Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bondi Grill House, Coming Up From Down Under


Bondi Grill House
7821 Edinger Ave. Suite 110
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

When you think of Australia, probably a few things come to mind. If you are like me, these things are koala bears, the music group Men at Work, the movie Crocodile Dundee, and of course one of my crushes growing up, Olivia Newton John. Okay, I might be dating myself with this list, but the point I wanted to make was that food is never really one of the things most Americans think about when it comes to Australia. Probably when you are asked to think about Australian foods, you either think of Vegemite, or maybe even meat pies. A new restaurant in the Bella Terra shopping complex wants to alert you to the fact that there's more to Australian food than just that brown spread that millions of Aussies wake up to each morning.

Bondi Grill House comes to us from famed surf spot, Bondi Beach, which is a suburb of Sydney, the largest city in Australia. See, you can learn some real facts reading food blogs, just give me half the money you win on Jeopardy if this comes in handy. Anyways, there are several sister restaurants to Bondi Grill House that operate under the name Hurricane's Grill in Australia. Of course back in Huntington Beach there's already a well known restaurant/bar with this name, so that's probably the reason for the name change. Even though Bondi Grill House has only been open for a couple of months, they are already working on another location that's under construction at the Tustin Marketplace. This new location, which will be bigger, is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

The people of Huntington Beach seem to have really taken to Bondi Grill House. The restaurant was full from the time we arrived, until we left. For those of you familiar with Bella Terra, Bondi Grill House is situated across from the Cheesecake Factory. Not an overly large restaurant, 3,500 square feet, but they offer a wonderful patio that is great for people watching. Even with the smaller size here, the table spacing allowed for a comfortable gap between customers. After driving up here during rush hour traffic, both Katie and I were excited to see what Bondi Grill House had in store for us.



To calm our nerves from dealing with the 405 Freeway, we had to partake in an adult beverage, or two. At Bondi they only serve beer and wine, so the powers at be came up with some great cocktails using wine, including this Blue Hurricane ($8.95). This drink starts with a base of Lillet Blanc, a hurricane liqueur, orange, and Luxardo cherries. I really liked the look of this, the way it separated into layers in the glass. The cherry sunk to the bottom, with the wine floating near the top. Not overly sweet, with a nice and refreshing taste, this drink started our night off with a bang.




Also getting us excited for what Bondi had in store for this evening, was this Garlic Bread Roll ($2.95). At some restaurants you order garlic bread, and you are sometimes not sure they remembered to add the garlic, but that was not the case here. This loaf of bread was very garlicky, as you can see from the picture above. The bread had a nice crunch to the crust, and was soft and flavorful inside. Exactly what I want when I order garlic bread.




I know I said that Bondi Grill House was an Australian import, so I'm not sure how these Boerewors ($11.95) found there way onto their menu, but after eating them, we are not complaining. For those that do not know, like me until this night,  Boerewors are a traditional South African sausages made of beef and spices. This is a very lean sausage, with little, to no fat inside of it. These sausages were served with the interesting sounding Monkey Gland sauce. We were assured that there was no actual monkey used in the making of this sauce. This sauce is actually more of a tangy barbecue sauce, which is sweetened with dried apricots, which went well with the beefiness of the sausage.


Artichokes seem to be on every menu we have come across recently, so maybe they are the new, hip food item of this year. At Bondi they keep the trend going with these Roasted Artichokes ($10.95). These fire grilled artichokes are served with a tzatziki sauce, which worked wonderfully with these very meaty artichokes. Perfect for sharing with friends.


Probably one of the biggest winners we tried on this night were these Peri Peri Prawns ($12.95). This got the nod of approval from the assembled food media on this night. These prawns were sauteed with butter, garlic, and peri peri sauce. Really reminded me of a lighter shrimp scampi, without sacrificing flavor. Maybe for lighter eaters this could be an entree, since it was served with rice.



Before we start the salad portion of the meal, it was time for another cocktail. This time I selected the Strawberry Basil Smash ($8.95). Again, this is a wine based drink that uses Sauvignon Blanc, strawberry syrup, fresh strawberries, basil, and soda water. When this came to the table I thought it might be too sweet, but the wine and soda water helped to balance things out.



The first of the two salads we got to try was my favorite of the night, the Spinach and Strawberry Salad ($12.95 for the large size). I'm usually against having fruit included in my salads, but this one was pretty good, and I liked that each bite had a different element to it. Baby spinach, sliced strawberries, goat cheese, spiced candied almonds, and a poppy seed dressing were all included here. I could not help but think that this would be my mom's favorite dish at Bondi Grill House, it has her written all over it.


