Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Where to eat in Orange County

If you are visiting the beautiful Orange County in California, make sure you try one of these spots :)

1) Mare Culinary Lounge by Alessandro Pirozzi (Laguna Beach) --- What to order: We started our dinner with Carpaccio of Organic Heirloom Tomatoes. It was served with plenty of burrata cheese (which I love), prosciutto, and arugula salad. Very well dressed with balsamic vinaigrette! 

Mare Culinary Lounge on Urbanspoon

Carpaccio of Organic Heirloom Tomatoes with Burrata
 My husband had the Chicken Milanese (double-breast of chicken with light focaccia breading, pan fried, topped with lemon caper sauce). It was served with a healthy portion of limoncello fusilli. Great for hungry man!
Chicken Milanese with Limoncello Fusilli
 I got the Fresh Salmon with fennel, sun-dried tomato champagne sauce and orzo pasta. It was grilled and served medium done. Just the way it should be! The pasta was al dente and not overpowering at all.

Fresh Salmon with champagne sauce and orzo pasta

Chef Alessandro Pirozzi gave us this Blackberry Sorbet, while his staff was preparing our dessert. The sorbet is house made (as all other desserts) and it was very refreshing. It served also as a palate cleanser.

Blackberry sorbet with fresh blueberries
 The real dessert was this Ricotta Cheesecake with Meyer lemon zest, fresh raspberries, and raspberry & mango puree. It was OUTSTANDING. Super flavorful, delicate, and beautifully plated.

Ricotta Cheesecake with Raspberry & Mango Puree
Overall Mare Culinary Lounge is an amazing place for a romantic dinner or for a drink with friends. They have live music and the entire staff is very polite. The chef came to our table several times to ask if everything was fine. Portions are generous, but they don't make you feel too full. Greatly recommended!!!

2) Watermark Restaurant by Chef/Owner Marc Cohen (Laguna Beach) --- What to order: We went to Watermark for a lunch. We had a table next to the window. Great for people watching, since the restaurant is located on the busy Coast Hwy. I really liked how they serve the bread: in a bakery bag, so if you don't finish the whole loaf, we can take it easily home.

WaterMarc Grill on Urbanspoon

Watermark bread service and Franziskauer German beer
I ordered the Salmon Nicoise Salad. It was served with a small arugula salad, some haricot verts, egg, kalamatas, fingerling potatoes, and tapenade. I liked the texture of the salmon: beautiful grilled marks outside and soft interior.

Salmon Nicoise Salad with olive tapenade, egg, fingerling potatoes
My husband was craving the Kobe Hot Dog and he got it Californian style (served wrapped in bacon, with diced avocado, and heirloom cherry tomatoes). It was a very good size and he got a side of shoestring fries. They were not greasy at all and not overly salty.

Kobe Beef Hot Dog (Californian Style)
The dessert was the best ever: Chocolate tart with torched marshmallow and espresso sauce. The crust was hard, but sweet. There was a layer of caramel sauce beneath the chocolate pudding. Also, as a surprise, there were some chopped hazelnuts inside. Lovely lovely dessert!!!

Chocolate Tart with Torched Marshmallow and Espresso Sauce

3) Firenze Osteria by Chef Fabio Viviani --- What to order: We started with the Grilled Vegetable Plate (grilled eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, asparagus, carrots, burrata cheese, parmesan, and aged balsamic vinaigrette). It was good to share and the best part was the sweet bell peppers.

Firenze Osteria on Urbanspoon
Grilled Vegetable Plate with Burrata and Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette
 My dish was light, but at the same time fulfilling: Sole alla Checca (grilled sole, sautéed cherry tomatoes, roasted cauliflower, huge basil, and balsamic reduction). It was a huge serving of vegetables,  but all of them were sweet and tasty :)

Sole alla Checca with roasted cauliflower and cherry tomatoes
 My husband got the Homemade Trofie Pasta with Duck Sausage and Caramelized Fennel. It was a small plate, but very heavy. It could be an entrée by itself. The Trofie pasta is like penne, but without the hollow. He really enjoyed it!

Trofie Pasta with Duck Sausage and Fennel
The Flourless Chocolate Cake with vanilla gelato and chocolate sauce was amazing. Very dark flavor, but extremely well paired with the sweet gelato. The mint was a nice decorative touch! The size was perfect for two,  because the dessert is rich and dense. Enjoy!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Gelato
4) Cucina Enoteca (Irvine Spectrum Center) --- What to order: We shared a Foraged mushroom pizza with taleggio, braised leek, and truffle oil. The crust was super delicious, Neapolitan style, with blistering leopard spots. The taste of the mushrooms was very earthy and meaty.

