Kinky Boots menu at Leatherby’s

Happy 2015! My first post of the year is from a restaurant very dear to my heart. Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge is my to-go-to in Orange County whenever I am catching a show at Segerstrom, or attending a concert. Whenever a new show comes to town, Chef Ross Pangilinan will create a menu specifically for the event. When I heard Kinky Boots was coming to OC, I knew I had to go since I absolutely adored the movie and have watched it many times.

On opening night, I stopped by Leatherby’s for dinner beforehand, partaking in the 3-course Kinky Boots menu ($45). Each dish is named for a song from the show and we start with Take What You Got, a farmer’s market vegetable soup which changes daily. On opening night, Chef Ross served a silky smooth butternut squash soup with sweet potatoes and croutons. I loved its hearty flavors and especially liked that the soup is served hot. I find lukewarm soup very unappetizing.

butternut squash soup

The second appetizer offering is The Most Beautiful Thing, and it was a beautiful thing indeed comprising paper thin slices of house-cured Scottish salmon with little morsels of steamed egg and other traditional garnishes. Presentation is stunning and each mouthful is delicate yet layered with flavors.

smoked salmon

Moving on to the entrees, Land of Lola is an absolute gorgeous dish of sablefish and corned beef in a pho broth with cabbage, potatoes, carrots and herbs. The corned beef is tender and seasoned well, but it is the sablefish which blew me away. An oily fish in nature, it melted in my mouth with ease and I want more, much to the chagrin of my dining companion. The broth has robust pho characteristics, yet did not overpower.

sablefish corned beef

However, the most surprising dish of all was One of a Kind. Natural farm chicken breast with parmesan risotto, roasted seasonal vegetables and peppercorn sauce was absolute perfection. I normally won’t order chicken when dining out, but this was just impeccably executed with the chicken moist and flavorful and the risotto at a splendid consistency. It is a hard choice to make between the two excellent entree choices.

chicken

Hold Me In Your Heart is one of the desserts using panettone, the Italian Christmas cake as the base for bread pudding. I loved the orange aromas and raisin overtones of this dessert.

bread pudding

While the Chocolate Cake “Rochers” wasn’t a part of the Kinky Boots menu but the Market Menu, Chef Ross substituted it for the seasonal sorbet (it was a cold night!) and I’m glad he did. The coffee chantilly is addicting and I devoured the malted chocolate sorbet quickly as it was starting to melt. The hazelnut cremuex really hit the spot. My dining companion popped both chicory pavlovas into his mouth so I wasn’t able to taste one, but nevertheless, it must have been good.

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Even if you’re not planning to see Kinky Boots, I suggest making a reservation and dining at Leatherby’s. Of all the theater prix fixe menus I’ve experienced through the years, this one is by far my favorite. Regardless of whether I choose the theater menu (which I always do) or order a la carte, I always leave feeling very satisfied after I dine here. Service is attentive and the meal is always beyond stellar.

Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge
615 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-429-7640

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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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Mesa’s new chef delivers a respectable menu

The last time I dined at Mesa was about three years ago — maybe more — when a group of us came here for dinner and drinks after the OC Auto Show. The only thing I took away from that experience was, well not much, seeing I never returned again.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to dinner at Mesa and I’d be lying if I said I was excited. However, that soon changed when I find out that the new chef, Niki Starr, is from the same school — maybe “family” is a better word — as some of my favorite young chefs in OC, including Aron Habinger and Joshua Han.

(photo below courtesy of Mesa)

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We were presented first with an amuse bouche of steak tartare. After the first bite, I already knew this meal would go in a very positive direction. It was perfectly seasoned, and there were inclusions of ingredients which made it a little different from all the other steak tartares out there. Besides chives, there was watermelon radish to give the tartare both color and texture. The minute I tasted the mayo, I knew it was Japanese Kewpie mayo — the only mayo I have in my home — and a sprinkling of togarishi added a touch of heat to the finish.

