The Bungalow & a giveaway

Last year, I attended a media preview at The Bungalow where the restaurant introduced a new chef, menu, and several other changes to this long-time resident of Corona del Mar. I also remembered enjoying what I tasted, but wanted to return again for a proper dine before I write up a post just to make sure everything was as I remembered. During the preview, we were seated on the outside back patio which was so pretty at dusk. I think it is also rather romantic when the sun sets. On this return visit, we were seated inside the dining room with a great view of the bar.

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The menu consists of a variety of selections which should appeal to all. I didn’t expect Sweet Chili Calamari ($12), an appetizer, to be of such a generous portion. There was enough for four people to share and I’m talking about more than just a mouthful! I loved the addition of bean sprouts, carrots, pea sprouts and peanuts to give it a fresh finish. The sauce was not overly sweet either with a nice little kick at the end.

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I love lamb and couldn’t resist ordering the Lamb Lollipops ($18) also on the small plates offerings. Perfectly prepared well-seasoned lamb chops are served with mashed potatoes, tomato confit topped with a balsamic glaze. This is ideal for those wanting a taste of a variety of things, but I could possibly eat two plates of these as my main course!

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I’m a huge fan of French Onion Soup ($9) so naturally I wanted to try this version. The broth was very hearty however, the only thing I would have liked was for the cheese to be slightly browned on top for another level of flavor.

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Entrees are well presented and nicely prepared. Prime Filet Mignon ($39) is a tender 8oz piece of steak with a savory demi glace and topped with onion strings ($2). The accompanying mashed potatoes were light and relished rather quickly. A little more demi glace would have been even more delightful to go with the potatoes.

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If you’re looking for seafood, Blackened Wild King Salmon ($30) is the way to go. I didn’t think I’d like the goat cheese mashed potatoes but it was subtle and added flavor without the usual overpowering pungency of the goat cheese. I also thought the honey jalapeno beurre blanc would be overly sweet, but our server assured me it was only a hint of sweetness. He was right! I was also very pleased when he offered me extra avocado relish when I mentioned how delicious is was.

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The Bungalow is a great retreat for a romantic dinner, or even a girls’ night out. There is valet parking around the back so you won’t have to drive around in circles looking for parking. To make things even sweeter, The Bungalow has offered a $75 gift card for one of my readers to win this week. Leave me a comment and tell me how you would like to celebrate at The Bungalow. Last day for entries is Sunday, March 2nd. Good Luck!

The Bungalow
2441 East Coast Hwy
Corona del Mar, CA 92625
Tel: 949-673-6585

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OC Restaurant Week: a worthy $15 lunch menu

If you’re looking for a worthy lunch from the OC Restaurant Week‘s lunch menus, look no further than Starfish in Laguna Beach. I have been to Starfish several times in the past but it’s been at least a year since I was last there. The first thing which struck me was that it wasn’t as dark inside as it used to be. I like it! I am able to see inside the restaurant and most important, read my menu!

There were four in our party and we were able to try a lot of things from the $15 lunch menu which offers up a 3-course meal. For starters, there were 8 items to choose from and then, an impressive 11 selections from the large plates along with three desserts choices.

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Pork Dumplings, filled with ground pork and Napa cabbage, you can have the option of steamed or pan seared. My friend chose steamed. They were decent and the skin to filling ratio was acceptable. I could taste that they were not previously frozen (it says handmade daily) and the wrappers were of a reasonable thickness. The accompanying scallion soy sauce is a good accompaniment. As for chili sauce if you like a kick with your food!

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Crab Wontons are not my thing because I just can’t wrap my head around cream cheese in Asian food. However, none of my friends seemed to mind as they gleefully chomped on the crispy wontons and proclaimed them delicious. The wontons are filled with a blend of stone crab, cream cheese, red and green bell pepper, green onion, then fried and served with a sweet chili plum sauce.

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I loved the Chilled Cambodian Cucumbers and couldn’t stop eating them. Sliced Persian cucumber rounds are tossed in a refreshingly light chili lime vinaigrette along with baby heirloom tomatoes, mint and Thai basil. My friend who ate my portion of the wontons said “you can have my cucumbers” — and I certainly did!

