Boardwalk Burgers and Fries surprises and pleases

When I received an invitation to check out Boardwalk Burgers in Huntington Beach, my initial thought was “oh, it’s just another burger joint”. Maybe it was because I had no expectations before I arrived, but after tasting what this cute little place had to offer, I must tell you, I’m SOLD!

I’ve never been a huge fan of burgers, although, I do enjoy them from time to time. This was the reason why I wanted to try the Turkey Burger ($5.75 single/$7.75 double) because often, I don’t feel like beef and turkey is a great substitute. The turkey burger here is moist and nicely seasoned. The toppings you choose also changes how your burger will taste. I love spicy so the chipotle and fresh jalapeno slices were the perfect accompaniments.

Austin chose the Signature Double Burgers: Bacon Bleu ($7.50) with lettuce, tomato, bacon, bleu cheese and grilled onions. It was definitely a very tasty burger. Again, the patties were moist and seasoned well. I asked for wheat buns for both the turkey and the double burger, but you can opt for white buns if you choose.

I think one of my favorites was the Signature Sandwiches: Southwest Grilled Chicken ($8.25). Usually, grilled chicken on a sandwich is dry and leathery, not here. The grilled chicken is juicy and comes with all my favorites, lettuce, tomato, bacon, Swiss, chipotle sauce and fresh jalapeno peppers. Simply delicious!

I’m usually not a fan of Philly Cheese Steak ($8.25) but the one here changed my mind. Each sandwich is filled with eight ounces of thinly sliced rib-eye, topped with provolone cheese, grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms. What really impressed me was the quality of the meat and how un-greasy the entire sandwich was, even after sitting there for a good half hour.

Naturally, I could not walk away without trying Favorites: Vienna Chili Cheese Dog ($6) seeing what a hot dog fiend I am. Don’t judge, and don’t try to tell me what’s in a hot dog — I don’t want to know! I just LOVE hot dogs and I’m not too fussy. The Vienna is tasty with a good snap, but the best part was the delicious chili that smothered the dog. When it comes to cheese, you can choose between cheese sauce or grated cheese — I chose the latter. 

You wouldn’t come to Boardwalk to eat salads, but should you be here as part of a group and didn’t want a sandwich, then I recommend the Boardwalk Salad ($8.50), a generous portion of romaine lettuce, fresh avocado, tomato, red onion, bacon, your choice of dressing and protein (tuna salad, grilled chicken, chicken tenders). We had the creamy Italian (which I loved) and a raspberry (which Austin loved) but was a tad too sweet for me.

Don’t walk off without some Boardwalk Fries ($2.95/$3.95/$4.95) and the way to eat these (like they do on the east coast) is to douse the fries with apple cider vinegar and then sprinkle Old Bay seasoning over them. I like to do these a batch at a time because it made the fries soggy so I doused and sprinkled as I was eating. Very addictive!

If you’re a milkshake fan, definitely order one of these Shakes ($4.75), you can choose from vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and mint chocolate. They use Dreyer’s ice cream, very rich and creamy indeed!

If you’re here with a picky kid, they do serve Mac N Cheese ($3.75) — the “blue box” kind. My kid added a good sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning to this and honestly, it was pretty good.

The piece de resistance was Funnel Fries ($2.75/$3.75). These taste like funnel cake but were in the shape of fries and OH MY GOD, I don’t even like sweet things and this was absolutely delicious. I would’ve liked only a touch of powdered sugar, but these were pretty amazing!!

Fast casual dining has really kicked up a notch these days and the quality of food available at these establishments is surprisingly good. Boardwalk Burgers really surprised us. My son loved everything and frankly, so did I.

This week, Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries has a $25 gift certificate for one of my readers to win. Leave me a comment and tell me which of these items you will mostly likely try when you visit. Remember to leave your FULL name along with your comment.

Boardwalk Fresh Burgers and Fries
21020 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Tel: 714-536-8000

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loving the dinner menu at Cafe 21

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of having brunch here and walked away with it etched clearly on my mind for months to come. I recently came back for dinner, not once, not twice, but THREE times and was equally impressed by Cafe 21‘s dinner menu and am now fully convinced that this restaurant is a force to be reckoned with.

