NBAC Cafe has Renzo!

Those of you who were fans of Renzo’s A Taste of Peru will be happy to know that he is now at the NBAC Cafe (Newport Beach Athletics Club) running the restaurant on the second floor. Ever since Renzo closed his restaurant, my son has been bugging me about how much he’s missed eating Renzo’s food, so when I found out about NBAC Cafe, I brought him down to see Renzo as well as grab some grub.

Naturally, Renzo was there with his bustling personality filling up the entire restaurant with so much love and just the sound of his voice brought back so many great memories of his little eatery in Irvine.

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We started off with soup of the day — Chicken Noodle Soup ($2.75/$3.95) — all home made with bits of goodness swimming in the rich broth.

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The Spicy Santa Fe Chicken Wrap ($9.50) was not only vibrant in color, but also, bursting with flavor. Roasted chicken, chipotle mayo, black beans, corn, cilantro, red onions, all rolled up in a sundried tomato tortilla will fill me up if I ate the whole thing, but fortunately, I had a hungry boy with me who devoured the entire thing after I’d taken two bites.

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After polishing off the wrap, we proceeded to tackle the Offshore Cubano ($9.95) a delectable version of the Cuban sandwich Renzo used to serve at his restaurant. Turkey, low sodium ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, dijon mustard, light mayo flanked by ciabatta bread is hot, gooey with salty, tart flavor profiles brimming through. I wasn’t letting the kid eat the entire thing this time as I took half and closely guarded it.

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As if two sandwiches weren’t enough for the two of us, my son also ordered the JB’s Grilled Cheese “The Founder’s Favorite” ($7.95) comprising pepper Jack cheese (one of the kid’s fave), tomato, sweet Maui onion and avocado on sourdough. Non-greasy and nicely crisp on both sides, this was indeed not just the founder’s favorite, but ours as well. I’ve always liked tomatoes on my grilled cheese, but adding creamy avocado is going to be my new thing now!

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But what we really came for was Renzo’s famous ceviche. Peruvian Classic Ceviche ($11.95) is a wild fresh ahi tuna and shrimp mix tossed with thinly sliced red onions, cilantro in a lime marinade. We always ask for spicy but you have the option of mild or medium as well. Sweet potatoes and corn both help diffuse the heat giving it a tangy, mouth puckering finish making you crave it all the more. This was the dish my son has been wanting all along. We fought over every little bit on the plate.

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I always tell people, don’t take my word for it, go and try it for yourself. Also, don’t be intimidated by the club entrance, they are well aware that a lot of non-members like to eat at the cafe and they will happily guide you in the right direction should you get lost along the way.

NBAC Cafe
1367 Avocado Avenue
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-759-0322

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Japanese Italian fusion at Kaz San Diego

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of Japanese Italian cuisine having tried it a few times at Japanese restaurants, but nothing has really stood out. When I was last in San Diego, I heard about Ristorante Kaz and decided to check it out. Located on Convoy, parking is inevitably crazy and I don’t suggest going during peak hours. Go early or later, otherwise you’ll be utterly frustrated! KAZ (640x480) We arrived for a late lunch and decided to go with the Prix Fixe Lunch ($12) which comes as a 3-course meal, but allows for add-ons if you choose to select something fancier than the one proposed. The House Salad was a simple green salad with a light dressing, nothing special, while the Marinated Vegetables (+$2) were a far better choice — essentially roasted vegetables drizzled with a balsamic reduction glaze. I loved the pumpkin and caramelized red onions. marinated vegs (640x480) A soup of the day is offered as well as two others: Pumpkin Soup, or soupe du jour, was delightful with only a touch of cream. It is amazing how silky the texture considering how light it was. pumpkin soup (640x480) Cream of Corn (+$1) utilizes the fresh corn in season and possessed a wonderful sweet finish. Again, the luscious texture is not heavy, and I could have had an extra bowl of this it was THAT good! sweetcorn soup (640x480) There were quite a few selections for entrees but we gravitated towards Crab Roe, Salmon Roe and Squid Cold Spaghetti Japanese Style (+$3) since it was a super hot day. This cold pasta was umami-filled with the salty crab roe coating every strand of the angel hair pasta. Salmon roe and raw squid strips added another layer of flavors and textures as well as julienned shiso leaves for an aromatic finish. We absolutely loved this! cold pasta (640x480) Creamy Sea Urchin with Spinach and Salmon Roe (+$4) is a must if you love uni. I can’t even describe how exquisite this turned out to be. The spaghetti sits in a savory-packed sauce with a hint of cream allowing the natural nuances of the sea to shine through. The uni was only warmed, not cooked, thus not compromising its delicate texture. uni pasta (640x480) I was really blown away by how something so simple can blow my tastebuds to a whole new level. How something utilizing around five ingredients can pack such a punch is beyond me. If you get a chance to check it out, please do, especially if you love Japanese food and are willing to be a little adventurous. I can’t wait to return!

