Moulin will take you to Paris without leaving OC

I’ve been to Moulin as many times as I can count on one hand — perhaps more — since its opening almost a month ago. Maybe it is the quaint French charm, or the very attractive staff owner Laurent Vrignaud has employed, Or just maybe, it is just simply the fact that the food is really good. For me, it has to be the food which draws me in. Decor helps, but it is only secondary to its culinary offerings.

This little French bistro and cafe, which took over the Pascal’s Epicerie spot off Bristol, is everything that appeals to my senses. The food draws me in, the inviting space coupled with warm, friendly people, makes me stay for a while. Put that all together and the result is my desire to keep coming back again and again with friends in tow.

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The food is simple. Typical French fare at a cafe you might chance upon while strolling through the streets of Montmartre, Paris, where Laurent is from. It is his longing for the foods of his childhood which led him here, to open Moulin.

Each visit allows me to try different things. The atmosphere is incredible, just buzzing with energy. Breakfast and lunch are bustling with people, music, and the aromas of something delicious. I’ve yet to come at dinner time, and plan to make it to one of the Tuesday “Chef’s Dinner” that features Chef Anthony Bar’s French specialties in a family-style atmosphere. Reservations are a must — walk-ins will be disappointed.

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For now, I can tell you, the regular menu is pretty enticing on its own. For breakfast, try one of their omelettes. I liked L’Omelette Moulin ($12) which includes roasted chicken (from the in-house rotisserie) with herbs and mushroom. They’ll ask if you want cheese with it, I always say yes. It is a perfectly executed omelette, fluffy on the inside and really light — just like they do it in gay Paris.

omelette

La Quiche du Chef et Salade ($10) is another stellar choice. You’ll get a side salad with a slice of whatever quiche the chef has created for the day. Quiche Lorraine was the daily feature, a wedge of eggy goodness dotted with ham and cheese throughout. I don’t remember the last time I had quiche this good. The texture is light as air and rather impressive.

quiche

One of my favorite items is Le Poulet Roti aux Herbs ($8/lb), rotisserie chicken you can see rotating behind the cashier. The chicken breast tends to be a tad drier so I always choose the leg/thigh, make sure you ask for some jus to go with it. There are vegetables as a side option, but what I do instead is, order a baguette ($3), cut a piece off, dip it into the jus and enjoy.

chicken

Instead of vegetables, I prefer the various salads Moulin offers in its cold case. The salad is sold by weight and there are quite a few to choose from. My favorites include: Le Céleri Rémoulade, sliced celeriac tossed in a remoulade; La Pomme de Terre, Lardons en Persillade, baby potatoes with bacon lardons tossed with persillade (a dressing of parsley chopped together with garlic, herbs, oil, and vinegar).

salade

On another visit, we enjoyed sandwiches. Jambon et Fromage ($9) includes wonderful ham (roasted in-house) and gruyere sandwiched between a house-made baguette. This is also a perfect selection if you’re on the run and wanted something quick to go.

jambon fromage

On my son’s first visit, he stood in front of the cold case and immediately points to the Saucisson Sec and Cornichons ($8) baguette. In fact, he kept muttering “this is so good and so simple” the entire time he was eating it. Some dry, cured sausage topped with baby gherkins between a buttered crusty loaf — simple indeed.

saucisson sec

Croque Madame ($11) is a classic French hot sandwich you won’t want to miss. If you’re not familiar with this, it is a croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) with a runny egg on top. Comfort food at its best.

croque madame

I am a huge fan of onion soup, but unless I make it myself, I have yet to find one in Orange County that’s spot on. The French Onion Soup ($9) here is excellent, with a flavorful broth and just the right amount of onions. The crouton and cheese to soup ratio is also correct. My son proclaimed this one of the best French onion soups he’s had in a restaurant.

french onion soup

There is still a lot to explore at Moulin and new items are added daily. The core menu will always be available, but from time to time, you’ll find some specials such as the Brie Tartine ($8) we found on one of our visits. If you see this, get it! Absolutely to-die-for.

brie lardon

Moulin Bistro is one of those gems destined to become an Orange County favorite. I see chefs grabbing a bite with their families, or just popping in for a quick coffee. To see culinary folk flock here affirms that this is a place to watch out for. After all, isn’t that the best compliment and validation of all?

Moulin Bistro
1000 Bristol N
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 844-376-6243

Moulin on Urbanspoon

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memories are made at San Diego’s Bread & Cie

This post isn’t like any other I’ve ever written before. This involves hands-on experience I don’t ordinarily get from my day-to-day dealings with restaurants. Generally, I’m on the receiving side, not the making side. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let me start from the beginning.

