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

birthday dinner at Pinot Provence

The last time I had a birthday dinner at Pinot Provence was in 2011. I remember it well as foie gras was not yet a contraband, and the meal ended with one of my favorite desserts — sabayon. Fast forward three years later and I am again at Pinot Provence for my birthday, this time with the talented Alfonso Ramirez at the helm. My party of eight left the menu pretty much in Chef Alfonso’s hands, except I had just one request, one of my favorites at Pinot Provence.

We begin with Tartare  “Crabcake” topped with a fried quail egg. Big chunks of crabmeat are tossed lightly in a delightful dressing, never overwhelming the crustacean. A delicate dish packed with flavor, it is devoured ever so quickly at both ends of the table.

tartare

The second item is Hamachi Crudo. Luscious slices of yellowtail sashimi is paired with avocado mousse, citrus, pistachio and coriander vin. Just a hint of ponzu brings it all together. My penchant for sashimi means this is right up my alley!

crudo

I absolutely adore octopus and the Octopus here is tender and delicious. Paired with fingerling potatoes and micro greens, you are able to taste each component as a separate entity wonderfully, and then together as a whole with the salsa verde.

octopus

One of the biggest surprise dishes is Lobster with Mole sauce accompanied by a kabocha squash puree and baby leeks. I love lobster, but mole sauce, not so much. It usually leans on the sweet side, something I absolutely do not love. Chef Alfonso’s mole sauce is subtle, yet still possesses the hints of chocolate, however, the lobster remains the star and is allowed to shine.

lobster

Buffalo Frog Legs is the item I ask Chef Alfonso to include for the night’s dinner. It is a favorite of mine at Pinot Provence and comes with blue cheese crumbles, celery and carrot sticks. I can eat a whole plate of this on my own. If you love buffalo chicken wings, you’ll love these.

frog legs

My son’s been on an Escargot craze lately and he ravishes the one here, offering me only a taste — since it’s my birthday.

escargot

I loved Mussels and the ones here are plump and meaty. A delicious white wine sauce with slivers of fennel sits underneath flavoring the mussels sits in the cast iron pot. I spoon it and eat it like a soup. The fries which are served alongside is definitely worth the carb calories.

mussels

There are several other dishes but I don’t have any photos for them. I did not bring my camera as I was not planning on writing this up, but naturally, I’m not able to go to dinner and not take any photos. These are shot with my phone so I apologize for them, but the perfect evening shared with dear friends is not something I want to miss out documenting, so there you have it. Until next year…..

 

eat drink and SOCIALize

Costa Mesa is fast becoming the foodie mecca of Orange County with restaurants popping up left, right and center every week or so. Some are good, some need work, while others, well, those we won’t even mention. Social falls into the first category — the good — but it is even better than good.

First off, the strip mall it sits in is a little shady, but if you can get over that, you’ll find yourself in an astonishingly cool space. I really like the use of wood throughout, giving it an edgy environmentally-sound atmosphere all around.

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Secondly, the cocktails are pretty damn good, and it is hard to say no to them when you have to contemplate a passage home. I drink responsibly because at some point I have to drive myself home. However, it is still early, so we start with a Moscow Mule ($7) — ask for the copper mug — and Paloma ($7) with tequila, a house-made grapefruit cordial, lime and “bubbles” off the “Social Hour” menu which is offered between 4pm and 6pm from Tuesdays to Fridays.

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Once happy hour is over, there is a list of “Bespoke Libations” to choose from, including Peace Co ($14), a play-on-word for pisco — which is an ingredient in the drink — with blueberry, lemon, egg white and garnished with an orchid. Border Patrol ($14) is a tequila and mezcal cocktail with deliciously fragrant pineapple juice, lime cordial and chocolate bitters. It is hard to stop drinking this.

