Tender Greens is now a new favorite!

My BFF has been asking me for years “have you been to Tender Greens yet?” My answer has always been nope. She lives in LA county where there are a handful of Tender Greens, but there wasn’t one in Orange County until recently. A couple of weeks ago, she asked me again and I told her it was about time I went!

Located at the Irvine Spectrum, the environmentally friendly decor and hugely inviting colors of the restaurant doesn’t feel like a ‘self-serve’ style restaurant. You order at the front of the line and then mosey on down with a clear view of the counter where the meals are being prepared. When you reach the end where the cashier is, you pay, and within minutes, your food is ready for you to take to a table, or away if you’re having it to go.

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We arrived when the restaurant opened and I’m glad we did. Within 30 minutes, it was already more than half packed and before an hour was up, it was pretty much completely full. However, no need to worry because the lines move really quickly even though it might seem a daunting wait when you see the hoards of people.

We started with some soups. Fisherman’s Stew ($4) was decent although the fish was a tad tough. Each day the restaurant offers a version with ‘meat’, another that is vegetarian and lastly, a vegan option.

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Kale and Multigrain ($4) the vegan option was absolutely delicious. It was piping hot and filled with bits of goodness even this carnivore was happy with. I would definitely order this soup again!

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Not being a regular fan of salads, we chose one to try. VR Green Farms Harvest Salad ($11) was on the specials board and includes tangerines, tangelos, grapefruit, shaved fennel, candied walnuts, California feta cheese, with tender greens and golden balsamic vinaigrette. As far as salads go, it was very good.

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Now, if you think Tender Greens only serves vegetables, then you’re wrong! That’s what I initially thought, but they have some wonderful meaty options as well. These items can be enjoyed as part of a sandwich, as a plate, or put together the way you choose.

For example, we chose the Backyard Marinated Steak ($11) as a sandwich. The steak is grilled medium rare and served on grilled ciabatta bread. You can choose a side salad from the “Simple Salads” selection. We opted for the spinach salad for this item. The flavors were perfectly executed and the quality of the meat was top notch. I brought half of the sandwich home and even after several hours, my son said it was absolutely yummy!

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When I saw Fried Chicken ($11) on the menu, I knew I had to have it. We ordered it as a hot plate with mashed potatoes and the kale side salad from the Simple Salad selections. The buttermilk coated chicken was moist and juicy with a perfectly crispy exterior. I know where I’m coming from fried chicken from now on!

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Another stand-out is the Herb Brushed Albacore ($11). We didn’t want any more mashed potatoes and you can choose to substitute that or the salad for soup for an additional $2. The fish was lightly seared and the freshness of the fish is unequivocal.

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As we went through the line, our mouths were watering from the selection of vegetables on display. We wanted to try some of these as well.

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Roasted Grilled Veggies ($3/$5) was a vibrant plate of red garnet yams, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe and breakfast radishes. Who would’ve thought to grill radishes!! They were soooo good!

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Every day, there is a featured Special Side ($4) and on the day of our visit, it was a farro salad with butternut squash, sweet potato, kale, broccoli rabe, caramelized onions tossed in a roasted garlic vinaigrette. Nutty and oh so tantalizing!

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As if that wasn’t enough, they have some really awesome desserts as well. My favorite was the Orange Olive Oil Cake! So moist and filled with the aromas of citrus just floats through your palate.

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I will definitely be a frequent visitor from now on. For those of you who have never been, I highly suggest you try them out for yourself. This week, I have a $25 gift certificate plus an Orange Olive Cake for one lucky winner. Leave me a comment and tell me what you’re most excited to try! Entries end on Sunday, 10th March. Winner will be announced on Monday! Good Luck!

Tender Greens
31 Fortune Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
Tel: 949-679-9135

Tender Greens on Urbanspoon

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a little bit of San Francisco in RSM

I’m still trying to catch up after the holidays and it’s not been easy disciplining myself to buckle down and start writing. One of the restaurants that’s long past due for a review is Embarcadero in Rancho Santa Margarita. Now, everyone I’ve mentioned this place to has been responding with “huh? where? what?”

