Searching for beef stroganoff in OC

I love beef stroganoff. There’s nothing better than luscious egg noodles coated with a rich tangy beefy sauce to bring comfort to my belly. Moms and grandmas make it all over the country, but it was certainly no easy feat trying to locate the best stroganoff in Orange County. In fact, it wasn’t easy finding it on many restaurant menus, let alone the best ones.

After months of searching, I’m afraid to say, I’ve eaten some pretty awful beef stroganoffs and have only come up with a few I feel I can put into this post. For me, it has everything to do with the sauce which has to possess some form of tartness (traditionally from sour cream) on my palate.

Quinn’s Old Towne Grill — this restaurant has kept the beef stroganoff on its menu for probably as long as the restaurant’s been in business. The one here is authentic, with mushrooms and sour cream, but was a tad under-seasoned for me. However, I commend its efforts in keeping with tradition.

quinn's

Nieuport 17 — in terms of authenticity, this beef stroganoff wins hands down. This institution sticks with the traditional ingredients such as sour cream, mushrooms, egg noodles, and seasoned to perfection. Isn’t it crazy that the two most traditional beef stroganoffs are in Tustin and only several few blocks from each other?

nieuport 17

Old Vine Cafe — Chef Mark MacDonald’s version is very tasty, though, not traditional. Shiitake mushrooms add another meaty dimension to this delicious offering and the sprinkling of grated cheese, a lovely salty component.

old vine

Savannah Chop House — another not so traditional version, but possessing a beautiful tartness from grain mustard, this is my favorite beef stroganoff of all. The amount of acidity is perfect on my palate and gives just the right amount of mouth puckering for me to keep eating.

savannah

That’s it for now. If any of you have other suggestions, please let me know and I’ll continue my search and post another piece sometime down the road.

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fine dining quality at Ceppo

When a friend invited us to join him at dinner, I had absolutely no expectations whatsoever. All I knew was that it was an Italian restaurant in Huntington Beach with a Japanese chef at its helm. Located next door to an ostentatious MMA studio, you might miss Ceppo completely if you blinked. In fact, the restaurant itself is so understated you might actually wonder if you’re at the right place. There is no decor or ambiance, but my friend assures me the food will speak for itself.

Since our dinner host is a regular here, and a Huntington Beach resident, he took the liberty to arrange our menu with Chef Tomi for that evening, I had no control over any of it, nor did I know the prices (as it would have been rude to ask). However, glancing at the menu, there was nothing over $18, so an educated guess would surmise that it was nothing but reasonable.

An amuse bouche of fava beans and grilled artichoke arrives. I love fava beans as it brings back memories of my grandmother who loved these broad beans, what I knew them as growing up.

amuse bouche

When Uni Flan hit the table, I gasped at the sheer sight of it, served in an uni half shell, my taste-buds already salivating at the thought of the first spoonful. Those of you who know me will understand why my heart was palpitating at the sight of this. I have an obsession with uni and anything that looks like this was already making my mouth salivate, even before I had a chance to put it into my mouth.

uni flan

I’ve had Japanese style Italian food before and love the fact that it’s usually very light even when cream is involved. The Lentil Soup here is a good representation of that fact. Visually, it looks creamy but is never cloying or viscous on the palate.

lentil soup

I rarely order Halibut on the menu because usually it tends to be on the tough side due to the low fat content in this fish. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how moist and flaky the fish was. Perhaps it was the very thin slices of zucchini wrapped around it? Regardless, the flavors were very well thought-out with a sun-dried tomato sauce and a parsley oil drizzle.

halibut

Our next course of roasted Jidori Chicken was also a hit. Tender, juicy chicken is well seasoned and prepared immaculately with hints of rosemary. Simple and delicious.

O

I am always impressed when a restaurant’s chef creates his own desserts without the help of a pastry chef.

We were presented with four desserts. Interesting, everyone had his or her own favorites, although, never the same one. Mixed Fruit Gelee was light and refreshing with champagne as the base for the gelee.

fruit gelee

I loved the Cheesecake, which, in true Japanese style, was light and airy and absolutely delightful.

cheesecake

Chocolate Cake with black pepper ice cream was definitely interesting and all of us marveled at the ice cream with a kick.

chocolate

But my favorite was the Kabocha Mousse, a flan if you will, created with the ubiquitous Japanese squash used in soups and pastas alike. I loved how subtle the sweetness level was, almost non-existent, allowing the pure kabocha flavors to shine through.

kabocha mousse

During dessert, Chef Tomi appeared out of the kitchen and I was able to chat with him a little. Trained in France, Chef Tomi’s resume includes working under Wolfgang Puck at Spago and Chinois. I highly urge you to go give Ceppo a try. The decor might not be impressive, but the food certainly is.

