5 best desserts 2014

Everyone knows I’m not big on desserts. In fact, I never leave room for it and am usually happy to skip it all together. Having said that, there are a few sweet treats I am never able to pass up. Ice cream is the number one culprit I can’t resist, then, there is panna cotta, followed by sabayon (or zabaglione). Therefore, it is no surprise that all of my five picks of the year are panna cottas. I apologize if some of these items are no longer on the restaurants’ current menu.

Under normal circumstances, this would not be a dessert which appealed to me, however, Butterscotch Panna Cotta had the operative words “panna cotta” in it and therefore, despite the butterscotch, I was eager to try. After several visits, I’ll have to admit, it is one of my favorites at Boathouse Collective. The butterscotch is not overly sweet and the panna cotta is simply sublime. If you eat only one thing at Boathouse Collective, make it this sweet ending.


It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Anepalco’s in Orange. Chef Daniel Godinez never fails to impress me with his vivid imagination and creativity. Often, when I hear the ingredients on his dishes I give him a skeptical look, but once I take a bite, it is always perfection. By now, I should know better than to have any doubts! Right now, Coconut Beet Panna Cotta is a featured dessert at the restaurant and it blew me away the very first time I ate it.


Earlier this year, I finished my meal at The North Left with Strawberries, a dessert which is not as simple as it sounds. Pastry Chef Andrea Guzman’s incredible concoction of exceptionally smooth panna cotta possesses perfect consistency. Add to that some strawberry granita and a sprinkling of cereal, and the bowl becomes a wondrous amalgamation of textures and flavors.


Top Chef winner Shirley Chung recently opened Twenty Eight in Irvine. Her Tofu Panna Cotta holds a special place in my heart because it is her take on “豆腐花” or soymilk pudding, which I grew up eating. Add to that some house-made red bean ice cream, ginger espuma and roasted salty peanut crumble and you have a combination of my favorite childhood desserts all rolled into one.

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Shoo-Fly Panna Cotta is my absolute favorite at The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon. Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi tops it off with crispy streusel, rich dark chocolate balls, while the creamy panna cotta is like heaven on the tongue with hints of molasses finishing off on the palate.


Who will come up with even better panna cottas in 2015? If you find some great ones, please let me know!



Tea Parties & Tiaras at Casey’s Cupcakes and a giveaway

Casey’s Cupcakes recently launched Tea Parties & Tiaras, a private tea party you can hold for your children, or even, yourself for birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers and more. I was invited to catch a glimpse of what this is about at the Woodbury Town Center location where there is a separate room especially designed for this.


I brought my son and two of his friends along to see how teenagers might enjoy this. Most of the other attendees were younger kids, both boys and girls, so I was really interested to see if my son and his two friends — both girls — would like this as opposed to little kids.


The kids (and parents) were greeted with apple cider in plastic champagne flutes (so they don’t break when someone drops them) and mini cupcakes while everyone waited their turn to get their photos taken with Casey Reinhardt. I was so impressed by how sweet she is and how very patient she was with everyone. She made time for every child, small or big, and took the time to listen to them and their needs.

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The kids soon made their way into a beautifully decorated room with an exquisite table setting. On the table were various treats to decorate cupcakes with. Once everyone was seated, drinks such as tea or hot chocolate were served in tea cups and then the kids proceeded to take their choice of cupcakes to decorate.

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Various types of frosting, sprinkles of all kinds including rainbow, chocolate and more….. all laid out on the table for you to make your cupcake tasty and pretty. It was quite amusing watching the kids work on their creations. Some were taking bites in between decorating, and others, ate their cake before they could decorate them. They were all having so much fun! I’m not sure my teenage boy would like a cupcake party, but the two teenage girls were totally into it! They couldn’t stop talking about it even after the event.


The room will fit about 12 kids very comfortably, but if they are small, you can possibly squeeze 16 in. The cost of this is only $18/person for up to two hours and the best part? You don’t have to do any clean up! Reservations are required — to make a booking, call 949-424-9250.

This week I have two $10 giftcards to give away, courtesy of Casey’s Cupcakes. Leave me a comment as to why you should win and don’t forget to leave your FULL name! Get your entries in by Saturday and winner will be announced on Sunday the 13th. Good Luck!

