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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fall menu items at Fig & Olive

Each season, Fig & Olive features new menu items reflecting the abundance of the new bounty. The food has always been safe, staying within the confines of what Newport Beach will accept. For me, it is a tad boring and never has that “wow-factor”, but that’s changed with the launch of some fall menu items this week.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by the flavor profiles in the new dishes. As always, crostinis are a signature item at Fig & Olive and with the new season, there are new offerings.  Crostini Trio ($12) started the meal:

Grilled Vegetable crostini was rather tasty. The vibrant use of colorful vegetables made this a feast for the eyes as well. The crostini is first smeared with ricotta and olive tapenade before it is topped with an assortment of grilled vegetables.

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Heirloom Carrot crostini with charmoula and carrot tapenade was another delight. In fact, I loved the vegan and vegetarian offerings most the season. The carrot puree is delectably smooth and various forms of carrots provide nice textural balance to this item.

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Pata Negra crostini is always a favorite (even though the other two options won hands down this time around) with the ever so delicious jamon Iberico as the centerpiece. The blend of tomato and peach adds both tartness and sweetness to each bite while parmesan and ricotta gives a salty rich finish to the crostini.

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Each season, I find a favorite salad at Fig & Olive, usually having burrata as one of its components. The Heirloom Baby Beet & Burrata ($16) is the current winner. A generous serving of lusciously creamy burrata is surrounded by red, golden and candy stripe beets. A few slivers of mandarin oranges add some fresh citrus hints to the dish.

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If you’re at Fig & Olive for lunch, I highly suggest indulging in the Maine Lobster Roll ($17 not available for dinner). Your sandwich will include grilled lobster tails enveloped between a thyme brioche bun. The accoutrements for the sandwich includes apple, celery root, harissa and a lot more. Each bite is heavenly because the plump chunks of lobster are abundant and each bite will leave you feeling more than satisfied.

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If you’re looking for something light, definitely choose the Mediterranean Branzino ($29).  The fish is moist and flaky with accompanying flavors including fig and 18-yr-old balsamic vinegar. The mashed potato is unique in that olive oil replaces butter and cream. An absolutely savory dish without the extra calories.

DSC05023My past visits to Fig & Olive have always been filled with hits and misses. I’m happy to say this is one where every dish has exceeded its expectation and I look forward to returning again for the lobster roll.

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

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spring menu at A Restaurant + Mother’s Day brunch

Even though I posted about A Restaurant not so long ago, I wanted to showcase its new spring menu which is now available. To me, Jon Blackford is a chef who has all the talent in the world, is a crazy great cook and everyone needs to know that! I still can’t believe it when people tell me they’ve not been to A Restaurant.

The spring menu has some absolutely delicious dishes, all made from scratch. I highly recommend Spring Garlic and Wine Sausage ($12) a house-made sausage using the seasonal garlic which has just sprung and not as pungent as “old garlic”. Served with an herb spaetzle, charred cabbage and mustard emulsion, this was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. The sausage has perfect texture with a beautiful crunchy exterior and flavors are wonderfully robust.

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Even though meat is generally the highlight of a meal at A Restaurant, I believe the seafood also shines here. You won’t see me ordering halibut usually at a restaurant because often, it tends to run more on the overcooked side. But Chef Blackford is a master at his craft and Alaskan Halibut ($34) was prepared to perfection, not the least bit overdone at all. Tender, flaky fish, seasoned perfectly with well paired accoutrements such as scallion, mustard, asparagus, oyster mushrooms and black garlic come together creating a perfect plate.

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Ironically, another protein I don’t usually order is pork so I was amazed by the Niman Ranch Pork Tenderloin ($26) served alongside crispy pork belly pieces for incredible texture contrast. Green garlic pierogi is interesting and brings Chef Blackford’s childhood to the fore. The use of chervil is delightful as it is not a readily found herb on most restaurants’ menus.

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The piece de resistance of meals at A Restaurant is almost always, a perfectly executed piece of meat. Imperial Wagyu Strip grade 9-10 8oz ($80) is a stellar dish which I recommend sharing, especially if you’re sharing appetizers as well. Whenever I’ve dined here, we’ve asked for steaks to be sliced before being brought to table. This way, we can all enjoy without overindulging. Chefs who are able to season a piece of meat correctly always have my utmost respect. You’d be surprised how often I am presented with a piece of under-seasoned steak.