Ristorante Kaz 3904 Convoy Street San Diego, CA 92111 Tel: 858-565-8861

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one big party at Bagatelle

When I heard we were going to Bagatelle for Sunday brunch, I was like “okay, brunch”. I knew very little about the whole thing until the morning of when I decided to look on the website and glanced at their Yelp page. So there is a location in New York, and another in Miami. Wait a minute….. people are scantily dressed and dancing on tables?

We arrived early and were greeted by gorgeous ladies who escorted us to our table. There was a DJ and music was playing in an opulent dining room decked out in chandeliers and luxurious white throughout.

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Our server David (absolutely gorgeous and reminded me of a younger John Stamos) asked us if we’ve been before to which we said no. He smiled and informed us that we’re in for a treat. He also told us we should hang around until at least 2pm which was when things would “heat up”.

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As I watched all these groups of women stream in, dressed to kill, in fact, all decked out ready to go clubbing, hair all done, heels, short short dresses, the only thing I was thinking was “please don’t let the food suck”.

Luckily there is an extensive list of drinks and I’m a huge lover of cocktails so I tell David to tell the mixologist to make me something with tequila or mezcal.

I don’t particularly remember every detail of our drinks but here’s what we sipped on throughout the afternoon. Girl from LimaBajan Groove ($16); Grey Goose La Poire, Thai basil, cucumber, mint, coconut water, falernuml; Iligal Anejo mezcal, avocado, green tea, oregeat, lime; Louisiana with absinthe; Death In The Afternoon variation: squid ink, absinthe, vanilla, pineapple juice, lemon; Carter Meets The Devil variation: mezcal, dos amadillos silver, serrano, lime, agave, lime juice; Milkshake drink with absinthe.

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My favorites were the Girl from Lima and Iligal Anejo with avocado which I downed within 2 minutes because it was SO delicious! We thank award winning Mixologist Zach Patterson for all these creations.

Our first dish arrives, a suggestion of David’s. Endive Salad ($12) was actually rather pleasing not only aesthetically, but also, on the palate. Blue cheese, candied walnuts, strawberries in a champagne vinaigrette made for a summery and fresh start with the sweet crunch of the nuts to add a nice contrasting component.

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Tuna Tartare ($18/$28) is perfect for sharing. Yellow-fin tuna is dressed well atop mashed avocado in a soy citrus vinaigrette bath. I couldn’t stop eating this simple yet delightfully addicting salty tart composition dolloped on the taro chips served alongside.

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So far, I was rather pleased by everything, but most of all, the clubby music and the general fun vibe of the room. Gorgeous servers waltz around the packed room making sure everyone is well cared for and that we never were without a drink in front of us. The table next to us were just partying it up!

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I’m generally not a fan of hash, but Short Rib Hash ($18) changed my mind about both short rib and also, hash. Twice cooked potato and bell pepper is combined with confit onions in a sumptuous braising jus, all of which is topped with a runny poached egg. The braised short rib was not only tender, but the flavors, sinfully rich and the oozing yolk just took it to a whole new level.

