The BEST of the rest: 2014

I didn’t have a category in which to place these last few restaurants I love, so here they are in no particular order. These restaurants have been solid contenders in my dining repertoire this year and hopefully, will continue to impress in 2015.

Starting with Los Angeles County, Dominique’s Kitchen in Redondo Beach has been winning us over again and again. This year, we visited a total of four times — a mean feat when you think about how many restaurants I actually get to return to every year. It has become my son’s favorite restaurant and he will find any excuse for us to dine here. Chef Dominique Theval and his wife Liza run this little French bistro which offers some of the best home-style fare southern California has to offer. Chef Dominique creates his own rillettes, pates, lamb sausages, and a myriad of other things to tickle your fancy. If you’re planning to visit, make sure you call for a reservation because they get packed. There are two posts from 2014, but here is my most current one.

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Chef Frank DeLoach is a young chef who has almost the exact same palate as I do. Therefore, it is always such a pleasure to eat something he’s created. His combination of tart, heat and savory is spot-on and has cooked some of the best Asian-inspired dishes I’ve ever eaten. His ability to present Asian flavors on a plate is incredible — he’s not Asian — and blows me away every time. The menu at Tavern on 2 in Long Beach is focused on gastropub fare, but that’s not what I go there for. Choose any of the non-Western dishes on the menu for one of the most tantalizing journeys your tastebuds will go on. You can read my review here.

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There’s something about family-owned and run restaurants which appeal to me. Ceppo (pronounced che-po) in Huntington Beach is one of them. Its location is its biggest enemy which does absolutely no justice to what the restaurant has to offer. Pair with that a drab ambiance and most people would not even bother stepping inside. However, once you do, you will be so pleasantly surprised by the skill of Chef Tomi who previously owned what’s it called in Newport Beach. Not only are the main dishes incredible, but you will be blown away by the beautiful desserts as well. Read about my visit here.

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I was at first skeptical about Selanne Steak Tavern because of its celebrity attachment, however, all was quashed when I experienced one of the best meals this year, along with top notch service to boot. The restaurant is beautiful regardless whether you sit on the outside patio or in the many rooms inside. Old school charm in a modern setting is what I call it, where the impeccable attention to detail makes you wonder why no one else is doing the same. I won’t spoil it for you, but I was just blown away by all the little things Selanne Steak Tavern adds to a visit — some might not even recognize them, but I sure did! Here’s my post from this year.

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Istanbul Grill is one of those restaurant you will easily miss if you’re not looking for it. Located in a plaza across from the Costco in Fountain Valley, it is not exactly in a great spot, but once you’ve eaten here, it will fast become your favorite Middle Eastern place. The food is flavorful and can absolutely compare with some of the best out of lil Arabia. During lunch time, the crowd can be overwhelming so I suggest going early. Here’s my post from this year.

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My last pick is Counterpoint in San Diego, a little neighborhood eatery which has been on my mind ever since we visited several months ago. My son still comments on the Brussels sprouts whenever I make mine at home because they are not nearly as good as the kimchi infused ones here. Counterpoint offers a menu of familiar comfort foods, but all with a bit of a twist, like the pastrami sandwich made with tongue. The menu is almost completely made in-house including sausages and pickles, which is highly impressive when you see how small the restaurant is. You can read about it here.

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There you have it. This is my last post of the year and I want to thank all of you for your continued support and readership. Join me again in 2015 for more food finds all across southern California and beyond. If you have any suggestions of your favorite restaurants, please let me know! Happy New Year to you all.

 

Harlow’s Kitchen & Craft Bar

I’ve been watching my friends post photos of their meals at Harlow’s, month after month on Facebook, and those months have turned into more than a year, so it is definitely time to pay them a visit. The restaurant is cozy, with several dining rooms to suit your every occasion. We sit in the room adjacent to the bar which is bustling from the activity from the bar itself.