We began with something I highly recommend you order — the Sangria Sampler ($). We had this when we visited for brunch, but they change the sangrias almost daily so you will find new ones whenever you return. One of my favorites this time was a pumpkin spice and also, a pear fig.

a couple of salads, Grilled Pear Salad ($11) with mixed greens, butter grilled fresh pear, almond slivers, dehydrated cranberries, feta cheese tossed in a house honey balsamic dressing was light and delicious. What stood out was the warm grilled pear pieces which gave a great contrast to the greens on the plate.

I loved the Heirloom Tomato Salad ($11). Wild arugula, organic heirloom tomatoes, grilled sweet corn, red onion, garlic house croutons with sweet wine vinaigrette came together perfectly. The corn brought some sweetness while the red onions gave it a slight kick. I ordinarily do not like croutons, but these were absolutely welcoming on the plate giving each mouthful a nice crunch.

Appetizers such as Grilled Prawns with Baked Feta ($14) are large enough for a meal if you’re not terribly hungry as the portion was quite generous. A large grilled prawn sits on top of baked feta cheese with a piece of grilled fresh bell pepper and heirloom tomato slice topped with watercress garnish. Make sure you take a little of everything and construct it into one mouthful. I loved this dish! Served with grilled bread which you can choose to eat or not to. I couldn’t resist because the feta was just addicting on the bread.

Avocado Fries ($8) using gluten free rice flour as coating made a wonderful breading for the avocado slices. Served with goat cheese aioli and chipotle pepper aioli — I liked the latter better — the fries were crispy on the outside and creamy soft on the inside.

The entrees here are remarkable. Looking at this humble little cafe, you wouldn’t believe you were getting food of THIS caliber. Azerbaijani Kabob Platter ($27) is an homage to the owners’ homeland. Zatar seasoned steak kabob, lamb sausage kofta and marinated chicken skewers are mildly seasoned. I would’ve liked a heavier sprinkling of zatar. The apricot pumpkin couscous and housemade pickled vegetable are great additions on the plate. Served with homemade bread and a schmear of avocado pesto, beet hummus and black eyed pea hummus. 

Wild Stuffed Quail ($27) was something I had seen on the menu from my previous visit and I was eager to try it. The quail is stuffed with goat cheese and served with brown rice. There is also pancetta and portobello mushroom topped with house cherry sauce and balsamic glazed vegetables. If you’re not a fan of goat cheese, don’t order this because it enhances the gaminess of the bird. Tender, moist and very flavorful for those who do love it.

One of the favorites was Grilled NY Steak ($29), perfectly grilled medium rare New York strip served with fresh horseradish mashed Kennebeck potatoes, grilled organic cauliflower and peppercorn cream sauce. The cauliflower was so good I wish I had wanted double of this and foregoing the mashed potatoes.

My absolute favorite of the night was Whole Grilled Sea Bass ($27) a fresh grilled whole fish with house style basmati rice pilaf, lavash bread, topped with Kalamata white wine cream sauce with tomatoes. Honestly I didn’t need the lavash bread at all. The whole fish was so tantalizing I didn’t want anything else interfering with my eating. The Kalamata olives and tomatoes were the ideal pairing for the fish. Simply sublime!

Finish off with Creme Brule Cheesecake ($8). The cheese cake totally tasted like creme brulee with caramelized sugar over the top and sliced up fresh strawberry. I loved the crystallized texture over the top of the gooey rich cheesecake.

Or, the seriously delicious Pumpkin Cheesecake which, of course is seasonal, but SO worth it. The pumpkin chiffon on top is airy and light and the cheesecake rich and decadent. The ginger graham cracker crust is also crumbled around the plate giving it more crunch. I absolutely loved it!

If you live in San Diego and haven’t been to Cafe 21 yet, then shame on you! If you’re in Orange County, well, it’s really not THAT far. There are so many restaurants to discover down in San Diego, but this is one place I’ve returned to time after time again because I always walk away happy.

