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

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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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Gerard’s Bar — Brisbane Australia

The second of three Australian restaurants I’m featuring from my trip is Gerard’s Bar. I came here with my university friends for a night out hoping to get a table at Gerard’s Bistro, but unfortunately, on a Thursday night, they were fully booked and there was not a chance for them to fit us in. So, we walked across the courtyard in the back and ventured towards Gerard’s Bar, part of the Bistro, but with its own menu.

It is a gastropub of sorts with charcuterie hanging off hooks displayed in the window. It is extremely dark inside and not a seat available, luckily, we were able to find al fresco seating out on the patio.

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I started with The Quiet Mexican (AUD14/$13) which made me chuckle because I don’t think I’ve ever met a quiet Mexican before. The cocktail was pleasant using tequila as its base. I chose this not only because I love tequila, but most of the menu comprised of absinthe or aperol — both of which I dislike.

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The charcuterie is extensive and impressive. I had ordered Guanciale (AUD8/$7.40) salumi Australia, a pepper cured pork jowl and Longanisa Roja (AUD9/$8.35) a course ground salumi described as possessing spiced with pepper and garlic and Moorish accents, although I didn’t really detect much of the latter. Served with a baguette — not crusty — it was a nice vehicle for the meats. A plate of pickled vegetables accompanied, but I was perplexed by the lack of tartness and the abundance of saltiness from each of the items.

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The thing which won me over was Quail Liver and PX Parfait (AUD16/$14.85) a creamy liver mousse which was light as air. Plated with it were the two cheeses I selected, one of which was Grandvewe Sappire Sheep’s Blue (AUD7/$6.50), the other was Cabra Pimenton (AUD6/$5.60) was possibly my favorite with lovely hints of peppers.. Crispy flatbread adds a nice component and good contrast to the baguette.

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Since I’m not able to partake in the Moonlight Flat Oysters (AUD5 each/$4.65) I can only attest to the oohs coming from my son’s lips when he ate these.

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One of my favorites of the night is Storm Clams and N’Duja (AUD9 each/$8.35). These large clams are flame grilled topped with spicy n’duja and fresh lemon. They are meaty and umami-filled that I wish I had ordered more.

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The Cheeseburger (AUD14/$13) is a double wagyu beef pattie burger topped with bacon, relish, pickles and cheese. The bun was a tad dense, but overall, the flavors were perfect. The patties were packed with flavor and seasoned well. Even though it looked small, it was a satisfactory item even if you were only having it as your meal.

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Mulloway Tartare (AUD10/$9.30) was a display of innovation. Bits of smoked lardo are placed in a sieve and held over the plate of diced mulloway (jewfish), Jerusalem artichoke chips, kimchi and shiso. A blow torch starts flaming the lardo, melting it away, allowing the unctuous pork fat drippings to drape over the fish tartare concoction. Beautiful presentation and a nice gimmicky interaction to have with the customers.

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If you’re ever in Brisbane, Queensland, take some time to check out the blossoming food scene. I was delighted to find all these new restaurants offering a level of sophistication I had not previously experienced in this town. I hope it keeps continuing in this direction.

Gerard’s Bar
13a 23 James Street
Fortitude Valley, QLD 4066
(07) 3252 2606

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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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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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