It kind of resembles the other salad, but this Arugula, Orange, and Beet Salad ($12.95) was the only blight for me on this night. Just like the other salad, this also had the candied almonds and goat cheese, but it also added orange slices, arugula, beets, and organic quinoa. I think this lost me with the quinoa. I am no fan of quinoa, and have yet to have it in anything I have liked. Katie really did enjoy this salad more than the other though.



Now we were starting to get into my wheelhouse, when the entrees started to arrive at the table. Starting things off was this very good Lamb Burger ($13.95). I don't really get a chance to have lamb nearly enough, and this burger really hit the spot. A half pound of grass fed lamb, with red onion, tomato, lettuce, feta cheese, sun dried tomato, pickle, and tzatziki sauce gave this burger a very Greek feel to it. The bun was soft, but still held everything together. Lamb can sometimes be gamey, but this version was anything but. Eating this really got me excited to try their other burgers, like the one that caught my eye, the Millionaire's Bacon and Cheese Burger. That will be my next conquest on my next visit to Bondi Grill House.




Pulled pork is delicious, but so many things can go wrong with it. This one at Bondi was pretty stellar. They pile on a half a pound of tender pulled pork, then add coleslaw, and then place it all on a large roll. The pork had just the right amount of BBQ sauce in it, so it was not too soupy, and did not overpower the natural taste of the pork. I would have liked bigger hunks of  pork in this, but still a good sandwich. The onion rings are also worth mentioning here. They were lightly breaded, and used smaller onions than other versions. I imagine these would be great with a side of ranch dressing for dipping.




Bondi Grill House is famous for their ribs, and after trying these, it's easy to see why this is so. They have three kinds of ribs; baby back pork, beef back ribs, and these Bondisaurus Pork Ribs ($34.25 for a full rack). These ribs are huge, with tons of meat on them. I'm not even sure I could have finished this entire rack, even though I would like to try it sometime. This is 3 pounds of free range, all natural, Australian ribs. Bondi is the first restaurant in North America to sell these ribs, so they are a must order. They are basted in their house made barbecue sauce, then seared at 825 degrees. There are two sauces available, a mild sauce and another one with a little more of a kick to it. Of course I enjoyed the spicier version, but both were good.



As much as I liked the pork ribs, I might have liked these Beef Back Ribs ($29.95) a little bit more. I've always been pretty partial to beef ribs, and the ones here at Bondi had lots of meat on them. These were also one of the juiciest ribs I have had recently. A really tasty end to the entree portion of our night.



I had no idea that Sticky Date Pudding ($8.95) was a traditional Australian dessert, but Bondi Grill House educated me on that fact. This was not what I was expecting when it came to the table. It was a cake made with California dates, with vanilla ice cream perched on top of it, and a salted caramel placed around the base of the cake. I guess I was expecting more of a pudding, but this was pretty solid. I'm not even a big fan of dates, and I liked this dessert. The moist cake and the salted caramel sauce made this for me. A wonderful end to a great night.

Besides the new location in Tustin, Bondi Grill House has other things going on, like the premier of a new lunch menu coming soon. Their happy hour is also not to be missed. It's a daily happy hour between the hours of 3PM and 6PM, then it starts up again from 9PM to closing. Great food specials, along with fifty percent off all beer, wine, cocktails, and bottles of wine. A great place to eat before you hit up a movie at Bella Terra, or maybe a spot to get a drink after one. We really enjoyed our time at Bondi Grill House, and look forward to coming back soon.

Special thanks to General Manager, Elizabeth Flaherty for keeping tabs on us all night, and making sure we had everything that we needed throughout our stay. Also we would like to thank Bondi Grill House co-owner, Peter Hough. He answered all of our silly questions, and was a very cordial host. Of course we would be remiss without acknowledging our waiter and bussers on this night. Thanks for all that you did for us during our stay here guys. Lastly, thanks to Jane Gillespie for putting this all together and thinking of inviting us. Much appreciated.

For more information about Bondi Grill House, check out their website here: http://www.bondigrillhouse.com/home

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Hot and Steamy Dinner at Ritter's


Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking
1421 MacArthur Blvd.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

I have been hearing some pretty good things about Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking lately. It seems like every time I get my new issue of Orange Coast Magazine, or when I read the OC Weekly, there's some mention of Ritter's in almost every issue. The reviews have been glowing, so I put this down on my list of places to try right away.