Cafe 21
750 5th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-795-0721

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surprisingly tasty barbecue at Famous Dave’s

I admit, I’m not a big fan of barbecue, and it takes good barbecue for me to like it. One of my favorite places is Phil’s down in San Diego.

We visited Famous Dave’s BBQ (where South Coast Winery used to be) recently and I walked in the door filled with skepticism. The place smelled good, but can the food REALLY deliver, that was the question weighing heavily on my mind.

The manager suggested we order the All American BBQ Feast ($74.99) which feeds four to six people, and showcases a wide array of the best on the menu. Served on the lid of a garbage can — so imagine how big this feast is — there is something for everyone here.

I started with St Louis style spareribs ($23.99 a la carte) — you get a full slab when you order the feast — and I was really surprised by how moist, tender and fall-off-the-bone delicious it was. I immediately felt more positive about the rest of the items.

Whole country-roasted chicken ($13.99 half chicken a la carte) marinated with lemon pepper marinade, roasted and then chargrilled is again moist and flavorful. I usually don’t like chicken at a barbecue place, but it was very good.

The half pound of Texas Beef Brisket ($14.99 a la carte) was seriously good. Usually, I find this dry and tasteless, but here, the brisket is rubbed with brown sugar, coarse black pepper and Dave’s secret spices, then smoked over hickory, giving it really good flavors throughout the meat, not just on the outside.

With the feast, you can choose the brisket or half a pound of Georgia Chopped Pork ($13.99 a la carte), smoked up to 12 hours and chopped to order. This was my least favorite item of the night.

Several sides (sides are all $1.99 a la carte) come with the feast. Creamy Coleslaw, a zesty slaw sweetened with pineapple and a hint of horseradish for spice was rather pleasant. It wasn’t overly sweet and not too creamy. Just the way I like it.

Famous Fries were quite well done. Russet potatoes are cut thick into wedges and then crispy fried. They weren’t greasy at all  and the kids will love them.

Usually, beans are too sweet for me. However, Wilbur Beans only had a hint of sweetness. Loaded with smoked pork, brisket, hot link sausage and jalapeno peppers, these are some of the best beans I’ve had in a long time.

You get six buttery corn on the cob with the feast and they use fresh whenever in season.

You also get four corn bread muffins with the feast but you won’t have enough space in your stomach for these, so just take them home! They’re great with butter the next day.

Other than the items on the feast, we also tried other items from the menu. I love chicken wings and Traditional Wings ($9.49) were pretty good. They are seasoned and tossed in your choice of sauce, although I asked for them not to be tossed so I can try all the sauces individually. Rich & Sassy, Buffalo, Devil’s Spit, Pineapple Rage, Wilbur’s Revenge (in order of heat) are available as well as as others on the table. My favorite were definitely Devil’s Spit and Wilbur’s Revenge.

Hot Link Sausage ($12.99) was a must since I love anything sausage and this was really tasty. You get 12 oz of link with cold beer for the price. Make sure you dip it into the sweet mustard sauce! SO GOOD!

The potato salad consisted of potatoes and red onions, celery, hard cooked egg, mayonnaise with a hint of mustard. This is potato salad I can wrap my head around. Not too mayonnaisey and enough onions and celery for crunch!

We’ve been coming across pretty dismal mac and cheeses lately and were a bit concerned our bad luck would continue. Luckily, Dave’s Cheesy mac & cheese is a good consistency. This home-style version is blended with four cheeses and mixed with corn and jalapeno. My son loved it!

Not that you’ll have enough room to spare after your meal, but if you do, Dave’s Famous Bread Pudding ($6.49) is not bad at all. The bread pudding is made from scratch and topped with pecan praline sauce served warm with vanilla bean ice cream. Surprisingly, the bread pudding isn’t overly sweet, although the pecan praline adds more to it if you like it that way.

