a return trip to Encore Dinner Theatre impresses

I recently came to Encore Dinner Theatre for a production of Fiddler on the Roof. We came a couple of years ago for another show which was enjoyable, but the only thing I remembered about that time was that the musical was fun — even my son liked it — but the food was very forgetful.

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This time, my friends and I returned for a matinee and arrived two hours prior to the show to partake on the menu created by Encore’s new French chef. My friends started with some cocktails while I decided to remain sober.

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The price of the tickets vary, but average between $60 to $80 which includes a two-course meal of your choice of salad (there’s a house and a Caesar) plus an entree. There are optional menu items which you can choose for a supplement charge, and since there were quite a few of us, we decided to order some extras to try.

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Lamb Sliders with Tzatziki sauce ($11.95) comprised of mini ground lamb patties mixed with special spices and topped with sweet caramelized onions, creamy feta cheese and tzatziki, on a mini brioche bun. All the flavors worked well together, although I would have liked the bun slightly toasted.

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When Encore’s Stuffed Portabello Mushroom ($10.95) arrived, I was glad we were sharing! A very large portabello mushroom is stuffed with gorgonzola cheese, bacon bits, sundried tomatoes and herbs, topped with a parmesan crust, then baked until golden brown and served with a tangy marinara sauce. I was surprised how much I liked the marinara and lapped it up with the bread that accompanied.

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I was a bit skeptical about the Lobster Bisque ($8.95) but it was actually rather good. Apart from my issue with the temperature — it was tepid — the soup was well executed with creme fraiche and a touch of sherry, I could have polished off a large bowl of this on my own.

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As far as entrees go, the Roasted Lemon Pepper Chicken was one of the items listed as part of the ticket price. The oven roasted half chicken with Chef’s special blend and lemon zest was moist and juicy, something not easy to do in a dinner theater setting. The signature gravy was tasty and I wanted more of it to go with the mashed potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables on the plate.

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The Filet Mignon ($13.95) was also very good. A 6oz steak is cooked to the right temperature of medium rare and topped with a garlic tomato gorgonzola crust. Again, rather impressive when I thought about how I am at a dinner theater!

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Some other people ordered the short ribs, but unfortunately I didn’t get to taste it. I heard it was really great as well.

There are desserts on offer for an additional cost, my favorite was the New York Cheesecake ($6.95) with fresh strawberries. Not incredibly dense with a nice creamy texture.

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This week, I have a pair of VIP Diamond tickets — good for any show (please check website for details) and includes a gourmet dinner valued at $160 to give away. Leave me a comment with your FULL name and who you would bring with you for this unique evening out. Entries close Sunday Nov 3rd, winner will be announced Nov 4th. Good Luck.

Encore Dinner Theatre
690 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: 714-545-5400

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libations and bites in San Diego

I have been hearing talk about Polite Provisions for months now from various sources telling me how much I would love this place. Why I ask? Because it has fantastic cocktails they say. So finally, we decided to pay them a visit one afternoon and see what the fuss was all about.

The exterior doesn’t do it any justice. Once inside, it is another story all together. The late afternoon light was reflecting a glow showcasing every glorious facet of the decor from the marble to the beautiful tiling. The art deco theme flows throughout and you will find various treasures if you take the time to look.

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The wood paneling aligning the corridor leads to Soda & Swine, their sister establishment offering food and beer. You can bring your kids there, but unfortunately, Polite Provisions only allows 21 and over. First, order some food and then return back into Polite Provisions and find a place to sit. They will bring the food over for you.

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We were lucky enough to snag some seats at the bar. There are a bunch of cocktails on tap and after consulting with the bartender, I decided to start with one of the tequila cocktails on tap, Tijuana Slowdance ($8), with Blanco tequila, blackberry and Pedro’s pomegranate soda. It was very easy to drink and I downed it pretty quickly. The dude ordered Pine Street Sour ($8) with rye whiskey, fresh lemon and grapefruit, campari and pineapple.  The best part about the drinks here is the $8 price tag on almost all of them. What a deal!

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As the sun set, the interior slowly becomes lit up with an almost eerie yellow lighting, but the unique, intricate decor fades into the backdrop and loses the intrigue. I highly suggest going when it is still light for a first visit. There are so many details in the decor not to be missed!

Our food arrived shortly after. We ordered all the meatballs off the menu in the form of sliders ($3 each).  The Swine is a smoked pork meatball with chipotle and pepperjack while The Hog is chorizo with chipotle and mozzarella. The latter was definitely bursting with a whole lot of flavor. The Bovine was the traditional beef with marinara with mozzarella, but it was The Hen which blew us over. This chicken meatball with mushroom cream and provolone was absolutely the bomb! Vegetarians can delight in The Grain, a quinoa meatball with pesto and feta. Without the feta, it was on the bland side.