(all food photos courtesy of Bobby Navarro)

tartare

Our first course of Beet Salad ($10) comprised roasted gold and red beets, nice chunks of Humbolt Fog blue to give it an element of saltiness, and an array of citrus which cleansed my palate between each bite. The orange and grapefruit were expected, but the one meyer lemon segment was definitely a surprise, making us giggle as the tartness surprised both my friend and I simultaneously. The prosecco vinaigrette is light and does not overwhelm, while the pistachio dust added a textural component to the dish.

beet salad

If you only order one dish at Mesa, make it Chef’s Spanish Style Mussels ($16). It was fun to watch as the sizzling hot plate makes its way from the kitchen to you. Black Prince Edward Island mussels with slivers of bilbao chorizo, tossed in a white wine sauce possess hints of smoked paprika, and is not to be missed. The flavors were intoxicating and you’ll want to soak up the juices with the grilled bread from OC Baking Company served on the side.

mussels

But perhaps, the simplest of all items is always the best. Holiday Sliders ($12/2pcs) were created in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but instead of turkey, Chef Niki uses shredded duck confit. A smear of potato puree on the mini potato bun serves as a base for the duck and then, it is topped with a festive cranberry orange compote. The sandwich brings the spirit of the holidays closer, but it is the gravy dipping sauce that’s really to-die-for!

turkey slider

Steelhead Salmon ($20) arrives with flaky fish under the crispy skin, and seasoned to perfection. Fire-roasted cauliflower and confit carrots accompany, with a spoonful of  stone ground mustard seed beurre blanc, and finished off with micro dijon.

salmon

I would have been happy after the salmon, but there was one more course to eat. Kurobota Grilled Pork Chop ($22) is drizzled with a smoked blackberry jus prepared using the pork belly braising liquid, and seasoned with a touch of blackberry liqueur. Sweet potato puree and flash fried Brussels sprouts are good accoutrements, adding a hint of sweetness to the pork.

pork

Although dessert isn’t always on my dining agenda, I accept a taste of my friends’ Bread Pudding ($8). Vanilla maple bacon adds a touch of saltiness to balance out the dulce de leche on the plate. I love the variety of textures Chef Niki features on every plate and here, cashew bits add crunch to the softness of the pudding and ice cream.

dessert

Mesa’s reputation of its menu being an after-thought to its libations will soon be a thing of the past if Chef Niki continues at the helm. The food is simple, but packed with appealing flavor profiles which even the fussiest of palates will appreciate. I, for one, was highly impressed by her ability to season her proteins perfectly. In time, the late night gourmands will find their way here and hopefully, change the perception that Mesa is only good as a drinking spot.

Mesa
725 Baker Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-557-6700

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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.

sausage

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.

halibut

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.

pork

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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good comfort food at Eureka! Discover American Craft

There’s been a lot of new happenings at Bella Terra in Huntington Beach and Eureka! Discover American Craft is the latest. We came here for lunch a few weeks ago to find a welcoming environment with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The ample sized dining room is spacious with booth and table seating. If you’re dining alone, you can choose the seats along the bar or the counter across from it.

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There is an impressive list of craft beers, but what is even more incredible is the whiskey offering. You should order a flight to start! The best part about the flights here is that you can mix and match beers with whiskeys. Pricing depends on your selection.

flight

Lollipop Corn Dogs ($7.50) was the first to catch my eye and it was a must in my book. These bites are perfect to go with your beer or whiskey. The little polish sausages are thinly coated with a sweet corn batter making it not overly heavy. I really enjoyed these.

corn dog lollipop

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the Osso Bucco Riblets ($8.95) as much. The menu description said “lightly tossed in a homemade firecracker aioli” but I couldn’t detect any. We asked for a side of it for dipping purposes and that helped immensely.

riblet

Marinated Grilled Portabello ($12.50) is a perfect vegetarian option. The salad is dressed perfectly with really great tart flavors I love. It is also carbless if you don’t eat the accompanying fries — which are so good you won’t be able to stop at one.

portobello

I was pleasantly surprised at how good the Pan Fried Lump Crab Cake ($16.50) was. Generous chunks of crab are left whole and lightly pan fried to create a nice crispy exterior and with not much fillers at all. I would definitely order this again!