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Chicken Lettuce Wraps were my favorite comprising diced chicken, shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, bell peppers and cashews in a savory sauce with a hint of sweetness. I usually dislike iceberg lettuce but they were perfect as cups for the chicken mixture. I could have eaten a few more of these.

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We were all very impressed by the portion size of each item. There was definitely no skimping going on here. When the entrees arrived, we were all pleased with the dishes we selected.

Shiro Miso Salmon Salad was a lot more generous than we had imagined with a nice sized piece of broiled miso marinated Atlantic salmon on top of organic baby greens tossed in a sesame miso dressing. The salmon was seasoned well and prepared to perfection.

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One of my friends is a very picky eater and generally stays away from anything “different”. She picked Mongolian Beef and was so pleased with it I could see she was tickled by her selection. The tender pieces of beef are wok fried in a soy glaze along with snow peas, carrot, scallion and ginger. Because she was so happy, I nudged her to try some other things on the table as well.

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Sichuan Japanese Eggplant was my selection. I am an eggplant fiend and I can eat it any way it is prepared. I can even eat it steamed with no seasonings — which makes my mother cringe for some reason. I’ve had this dish here before and I love it. Sauteed in a house made sambal sauce, Sichuan peppercorn, bell peppers and onions, I’m happy I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it.

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Another really tasty dish was Bangkok Spicy Udon Noodles. It is so unusual for restaurants to be so generous on the ingredients paired with a noodle dish and I commend Starfish here for this. Prawns, grilled chicken, green and red bell peppers, rainbow carrot, red and yellow onions plus Thai basil make up this incredible dish. I almost want to say there was a tad too much of the ingredients and not enough noodles.

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There wasn’t much room left for desserts, but we managed to polish off every little bit on the plate anyway. Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding was absolutely delightful. It was perfectly textured, not too eggy and caramelized bananas and house made cinnamon ice cream alongside.

The Chocolate Flourless Cake was another winner with Tahitian vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce. The menu states Thai tea caramel sauce as well but I didn’t detect that at all.

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However, everyone agreed, Mango Pudding was the best of the lot. Silky mango pudding with vanilla bean coconut tapioca and diced fresh mango was just a perfect finish to the absolutely enjoyable meal shared with friends.

Starfish Laguna
30832 S Pacific Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-715-9200
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Starting OC Restaurant Week with a bang!

A friend of mine’s birthday falls right around Orange County Restaurant Week, so every year, whenever it came time to celebrate, we have always chosen a restaurant participating in this event. Two years ago, we celebrated at The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, which had only been opened a few months at the time of Restaurant Week. I am usually left the task of choosing a restaurant and that year, The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon’s menu stood out more so than any of the others. Needless to say, if you’ve been reading my posts on a regular basis, you will know that it has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in Orange County.

This year, I wanted to start Restaurant Week off right, so I made reservations well ahead of time and gathered some friends together, many who have never experienced The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon before, to eat what is positively one of the best meals this county has to offer.

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Another thing I want to stress is The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon is one of the few restaurants which offers up full-sized a la carte portions of each dish on the Restaurant Week menu so you’re getting a three-course meal like you would if you were a regular diner at the restaurant. Your dining experience will be exactly the same except for the extremely reasonable $40 price tag. In this post, I will be featuring the entire restaurant week menu for you.

Starting with appetizers, Honeycrisp Apple & Endive Salad is a light starter which packs a punch when it comes to flavor. Every component on this plate comes together to form a complete mouthful of perfection. From the saltiness of the St. Agur Blue Cheese, the hint of bitterness from the endive, to the sweetness of the candied walnuts and, the tartness of the cranberry vinaigrette, everything is precisely balanced on the palate.

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Thai Coconut Curry Bisque was so rich and creamy that everyone at the table sang high praises for it. Its wonderful aromas was on the subtle side — I would have liked a heavier scent of lemongrass and kaffir lime, but it was so silky on the tongue I quickly forgot about it especially, when I found those little bits of North Carolina shrimp in my mouth like hidden treasure. Sublime!

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I’ve had the Hand Crafted Asparagus Cavatelli before and took a taste from my friend’s plate, it was just as good as I remembered. The perfectly al dente house-made cavatelli are so delicious with spears of asparagus and balls of home made pork sausage seasoned with Calabrian chili. The little kick of spice you get at the end is such a delight, and I highly recommend this for all pasta lovers.