This Sunday, a special three-course prix fixe Mother’s Day brunch will be offered from 11am to 2.30pm. The regular dinner menu will be available from 4pm to 8pm. The brunch is $40 per person and $25 per child under 8 years old (excluding tax and gratuity), check out the menus below.

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I urge you all to make your reservations now for a taste of Chef Blackford’s ingenuity!

A Restaurant
3334 W Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Tel: 949-650-6505

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Fig & Olive spring menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

salmon tartine

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

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

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

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

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Tommy Bahama’s Fish Fridays + giveaway

It’s been a while since I last dined at Tommy Bahama Island Grille. I love the tropical atmosphere and on this day, we opted to sit out on the patio to take advantage of the glorious day we were having here in southern California. The cool breeze made for a very leisurely afternoon indeed. The restaurant has launched Fish Fridays which offers an array of fish dishes for lent and will run until April 18th.

Even though it was lunch, we decided to have a drink because it was just too beautiful a day not to. Raspberries & Rye ($12) with Old Overholt, orange, lime, orange bitters, fresh muddled raspberries was fruity yet strong at the same time. If you like rye whiskey, this is the drink for you. I, on the other hand, loved the Mango Habanero Margarita ($12) complete with Milagro Silver, orange Curacao, mango, scratch sour, habanero and Hellfire Habanero Shrub. Fruity and spicy! Right up my alley.

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If you’re looking for good fish and chips, the one here is stellar but you’ll have to visit on a Friday for this. Stone IPA Battered True Cod Fish & Chips ($18) has really fresh fish pieces dipped in batter and served small enough to eat by hand. The fish is moist and flaky and the batter is seasoned well. Served with a Oaxacan chili vinegar, it was a perfect accompaniment, a Callifornian version of malt vinegar, if you will. The jerk seasoned fries were so addicting we couldn’t stop eating them.

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New Zealand Green Lip Mussels ($16) was incredible and I’m so happy this will be served every single day until the end of the month! Perfectly tender and wonderfully plump, the mussels were spot on in texture and flavor. The miso broth, with hints of tarragon was so umami-filled if was difficult to not fight for every last drop of that broth. I dipped the accompanying garlic grilled baguette into it and left the plate clean.

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I was surprised to see such a generous portion when the Blackened Fish Tacos ($16.50) arrived. I’ve never had these before even though it’s a permanent item on the menu. Topped with a tomato relish, chipotle aioli, lime sour cream and a refreshing Asian slaw, I could only eat 2 of these tacos if I ate nothing else. The tortilla is a special blend of flour and corn giving it a really unique chewy texture. A side of mango salsa adds a sweet tart finish to these awesome tacos.

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Another great fish dish is the Teriyaki Grilled Steelhead Salmon ($24). I loved the citrus soy dressing which looked like it could be too sweet, but I was happy to find that it was salty tart. The baby pea sprout salad was very creative as was the baby bok choy which add more greens but in a unique way to go low carb. This will also be available every single day before they take them off the menu! The mussels are calling my name!

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One of the dessert specials was Hawaiian Malasadas ($6), sugar-coated doughnuts served with a tropical fruit curd. The tart curd was heavy on passionfruit flavors which made us very happy. This was indeed the ideal way to finish an absolutely delightful lunch al fresco!

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Tommy Bahama is offering one of my readers a $100 giftcard to go check them out. Leave me a comment and tell me how you will be celebrating with your giftcard to be entered in this giveaway. Entries close on Sunday 23rd. Good Luck!

Tommy Bahama Island Grille
854 Avocado Avenue
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-760-8686

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The Sliding Door is a must try!

I love a tale of fate and karma, one of those “it was meant to be” stories where the universe conspires to get you to the place you’re supposed to be even if it means decades later. That’s what happened with the owners of The Sliding Door Cafe & Bakery. When Catherine Del Casale (one half of Off The Menu blog) told me the story of co-owners Kevin Cahalan and his fiancee, Natalie Sarle, I was intrigued, yet not surprised by how “if you’re meant to be, you’re meant to be” came into play here.

The two were in 9th grade together, went on one date at a roller skating rink, and nothing came out of it, that is, until 30 years later, when they reconnected online and six months after that, they were engaged.

