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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Dublin 4 Gastropub: South County’s hidden gem

I’ve had Dublin 4 Gastropub bookmarked for a really long time. Too long. Therefore, I was so pleased when a fellow foodie — who absolutely adores this place — agreed to have lunch with me here. Those of you who don’t know how the name “Dublin 4” came about will be interested to know that it is actually a postal code (similar to our zip codes) and services an area which houses University College Dublin, as well as several foreign embassies. In current culture, “Dublin 4” or “D4” is used to represent the more affluent lifestyles of the residents in that area.

So with that out of the way, I am excited by the menu, as there are so many things I’m eager to try. I consult my friend who has dined here numerous times on our menu for the day.

So many things piqued our interest so we decided to order as many we were able to put away starting with D4 Reuben Rolls ($13), egg rolls stuffed with house cured corned beef, house-made sauerkraut and Blarney Irish cheddar. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy these but I was wrong. They were absolutely delicious.

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D4 Seasonal Soup Selection ($9) was mushroom bisque and it was delightful. Earthy and so umami-filled, each spoonful was relished with pleasure.

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I love smoked salmon and the House-Cured Smoked Irish Salmon ($16) caught my eye. It was even better than I had expected. Succulent slices of luscious salmon were served with dill creme fraiche, chopped egg, pickled onions, and slices of rustic wheat baguette. I didn’t need any of the accoutrements because the fish was incredible on its own.

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I wanted to try a sandwich and the lamb burger was a highly recommended suggestion, however, I wasn’t in the mood for a burger, so we selected Niman Ranch Pork Belly BLT ($16). Thick slices of pork belly, wild arugula and heirloom tomato were topped with house-made sweet onion and bacon marmalade. The flavor profiles were great, but the bread was a tad soft bordering on mushy — maybe toasting it a little longer would help.

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I had heard so many great things about the Dublin Lawyer Lobster Pie ($21) and I was glad it was a lot smaller than I had initially expected. Chunks of Maine lobster are bathed in a cognac cream sauce dotted with fresh shucked peas. The pastry is nice and flaky while the filling is perfectly seasoned with the right consistency — not too thick and not watery. Well worth the price!

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Fish & Chips ($20) is always a favorite of mine, but few restaurants do it well. The one here is good, but not perfect. The fresh Norwegian cod is incredible, flavorful and moist. The Avery White Rascal beer batter was too greasy and caused the bottom of the fish sitting on the plate to be wet and soggy. The crushed garden peas was absolutely stunning, I wonder if they offer it as a side.

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This little unassuming spot is a definite winner, offering hearty and comforting food that will surely appeal to all. Its location is convenient, located right off the freeway. I will be back!

Dublin 4 Gastropub
26342 Oso Pkwy
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
949-582-0026

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Counterpoint San Diego is right on point

It isn’t often I walk away from a meal that makes me feel so utterly happy inside. A meal that is consistently good — no, great! — and the food, service, everything about the entire experience is simply top notch. This is one of those times.

Counterpoint in San Diego’s Golden Hill neighborhood has been in business for five years and I’m not surprised that the place is pretty packed on a Saturday night. The atmosphere is casual but absolutely inviting, with a great soundtrack of 70s and 80s’ hits playing one after another on the night of our visit.

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We start with some cocktails: Florida Canyon ($9) to satiate my thirst for tequila, and Counterpoint Gin & Tonic ($9) simply because I am intrigued by the house made tonic paired with the restaurant’s take on the traditional Plymouth gin and tonic. The Rancho Allegre Blanco tequila libation, with pineapple, ginger, sage and lime juice is great, but the gin and tonic wins hand down — I finish it quickly.

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Owner Cam Fomby walk by and stopped to chat for a few minutes. I have many questions which I ply him and he graciously answers them all. An ex-marine with no prior restaurant experience, I am curious, and at the same time, intrigued. He is passionate, that’s for sure, and he is definitely excited about chef Rose Peyron, previously at Alchemy, where I enjoyed a great meal earlier this year. But is is when Fomby tells me all he wants is in “making ordinary things, extraordinary” that my ears perk up and I keep this at the back of my mind throughout my meal.

Our first course of Burratta Salad ($12) arrives with arugula, tomato, dollops of gooey burrata, and smoked almonds. The unique element on the plate is the accompanying leek-bread pudding croutons made in-house — words which will resonate throughout the post.

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Next is Southern Fried Cauliflower ($7) with perfectly fried florets first soaked in a buttermilk marinade, then seasoned with creole spice. The coating is light but flavorful. The honey-hot sauce is slightly sweet with a lovely kick at the end. Pair everything together and it is a delicious mouthful. Definitely a must-order!