Our server Marc brings us a loaf of freshly baked bread with house-churned butter. Delicious and addicting, it is so hard to eat only one piece, but I do, and then, I push it away to the other side of the table. So dangerous!

DSC06036Almost everything is made in-house including the syrups and mixes for the craft cocktails on offer. We are intrigued by the house-made ginger beer and decide that a Moscow Mule is definitely the way to start. Besides the Mule, I opt for something with tequila in it and the Harlow’s version of margarita is suggested (cocktails range between $10 and $12).

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The menu is straightforward, featuring seasonal ingredients and simple preparation. Seasonal Oysters ($15/6pc) is a great way to start — well, not for me — and Kusshi from the Pacific Northwest is the featured oyster of the night. My dining companion relish them with delight!

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The Caprese Flatbread ($12) is a must try. The baby heirloom tomatoes are ripe and bursting with flavor, while burrata adds creaminess. The flatbread itself is lovely too, crispy and not at all dry, just the way I like my flatbreads/pizzas. Arugula pesto is an added bonus to an already delicious appetizer.

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I love Tuna Tartare ($17) and here, it is well-seasoned and topped with black tobiko. The quail egg adds an element of lusciousness to the tartare, but it is the housemade sriracha which wins my heart. Hints of ginger, a lovely heat with a touch of tartness adds a kick to the whole dish. Served with rounds of crispy taro chips.

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While I’m not usually fond of salads, Harvest Salad ($9) was rather pleasant. The spicy bitter flavors of arugula melded well with the sweetness of the roasted apples and pears. Add to that crunchy watermelon radish and you have a really lovely salad. The cider vinaigrette is subtle and never overpowers.

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For entrees, there is Seasonal White Fish ($26), which changes regularly. On this particular evening, it is grilled sturgeon accompanied with a sweet pea puree, radish arugula salad and a delightful tempura cauliflower which I wish I had the room to finish.

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However, it is the Colorado Rib Eye Cap ($38) which won me over. Yes, the sturgeon was delicious, and ordinarily, I will always choose seafood over meat, but the beautiful char on the steak is incredible and so utterly packed with flavor, I am not able to stop eating it. The charred tomatoes and Bloomsdale spinach are nice accoutrements, but it is the demi glace that is to-die-for.

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Not that we needed any extra food, but if you’re in the mood for sides, definitely order the Brussels Sprouts ($8) with house cured pork lardons!

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Harlow’s is not only a great neighborhood eatery, but also, one which offers a stellar menu which will definitely entice me to drive to. The dishes are simple, yet well thought out, and the generous portions means you’ll never leave hungry. Harlow’s is a south county gem worth noticing (if you haven’t already).

Harlow’s Kitchen
31111 Rancho Viejo Road
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Tel: 949-240-8100

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The most coveted invitation of the year

For the last three years, Orange County media, and a select few from other industries, wait with bated breath to see if they make it on to the guest list of one of the most coveted events of the year. The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon‘s Sunday Supper is held at owner Andrew Edwards’ farm — Edwards Ranch Estates — and I equate this annual event to finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. I am so honored to have been invited all three years.

Besides the incredible menu, the chance to break bread with Andrew Edwards and his beautiful wife, Morgan is in itself an experience I look forward to. Mr Edwards is one of the most charming yet, down-to-earth gentleman you’ll ever meet, and everyone who has ever had an encounter with him, no matter big or small, will remember it — just ask my son and he’ll tell you!

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The experience begins right as we make our way from the parking area. Executive Chef Michael Rossi is grilling flatbread at the entrance and seems very excited to see us.

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Familiar faces from the restaurant greet us as we make our way under the tents to enjoy a cocktail before the festivities begin. I stick with refreshing cucumber water throughout the day in order to stay cool.

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Our first tray passed appetizer, Grilled Flatbread is topped with sweet peaches from the farm, goat cheese and speck. The combination of sweet and salty, crispy and soft is delightful on the palate.