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Yes, Rancho Santa Margarita sounds far, but isn’t really. It’s just a little bit past Mission Viejo and if you already live out that way, then you’re already there! Why not pop on over and check them out?

Chef/owner George Valdovino is passionate about what he serves his guests. His cuisine is themed after the diversity of cultures you find in San Francisco — hence, the name Embarcadero! We left our evening’s meal up to Chef Valdovinom, allowing him to prepare for us what he felt best reflected his menu.

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** please note photos may not reflect the a la carte portions**

We began with Wedge Tower ($10), a chunk of romaine heart topped with grilled zucchini, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and drizzled with, pesto vinaigrette and a house-made ranch dressing.

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Maine Lobster Grilled Cheese ($16) featuring sharp cheddar cheese and large chunks of lobster between toasted sourdough bread. Personally I felt the lobster chunks were way too big, but you definitely won’t be complaining about the lack of this tasty crustacean. This was served with a perfectly tart tomato bisque.

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Pan Seared Halibut ($28) is perfectly executed. Moist, flaky fish atop of smoked mozzarella polenta cakes, corn chowder and asparagus topped with micro-greens. The cream sauce is not too heavy and the corn makes for a nice hint of sweetness.

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I totally loved the Pan Seared Scallops ($26) which were accompanied by the most delicious Andouille sausage succotash. There was edamame tossed in, giving it both color and texture. I would love this succotash as an available side dish to go with other entrees!

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Meat lovers will like the New York Steak ($28) served with a side of delightful Brussels sprout slaw. The red wine reduction is flavorful and rich and adds another level of depth to the meat.

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After that dinner, I couldn’t stop thinking about trying out the Sunday brunch they have here, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I gathered a group of my friends together to check it out. At $19.99 per person it was a steal!

There were several salads including a tomato, mozzarella and basil with balsamic vinaigrette and another similar to Chinese chicken salad. Four salad dressings were also available for your choosing.

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I was especially enamored by the seared ahi tuna with cucumber slices and edamame served with a soy based sauce. I had quite a few portions of this and still wanted more.

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The other thing I eat a lot of at buffets are the ‘peel and eat shrimp‘. Here, they were a good size, large and plump, served with a house-made cocktail sauce. I would just come and eat a pound of this!

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My son is a bacon fiend and even before we arrived he said “there better be bacon mommy!” Lucky for him, there was applewood smoked bacon and these awesome sausages to be had. The latter was especially good — salty with a pleasing texture.

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Meat lovers will love the beef roast and baked ham. I’m not a fan of ham but I relished in the roast beef with some spicy horseradish!

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The salmon with pesto sauce was also surprisingly good. The fish was tender and moist — something not always achievable at a buffet.

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One of my friends loved the Eggs Benedict so much she had two portions. These aren’t the traditional kind but rather, topped with a chipotle based Hollandaise and layered with applewood smoked bacon instead of Canadian bacon or ham.

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There were a few more items like roasted potatoes as well as mac n cheese. I’m sure some of the items rotate from week to week, but everything was fresh, tasty and well prepared. I was very impressed by this spread for a mere $20! For $3 more, you can opt to have bottomless champagne or mimosas. The brunch buffet also comes with a soft drink of your choice, tea or coffee.

I hope you’ll make the trip out to RSM to check out Embarcadero. I have a $50 gift certificate generously donated by the restaurant for one of my readers to win. Leave me a comment with your full name and why you would be visiting Embarcadero in the near future. Entries run until Sunday, January 13. A winner will be announced on Monday. Best of luck!