Casey’s Cupcakes
6258 Irvine Blvd
(at the Woodbury Town Center)
Irvine, CA 92620
Tel: 949-333-2228

Casey's Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Cocoa Lounge returns with pure decadence

Each year, in February, The Island Hotel‘s Palm Terrace restaurant transforms its private room into a treasure trove of chocolate magnificence to celebrate Valentine’s Day. This year, the hotel’s Executive Pastry Chef, Andy de la Cruz, has outdone himself by creating a wonderland of delightful treats set within a modern and chic environment perfect for the new year.

Cocoa Lounge, as it is called, opens tomorrow, February 1st and runs until the 17th, every evening between 6pm and 10pm. You can either dine at Palm Terrace and finish off at Cocoa Lounge for $12/person or partake at Cocoa Lounge only for $18/person.

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As you all know, I don’t have a sweet palate and in previous years, I have attended previews of Cocoa Lounge, written about it based on my friends’ reactions on the various desserts. This year, I’m happy to say, I sampled everything on display and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed some of the items.

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Apart from the tidbits of sweets on offer, there will also be an ice cream station where hand-dipped ice cream bars will be created as you order them. Chocolates and other edibles such as chocolate roses are also on display.

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Here are some of my favorites of the night: white chocolate citrus bars with Andy’s signature lemon curd which I so adore. Perfect amount of tartness in a paired with white chocolate and topped with crystallized ginger and surprisingly, not too much sweetness.

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I love panna cotta and these pistachio white chocolate panna cotta were really light and not overly sweet.

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Chocolate banana savarins with Vienese bright yellow mousse and milk chocolate ganache were pleasant as well even though I normally do not like milk chocolate.

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I especially enjoyed the deep dark chocolate tart with passionfruit cream. The passionfruit cream lent a surprising tart finish to the rich dark glossy ganache within the tart.

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If you are a fan of white chocolate, white chocolate margarita mousse with tequila, grand marnier and lime zest will definitely please.

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I didn’t get to try the Irish Car Bomb cupcakes with Guinness chocolate cake, Irish whiskey ganache and Bailey’s icing, but they are there if you want them.

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The chocolate honey cake were super cute baked in baby bundt molds and glazed with a chocolate honey sauce.

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So many more items are on offer and you will experience between 20 to 25 each night. For $50 per person excluding tax and gratuity, you can enjoy Cocoa Lounge with your choice of two drinks, wine, champagne or port or a flight of three 2-oz tastings of wine, champagne or port.

This year, The Island Hotel has once again generously donated a Cocoa Lounge experience for two to one of my readers to win. This is a once in a year lifetime and not to be missed. Leave me a comment with your FULL name telling me who you will be bringing with you if you win and why. Entries close on Sunday, 3rd. Winner announced Monday! Good Luck!

Cocoa Lounge at Palm Terrace
The Island Hotel
690 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-760-4920

Palm Terrace Restaurant and Lounge - the Island Hotel 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

Snow Station is a party in my mouth

I’m not a fan of desserts — or so I say — but when I find something sweet I like, I can’t stop eating it. Snow Station is a Taiwanese-style shaved “snow” place where the flavors are good and toppings abundant.

Usually, I find these places really disgusting because the snow tastes artificial or chemically. I’ve been here several times now and tried a variety of the flavors and the flavors here don’t have that artificial after-taste.

Since there are a myriad of combinations you can create from what’s available, I can’t tell you that your selection will be as tasty as mine (or not as tasty), but here are some of my favorites to date. It’s pretty simple — $4.95 for small and $6.95 for large and that includes 2 toppings of your choice. Additional toppings are 50 cents each.

Taro snow is really awesome if you like taro and we had it with lychee popping balls which were so much fun to eat. Unlike boba, these pop and a burst of liquid streams into your mouth. I wish they made more varieties of these popping balls.

Sour Green Apple shaved snow with Apple Jacks cereal make for a really tart, crunchy mouthful. I love this one even though I’m not usually a fan of Apple Jacks. This combo (with lychee popping balls) reminds me of desserts at Momofuku Milk and how the taste in your mouth just throws your brain for a loop because it’s not quite what you expect.

The same goes for the Almond flavor snow. It tastes just like almond jello but texturally, it’s soft and melty and not gelatinous. Mindblowing!

