a glass of wine & some nibbles at SeaLegs

What happens when you meet your girlfriend(s) for a drink? You end up eating WAY too much while you’re having a drink or two, that’s what. SeaLegs Wine Bar in Huntington Beach is a great spot for a glass of wine — or two, or three. The bar is the best spot to do this because whoever is pouring will also give you some great suggestions as to what foods to pair your wine with, or vice versa!

Steven was our barkeep this evening, and I have encountered Steven several times before. In fact, we even have some mutual friends which makes the experience even more relaxing and enjoyable. I do apologize for the photos as I used my phone’s camera to capture everything we ate.

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We wanted some things to nibble on and were in luck as there were several spring items recently added to the menu. Grilled Turkey Meatballs ($12) are tender, seasoned with harissa, just a tad under-salted for me. A tzatziki dipping sauce accompanies. These were paired with our first pours of Chacewater Sauvignon Blanc and Haus Creek Cuvee White Blend. The latter possessed scents of honey and honeysuckle while the sauvignon blanc was refreshing and lighter than what I’m normally accustomed to.

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Beef Carpaccio ($14) is always perfect with wine and the one here is good. Fried crispy capers add a nice salty tartness and the well-dressed arugula is spicy. Don’t be afraid to ask for more lemon — I do — to drizzle over the thin beef slices. I love that burst of citrus on my palate!

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Farm Fresh Flatbread ($14) was absolutely perfect. The combination of burrata, mozzarella, parmesan nestle between the vibrant vegetables is fresh and delightful. Included are asparagus, zucchini, squash, micro arugula and basil. Not only was this visually pleasing but we agreed it was absolutely delicious as well.

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I am a fiend when it comes to Mussels and Clams ($16), never missing out on the opportunity to devour some. We were amazed by how plump the littleneck clams and Prince Edward Island mussels were. Add to that a briny broth dotted with bacon, shallots, garlic, leeks and white wine, it was all too scrumptious to stop. If I wasn’t sharing, I would have picked the bowl up and slurped it.

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Our next drinks came in the form of reds, the Chateau Coutinel is a light red, one we all enjoyed with the next of our dishes.

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Braised Chicken Tacos ($9) are so flavorful and the pickled onions are a great touch. Even so, I spritzed a little lemon juice on them for extra freshness.

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The Lobster Sliders might not be on the menu when you go, but it comes back from time to time and are pretty good to share, or as an entree for yourself.

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I wasn’t planning on ordering Quinoa Crab Fried Rice ($18) but I saw someone eating it across the bar, someone who ravished it under five minutes, and I couldn’t resist. The shards of crab meat ran throughout and the runny egg adds a creamy dimension to the plate. I loved the crunch of the bean sprouts making it deliciously addicting. I think this was our absolute favorite!

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If you’re on your own, SeaLegs Wine Bar is the perfect place to dine at the bar. If you’re with a group, the lounge is great for a casual get-together. Soon, SeaLegs will offer outdoor patio dining as well.

SeaLegs Wine Bar
21022 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Tel: 714-536-5700

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OB Noodle House San Diego

I’ve been wanting those chicken wings after watching an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Triple D), where Guy Fieri visits OB Noodle House in Ocean Beach, a seaside neighborhood of San Diego! On a recent visit, we make it a point to stop by the original location off Cable Street for lunch (there is a second location off Niagara on the cusp of Ocean Beach and Point Loma). As we drive past it, our hearts sink when we see the hordes of people outside.

Circling around the neighborhood several times, we find a spot less than a block away and check in with the hostess who informs us of the 20 minute wait, but lucky for us, it only turns out to be 10.

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There is inside and sidewalk seating — we are led to what I would call the best seat in the house, a corner table affording us a view of the entire restaurant. It is busy, very loud with music blaring, the upbeat vibe reminds me of eateries I’ve come across many times while living in Hawaii.

We settle on some sour beers (on the day of our visit beers were half off — score!) which is absolutely refreshing on a warm day and perfect with the appetizers we select.

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Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Satay ($6.95) is surprisingly tasty. I am not sure when it arrives as the reddish hue is “radioactive”-like reminiscent of Chinese cha siu. The chicken is bursting with lemongrass aromas and well-seasoned. A ramekin of hoisin sauce accompanies but I enjoyed them without it.

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But what I am here for are the Spicy Garlic Wings ($11.95) and they do not disappoint. Ironically, the twelve succulent wings (and these are the real wings, not drummettes) are also strangely red in color, but crispy on the outside and oh so moist on the inside. Be careful when you eat them because they are scorching hot on the inside — retaining its heat even to the last wing. I can probably devour the entire plate but it is rude not to share.