I knew I wanted to go with my good friend Angel, and his wonderful girlfriend, Rebekah. They consider themselves to be very good judges of Cajun cuisine, and Rebekah even makes a very good version of gumbo as well. Orange County used to be devoid of Cajun restaurants. There was a place in downtown Santa Ana that I had been to growing up, and there was also a place in this weird food court type place by my dad's work in Irvine, but other than that we did not have tons of Cajun options here. That is until this whole Boiling Crab and other similar restaurants exploded onto the scene.

Ritter's has become so popular that they now have a second location in Huntington Beach. This first one, in Santa Ana is located right near the intersection of Bristol and MacArthur, in the same shopping center as Wienerschnitzel, and across the street from their competition, the Boiling Crab. We got here just before 6PM on a recent Friday. We were lucky enough to grab a table, before Angel and Rebekah showed up, but this restaurant filled up quick, and stayed that way during our entire stay.

The restaurant is not big, maybe 20 or so tables, with a long bar that overlooks the cooking process. The reviews I have read suggest that the bar is the best place to sit and soak in all the action here, but it's not really conducive when you are going to be talking and catching up with your friends. Be aware, this is a loud restaurant. Even with only twenty tables, the high ceilings do little to mute the conversations and blues and jazz that are playing over the speakers in the dining room. Be prepared for the chairs here, which are some of the most uncomfortable ones we have sat in during the five year run of this blog. Maybe they have these to keep the tables turning over, to avoid long wait times for tables. Let's hope the food was a little more comfortable than the chairs.



While we were waiting for Angel to finish getting himself restaurant ready, we were served this Bread Basket. These rolls were pretty crusty, which is good for dipping, and probably what you want to serve here. We went through two baskets of these during our meal.


Yelp was all abuzz with its love for the New England Clam Chowder ($4) at Ritter's, and for once, the Yelp kids got it right. They have both New England style and Manhattan here, but do yourself a favor and try the creamier New England version. This is going to sound like a diss, but the version here reminded me of the clam chowder I had at Polly's growing up. I used to love getting it every Friday night, and this version was just as creamy, more full of clams, and had a great flavor to it. One of the best chowders we have had during the run of this blog.




As much as we were looking forward to having the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp ($12), they were a letdown. The description made them sound so good. They are molasses marinated shrimp and mozzarella deep fried, then wrapped in bacon, which sounds awesome right? These were kind of boring though. All of the components were here, but they lacked that wow factor. These also might have been made better if they were not paired with a molasses mustard sauce. Not sure what kind of sauce should have been used here, but this sauce relied way too much on mustard to add flavor here.


When ordering the Red Beans and Rice ($5) they ask you how hot you would like it, based on a numerical scale. We asked for a seven out of ten, and I thought the heat here was pretty tame. Angel and Rebekah ordered theirs at an eight, and theirs were about the same. A little inconsistent, but when we told our waiter we would like these more spicy, he brought us out some habaneros, which cranked up the heat, and also made this dish a winner. Besides the beans and rice in here, there was andouille pork sausage included. I really liked this appetizer, and would just ask for the habaneros on the side, so both Katie and I could enjoy this with our desired heat levels.



Shrimp does funny things to Katie, so the Cilantro Chicken ($14) caught her eye immediately. This really had a pho vibe going for it. Chicken breast, Andouille sausage, and linguini noodles joined the tomatoes and cilantro in the lemon garlic broth. Katie felt this was a great option for people who want to eat a little lighter at Ritter's. She was really happy with this dish.


Rebekah went with Cajun staple, Jambalaya ($18) for her dinner on this night. This version was pretty traditional with shrimp, chicken, Andouille sausage, and rice, in a tomato based sauce. She liked this version, but has had better. The picture does not show it, but this was a pretty good sized serving of jambalaya.



Angel knew what he would be getting when he walked in here, the Ritter's Famous Gumbo ($20 with shrimp added). I believe he wanted to see if this version was better than his girlfriends, and being a good boyfriend he said hers was better. He did enjoy this though. He liked that the okra was not slimy, which is usually a big bone of contention for him with other gumbos. This also featured the trinity of Cajun cooking, which is cut up bell peppers, onion, and celery, along with pork Andouille sausage, and a mound of rice in a dark roux sauce. Angel definitely made sure to clean his plate on this night.



