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…..

 

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Moulin will take you to Paris without leaving OC

I’ve been to Moulin as many times as I can count on one hand — perhaps more — since its opening almost a month ago. Maybe it is the quaint French charm, or the very attractive staff owner Laurent Vrignaud has employed, Or just maybe, it is just simply the fact that the food is really good. For me, it has to be the food which draws me in. Decor helps, but it is only secondary to its culinary offerings.

This little French bistro and cafe, which took over the Pascal’s Epicerie spot off Bristol, is everything that appeals to my senses. The food draws me in, the inviting space coupled with warm, friendly people, makes me stay for a while. Put that all together and the result is my desire to keep coming back again and again with friends in tow.

moulin

The food is simple. Typical French fare at a cafe you might chance upon while strolling through the streets of Montmartre, Paris, where Laurent is from. It is his longing for the foods of his childhood which led him here, to open Moulin.

Each visit allows me to try different things. The atmosphere is incredible, just buzzing with energy. Breakfast and lunch are bustling with people, music, and the aromas of something delicious. I’ve yet to come at dinner time, and plan to make it to one of the Tuesday “Chef’s Dinner” that features Chef Anthony Bar’s French specialties in a family-style atmosphere. Reservations are a must — walk-ins will be disappointed.

MOULIN-001

For now, I can tell you, the regular menu is pretty enticing on its own. For breakfast, try one of their omelettes. I liked L’Omelette Moulin ($12) which includes roasted chicken (from the in-house rotisserie) with herbs and mushroom. They’ll ask if you want cheese with it, I always say yes. It is a perfectly executed omelette, fluffy on the inside and really light — just like they do it in gay Paris.

omelette

La Quiche du Chef et Salade ($10) is another stellar choice. You’ll get a side salad with a slice of whatever quiche the chef has created for the day. Quiche Lorraine was the daily feature, a wedge of eggy goodness dotted with ham and cheese throughout. I don’t remember the last time I had quiche this good. The texture is light as air and rather impressive.

quiche

One of my favorite items is Le Poulet Roti aux Herbs ($8/lb), rotisserie chicken you can see rotating behind the cashier. The chicken breast tends to be a tad drier so I always choose the leg/thigh, make sure you ask for some jus to go with it. There are vegetables as a side option, but what I do instead is, order a baguette ($3), cut a piece off, dip it into the jus and enjoy.

chicken

Instead of vegetables, I prefer the various salads Moulin offers in its cold case. The salad is sold by weight and there are quite a few to choose from. My favorites include: Le Céleri Rémoulade, sliced celeriac tossed in a remoulade; La Pomme de Terre, Lardons en Persillade, baby potatoes with bacon lardons tossed with persillade (a dressing of parsley chopped together with garlic, herbs, oil, and vinegar).

salade

On another visit, we enjoyed sandwiches. Jambon et Fromage ($9) includes wonderful ham (roasted in-house) and gruyere sandwiched between a house-made baguette. This is also a perfect selection if you’re on the run and wanted something quick to go.

jambon fromage

On my son’s first visit, he stood in front of the cold case and immediately points to the Saucisson Sec and Cornichons ($8) baguette. In fact, he kept muttering “this is so good and so simple” the entire time he was eating it. Some dry, cured sausage topped with baby gherkins between a buttered crusty loaf — simple indeed.

saucisson sec

Croque Madame ($11) is a classic French hot sandwich you won’t want to miss. If you’re not familiar with this, it is a croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) with a runny egg on top. Comfort food at its best.

croque madame

I am a huge fan of onion soup, but unless I make it myself, I have yet to find one in Orange County that’s spot on. The French Onion Soup ($9) here is excellent, with a flavorful broth and just the right amount of onions. The crouton and cheese to soup ratio is also correct. My son proclaimed this one of the best French onion soups he’s had in a restaurant.

french onion soup

There is still a lot to explore at Moulin and new items are added daily. The core menu will always be available, but from time to time, you’ll find some specials such as the Brie Tartine ($8) we found on one of our visits. If you see this, get it! Absolutely to-die-for.

brie lardon

Moulin Bistro is one of those gems destined to become an Orange County favorite. I see chefs grabbing a bite with their families, or just popping in for a quick coffee. To see culinary folk flock here affirms that this is a place to watch out for. After all, isn’t that the best compliment and validation of all?

