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Archive for the ‘Dining Out’ Category

Old Vine Cafe
2937 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

On a rainy day in Southern California, I found myself at Old Vine Cafe in Costa Mesa, the first leg in a day of eating in Orange County, which would include Old Vine, A & J, 85 Degrees Celsius Bakery, Andrei’s and Pizzeria Ortica. Located in a unique shopping center called the Camp, it serves seasonal American food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant fits in with the rest of the theme of the Camp with a woody cabin-like exterior.

We decided to order a small sampling of the dishes across the breakfast and lunch menus, starting with:

Caprese of Mozzarella Buratta – Imported Buratta, flash fried Arugula, Grape Tomatoes & Citrus Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A beautiful dish here with the burrata and tomato base, a large handful of fried arugula and on top, and a drizzling of olive oil. The interplay of the colors was just fantastic. I thought the burrata could’ve been a little creamier, but it was good. The tomatoes were excellent, as well. However, I thought there was kind of a lot of arugula, and the fried flavor of it overpowered the dish if you took too much in one forkful.

We tried something from the breakfast menu, which was quite simple and well executed.

Gourmet Sausage & Eggs – Eggs Cooked Any Style with choice of Natural Sausage: Spicy Santa Fe or Chicken Apple

As I mentioned, this was a really well-executed dish. The eggs were perfect, and the sausage was delicious. We had the Santa Fe sausage, which had a little bit of spice and a lot of flavor. The Spanish style potatoes were good as well, well seasoned, but maybe could’ve been a little crisper. Really a very good breakfast dish.

From the lunch menu,

Beef & Truffles Panini – Thinly Sliced All Natural Rib Roast & Italian White Truffle Cheese with Garlic Aioli

This dish was a bit disappointing. The meat was cut pretty thin and small, so there wasn’t a lot of meat chew to this – no texture. The truffle was included as part of the cheese, and was pretty mild here. The homemade potato chips were good, but not spectacular.

Old Vine Cafe today was a bit hit-or-miss. I like the homey feel to the restaurant, with a lot of simple, seasonal cooking. I’d definitely come back for breakfast if I was in the area, or maybe to try it for dinner, as I’ve heard good things about their dinner as well.

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Pizzeria Ortica
650 Anton Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I had high expectations for Pizzeria Ortica, which, to me, resembles an Orange County rendition of Pizzeria Mozza. The restaurant serves a number of Italian specialties, focusing on pizzas and pastas. As always, I love an open kitchen and being able to the kitchen at work.

We tried just a few dishes, as we had dinner at Andrei’s just prior. To begin with:

Pappardelle al sugo d’agnello – Pappardelle pasta, braised lamb ragu, sheep’s milk ricotta

Disappointing. The pasta, made fresh in house, was good and prepared al dente. The lamb shank was a little gamey, but just mildly so. However, I was really missing the ragu here. I was expecting a rich  sauce to bring everything together, but instead it seemed like just chunks of lamb on top of pasta on top of ricotta. As a result it was a little bit on the dry side.

Salsiccia – House-made sausage, caramelized fennel, mascapone, red onion, buffalo grana

Sausage is probably my single favorite topping on a pizza. The sausage was good here, but the pizza disappointed. The crust was rather chewy instead of crispy, and the cheese did not really stand up to the rest of the toppings

Milanesa – Fontina, asparagus, Parmigiano Reggiano, fried egg

The Milanesa was a little more unique, topped with asparagus and a fried egg. The toppings were pretty good, but I found the pizza a bit salty, and it struggled from the same crust problems as the above.

Pizzeria Ortica was rather disappointing in general. What really shocked me most is the pizza and the crust. Perhaps it was an off-night for the dough/kitchen? Whatever it was, it didn’t live up to the pizza at Mozza or Bottega Louie of the week prior.

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Bottega Louie
700 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Bottega Louie has been extremely popular since it opened up almost a year ago, just recently being called a “Best New Restaurant 2009” by many publications, including Los Angeles Magazine. This is a large restaurant, and the lines can be hours long, a testament to the popularity of the establishment. So what’s the draw? It’s trendy, has a nice decor, and offers a menu with a wide array of dishes. And of course, the food is good too. It keeps within a fine balance, being both a nice and casual restaurant, housing people dressed to go out, and people in a t-shirt and shorts.