Just like Angel, I knew what I would be having at Ritter's even before walking in the door. The Ritter's Famous Pan Roast ($23 for the house version) was simply great. In my opinion, this was the best dish to hit the table on this night, and I was glad I was the one who had ordered it. The pan roast is a tomato cream sauce, with the trinity included, a big mound of rice in the middle, and the house version comes with shrimp, clams, crab and lobster. There was plenty of seafood in here, but the tomato cream sauce stole this show. Even writing this now, I still look back fondly on this meal, and especially that sauce. It's rare that you come to a restaurant for the first time and get the best thing on the menu, but I can't see myself getting anything else on future visits here.

Ritter's is worthy of all the press they have received recently. Both Katie and I really enjoyed our meals, and even Angel and Rebekah had to admit that their meals were pretty good as well. We had great service on this night, even though they were pretty busy during our stay. We even got a visit from Chef Ritter while eating here. He actually took the time to visit each table, which I thought was a nice touch. We will definitely be back. Glad to see that there are now more Cajun options in OC, and Ritter's is near the top of those options.

Out of five knights, (because ritter in German means knight), five being best to zero being worst, Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking gets 3.5 knights.

For more information about Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, go their website here: http://rittersskc.com/

Ritter's SKC on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Having a Great Time at the OC Fair Food Showcase


OC Fair Food Showcase
88 Fair Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Unless you have been living under a rock, and have not seen the massive coverage, the OC Fair opened last Friday, (July 11th), and runs until August 10th. That's 23 days, (the OC Fair is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays), of rides, music, demonstrations, carnival games, shopping, exhibits, farm animals, and of course food. All of the other stuff is great, but if you know me, I am excited by the food at the fair. It seems like every year the vendors top themselves. I was very excited to see what they had in store for us this year.

We got to the OC Fair early last Sunday for the OC Fair Food Showcase, where the vendors show off their latest and greatest food concoctions to the OC food media. I had never been to the fair this early in the day, and man it was nice beating the crowds here. Parking was a breeze, the food smelled great, and as an added bonus, when you come to the OC Fair by 11AM on weekends, you get in for a much reduced price of $3, which is a great deal.







Both Katie and I did not eat before this event, and we also had a light dinner the night before, so I was more than ready to eat a lot at this food showcase. First up is Pink's, which is a Hollywood legend since 1939. I have yet to make it to their iconic location in LA, but if these hot dogs are any indication, I'll have to make it their soon. They had three dogs for us to choose from. Their famous Pink's Chili Cheese Snoop Dog, Emeril Bam Dog, (mustard, bacon, jalapenos, onion, cheese, and coleslaw), and the Colonel Klink Kraut Dog, (mustard, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and pastrami). Quite honestly, all of these were very good, but if I had to choose the best one to have, it was the Emeril Dog, which had a lot going on with it. The hot dogs above proclaim that, "Pink's Loves OC", and I think the feeling is definitely mutual.





Anyone can have a regular turkey leg at the fair. There are even bacon wrapped turkey legs to gnaw on, but if you are going to go that far, you might as well go all the way and have a Deep Fried Bacon Wrapped Turkey Leg from the Bacon A-Fair booth. This was pretty awesome. I loved the crunchy outside, the bacon added big time flavor, and the turkey was surprisingly moist. Unpredictably, Katie's favorite item of the showcase was the Deep Fried Jack Daniels Churro. No need to be 21 to order this, as the whiskey gets cooked off in the fryer, but the Jack Daniels flavor lingers in this nicely fried churro. Topped with a syrup and whipped cream, this made Katie a very happy girl.


The fantastic Lori Southerland represented two booths at the OC Fair, the first of which was Grantsburgers, and their famous Chile Relleno Pretzel Burger. It was hard limiting myself to just a half of this burger, as it was so good. This double patty burger was blanketed with cheese, plenty of avocado, and a mild chile relleno. A burger that was not dry, and had plenty of big time flavors going on here. If you gotta have a burger at the OC Fair, this is the one to get.


The other booth Lori was promoting was the Tasti Chips booth, which I had never experienced before. Judging from the applause that this booth received, I could only guess that I'm probably the last person to try these chips. I'll not make that mistake again. These Garlic Parmesan Shakers were fried perfectly, and with my love of kettle chips, they were right up my alley.