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Kevin is also the restaurant’s Chef and his resume is an impressive one, having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park and worked alongside some of culinary’s best, including Bradley Ogden and Wolfang Puck. Then, the native New Yorker relocated to southern California from Long Island, to be with his sweetheart Natalie, and as they say, the rest is history!

I couldn’t stop thinking about The Sliding Door after Catherine’s story and how much she loves the food, so much she’s been back numerous times. I then bumped into her Off The Menu partner in crime, Christopher Trela, and mentioned to him about it and before long, he had planned a gathering of people to go try out this place.

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I was immediately enamored by this cozy spot located in Balboa Village, only a few doors down from one of our favorites — Mint Leaf Thai. The cafe exudes a charming ambiance with a secluded alcove perfect for romantic dinners.

Sure, I like cute decor like everyone else, but I was here for the food and our table soon was filled with plates of beautifully plated dishes waiting to be devoured. Goat Cheese Fritters ($12) were delightfully crispy on the outside with a lovely soft filling. The goat cheese is subtle and the chili aioli dipping sauce mild and flavorful. They were scorching hot even after many of us had taken photos. Delicious!

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I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a Lobster Mac n Cheese ($13) and many places in OC feature it on their menu. The one here comprises four different cheeses: aged cheddar, provolone, Jack and smoked gouda tossed with fusilli. The sauce is rich and gooey, the chunks of lobster ample. I especially liked the crunchy breadcrumb topping which added a nice textural component to the dish.

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I’m a HUGE fan of scallops so when Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallops ($28) was brought out, I knew I had to get to it STAT! I was even more tickled when I saw Israeli cous cous as an accompaniment along with bacon, winter squash and mushrooms. The scallops were flawlessly prepared, tender and absolutely exquisite. Yes, I was very happy!

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I don’t think anyone really understands how thrilled I am to see Brick Grilled Chicken ($21) on the menu. Three to four years ago, brick chicken was everywhere! Restaurants were embracing this dish left right and center. Then, all of a sudden, it disappeared. At Last Cafe in Long Beach is one of the few still offering it, and rightfully so since they were one of the first to put it on the menu and it has become their signature dish.

Chef Kevin’s brick chicken is delicious. Perfectly seasoned and prepared, the chicken is moist and so tasty. It is accompanied by truffled mashed potatoes, broccoli rabe, root vegetables in a green peppercorn jus. I would come back for this alone! 

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Non-meat eaters are not forgotten here. Carrot Ginger Risotto ($24) is a creamy blend of pecorino, romano and parmesan cheese with al dente rice dotted with bits of sweet carrots and exotic mushrooms. I really love Chef Kevin’s liberal use of mushrooms — my fave — in his dishes, especially the King trumpet variety!

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The next two dishes are not usually what I would choose when dining out, but they were both impressive. Seared Scottish Salmon ($26) possessed an incredibly crispy skin with unctuous melt-in-your-mouth fish. I loved the use of lentils and cauliflower puree as accoutrements and didn’t expect for red cabbage to work but it did!

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Cabernet Braised Short Ribs ($22) was hearty and robust in flavor. Creamy polenta with seasonal vegetables enveloped with a natural reduction, I was shocked I liked it — a lot!. I usually dislike short ribs because most chefs cannot execute it faultlessly, certainly not the case here! The piece of meat was tender and beyond compare, just superb.

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If you’re a fan of lamb like I am, Grilled Lamb Rib Eye ($32) is a must try. Cooked to an immaculate medium rare, the tender discs of meat sits on top of a bed of basil almond wild rice, haricot verts (green beans), carrots and a top-notch cabernet mint jelly. Between this and the chicken, it’s going to be difficult to choose!

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Chef Kevin also makes all of his desserts ($8). We shared Chocolate Truffle Fudge Cake, Chocolate Walnut Spice Tart with Chinese five spice, White Chocolate Cinnamon Bread Pudding, Cream Cheese Carrot Cake and New York Style Cheesecake. The latter two were my favorites, especially the cheesecake!

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I’m so excited that it’s only March and I’ve already found a few really noteworthy restaurants, so good they will make it on to my “best of” list at the end of the year. If The Sliding Door continues to produce food like this, it might even be nominated at that award ceremony happening end September!

The Sliding Door & Cafe
704 East Balboa Blvd
Newport Beach, CA 92661
Tel: 949-673-7173

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