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Lobster Benedict ($35) didn’t look like much but the sauteed lobster was delightfully sweet and the big lumps were rather generous over the English muffin. The soft poached hen egg and hollandaise were just icing on the cake. I highly recommend this and would order it again without hesitation.

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The only sweet item we had was the Brioche French Toast ($15). I didn’t think I’d like it, but then, it was light and not overly sweet and that appealed to me. The homemade strawberry-maple marmalade was well paired with the whipped creme fraiche. Obviously, I didn’t stop at just one bite.

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I did however order a side of the Applewood Smoked Bacon ($12). How could I resist?

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Service was awesome and food was really, really good. In fact, I’ve been telling all my friends about it and am in the process of trying to organize a bunch of gals together for a Sunday brunch to remember! I had the time of my life that afternoon — it was SO MUCH FUN! But don’t take my word for it, make a reservation and go see for yourselves. I would like to point out though, it is definitely more fun for a group of gals than a group of guys purely because the eye candy is predominantly of the male persuasion!

Bagatelle
755 N La Cienega
Los Angeles, CA
Tel: 310-659-3900

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Sublime Tavern in Del Mar delights

I’m always excited about new restaurant openings and when I heard that a new gastropub style restaurant opened in Del Mar, I was so there. The restaurant is located in a part of Del Mar I’d never been to, and although it wasn’t far off the freeway, it wasn’t in a visible spot. Even when I arrived at the location, I was a bit perplexed.

When I walked into the restaurant, however, I was surprised at its really rustic decor keeping in tune with the wine and beer theme. A lot of wood, including the staves off the wine barrels align a partition in the middle of the room — what a great idea!

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We started off with the Dark and Mysterious flight ($11) consisting of four beers: Rip Current Stringer Scottish, Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, Acoustic Ales Hot Mess, Ballast Point Victory at Sea. My favorites were the latter two.

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Ahi Poke Tostada ($14) was suggested by our server. The sashimi grade tuna was top quality and arranged on top of a crispy corn tortilla with a Napa cabbage slaw. The crushed avocado added a creamy consistency and the slight heat of the Sriracha crema was very pleasing.

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I couldn’t resist Duck Wings ($12) when I saw it on the menu and was so glad I got them. Cage free duck wings are crispy and I relished in chewing on them. Tossed in a sauce of local honey, Chinese mustard and orange glaze, they were salty, sweet, perfect accompaniment for the beer!! The cold rice noodle and shredded vegetable salad is Thai-inspired and possessed a light and refreshing contrast on the palate. Absolutely delightful.

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Sizzling Sisig ($14) is a unique take on the Filipino dish of the same name. I’ve never had the Filipino version before but was told this is a fantastic rendition using pork collar, shoulder and belly, which is first marinated, then braised and chopped, before it is fried on a sizzling skillet with onion and jalapeno. It reminded me of a hash without the potatoes. Traditionally, rice is served alongside sisig but here, Hawaiian sweet rolls make for a great partner. The sweetness pairs well with the saltiness and slight tart, spiciness of the pork. SO GOOD!

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I was intrigued by the Belgian Ale Braised Mussels ($14) because I am told a different Belgian ale is selected each day to be used with this dish. On the night of our visit, it was Iron Fist Hired Hand Saison. PEI mussels are tender and the lemon garlic butter piquantly pleasing. I’m sure you’ll think I was crazy to complain about this, but I thought there was way too much andouille sausage in the bowl.

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We couldn’t leave without trying one of their signature macaroni and cheese selections. Ecstasy Mac N Cheese ($9/$13) is gooey and rich smothered in gorgonzola and bechamel, dotted with applewood smoked bacon, mushrooms, roasted red pepper, garlic and thyme. I was impressed by the use of thyme as it elevated the aromas and flavors without overpowering.

