Grassroots dining at The Ecology Center

When people say farm-to-table, it isn’t always how I imagine it to be. After all, where else would restaurants be acquiring their ingredients from if not from a farm? But the steps in which it actually arrives to the table is another story in itself. This is why the meal events at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano are so incredibly meaningful because a farm-to-table meal here is really that — from the farm to the table.

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I recently experienced the Tuscan Brunch of Late Summer Vegetables & Cook Pigs’ Pork ($55) by Chef Ryan Wilson of Five Crowns and SideDoor fame, and his wife Nikki who is currently at Studio at the Montage. We are welcomed by Evan Marks, Founder and Executive Director of The Ecology Center, who gives us background information of the meal we are about to embark upon. Included are the farms from which all the ingredients have been sourced from, mostly, within 100 miles of Orange County.

I loved the interactive nature of the brunch. We see Chef Nikki at the earthen oven baking the meal’s starters: Baskets of Lungo Bianco Squash Muffins and Fresh Tigelle which is served with cultured Butter whipped with OC Honey.

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Our primi course of Ribolita da Delfina of Summer Shelling Beans (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) is a perfect brunch item for everyone since it is vegetarian offering. The pattie is dotted with dandelion greens and pumpkin topped with runny fried eggs. The early girl tomatoes conserva brings an element of freshness to this hearty start.

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The secondi, or main course of the meal comes in the form of a duo of pork beginning with Porchetta da Panzano, which Chef Ryan has executed to perfection! The skin is crispy, while the meat is moist and well seasoned.

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The second pork item was Salsiccia di Maiale (photo courtesy of Aubrey Devin) is a home-made sausage using Heritage pigs from Cook Pigs Ranch located 90 miles away in Julian.

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Of course, a meal isn’t complete without some sides. Ceci Beans all’Uccelletto (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) is a chickpea gratin offering the ‘starch’ element of the meal.

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Braised Greens (photo courtesy of Aubrey Devin) was possibly my favorite of the two sides, nicely wilted and a good complement to the porchetta.

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In Italy, they eat salad after the entree, not before, so it was refreshing to see Chef Ryan stay true to the authenticity of the Italian brunch by serving Puntarelle (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) after the entree course.

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We finished with Chef Nikki’s Marinated Champagne Grapes & Fresh Figs (photo courtesy of Austin Trask) served with a Californian zabaglione accompanied by fennel & almond biscotti. Zabaglione — or sabayon — is one of two desserts I adore so it isn’t surprising that I relished it completely. The use of seasonal grapes and figs creates a refreshing and light end to the meal.

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The next food-related event at The Ecology Center will be “Fresh Holiday Cooking” on Nov 19th at 6pm. This Farm to Fork adult series of cooking classes emphasizes the journey real food takes from seed to plate—beginning with an exploration of the orchard, vegetable, and herb gardens, and ending with the preparation of a meal. For this event, Chef Linda Elbert will celebrate the holidays and give thanks to the garden! Learn skills, tools & techniques for preparing healthy Thanksgiving side dishes using fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden.

The Ecology Center
32701 Alipaz St
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Tel: 949-443-4223

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the long awaited supper of the year

Last summer, I was invited to a luncheon on the Edwards Ranch Estates, owned by Andrew Edwards, the man behind The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim. It was the media event of the year and I couldn’t stop talking about it. Several months later, I celebrated my birthday at the restaurant and soon after, it was no surprise they made it onto my top 10 pick of 2012.

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Since then, I have been patiently anticipating this annual farm-to-table event, and a couple of weekends ago, that day arrived! The weather cooperated this year. Instead of the unbearable heat of last year, we were graced with cool conditions and an overcast sky, perfect for a tour around the farm before sitting down for the incredible meal ahead.

Master sommelier Michael Jordan led us on an exclusive tour, around the grounds, featuring a host of tomato varietals as well as other fruits and vegetables customers dine on every night at the restaurant.

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As we made our way back to take our seats at the table, I sneaked back to catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes magical prowess of Executive Chef Michael Rossi and his team. This setup is nothing like the state-of-the-art kitchen they cook in every night at the restaurant. It is no easy feat to create an exquisite feast for 40 people around familiar surroundings, but here, they are only equipped with the basics — some burners and fryers under a makeshift tent.