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also contains a marketplace, bar, and patisserie on their own. The pastries offered is seemingly endless with many different cakes, tarts, breads, cookies and candies available for purchase.

Cupcakes, macarons, croissants, as well.

The decor is minimal. High ceilings, white walls with gold trim, and large windows letting in a lot of natural light. It’s lunchtime, and a line has already started to form.

The exposed kitchen is towards the front of the establishment. I love being able to see the kitchen at work.

The menu is wide-ranging Italian with salads, soups, pastas, pizzas and a large selection of ‘small plates’ and various entrees. Click on the image for a larger version.

We were told by the server that the portobello fries are one of the most popular items on the menu, so we had to give them a try.

Although I really don’t like mushrooms too much, these were pretty good. The portobello was battered, fried, and tossed with herbs and parmesan cheese.

Next up, the sausage pizza. Earlier in the week, I had read an article from someone who claimed that Bottega Louie had the best pizza in the city. The pizza was wonderful, and pretty authentic Neapolitan. It had a light, thin crust, a tangy and sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and a delicious fennel sausage. The only thing I didn’t like was that it was a little wet towards the middle of the pizza. Potentially the best pizza I had all week, and I had Mozza this week.

Mussels and claims in a white wine broth. A very generous portion here, with some nice crusty bread to sop up the broth. The seafood was very fresh, and the broth was delicious as well.

10-layered Lasagna with a lamb and veal bolognese. I like a lot of noodle in my lasagna, so when I heard “10 layers,” I was totally on it. However, this dish was just okay. There was probably just too much noodle, and not enough meat and cheese for me . Another generous portion.

Although we were quite full, we weren’t leaving without the souffle. It’s a chocolate souffle, made-to-order, with a side of creme anglaise. To me, there aren’t made dessert combinations better than chocolate-vanilla, and hot-cold. This is a really good souffle.

I had a very pleasant experience at Bottega Louie, and could easily see why it’s so popular. The first time I came, the service was rather mediocre, and they knew it (complimentary dessert came at the end). However, that was when they first opened, and they’ve really streamlined the process. While I think some of the dishes can be hit-or-miss, as there’s just so many options on the menu, there are probably more ‘hits’ than ‘misses.’ I’d definitely just come back for the pizza.

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Church & State
1850 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA 90021

It’s been a while since my last post – unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of my recent dineLA excursions. The highlights were Jar and Chaya Downtown, Grace was pretty good, and both Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris were disappointing.

Church & State has been one of the most popular French bistros since it opened a little over a year ago. The kitchen is headed by Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and Patina. He brings with him fine dining expertise into a more casual, trendy bistro setting. The restaurant is located in an industrial part of the city, east of downtown..where you typically don’t want to be at night. The last time I went, it was at night for dinner, and you wonder where’s the best place to park your car on the street. However, on this occasion, we went for lunch (thanks to a BlackboardEats promo of 30% off).

The restaurant, with its tall glass windows, is housed on the ground floor of a historic building, now converted into lofts.


Purposefully, there’s not much to the interior. The open kitchen is to the left.

The menu is standard bistro fare, for the most part. A variety of tarts, escargot, moules frites, steak tartare, steak frites, and a variety of sandwiches and salads are all on the menu.

We decided to sample a couple of the appetizers and entrees.

Moules Marinière – Mussels, white wine, pommes frites, aïoli


A couple of the mussels were a little fishy, but most were good. The white wine sauce was delicious, especially with the fries. I think these are some of the best fries in the city, cooked in duck fat. Yum!

Rillettes de Porc – Berkshire pork, prune confiture


I’m usually not that keen on rillettes as I tend not to like cold meats. This one was not bad, with a nice accompanying plum sauce.

Steak Frites – French fries, sauce béarnaise

The bistro classic – steak and french fries. The steak was exceedingly tender, but it did not have a large beefy flavor that you would expect at a steakhouse. Cooked a nice medium-rare, I can see why this is one of their most popular dishes. The fries, again, are excellent.

Bouillabaisse – Provençal fish soup, prawns, mussels, clams

The bouillabaisse I thought was a little on the small side, especially compared to the steak. However, the seafood was fresh and cooked well. The prawn on top was excellent. Juicy and succulent, and perfectly cooked.

Chou de Bruxelles – Brussels sprouts, Medjool dates, chili

These brussels sprouts were pretty good, but nothing special. Lots of butter.

