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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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a re-visit to Dominique’s Kitchen

It’s been more than six months since we last visited Dominique’s Kitchen. It had left such an impact on my son that he wanted to go there for his birthday, so we made the drive to Redondo Beach and re-visited the little French bistro we were so enamored with so many months ago.

The menu remains the same, with several specials available the evening of our visit. We were eager to try some new things as well as some my son was anticipating again.

Our server aptly repeated the specials of the evening and we decide on the Seafood Trio ($9.99), comprising marinated white anchovies, octopus, and mussels. Every dish is prepared well, the seafood perfectly executed, tender and not chewy. I especially loved the white anchovies with a lovely vinegary finish.

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Another special of the evening was Pork Rillettes ($4.99) which Chef Dominique is extremely adept at. In fact, get any of the pates or rillettes and you won’t be disappointed.

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Soup of the Day ($3.99) was lobster bisque and seeing it is one of the birthday boy’s favorites, we had to order it. Absolutely delicious! Creamy with bits of lobster floating within the rich, flavorful soup. I can’t believe how reasonably priced it is.

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French Onion Soup ($6.99) is one of my personal favorites so I thought we should try it. I really loved the robust nature of the broth and the well-caramelized onions. However, there was way too much bread which soaked up a lot of the broth and made it too doughy and goopey especially with the amount of cheese used.

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Another of the boy’s favorite is Escargot ($9.99) and he was quite specific this was what he was coming for. Classic baked snails in garlic and butter is executed well. They are tender and not at all rubbery. When you are done, dip some bread into the sauce so not to waste it.

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Spicy Lamb Sausage ($5.99) is something we’ve had before and loved. The sausage is made in-house and possesses good texture and flavors. Served with organic quinoa tossed with mint, raisins and almonds, I am always surprised when I enjoy this because I do not usually care for sweet in my savory dishes.

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We decide to break up the flavor profiles by selecting Californian Goat Cheese ($4.99) next. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. Goat cheese is not something I am particularly fond of because often, it can be pungent with strong gamey, grassy notes. This goat cheese from James Farms is subtle and very creamy. Add to that the honey and crunchy almonds, it becomes a perfect start or midway break between dishes.

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Our final dish of Lamb Chops ($21.99) is generous and laden with a gorgeous roasted garlic and thyme au jus. It is savory and pairs exquisitely with creamy polenta. In fact, I would have liked more of it! A stellar entree selection executed immaculately.

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Dominique and his wife Liza should be very proud of their neighborhood eatery. It is quaint, cozy, and a perfect example of what a French bistro should be. The menu is solid and prices so reasonable. My only complaint is that they are so far from me. Still, I hope to visit twice a year to see what Chef Dominique is up to. If I don’t remember to do so, I know my son will bug me enough that we will! He loves this place!

Dominique’s Kitchen
522 Pacific Coast Hwy
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Tel: 424-247-9054

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La Terasse & AIXimia winery — Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Another trip down to Mexico, this time to Valle de Guadalupe where a unique winery sits in the middle of nowhere like a flying saucer which has landed from space. I am here to visit AIXimia Winery with a group of food and travel writers and the newly opened La Terrasse San Roman restaurant, right on the vineyard’s premises.

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As our van stops in front of this architectural beauty, we notice some beautiful horses in the pastures greeting our arrival.

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The brainchild of Manuel Alvarez and his brother, vintner Alvaro Alvarez, a mathematician-turned-winemaker, AIXimia is a three-story circular building, an architectural anomaly of sorts. Its incredible beauty is awe-inspiring with its cathedral-like ceilings and soothing color-schemes. My photos do not do it justice, but I hope you will get an idea of how captivating it is.

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We start from the top, where the selection and de-stemming process of the grapes begin. Then, they travel to the second floor, for the fermentation process, then, to the bottom floor where they are aged in French oak barrels before finally, being bottled. The entire space can be experienced from up top, and it is a sight like no other.DSC04084

AIXimia stems from the alchemy of the combination of various elements in our universe. To reflect this, each bottle of wine — there are 10 — are all named for an element of nature. The labels display Gaia (mother Earth), Magma (molten rock beneath the Earth’s surface), Helios (sun) and Aqua (water), each significant when you put it all into perspective.

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After our tour, we sit down to a meal at the newly opened La Terrasse San Roman restaurant, by Chef Martin San Roman. It is al fresco dining at its best. A view of the sprawling vineyard serves as a backdrop for our lunch as we sipped on some selections from the winery.