Ceppo Italian Cuisine
7391 Warner Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Tel: 714-375-6145

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good comfort food at Eureka! Discover American Craft

There’s been a lot of new happenings at Bella Terra in Huntington Beach and Eureka! Discover American Craft is the latest. We came here for lunch a few weeks ago to find a welcoming environment with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The ample sized dining room is spacious with booth and table seating. If you’re dining alone, you can choose the seats along the bar or the counter across from it.

EUREKA HB

There is an impressive list of craft beers, but what is even more incredible is the whiskey offering. You should order a flight to start! The best part about the flights here is that you can mix and match beers with whiskeys. Pricing depends on your selection.

flight

Lollipop Corn Dogs ($7.50) was the first to catch my eye and it was a must in my book. These bites are perfect to go with your beer or whiskey. The little polish sausages are thinly coated with a sweet corn batter making it not overly heavy. I really enjoyed these.

corn dog lollipop

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the Osso Bucco Riblets ($8.95) as much. The menu description said “lightly tossed in a homemade firecracker aioli” but I couldn’t detect any. We asked for a side of it for dipping purposes and that helped immensely.

riblet

Marinated Grilled Portabello ($12.50) is a perfect vegetarian option. The salad is dressed perfectly with really great tart flavors I love. It is also carbless if you don’t eat the accompanying fries — which are so good you won’t be able to stop at one.

portobello

I was pleasantly surprised at how good the Pan Fried Lump Crab Cake ($16.50) was. Generous chunks of crab are left whole and lightly pan fried to create a nice crispy exterior and with not much fillers at all. I would definitely order this again!

crab cake

Being a huge fan of onion rings, I was seriously impressed when I saw Panko Crusted Onion Rings ($4.50) arrive at the table. These ginormous onion rings are lightly coated with the onions still retaining its moisture on the inside. These are a knife and fork job, not easily picked up and eaten by hand, but well worth the effort.

onion rings

You can’t leave here without trying a burger. All the burgers here uses all natural beef that’s vegetarian fed and free of hormone and antibiotics. We opted for the Fresno Fig Burger ($11.25) which is topped with a house-made fig marmalade, melted goat cheese and crispy bacon. It was a tad sweet for me, but my dining companion loved it! We asked for sweet potato fries this time and they were absolutely delicious!

fig burger

Eureka is a good spot for American comfort food. The burgers are stellar and if you’re not always feeling a burger (like me) you have other great options to choose from.

Eureka! Discover American Craft
7631 Edinger Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Tel: 714-230-3955

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Fig & Olive spring menu

Spring is definitely in the air when restaurants are previewing their seasonal spring menu. Fig & Olive opened not long ago at Fashion Island and although I’ve been to the restaurant several times, I have not written anything on it. Therefore, when I was invited to check out the new menu items recently, I thought it was time to share what we sampled with everyone.

FIG & OLIVE SPRING MENU

Before anything, a plate of focaccia was brought out to the table with three olive oils from different regions for us to try.

bread olive oil

The lunch menu offers a generous selection of Crostini ($12/3pcs) and we were presented with three: burrata, tomato, herbs, balsamic; cured salmon, radish, cucumber, yogurt, dill; carrot, ricotta. My favorite was naturally the burrata with the carrot and ricotta a close second.

crostini sampler

I was so happy that the next course Roasted Baby Beet with Burrata Salad ($17) had a huge serving of the luscious burrata lurking underneath the greenery since the little bit on the crostini was a tease on my palate, but didn’t satiate. The beautiful vibrantly hued roasted beets from Babe farm were absolutely gorgeous. Together with spinach, toasted hazelnut, orange segment and heirloom cherry tomatoes, it was definitely spring on a plate. Dressed perfectly in a raspberry aged balsamic vinaigrette, it was a huge hit all around.

salad

Unfortunately, my photo of Crab & Heirloom Tomato turned out dismally and does not justify how savory and mouthwatering it really was. Jumbo lump crab, heirloom cherry tomato, garlic cilantro, shallot and harissa with avocado basil tapenade was one of those things I wanted more of.

crab

My table-mates and I decided to order different entrees so we could get a taste of a good variety. Salmon Tartine ($14) was a gorgeous open face sandwich with beautifully vibrant cured salmon served on Kenter farm toasted whole wheat bread. Accoutrements of dill cucumber yogurt, radish and tomato were refreshing. Add to that a side of arugula salad and the distinctively flavor of Arbequina Olive oil, voila, a great option for a light lunch.

salmon tartine

I’m not a goat cheese fan, but I took a bite of the Zucchini Blossom & Goat Cheese Ravioli ($26). A generous portion of house-made goat cheese raviolis with zucchini emulsion and tomato confit, the flavors are reflective of the season it represents. I didn’t care for the crispy zucchini blossom which was way too heavily coated completely masking its delicate nature.

ravioli

I loved the White Sea Bass ($25) I selected. Two pieces of white sea bass marinated with lemon thyme is flaky with a nice crispy skin. A colorful bounty of carrot, asparagus, celery root puree and heirloom potato charmoula complete this tasty plate.

sea bass

The restaurant gets very busy so reservations are recommended. Valet parking is available for $6.