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I always order rillettes because I love it, so Beef Cheek Rillettes ($8) — made in-house — is in order. The smoked beef cheek arrives topped with tomato confit in a mason jar. Toasted baguette — from Bread & Cie, one of my favorite bakeries in San Diego — is a lovely vehicle for the rillettes. Add a little of the grain mustard served alongside.

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Pickles are near and dear to my heart — anything salty and sour actually — therefore Pickle Jar ($5) is not to be missed. A creative assortment of house-pickled vegetables and fruit, which include blueberries, grapes, carrots, wax and cannellini beans, which surprised even me. I’ve never eaten a pickled blueberry or grape before and the taste is strange upon first bite, but it quickly grows on you. An ideal palate cleanser after the unctuousness of the rillettes.

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At this point I am losing the light very quickly and am never thoroughly happy with my photos when there is a lack of natural lighting. So from here on out, the photos won’t be as pleasing, but the food continues to tantalize.

Mac n Cheese ($8) using orecchiette pasta and house-smoked aged cheddar, is rich and decadent. The cheese adds a hint of smokiness without overpowering. The best part is enjoying the left-overs a few days later.

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One of the most over-used vegetables right now is Brussels Sprouts ($7), but I have never been happier eating the ones here. My son takes one bite and says “these are way better than yours” and I’ll have to agree with him. Fried to a perfect char, they are then tossed in a kimchi sauce with a hint of sambal. Those are staple ingredients in my fridge but I don’t have the creativity to step outside of the bacon or pancetta box when it comes to preparing Brussels sprouts. This is one of the best things I’ve eaten in quite some time — simple and addicting.

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Moving on to entrees, the Smoked Duck Sausage Pasta ($15) is a definite hit. The sausage is made in-house with the right amount of seasonings and the ideal texture I want when it comes to sausage. A light lemon cream sauce coats the pappardelle (made fresh by Assenti’s Pasta in Little Italy) tossed with roasted mushrooms, a handful of arugula and shaved parmagiana reggiano. Absolutely to die for!

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Sausage lovers can revel in Bangers & Mash ($15) — yes, the bangers are made in-house — with creamy brown butter mashed potatoes and a succulent onion-bacon stout jam. A heavenly, but immensely filling dish quintessential for the cooler weather. Is it bad I just want a few of the sausages and a side of those Brussels sprouts and call it a night?

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Beef Tongue Pastrami Sandwich ($13) is one of those things which can either be really good, or really bad because everyone loves pastrami, but tongue? The thinly sliced tongue is sandwiched between a rye roll along with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, spicy aioli and house pickles. The flavor profiles come together so harmoniously and I wish I have more room to take another bite. I end up eating it for lunch the next day after warming it up a tad in the toaster oven. Still good! And don’t forget the generous portion of house-made black pepper chips which sits alongside. You won’t be able to stop eating even half way through.

tongue pastramiIt has definitely been a while since my last encounter with a little restaurant where the chef takes pride in creating as much of the menu in-house as possible. Counterpoint is definitely impressive with tasty cocktails and solid fare, most of which are familiar, but take on a different approach. I think the menu is a clear indication that Cam Fomby’s vision of ordinary things being extraordinary has come to fruition. We will be back, my son will make sure of it.

Counterpoint
830 25th Street
San Diego, CA 92102
Tel: 619-564-6722

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Tavern on 2 tantalizes my tastebuds

If the name Frank De Loach has never crossed your ears before, you’re definitely missing out. This is an unconventional chef who thinks outside of the box, one who is not afraid to play with flavors and bring together ingredients some may not be familiar with. In short, not everyone get his food.  But for those who do, the experience is a sensational one. Chef Frank’s flavor profiles are pretty much on par with mine about 99% of the time. I know he will use enough salt and acid for my palate and that is always something to be happy about.

When you meet Chef Frank, you won’t be surprised that his gastropub-style cuisine is deliciously comforting, however, it is his Asian-inspired dishes that blows my mind. My first experience with Chef Frank’s Asian-style food creations was at Early Bird in Fullerton. His love for Asian flavors, plus the myriad of tastes he picked up during his travels to southeast Asia invigorated him to design — and they are often works of art — incredible pairings of flavors he was moved by.

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Chef Frank is now at Tavern on 2 in Long Beach, where most of the customers order the burgers. We had one as well — Tavern Burger ($14). The pattie is a perfect medium rare. Each bite provided me with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized onions, richness from the St Andre brie and freshness from the arugula. The savory ketchup did a great job by adding some salty tart finish. The burger is good. Damn good. It is not surprising that about 70% of the restaurant had one on the table — there are four beef burgers, one ahi and one veggie on the menu.

