed tilapia, potato puree, corn, pico de gallo, serrano beurre blanc topped with micro cilantro is one of those dishes every fish lover will adore. Tilapia is tender and the decadent sauce — Danny is famous for his French-style sauces with a Mexican flair — is always the star of the plate.

I absolutely love Callo De Hacha ($18), scallops and grilled chorizo on a bed of ancho polenta in a chipotle sauce. Large, succulent scallops are perfectly executed and paired with salty chorizo for an insanely delicious mouthful. It is so hard to choose between this, the tilapia and the Cielo, Mer Y Terre when I am here, but this is also one of those rare places where my son will eat seafood so I am able to order all of them if I choose.

Meat lovers should check out Costillas Al Vino Rojo ($18.50), short rib slow-cooked for 8 hours and served with potato puree. A little mirepoix is added for crunch and a rich and hearty red wine chile de arbol reduction for severe wow-factor. It is comfort food at its best.

For those wanting something casual, Ratatouille Burger ($12) is quite delicious. You can choose from an all natural beef pattie or an all natural chicken breast. The burger is served on a brioche bun with zucchini, Mexican squash, red pepper, eggplant, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, serrano aioli and Swiss cheese.

The eclectic menu also includes a Huitlacoche Burger ($13) topped with Oaxaca cheese, white cabbage, iceberg, roasted tomatoes and huitlacoche aioli. If you don’t know what huitlacoche is, it is corn smut, and is used predominantly in Mexican cuisine. It probably sounds scarier than it is because chances are, you won’t even be able to tell the difference.

If you want to try a Mexican offering, the Mexican Enchilada Trio ($12) is fantastic. You can choose chicken or pork — I suggest the pork because the cochinita pibil is very flavorful — and is topped with the incredible red sauce, the restaurant’s signature sauce served on their famous chilaquiles.

No matter what you choose, you will find there is nothing average about this place. The food is first class and you won’t be paying an arm and a leg for it!

For the giveaway this week, one of my readers will have the opportunity to win a 5-course tasting menu for two especially prepared by Chef Danny. Include your FULL name and why you deserve to win this fabulous offer. Entries will close on Sunday.

Anepalco’s Cafe
at Ayres Inn
3737 W. Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA 92868
Tel: 714-456-9642

Anepalco's Cafe (Inside Ayres Inn) on Urbanspoon

a pampered Sunday brunch at Raya

No matter what the occasion is, Raya has always been a great joy to dine at. Call it the glorious view of the Pacific, call it the perfection of service, call it the delicious menu. No matter what you call it, the experience is always delightful.

We came here for brunch several Sundays ago and the first thing my son asked me was “will we see the ocean mommy?” I promised him he would and even offered him the best seat at the table facing the view. He had brought his own camera and was happily snapping shots of the blue ocean and everything else around him.

Our other brunching companion was The Hungry Dogg, and between the three of us, we were able to get a really great selection of what the menu has to offer. The brunch is $65 per person and encompasses a 3 course meal with champagne. I opted for iced coffee instead.

Our meal starts off with an Amuse Bouche of fruit cocktail, a vibrant bowl of seasonal fruits including beautiful berries bursting with color.

First courses include Sushi Trio, two pieces each of three different types of rolls including California spicy tuna and crunchy roll, served with ginger, wasabi and soy sauce.

The Shrimp and Crab cocktail was delicious. I’ve had the ceviche at Raya many times before and it is always incredible. The seafood is so sweet and fresh. Served with cocktail sauce, baja ceviche and louis sauce, this was my favorite.

Jamon Iberico arugula salad is a great way to showcase this flavorful ham. The addition of manchego cheese, toasted almonds, grapes, pickled mustard seeds tossed in a spicy balsamic vinaigrette is a light way to start.

I had mentioned that the service here was so outstanding that they will come and replace my iced coffee before I’ve passed the 3/4 mark on my glass (I’ve experienced this before with iced teas) and true to my words, another glass of iced coffee appeared in front of me shortly after. This is the kind of perfection one would expect from the Ritz-Carlton!

I was happy to see the entrees arrive as I was sipping on the iced coffee way too quickly — makes me very jittery. My son’s Wagyu Beef “Churrasco” was cooked to perfection. The grilled wagyu skirt steak was tender but with a good “chew factor”. I loved the grilled onions, and the mix of flavors from the achiote, chipotle hollandaise and chimichurri. Yuca fries was a welcoming change from the usual drab French fries generally served everywhere.

Chalupas Dungeness Crab Benedict was decent. The crab was the highlight of the entire dish. Corn, poached eggs, avocado and aji amarillo hollandaise accompanied, but didn’t stand out as much as I would have liked.

My choice was “Mano de Leon” Sea Scallops, which I’ve had before. It was a toss up between this and the Miso Alaskan Cod, which I’ve also had before. I’m glad I went with the scallops because they are always prepared to succulent perfection. Char siu pork belly added another dimension to the dish — not that it needed it. The only thing I didn’t care for was the cold sushi rice salad on the plate.

When it comes time for dessert, my first choice at Raya is always their house-made Cinnamon Spice Churros. These are cooked to order so they are hot when they arrive with a kahlua pot de creme and dulce de leche for you to either eat separately, or dip your churros in. I like mine au naturel and boy are these good!

I’m a sucker for bread pudding and the Chocolate Bread Pudding is a good choice with Jack Daniel’s, vanilla sauce and vanilla ice cream.

If you’re a fan of creme brulee, the Vanilla Creme Brulee is worth a try. The texture is spot on and the caramelization on top is of perfect consistency. Served with seasonal berries and coconut cookies. I am a huge fan of this creme brulee but if I had to choose one, the churros win hands down.

Sundays are meant for slow, leisurely activities and brunch at Raya is never hurried. You can sit and enjoy the view while you sip on another glass of champagne. No one will rush you, nor make you feel like you’re taking up valuable real estate — even though it IS pretty awesome with that view. Just relax and treat yourself and your loved ones to a very pampered experience.

at The Ritz-Carlton
1 Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
Tel: 949-240-2000

Raya at The Ritz-Carlton on Urbanspoon