The first dish to grace our table was Grilled Peaches, something I recall from last year’s spectacular meal. La Quercia Speck, Di Stefano Burrata, wild arugula and lemon verbena honey shared space with the intense sweetness of the peaches.

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I had to mentally remind myself not to take a second helping because I knew there would be tons of food coming. When the second dish arrived, there were oooos and ahhhs across the table. Home Made Charcuterie consisted of everything house-made. The beautiful pickled farm vegetables are all — you guessed it — fresh from the farm and are still crunchy with the perfect balance of acidity.

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The charcuterie included Andouille Sausage, Garden Vegetable Terrine, Applewood Smoked Ham, Country Pate, Truffled Chicken Liver Mousse, Rabbit Rillette, Duck Pastrami, and although everything was delicious, my favorites were the latter three. The richness of the mousse was undeniably addicting, while rabbit rillette was simply sublime.

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The second course was a Chilled Cucumber Soup which I also remember from last year. A tender piece of hot smoked Skuna Bay salmon sits in a bath of the delicate soup, never overpowering the simple nuances of the other.

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The beauty of fresh tomatoes can only be rivaled by its taste. What better way to showcase Heirloom Tomatoes than to allow them to shine on their own? A touch of Maldon sea salt with a drizzle of Napa Valley olive oil were all these lovelies needed. Each variety has its own distinctive aromas and textures which you have to experience on your own. No description can do this justice.

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I’m a huge fan of beets and Farm Beets was right up my alley. There were several different types of beets, tossed with Lola Rosa lettuce, watercress, red flame grapes, Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese and farm Valencia oranges. The different textures melded together for that perfect mouthful of sweet, tart and salty.

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I love the restaurant’s Muscovy duck confit and when I saw this on the menu, my eyes lit up. Tempura Squash Blossom Filled with Muscovy Duck Confit was a different take on the duck I’m used to. The meat is shredded and stuffed into tender squash blossoms and lightly fried. If the blossoms were meant as a vehicle to hold the confit, then it served its purpose. As two equal accompaniments, the fragile flower was overpowered by the robust nature of the duck.

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But that was not all. Under these was a concoction of garbanzo beans, zucchini, eggplant, spring onions in the form of a ragu. How could vegetables be this tantalizing? I couldn’t stop eating it! The little pods of vegetables were braised in a rich duck reduction and decadent enough as a meal of its own. It blew me away and you know it takes a lot to impress me!

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One of my all-time favorites is Country Fried Petaluma Quail and Chef Rossi admits it is one he is not able to take off the menu for fear of customer riots. Once you have a taste, you will understand why. Boneless quail pieces are lightly battered with bits of farm dried sage for a heady and tasty finish. The fowl is oh so juicy and tender making it difficult for me to stop at just one piece. The accompanying fingerling potatoes with home made agave mustard and warm BBQ bacon dressing are good accoutrements, but I didn’t need any of it since the quail is always my shining star.

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A new addition this year was Asparagus Cavatelli, (found on the restaurant’s tasting menu) with a home-made pork sausage with Calabrian chile, yellow squash and ricotta salata in a light broth packed with umami. The cavatelli pasta made in-house is perfectly al-dente and with the flavor-filled broth, I didn’t even need any of the other accompaniments to make this one of my new favorites.

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It is hard to believe that after all that we’ve eaten, we’re only a little over half way done. At this point, Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi graces us with a palate cleanser of Compressed Farm Melons in a Valencia orange soup. Refreshing citrus and nectar-sweet melons meld together resulting in a creation I am happy to end my meal with, but wait….. there’s more!

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My stomach is whispering “no more”, but my mouth salivates at the sight of Certified Sustainable Chilean Sea Bass. Michael Jordan, announces we do not have to finish this entree size portion of melt-in-your-mouth sea bass, but seriously? The Maine lobster risotto it was resting on proved to be my weakness. Dotted with farm English peas and farm spinach, I took a deep breath and managed to savor most of it. Unfortunately, I was only able to put away a third of the fish before reluctantly letting it go. It was a sad moment indeed.