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Another favorite is Chef Frank’s version of Short Rib Poutine ($14). Yes, there are those who are sticklers for authentic poutine, and then, there are those who haven’t a clue what real poutine is. I kind of fall in between. I’ll love it if it tastes good. The version here has braised short rib which would probably amass a complete furor from some. Ask for it with only gravy and Wisconsin cheese curds if you feel your purist side emerging — I eat it without much short rib and prefer only gravy and curds with my fries. It is definitely very tasty.

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Don’t grimace at this next dish, Sticky Pigtails ($9), if you like ribs, you’ll most probably like this. The minute I bite into it, a wave of nostalgia comes over me. The sauce tastes exactly like my mother’s sweet and sour ribs except she uses Chinese dark vinegar. Here, it is a blend of hoisin and oyster sauces with lime and a few other things thrown in. Sticky they definitely are, and mouthpuckering as well, but it’s all good.

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However, what I am here for are for the dishes the rest of the clientele may not be ordering at a “tavern”. The blackboard features seasonal dishes such as Summer Peaches ($11), where lusciously sweet peaches are tossed with cubes of smoked mozzarella, radicchio, baby kale, Thai basil, white balsamic, and sprinkled with cocoa crumbs. At first, I’m like “what the hell is this….” but once you eat it with each of the ingredients on the plate — I highly suggest dipping your mozzarella into it — you will get a burst of the cocoa on your palate and go “oh! wow!”

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Hamachi Crudo ($12) is another blackboard special and is so simple and refreshing. Interspersed between slices of strawberries, jicama sticks, cilantro and shards of lime zest, the fish possesses hints of the jalapeno vin it is marinated in. Subtle and not overpowering, the hamachi is left to shine. Naturally, I wanted just a little more citrus, but that’s just me.

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If I am dining alone, the Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) salad would make for a perfect dish for one. If you’re there with others, you can share it — unless you’re with me, then I would hog the entire bowl. Chunks of seared ahi tuna is tossed in a Vietnamese dressing along with soba noodles, Thai basil, cilantro, radish, cucumber, red onions, cabbage and scallions. This is one of those items I am not able to stop eating. The perfect pairings of salty and tart is simply outstanding.

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I suggest you eat this meal from light to heavy, although, the salads and fish dishes make for the perfect palate cleanser in between the heavier options. I just prefer to not cloud my mouth with the richer foods before I eat salad and fish. I hope you will visit Tavern on 2 and check out what Chef Frank is doing. I always know I’m going to be highly satisfied whenever I leave a meal that he has prepared.

Tavern on 2
5110 E 2nd Street
Long Beach, CA 90803
Tel: 562-856-4000

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spring menu at A Restaurant + Mother’s Day brunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Searching for beef stroganoff in OC

I love beef stroganoff. There’s nothing better than luscious egg noodles coated with a rich tangy beefy sauce to bring comfort to my belly. Moms and grandmas make it all over the country, but it was certainly no easy feat trying to locate the best stroganoff in Orange County. In fact, it wasn’t easy finding it on many restaurant menus, let alone the best ones.

After months of searching, I’m afraid to say, I’ve eaten some pretty awful beef stroganoffs and have only come up with a few I feel I can put into this post. For me, it has everything to do with the sauce which has to possess some form of tartness (traditionally from sour cream) on my palate.

Quinn’s Old Towne Grill — this restaurant has kept the beef stroganoff on its menu for probably as long as the restaurant’s been in business. The one here is authentic, with mushrooms and sour cream, but was a tad under-seasoned for me. However, I commend its efforts in keeping with tradition.

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Nieuport 17 — in terms of authenticity, this beef stroganoff wins hands down. This institution sticks with the traditional ingredients such as sour cream, mushrooms, egg noodles, and seasoned to perfection. Isn’t it crazy that the two most traditional beef stroganoffs are in Tustin and only several few blocks from each other?

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Old Vine Cafe — Chef Mark MacDonald’s version is very tasty, though, not traditional. Shiitake mushrooms add another meaty dimension to this delicious offering and the sprinkling of grated cheese, a lovely salty component.

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Savannah Chop House — another not so traditional version, but possessing a beautiful tartness from grain mustard, this is my favorite beef stroganoff of all. The amount of acidity is perfect on my palate and gives just the right amount of mouth puckering for me to keep eating.

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That’s it for now. If any of you have other suggestions, please let me know and I’ll continue my search and post another piece sometime down the road.