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Of course, we cannot forget the famous Zucchini Squash Blossoms which have been on the menu since the beginning. These tempura-fried beauties are stuffed with Boursin cheese and sits on brightly hued basil pesto adding a hint of freshness to the crispy blossoms.

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After the hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, we embark on a tour of the grounds with Executive Chef Michael Rossi leading the way. I am always impressed by everything The Ranch Restaurant does, especially the little touches they always bring to each and every experience — the parasols offered to help shield us from the blaze of the scorching sun while we stroll around the property.

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The farm looks fantastic this year, everything is flourishing and appears so lush and abundant. We walk through the herb garden as well as the beds of squash before heading over to the “orchard”, where another surprise awaits us.

We are met with a bowl carrying little shots of tomato water, offered as a respite to the sweltering heat. The refreshing liquid is indeed a thirst quencher, and invigorates us for the second part of the tour.

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As we make our way into the other side of the farm, we see plump, luscious fruits hang off the vines. There are too many varietals of tomatoes to name, but we are mesmerized by the plentiful harvest at eye-level. Chef Rossi and Mr Edwards invite us to taste the tomatoes as we walk through the rows. I pick some orange and red cherry tomatoes to pop into my mouth. The incredible flavors are indescribable, nothing I have ever tasted from even those bought at a farmer’s market. They are so sweet one might think they have been pumped with sugar.

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After the tour, we take our seats at the table. Wines are poured and our first course of house-made Charcuterie arrive amidst ooos and ahhhs from the group. It is a sight for sore eyes.

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Chicken Liver Mousse, Chicken Galantine, Pastrami, Country Pate, Head Cheese, Vegetable Terrine, Sausages (Kielbasa, Louisiana Hot Links, Jalapeno-Cheddar) with pickled farm vegetables and grain mustard are all served with a bread selection from OC Baking Company. I regret later that I overindulged so quickly.

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The next dish to hit the table is Farm Beets & Kanpachi Crudo featuring the beautiful bounty from the farm. Valencia oranges, radishes, Fresno chiles and smoked avocado are artfully arranged with syrupy sweet red, golden and Chioggia beets which refresh and tickle the palate.

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The next dish is one which I hope will always be featured because it is so perfect for summer. Chilled Cucumber Soup, prepared with buttermilk, is light and welcoming on a sweltering day. Hot smoked Skuna Bay salmon is delicate, making for one of those “eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-the-head” moments with each spoonful I savor.

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No Sunday Supper is complete without a showcase of the gorgeous Heirloom Tomatoes from the farm. I encourage my table-mates to try each variety to fully grasp how diverse and distinct each one is. A handful of chopped basil, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a drizzle of Napa Valley olive oil is all it requires, nothing more.

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By now, I am already feeling the effects of the charcuterie. I am only able to take one bite of the Crab Stuffed Poblano Chile Relleno with the deliciously savory zucchini succotash and golden tomato. The almond romesco sauce is piquant and pairs nicely with the chile. It is phenomenal but I am unable to take another bite. Perhaps next year, might I suggest taking the walk around the farm right about now?

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Homemade Maine Lobster Campanelle is perfectly al dente hand-made pasta dotted with bits of lobster and English peas in a baby carrot sauce. It is a a little sweet for my salty palate, but my neighbors relish it with delight.

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Every year, quail is featured on the menu and this year, Chef Rossi serves Roasted Quail stuffed with black fig and fennel sausage. I hear murmurs of quail “turducken” as we chuckle at the indulgence, but we all agree, it is a definite skill stuffing a bird as small as a quail, roast it, and keep it as moist as this one is.

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Before our next dish is presented, a cart rolls out with a mammoth rack of the Cowboy Ribeye — the piece de resistance of our feast. Everyone jumps up and rushes to snap photos of this incredible showcase of the best of what The Ranch has to offer.