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The Farm Panzanella, served as one of the remaining side dishes was vibrant and rustic in both presentation and taste. Generous chunks of jalapeno cornbread from Dean Kim’s OC Baking Company is tossed with picholine olives, heirloom tomatoes, yellow corn and purple basil is respectable enough as a vegetarian meal.

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If you had room for the other sides, there was a delightful Peas N’ Carrots bowl filled with snow peas, sugar snap peas, Lincoln peas, purple dragon carrots and, sweet treat carrots.

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Or, just a simple sauteed Swiss chard.

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However, everyone was eagerly anticipating the Cowboy Ribeye and when Chef Michael brought it out in its entirety, the crowd jumped up to capture this on camera. One of my friends, who saw the photos, exclaimed “damn! that could have been from one of Andrew Edwards’ horses” — yes it was THAT big!

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In all honesty, I should have stopped eating, but I didn’t. I even had three bites to accompany each of the three sauces it was served with: horseradish cream, bordelaise, oregano chimichurri.

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Looking around the table, I knew everyone was floored by the almost four hours of unrivaled hospitality they had just experienced. When Andrew and Morgan Edwards host a party, you can be sure they are going ALL out from beginning to end. Last year, I hadn’t left a spot of room to even nibble on the desserts by master David Rossi, so this year, I promised to leave a speck in my belly for it.

Black Mission Figs with California almond cake and Drake Family Farms goat cheese was light and luckily, a small portion. I took a bite and waited for the next.

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A huge smile came to my face when I saw Hand Crafted Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches. As much as I don’t have much of a sweet palate, I definitely AM an ice cream fiend. Caramel popcorn, strawberry and mint n chip adorned the platter, but there was no denying my choice! My favorite ice cream flavor was screaming at me and yes, I ate the entire thing, and even a bite of my neighbor’s strawberry.

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My ‘glorious glutton’ moniker was pushed to its limits that day and even I had to admit defeat. For the next 36 hours, I consumed barely anything other than fruit and water, but it was well worth it! The 2013 debauchery might be over, but just like last year, I relish with glee counting down to what 2014 has in store for us. In the meantime, don’t you think it’s time you paid The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon a visit?

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

THE RANCH Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Summer of Sustainability at Slapfish on now

This week, Chef Andrew Gruel of Slapfish launched a campaign entitled “Summer of Sustainability” which runs for six weeks and features a new item each week. Andrew has always been a leader in using sustainable seafood, first on his gourmet food truck, and now, in his restaurant. We were invited in to try all six items all you seafood lovers will be treated to in the next month and a half. (photo courtesy of Mona Shah-Anderson)

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Week One (June 3-June 9) going on right now until Sunday features Wild Pacific Albacore Tuna Melt ($9.50) a richly flavored flaked albacore sandwiched between rustic sourdough filled with spinach, cucumber, tomato, and “awesome sauce”.

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Week Two (June 10-June 16) which starts on Monday is a BBQ Yellowtail Banh Mi Sandwich ($9.50) a play on the traditional banh mi with fresh baked Vietnamese baguette, picked radish, cucumber, carrots, jalapeno and spiced yellowtail topped with grill sauce. The flavors are intense and addicting and was one of my favorites of the featured items.

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Week Three (June 17-June 23) will appeal to those who love mild white fish. Alaskan Halibut Po Boy ($11) is fried halibut in a toasted roll packed with lettuce, tomato and pickled peppers and the most delicious tabasco aioli to boot. I loved the spicy kick of this creation!

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Week Four (June 24-June 30) will have me rolling back to Huntington Beach again for this stunning Crispy White Seabass Taco ($7). I couldn’t believe how light this fried corn shell was. It wasn’t greasy or viscous at all. Light and crunchy, the pickled red onion and cabbage, with the flaky fish drizzled with rooster dressing is absolutely perfect!!

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Week Five’s (July 1-July 7) Copper River Salmon Hand Pie is more a pastry than a pie. The salmon, avocado and chiles and rolled in phyllo dough and gently fried and served with a tomatillo sauce on the side. The piquant flavor of the tomatillo marries perfectly with the flaky pie.