You will no doubt be rolled out of here with your bellies so full you wouldn’t know what to do with it. This week, I have some fun surprise gifts for my readers. These flip-open prizes are all at least $10 but you won’t know what you’ve won until your server opens the envelopes. I have four pairs to give away and they are valid until the end of the year. Leave me a comment and tell me what your favorite barbecue item is. Good Luck! Winner will be announced on Monday.

Famous Dave’s BBQ
3608 S Bristol
Santa Ana, CA 92704
Tel: 714-957-1857

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Pritchard Hill wine dinner at The Ranch

Last week, I attended the Pritchard Hill wine dinner at The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, just two days after my birthday dinner at the restaurant. One would think it was overkill but honestly, the food is so incredible I could never be tired of it.

Chef Michael Rossi created a five-course menu (in reality, eight courses) each course paired with a wine from the Pritchard Hills region in Napa Valley (photo provided by The Ranch). Master sommelier Michael Jordan was on hand, together with the various winemakers, to introduce us to some of the best wines I’ve tasted in a long time.

We began with an amuse bouche of Skuna Bay salmon in cucumber soup (which I sampled at the luncheon on the farm this summer) with potato foam and a dollop of caviar. Refreshing yet decadent, the first wine pairing of Chappellet, Signature Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley 2011 was the perfect choice — light and fragrant.

The Chenin Blanc continues the pairing with Sea of Cortez Diver Scallop, the entree I had on my birthday. The prosciutto di San Daniele wrapped black Mission fig lent a salty sweetness which is heaven in my mouth. A puree of butternut squash accompanied.

My favorite course and pairing of the evening was Colorado Grass Fed Lamb Porterhouse with Continuum Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Created by Tim Mondavi, son of Robert Mondavi, it was velvety smooth on my palate and left a sublime feel in my mouth which I savored. The lamb was prepared a perfect medium rare and the accoutrements of maitake mushrooms (or hen of the woods) was robust and umami-filled, while the pumpkin spatzle added a different texture to the mix. The rosemary jus was insanely redolent and I wanted to lick the plate clean — no I didn’t do it!!

Next course came in the form of Tender Braised Veal Cheek, and they weren’t kidding when they said “tender”. With the mere touch of my fork, the veal came apart and melted in my mouth.  Anson Mills stone ground white grits, dried cherry and black truffle shavings accompanied. Served with Chappellet, Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2009.

I sampled the Red Deer Venison Chop from my friend’s plate the night of my birthday and loved it. Needless to say, I loved it even more here because I actually got my own chop! The combination of sweet potatoes, cranberries, young turnips and garden sage just came together like a symphony, sweet, tart and aromatic. Paired with David Arthur Vineyards, Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009.

Certified Black Angus Beef Tenderloin “Roulade” was one of the dishes served at the luncheon this summer, but I was too full to enjoy more than one mouthful. This time, I made it half the way through and it was just divine. Stuffed with fontina val d’aosta, and sprinkled with bits of Fra’ Mani sopressata, soft gigante beans and warm radicchio, this marriage of salty deliciousness was right up my alley! Paired with Ovid Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009.

Next came the Farmhouse Cheese Selection, served with home made preserves and toasted OC Baking bread slices. BRAND Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Montagna, La Presa-One South Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 both worked well with the cheeses, but I was a little more partial to the BRAND. It was so smooth on my palate.

I honestly didn’t need dessert, but when it was placed before me, it wasn’t the Honey Poached Seckle Pear, or the vine dried grapes, or hazelnuts, which gripped me, although they were all part and parcel of a perfect end to a perfect meal. It was the mascarpone-orange ice cream which brought me to my knees. Two more scoops of this please!!!

I stayed until midnight, my belly Buddha-like when I walked outside to get in my car. I drove all the way home with a huge smile on my face!

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

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a taste of Italy at Bruno’s Trattoria

Brea has been getting some great eateries this year and the latest addition is a lovely Italian place called Bruno’s Trattoria. We were invited for a preview of what the restaurant has to offer and I was delightfully surprised by what we tasted.