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As we watch the cowboy ribeye roll away, plates of Rosemary Roasted Colorado Lamb Shoulder appear before us. Stuffed with homemade merguez (North African-style sausage) and Swiss chard, it is at a perfect medium rare temperature, tender and flavorful. The accompanying corn succotash is delicious and I wish I had saved some room for another taste.

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A delicious bowl of Kale hits our table next and we all forget how stuffed we are. Tossed with Calabrian chile, preserved lemon, parmeggiano reggiano and pine nuts, these crispy leaves are alluring and hard to resist.

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Of course, the star of the show is the cowboy ribeye. I am only able to muster half a slice but manage to take small bites accompanied by the assortment of sauces including bearnaise, horseradish, chimichurri and Bordelaise. It is truly a treat!

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As our meal comes to a close, we are presented with Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi’s creations, including an array of Farm Inspired Macarons: strawberry basil, fig, chocolate mint, creamsicle; and other delicious offerings.

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From top left clockwise: Shoo-Fly Panna Cotta is my absolute favorite possessing a crunchiness from the streusel, rich dark chocolate balls and hints of molasses; Strawberry Shortcake is too pretty to eat and I sit there staring at it for a long time debating how best to dig in without destroying it visually. Compressed Melon sees finely diced watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe floating in a Valencia orange soup infused with lemongrass, mint and star anise. This soup was a palate cleanser at last year’s event, but works so well as a refreshingly end to our meal. Lemon Blueberry Verrine, is a cheesecake-like dessert with hints of citrus and garden thyme.

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We are all stuffed to the brim and possibly, have slipped into a coma somewhere between course eight or nine, when Mr Edwards had Aaron pour the gorgeous Napa Valley Reserve from his own private collection. As always, it is the ultimate treat to sip on an exclusive wine and listen to Mr Edwards tell us about this full-bodied red he is so passionate about.

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I don’t usually write about an experience my readers are not able to enjoy themselves, but I can assure you, when you visit The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, you can be sure your experience will be one to remember. Although you won’t be getting a parasol, or a sip of the tomato water, or a seat at the farm table, the same attention-to-detail service is applied to every guest. One word of advice though, make a reservation please! You don’t want the disappointment of being turned away when there are no tables available to accommodate you.

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

Dominique’s Kitchen impressed and delighted

I’m often at Redondo Beach Pier grabbing some clams or crab from Quality Seafood, but rarely are we in and around the neighborhood areas at all. I’m so glad we stopped by Dominique’s Kitchen for dinner one evening because you would never think something this amazing could be nestled hidden within a residential area.

The menu is larger than I had expected and there were lots to choose from. The small plates/appetizer menu is where my eyes gravitated towards and this is where I had difficulty deciding because there was so much I wanted to try.

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Before anything, some amuse bouche of marinated olives and a white bean with lemon and olive oil topped with shaved parmesan starts you off by getting your palate going.

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There is fresh hot bread with the most delicious butter — I caught a glimpse of the butter by James Farms but couldn’t find more information about it online — making it so addicting we couldn’t stop eating it.fresh bread (640x425)

Lamb Sausage ($5.99) was one of the choices and this is definitely worth trying. The lamb sausage is robust with aromatic flavors and possessed a strong lamb-ey taste. The accompanying organic quinoa, mint, raisins, almonds, lemon and honey created flavors reminiscent of Moroccan dishes with the combination of dried fruit and lamb. Normally, I am not a fan of sweet in my savory but this works extremely well together because the lamb was much stronger than the ones used at other restaurants. 

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House Made Chicken Liver Pate ($5.99) was seasoned to perfection and the flavors distinct. I also liked the fact that it wasn’t completely smooth and creamy but had some   texture to it. Served with cornichons, black olives, mache tossed with cider vinegar, all of these components were the ideal accompaniment to the pate. In fact, the acidity of the accoutrements were necessary for the perfect mouthful of pate on the toast.