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I wasn’t able to taste Week Six’s (July 8-July14) Baked Carlsbad Luna Oysters (market price) because of my oyster allergy, but it looked marvelous. Topped with a wild mushroom and bacon stuffing and baked, you can order these to your liking — one, two, four, or a dozen!

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You have only a few days left to enjoy the wild albacore tuna melt  and this week’s giveaway won’t make it in time for you to go, but I highly recommend you just DO IT! I have a $35 giftcard to Slapfish, entries end on Sunday, winner announced Monday. Leave me a comment and tell me which of these six items you would most like to try. You have to leave your FULL name in order for your entries to be valid. Good Luck!

Slapfish
19696 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Tel: 714-964-3900

SlapFish - A Modern Seafood Shack on Urbanspoon

discovering the new Landmark Corona del Mar

I’d never been to the old Landmark Steakhouse so when I received an invitation to try the menu at the newly re-launched Landmark, I was intrigued. The restaurant is modern, but comfortable with chic dining rooms and a more casual, and colorful patio area for dining al fresco.

They weren’t kidding when they said we’d be dining at the Chef’s Table. We were shuttled into the kitchen at a table where we were able to watch everything Chef Travis Flood and his team were preparing for us that evening.

A graduate of California Culinary Academy, Chef Travis’ experience includes working with Laurent Gris at his San Francisco restaurant Fifth Floor and is also a huge advocate of the local/sustainable movement.

** please note, photos depict a tasting size portion while prices listed are off the menu **

We started with a bread basket of pretzel roll and a whole wheat bread served with whipped honey butter, all of which are made in-house. I particularly enjoyed the whole wheat bread with a smear of the honey butter.

Our first dish was a selection of bite sized items from the menu to start.

A Hawaiian staple, Poke ($16) here consists of ahi tuna, cucumber, avocado, pickled ginger, wakame, ponzu and served with taro chips. We were treated to a bite of this delicious raw fish on a taro chip, the perfect accompaniment to poke.

Roasted Beets ($13) are a must on any current menu with these beautiful root vegetables still in season and sweet as sugar. Speck, tangerine, scallion ash yogurt, arugula and almonds complete this wonderfully refreshing salad.

If you’re in the mood for a burger, then look no further thanThe Landmark ($16) a 6oz dry aged, ground in-house burger on a house-made pretzel bun with charred onion jam, truffle aioli and Hooks four-year white cheddar from Wisconsin. The burger is juicy, flavorful and the onion jam added a touch of smokiness resulting in a really tasty burger.

Next came PCHA (Pacific Coast Hawaiian Atlantic $50/$90) — seafood including Prince Edward Island mussels, clams, lobster tail, Dungeness crab and California caviar. I’m not sure this would be the exact plate you get, but what we got was absolutely stunning and the seafood was allowed to shine on their own without a lot of fussy dressings. Just a touch of extra virgin olive oil, seaweed salad and white sesame seeds complete its composition.

Shaved Garden Vegetables ($13) was so simple, but was full of flavor and color. Vibrant carrots, various beets, zucchini, cucumbers, were all sliced paper thin and tossed together with broccoli rabe florets in a toasted caraway vinaigrette. It was genius and I knew right away I would steal this concoction to serve at home.

When I saw Sweet Pepper and Onion Soup ($13) I was so excited because I love onion soup, but it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Instead, onions rings, basil and paprika are presented in a bowl and a sweet pepper soup poured tableside ensuring the onion rings remained crispy on the outside and the onions possessing a crunch on the inside.

Pacific Yellowtail (normally Lingcod on the menu $29) was prepared exactly the same way as the lingcod with roasted tomato, fennel, artichoke puree, grilled bread and a sauce which embodied the taste of bouillabaisse, filled with umami and the aromas and flavors of the ocean.

A small portion of the French fries and house-made ketchup was also brought out for us to try. These fries resembled yuca fries and were thicker than normal fries or chips. The exterior is very crispy with a moist interior. As for the ketchup — and I really dislike ketchup — I loved it! It wasn’t sweet and had a little kick to it. I wouldn’t mind a jar of this thank you very much!!