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The menu is simple and straightforward making it pretty easy to order. We select Louisiana Seafood Roll ($13), a pillowy brioche bun stuffed with crab and shrimp tossed in remoulade. A fried oyster accompanies. The sandwich offers meaty chunks of seafood in every bite without an overabundance of dressing — very nice!

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Spanish Octopus ($18) is the first thing which catches my eye when I am perusing the menu. I never bypass the opportunity to order octopus and the one here is fantastic. Splendid in texture, it is perfectly seasoned and pairs fabulously with cannellini beans and braised greens.

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If you love mac n cheese but don’t want the carbs, Cauliflower Gratin ($10) is the best thing for you yet. We agree that this tastes just like mac n cheese, but without the carb guilt. Sinful in taste, the aged cheddar mornay is gooey rich, and the use of red fresno gives it just a hint of heat to whet the appetite even further. Definitely thumbs up all around.

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If I have to pick one dish as my absolute favorite, I will have to say the Mussels ($18) wins hands down. Meaty green lipped mussels are plump and succulent, leaving me feeling so utterly satisfied bite after bite. The lemongrass, ginger and coconut broth it is served in is intoxicating and slices of red Fresno chiles add a welcoming heat to the finish. The only issue is that the menu states crispy rice, but we didn’t find any of it in our dish. I would come back for this alone.

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Wild Mushrooms ($14) is umami-filled with mushroom in its own delicious jus over Anson Mill grits, and a slow runny egg to add even more depth to the end result. However, as good as this dish is, I think the others are just phenomenal in comparison, leaving the mushrooms somewhat in second place to the others.

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The same goes for the Chicken and Waffles ($16). While the Jidori chicken oysters blows us away, the waffles do not. The Louisiana hot sauce with its spicy sweet flavors is absolutely addicting. I wish they offer the chicken on its own because that’s all I want. It is a winner through and through, but just as simple to eat the chicken and leave the waffles on the plate.

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If you’re debating on which entree to choose, I highly recommend Akaushi Skirt Steak ($29). I love the use of red Fresno chiles throughout the menu, and here, it is infused within the chimichurri, leaving my mouth with a lovely kick at the end. Bone marrow butter adds another level of unctuousness to the perfectly executed medium rare steak.

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The flavors at SOCIAL appeal to all my senses, and when you’re adding heat to many of the dishes in subtle and effective ways, you’ve definitely piqued my interest. This is one of the most satisfying meals I’ve eaten this year and I hope to return again soon to indulge in those mussels, octopus and the chicken oysters. Next time, I hope to meet the chef who has cleverly tantalized my tastebuds in more ways than one.

SOCIAL
512 W 19th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Tel: 949-642-2425

Social Costa Mesa on Urbanspoon

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

Mesa on Urbanspoon

Valentine’s Day at Pizzeria Ortica

If you are on the fence regarding what to do on Valentine’s Day, here’s a suggestion! Pizzeria Ortica is offering a special menu with items only available that day. Executive Chef Justin Miller has created some great small plates and entrees for this special day and you won’t be subjected to a prix fixe menu like so many restaurants will be doing on February 14th.

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I was able to preview some of the dishes featured on the Valentine’s Day menu including Housemade Ricotta-filled Mozzarella ($9), an insanely flavor-popping appetizer heavily scented with lemon filling my olfactory senses with citrusy aromas. Whole leafs of Italian parsley and basil accompanies as well as breadcrumbs for crunch.

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If you’re a fan of pasta, look no further than the Cavatelli ($16), nodules of al dente pasta in a borlotti bean puree with morsels of bone marrow dotted within. Beautiful rounds of thinly sliced scarlet turnip grace the plate and crispy pork cracklin’ tops the dish. The decadence of bone marrow adds another dimension to the already creamy puree while the turnip adds a freshness to each mouthful.

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There is also a house-cured bresaola on the menu — not quite ready yet on the day of my visit, but Chef Justin showed it to me anyway.