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On to entrees and I was happy there was at least one each of everything represented at our table. Chipotle & Sun-Dried Cherry Braised Beef Short Rib is not my choice ever because I’m not a huge fan of short rib. Having said that, its hearty California Pinot Noir reduction was rich and decadent and the accompanying white cheddar grits, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts accoutrements were ideal sides for this very robust dish. My red meat loving friends enjoyed it very much.

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Maplewood Smoked California Sablefish was another entree choice and if you’re not familiar with this particular fish, it is pretty much black cod or butterfish. It is an extremely oily fish and some might find it a little too unctuous on the palate. This was beautifully smoked and reminded me of the smoked sablefish from Russ and Daughters in New York City. Sweet potatoes, King trumpet mushrooms, country ham and cauliflower velouté are well-paired with the dish.

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However, what I came here for was the Confit of Muscovy Duck Leg, which I first sampled two years ago during Restaurant Week 2012. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, I wish Chef Michael Rossi would put this on the regular menu so I can come at any time to enjoy this. Beluga lentils with a salty-sweet home made guanciale, cavolo nero (Tuscan black kale) and baby root vegetables combine together for a delightful plate.

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Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi has prepared three desserts for you to choose from. Strawberry Cheesecake with a macadamia nut crust and served with a quenelle of mango sorbet was a huge hit. The cheesecake was light and airy making it easy to consume even after a hefty entree.

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Most of the table ordered Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee, and the ladies were enchanted by the baby blueberry madeleines garnish.

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However, I think everyone was extremely intrigued by the Milky Way With a Twist which was a deconstructed Milky Way bar with Valrhona chocolate, malted nougat discs and quenelles of salted caramel ice cream.

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So there you have it. As always my advice is, if you only go to ONE restaurant, The Ranch is the one to go to. It is always the best of everything from service to quality of food, and you will never leave here still hungry during Restaurant Week!!

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

the best Italian in Orange County

*****I apologize ahead of time for the less than perfect photos in this post*****

It’s been a year since I last visited Maré Culinary Lounge, but I have not forgotten about it. They even made it onto my “best of 2013” list and in my book, it is still the best Italian restaurant in Orange County! Therefore, when it was time to celebrate my friend Brenda’s birthday, there was no doubt in my mind it was time to introduce this group of gals to Chef Alessandro Pirozzi’s incredible cuisine.

The restaurant was jam packed the night of our visit, and boy was I glad I made a reservation! The gals started off with some cocktails, and since I was the designated driver, it was my night to refrain from drinking.

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A basket of focaccia was dropped off at the table with some pesto dipping sauce while we perused the menu, but it was really difficult because there was too much we wanted to try.

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We started off with some Salumi e Formaggi ($26/6 items) and were shocked at how generous the board was. Our selection included wild boar salami, parma prosciutto, duck prosciutto, burricotta (burrata stuffed with ricotta, black lava sea salt, rosemary, EVO, arugula), sottocenere (ash aged truffle infused Italian cheese) and scamorze (smoked mozzarella wrapped in speck, baked, bruschetta, tomatoes). My favorites were the burricotta and scamorze.

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I’d eaten a fish carpaccio here before and so Seabass Carpaccio ($18) was a must. Thinly sliced seabass is placed on a heated plate which cooks it slightly. It is then topped with fennel, arugula, spicy Calabrian chili, sea salt and drizzled with sorrento lemon infused extra virgin olive oil. I love the layers of flavors in this dish. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a good photo for this dish.

Another favorite is Polipo Mediterranean ($14) of paper thin slices of house made braised octopus carpaccio, bell peppers, black Sicilian lava salt and imported caper berries. Honestly, this is not a dish I want to share with others because it is THAT good!

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If you’re a fan of pasta I highly suggest you order one of the house made pastas on the menu. In fact, I insist you order one. My favorite is always Limoncello infused Radiatori ($24), Maré’s signature pasta filled with bright flavors and dotted with tender Maine lobster chunks in a Pinot Grigio fresh local lemon sauce. If you like citrus, this will absolutely knock your socks off.

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Short Rib Ravioli with butter truffle sauce was one of the specials of the night and I can’t even begin to describe how mindblowingly good this was. I am not a fan of ravioli because usually the pasta is always either too hard, or there is too much of it. Chef Alessandro’s ravioli are like pillowy clouds and I literally closed my eyes when I put it into my mouth.