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The Apple Salad ($4) was light and refreshing and even though I dislike apples, I found this pleasant especially with the bits of manchego cheese, celery and wonderfully crunchy toasted hazelnuts dotted throughout.

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I absolutely loved the Scotch Egg ($4) which had chorizo surrounding the exterior lending a wonderful flavor to the egg. Texturally it was also perfect, with a nice crunchy outside and a soft melty yolk on the inside. Served with a dijon aioli this is one of the best Scotch eggs I’ve had in a long time.

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The Crispy Polenta ($5) was terrific with soft burrata and a tangy tart arrabbiata sauce smothering the delightful polenta. The slight kick made it mouthwatering good. Very well executed indeed.

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We ordered more drinks and decided to change it up a bit. This time, we decided on the Mayan Concubine ($8) Reposado tequila, fresh lemon, apricot liqueur and bitters; Ken Burns Effect ($8) rye whiskey, Oloroso sherry, maraschino liqueur and bitters.

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What a great way to round off our visit here. Since we were going elsewhere after this, we didn’t have one more drink — gotta save some room for the next spot. However, we’ll definitely be back again real soon!

Polite Provisions
4696 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92116
Tel: 619-677-3784

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Soda & Swine
2943 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116
Tel: 619-269-7632

Soda and Swine on Urbanspoon

fall menu items at Coliseum Pool Grill

A few weeks ago, I was invited to The Resort at Pelican Hill to get a taste of new fall menu items at Coliseum Pool & Grill. I arrived a little early and was taken aback by the stunning view of the pool and the beautiful weather that afternoon. As I walked around the circular design of the place, I took a peek at the cabanas available for rental, and slowly made my way to the last one, where we would begin our afternoon with some appetizers and drinks.

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Sangrias were poured as we waited for the others to arrive. It was an intimate gathering with less than a dozen people, which gave us a good feel of what an actual cabana experience would be like.

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We nibbled on Irvine Ranch Fig and Goat Cheese on top of ciabatta crostini, drizzled with balsamic reduction and topped with micro arugula. A beautiful palette of colors and a wonderful showcase of the beautiful figs in season.

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Next came Chicken Tortilla Soup in shot glasses for us to sample. In all honesty, I could have slurped an entire bowl of this easily because it was SO palate teasing. Chicken breast pieces float within the silky soup filled with savory nuances, but I didn’t want to be rude and ask for more, but as you can tell, I absolutely loved it!

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Our last appetizer was Ahi Poke chunks coated in a sesame soy, tossed with toasted coconut, macadamia and green onions, served on top of taro chips. Packed with flavor but perfectly healthy and light so you won’t feel guilty indulging.

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Our dinner tasting was served on the terrace. After we were all settled into our seats, our first course of Irvine Ranch Beet Salad was placed in front of us. A medley of golden and red beets are seasoned with a balsamic reduction and dotted with goat cheese and shards of arugula. The sweetness of the beets meld well together with the saltiness of the cheese and hint of bitterness from the greens.

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Next came a mini portion of Shrimp & Crab Wrap which ordinarily, would be a full size wrap enough for a whole meal. The shrimp and crab filling is umami-filled and the morsels of crustacean delicately sweet. The pico de gallo here is kicked up a notch by adding roasted corn for a lovely crunch, not to mention, sweetness. A lemongrass dressing with basil leaves completes with a subtle hint of citrus aromatics.

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When I saw Thai Fettucine Pasta on the menu, I was at first skeptical. I couldn’t wrap my head around a curry flavored fettucine. However, the minute I put a forkful into my mouth, all my worries were washed away. The creamy curry sauce was so delicate it never overpowers the perfectly al dente noodles. The tender pieces of Angus beef were delightful with the oven dried tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. I was flabbergasted. Never would I ever think this dish would work, but it not only worked, it was absolutely fantastic.

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The same goes for Grilled Meyer Lemon & Vanilla marinated Chilean Seabass. I’ve never been a fan of vanilla even in desserts, so I was wary about vanilla with fish. Again, I was bowled over by Chef’s clever use of an ingredient I don’t particularly care for and created something so exceptional. I was speechless. The fork-tender citrus-perfumed fish melted in my mouth with ease. I didn’t even care about the rest of the accompaniments on the plate which included seasonal Irvine Ranch vegetables, roasted tomatoes and herb mashed potatoes, even though the latter was really rather good.

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Dessert Flight of pumpkin cake, black forest cake and key lime pie were last but not least, however, unfortunately, I had no room left except for a bite of each. Needless to say, my favorite was the wonderfully tart and creamy “pie” layered in a cup.