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Our last (but not least) dish was a pizza. Sublime Tavern’s owner apparently studied under a famous pizza chef up in the Bay Area to learn about the intricacies of creating an ideal crust. Get Figgy Wit It ($17/$24) comprises sweet figs, prosciutto, arugula, parmesan a drizzle of balsamic glaze and olive oil on a puffed up garlic base. I was really too full to eat a whole piece but I managed a few bites! I liked the airy crust and the toppings are generous.

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Sublime Tavern definitely has what it takes to be a successful spot, not only for the beer and wine but also, the food. My experiences with gastropub-style establishments often mean they excel in one or the other, but few can claim to be this well-rounded. My only concern is its hidden spot which won’t generate much foot traffic. Hopefully when the word starts spreading, it will garner all the accolades it deserves.

Sublime Tavern
3790 Via de la Valle
Del Mar, CA 92014
Tel: 858-259-9100

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Greenleaf opens 2nd location in OC

I was really happy to know that Greenleaf had opened at SoCo. The restaurant is a perfect fit for this Costa Mesa foodie destination, The menu is fresh and healthy while the decor stays true to keeping everything environmentally sound.

I always forget there is a lot more than salads here. I’m not typically a salad person, but if you are, the antioxidant salad is one of the most popular — you can read about it when I reviewed its first OC location.

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On this particular visit to the new spot, we started with some cocktails (you can get this sans alcohol too) created with soju, a Korean alcoholic beverage made from potatoes. Pine-Kale-Ada Soju cocktail ($8) is like a spiked adult smoothie, the pineapple gives it sweetness and the kale, a healthy freshness. I could have had a huge glass of it, but it was just as well I didn’t because it would’ve been WAY too easy to drink.

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Turkey Burger Sliders ($5) were surprisingly moist and savory. Turkey can often turn out dry, but these bite-sized burgers were perfectly juicy and seasoned well. A great snack for one, or shared as a starter with a friend.

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One of my favorites was Meatballs and Toast ($6), smothered in a gorgeously light marinara sauce. The morsels of cheese is oozy melty and the julienned basil adds a lovely freshness to the dish. For $6, the portion size was very generous and enough if I only wanted a light meal.

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If you’re looking for something more substantial, Turkey Melt Sandwich ($9.95) is delicious and comes on a lightly toasted pretzel bun. Crispy on the outside, sliced turkey breast and melted cheese is packed between the bun and served with a side of .

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I’ve always like the pizzas at Greenleaf and the Wild Mushroom and Truffle Pizza ($9.95) is one of them. What I love most about these pizzas is how thin the crust is.

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Another huge perk at Greenleaf is their happy hour. Select items are offered at half price while cocktails and pizzas are only $5 between 3pm and 5pm.

This week I have a $20 giftcard for one lucky reader to win. Please leave me a comment with your FULL name and tell me your experiences with Greenleaf, or if you’ve not yet visited, what are the items you would most like to try. Entries close on Wednesday 25th and a winner will be announced on Thursday 26th. Good luck! 

Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop
3321 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-862-2480

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outstanding seafood at Fishing With Dynamite

I want to preface this by saying, I’m a HUGE fan of David LeFevre’s. Like, HUGE! His MB Post is one of my favorites and ever since he opened Fishing With Dynamite a few doors down, I’ve been wanting to visit.

So we finally make it up to Manhattan Beach and the beach volleyball tournament is going on and it is absolutely insane there. Luckily, after a few circles around the block, we find parking just two blocks away. Score!

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Before perusing the seafood-centric menu, cocktails were ordered — yes it was early, but hey, it was the weekend. Original Gangster ($12) is essentially a Boulevardier made with White Dog bourbon whiskey, aperol, Vya sweet vermouth and grapefruit, while Regalo de Dios ($12) is a sour with hacienda de chihuahua, strawberry, rhubarb and serrano.

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FWD is known for its fresh seafood and no one should walk away without trying at least a few items. You can opt for platters that have already been created or, make your own plate. Oysters can be order individually, by the half dozen, or a dozen (prices will be reflected as such).