Cucina Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Foraged mushroom pizza with taleggio, braised leeks, and truffle oil
For dessert, we shared the Bittersweet chocolate budino with chocolate Chantilly and salted chocolate cookie. It was similar to pot de crème, very creamy and velvety. We ate outdoors, on the beautiful patio. Inside appeared to be too dark for us, so keep it in mind when you making your reservation.

Bittersweet Chocolate budino with salted cookie
5) Broadway by Amar Santana (Laguna Beach) --- This restaurant is very good and crowded, but there is one thing that I consider disadvantage: they don't serve bread with the dinner service. THIS IS WEIRD. Almost every restaurant in this country offers bread for "free" or if not, upon request. In Broadway, there was no bread whatsoever. I am European. I can't eat without bread and I am not on a low-carb diet. I hope they will change their policy soon.

We started with the Roasted Heirloom Beet salad. It was served with all kinds of edible foliage and toasted pistachio. Under the veggies, there was a thick layer of lemon ricotta cheese. The vinaigrette was sherry shallot and the portion size was medium. I think it is more individual serving than a portion to share...

Roasted Heirloom Beet Salad with lemon ricotta cheese
My Mustard crusted Scottish salmon was good (medium rare). It was served with a stuffed mushroom, braised turnips, and grain butter sauce. There was no starch on the plate, so I felt still hungry afterwards. I was craving two slices of bread to soak up the beautiful juices on the plate!

Mustard crusted Scottish salmon with mustard butter sauce
My husband's plate was the Thyme Basted Jidori Chicken breast with fennel mashed potatoes, baby tomatoes, and preserved lemon jus. It was such a good portion: plenty of meat, plenty of starch, and even plenty of vegetables. He also ordered Allagash Beer, which was somewhat expensive ($8), as the majority of the dishes in this restaurant.

Thyme Basted Jidori Chicken with fennel mashed potatoes

The most popular dessert on the menu is the Broadway Sundae: salted caramel ice cream, toasted spicy hazelnuts, chocolate sauce, and caramel popcorn. I loved the combination of the ice cream and the hazelnuts. It was perfect for sharing :)

Broadway Sundae with salted caramel ice cream and caramel popcorn
 6) Marche Moderne (South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa) --- What to order: This restaurant is located at the Penthouse level of the South Coast Plaza luxurious mall. We were first served an amuse-bouche of salmon tartare with avocado and crème fresh. This was a nice touch.

Marche Moderne on Urbanspoon

The amuse-bouche: salmon tartare with avocado and crème fresh.
A nice way to start the evening is with a carefully selected cheese course. We chose 2 French cheeses: Camembert and Epoisses (my current favorite). They were served with a delicious warm baguette, fig jam, quince preserve, and candied pecans. Beautifully displayed on a wood board, those were delicious appetizer!

Camembert and Epoisses cheeses served with fresh baguette, fig jam, quince preserve, and pecans
I ordered the "Off the bone" whole wood burning grilled Mediterranean seabream. It is a pretty filling plate, I was full at the end. It comes with artichokes, Preserved Meyer lemon, red verjus, coriander and Moutarde violette dressing, and olive oil poached rosette potatoes. The preserved Meyer lemons were very salty, but the rest of the dish was nicely balanced. There was a lot of sauce on the plate and I needed a lot of baguette to soak it all.

"Off the bone" whole wood burning grilled Mediterranean seabream
My husband got the Steak tartare. This is a 4 ounce angus filet, served with farm egg sunny side up, truffle pomme frites, mustard cream, and baguette. At first, he was excited, because he loves Steak tartare. But once he tried it, he did not like the preparation. The mustard and spices the chef used were very overpowering and it was hard for him to finish the meat.

Steak tartare: angus filet, farm egg, truffle pomme frites, mustard cream
Our dessert was Warm Valrhona chocolate and truffle cake with coco mango gelato and Chantilly. This is similar to lava cake, with liquid center. Believe it or not, the best part was the homemade coco mango gelato! It is amazing how well it paired with the chocolate heaven. I was in paradise, once again!!!
Warm valrhona chocolate and truffle cake with coco mango gelato and Chantilly
 7) Raya by Richard Sandoval (Ritz Carlton, Laguna Miguel) --- What to order: Raya is one of the best restaurants in Orange County. Located just above the Pacific Ocean, with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, this gem is a must. We went there to celebrate Mother's Day and we were seated on a table next to the window. We started with the bread basket, it contained a variety of 3 breads, one of them gluten-free!