Moulin Bistro
1000 Bristol N
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 844-376-6243

Moulin on Urbanspoon

Vincent’s makes a good first impression

Drove down to San Diego and was lucky enough to catch the tail end of Restaurant Week last week. We visited Vincent’s in Escondido and my friends and I were pleasantly pleased to find a warm, cozy, bustling dining room.

The regular menu was also available but we were here for the $30 prix fixe Restaurant Week menu consisting of three choices for appetizer, entree and dessert. To make it easy, we just went ahead and ordered everything so we could get a feel of what the restaurant had to offer.

dining room (640x425)

I was happy to see that the items are all available on the regular menu — really hate restaurants which make up an entirely different menu for restaurant week. This way, if you wanted to return, you’d be able to enjoy the dishes again.

Smoked Salmon and Watercress Salad was a nice refreshing start, not overly dressed with the lemon-caper vinaigrette and served with beautiful smoked salmon and thinly sliced red onions. Chopped hard boiled eggs accompanied and the pumpernickel croutons were very nice.

watercress salad (640x425)

One of my dining companions is always making faces whenever I ask him to try lentil soup. The French Lentil Soup here was seriously flavorful and guess what? My friend loved it! Topped with a parmesan garlic crouton, this is a soup I would like a big bowl of. Absolutely DELICIOUS!

lentil soup (640x425)

What really surprised me was the Braised Pork Belly.   Everyone knows it takes a seriously outstanding pork belly dish for me to like it. I’m just not very fond of this cut because if not executed perfectly, the lean part of the meat is tough and the fat disgustingly fatty if not rendered properly. After one mouthful, I was sold! Unctuous and quite lovely. I couldn’t stop eating the puree of butternut squash it was served over. The sweetness was so well paired with the green peppercorn glaze drizzled over.

pork belly (640x425)

Entrees were next and Pecan-Crusted Rainbow Trout with Parsley Brown Butter Sauce was not my favorite. Idaho farm raised rainbow trout seasoned with pecans and pan sauteed did not possess a crispy crust as I had imagined. The pecan topping was a tad mushy, however, the fish was moist and flaky. The potato gratin was delicious, as was the medley of seasonal vegetables.

rainbow trout (640x425)

I’m not a huge pork fan so I was skeptical about Pork Chop Charcuterie. A pan roasted Kurabuta pork chop was a little underseasoned and slightly overcooked. However, the braised cabbage and sauteed apples were great accompaniments eaten together with the pork. The charcuterie sauce prepared with veal stock, herbs, Dijon and diced cornichons was really awesome and I wanted more of it for the bland pork.

pork chop (640x425)

Everyone agreed, Duck Confit with Wild Mushroom Cognac Sauce was the definitely winner. Maple Leaf duck legs are simmered with garlic and herbs, fork tender and so rich on the palate. The house made wide noodles were the perfect accoutrement for this dish soaked in the wonderful wild mushroom cognac sauce. I would totally come back for this! So good!

duck confit (640x425)

By the time we got to dessert, they had run out of two of the offerings, so they presented us with alternatives. Apple Tart served with vanilla ice cream was one of those. I’m not a fan of apples, but this worked really well for me. The pastry was crispy while the apples were soft enough but still retained some bite to it. Really great!

apple tart (640x425)

Creme Brulee was disappointing. The creme part was too dense and overly sweet. We didn’t enjoy this much.

creme brulee (640x425)

However, we saved the best for last. Hazelnut Paris-Brest pate-a-chou filled with hazelnut praline cream was absolutely stunning, just the perfect mouthful bite after bite. I’m not a dessert fan and I was in love with this. A little puff pastry, a cream puff if you will, is stuffed with the hazelnut praline cream — so soft and tantalizing!

profiteroles (640x425)

I would never have found Vincent’s had it not been my friend who heard about it on the radio one morning. I’m so glad we took a chance on visiting. This is one of those restaurants which truly utilized restaurant week to its fullest to showcase their menu items and it worked well to their advantage. Bravo!