We started with an Antipasto Platter consisting of Arancini risotto balls filled with ham, cheeses, fresh herbs, lightly fried with marinara sauce. Cheesy and gooey on the inside, these delicious morsels were the ideal start to the meal.

Crostini topped with butternut and fresh ricotta cheese is a nice bite with whatever it is you’re drinking. The sweetness of the butternut with the milky ricotta cheese went very well together.

A little bowl of Peperonata red bell peppers, onion, olive oil is all roasted in-house and it goes perfectly well with the antipasti.

My favorite of the appetizers was the Fromaggi/Salumi/Olives featuring prosciutto, coppa and gorgeous cheeses like fontina, ubriaco and nostrano.

I was so pleased with the Pasta Duo. Pasta is made in-house and you can totally taste the difference. Bruno Pappardelle with braised short ribs and wild mushrooms was absolutely delicious. I have been craving the home-made pastas I enjoyed in NYC and was so happy when I put this in my mouth. The pappardelle had a perfect consistency with just a bite, and the rich short ribs and mushrooms coated the noodles to create a delicious mouthful.

Risotto all’ Aragosta was filled with umami and the lobster, asparagus, roasted tomato and basil together with the rice was creamy and sublime. LOVED IT.

Entrees came in the form of Branzino, crispy skin flaky and moist flesh underneath. This Mediterranean seabass was tasty with a lovely lemon caper sauce. Often, lemon sauces aren’t tart enough for me, but the one here was spot on.

Another entree we sampled was Bistecca “Flat Iron” grilled flat iron steak served with creamy polenta and roasted cipollini onions. The latter was seasoned with balsamic vinegar and the tart sweetness was just intoxicating. I absolutely love all these acidic flavors on the plates.

Naturally when it came time for desserts I was already full, however, I was assured that I would enjoy these even though my sweet palate is virtually non-existent.

Torte di Pesche is an almond meal cake with fresh peaches, almonds and served with vanilla bean gelato. The texture was coarse and pleasing and the peaches added a great contrasting texture. Very nice.

I normally dislike Tiramisu, but the one here was surprisingly good. Texturally it was even and creamy. The lady fingers were soaked through perfectly and the flavors of espresso, mascarpone, rum and cocoa melded well together. It wasn’t overly sweet which was also great for me.

My favorite was Budino al Caramello, a caramel pudding with a touch of chocolate ganache and topped with whipped cream. Again, this wasn’t super sweet which was heaven in my mouth!

Brea is slowly becoming a little eating mecca and Bruno’s is helping the downtown area get closer to its final goal. Food is great, atmosphere is warm and inviting. I only wish I lived closer.

This week, Bruno’s has generously donated a $50 gift card for one of you to win. Just leave a comment telling me which of these dishes you are most excited to try. Don’t forget to leave your FULL name to be entered. Winner announced Monday.

Bruno’s Trattoria
210 W Birch Street
Brea, CA 92821
Tel: 714-257-1000

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a Royal India celebration like no other

Deepavali or better known as Divali in north America is the festival of lights celebrated in India and many other countries including Malaysia, where I grew up. This holiday always resonated with me because it always falls around my birthday and sometimes, falls right on my birthday (like this year) and we get a day off from school.

Over the weekend, I met Jag Kambo, one of the owners of Royal India in San Diego (his brother Sam is co-owner) where they will be welcoming their guests with a Divali celebration this Saturday, the 17th with a special Divali prix fixe menu — the festival of lights is actually today, November 13th.

I have been eating Indian food since I was a child and through the years, I’ve had all types of Indian cuisine from the north to the south. One of the best meals I remember eating was in Hong Kong prepared by an Indian friend’s mom who was also a cooking instructor. I remember how wonderfully delicious everything was, how fresh it all tasted, and how different it was from what you get in restaurants.

The restaurant is housed in a historic 125 year old building, home of San Diego’s first jazz bar. A lot of history here and it was even more befitting when I tasted the food at Royal India, that I was transported to a part of my own history, a “ratatouille moment”, if you will. The dishes are created with love and care, each step of the process executed with precision and perfection, supervised by both Jag and Sam in the kitchen.