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My son has never had escargot before so Classic Escargots ($9.99) was going to be an experience. When they arrived, he asked me to show him how to eat them and then went right ahead and put one in his mouth. I waited for a reaction of some sort, but received a “they’re tasty” as he proceeded to take another. Imported from Bourgogne, France, these snails are plump, tender, slathered in garlic butter and some of the best I’ve ever had in the US of A, not at all rubbery and so so good.escargot (640x425)

Smoked Trout Rillettes ($5.99) is perfectly seasoned and the consistency was spot on. A touch of black pepper was all I needed. Make sure you pair it with the green beans salad with shallots, olive oil and dill — the acidity adds another dimension to the rillettes! I couldn’t stop eating it.

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If you’re just looking for entrees there are a handful to choose from. Grilled Steak ($17.99) with garlic fries and lemon butter is Dominique’s version of steak frites and the hefty portion is enough to fulfill a healthy appetite.

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The Wild Boston Sea Scallops ($19.99) were beautifully flavored, but I would have liked a little more char to the scallops themselves. Perhaps the lobster reduction au jus should only come in contact with one side of the scallops instead of drizzled over. The accompanying crushed potatoes was like a lighter version of mashed potatoes and equally delicious.

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Judging by how busy the restaurant was on the night of our visit, I wasn’t a bit surprised by the end of our meal to see people keep coming in. This is definitely a restaurant to keep your eyes out for — it is already the best place I’ve eaten at in 2014.

Dominique’s Kitchen has generously offered one of my readers a $50 gift certificate to try them out. I seriously suggest you enter this competition because this place is not to be missed. Leave me a comment and tell me which of the dishes you’re most excited to try and who you will be bringing with you. Remember to leave your FULL name in the comment area if your name does not show in your email. Entries close on Sunday, February 16. Winner will be announced on Monday February 17th. Good Luck!

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

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The BEST of 2013 from LA to San Diego

The year flew by once again and my food journeys from Los Angeles down to San Diego have been mostly successful, although there were several duds along the way as well. My picks for 2013 includes mostly Orange County restaurants, but also, a handful of those from the counties we are flanked by. Please click on the links for an extensive review of each restaurant.

Let’s begin with Los Angeles county and one of our favorites this year was David LeFevre’s Fishing With Dynamite. This tiny eatery is always packed with people and once you sit down to a meal here, you will understand why. The freshest of seafood from raw to cooked will always tantalize the tastebuds.

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David Myers’ Hinoki and The Bird was definitely an experience in itself the minute you walk through the doors. Food leans towards Japanese-inspired although there are other Asian countries represented as well. Our favorite was the sambal skate.

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Lying on the cusp of LA county and Orange County is Long Beach, where Michael’s Pizzeria is located. The pizza crust here is chewy and toppings unique, but pizza isn’t the only thing on the menu. Duck confit is fantastic and they also do an afogatto well, one of my favorite desserts!

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Orange County has seen a lot of restaurant openings this year, but the one closest to my heart is Pie-Not, bringing me a piece of home locally, but in such a delicious manner. In fact, the pies here are so much better than the ones in Australia the only thing I miss is the “tomato sauce” we slather on top (not to be confused with ketchup!).

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Next door to Pie-Not is SideCar Doughnuts, possibly the ONLY doughnut shop I frequent. These doughnuts are like no other doughnuts you’ve ever eaten. Flavors change weekly and doughnuts are made fresh in small batches throughout the day. Thursdays and Fridays offer vegan and gluten-free options.

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One of my favorites this year has been Mare Culinary Lounge, the brainchild of Alessandro Pirozzi of Cucina Alessa. Not many people realize it is hidden within the Holiday Inn in Laguna Beach off PCH, which is a sad thing because the food is incredible.