Vincent’s
113 W Grand Avenue
Escondido, CA 92025
Tel: 760-745-3835

Vincent's on Urbanspoon

my week in NYC: le Bernardin

I would like to say I’ve saved the best for last, but this is my last NYC post only because I didn’t know how exactly I was going to write it.

This was the restaurant visit I was most looking forward to — for months before the trip. I had elicited some friends to join in on what I had told them would be an experience of a lifetime, to dine at Eric Ripert’s 3-star Michelin Le Bernardin.

Unfortunately, the UN Summit was happening and I had no idea it would be such a tragedy to get into a taxi. My taxi driver was unhappy to be traveling at such slow speed and was griping about how he should’ve taken the week off blah blah. I, on the other hand, was panicked I’d be late for our noon reservations.

As luck would have it, I WAS late — 15 minutes — but my friends had already arrived and when I got there, we were immediately seated and offered a complimentary glass of champagne to start. My heart was racing just sitting in the understated dining room.

A basket of bread arrives and we decide to try one of each to share between us. The foccacia was pretty good.

As was the multi-grain and the one with walnuts.

An amuse bouche of poached and smoked salmon spread was brought out. Upon trying, one of my friends said “I liked the one from Russ and Daughters better”. She was right! My palate didn’t do a double take. It was average. But it was an amuse bouche. Surely, the meal had to be better?

The three of us made it a point to choose different things to get a varied taste of what the menu had to offer.

Appetizers came in either a cold or warm variety. Cobia, better known as ling, was described on the menu as curry crusted. It was so subtle I hardly noticed it. The dish is finished table side with the roasted pepper vinaigrette spooned over the cobia — which was a tad chewy — and the coconut lime broth drizzled around the plate. The coconut lime broth again was mild, but unlike the curry,  I detected both the ingredients listed and the strips of young coconut helped it along.

Fluke was served as sashimi topped with micro watercress, avocado, slices of cherry tomatoes and chives. A jalapeno lime broth is drizzled table side. It was a nice dish but not mouth-popping by any means although refreshing on the palate.

Our favorite was Tuna — layers of thinly pounded Yellowfin tuna over foie gras and a very thinly sliced toasted baguette. Topped with finely chopped chives and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, this was one of those dishes I expected to find in a fine dining establishment. Neither the tuna nor the foie overpowered one another. Each mouthful was an equal balance of the two giving a sensational finish which didn’t leave us feeling like we couldn’t taste the other.

The entrees were also a hit and miss. We decided to try the Duck as an alternative option to the hugely seafood-centric menu.  Roasted duck magret slices were cooked medium rare but on the tough side. The accompanying red-wine grape mostarda sauce was lovely. 

A side of turnip (daikon) gratin was served alongside in a little cast iron pot. The lack of starchiness in the turnip was a strange combination with the heavy cheese.

Black Bass — crispy black bass with roasted shishito peppers, acorn squash ceviche bathed in a Peruvian chicha (traditionally, a fermented maize) sauce. The fish was perfectly executed, but slightly underseasoned. 

Our favorite was the Arctic Char just gently cooked so it was still ultra rare melting in our mouths. Truffled peas and favas were nice, as well as the butter lettuce-tarragon emulsion on the plate.

By now, my friends and I were seriously underwhelmed by this meal which was supposed to blow our minds. One of my friends reminded me of the spectacular meal we had at Melisse years ago, while the other kept saying it wasn’t unusual that I found the meal lackluster, but it’s really telling when they were feeling the same.

Desserts were supposed to redeem everything which came before, but unfortunately, it ended on a bad note. Fig was a very gelatinous poached fig which lost all semblance of the fig, but was a sticky mess. The honey mousse was like face cream in both texture and taste and rosemary rice water threw the entire dish off more than it already was.

Plum offered a nicely flavored plum “parfait” but texturally a little dense. Ginger foam was faintly gingery and the sake sorbet was bitter. The micro shisho was the best part of dessert, cleansing my confused palate.

The best turned out to be Chocolate Peanut, a Madagascan chocolate peanut mousse served with a quenelle of salted caramel ice cream. Everything worked on this plate and the textural components complemented one another.