Embarcadero California Bistro
22332 El Paseo
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
Tel: 949-709-2266

Embarcadero on Urbanspoon

Pritchard Hill wine dinner at The Ranch

Last week, I attended the Pritchard Hill wine dinner at The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, just two days after my birthday dinner at the restaurant. One would think it was overkill but honestly, the food is so incredible I could never be tired of it.

Chef Michael Rossi created a five-course menu (in reality, eight courses) each course paired with a wine from the Pritchard Hills region in Napa Valley (photo provided by The Ranch). Master sommelier Michael Jordan was on hand, together with the various winemakers, to introduce us to some of the best wines I’ve tasted in a long time.

We began with an amuse bouche of Skuna Bay salmon in cucumber soup (which I sampled at the luncheon on the farm this summer) with potato foam and a dollop of caviar. Refreshing yet decadent, the first wine pairing of Chappellet, Signature Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley 2011 was the perfect choice — light and fragrant.

The Chenin Blanc continues the pairing with Sea of Cortez Diver Scallop, the entree I had on my birthday. The prosciutto di San Daniele wrapped black Mission fig lent a salty sweetness which is heaven in my mouth. A puree of butternut squash accompanied.

My favorite course and pairing of the evening was Colorado Grass Fed Lamb Porterhouse with Continuum Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Created by Tim Mondavi, son of Robert Mondavi, it was velvety smooth on my palate and left a sublime feel in my mouth which I savored. The lamb was prepared a perfect medium rare and the accoutrements of maitake mushrooms (or hen of the woods) was robust and umami-filled, while the pumpkin spatzle added a different texture to the mix. The rosemary jus was insanely redolent and I wanted to lick the plate clean — no I didn’t do it!!

Next course came in the form of Tender Braised Veal Cheek, and they weren’t kidding when they said “tender”. With the mere touch of my fork, the veal came apart and melted in my mouth.  Anson Mills stone ground white grits, dried cherry and black truffle shavings accompanied. Served with Chappellet, Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2009.

I sampled the Red Deer Venison Chop from my friend’s plate the night of my birthday and loved it. Needless to say, I loved it even more here because I actually got my own chop! The combination of sweet potatoes, cranberries, young turnips and garden sage just came together like a symphony, sweet, tart and aromatic. Paired with David Arthur Vineyards, Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009.

Certified Black Angus Beef Tenderloin “Roulade” was one of the dishes served at the luncheon this summer, but I was too full to enjoy more than one mouthful. This time, I made it half the way through and it was just divine. Stuffed with fontina val d’aosta, and sprinkled with bits of Fra’ Mani sopressata, soft gigante beans and warm radicchio, this marriage of salty deliciousness was right up my alley! Paired with Ovid Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009.

Next came the Farmhouse Cheese Selection, served with home made preserves and toasted OC Baking bread slices. BRAND Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Montagna, La Presa-One South Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 both worked well with the cheeses, but I was a little more partial to the BRAND. It was so smooth on my palate.

I honestly didn’t need dessert, but when it was placed before me, it wasn’t the Honey Poached Seckle Pear, or the vine dried grapes, or hazelnuts, which gripped me, although they were all part and parcel of a perfect end to a perfect meal. It was the mascarpone-orange ice cream which brought me to my knees. Two more scoops of this please!!!

I stayed until midnight, my belly Buddha-like when I walked outside to get in my car. I drove all the way home with a huge smile on my face!

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon on Urbanspoon

discovering the new Landmark Corona del Mar

I’d never been to the old Landmark Steakhouse so when I received an invitation to try the menu at the newly re-launched Landmark, I was intrigued. The restaurant is modern, but comfortable with chic dining rooms and a more casual, and colorful patio area for dining al fresco.

They weren’t kidding when they said we’d be dining at the Chef’s Table. We were shuttled into the kitchen at a table where we were able to watch everything Chef Travis Flood and his team were preparing for us that evening.

A graduate of California Culinary Academy, Chef Travis’ experience includes working with Laurent Gris at his San Francisco restaurant Fifth Floor and is also a huge advocate of the local/sustainable movement.