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Sizzling Fish ($11.95) is tasty and comes with a bowl of steamed white rice. The basa fillet is topped with caramelized ginger and garlic, with chopped fresh cilantro and green onions. I often cook basa at home but have never thought to use caramelized ginger before! I will be doing that from now on. The crispy bits of garlic and ginger definitely elevates the flavor to another level.

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We see a guy eating a plate of House Special Fried Rice ($12.95) at the next table which entices us to order it. It is a hefty portion,with a generous amount of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), shrimp, beef, eggs, Chinese sausage and sate sauce, but I can’t figure out why the fried rice is so sweet. The Chinese sausage usually possesses some sweetness, but I can’t imagine sate sauce to be. I bring it home and doctor it up with other ingredients and condiments — much better!

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Unfortunately, Stir Fried Crispy Egg Noodles With Chicken Assorted Vegetables ($8.95) is highly disappointing. The crispy noodles remind me of the bits of crispy noodles you get in the Midwest when you order chow mein, except these are long and resemble regular noodles. They taste a little stale and the overall dish is bland and flavorless. I pick out the cabbage and broccoli and we leave the rest.

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My final conclusion? There is definitely some hype surrounding this place, not all of it warranted. I see a lot of people eating pho, but I’m not sure this is what I want when lil Saigon is so close by. The chicken wings are definitely worth returning for — if there is no wait for a table — but then again, if I am craving them, I can just order to go and pick them up, right?

OB Noodle House
2218 Cable Street
San Diego, CA 92107
Tel: 619-450-6868

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Prego Ristorante is an OC institution

It’s been a few years since my last visit to Prego, a northern Italian restaurant nestled in between office buildings in Irvine. At lunch time, the restaurant is bustling with business people trying to clinch a deal, and, those wanting to impress a client.

So when I received an invitation to check out its “Spring into Summer” menu, I eagerly accepted. I remember the unfortunate fire at the restaurant not too long ago, and when I walked in, I was expecting a change, but was relieved to see they have kept it relatively the same, except for an upgrade to the existing structure.

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We were welcomed by owners Tony and Ruth Bedi, as well as their son Devin, as we joined the rest of the media party on the back patio for hors d’oeuvres while sipping on Sofia blanc de blancs.

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After mingling for a little while, we moved into the private room for our meal prepared by Chef Ugo Allesina, a 25 year culinary veteran who has been with Prego since July 2000.

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We started with Asparagus Delizia, a perfect example of simple hearty Italian cuisine using fresh ingredients. Grilled duo of asparagus — both green and white — are wrapped in Parma prosciutto and finished with shaved parmesan cheese, organic arugula and truffle oil. I like how Chef Ugo has featured white asparagus, a wonderful spring time produce only available for a very short period each year.

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Our primo piatto of Risotto alla Sovaccese was a perfectly al dente bowl of delicate arborio rice, porcini mushrooms, fontina cheese with hints of fresh rosemary. A tad under-seasoned for me, but nothing extra cheese and a touch of salt wasn’t able to fix.

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Cotechino e Lenticchie is Chef Ugo’s homemade Italian sausage with white wine served on a bed of stewed lentils and whole grain mustard sauce. Traditionally eaten during new year’s, Chef Ugo’s sausage possessed wonderful flavors, although texturally, I would have liked a little more contrast. Lentils, also a traditional accoutrement, were hearty and delicious with the mustard sauce adding a good acidity to the dish.

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To finish, we were presented with Tronco ai Cioccolati, a puffed pastry filled with white and dark chocolate mousse served with creme anglaise and raspberry sauce. Chef Ugo explains that this is a dessert close to his heart and reflective of the Piedmont area where he is from. It reminded me of desserts I used to eat as a child when my parents brought us out for a fancy meal.

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Prego is an Orange County institution which has withstood challenges and time. It is still one of the restaurants where business deals are made and anniversaries are celebrated.

This week I have a $50 gift certificate courtesy of Prego Ristorante for one lucky reader to win. Please leave a comment with your FULL name for a chance to enter. Tell me your memories of Prego, or why you’d like to visit. Contest ends Monday, a winner will be chosen and announced on Tuesday.

Prego Ristorante
18420 Von Karman Avenue
Irvine, CA 92612
Tel: 949-552-1333

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a highly respectable menu at Fireside Tavern

I first experienced Fireside Tavern at its grand opening a few months ago. From the tidbits we sampled, I knew immediately that this new restaurant will be a winner. Why you might ask? Well, in my decades of experience, if the food you’re eating at a cocktail event, a wedding, or anything where food is served to the masses is actually delicious, then just think what they are able to accomplish when they’re cooking just for you and your party.

FIRESIDEChef Scott Brandon (photo courtesy of Bob Hodson) helms the kitchen and my knowledge of him was only limited to burgers (Crow Burger) and hotdogs (LinX). This is the first time I’ve had “real food” by this incredibly talented chef. Honestly, this guy can really cook!