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Chef Martin’s cuisine is French Mexican, and when our duo of appetizers arrive, it was quite evident. Tartin de Ratatouille y Parmesano (60 pesos/appr $4.60 a la carte) is a “tart” topped with a ratatouille of roasted French vegetables, fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese.

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Another, not on the menu, is a tartare of some sort, but we were not sure what sort of fish is used. Nevertheless, it is lovely.

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There is green salsa, smoky and spicy. We eat it up so quickly I had to ask for more.

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Carpaccio de Betabel Local (50 pesos/appr $3.90 a la carte) is a salad of fresh roasted beets, sliced paper thin and topped with capers, onions and basil. Resembling a beef carpaccio, it is a delightful dish vegetarians can enjoy. In fact, there are quite a few dishes suited for vegetarians at La Terrasse.

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I think if there is one dish we are all in agreement with is Ensalada de Nopales al Carbón (120 pesos/appr $9.25 a la carte). Everyone relished this flavor-packed skillet of Spanish sausage, fresh grilled cactus, tomatoes, onions and cilantro marinated in olive oil. The cactus is prepared well, not too soft, but gives way when you bite into it. The sausage is absolutely delicious, adding a beautiful saltiness to the mix.

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A beautifully plated Pierna de Cerdo al Horno (190 pesos/$14.65 a la carte) arrives next. The pork has been marinated in natural hibiscus and red wine and braised confit style before it is grilled on wood. The result is a richly flavored dish comprising traces of wine and a hint of tartness from the hibiscus.

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My favorite item of the meal is a simple dish called Lomo de Atun (500 pesos/$38.50). A one pound slab of tuna is grilled, brought to the table on a hibachi.

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The lightly seared tuna is perfectly rare on the inside and dipped in the lemon aioli sauce, is one of the best things I’ve eaten. Simple, fresh, and absolutely stunning. The menu says this item is meant for two people to share, but honestly, I could probably eat it all myself.

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Our meal ends with a sweet pastry filled with fruit. I apologize I do not have a description for it.

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If you are a wine aficionado, AIXimia Winery is a must stop. If you a foodie as well, then this is the perfect place for you. Take some time with the wines tasting the wines, then, sit down and enjoy a meal by Chef Martin. It is definitely worth it.

AIXimia Winery/La Terrasse San Roman
Km.3 the tiger country road (next ranch El Parral)
Valle de Guadalupe
Baja California, Mexico. CP 22766
Tel: Outside of Mexico 521 (646) 947-5256

The Republique of belly busting goodness

I’ve been wanting to visit Walter Manzke’s Republique ever since it opened. In fact, I wanted to visit the minute I found out about it, and that was a while ago when we were dining at Petty Cash and Chef Manzke stopped by our table for a minute to chat and told us about it — his family was eating at the next table. Many of my friends have dined there and I have heard nothing but praises for its libations and its menu.

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We arrived about 30 minutes after the restaurant opened on a Saturday night. We had no reservations and decided to wing it. Luckily, we were seated right away in the front of the restaurant against the window parallel to the bar. It was a good seat, a perfect vantage point for me to people watch. The restaurant is stunning with cathedral-high ceilings and seems to sprawl well on into the far back.

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I love the homage to Marco Pierre White, the original celebrity chef and enfant terrible (bad boy) of the culinary world — way before Gordon Ramsey or Anthony Bourdain made it fashionable.

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Our server Rosie was absolutely delightful. I had a lot of questions and she answered everything she could. Whatever stumped her, she immediately went to seek out answers.

We started with the essential cocktail, a Whiskey Fix ($12) comprising lemon, berries and rye whiskey. It was refreshing and not harsh at all which is really surprising. Even I liked it. If you prefer wine, there is an extensive wine list and there is a sommelier available to help you out if you’re unsure of what to select.

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The breads here are simply incredible. Complimentary baguette is brought to the table on a wooden block with butter. However, I highly suggest ordering the Normandy Butter ($5) as well as a side of Wood Oven Pan Drippings ($5) which arrives in a baby Staub cast iron cocotte. Be careful when you lift the lid as it is still steaming.

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The butter is creamy, thick, salty, everything I want butter to be. We slather it onto the warm baguette slices and watch it sink into the bread, melting into the crevices, before devouring it. The pan drippings are a whole ‘nother story. Dotted with bits of onion, this is what dreams are made of — well, MY dreams anyway. We went through the initial baguette, PLUS two more refills and we still could not finish all the drippings and butter on the board. This is definitely worth the 10 dollars, and I highly recommend it especially if you love good bread.

If you’re a Charcuterie aficionado, definitely order a board ($28/or $7pp) as everything is made in-house (I can see the meats hanging from where I’m sitting). It is simply breathtaking and absolute debauchery!