Pot de Crème au Chocolat – Caramel, hazelnut, fleur de sel

To finish, we had this thick chocolate pudding with caramel on top, as well as caramelized nuts, including hazelnuts. I feel like I’ve had a lot of chocolate puddings lately (most notably at Jar) and this was a good one. I really liked the caramel to go with it.

Overall I was pleased with my experience. For the most part, the food was executed very well. The mussels and steak frites were probably highlights for me…especially the fries. Service was good in the beginning, but really slowed as the restaurant got busier. They need more staff during the Friday lunchtime service. I would probably still say Bouchon is the best French bistro in town, but Church & State is a more laid-back and down-to-earth spot.

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Craft
10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Craft is probably best known for being one of Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio’s restaurants.  Tom Colicchio was a renowned chef before the TV show, making a name for himself in the New York restaurant scene with Gramercy Tavern. While many TV-celebrity chef restaurants are pretty underwhelming, I think Craft is one of the better ones. It’s located in Century City with a concentrated business crowd, especially during lunch. The interior is full of natural light, a slick and modern space.

On my last trip to Craft during the October 2009 DineLA series, each member of our party of 5 received a $10 dining certificate to join them another time. As I was the only one who actually lived in LA, I found myself with $50 to use at Craft on my next visit. We elected for the 3-course  prix fixe lunch. The first courses were an option of a soup of pasta. Below is the celery root purée.

I didn’t really care too much for this soup as it tasted too much like celery. I know, that’s the point right? But I had one at Bouchon recently and I enjoyed that one, as it brought about a much more subtle celery root flavor.

The other appetizer was a chestnut agnolotti. Definitely tasty, with the dough having a nice chew. The pasta dough was a little bit thick, however. A relatively smaller portion made you want one more bite.

The first entrée was a hangar steak. Nothing extraordinary about it, but it was good – cooked well with good flavor.

The other entrée was Maine lobster with lima beans and spinach. I liked this dish. Having had some pretty good lobster recently, I was kind of picky and thought the flesh was a little chewy. However, it was cooked well, and I enjoyed the accompanying spinach and beans.

Next up were desserts. The first was a cranberry crisp with cajeta ice cream (a Mexican caramel). I like that most of Craft’s desserts are served warm with ice cream, and I’ve had a couple of cobblers here before and enjoyed them. The crisp was good and warm with a nice crust, and the ice cream was definitely interesting – in a good way.

The other dessert was a sort of banana upside-down cake with banana ice cream. This dessert was definitely banana overload. The cake was nice and warm, and the ice cream was not overwhelmingly banana. However, I probably preferred the first dessert.

Craft is a pretty decent restaurant. I wouldn’t mind having another lunch or dinner here. Prices can be moderately high, however, so one might be better suited trying other restaurants first before coming back. This is my second time for lunch, and I’ve been once for dinner, and they’ve all been pretty enjoyable. The highlight to me are the meats – there’s a wide array of different meats on the menu.

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Aziza
5800 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121

Aziza is a Moroccan restaurant – the only one I know of that has a Michelin star. As a result, I thought this would be a pretty interesting place to try as I don’t eat Moroccan food too often. It’s located in a residential neighborhood in the Richmond District of San Francisco, an unassuming area where you would not expect to find such a highly-regarded restaurant.

The interior is colorful and comfortable.

The menu is a la carte, but the restaurant also offers a 5-course tasting menu which showcases some of the specialties of the restaurant, and also allows the diner a chance to choose some of the dishes on the menu to build their own. We went with this tasting menu, and steered it towards some of the dishes we wanted to try.

The first course was a soup of chicken bouillon with a Medjool date puree and farro.The soup had a rich chicken flavor, and the puree added some texture and substance. Good, hearty soup, but nothing special.

The second courses were:
beets
bibb lettuce, shallots, citrus, tarragon

chicken wings
brussels sprouts, rosemary, almond, apple

I enjoyed this dish, as I do like boneless chicken wings. However, I found the meat a bit soft, there was not a lot of texture to the meat.

meatballs
grape, jícama, herb vinaigrette

The meatballs were spiced nicely, but were rather small. I got hints of it, but there was not enough in each bite – larger meatballs would have allowed a little more chewing time in the mouth.