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We all wanted to try Mushroom Risotto ($16) even though we were pretty stuffed by now. We only managed a few bites of this incredible dish of perfectly al dente imported Italian Carnaroli rice, wild mushrooms and creamy gorgonzola fondue.

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We also tried two entrees, the venison and branzino which I wasn’t able to capture good enough photos for.

I was so glad I chose Maré Culinary Lounge for this birthday dinner because everyone loved it so much they even bought portions of Chef Alessandro’s fresh house made pastas to take home with them. I only hope I have time to return again soon and not wait a whole year for it to happen!

Maré Culinary Lounge
696 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-715-9581

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A Restaurant is a perfect modern classic

I’ve been to A Restaurant many times in the past, but always during dinner. The restaurant is so dimly lit I’ve never been happy with the library of photos I’ve acquired so I’ve never written about it. Therefore, it was incredibly lucky that Chef Jon Blackford agreed to indulge me in my request to visit during the day so I can take some photos of his incredible food.

On previous visits, I’ve eaten a lot of steaks and comfort foods like mac n cheese, and of course, the delicious Brussels sprouts. This time, I came here for lunch with a friend and enjoyed some things I’ve never eaten before at A.

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We began with Seared Albacore Tuna ($15) and I was amazed at the beauty of the presentation. I joked that usually, I’ll have to pull out my trusty flashlight to get a good look at what I was eating, but my flashlight could not have done any of Chef Blackford’s dishes justice. The perfectly plated slices of tuna with jalapeno emulsion, shaved celery, hearts of palm and micro cilantro was so pretty and tasted delectable. It was light so ladies who are lunching can indulge without ever feeling guilty!

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Now, I’m not a salad person, but when it came to the Tuscan Black Kale ($12) it was a salad even I loved. You wouldn’t have known I’m not a fan of raw vegetables if you had seen me devour this bowl of shaved mushroom, red onion, brioche croutons, country ham, green goddess dressing, parmesan, all topped with a runny fried egg. I think I embarrassed myself a bit when the guy tried to take it away and I wanted to make sure every morsel had been eaten first.

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If you’re a fan of Steak Tartare ($18) this is definitely one to get. Black truffle, arugula, romano cheese, mustard and capers combine to season this ever so perfectly and with the right amount of saltiness to be eaten with the toast. There is nothing worse than under-seasoned meat and raw meat at that! This was sublime!

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But the best dish of this particular meal was Free Range Veal Chop ($38), the ultimate piece of meat executed to such precision it was just genius. Tender, succulent, and just top-notch! Served with Anson Mill’s grits, hedgehog mushrooms, baby spinach, leeks in a marsala reduction, this is definitely a winner in my book. Yes, their steaks are fabulous, but give the veal chop a try! You might just be hooked.

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I didn’t have room for anything else, naturally, no desserts, but you can be sure I’ll return here again now that I know they serve lunch. I never knew they were open for lunch! Silly me! Chef Blackford is a secret Orange County must share because he is masterful in his craft and his menu needs the recognition it deserves!

A Restaurant
3334 W Pacific Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Tel: 949-650-6505

A Restaurant on Urbanspoon

a fun and tasty time at Alchemy San Diego

I didn’t expect Alchemy to be situated within a residential area. I had heard things about it leading me to believe that it was in a bustling part of downtown (yeah, I am not familiar with San Diego at all) but then we found ourselves driving into the Golden Hill/South Park neighborhood. The cute homes dotted along the streets were delightful and we forgot about being “lost” for a moment as we slowed down to admire them. Surprisingly, there, in the middle of the adorable homes, was Alchemy, comfortably situated on the corner between the trees.

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There is only one dining room but felt like there were three specific areas, each giving off its own distinctive feel. There is the bar, the main dining room, and the back “alcove” where we sat, which felt a little more private, a little “secluded” from the rest of the restaurant. This is also the room where artwork by local artists are featured and for sale, adding a unique touch to the already eclectic decor.

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Perusing the menu, I notice it is just as multi-faceted, bringing together flavors from various cultures while staying within Chef Ricardo Heredia’s vision. Our server Natasha was an absolute delight, knowledgeable and very interactive which was very pleasant as it was our first visit to Alchemy.