When the next dish arrived, I was thankful we weren’t presented with an entire steak, but rather, just a small portion of the Paso Prime Grass Fed Dry Aged Beef: Rib Eye (regularly 10oz for $55). Served with a brown butter potato puree, tater tots, and vegetables with a horseradish beef jus, I couldn’t get enough of the meaty, rich jus. I noticed there wasn’t a tater tot and chef said it was because I was complaining about how full I was.

Of course, chef then quickly whisked out a tater tot for us to try. It was so crispy on the outside and melty soft on the inside. Yeah, this was well worth risking a severe stomach ache for.

But then, we started chatting about these lobster croquettes we had heard about and what happens? A lobster croquette miraculously appears in front of us. Oh dear lord! I could only manage a bite of this creamy, gooey, cheesy deliciousness with bits of lobster dotted inside. ($12/5pcs)

Of course, there was still dessert to come, but since I’m not a huge fan of desserts, I took a bite or two and pushed the plate back. I liked the Chocolate ($9) a slice of black magic cake served a rich, decadent dark chocolate coffee ice cream with smoked white chocolate caramel and roasted peanut praline crumbs. Being the ice cream fiend that I am, I polished it all off.

Lemon ($9) was a pistachio crepe mille, layers of crepe formed to resemble a cake with a mouth watering tart Meyer lemon custard served with a scoop of burnt honey ice cream. Take a guess what I devoured off the plate — yep, the ice cream, but also, the custard was quite addicting.

If you’re looking for a place for dinner this weekend, definitely check out Landmark. The restaurant is also nice enough to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.

This week, Landmark has a $25 giftcard for one of my readers to win. Just leave me a comment with your FULL name for a chance. You have until Sunday to get your comments in.

Landmark
3520 E Coast Hwy
Corona del Mar, CA 92625
Tel: 949-675-5556

Landmark on Urbanspoon

The Ranch doesn’t kid around when they say farm-to-table

In my 20+ years as a food writer/critic, I’ve been invited to a myriad of events, meals, experiences on different continents even. Some I wish to forget, but others, will remain etched on my memory for years to come. This is one of them. But I must warn you, this review is long, but deemed necessary, in order for me to recant the truly remarkable afternoon I spent in the company of other food writers and food lovers alike.

Over the weekend, I was invited to a luncheon at the Edwards Ranch Estates, the farm which supplies produce to The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim (and is owned by Andrew Edwards, owner of the restaurant). I had visited when they first opened and if you are interested in reading my post from that visit, you can find it here.

It was a hot and balmy day and I balked at the thought of having to be outside for three hours lingering in the hot weather I loathe. Tents were set up but my easily over-heated body was already breaking out in perspiration as I sipped on my iced tea trying to catch the cool mist spraying down on us.

I grabbed a Tempura Zucchini Flower stuffed with Sierra Nevada Goat cheese, garden herbs and meyer lemon off a passing tray. It was deliciously hot and richly gooey, just one of the 17 items we were to taste over the course of the afternoon.

Next came the refreshing Baja Stone Crab Gazpacho with sweet crab meat, gala apple for crunch, both swimming in a soup of champagne mango and Valencia orange juice, dressed with Easter egg radishes. It was a tropical delight in my mouth!

After the mouth teasers, we took a tour of the Farm, home to about 400 heirloom tomato vines, ranging from Brown Sugar, Persimmon, Brandywine to name just a few.

If you wonder why everything you eat at The Ranch tastes so damn good, it is because everything grown on the Farm is picked the morning of the day you’re enjoying that evening. Cucumbers, chilis, citrus, fresh herbs, the gorgeous variety of squashes, tomatoes etc is truly a farm-to-table experience.

When we return to the table, our feast begins with a Trio of Spreads — eggplant hummus, a tart creamy concoction eaten on grilled naan bread. In fact, we dipped everything on the naan — fennel tzatziki and black Mission fig & olive jam, the latter being my absolute favorite. The figs are grown on the Farm and the salty sweet mixture of olive and figs is absolute genius.