** please note, photos depict a tasting size portion while prices listed are off the menu **

We started with a bread basket of pretzel roll and a whole wheat bread served with whipped honey butter, all of which are made in-house. I particularly enjoyed the whole wheat bread with a smear of the honey butter.

Our first dish was a selection of bite sized items from the menu to start.

A Hawaiian staple, Poke ($16) here consists of ahi tuna, cucumber, avocado, pickled ginger, wakame, ponzu and served with taro chips. We were treated to a bite of this delicious raw fish on a taro chip, the perfect accompaniment to poke.

Roasted Beets ($13) are a must on any current menu with these beautiful root vegetables still in season and sweet as sugar. Speck, tangerine, scallion ash yogurt, arugula and almonds complete this wonderfully refreshing salad.

If you’re in the mood for a burger, then look no further thanThe Landmark ($16) a 6oz dry aged, ground in-house burger on a house-made pretzel bun with charred onion jam, truffle aioli and Hooks four-year white cheddar from Wisconsin. The burger is juicy, flavorful and the onion jam added a touch of smokiness resulting in a really tasty burger.

Next came PCHA (Pacific Coast Hawaiian Atlantic $50/$90) — seafood including Prince Edward Island mussels, clams, lobster tail, Dungeness crab and California caviar. I’m not sure this would be the exact plate you get, but what we got was absolutely stunning and the seafood was allowed to shine on their own without a lot of fussy dressings. Just a touch of extra virgin olive oil, seaweed salad and white sesame seeds complete its composition.

Shaved Garden Vegetables ($13) was so simple, but was full of flavor and color. Vibrant carrots, various beets, zucchini, cucumbers, were all sliced paper thin and tossed together with broccoli rabe florets in a toasted caraway vinaigrette. It was genius and I knew right away I would steal this concoction to serve at home.

When I saw Sweet Pepper and Onion Soup ($13) I was so excited because I love onion soup, but it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Instead, onions rings, basil and paprika are presented in a bowl and a sweet pepper soup poured tableside ensuring the onion rings remained crispy on the outside and the onions possessing a crunch on the inside.

Pacific Yellowtail (normally Lingcod on the menu $29) was prepared exactly the same way as the lingcod with roasted tomato, fennel, artichoke puree, grilled bread and a sauce which embodied the taste of bouillabaisse, filled with umami and the aromas and flavors of the ocean.

A small portion of the French fries and house-made ketchup was also brought out for us to try. These fries resembled yuca fries and were thicker than normal fries or chips. The exterior is very crispy with a moist interior. As for the ketchup — and I really dislike ketchup — I loved it! It wasn’t sweet and had a little kick to it. I wouldn’t mind a jar of this thank you very much!!

When the next dish arrived, I was thankful we weren’t presented with an entire steak, but rather, just a small portion of the Paso Prime Grass Fed Dry Aged Beef: Rib Eye (regularly 10oz for $55). Served with a brown butter potato puree, tater tots, and vegetables with a horseradish beef jus, I couldn’t get enough of the meaty, rich jus. I noticed there wasn’t a tater tot and chef said it was because I was complaining about how full I was.

Of course, chef then quickly whisked out a tater tot for us to try. It was so crispy on the outside and melty soft on the inside. Yeah, this was well worth risking a severe stomach ache for.

But then, we started chatting about these lobster croquettes we had heard about and what happens? A lobster croquette miraculously appears in front of us. Oh dear lord! I could only manage a bite of this creamy, gooey, cheesy deliciousness with bits of lobster dotted inside. ($12/5pcs)

Of course, there was still dessert to come, but since I’m not a huge fan of desserts, I took a bite or two and pushed the plate back. I liked the Chocolate ($9) a slice of black magic cake served a rich, decadent dark chocolate coffee ice cream with smoked white chocolate caramel and roasted peanut praline crumbs. Being the ice cream fiend that I am, I polished it all off.