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A small group of us were invited for a taste of the menu offered at Fireside Tavern recently, please note, prices listed are a la carte prices and do not reflect the portions depicted in the photos. We started in the lounge area for some cocktails and appetizers before heading into the dining room for a meal served family style.

Please note: some items are not featured on the menu but are reserved for special occasion menus.

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One of my favorite starters was the Royal Red Rock Shrimp Hushpuppies ($11) with Creole remoulade and green tomato chow chow, a relish made with green tomatoes, napa cabbage, green and red peppers, sweet onions and jalapenos. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, these are awesome accompaniments to go with our drinks.

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Not being a big pork belly fan, the Berkshire Pork Belly Sliders absolutely won me over. The well-rendered slices of pork belly are sandwiched between Rockenwagner salt & pepper brioche buns with apricot mostarda, pickled shallots, wild rocket (arugula) and reggiano. I loved the sweet tart flavors of the mostarda which helped balance the unctuousness of the pork belly along with the pickled shallots.

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We moved into the private dining room to continue our experience at a larger scale. The first thing we were presented with were these incredibly fluffy Tillamook cheddar cheese biscuits ($5) dotted with bacon and chives served with hand churned butter. I was trying to pace myself but devoured an entire one. It was hard to resist.

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One of my favorite items of the evening was Pickled Wild Gulf Shrimp, a delightful array of my favorite things in a jar. I loved the fennel, the beautiful array of radishes, and especially the pickled quail eggs. Of course the wild Gulf shrimp were delicious too, but those quail eggs won me over. This item was featured on the Mother’s Day menu this past Sunday.

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We sampled three entrees, all of which were pretty outstanding. Chef Brandon is a master when it comes to seasoning proteins. I was highly impressed by how everything was salted to absolute perfection.

Cedar Plank Loch Duarte Salmon ($24) was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a really distinctive taste which I love in Scottish salmon. Accompanied with twice cooked fingerling potatoes, creamy kale and preserved kumquats, the latter is an accoutrement I did not expect to work with the dish, but it was genius.

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I was so impressed by Pan Roasted Mary’s Chicken (served as half roasted chicken on the menu for $21) which was moist and juicy and of course, beautifully flavored. I’m not a huge fan of panzanella even though this particular one embodied some really rich roasted tomato piquancy.

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The one which blew everyone away was Grilled Tavern Steak Bone-In 20oz Greater Omaha Ribeye ($35), at a perfect medium rare with an outstanding bone marrow butter on top. I was so full and took only half a piece of the steak, but ended up reaching for another half piece because it was just THAT good. If I had more room, I would no doubt have polished off half a piece of this.

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Dessert was an Icebox Cake ($8) which was very interesting to me. I love how this is a no-bake cake using chocolate wafers and is layered with a mocha mascarpone cream, chocolate ganache and drizzled with raspberry coulis. I think even I am able to make this! So simple yet really pretty.

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I cannot wait to return to Fireside Tavern to try more of what Chef Scott Brandon has to offer. This man can seriously cook, a highly attractive trait in my book!

Fireside Tavern
at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
3131 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-557-3000

Fireside Tavern on Urbanspoon

Book of Mormon menu at Leatherby’s

I’ve been wanting to see Book of Mormon for years now. I had planned on purchasing tickets for a show in New York a few years ago but not everyone in my party was eager to spend the money, so we ended up not going. It was then up in LA, but I didn’t want to drive up to The Pantages, therefore, when I heard it was coming to Segerstrom, I had no doubt in my mind, I was going. I set a note in my calendar and purchased the tickets on the first day they became available.

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Although my tickets aren’t for another week, I visited Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge last night, opening night, to sample the Book of Mormon ‘theater menu’ created by one of my favorite chefs in Orange County, Ross Pangilinan. I’ve been meaning to try one of these every since I heard about them several shows ago. I felt it was apropos to select this particular one seeing I was going to Book of Mormon anyway.

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If you’re attending a show and plan on dining at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge, I highly suggest making a reservation! Every time I’ve been here for a performance and have dined here beforehand, the restaurant is packed. Chef Ross and his team are simply amazing and get you out the door and in time for your show even if you’re enjoying a 3-course menu, but be respectful and give them ample time to appropriately serve you.

My dining companion and I enjoyed the 3-course Pre Theater Prix Fixe Menu with two options available including one that’s vegetarian. It is priced at $45/person and $64 with wine pairings.

First Course entitled “Hello”, was a Soft Egg Raviolo, a beautiful package of fine herb ricotta encased in a thin wrapper, surrounded by a mushroom ragout and beef jus bath. Crispy guanciale is added for texture while parmesan adds a salty component. When you cut into the raviolo, the soft egg gently streams onto the plate mixing with the jus creating a luscious sauce for the pasta. We agreed this was a delicious start to our meal.