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If you’ve been to Chef Manzke’s Petty Cash, you will understand the concept of this next dish. Chips & Dip ($14) is Tasmanian sea trout tartare cubes topped over essentially what we know as raita (cucumber, mint, yogurt, cumin seed). But the best part is the cone of crispy pork rinds sprinkled with espelette pepper, za’atar and salt to use as your “chips”. At Petty Cash, Chef Manzke offers them with a guacamole topped with uni. It is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

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On the topic of uni, Manzke is a man after my own heart. His love of uni is possibly equal to mine. Therefore, when I scanned through the menu and did not see any uni in sight, I was perplexed, but also, disappointed. Turns out, the restaurant did not receive any uni shipment the day of our visit and therefore, no uni was offered. Guess I’ll have to make another trip.

Eggs on Toast ($11) typically with uni on top of scrambled eggs is instead substituted with smoked yellowtail and a disc of breakfast radish. This might be my least favorite dish of the night. Perhaps it was my pre-conceived notion of it having uni on top, but nevertheless, it was the only item I wasn’t excited about.

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If you happen to see Charcoal-Grilled Santa Barbara Spot Prawns ($16 each), order it. The tender flesh almost melts in you mouth and I can’t stop myself from sucking on the head for every drop of the shrimp tomalley (it is actually hepatopancreas in shrimp but tomalley sounds so much better) I am able to find. The corn, peaches and peanut accoutrements are surprisingly well-paired albeit, the Thai curry was a tad on the mild side making it difficult to detect.

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Crispy Fried Maryland Soft Shell Crab ($26) is possibly the priciest soft shell crab I have ever eaten. The crab is perfectly crispy accompanied by a Santa Rosa plum sauce, blistered green beans, slivers of garlic and julienned ginger. There is chile, but not enough to cause much damage. It is delicious, possessing familiar flavors of Asian cuisine.

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We finish with Spaghetti Rustichella: Carbonara ($19) style. The noodles are sublime, perfectly seasoned and unctuous on the palate. Unfortunately, the bits of pancetta are fatty and gristly. We move them to the side and polish off all the pasta.

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The restaurant becomes extremely loud as the evening goes by. The hoards of thoroughfare going through the bar area is frustrating. There is little space for people to hover — yet they do — while trying to snag a bar seat as soon as someone vacates their spot. It reminds me of dim sum in Asia where people are waiting for you to finish eating so they can take your table.

If you are unlucky enough to sit with your back against the bar, it will be inevitable that you’ll be knocked about by passersby who are trying to squeeze between you and the lingerers. There just isn’t enough room for so many people to be in one area without strangers touching you for no reason. My suggestion? Make a reservation and ask not to be seated by the bar.

Republique
624 S La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: 310-362-6115

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incredible fare at Pinot Provence

It saddens me to see how empty Pinot Provence is on the evening of our visit. I’ve always loved this restaurant, the service, its menu, albeit the decor is dated and in dire need of a make-over. However, I don’t need decor to enjoy great food and Executive Chef Alfonso Ramirez definitely excels in this department.

On Thursdays, a Chef’s Market Tasting Menu is offered and it changes according to availability at the farmers’ markets weekly. We decide to partake on this as well as eat those delicious Buffalo-style Frog Legs ($9/$5 on Fridays) I had sampled months ago. Only offered on the happy hour menu, which starts at 4pm, I was afraid we had missed happy hour when we arrived, but was thrilled to find out it goes all night long. These tender frog legs are subtly coated with buffalo dressing, allowing the tender frog legs to shine without being overpowered. The accompanying blue cheese dressing is airy, foamy and irresistible. I wanted to take it home, pour it all over mashed potatoes and eat it up — ask for more, they’ll bring you some!

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While perusing the happy hour menu, we spotted several other items we wanted to try. Escargot Provencal ($9) is one. Garlic, diced tomatoes, bread crumbs all play a part in seasoning, but it is the delicate snail which I taste. I would totally order this again.

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Asparagus Gratin ($9) is simple yet filled with bold flavors. A fried egg oozes over the asparagus adding a layer of richness, while toasted brown butter bread crumbs provide a texture contrast. The bits of frico (cheese crisps) topping the asparagus is to-die-for and I could have eaten a plate of it easily.

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Who can resist Truffle Mac n Cheese ($6) and the one here is unique using orecchiette pasta, and possessing only a hint of truffle. The beauty of Chef Alfonso’s cuisine is his balance of flavors, never allowing one ingredient to overpower another, creating a harmony in each bite.