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One of the entrees offered is a Braised Beef Shank ($35 for two) with the complex flavors of sofritto and topped with a bone marrow gremolata to-die-for. The entire shank sits on a bed of polenta and a very generous portion even for two.

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If you want to order off the a la carte menu, it is also available and includes pizzas from the wood-fire oven such as Escarole ($16) with fontina, mozzarella, escarole, Crimini mushrooms and Calabrian chilis. Escarole is from the endive family, but much milder than the endive itself. It reminds me of a cross between romaine and endive. This vegetarian pizza is so tasty you won’t even think about the fact that there is no meat on it.

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Reservations are highly recommended! Also, keep an eye out for Pizzeria Ortica’s during Orange County Restaurant Week, I am excited to try the porchetta dip in the works for that menu!

Pizzeria Ortica
650 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-445-4900

Pizzeria Ortica on Urbanspoon

Seabirds Kitchen offers simple and delicious vegan fare

Vegans living in Orange County aren’t met with a variety of choices when looking to dine out. Even though I can never become vegetarian or vegan, and as long as I’m not forced to eat a plant based diet, I actually enjoy eating it from from time to time because it can taste pretty good depending on where you go.

The newly opened Seabirds Kitchen came out of the Seabirds gourmet food truck which Stephanie Morgan started. While I wasn’t fond of the truck — it was always on the bland side for my palate — I was hoping that this wouldn’t be the case with the brick and mortar, and I’m happy to say, it wasn’t at all!SEABIRDS KITCHEN1 (640x384)

The minimalist decor and use of natural, earthy colors create a space ideal to enjoy this genre of cuisine at. Besides a row of two and four seaters, there is also a communal table with high stools for larger parties wishing to dine here together.

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We began with Burnt Brussels Sprouts ($5.95) which possessed lovely tart flavors from the lime and dijon mustard. I would have liked them a little crispier but they were very tasty.

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Organic Beet & Cara Cara Orange ($5.95/half $10.95/full) was so good my son kept asking me if I could make this at home for him. I love cara cara oranges and the sweet segments added a wonderful citrusy freshness to the greens. Roasted local beets and kale, both from Tanaka Farm in Irvine are sweet and crunchy and a wonderful way to get your antioxidants into your diet in one dish. I loved the crunch from the candied walnuts and the smoky coconut bacon added depth to the salad.cara cara salad (640x425)

For a nice starter to share, choose the Tahitian Squash Flatbread ($11.45) a Tahitian squash puree is spread over flatbread and topped with caramelized onions, smoked paprika, chopped Tuscan kale and aged balsamic. The richness of the vinegar really brings the whole thing together.

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I wasn’t sure if I’d like BBQ Jack Sliders ($7.50/2pc) seeing I’m not a huge fan of barbecue sauce, nor pulled pork, which is what this vegan version is mirroring. Shredded young jackfruit is grilled and then seasoned with Kentucky BBQ sauce before it is assembled on whole wheat slider buns and topped with Seabirds slaw and caramelized red onion and pickles. They were absolutely delicious, so packed with flavor with the salty, sweet, tart flavor profiles.

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Our last savory dish, Zippy Tofu Plate ($11.95) is a version of something Morgan’s mom used to make while she was growing up. Brown rice is topped with grilled Hodo soy tofu, creamy green chile cheese sauce, broccoli and topped with tortilla strips for crunch. An ancho salsa is served alongside and gives it an elevated flavor if you like a bit of spice. It is even good the following day warmed up in the microwave!

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Chaffle ($8.95 feeds 2-4) is a churro waffle topped with coconut sorbet, chocolate sauce and chopped pecans. The coconut sorbet is from Vitaly, across the street at The Camp and makes this generous portion a meal in itself.

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You can be a carnivore and still enjoy vegan cuisine once in a while. I definitely need a break from time to time, and Seabirds Kitchen has a great selection for you to cut your teeth on.

Seabirds Kitchen
2930 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-549-2584

Seabirds Kitchen on Urbanspoon