About seven years ago, I was at Tip Top Deli in Carlsbad and picked up a loaf of olive bread by Bread & Cie. I remember devouring it in the car with my then 7 year old wishing we had grabbed another loaf for later. Through the years, I have seen their artisan breads at various farmers markets around San Diego and have even introduced them to native San Diegan friends.

Recently, I stopped into a neighborhood market in Golden Hill before going to dinner nearby and found some granola from Bread & Cie. I fell in love with it immediately and went on a mission to find out more about it. After several emails with Bread & Cie founder and owner Charles Kaufman, the native New Yorker-turned-San Diegan invited me down to his cafe in Hillcrest to make the granola with them.

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The minute I stepped into Bread & Cie, I felt a sense of familiarity, like I had been inside before. It took me a minute or two before I realized that the style and layout was just like Huckleberry’s in Santa Monica. This success to this almost 20-year-old establishment is definitely its people, starting with Charles. His sense of humor is infectious. I watched him joke around with his staff spreading the camaraderie to everyone he comes in contact with.

bread and cie

As we walk through the restaurant into the back, I noticed the variety of breads on display including brioche, fougasse, olive to name a few. Bakers Eloisa and Lorena were making soda bread this day, and I watched as they molded the bread by hand, then cut the top, brushed it with buttermilk, before moving onto the next tray. True artisan bread is just that, all made by hand.

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When they were done, the process of my beloved granola began. Charles cracked me up as he asked that we make a face with the granola ingredients. Of course I obliged.

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The wet ingredients are mixed in a separate bowl by Eloisa and set aside. Then, the first of the dry ingredients are placed in a large vessel to be mixed with the wet. At this point, Charles gave me some gloves and asked me to get right into it as he took over my camera and deftly snapped away. I gleefully combined the oats, almonds and pumpkin seeds together. It took about five to seven minutes for it to possess an even coating.

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Then we laid the mixture out on a baking sheet and placed it into the oven for 10 minutes at 275 degrees. It is allowed to cool before cranberries, golden raisins, and others are added with remainder of the wet ingredients given another mixing. Another 20 minutes in the oven and there you have it. That’s the granola that I’ve grown so very fond of.

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Charles then brought me to the front of the house and put me to work. I bagged a few items for customers before venturing off to explore everything Bread & Cie had to offer. This is where I watched him interact with his customers, again with charm and humor. He is indeed the foundation of this establishment.

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Bread & Cie makes everything in-house including biscotti, scones, cookies, macaroons, macarons, cupcakes, chocolate eclairs, the list goes on and on. If you want breakfast, there is also French toast.

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But that’s not all. If savory is your thing (it definitely is mine!) then choose from an array of sandwiches, quiches, pizzas, salads — all salad dressings are made in-house as well. I was amazed that this little cafe creates so much in such a small space.

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My time at Bread & Cie came and went rather quickly. I left with a sense of satisfaction, enveloped by a feeling of extreme warmth and happiness. The art of feeding is one that always brings pleasure, at least in my world, it does. After spending the morning with Charles Kaufman, I knew without a doubt, that in his world, it does as well.

Bread & Cie
350 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103
Tel: 619-683-9322

Bread & Cie on Urbanspoon

a retail spot for Blackmarket Bakery

If you’re a frequent Irvine Farmers Market visitor, you will be familiar with Blackmarket Bakery‘s baked goods enticing you each week with its croissants, pastries, cookies and more. Prior to now, the bakery has been predominantly wholesale, offering only a very limited selection at its Skypark Circle kitchen.

Just after the new year, the bakery’s highly awaited first retail location opened at The Camp and I was there early one morning to check it out while it was still quiet but it smelled great since all the ovens were on with things baking away.

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My friend and I started with some coffee and ordered some food. I perused the display case and was attracted by all the sweet treats on offer such as the array of scones including apricot ginger which we ordered.

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If you’re a fan of coconut, then the coconut macaroons (yes, macaroons and NOT macarons — that is one of my pet peevees when people get ’em wrong) will definitely be your choice.

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It’s breakfast and if you can’t decide, there is always a muffin or two for you to grab and take to work with you.

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I’m more a croissant gal so those caught my eye. We ended up getting a savory croissant to share seeing I can’t have only sweets in any given meal.

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Our garlic artichoke croissant is one of many I regularly purchase from the Irvine’s Farmers Market. The mushroom one is especially good.

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The menu here also includes sandwiches so if you want one of those, you can go that route too. There are sweet ones, savory ones, as well as sweet AND savory ones which is always my favorite!