Fig & Olive
151 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-877-3005

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Oceanside’s Hello Betty Fish House is a breath of fresh air

While having lunch with a San Diegan friend of mine recently, I was told that downtown Oceanside has been getting a face-lift of late with new restaurants and businesses sprouting out of nowhere. So when I drove down to have lunch with a friend of mine who lives nearby, I made sure to be mindful of this fact. Traversing through downtown Oceanside, the abandoned storefronts still exist, but once I turned on to Mission Avenue, things started to look different.

Therefore, when I arrived at Hello Betty Fish House and saw this beautiful restaurant sitting at the edge of the street just steps away from the beach, I was utterly blown away. This is exactly what Oceanside needed, a beautiful restaurant with an even better view!

This modern seafood shack reminds me of Connie & Ted’s in LA, except this eatery actually has an ocean view. I would call the ambiance nautical shabby chic —  with heavy rope as part of its decor, as dividers, as part of the banquette new, but with the illusion of vintage. I love the use of heavy rope almost everywhere, including the cushions and also, interspersed into wooden planks dangling from the ceiling. If you’re not sitting facing the water, no problem! You will see its reflection off the mirrors aligned against the wall.

HELLO BETTY -- SD (640x400)

When gals get together, there will always be cocktails involved, especially since we haven’t seen each other in almost a year. Our selection included: She’s A Betty ($8) on draft, Mt Gay Black Barrel, Cruzan Blackstrap, pineapple, lemon, tea syrup, Kraken float; El Toro ($9) Cazadores Silver, Licor 43, raspberry, cilantro, jalapeno, lime; Beach Break Therapy ($8) Hangar 1, kaffir lime, Sugar Island coconut rum, pineapple, lime, bitters. We agreed, the El Toro was definitely our favorite followed by She’s A Betty. 

cocktails (640x425)

The first thing I popped into my mouth was raw Littleneck Clams ($10/6pcs), filled with that umami taste I love so much. Served with a jalapeno mignonette and cocktail sauce, the former was definitely the favorite dressing between the two.

raw littleneck clams (640x425)

Hamachi Crudo ($14) was possibly the favorite dish of our meal. Generous slices of hamachi is topped with wasabi caviar, sliced red jalapeno chile, crispy shallots, radishes, cilantro and drizzled with a delicious citrus soy. The salty tart flavors were so addicting we were fighting for the last piece.

hamachi crudo (640x425)

I love salmon rillettes and the Smoked Fish Spread ($9) is exactly that! Served with crackers and toast points, the salmon is nicely textured and seasoned well.

smoked fish spread (640x425)

Another favorite item was Steamed Mussels ($14), so fresh and tender with bits of salty chorizo giving it an extra oompf. Tomato, chilis and garlic, together with Dos Equis amber combine together for the tastiest broth ever.

steamed mussels (640x425)

We were rather intrigued by the thought of Fried Avocado Taco ($4.50) and were told it was half an avocado, battered and fried. It was a generous portion and texturally it was great, but needed just a touch more salt. Served on corn tortillas made fresh daily, it is an ample portion to share or just on your own. Vegetarians will revel in this!

avocado taco (640x425)

Our server Rachel recommended the Smoked Pork Belly Carnitas Taco ($5) and I’m glad she did because it was really delicious. For pork belly, it wasn’t fatty at all, well-rendered through and then finished off on the flattop for that bit of crispiness on the edges. Topped in the traditional style with onions and cilantro with a side of guacamole, I wanted something spicy, perhaps a side of salsa, to go with it.

carnitas taco (640x425)

I saw the loco moco burger on the menu and asked why they didn’t have it the traditional way. Luckily I asked because they did and I had my Loco Moco ($13.75) over a bed of rice. The one here is fantastic because not only do you get the hamburger pattie, but you also get a slice of spam with an onion gravy slathered on top PLUS a runny fried egg. My son loved it and proclaimed it pretty close to the ones he used to eat as a child in Hawaii.

loco moco (640x425)