Raya at The Ritz-Carlton on Urbanspoon

Selection of breads, served with goat butter, tomato sauce, and cheese spread
My husband ordered the Fried Chicken Salad Wrap, served with tomato, avocado, cheddar, and sweet Korean chile ranch. On the side, he had truffle fries. He liked the crispiness of the chicken, but the size was very big and the ranch sauce slightly hot. The ketchup was not needed, because the fries already had a lot of flavors going on (cheese and truffle oil).

Fried Chicken Salad Wrap with avocado, cheddar, tomatoes, and sweet Korean ranch and fries
I got the Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Tataki Salad, served with avocado, mixed greens, white spring onion, lemon-ginger-wasabi vinaigrette, and fresh ginger. This was listed under the "Large Plates" section of the menu, but the size was so small. It is not enough for a lunch. The serving is only 4 tiny slices of tuna!!! I asked the server for more and she so very kind to bring me 2 more bites.

Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Tataki salad with avocado, mixed greens, and fresh ginger
For dessert we ordered the Chocolate Peanut Caramel Tart. It came with candied peanuts, peanut butter ice cream, chocolate, and cookie crumbs. The tart crust was super hard, you almost need a knife to cut it. There was a nice layer of caramel and peanuts on the bottom, then a dark chocolate layer, and to top it, sea salt. I liked the combination of the flavors and the pretty presentation. The chocolate bark was spread with gold!

Chocolate Peanut Caramel Tart with candied peanuts, peanut ice cream, and chocolate
The celebration dessert was a gift from the restaurant. The bottom layer was a brownie-like cake. Then, there was a chocolate-caramel layer, and to finish it off, a milk chocolate mousse and whipped cream. It was beautifully decorated with fresh raspberries and raspberry coulis :)

Celebration cake: brownie-like layer, chocolate mousse, and raspberry coulis
8) Pizzeria Ortica by David Myers (Costa Mesa) --- What to order: Pizzeria Ortica is located close to South Coast Plaza and the Segerstrom Center for Arts. If you are in a mood for a quick dinner, order one of their delicious Neapolitan style pizzas. We ordered the Pizza alla Norma. It arrived very promptly. Delicious crust, topped with cherry tomatoes, basil, eggplant, smoked mozzarella, and ricotta salata. Amazingly good! My husband got the Bikini Blonde Lager beer from Maui, Hawaii. Overall the service was excellent and the ambience very chic :)

Pizzeria Ortica on Urbanspoon
Pizza alla Norma: Neapolitan style, cherry tomatoes, basil, smoked mozzarella

For dessert, we got the Torta di Cioccolato: dark flourless chocolate cake, served with vanilla gelato and candied orange peel. We are not fans of the orange peel, but it was not overpowering at all. Under the cake there was a delicious layer of caramel and everything was finished off with some nicely toasted hazelnuts!

Torta di Cioccolato with vanilla gelato, candied orange peel
9) The Loft at the Montage Hotel (Laguna Beach) --- What to order: The Loft restaurant is located in the luxurious Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach. If you are going for lunch, as we did, request a table on the terrace. The beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean will make you foodie experience even better.

Montage Resort & Spa on Urbanspoon

The bread basket is impressive. It has lavash bread, which is a very thin, almost cracker-like, flatbread. They also have a soft white dinner roll and whole grain slices. The butter was served soft and it was very European-style.

The bread basket at the balcony of The Loft
My lunch entrée was the Grilled Salmon with Watercress and Olive Oil-crushed fingerlings. The best part was the sauce gribiche and the fried capers. Those added such a complexity to the whole dish. The portion size of the potatoes was a little bit bigger than what I needed, but I was able to finish it all with pleasure!

Grilled Salmon with Watercress and Olive Oil-Crushed fingerlings
My husband loves sandwiches, so he ordered the Chicken Paillard Sandwich with Grilled Eggplant and Sautéed Peppers, with Basil Pesto and French fries. As always, the sandwich was huge, but it was full with healthy vegetables, so we considered it a smart choice! He paired the Mediterranean flavors with a light beer :)

Chicken Paillard Sandwich with Grilled Eggplant and Sautéed Peppers
This Old Fashioned Cheesecake was so mouth-watering. It was served with fresh blackberries, blackberries sauce, and sour cream. There was a lemony flavors in the cake that were so refreshing. The texture was light and fluffy. The restaurant is expensive, but it is worth the visit. The staff is very polite, however be prepared for a slow delivery of the plates. We loved it!!!