Now this is fair food to the max. Chicken Charlie's is probably the most prolific booth at the OC Fair. When you hear about crazy, over the top fried creations, it's usually offered at Chicken Charlie's. New this year are the Deep Fried Chicken Skin and the Deep Fried Doritos. I've never been too fond of Doritos, but these were really tasty. Served with a ranch dressing, these were kind of addictive. As for the chicken skin, this is a natural, because the best part of fried chicken is the skin, so why not do away with the chicken? Genius. Probably so bad for you, but the OC Fair only goes on for 23 days, so that leaves 342 days that I won't be eating this fried skin. Pretty good reasoning, huh?




I'd argue that pickles are one of the most polarizing food items around. I had a friend that if there was a pickle on his plate, he would send back the entire plate, because he detested even the pickle juice that much. I like pickles, but could see how they can overpower foods. Pickle lovers will have to hit up the Pickle O' Pete's booth to get their fill of these pickled cucumbers. We tried the Pickle Dog, which can best be described as a hot dog, encased inside a pickle, and then fired in a corn dog batter. This actually worked for me. I liked the contrasting layers, the sweet corn batter, the briny pickle taste, and the beefy hot dog inside. Also from Pickle O' Pete's, we tried the Pickle Chips. These were paired nicely with ranch dressing, which is my favorite way to eat fried pickles.




The charismatic Dominic Palmieri was also showcasing two booths on this day, the first one being the iconic Biggy's Meat Market. The Big Daddy Corndog and the Big Garlic Herbed Chicken on a Sick were spotlighted on this afternoon. This corndog uses a nice sausage inside of it, and they were nice enough to have smaller samples for us to try, even though I ate two of these. The chicken on a stick was very tender, and was probably one of the healthiest things we ate on this day. Dominic was so nice to hold the chicken up, so you could get a feel for how big it really is. I also think he just wanted to be in the picture also.


The other booth Dominic was representing was the Fair Fix and Fried A Fair booth, with gave us another of Katie's favorite items from this afternoon, the Pecan Pie on a Stick. This actually tasted just like you would imagine. The pecan pie filling is sweet and nutty at the same time, then held together by a sweeter than a corn dog batter, then it is dusted lightly with powdered sugar. Not too bad, and I'd really like to see this filling used in a real pecan pie.






This is what I envision heaven to look like. Texas Donuts would get the nod from me, if I had to pick a favorite from this OC Fair Food Showcase. To anyone that knows me, they know I am a donut freak, and these were pretty tasty. The new one this year is the Cherry Pop Rocks Donut, which was overly sweet, but I liked the novelty of eating the Pop Rocks, which I haven't done in about 35 plus years. The Reese's Peanut Butter Donut combined two of my favorite items into one, which is never a bad thing. My favorite donut though was, the Banana Chocolate Cream Donut. This one was topped with sliced bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate, then there was also a Bavarian cream inside. Wow, this blew me away. So good. Texas Donut representative, Vicky Hohnbaum says that the Maple Bacon Donut is their best seller, but I will guess that this banana cream one will give it a run for its money this year.




After our OC Fair Food Showcase was done, we were lead to the center of the fair, and allowed to enter the Legendary Gelato booth. There we were given a cup of some great gelato. It was getting hot, so going inside the booth was great, but was made even better by all the sample tastes we were given. It was hard to pick just one, but I liked the Chocolate Mint the best. Very nice to have something sweet and cool after all that fried food.





 
After our gelato, we cruised around the OC Fair a bit, trying to walk off the effects of all the food we had just consumed. We always like checking out the animals. Plenty of little piglets running around, or as is the case when we were here, they were napping. Also liked checking out the cows, goats and sheep too.



On our way out of the OC Fair, we walked into the Parade of Products Building, so I could get some Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast the next day. These are my favorite cinnamon rolls at the fair, although I am told that I need to try the ones that are outside as well. Luckily, this will not be my last time at the OC Fair this year.

We would like to thank all of the vendors for providing us with so much great food to sample. Everything was fantastic, and you all were so nice to answer all of our goofy questions. I would also like to thank all of our fellow food media friends that went on this culinary journey with us. You all make going to these events so much fun. Lastly, we would like to thank the wonderful Robin Wachner, Communications Director for the OC Fair and Event Center. She put together this OC Fair Food Showcase, and we could not have been happier to attend. Thanks for the invite Robin, it was an awesome day.

The OC Fair runs through August 10th, and for more information, go to their website here: http://ocfair.com/2014/index.asp
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