The first thing I wanted was Chicken Chicharrons ($5) and I made sure that this was truly fried chicken skin before I ordered them. I had a highly disappointing experience at Picca (LA) not long ago when the chicken chicharrons arrived in the form of fried chicken pieces sans skin. A bag arrives filled with crispy chicken skin accompanied with a ramekin of Thai chili sherry vinaigrette. The vinegar balanced the fried morsels well, although a little more salt adhered to the skin would have been even better. I thoroughly enjoyed this with my cocktail.

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One of our cocktails, Milan Rouge ($9) comprised of Jim Beam rye whiskey, Campari, barrel-aged grappa and Punt e Mes, an Italian vermouth, was surprisingly subtle on the palate and more pleasant than I had expected. Paloma ($9) was exactly the way I liked with Fortaleza blanco tequila, refreshing house-made grapefruit soda and fresh lime served in a glass with a spiced salt rim.

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Quinoa Hush Puppies ($6) was Natasha’s recommendation and I was glad because ordinarily I would have forego this. A crispy exterior with a soft center, these were beautifully executed and the accompanying curry ketchup was surprisingly good seeing I normally dislike ketchup with a passion.

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The Vietnamese inspired Duck Bao ($7) was a variation of banh mi but utilizing steam buns instead of the usual baguette. Stuffed with roast duck, hoisin, pickled radish, crushed peanuts and micro cilantro, I liked how the buns didn’t overwhelm the filling, and the flavors well balanced, but more hoisin sauce would have kicked it up another notch.

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Taro Tacos ($6) was another recommendation and these were unique in every way. The taco shell is taro, not corn, giving them a whole new perspective to what you are accustomed to. The pork belly is tender and well-rendered with rich savoriness throughout. The spicy cucumber and micro cilantro added a nice refreshing pop to each bite. The tacos were sprinkled with dehydarated bacon fat powder over the top but it I didn’t detect much bacon flavor overall. The Sriracha is the perfect topping if you like it spicy!

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Norwegian Cabbage Roll ($9) looked very interesting on the menu and it was a very tasty choice indeed. Slow-cooked whole lamb is shredded and stuffed into a red cabbage leaf with juniper berry and bits of pee wee potato before it is rolled up and steamed. Served with ligonberry sauce and sprigs of fresh dill, I loved every aspect of this dish from its colors and textures to many levels of flavors. 

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If you’re looking for a light but delicious entree, Soba Noodle Salad ($16) is definitely the way to go. Cold buckwheat soba noodles are dressed with soy and mirin (Japanese seasoned rice vinegar) and assembled aesthetically with crunchy lotus root, baby mizuna and perfectly grilled shrimp. There were little edible flowers thrown in as well which at first I thought was to add more color to the already vibrant palette, but, they added a fragrance which brought the flavors to yet another dimension.

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However, the piece de resistence at Alchemy was the Yellow Curry Quail ($20), a bowl of luscious coconut curry with pee wee potatoes both purple and yellow, baby carrots and green beans. A perfectly medium rare pan-seared quail sits atop the beautifully creamy sauce. I absolutely LOVED the fried quail egg purse and the side of steamed jasmine rice wrapped in banana leaf. The well-thought out presentation and flavor combination was highly appreciated.

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We ended our meal with The Miracle Berry Experience (price depends on the dessert choice you select). I can’t even begin to explain what this is, but I absolutely insist you try it. This miracle fruit, when eaten, causes your tastebuds to sense sour foods as sweet. It is one of the most mind-blowing experiences you’ll ever have. The fruit contains miraculin which is often used as a sugar substitute, here presented in powder form. I took a little spoonful of it, moved it about in my mouth and wait a minute or two. Then, put a wedge of lemon, lime, or any sour fruits into your mouth and it’ll make the acidic item taste sweet in your mouth. WILD!

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Alchemy is a great place to bring your friends, family and especially, a first date. What better way to have a fun-filled evening seated at one of the secluded tables in the “alcove” and then ending it by experiencing miracle berry? The meal itself was an alchemy of different cuisines coming together and then transformed into the chef’s interpretation. The miracle berry was the icing on the cake for the ultimate alchemy of the palate. Bravo!

Alchemy
1503 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92102
Tel: 619-255-0616

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