We sampled some of the items featured on the Diwali prix fixe menu ($29/person with appetizer, entree, naan or rice, complimentary glass of champagne and dessert).

We began with Pakora, we tried the shrimp (normally $12 on the menu) and there are a variety to choose from including chicken and vegetables (offered on the prix fixe). Pakoras are battered and fried using chickpea flour as the base resulting in a nutty and light consistency. It isn’t greasy at all and is absolutely delightful.

Samosas are another choice on the prix fixe and let me tell you, these are not like any samosas you’ve ever had. We tried the lamb ($6) which was nicely seasoned and not gamey.

The vegetable ($5) samosa was also great filled with potatoes and peas.

What was instantly noticeable was the samosa wrapper — really flavorful, crispy throughout and very thin. I normally eat around the inside and leave the outside, but I ended up eating the entire thing here. I commented on how light these were and Jag was proud to say “everything is made in-house”, and it shows.

Everyone loves Chicken Tikka Masala ($18) and this is one of your available choices for entree for Diwali. What stood out for me was the color — not that intense unnatural red you usually see in Indian restaurants which possibly includes red dye. Here, it was a beautiful red hue from tomatoes and other spices which they grind by hand before cooking. I loved how I was able to detect the various spices in each bite and how the sauce was subtle yet sublime.

Your other entree choice is Lamb Korma ($20) and I suggest you order this if you are a lamb fan. The coriander, ginger and cumin are evident and I could taste the shards of ginger on my tongue. I love eating foods which are made from scratch and not from a sauce packet and it makes such a difference when you’ve tasted what real Indian food is all about. The lamb is so tender it melts in your mouth — it certainly did in mine! Just divine!

Vegetarians have the option of vegetable chili ginger masala or vegetable tikka masala for their prix fixe entrees.

The prix fixe is served with Pulao rice or naan (plain or garlic). The rice is dotted with raisins and brightly colored with the yellow of tumeric. It is so tasty on its own and requires no additions for you to enjoy.

Naan ($5) is deliciously fluffy and topped with fresh garlic and cilantro and I highly suggest this over the plain. We also tried Kabuli, a naan filled with raisins and sweetened coconut. I’m normally not a fan of coconut, but I loved this slightly sweet bread which frankly would suffice as a dessert for me.

Homemade sauces are also perfectly executed. The Raita ($3) cucumber yogurt helps cool your palate from the heat. Mango chutney ($4) is sweet and chunky and also serves to cool your palate from anything too spicy. The home made chili sauce is what I relished. I like heat on almost everything and gleefully added dollops of this fiery sauce to my rice and curries. I was pretty much speechless, savoring everything, simply floored to find Indian food of such caliber in San Diego of all places.

No Diwali celebration is complete without something sweet and what is more traditional than Gulab Jamun ($8), little beignet-like doughnuts soaked in a sugar syrup traditionally infused with cardamom, rosewater and saffron.

Dessert is complimentary with the Diwali prix fixe menu and if gulab jamum isn’t your thing, then definitely do not miss out on the pistachio ice cream ($11). Creamy and sinfully rich, each bite of this home made deliciousness offers up large pieces of pistachios, rasins, coconut and slivered almonds. It was very addicting and hard to stop eating.

I’ve had many people ask me why Indian food (not buffet) is expensive, well the answer if really quite simple. It is a very time consuming process to make Indian food correctly. There is the grinding of the spices, which usually means the use of a mortar and pestle. Then, there is the roasting of the spices to bring out all the natural oils, creating those wonderful aromas you smell before you even taste the food. The cooking time is usually long, several hours, often around 8 hours or more. There are no short cuts when you make Indian food and if corners are cut, then the taste will suffer.

At Royal India, you will find the best of Indian cuisine in California. That of course is my opinion, but once you taste the difference, you won’t go back to ordinary Indian food again. At $29, the Diwali menu is a steal, and the perfect opportunity for you to partake in this celebration with some of the best Indian food I’ve had to date.

Royal India
329 Market Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-269-9999

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