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This week, I have a giveaway for one of my readers to win. The Resort at Pelican Hill has generously donated lunch for two valued at $75 at Coliseum Pool & Grill. Leave me a comment with your FULL name and why you should win and who you will bring with you.  Entries close on Sunday, 27th. Winner will be announced on Monday 28th. Gift certificate expires October 31, 2014.

Restrictions: All reservations based on availability. Certificate must be rendered at time of dining experience. Certificate has no cash value, is non-transferable and may not be combined with any other offers or promotions. Dining credit for Coliseum Pool & Grill only, does not include alcohol, tax or gratuities – not to exceed $75. Not valid during special events, holidays or holiday weekends. Strictly not eligible for extension. May not be replaced if lost or stolen.

Coliseum Pool & Grill
The Resort at Pelican Hill
22701 Pelican Hill Road
Newport Coast, CA 92657
Tel: 949-612-1915

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True Food Kitchen in time for fall

It’s been a while since I last visited True Food Kitchen and when I heard about a new item on the menu, I was eager to try. Of course, I can’t visit a restaurant and just eat one item — where’s the fun in that?

I was happy to see that the spot still attracts a lot of people as it was packed. The menu, although veggie-centric, is not vegetarian, with offerings such as bison burger and various seafood options as well.

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My first choice was Albacore Tataki ($12), something that really whet my tastebuds! I’m sure it was the tart lime ponzu and since I love acidity, I was glad to see there was a good amount of it here. The freshness of daikon, avocado, cucumber and scallion added various flavors and textures, especially the creaminess of the soft avocado.

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Just in time for the fall season, Autumn Ingredient ($12) is a warm salad of roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, squash, dried mulberry, dried pomegranate, white bean and atomic horseradish vinaigrette. I saw some people eating this as their entree, but it is so perfect as a dish to share with others. The crunch from the dried mulberry is delightful, while the horseradish adds a slight kick without packing an offensive punch. I loved this!

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I’ve always liked the pizzas here — they are rather good, especially the crust — I like mine thin with a slight chew. Again, a great fall item, Butternut Squash pizza ($12) offers thinly sliced squash with smoked mozzarella and sweet onion as toppings. The squash is slightly caramelized and becomes nice and sweet while a sprinkling of crunchy walnuts adds textural contrast to the freshness of the fresh arugula on top.

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“Inside Out” Quinoa Burger ($12) was the reason I came here. Using quinoa patties as the “bun”, a schmear of hummus is layered on one side of the quinoa pattie, then tzatziki, tomato, red onion, cucumber, avocado and feta to complete this concoction. The patties are delicious on their own, not at all dry and with a good nutty finish.

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The final item was Spaghetti Squash Casserole ($13), something so simple, yet utterly delicious. Julienned zucchini is a great addition to the spaghetti squash strands and organic tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella gave it a pasta feel without the carbs. Even my son loved this!

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And what meal is complete without dessert? Well, generally, mine is, but Spiced Pear & Goji Berry Crisp ($7) was calling my name because I always love something with a crunch. The crisp was more like the topping of a crumble but so much better. The hot granola-like crisp is dotted with goji berries, seeds and bits of pear and when eaten with the accompanying Greek yogurt ice cream, allows for a sensation I l like a lot. Hot, cold, crunchy, all together in one bite — superb!

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The Chia Seed Pudding ($7) was reminiscent of a tapioca pudding but without the little balls of tapioca. Essentially a pudding of chia seeds and coconut milk, I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but turns out it was so good I’m thinking of re-creating it at home. Topped with toasted coconut and bananas, this tastes like true comfort food, but yet, is very healthy for you.

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I was really pleased with this visit. I remember in the past, there were also one or two items I was less excited about when dining here. This time, while reflecting back on the meal. I realized the only non-vegetarian item was the tuna takaki. I joked with Chef Matt Tobin later if he was willing to cook my meal every day I may be able to turn vegetarian. Even though I loved everything I ate, yeah, we all know I am not going the vegetarian route any time soon!

True Food Kitchen
451 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-644-2400

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new menu items at The Capital Grille

Although we visit The Capital Grille many times a year, I haven’t written anything about them in a while. My last visit here for lunch with my girl friends prompted me to post something about some of the new items on their “Plates” menu. The “Plates” menu is a very reasonable lunch-time offering with three items for $18 and there are various items to choose from. We always start with one of their soups and the “Plates” menu offers either the classic Clam Chowder, or the new Porcini Bisque.

Clam Chowder is always a favorite. My son loves it and so do I. Thick and hearty, they never skimp on ingredients and you’ll find plump clams dotted throughout this flavorful soup.

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I loved the new Porcini Bisque, a creamy soup with an earthy mushroom finish with a drizzle of chive oil. It adds just a little zing to the aromatic composition — not needed, but much appreciated.