The third course:
basteeya

chicken, almond
I had high hopes for this dish, as it resembles a sort of chicken pot pie.  Interestingly, the size of the basteeya is the same whether you have two people or three (and the price of the meal is the same), so you are much better off sharing this in pairs. The dish did not really come together as expected. The meat was a little dry and got lost in the dough a little bit.

Next were the fourth courses, or the entrees:
atlantic cod
vadouvan, marble potato, leaves

A nice looking piece of fish here. It was cooked well with a nice sear and a moist interior.

lamb shank
barley, prune, cranberry, scallion

The lamb shank was one of the dishes I read a lot about going in. First of all, I could’ve done without the prunes – they were overpowering. The barley was made into a sort of barley risotto, which I don’t recall ever having before. It was rich and delicious, something I hope to see again. The lamb’s presentation was nice, and was a pretty large size. However, I thought the meat was falling off the bone almost too easily – it was lacking some of the texture that meat should have and was almost..dare I say..mushy. I think it was perhaps just cooked too long.

seafood
puntarelle, baby leek, saffron, hon shimeji mushroom

This dish was tiny compared to the cod, and especially the lamb (even though this was the most expensive on the menu). It’s really kind of an appetizer-sized dish with two sea scallops and some clams. The dish was good, but was rather unfulfilling due to the size.

Lastly, the fifth courses (dessert):
quince
buckwheat crêpe, apple fritter, ginger ice cream

There was a warm crepe filled with apple and quince, with ginger ice cream. This dessert was pretty good, and the ginger ice cream was subtle enough to not overpower everything.

hazelnut
dacquoise, pear, burnt honey ice cream

I loved the presentation of this dish. It just looks pretty..however, the dish was just okay.

chocolate
sesame mousse, cocoa spice cake, cranberry

The ‘chocolate’ was a mousse cake, but was rather light in flavor.

In all, Aziza was an interesting restaurant, but it fell a little under expectations. It’s a casual restaurant with a reasonably priced tasting menu ($62) and a flexible wine pairing ($20-40 depending on how much you want to spend). It’s definitely a good way to try a Michelin-starred establishment while trying a cuisine that isn’t mainstream. However, none of the courses really stood out as exceptional, and none were bad. I felt that a number of courses had potential but was just missing something.

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Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Fried chicken night. Served every other Monday, this is probably the most famous dish served at the restaurant. So popular, the chicken brine and mix is sold at Williams-Sonoma (which I’ve tried to make). So, I had to come out and try it here for myself…and I’m glad I did.

The menu for the night, of course, centered around the fried chicken. There was also a celery and apple salad, cheese course, and ice cream sundaes as the other courses. Note that the menu is signed by chef Dave Cruz.

Celery and Apple Salad
arkansas black, pink lady & sierra beauty apples, little gem lettuces, herbed walnuts, creamy celeriac dressing

There’s not a ton of celery in this dish, but celery and apples do work as a combination. The apples were crunchy and sweet.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
butter braised radishes & kohlrabi, tfl garden pea shoots, brussels sprouts, yukon gold potatoes

Ah, yes. What I came here for – the chicken. It was cooked a little darker than I expected, but it was very crispy. The meat was extremely tender and moist – the brine does wonders for the chicken. Delicious.

The accompaniment to the chicken was this small dish of potatoes, radishes, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, and pea shoots. This dish was fine, but the highlight here was definitely the chicken…so much so, that we asked for more (staff at The French Laundry earlier had recommended doing so). I was surprised by how moist the breast meat was, as that’s much harder to do than the dark meat.

They brought out one more piece for everyone – definitely worthwhile to ask for.

Crawford Family Farm’s Vermont Ayr
cranberry quickbread, persimmon jam

This cheese was very mild. The housemade cranberry bread and persimmon jam were both good.

Ice Cream Sundaes
popcorn ice cream, peanut brittle, chocolate sauce

Popcorn ice cream, peanut brittle, chocolate sauce…sounds wonderful. And it was. The popcorn ice cream was nicely flavored, and went well with the peanut brittle and chocolate sauce.

This was definitely a great meal, and I was stuffed after eating all that chicken. Ad Hoc fried chicken night lives up to its expectations and produces some very moist and flavorful chicken with a nice crunchy batter. I hope to be back for fried chicken next time I am in the area, but I also want to try some of the other dishes Ad Hoc has to offer.

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