At lunch time, three prix-fixe menus are offered. Ours was a 3-course prix-fixe ($70) while a $45 two course is offered in the lounge, and a $190 tasting menu is also available. All I have to say is, I sighed a breath of relief that we didn’t select the tasting menu. To say we were disappointed was an understatement. I was hoping to have this meal wow me, for me to feel that going to New York and visiting the caliber of restaurant we don’t get in southern California was worth the time and money. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st Street
New York, NY 10091
Tel: 212-554-1515

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

enamored with dinners at Anepalco’s Cafe

I’m always shocked when people tell me they’ve never heard of Anepalco’s Cafe, or that they’ve never been there. SERIOUSLY? The BEST chilaquiles in Orange County and beyond and you’ve never been? Sacrilege!!!

I’ve been a fan ever since my first visit to the original Anepalco’s, tucked away in a teenie strip mall next to CHOC Hospital in Orange, years ago and have been going back ever since.

A second location opened this May at a bigger space and the best news of all, with a completely new dinner menu. Chef and owner Danny Godinez has brought his Mexican heritage, together with his French training (his resume includes Montage, Ritz-Carlton and more) to create one of the most eclectic menus around.

Chef Danny’s dinner menu is ever evolving, but customer favorites always remain. Since May, the dinner menu has already been adapted a few times to include stellar dishes which will never come off the menu, or at least, I hope they won’t, and new inspirations his creative mind is constantly flooded with.

One of those is Shrimp Cassoulet ($8.50), large plump shrimp immersed in a mind-blowingly dreamy, rich, creamy chipotle sauce you won’t be able to stop eating. Served with toasted sliced bread, I suggest you ask for more even before they bring it to the table because you will need it. My son can eat this all on his own and he won’t want to share. I wish they will serve it with a side of rice so I can just douse it with the remaining sauce.

Ranchera Flatbread ($8.50) with top sirloin beef cap, roasted tomatillo sauce, Oaxaca cheese and spring onion is the perfect item to share while you sip on one of the many beers on tap. Or, a glass of wine personally sourced by Chef Danny from Mexico.

Continue with Ahi Tuna Tartare ($9) consisting of ahi tuna, avocado, red onion, chiles Mexicanos, lime juice, pepitas oil and egg yolk, which your server will mix together once they bring it to the table. Pumpkin seeds and tortilla chips are added for a textural crunch and it is one of those things my son can’t stop eating. It is just delicious.

The menu offers many entrees to choose from so I’ll focus on my favorites. Cielo, Mer Y Terre ($19) is a combination of scallops, shrimp, Spanish chorizo and Jidori chicken in a dry chile veloute sauce served over risotto style rice with ham. It is addicting and I always wish I had remembered to tell them I want extra sauce when I order.

Chef Danny grew up in Acapulco where his mother owned a restaurant. Acapulco is known for its seafood so it is no surprise that the seafood dishes shine here. Serrano Beurre BlancTilapia ($16.50) is another outstanding item. Sauteed tilapia, potato puree, corn, pico de gallo, serrano beurre blanc topped with micro cilantro is one of those dishes every fish lover will adore. Tilapia is tender and the decadent sauce — Danny is famous for his French-style sauces with a Mexican flair — is always the star of the plate.

I absolutely love Callo De Hacha ($18), scallops and grilled chorizo on a bed of ancho polenta in a chipotle sauce. Large, succulent scallops are perfectly executed and paired with salty chorizo for an insanely delicious mouthful. It is so hard to choose between this, the tilapia and the Cielo, Mer Y Terre when I am here, but this is also one of those rare places where my son will eat seafood so I am able to order all of them if I choose.

Meat lovers should check out Costillas Al Vino Rojo ($18.50), short rib slow-cooked for 8 hours and served with potato puree. A little mirepoix is added for crunch and a rich and hearty red wine chile de arbol reduction for severe wow-factor. It is comfort food at its best.

For those wanting something casual, Ratatouille Burger ($12) is quite delicious. You can choose from an all natural beef pattie or an all natural chicken breast. The burger is served on a brioche bun with zucchini, Mexican squash, red pepper, eggplant, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, serrano aioli and Swiss cheese.