The Nacho Libre ($6.65) is a great sandwich with American cheese, jalapenos, chopped bacon and roasted red peppers. This concoction has a nice kick to it and works for me whether it’s breakfast or lunch.

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I also tried my friend’s Swiss Account ($5.70) — Swiss cheese, apricot butter and chopped bacon — a tad too sweet for me, but the bacon’s saltiness offset the apricot butter very nicely.

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If you’ve never had the Cabernet pasta Blackmarket makes you can pick some up here, along with the Cabernet brownie and other items. The pasta is pretty awesome!

This week, I have a gift basket to giveaway. Chef Rachel has generously donated what I call a “Chef’s Choice Basket” for one of my readers to win. It’s a compilation of goodies from the bakery, all personally chosen by Chef Rachel. Leave me a comment with your FULL name and tell me what your favorite Blackmarket Bakery item is for a chance to win. Entries close on Friday 18th. Good Luck!

Blackmarket Bakery at The Camp
2937 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-662-3095

Blackmarket Bakery at the Camp on Urbanspoon

ooh la la it’s Pandor Boulangerie

If you’re in Newport Beach, you need to check out the newly opened Pandor Boulangerie. The bakery has an artisan French baker at the helm and everything, from the breads to the desserts are made in-house.

When you first walk in, you might be overwhelmed by the cafe’s glass display case with a ton of sweet treats just waiting to tempt you.

I want to point out that the photos are not reflective of how the dishes are served. The photos are from a tasting so they are a lot smaller than what you would be getting when you order them.

Let’s start with the Gourmet Plates. There are five different ones to choose from including the Assorted Italian Cold Cuts ($16.95) which included prosciutto San Daniele Red Label, Salami Nostrano, Speck & Mortadella.

Burrata E Crudo S. Daniele ($16.95) is just a refreshing plate no matter how you look at it. Cantaloupe, heirloom tomatoes, basil aged balsamic & extra virgin olive oil with the creamy burrata is just fantastic.

I love smoked salmon and the Wester Ross Scottish Smoked Salmon ($14.95) with fingerling potatoes salad, creme fraiche and chive was my favorite. I couldn’t get enough of the lightly salted salmon and while I didn’t care for the potato salad underneath, the creme fraiche and chive was awesome.

We also got a sampling of three different salads from the cold display window. Red Quinoa Salad with roasted squash, roasted zucchini, cauliflowers, roasted shiitake, parsley, mint, lemon and extra virgin olive oil was tasty even if the quinoa was a little overcooked so it didn’t have that familiar crunch I love.

Red Beets Salad with sunflower seeds, grilled fennel, Manouri cheese & shallots dressing makes use of the wonderful beets in season, but my favorite was the Beluga Lentil Salad with carrots, parsnips & shallot dressing.

Moving on to sandwiches, I would totally suggest getting one of the pressed paninis on offer. They are all $7.95 and I was surprised at how lovely the Tuna panini was. It consisted of capers, Maui onions & Vermont Cheddar cheese and together, it was just delicious.

If you are vegetarian or just wanting something lighter, try Grilled Vegetables panini. Packed with zucchini, Italian eggplant, roasted bell peppers, local goat cheese and pesto dressing, this comes together beautifully in every mouthful.

In terms of sandwiches, try the Habano ($12.95), this is Pandor’s version of the Cuban sandwich. Roast pork, cured ham, pickled jalapenos instead of pickles, Swiss cheese and deli mustard is served on a Chef’s baguette.

All sandwiches are served with pickled heirloom carrots and cornichons.

For those with a sweet tooth, Peanut Butter & Jelly French Toast ($7.95) is sinfully delightful and served with mixed berries, you can even say it is healthy!

Here’s an added incentive for you to visit. Pandor has generously donated two $25 gift certificates for my readers to win this week. Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite artisan bread is. Like Pandor’s Facebook page for an additional chance to enter. Good Luck. Winners will be announced on Monday July 2nd.

Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Cafe
1126 Irvine Avenue
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-209-5099

Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Cafe on Urbanspoon

le pain quotidien — mais oui, merci!

I’ve waited for years for Le Pain Quotidien to open a location in Orange County and now, the wait is no more. LPQ opened at Fashion Island, Newport Beach this week and I am now only 15 minutes away from a pain au chocolat or a coffee served up European style — in a bowl rather than a mug.

The decor doesn’t stray far from its other locations with a clean rustic atmosphere and the ubiquitous communal table situated in the middle of the dining room. You are welcome to purchase pastries and coffee at the front for a fast to-go service, or, if you have time to sit down and enjoy table service, that is highly recommended. After all, do like the Europeans do, take your time, enjoy a coffee and a pastry, don’t rush.