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The Lobster Bisque ($13 cup/$15 bowl) is not on the menu, but know it is always available — just ask! This is something one of us always order because not only is the soup portion of it delightful, but the large chunks of sweet lobster swimming in it makes my mouth water. This is one of their signature menu items and definitely not to be missed if you like lobster bisque. Sherry is offered tableside if you wish to add that to the already flavorful concoction.

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Moving on to entrees, the “Plates” menu offers Seared Sea Scallops with creamed corn and arugula instead of the Israeli couscous from last season. Luscious scallops are cooked to perfection and comes four to a plate. Very generous portion indeed!

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Another new item is the Dry Aged Sirloin Hash. My son loved this dish albeit not so much the runny egg on top (he’ll ask for it to be cooked through next time), but he devoured the steak and potato chunks with vigor. Topped with crispy onions, this is definitely an item for those carnivores at heart.

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There is also a choice of sides with the “Plates” menu and while the Truffle Fries are always a good option…..

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…… I chose the new fall item of Roasted Butternut Squash with cranberry pear chutney. This dish really gets you into fall and gets you excited about the holiday season coming up soon.

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One of my friends chose the Salmon Salad ($18) with endive and pear slices instead of the “Plates” menu. The salmon was moist and oh so tender. If you’re looking for a light alternative this is definitely the one to go with.

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As stated before, we always love coming to The Capital Grille whether it be for lunch or dinner. Food is great and service is always very attentive. There is also complimentary valet parking, just get your ticket stamped by the hostess before you leave.

This week, I have a $50 giftcard for one lucky reader to win courtesy of The Capital Grille. Please leave me a comment with your FULL name and tell me why you love eating here, and/or, if you haven’t already been here, why you would like to visit. Entries close on Sunday, Oct 20, winner will be announced on Monday, Oct 21. Good Luck!

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

The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

very hit and miss at Hopscotch

I’ve been wanting to visit Hopscotch for months and months now, but whenever my friends have been, I’ve been busy and I thought I’d never make it here! The Hungry Dogg and I had planned on going to a late lunch this particular day, but the place we were going to wasn’t open, so we ended up here instead.

The decor is unique with a wooden shack feel but staying within a “country” theme. We started off at the bar, had a drink (my fave was A Night in Oaxaca), before we moved down to the dining room to partake on the dinner menu.

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Some of our friends joined us and I’m always happy to dine with more people, it just gives me an excuse to order more food. We all contributed to the choices for that evening by each selecting something.

Blue Crab “Tots” ($9) were decent, nicely crunchy on the outside with a soft pea, risotto and mascarpone center. I was a bit confused because I tasted the risotto and mascarpone but barely was able to detect the blue crab.

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Austin said the Meatballs ($9) were good from his last visits, but I was not a fan. I had expected Italian style meatballs, but these reminded me of Vietnamese beef balls in texture, something I’m not fond of. Austin did say these tasted different to what he remembered. Parmesan, tomato chutney, bourbon soaked golden raisins and micro basil accompanied, but the sweetness of the raisins were too much for me.

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Pork Belly “Butter” Rillettes ($11) was one of my favorites, but who wouldn’t love pork and fat? To top it off, you can add the bacon onion jam to the baguette slices to complete the decadent mouthfeel. Apple lemon salad was a nice palate cleanser in between bites.

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I love pig ears so there wasn’t any question whether we were ordering this or not. We ordered it! Crispy Pig Ears ($9) were nicely seasoned with a good crunch and I liked the Mexican-inspired seasonings of red Fresno coulis and lime for the spicy tart finish.

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The Grilled Baby Octopus ($12) was a hit and miss at the table. I am bias because I love baby octopus and I enjoyed the plum sake, Thai cucumber relish, cotija, lemon, cilantro combination, although more acid would have been welcomed.

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My least favorite item was the Chicken Fried Duck ($16). Some of us found the texture unappealing — I likened it to that of liver —  while our friend, a chef, really enjoyed it. When we found out the duck was first sous vide before being fried, I laughed because our chef friend loves to sous vide — me, I don’t like sous vide so much — which explained why he enjoyed this more than we did.

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Pan Seared Scallops ($21) were decent, but it was pricey for what you got. Two pieces of scallops with roasted baby vegetables, caramelized onion and butter poached garlic sauce — that’s like $10.50 a piece. Scallops were well cooked which was a plus.

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We ended with Fish & Chips ($16), probably the piece de resistence of our meal. Escolar is coated with the lightest batter which almost crumbles in your mouth like “snow”, which is why it is called “snow fried escolar” on the menu. Definitely one of the best items here.

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For me, Hopscotch still has a bit of work to do before it becomes a place I’d make the drive for. It is still new, and perhaps through time, its menu will find footing on par with other similar styled restaurants in Orange County.

Hopscotch
136 E Commonwealth Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92832
Tel 714-871-2222

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