Lemon ($9) was a pistachio crepe mille, layers of crepe formed to resemble a cake with a mouth watering tart Meyer lemon custard served with a scoop of burnt honey ice cream. Take a guess what I devoured off the plate — yep, the ice cream, but also, the custard was quite addicting.

If you’re looking for a place for dinner this weekend, definitely check out Landmark. The restaurant is also nice enough to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.

This week, Landmark has a $25 giftcard for one of my readers to win. Just leave me a comment with your FULL name for a chance. You have until Sunday to get your comments in.

Landmark
3520 E Coast Hwy
Corona del Mar, CA 92625
Tel: 949-675-5556

Landmark on Urbanspoon

new fall menu items at Seasons 52

It’s that time of year again when restaurants revamp their menus to reflect the changing season. Seasons 52 prides itself in incorporating seasonal produce into the menus and I was able to try some new fall menu items which embodied an autumnal air about them even if the soCal weather isn’t helping us along in any shape or form.

Now, you know I’m not a big drinker, nor do I talk about wines much, but this time, I was quite pleased with some of the wines paired with our meal so I will mention the ones which stood out.

Portabello Mushroom Flatbread ($10.95) has been featured before and I was happy to see it return. Meaty slices of portabello sits atop the thin crispy flatbread the restaurant is known for. I love mushrooms and these are full bodied in both aroma and taste.

One of the new items — Double Hummus & Sea Salt Lavash ($7.50) — was quite lovely. I especially liked the salty crispy lavash which I enjoyed even on its own. The minted edamame hummus was mild in flavor while the red roasted chili hummus packed a slightly stronger punch. I liked both but the latter definitely stood out a little more than the other since I love bold flavors when it comes to food.

(For photo purposes, the flatbread was moved to create a better shot. It usually is served standing up in a cone in between the two plates of hummus).

I was extremely surprised by Cider-Glazed Grilled Chicken Skewers ($9.95) expecting them to be….. well….. chicken skewers. These tender pieces of chicken was so moist and having been marinating in the cider glaze, produced a nice, even flavor throughout. The accompanying Fuji apple slaw was also rather tasty with a slightly sweet finish, working together with the acidity of the cider. Topped with sun-dried cranberries and toasted pumpkin seeds, you get a mouthful of textural contrasts in every bite.

The pairing for the chicken skewers was Farrier Andiron Semillon, Alexander ’09, a crisp, light white wine which wasn’t too dry and worked well with the sweet tartness of this dish.

The Maple Leaf Farms Sesame Duck Salad ($15.25) makes a reprise this fall, with chopped greens, apples, mint, cranberries, butternut squash and toasted pecans. I’ve had this dish before and really like the freshness of the mint with the crunch of the pecans. The portion makes for an ample entree, or you can share it as a starter.

Seasons 52’s use of All-Natural Piedmontese meat is apparent throughout the year and this fall, they are featuring a Bone-In Strip Steak 11oz ($28.95) served with roasted asparagus, cremini mushrooms and Fingerling potatoes.

However, the star of the evening was definitely Manchester Farms All-Natural Grilled Quail ($25.95 dinner only), succulent quail perfectly prepared and served with truffle mushroom risotto, leaf spinach and roasted cipollini onions with balsamic glaze.

With the main courses we were given two wines, but I definitely liked the Michael David Petite Petit, Petite Sirah, Lodi ’09/’10 the best. In fact, it was my favorite wine of the night. Smooth, rich, and incredibly sexy, this red complemented both the steak and the quail perfectly.

If you’re familiar with the restaurant’s Mini Indulgences ($2.75 each), on top of all the familiar dessert shooters, the new pumpkin pie with ginger snap crust is an absolute must for pumpkin pie lovers. Adorned with a house-made ginger snap cookie, this was a dessert even my non-sweet palate couldn’t say no to.