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The other option was “Baptize Me”, a Farmers Market Vegetable Soup, and on the night of our visit, we were graced with Thai curry carrot. Though creamy in texture, it possessed no cream or butter — perfect for vegetarians AND vegans. The hints of curry was subtle, but I thoroughly enjoyed the heavy aromas of lime from the gremolata, lending a very refreshing finish, especially on a sweltering day like this one.

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Our Main Course entitled “Making Things Up Again” — all of these titles are songs from Book of Mormon —  included Grilled Barramundi served Moroccan style with couscous, harissa scented vegetables and chickpeas, chermoula and preserved lemon.

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If you are not a fan of Moroccan flavors, I highly suggest the “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (an African saying meaning “paradise on earth”). This Mezzelune Pasta dish offers crescent-shaped pasta filled with a sweet corn puree. They are tossed in a in a lime-brown butter sauce with baby corn, artichoke, oven dried tomato and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. Crispy cilantro adds a perfect crunch to the dish. We were both blown away by how tender the pasta was and how robust the flavors although it possessed no meat.

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Our meal came to a close with “Orlando”, a White Chocolate Key Lime Bar sitting atop graham cracker crumbles with a whipped lime ganache topping. Dots of fragrant cilantro coulis lined the plate and I especially loved the raspberry chips and key lime sherbet accompaniments. The combination of sweet and tart is always so pleasant on my palate.

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Chocolate fans must indulge in “I Am Here For You”, a Warm Chocolate Molten Cake with coconut tapioca and a dollop of diced pickled fruit. The best part of all was the oozing surprise you get when you break into it!

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If you’re not interested in a 3-course dinner, some of these items are also offered a la carte. My only wish is that Leatherby’s is opened on days the performing arts center is not running shows.

Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge
615 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-429-7640

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a touch of Europe at The Globe Belgian Gastropub

Two years ago, I was looking for a spot to dine with an out-of-town visitor who was staying nearby. After consulting Yelp, I decided on The Globe in Garden Grove and we ventured out here for dinner. I remember some of the food being good, some not, but what blew me away was the incredible variety of Belgian beers they had both on tap and in bottles.

Fast forward to today. A friend of ours invited us to visit the restaurant, now renamed The Globe – Belgian Gastropub. I remember the restaurant well, especially the husband and wife team who own this place.  The new chef on board, Chef Christophe was formerly at Encore Dinner Theatre in Tustin.

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We ordered a round of beers. On the day of our visit, the Chimay Première Red the exclusive trappist Belgium beer on tap for the first time in 350 years was available and some of us indulged in this very smooth and distinctively aromatic beer for the first time in our lives. I, on the other hand, couldn’t make up my mind so I opted for a flight of the dark beers on offer.

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Of course, I am not able to just drink beers. Food is always on the agenda and there are some stellar items on the menu to accompany your drinks with. Chorizo Empanadas ($8.95) are Pamplona chorizo stuffed inside puff pastry. Very flavorful, but a tad greasy for me.

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Everyone loved Belgian Nachos ($10.95), using hand cut, double fried fries instead of tortilla chips. Topped with shredded beer beef, cream of mustard, sour cream, jack and cheddar cheeses and salsa fresca, this is a perfect dish to sop up all the beers you’re about to consume.

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I couldn’t get enough of the house-made Bavarian Pretzel ($4.95). The spicy Dijon mustard was a huge hit with everyone and we fought over the pretzel. In the end, we had to order another! This is not something I’m happy about sharing. I think on my next visit, I’m having one on my own.

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Moving on to entrees, Steak Frites ($19.95) using outside skirt steak was a little under-done (we ordered medium rare). Even so, it was seasoned well and I liked how they served it with a side of sauteed vegetables. You have a choice of two different sauces, we selected the gorgonzola cream cheese over Belgian frites.

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I love coq au vin so when I saw it on the menu, I knew we had to order it. Coq au Vin ($16.95) is described as braised chicken with caramelized onions, bacon, mushroom medley in red wine reduction on the menu. I would have liked a little more wine in the sauce but overall it was still good. The accompanying potato dauphinoise was delicious.

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Jambalaya Pasta ($16.95) though, was the one everyone agreed was absolutely delicious, Sauteed shrimp, black mussels, spicy chorizo and mushrooms are tossed together in a tomato cream sauce — light cream — and it was a stellar choice. I would totally order this again!

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There is no place in Orange County quite like this. You won’t find a more stellar Belgian beer list anywhere else, and now, the food has stepped up to make this a very worthy destination to grab that bite as well while enjoying the brew.

The Globe Belgian Gastropub
12926 Main Street
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Tel: 714-537-7471

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