Old Fashioned Cheesecake with Fresh Blackberries and Sour Cream
 10) 230 Forest Avenue Restaurant (Laguna Beach) --- What to order: We went to this Marc Cohen's restaurant for lunch. It is interesting that this place is always busy. They gave us the bread in a brown bag, which is a great idea: if you ever have some leftovers, you can take them home. The butter they serve is mixed with kalamata olives, garlic, and herbs. My husband got a nice Shock Top beer with citrus and coriander flavors.

230 Forest on Urbanspoon

Shock Top beer with citrus and coriander flavors
 My Candied Salmon was beautifully served: on the bottom of the plate, there were mixed greens, with candied walnuts and dried cranberries. On top of that, a nice mango vegetable slaw. The salmon was drizzled with balsamic reduction and everything was sprinkled with goat cheese. A sweet delicate lunch salad for refined palates!!!

Candied Salmon with mango vegetable slaw, sweet candied walnuts, goat cheese
My husband ordered the Lake Trout with haricot vert, toasted almonds, burgundy gorgonzola butter, and toasted garlic fries. He liked the butter on top of the fish, but he asked: "Where is the other half of the trout?" It was such a small filet, he was expecting the whole trout.

Lake Trout with haricot vert and garlic fries
The Mascarpone Cheesecake was great. Maybe it had too much whipped cream and too little of the berries gastrique. The strawberries were fresh and sweet, while the texture of the cake was smooth and creamy. The only disadvantage of this place was server Sunny! She was not polite, she never came to our table to ask if everything was ok, and she did not smile even once. I hope the manager will notice this behavior and call her attention!!!

Mascarpone Cheesecake with berries gastrique and whipped cream
11) Leatherby's Café Rouge (Segerstrom Center for Arts, Costa Mesa) ---What to order: We went to the Leatherby's Café for a dinner on a Sunday night. It was packed with people, planning to go to the Performance Center. So, the service was very slow and we were not happy with the staff. There was no more white bread and the bread basket contained only rye slices. We talked with the manager, he said that they had more reservations than expected, but he did not offer anything as a courtesy.

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge on Urbanspoon
We started with a cheese course. A selection of 3 cheeses: Epoisses (cow's milk, France), Sage Derby (infused with sage, British cheddar), and Red Dragon (infused with mustard). They were served with quince, truffle honey, candied walnuts, and walnut-raisin bread. I liked the honey accompaniment, but not the dried fruits in this case.

Epoisses, Sage Derby, and Red Dragon cheeses with quince, truffle honey, candied nuts
My husband got the Local black Cod with shiitake mushroom, bok choy, Fresno chile, turnips, and mushroom umami jus. It was a small piece of fish and the dish had plenty of liquid to soak the bread in. He drank a Celis White beer and really enjoyed his meal.
Local black cod with shiitake mushroom, bok choy, Fresno chile, umami jus
My steelhead salmon was excellent! There were 2 pieces with crispy skin. Underneath a warm farro. On the side, a ratatouille timbale, yellow tomato coulis, and basil puree. The flavors were so delicate and the colors of the place stunning.

Steelhead salmon with crispy skin, warm faro, ratatouille timbale, yellow tomato coulis
This was amazing Chocolate Tart: a crust, then crème caramel layer, then chocolate cremeux layer, and on the side, chocolate gelato. Very well presented, perfection!
Chocolate Tart with crème caramel, chocolate cremeux, and gelato
 12) Pizzeria Mozza by Mario Batalli and Nancy Silverton (Newport Beach) --- What to order: This location is not so busy as the one in Hollywood. So, we were attended very well by the staff. The breadsticks they serve at the beginning of the meal are not worthy. It would be much better if they give us some soft bread with olive oil!!!

Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon

We shared a Pizza Bianca, served with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere, and fried sage. Sottocenere is an Italian cheese, infused with truffles. The pizza was a little bit greasy, but the flavor of the sage was unique. The crust is chewy and toasted, the size is not huge, but the prices are high!

Pizza Bianca with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere, and fried sage
 The Tiramisu is a new addition to Mozza Pizzeria menu. This one is prepared with house made ladyfingers, mascarpone zabaglione, lots of espresso, and rum. It is served in a cup, but it is good for sharing, because the flavors are intense.

Tiramisu: house made ladyfingers, mascarpone zabaglione, espresso, rum

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