Grilled Peaches so sweet and aromatic is served with La Quercia Prosciutto, Di Stefano Burrata, Wild arugula and lemon verbena honey. Seriously, no words are necessary to describe this super simple dish with a highly complex marriage of flavors.

This next dish is the epitome of summer. Not only is the presentation outstanding, but the flavors are sublime. Chilled Cucumber Soup is light and refreshing while the hot smoked Skuna Bay salmon lends a salty, decadent contrast to the subtle coolness of the cucumber.

Heirloom Tomatoes pretty much sum up the Farm on a plate. These beautiful tomatoes required nothing but a sprinkling of sea salt and a drizzling of Napa Valley olive oil to enhance the natural flavors. The fruits speak for themselves, each embodying a unique taste with its own personal texture — a symphony of color and the true essence of summer.

Making use of seasonal fruits, Watermelon & Heirloom Tomato Salad is not only vibrant in color but vivacious in personality. Lemon basil, mint, feta, radishes and red onions are tossed together with the sweet watermelon cubes and luscious tomato chunks, and definitely what I want to eat outdoors, so our environment was the perfect setting for this dish.

Up till now, I had taken only one bite of everything put in front of me. However, it was really hard to resist just one taste of the Country Fried Petaluma Quail. The fowl was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside with the distinctive taste I so love. Home-made agave mustard was an ideal accompaniment as well as the apricot jam if you preferred a sweeter alternative. This was indeed my favorite entree.

Maplewood Smoked Jidori Chicken was incredibly aromatic and the smokiness wafted into the air the minute the platter was placed in front of us. Served with The FARM’s version of panzanella (bread and tomato salad) using jalapeno cornbread, picholine olives, heirloom tomatoes, yellow corn and torn purple basil, it was the perfect summer meal.

My second favorite entree was Citrus Grilled Mexican White Shrimp. The shrimp are skewered on thin sugar cane slivers and when eaten with the red quinoa, cucumbers, radishes, Hass avocado and watercress salad, the complexity of textures and flavors were an explosion in my mouth, blowing me away.

If you are a fan of salmon, then Skuna Bay Salmon with heirloom beets, English peas, spring onions, Sicilian pistachios and dill yogurt is sure to please.

Meat lovers can enjoy Certified Angus Skirt Steak, rare slices of meat served atop plump chunks of eggplant and summer squash with bits of rainbow chard and sweet baby carrots.

Or, Certified Black Angus Tenderloin, a roulade stuffed with fontina, sopressata and pine nuts brushed with basil pesto using incredible grass fed meat, is seasoned perfectly and cooked to a medium rare. Moist, tender and succulent are all the words I have to describe this.

If I loved the tenderloin, I was IN love with the Miniature Lamb Chops! These mouthwatering chops are cut thick and no words were needed to describe how tasty they were. The silence surrounding our side of the table spoke volumes!

As everyone waited patiently for dessert to be served, I knew my  meal had come to an end. No matter how enticing dessert was going to be, there was no room left for even one bite. When the platter containing Peach Parfait with elderflower sabayon, Miniature Blueberry Crostatas with Meyer lemon frozen yogurt, Hand Crafted Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches — butter popcorn and mint n chip was brought to the table, I snapped my photo and then sat back and watched the debauchery surrounding me.

I watched as those around me took a bite of the macaron and their eyes rolled back, letting out a sigh, and then immediately take another bite. I didn’t have to taste any of it to know they were a hit.

As the meal drew to an end, and guests, one by one, left the premises, I realized that the heat was a minor interference, a non-issue if you will, to this exquisite repast I’ve had the honor of being invited to. It will eternally be remembered as one of the best meals of my life.

**everything mentioned above is available on the menu, or, will be available within a few weeks of this post**

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

new fall items at True Food Kitchen

I love True Food Kitchen and am always kicking myself for not visiting more often. I love the natural colors of the interior and the clean, fresh decor of the interior. Everyone here has that healthy, sun-kissed look about them and it is befitting seeing the menu is organic, fresh and always prepared in the healthiest of ways certified and approved by Dr Andrew Weil.