We ordered a few items to try and I was surprised I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet offerings here. I think it’s due to the fact that they’ve stuck to the original roots of keeping everything on par with the European sweetness level and haven’t bastardized it to the heavier sweeter palates of North Americans. I never order sweet breakfast items when I frequent restaurants because one or two bites later, I’m over it.

Not normally a coffee drinker, I decided I wanted one today so Cappuccino ($3.95) it is. I smiled when it arrived because it was served in a bowl like they do in France, as well as some coffee houses in Australia. The cappuccino was frothy and rather delicious. I would’ve liked another one but was not looking forward to the jittery, antsy outcome coffee always has on my system.

Tartine — an open faced sandwich Belgian-style — topped with ricotta with mission figs, organic acacia honey, and black pepper ($9.50) was simple and fulfilling.

The flavors were bold, never over-powering but still allows all the natural ingredients such as the fresh figs and strawberries, to stand on their own. Ask for extra honey, I definitely enjoyed it more with a slightly heavier drizzle. Tres magnifique!

Another sweet option was the Whole Wheat French Toast with Strawberries and Agave Nectar ($7.95). Not laden with a heavy egg wash, the toast was light and sweetened with the milder agave nectar instead of syrup. I said I only wanted a bite, but ended up eating a lot more than that.

Normally, I am a savory fiend, but on this day, the sweet offerings won me over. I liked the Goat Cheese and Asparagus Omelette ($12.50) but it wasn’t the one that stood out for me.

The accompanying bread slices were absolutely delicious, so fresh and crusty. Ask for the trio of spreads to dollop onto your bread. Apricot preserves was tart and fruity while the berry conserves was equally tasty. However, if you’re a fan of Nutella, the noisette spread, or hazelnut spread will be the one to win your heart.

I would love to return for dinner one night to try the entrees only offered after 5pm. You can buy loaves of bread too such as the baguette which, if you catch them at the right moment, comes out to you still warm to the touch.

LPQ Fashion Island also offers bread baking classes every Tuesdays and Saturdays at 5.30pm at $55 per person. Classes are limited to 6 people. Click here to book your spot.

Le Pain Quotidien
401 Newport Center Drive
#1101 (near Macy’s, next to Victoria’s Secret)
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-287-5592

Le Pain Quotidien on Urbanspoon

The Bakery Truck

Donna and Tina -- owners of Bakery Truck

Last year, I came to the conclusion that I don’t actually dislike desserts, like I originally thought, but rather, I’ve been eating a whole bunch of lousy desserts which haven’t wowed me in any way.

Of course everyone knows about my love affair with Meringue Bake Shop and now, I possibly am starting another one with the Bakery Truck.

I first tried the Bakery Truck at the Drive Out Hunger charity event back in November and since then, whenever I’ve seen them around, I can’t help but stop by and get something. I’ve tried everything they’ve had to offer and what is so amazing about them is that they do all the baking on the truck.
 

choux straight out of the oven

 

Cupcakes and cream puffs are baked in the two professional grade ovens and if you are every lucky enough to step inside the truck you will notice how bright and shiny and immaculately clean it is.

What sets these baked goods apart from the other cupcake trucks is that the cupcakes are frosted when the order is put in. Cream cheese frosting is freshly piped onto the cupcakes making it soft and creamy rather than hard from sitting around too long.
 

red velvet

 

The same goes for the cream puffs. They are filled to order so you can be sure the puffs are still crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, not soggy from the filling soaking into the puff portion.

Cupcakes are $3 each or $17/half dozen or $33/dozen. Some of the popular flavors include red velvet, vanilla and lemon. Different cupcakes are featured every single day.
 

lemon coconut

One of my favorites is the lemon raspberry. A lemon cupcake is smothered with a raspberry jam topping and then cream cheese frosting is piped on top of that. In fact, I like any of the lemon cupcakes except the coconut since I’m not a fan of desiccated coconut.

Carrot cake is nice too with the cream cheese frosting and a sprinkling of crush nuts on top. Vanilla birthday cake is very cute dipped lightly with sprinkles on top. This definitely appeals to the child in each and every one of us.

Cupcakes aside, the reason I come to the Bakery Truck is for their cream puffs. These choux pastries are filled with a delicious custard and then topped with a luscious cream, sometimes, with additional goodies such as nutella and banana, my son’s favorite. However, my favorite is the original. Cream puffs are $4 but worth every single penny.

 

cream puff original

With desserts like these, even a non-believer like me can be swayed to enjoy a sweet treat here and there. If you see the Bakery Truck somewhere, make sure to stop and grab something. You won’t regret it.

Follow the Bakery Truck on Twitter or you can check out their website for more information.