crab cake

Being a huge fan of onion rings, I was seriously impressed when I saw Panko Crusted Onion Rings ($4.50) arrive at the table. These ginormous onion rings are lightly coated with the onions still retaining its moisture on the inside. These are a knife and fork job, not easily picked up and eaten by hand, but well worth the effort.

onion rings

You can’t leave here without trying a burger. All the burgers here uses all natural beef that’s vegetarian fed and free of hormone and antibiotics. We opted for the Fresno Fig Burger ($11.25) which is topped with a house-made fig marmalade, melted goat cheese and crispy bacon. It was a tad sweet for me, but my dining companion loved it! We asked for sweet potato fries this time and they were absolutely delicious!

fig burger

Eureka is a good spot for American comfort food. The burgers are stellar and if you’re not always feeling a burger (like me) you have other great options to choose from.

Eureka! Discover American Craft
7631 Edinger Avenue
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
Tel: 714-230-3955

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waterfront dining at Sea 180º Coastal Tavern

I met a new friend at the end of last year, at a holiday party, and we had been trying to organize a meal together. A new restaurant, Sea 180º Coastal Tavern, was suggested and I made my way down to San Diego to find al fresco dining at its best, right on the beach! There is nothing better than that on a clear day in southern California, and although I don’t like sitting directly in the sun, I like the visuals of the ocean, boats and the horizon in a distance.

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I was surprised to find Sea 180º Coastal Tavern located within the Autograph Collection by Marriott in Imperial Beach, but this boutique hotel offers the privacy of a secluded beach with unobstructed views of the ocean, not easily found in tourist-ridden San Diego. The restaurant reminds me of a chic gastropub, but the only difference is, the ocean is right outside. Every single table offers that gorgeous view, so regardless of where you’re sitting, you won’t miss out.

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The menu is also well represented by offerings that appeals to a wide variety of palates. Since it was lunch, I didn’t look at the wine list, but the Ginger Swizzle ($5) was a refreshing light ginger beer infused with pomegranate and blueberry syrup and bitters.

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The first thing that caught everyone’s eye was  Huevos “Diablos” Truffled Duck Eggs ($9.95). I didn’t realize it was a deviled egg-style dish utilizing duck eggs as its base until it hit the table. Topped with crispy house smoked ham and chives on a bed of frisee lettuce, these eggs were creamy with well textured egg whites. 

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Another item which stood out was Smoked Beef Tongue ($12.95). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was thinly sliced, served warm with cherry mustard and cornichons on the side. The tongue is smoked in-house and even though the presentation could have been a little better, it was tender with lovely smoky aromas.

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Hearth Baked Clam Flat Bread ($11.95) is assembled “white” style topped with clams, oyster mushrooms and garlic. The chewy base is good and I liked how it was different to the familiar tomato based toppings usually found on flatbreads.

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Green Olive Pesto Calamari ($9.95) was outstanding. Both the rings and tentacles were perfectly cooked without a hint of toughness. We all agreed that calamari served au naturel without being fried was the best way to go. The savory sauce adhered to the zucchini noodles very well making it an all around delicious item — I wish I didn’t have to share this!

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The Fired Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($8.95) was a huge hit. Tossed in a balsamic glaze and bits of house smoked crispy ham, the hints of sweetness paired with saltiness was too enticing on the palate. We couldn’t stop eating it.

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I chuckled when I saw Duck “Canarditas” ($15.95) and thought it was such a smart name for it — ‘canard’ is duck in French. Caramelized onions, pineapple salsa, aged goat cheese all come together to make this a gourmet taco indeed. Salty with hints of sweet and tart were perfect accompaniments for the duck.

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Seafood Pot Pie ($12.95) was not your traditional pot pie. Comprising a blend of fresh seafood including fish, shrimp and scallops, there is also carrots, fennel, salsify and saffron, all topped off with an Old Bay spiced crust.

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If you’re looking for something different, or just to escape from it all, come for a meal and pretend you’re on vacation for a few hours. Diners receive 3 hours complimentary parking underneath the hotel with validation.

Sea 180º Coastal Tavern
800 Seacoast Drive
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
Tel: 619-631-4949

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