Whenever I am asked what I want to drink, I always say “let me start with your daily water” — which usually is cucumber water unless it is the summer when watermelon water sometimes makes an appearance. In fact, the cucumber water is so refreshing I wish I had a few glasses of it first thing every single morning.

I am here to try the new fall menu items and am happy to find a lot of new salads using fall vegetables. But before we begin, we start with cocktails — The Peacemaker ($10) and Flower Child ($10).

The Peacemaker is a strong whiskey based drink with Averna (an Italian liqueur possessing a herbally bitter taste) , lemon, honey and black tea. If I liked whiskey I might have enjoyed this more, but the overwhelming aromas of the whiskey wasn’t to my liking.

Flower Child with juniper organic gin, St Germain elderflower, pineapple juice, honey lemonade, fennel and mint was very delicious. It also had some fizziness to it which I’m guessing is soda water.

Our first item was Thai Shrimp Dumplings ($12). I found the filling a little too firm but the Thai-inspired sauce was awesome — I detected soy sauce, fish sauce, citrus and chilis. Would’ve liked to see these served in little bamboo steamers which may also retain the heat better — just a thought!

Roasted Beets and Mozarella Agrodolce ($9) was the kind of dish that highly appeals to me. I love beets and these lightly pink-hued chunks were sweet with the right texture. The slight bitterness of the arugula, together with the spiciness of the dressing and fresh pepper lend the perfect flavor components to the dish while the pistachios added wonderful crunch.

I absolutely loved this next salad — Farmer’s Market ($12) — a mixture of kale, romaine, carrot, beet, broccolini, radish, avocado, Manchego tossed in a Champagne vinaigrette. Everything just came together so well and every mouthful was flavorful and crunchy. You could taste the freshness of the ingredients and how the colors and flavors pop in your mouth.

I wasn’t sure I’d like Harvest Chopped ($12), a salad of squash, apple, pomegranate, walnuts, goat cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette. First off, I’m not a fan of both apple and pomegranate, but the latter surprised me. It was perfectly ripen so there was no ‘dirt’ after taste in my mouth. I’ve always experienced pomegranate seeds to have the taste of dirt, hence my dislike for them. I don’t know how they did it, but these were extremely palatable!

Roasted Chicken ($19)  was probably my least favorite dish of the evening. I think the combination of cranberries and walnuts with protein just didn’t fare well with my palate. Though the chicken was tender, apart from the skin, it was under-seasoned and on the bland side. I am also not a fan of fruit and protein together on the same plate, however, the farro and red spinach accompaniments were outstanding!

Perhaps my Asian palate was looking for something more from Red Chili Shrimp ($18). Don’t get me wrong, it was very tasty! The sesame noodles with gai lan, red spinach and shiitake mushrooms was stellar, but I wanted  extra spice and didn’t expect to be presented with red chili flakes and sambal oelek as condiments. The dish also had an overpowering ginger taste — which I don’t mind — but I know a lot of people who aren’t fond of the root and might balk at it. The noodles were perfectly prepared though.

Pan Seared Sea Bass ($24) was stunning. I loved the flakiness of the fish and the ‘umami’ sauce was indeed filled with the flavor of umami — leaving you wanting more. Brussels sprouts were impeccable and the use of purple potato potato was a unique touch. I would definitely order this again without hesitation.

If you still had room for dessert, I suggest Apple Crisp ($7) which is served with pecan maple ice cream but I say have that on the side. I did not like the ice cream one bit. It was grainy, icy and did not appeal to me whatsoever. The crisp though was absolutely delectable and I would’ve been happy with it on its own.

I guess I was the only one who enjoyed the Squash Pie ($7) finding it rather addicting in a strange sort of way. It reminds me of pumpkin pie, but not quite and it is not sweet either. The accompanying vanilla bean ice cream was a lot better than the pecan maple, although, if you are a stickler for the full cream version, I’d say get this on the side also.

True Food Kitchen never fails to impress me with its use of sustainable and locally grown organic produce. You can really taste the difference and know that they take pride in providing the best to their customers while helping the environment at the same time.

True Food Kitchen
Fashion Island
451 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-644-2400

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