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Moving on to our Chef’s Market Tasting Menu ($75/person, +$40 wine pairing), first course of Asparagus Buttermilk Vichyssoise with burrata and pea shoots is old school with a modern twist. Micro-greens and ribbons of shaved asparagus over a dollop of lemon oil infused burrata is gentle doused in a bath of lusciously silky liquid. Rich on the palate but essentially, very light and immensely gratifying.

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Fresh Cucumber Taziki is a salad of cucumbers both shaved and in chunks. Tossed with lime, crushed pistachios, dill, coriander seeds in a citrusy vinaigrette, it is a great refreshing palate cleanser in between courses.

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I was a little skeptical when I saw Halibut on the menu. It is not a fish I generally order, but I should have been more trusting in Chef Alfonso’s abilities. The halibut is perfectly poached, then finished in the pan creating a beautiful crust. It is paired with carrots three-ways: braised carrots, carrot hummus — a little heavy on the cumin for the delicate fish — and shaved carrots. I especially loved the green olive tomato relish, sauce vierge and pesto accoutrements.

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However, the Venison was the piece de resistence of the evening. The perfectly executed piece of meat, at a medium rare temperature, was so tender we thought was sous vide, but after asking Chef Alfonso, found out that he is not a fan of sous vide (yet another reason why I love the guy). He said “I’m old school!”

The accompanying carrot-infused steel oats were addicting, albeit, a little sweet for the mild venison. Ramps, fava, and a violet mustard of shallot, garlic, olive oil agrodolce rounded the dish off smashingly.

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To finish off, we enjoyed the really delightful Smores! A milk chocolate chantilly dessert coated with marshmallow fluff which is then torched, and served with graham crumble and chocolate pop rocks. The pop rocks are so much fun I keep picking them out and giggling at the sensation they made in my mouth!

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Today is Thursday so make your way to Pinot Provence tonight for the Chef’s Market Tasting Menu. You won’t regret it!

Pinot Provence
686 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-444-5900

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new dishes at Anepalco’s Cafe are a huge hit

One of my favorite restaurants in Orange County is Anepalco’s Cafe, and if you haven’t been there yet, then you’re missing out on one of the culinary experiences of your life. Chef Daniel Godinez is a creative genius, combining his French training with his Mexican roots for some of the most innovative and delicious items you’ll ever taste.

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I love the dinners at the Chapman location and Chef Daniel launched a new menu recently with some mind-blowingly crazy palate popping dishes. Some old favorites remain and I’m sure if he tried to remove those would create a furor among his fiercely loyal customers.

One of my favorite new items is Pambazo Ahi Crudo ($10) a piece of ciabatta bread soaked in a Guajillo chile infused sauce before it is topped with avocado puree, sushi grade ahi tuna, serrano chile, fresh lime juice, red radish and micro cilantro. The flavors make my head spin and I literally have to close my eyes to savor every moment of this before my son devours what I’m not quick enough to put in my mouth.

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Pork Belly Tacos ($9) is a version of a style of tacos Chef Daniel remembers eating after late nights of partying in Mexico. These tortillas hechas a mano — hand made tortillas — are square and served with a house made salsa, red onions topped with micro cilantro. The pork belly is crispy and unctuous at the same time and is absolutely a delight to eat.

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Meat lovers can try the Aladobo ($18.50) an 8oz all natural sirloin culotte steak topped with chimichurri sauce with a mini portion of their famous chilaquiles alongside.

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Chile Negro ($16) is a pumped up version of a chile relleno (well, at least to me). An Ancho chile is filled with all natural Arrachera steak and sits on top of arroz verde topped with red radish and micro cilantro. Soooooo good!!!

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My favorite things to eat at Anepalco’s is seafood and Huachinago ($18.75) is to-die-for. Perfectly cooked red snapper, oh so tender and melt-in-your-mouth is served with purple cauliflower, sauteed corn with an Aztec jus. I’m salivating just remembering it.

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For a taste of both meat and seafood, Surf & Turf ($19) will offer you pork belly, scallops with green potato puree, quail eggs and salsa de Almendras. I don’t know what everything is, but it all comes together so beautifully!

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To be honest, Chef Daniel can put unspeakable roadkill in front of me and I’ll probably eat it without question. I trust him implicitly when he presents me with something to eat — he has never steered me wrong. His cuisine does indeed reign supreme and I’m an avid fan! The dinners are incredible and if you’ve only experienced breakfast/brunch at Anepalco’s, I think it’s time to go back and try the dinners!!

Anepalco’s Cafe
3737 W Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA 92868
Tel: 714-456-9642

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