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I don’t think Little Sparrow requires much introduction because it has been receiving so much press all over. The kitchen helmed by Eric Samaniego has an outstanding charcuterie platter all created in-house and a separate bar area with killer craft cocktails that puts most bars in OC to shame.

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It wouldn’t be a Mad Hungry Woman list without a shout-out to an obscure hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Little Saigon. Rice Paper Bistro totally impressed me this year with its fresh, tasty Vietnamese fare by Le Huynh, a self-taught chef. So many favorites to choose from, you’ll just have to read about it yourself.

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Last but not least in OC is ARC, the brainchild of Noah Blom and Marin Howarth. The restaurant does not possess any stoves and everything is cooked in a wood-fire oven whether it be meat or vegetables. The house-made bacon is a must.

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Surprisingly, San Diego gave us two Japanese offerings beginning with Ristorante Kaz, a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant with some of the most unique pastas around. The uni spaghetti is a stand out as well as the cold angel hair pasta with shiso leaves.cold pasta (640x480)

Last but not least is Rakiraki, a ramen shop with some of the best ramen I’ve ever had. I’ve returned here several times and each time, the consistency has remained the same regardless what time of day you visit. Besides ramen, they also have THE BEST chicken karaage I’ve ever tasted. 

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Rice Paper Bistro: another hidden gem in the heart of lil Saigon

It’s been quite a while since social media guru Ted Nguyen organized an OC twEATup, where people converge to eat and hang out with people who they have met via social media. In the past, we have been introduced to a variety of mom and pop restaurants which may have been overlooked because of their obscure locations.

On this particular outing, we visited Rice Paper Bistro, a pretty new little place in an indescript strip mall with pleasant modern decor. This was one of the smaller twEATups I’ve attended, only nine people as opposed to 20+ in the past. I knew most of the bloggers who participated so it was like hanging out for lunch with old friends.

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A few bowls of sugar coated peanuts arrive at the table for us to munch on while we perused the menu.

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We each ordered something and decided to share in the bounty. Thit Nuong Cuon ($6/3pc) were summer rolls (not fried) stuffed with charbroiled pork, shrimp, vermecelli, lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber and mint. The hoisin based dipping sauce was very tasty. We loved these so much we ordered another.rolls (640x425)

Some people were creeped out by Ca Bong Trung Chien Gion ($10) whole fried smelt. Crispy and every bite consists of smelt eggs which I so love. The dipping sauce was salty and tart. The smelt were perfect on its own and even better with the sauce. I loved it.

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We all loved Bo Tai Chanh ($12), medium rare beef slices topped with crushed peanuts, aromatic herbs and marinated onions. The dressing was pungent with fresh grated garlic and Thai chili peppers. SO SO good. I’m salivating as I’m writing this.

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I’ve eaten Com Do Ga Roti ($8) so many times and at so many places before. Half a marinated Cornish game hen is served with red rice like everywhere else, but the hen is a little larger than elsewhere. It is also juicy and moist with one of the best shallot soy sauces I’ve ever had. Highly recommended!

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I’m a huge fan of octopus so Goi Bap Chuoi va Muc ($12) was right up my alley. Shredded banana blossom and sliced octopus combine to make a mouth puckeringly delicious salad.

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Tom Su Rang Me ($12) were large, whole shell-on shrimp grilled and coated with tamarind sauce. I love sucking on the head and shell which has the most flavor. Savory, piquant, just perfect.

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The last item we had was Muc Nuong Moi Ot ($12) marinated charbroiled squid topped with crumbled anchovies. The squid was perfectly cooked, tender and nicely textured. The anchovies added that umami and textural contrast to the squid.

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I was really pleasantly surprised by how delicious everything was. Chef/owner Le Huynh is a self taught cook and his dishes really showcase his creativity and obvious culinary talents. Dishes are unique yet stay true to the flavors and style of authentic Vietnamese fare. A hidden gem that’s for sure.

Rice Paper Bistro
10561 Bolsa Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Tel: 714-554-8889

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