The eclectic menu also includes a Huitlacoche Burger ($13) topped with Oaxaca cheese, white cabbage, iceberg, roasted tomatoes and huitlacoche aioli. If you don’t know what huitlacoche is, it is corn smut, and is used predominantly in Mexican cuisine. It probably sounds scarier than it is because chances are, you won’t even be able to tell the difference.

If you want to try a Mexican offering, the Mexican Enchilada Trio ($12) is fantastic. You can choose chicken or pork — I suggest the pork because the cochinita pibil is very flavorful — and is topped with the incredible red sauce, the restaurant’s signature sauce served on their famous chilaquiles.

No matter what you choose, you will find there is nothing average about this place. The food is first class and you won’t be paying an arm and a leg for it!

For the giveaway this week, one of my readers will have the opportunity to win a 5-course tasting menu for two especially prepared by Chef Danny. Include your FULL name and why you deserve to win this fabulous offer. Entries will close on Sunday.

Anepalco’s Cafe
at Ayres Inn
3737 W. Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA 92868
Tel: 714-456-9642

Anepalco's Cafe (Inside Ayres Inn) on Urbanspoon

ooh la la it’s Pandor Boulangerie

If you’re in Newport Beach, you need to check out the newly opened Pandor Boulangerie. The bakery has an artisan French baker at the helm and everything, from the breads to the desserts are made in-house.

When you first walk in, you might be overwhelmed by the cafe’s glass display case with a ton of sweet treats just waiting to tempt you.

I want to point out that the photos are not reflective of how the dishes are served. The photos are from a tasting so they are a lot smaller than what you would be getting when you order them.

Let’s start with the Gourmet Plates. There are five different ones to choose from including the Assorted Italian Cold Cuts ($16.95) which included prosciutto San Daniele Red Label, Salami Nostrano, Speck & Mortadella.

Burrata E Crudo S. Daniele ($16.95) is just a refreshing plate no matter how you look at it. Cantaloupe, heirloom tomatoes, basil aged balsamic & extra virgin olive oil with the creamy burrata is just fantastic.

I love smoked salmon and the Wester Ross Scottish Smoked Salmon ($14.95) with fingerling potatoes salad, creme fraiche and chive was my favorite. I couldn’t get enough of the lightly salted salmon and while I didn’t care for the potato salad underneath, the creme fraiche and chive was awesome.

We also got a sampling of three different salads from the cold display window. Red Quinoa Salad with roasted squash, roasted zucchini, cauliflowers, roasted shiitake, parsley, mint, lemon and extra virgin olive oil was tasty even if the quinoa was a little overcooked so it didn’t have that familiar crunch I love.

Red Beets Salad with sunflower seeds, grilled fennel, Manouri cheese & shallots dressing makes use of the wonderful beets in season, but my favorite was the Beluga Lentil Salad with carrots, parsnips & shallot dressing.

Moving on to sandwiches, I would totally suggest getting one of the pressed paninis on offer. They are all $7.95 and I was surprised at how lovely the Tuna panini was. It consisted of capers, Maui onions & Vermont Cheddar cheese and together, it was just delicious.

If you are vegetarian or just wanting something lighter, try Grilled Vegetables panini. Packed with zucchini, Italian eggplant, roasted bell peppers, local goat cheese and pesto dressing, this comes together beautifully in every mouthful.

In terms of sandwiches, try the Habano ($12.95), this is Pandor’s version of the Cuban sandwich. Roast pork, cured ham, pickled jalapenos instead of pickles, Swiss cheese and deli mustard is served on a Chef’s baguette.

All sandwiches are served with pickled heirloom carrots and cornichons.

For those with a sweet tooth, Peanut Butter & Jelly French Toast ($7.95) is sinfully delightful and served with mixed berries, you can even say it is healthy!

Here’s an added incentive for you to visit. Pandor has generously donated two $25 gift certificates for my readers to win this week. Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite artisan bread is. Like Pandor’s Facebook page for an additional chance to enter. Good Luck. Winners will be announced on Monday July 2nd.

Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Cafe
1126 Irvine Avenue
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-209-5099

Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Cafe on Urbanspoon