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We selected three types of oysters: Tomahawk ($3.50/$20.50/$38.50), Malagash ($3.50/$20.50/$38.50) and Sweet Petite ($3/$17.50/$33), as well as Littleneck Clams ($2.25/$13/$22) and Peruvian Scallops ($2.50/$14/$26). There are several sauces to choose from and we decided upon Mignonette and Ponzu.

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I couldn’t resist the Live Santa Barbara Sea Urchin and what a bargain at a mere $15. Plump, meaty, positively the largest pieces of uni I’ve ever seen are presented with the shell as decor — spines are still moving by the way — and I slurp them will glee allowing the umami-filled flavors of the sea coat my mouth. This is what dying and going to heaven probably tastes like.

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After the raw foods, we moved on to the rest. New England Clam Chowdah ($9) was perfect in consistency for me — not too thick — and filled with bits of clam and other delights such as Neuske’s apple smoked bacon, Weiser Farm potatoes, carrots, celery and chives, served with house made oyster crackers. The saltiness of the bacon plays well with the sweetness of the carrots and every spoonful had bits of clams in it.

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We couldn’t resist Chef David’s Mom’s Cape Cod Squash Rolls ($5), hot, soft rolls dotted with squash. We slathered the buns with rosemary butter which melted upon contact enveloping the rolls, making them oh so addicting. A carb lover’s dream come true. These are not to be missed.

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I’m generally iffy when it comes to crab cakes purely because most places uses WAY too many fillers. Maryland Blue Crab Cake ($16) blew my mind because believe it or not, there were NO fillers in this at all. Only a little bread crumbs are used on the very top for a textural crunch, but otherwise, it’s mouthful after mouthful of plump, sweet, crab. I didn’t even need the in-house dill pickles or whole grain mustard remoulade, but they were both delectable on their own.

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I will always order octopus if it’s on the menu and this Grilled Octopus ($19) did not disappoint. Tender pieces of octopus braised in a red wine and mirepoix stock are then grilled for an optimum char factor. The cranberry beans, date-tomato ragu, preserved lemon and kalamata olive tapenade made for a sweet, tart explosion.

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I’m a sucker for sashimi so Hamachi ($16) with ponzu, avocado, red radish, serrano and shiso was right up my alley. Beautifully fresh sushi-grade hamachi is bathed in a tart, spicy and fragrant marinade enhancing the wonderfully sweet fish.

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Santa Barbara Spot Prawns arrived too late for inclusion on the menu, but Chef sent some out to us and I was so grateful he did because they were so succulent and absolutely sublime in their natural state. I was sucking out the lusciousness in the heads, much to the chagrin of those watching, *shrug* hey, I wasn’t going to waste any of it!

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Our last savory dish of Thai Shellfish & Coconut Soup ($11) was my least favorite. Although the broth was filled with plump shrimp, mussel, rice noodles, kaffir lime leaf and coriander, it lacked depth and acid. I added some lime juice to my leftovers the next day and it was exactly what I was looking for to bring a touch of zing to the coconut broth.

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If you’re a dessert fan, try one, or all of them on the menu. Maple Pudding with Rosemary Sandies ($6) with Buffalo Trace bourbon and candied pecans, a little sweet for me though.

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I loved the Key Lime Pie ($7) with a gorgeous graham cracker crust and kaffir lime meringue, although the kaffir lime was very subtle.

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If you’re looking for a hot dessert, the Pretzel and Chocolate Bread Pudding ($8) is the way to go. Salted caramel sauce is drizzled over and topped with a house made ice cream. The hot pudding with the cold ice cream is a perfect combination in my mouth. Too bad I was too full to eat more than a bite.

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Just like MB Post, Fishing with Dynamite is one of those restaurants you’ll want to return to over and over again. Chef David Lefevre knows how to bring the freshest and best quality of everything to your plate and it definitely shows.

Fishing with Dynamite
1148 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Tel: 310-893-6299

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