I always suggest you visit when there has been a menu change. The months go by rather quickly and before you know it, the winter menu is in place and you’ve missed out on the wonderful fall items.

This week, Seasons 52 has generously donated a dinner for two to giveaway. Leave me a comment with your FULL name, along with the reasons you love fall for a chance to win. Entries close on Sunday. Good Luck!

Seasons 52
3333 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-437-5252

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

The Generous Pour is back at The Capital Grille!

Last year, I hosted The Generous Pour event at The Capital Grille where guests were treated to a taste of the nine wines offered. This year, The Generous Pour is back and I visited the restaurant to see what Master Sommelier George Miliotes has selected for 2012.

We began our meal with a lovely champagne Lunetta Rose, a sparkling rose from Trentino, Italy. It was a beautiful pale salmon in color and had a hint of sweetness to it.

I started with the French Onion Soup ($10), one of my favorites from TCG menu. It is one of the best onion soups in OC and possesses a hearty, beefy, rich flavor topped with gooey cheese served in a crock.

My friend had the Lobster Bisque ($14) which comes with chunks of sweet lobster meat and sherry is served table side, drizzled over the bisque. This is another of my favorites!

White wines were next: Simčič, from Rebula, Goriska Brda-Slovenia was definitely my least favorite of the wines. It had a harsher finish than I ordinarily prefer and passed on another sip.

The Gary Farrell, 2009, Chardonnay, Carneros from Sonoma was light and a good, easy to drink white with fruity hints.

We moved onto entrees and Snake River Farms Wagyu Filet ($46) was an outstanding piece of 7oz melt-in-your-mouth meat. We ordered it medium rare and it arrived perfectly cooked.

Five reds were available and I enjoyed all of them, but there were definitely ones which I liked more than others. Chateau du Pin, 2009 a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux, France is a light red, perfect with almost everything on the menu.

Falesco, Assisi Rosso, 2000 a Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Umbria, Italy was also a respectable red which is easy to pair with all foods.

Our other entree was Bone-In Kona Crusted Dry Aged Sirloin with Shallot Butter ($46), required a stronger wine to hold up to the robust and decadent flavors of the steak.

Conn Creek, Anthology, 2007, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is very full bodied and paired so well with our entrees. This wine left a really rich film in my mouth and the finish is insanely potent.

Sam’s Mashed Potatoes ($9) was fluffy, buttery, creamy and oh so sinfully mouth-watering, especially when eaten with the shallot butter from the sirloin steak.

Ferrari-Carano, Mountain Reserve, 2008, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley is another deliciously strong red which is able to stand up to any of the steaks on TCG’s menu.

Our second side of Roasted Cremini, Portabella, Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms was also delicious. It was a lighter alternative to the mashed potatoes but filled with the rich meatiness of the combined mushrooms and offered a complex flavor together.

My favorite wine of the evening was Villa Mt Eden, Grand Reserve, 2007, a Pinot Noir from Russian River. This wine was so smooth, making it a dangerous choice for me because I am able to drink more than I should.

We shared the Cheesecake with Seasonal Berries ($9), another of my favorites. This ricotta cheesecake is light and airy, and isn’t too sweet, which makes it one of my top desserts to eat.

To pair with the cheesecake, we had Kanu Kia Ora, 2006, a Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa. It has the consistency of a light nectar and flavors of orange peel and honey. Absolutely delicious!

The Capital Grille is one of my favorite places to dine in Orange County. The food and service is always stellar, and the experience is second to none. The Generous Pour event runs until September 2nd and is offered at only $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner in addition to your meal and allows for unlimited pours of any or all of the nine wines offered.

TCG has generously offered one of my readers a $100 gift card to enjoy The Generous Pour event. Leave me a comment with your full name for a chance to win. You won’t want to miss this one! As usual, get your entries in by Sunday and winner will be announced Monday, July 30.

The Capital Grille
3333 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-432-1140