Another favorite of mine is the Mocha with Oreo cookies, almonds and strawberries. Actually, I don’t even mind if there were no strawberries because the cookies and almonds sufficed to make this an absolutely delicious dessert.

Green Tea gives you a total Asian dessert experience especially when you top it with red beans and mochi.

Watermelon with strawberries and watermelon popping balls is very refreshing and tastes very much of summer. I just can’t get over the popping balls — sooooooooooo much fun!

The only flavor I wasn’t too crazy about was the lychee snow with lychees in syrup, strawberries and pink mochi. But you might like it!

This place is so much fun and definitely worth a visit. I’m not even a sweets person and I could eat this a few time a week! I’ve been here too many times now and everyone I’ve brought has loved it! Check it out and make sure you bring the kids.

Snow Station
9938 Bolsa Avenue
Westminster, CA 92683
Tel: 714-531-7669

Snow Station on Urbanspoon

my week in NYC: Baohaus and Momofuku

After mentioning that one of the places I needed to hit before I leave was Momofuku for the pork belly baos, my friend Julie suggested I first try Baohaus. She tells me that they were the originator of the pork belly bao, and that I would have something to compare them to when I eat David Chang’s version.

We stopped into Baohaus and ordered three different baos to share. Julie chose the Uncle Jesse ($2.99) an organic fried tofu bao with crushed peanuts, cilantro, Haus relish and Taiwanese red sugar. I didn’t like the texture of the baos, too thick and too toothy.  The tofu was well fried, soft on the inside and lightly coated on the outside. It was too mild for me, a little too subtle in flavor and depth — great for vegetarians though.

I chose Chairman Bao ($3.50) — a braised all natural Berkshire pork belly served with the same condiments as the Uncle Jesse. The pork belly was not tender enough and lacked the intensity of color and flavor which I was expecting. It needed to be braised a little longer in a stronger marinade so the fat is rendered through a bit more and the lean meat is softer.

Haus Bao ($3.90) was a braised all natural Creekstone beef cheek with the same condiments — boring! This was more what I had expected, a richly dark piece of meat with full flavors which could stand up to the bao but after three different baos with the same condiments, it got old rather quickly. I’m glad I tried it but it didn’t blow me away by any means.

A few days later, I got together with my friend Nathan, who writes The Pastry Whore blog, to lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar.

We started with those ubiquitous pork belly buns ($10/2pcs) with hoisin sauce, scallion and cucumber. There is no comparison! The pork belly was rendered so well that its unctuousness just melted in your mouth. The flavors were nicely infused into the meat and the buns weren’t too thick and of a good consistency. Fantastic!

Brisket Rice Cakes ($14) is a take on the Korean dish ddukboggi but instead of a spicy sauce, Swiss chard, pickle salad and a runny fried egg is incorporated with chunks of fried rice cakes. I had two complaints regarding this dish — one, it needed heat which the hot sauce they provide you with did the trick. Two, not every piece of rice cake was fried throughout to give it that crunchy texture, but when I did get one with the right crispiness, it was divine!

Sadly, the Momofuku Ramen ($16) was very disappointing. I was expecting it to blow me away because I was at “the noodle bar”, but the broth was average. Toppings included tender pork belly, shredded pork shoulder, a soft poached egg, slices of kamaboku (fish cake), and a generous handful of scallions. Though ample, the condiments couldn’t make up for the fact that the noodles were just the generic kind — didn’t taste handmade or anything.

From one Momofuku to another, the Milk Bar was something quite unique and interesting. I was blown away by the rice milk soft serve and the green apple and cheddar soft serve.

I like eating foods like this — something that blows your mind and throws it for a loop. This was essentially ice cream I was eating, but the taste of malted cereal and the tart crisp apple with a salty cheddar finish just made me grin from ear to ear!

Then there was the Crack Pie which didn’t look like anything much but tasted like pecan pie. When eaten together with the apple cheddar soft serve, it enhanced the apple flavors and completely masked the cheddar all together.

It was so weird but not to be missed if you want a palate blowing out of body experience. The Milk Bar is definitely a seriously fun tasting adventure.

238 E 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 646-669-8889

Baohaus  on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 212-777-7773

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Milk Bar
251 E 13th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 347-660-6658

Momofuku Milk Bar on Urbanspoon