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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



a new-found San Diego love: Zymology 21

We have reservations elsewhere on the day we make our way down to San Diego. However, even though we are more than 30 minutes early, we are unable to find a parking spot due to Little Italy’s weekly farmer’s market in full swing. As our reservation time draws near, I call the restaurant and inform them we are not able to join them.

Our next course of action is to head to the Gaslamp and try our luck at the new Cafe 21, but of course, when we arrive, there is a crazy line with at least an hour’s wait. No way! I ask if their new concept Zymology 21 is open and am delighted to hear it is, so we cross the street to the old Cafe 21 spot and step into Zymology 21.

The space is empty except for one table, no wait at all. On the day of our visit, the restaurant is not officially open — soft opening stage — which explains why there is no one there. The concept here is different. You are given a menu and ordering is done before you sit down. It’s a fast casual concept with a sit-down feel. I can still see hints of the old Cafe 21 here and there, but ultimately, the environment is completely revamped, with an updated, and uber cool vibe.


The definition of “zymology” is simply, “a science that deals with fermentation”, and here, you will find that this refers to the process of at least one ingredient in each dish or libation. Naturally, we begin with one of their fantastic cocktails, BloodieZ ($9) a bloody Mary that’s unrivaled, even from some of the most distinguished establishments around. It is served in a beaker, on a tray, accompanied by a test tube of beet juice. Use it or don’t, it’s up to you. A skewer of garnishes including olives, half a jalapeno, watermelon cucumber and micro carrot is very pretty.


Whiskey Sour ($11) using Old Forester whiskeym with an egg white foam, is also presented in a beaker — you will find almost everything has that scientific approach here — but snap your photo quickly, otherwise, the lemon rind garnish will sink rapidly through the foam and end up like my photo, to be no where in sight. Surprisingly, I really enjoy this!


None of us are real coffee drinkers, but the Syphon Coffee ($8) is too unique to resist. We order one to share. The truth is, we want to experience it more than drink it, although we enjoy the high-quality, full-bodied roast.


The first thing which catches our eye is Shrimp N Gritz ($15), comprising grilled sweet shrimp marinated in garlic. It sits on top of home style parmesan herb, creamy grits and surrounded by fried julienned leeks. The shrimp is incredibly fresh and I couldn’t help but suck on the heads, enticing all the shrimp butter out of its shell. The grits are creamy and the leeks provides a crispy contrast.


Chicken and Wafflez ($14) is always a good choice, but here, you will not be getting it in the traditional style you’re accustom to. I select dark meat (you can choose white) chicken, which is fried crispy on the outside and very moist on the inside. It reminds me of Indonesian-style fried chicken, although the seasonings are nothing like it. The waffle is a house-smoked gouda and herbs egg waffle — like those I remember eating from a street stall in Hong Kong as a child. The spicy lime honey glaze is unique, but only a touch is enough for me. There is a runny fried egg as well, but the waffle and chicken are enough to satiate even without.


Our next dish is Hay Hash ($16). I am not impressed when it hits the table, however, looks are deceiving. The rosemary potatoes confit are rich in flavor, while the seared steak loin is perfectly tender. The poached egg runs into the herb scented Hollandaise sauce adding a heavenly richness all around. I can not stop eating the potatoes which is a surprise because I’m not usually a big fan of it.


There are several open face sandwiches on the menu and I’m guessing these will rotate as the days go by. On the day of our visit, we select OpenFaceZ: Duck Rillettes ($6) braised duck topped with pickled cucumber, baby carrots, whole grain mustard sauce and pickled onion. It is decent and well-balanced.


However, it is the Fungi Trifecta ($6), a blend of lobster mushrooms, cremini mushrooms and oyster mushrooms on top of a French beluga lentil pate, which garners the most ooos and ahhs. The natural umami of the mushrooms is enough to tantalize the palate, everything else is icing on the cake.


While we are not in the mood for dessert, we are definitely intrigued by the PopsicleZ ($9) which are sangria popsicles. The flavors change weekly and we are presented with the two: apple with beer back and tropical (peach) with wine back. I am a fan of Cafe 21’s sangrias and to find them in a popsicle is not only whimsical, but completely calls out to my love of frozen treats.


I am sure the next time I visit Zymology 21, the menu will be different and it will be a completely new experience. This is why my love of the “21” brand stays true because it is constantly evolving and never boring.

Zymology 21
750 5th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-546-9321

Zymology 21 on Urbanspoon