When I saw Whole Fried Fish ($25) I was really excited because a lot of restaurants have been serving fish whole lately. However, here, they fillet and chunk out the red snapper, coat it with a corn meal crust before frying to perfection. The fish is moist inside and crunchy outside. They also fry the fish carcass and serve it alongside the fish nuggets. I would have preferred the fish served whole, but I get how that might freak some people out. The salsa verde and chipotle tartar were great dipping options although I loved the salsa just a little bit more.

whole fish (640x425)

You also get a plate of red rice and beans with the fish — big portion — which was tasty, especially the rice.

beans and rice (640x425)

If you still have room after your meal, I highly recommend ending with the Horchata Sundae ($5.50). I am a huge sucker for ice cream and this one is fabulous. Creamy horchata ice cream is scooped over hot fudge and caramel sauce — a little too much for me — with bits of caramel krispies, fresh cream and topped with a crispy Mexican buñelo triangle. I couldn’t stop eating it but had to stop and give in! It was a very big bowl of ice cream goodness.

horchata ice cream (640x425)

If you’re ever in Oceanside, stop in and grab a bite! It’s a beautiful restaurant to stop into especially on a beautiful day!

Hello Betty Fish House
211 Mission Avenue
Oceanside, CA 92054
Tel: 760-722-1008

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Spring has sprung at Raya

There’s nothing more romantic or relaxing than dining at Raya. I’ve been coming here through the years and have always liked the style of cuisine it serves. Last week, I was invited to preview the restaurant’s Spring Menu to showcase just a handful of the dishes available for the new season we’re sliding into.

As we gathered into the gorgeous expanse of the dining room overlooking the ocean, champagne was enjoyed all around as we sat down to enjoy what Chef de Cuisine Steve Wan had to offer that evening.

Chef Steve has been with The Ritz-Carlton for about 10 years and my previous experience with Steve was at a dinner several years ago in the private room of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel. I remember that evening well and recalled his outstanding dish that evening — crispy snapper!

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As the sun sets into the horizon, our spectacular evening began with Jicama Ceviche Roll, a delightful morsel filled with dungeness crab, tiger shrimp, avocado, red onion, tomato and cilantro, in a bath of coconut aji amarillo and sweet chile. The combination of salty, sweet, tart and spicy was stupendous, teasing and tantalizing my tastebuds for more.

jicama roll

Lobster Taco is not a new item and I love everything about it. I’ve had it numerous times before and still love the little flour tortilla clipped with a mini clothespin with black bean puree, chile de arbol salsa, avocado and cilantro. These bite-sized tacos are three to an order and trust me, you won’t want to share.

We were also presented with a Mini Beef Huarache on the same plate. An a la carte portion is larger than this, ideal for sharing. Perfectly pink slices of prime NY strip steak with black bean puree, caramelized onions, manchego cheese and chile toreado, all enveloped in a soft tortilla, what more do you want, perhaps just another bite?

taco huarache

I’m usually not a big salad fan but Iberico Ham Arugula Salad had me hooked from the first bite. I don’t like a bunch of mixed greens in some dressing, but this was different. This had pea sprout shoots, something I love immensely. Together with other things I adore, such as pickled mustard seeds and pickled onions, the combination of sweet, tart and spicy, with the saltiness of Iberico Ham and manchego cheese was impeccable.

iberico arugula

Looking for a fish dish? Then look no further than the well-prepared Halibut, flaky and delicate with perfectly executed tempura jalapeno bits, boniato (white sweet potato) puree, truffle corn salsa and chive oil. A light yet very satisfying entree for those not wanting red meat.

halibut

Other entree items we tried included a duo of Chipotle Spiced Lamb Loin which possessed deep, rich meaty flavors and vibrantly spiced components. The celeriac puree, spring pea, carrot and piloncillo (Mexican unrefined brown sugar) glaze did not overpower the star of the show.

Sharing the plate was Piloncillo Prawn, Chef Steve’s take on Chinese honey walnut shrimp, a dish I dislike immensely. It was so delicious and devoid of mayo, usually found in abundance on honey walnut shrimp. The morita chile, candied pepitas and cilantro added crunch, spice, and a burst of je ne sais quoi about it. I loved it and would come back for this alone.

entree duo

After all that food, I didn’t think I would have room for dessert. I never save space in my stomach anyway, but Citrus Torte was so airy I managed a few spoonfuls. Executive Pastry Chef Brian Sundeen’s choice of using gaviota strawberries over other varietals meant we were lavished with the sweetest, most full bodied berries you’ll ever taste. The aromatic yuzu curd is intoxicating, however, the piece de resistance was the scoop of strawberry margarita sorbet with hints of saltiness completing the total margarita experience.

dessert

Spring is but a few short months and in order to partake in these and more menu items, make sure you visit Raya soon before it’s time to roll out the summer menu.

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

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