Thursday, March 5, 2015

El Amerikano Media Dinner


El Amerikano
100 South Harbor Blvd. 
Fullerton, CA 92832

In an area with as many restaurants as Downtown Fullerton, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. Almost wherever you stand in this thriving area, you can throw a rock in any direction and hit about three restaurants. Not that I condone throwing rocks at restaurants, unless they serve quinoa, but my main point is that there are a lot of places to eat along Harbor Boulevard.

One restaurant that flew under my radar was El Amerikano. They have been open for close to a year now, but I had not heard too much about them. That's why we jumped at the chance to see what they were all about when we were recently invited to come in and sample some of their new menu items.

El Amerikano is part of Kentro Hospitality Group, which also features one other restaurant, Kentro Greek Kitchen, which just happens to be next door. Checking out the reviews for Kentro, they get some glowing reviews for their Greek food, so I have put them down on our list of places to hit up. Both these spots are located on some prime real estate at the corner of Harbor and Commonwealth, near the Spaghetti Factory and the train station.

Executive Chef and Partner Konstantine Marougas, along with owner, Vasili Kotsiovos have put together a menu at El Amerikano that includes many American favorites, but with a Latin twist. Not ones to rest on their laurels, they have added some protein rich dishes to their menu recently. Chef Konstantine really wants to give diners a sense of comfort, while adding excitement with the additions of fresh herbs, non-traditional cooking techniques, and layering of flavors with each dish. I was really excited to see what they had in store for us on this night.

We were escorted to their roomy patio with lots of other food bloggers in attendance. Almost all of my favorite food writers were here, and it's always a good chance to catch up, and find out what restaurants I have been missing out on. Just as we had gotten settled, the food made it's way out, and our cameras came out to snap pictures before anyone dug in. One of the perks of eating with food writers is that no one eats until everyone finishes with their pictures. After a long wait for the food paparazzi to work their magic, it was time to eat. Let's take a look at some of the new favorites at El Amerikano.


First up was a Cucumber Ceviche Salad ($7). To be honest, I'm usually not a fan of cucumbers or tomatoes, both of which were featured prominently in this salad, but with the other ingredients that were in here they negated my dislike for these two items. This salad also included avocados, almonds, shallots, and some goat cheese. These really added a nice component to this salad. The texture and earthiness of the almonds, the slight tang from the goat cheese, and the shallots added a tremendous flavor, making this a solid salad. A very nice start to the evening.



This Warm Mushroom Salad ($7) was the biggest surprise of the night for me. When I saw that it included only cabbage, goat cheese, sweet peppers, eggplant, pepitas, and of course mushrooms, I had little hope this was going to be very flavorful, but I was wrong. It had a wonderful earthiness to it, and the mushrooms acted more like a protein here. The sweet peppers gave this a little punch, and the cabbage introduced some crunch. A very well done salad.


I've never really been a big fan of eggplant, but recently I have kind of acquired a taste for it. This Mole Eggplant ($6) continued that trend. The eggplant was thrown in the bowl with ancho chile, guajillo, cotija, chives, and for good measure, tortilla strips. This is listed on their menu as a starter, and if you did choose this to start with, it'll definitely get you excited for the rest of your meal here. A very filling appetizer, with a well done mole sauce that's got a touch of sweetness to it.



Brussels Sprouts ($7) seem to be the hottest thing on menus right now. This maligned vegetable that everyone seemed to dislike when we were growing up, has become the hottest thing all of a sudden. A lot of this hype can be credited to chefs that have come up with creative ways to appeal to diners. Chef Konstantine has done this at El Amerikano also. In this Brussels sprouts dish he combines chorizo, almonds, cotija, jalapeno, and then tops this with a healthy dollop of crema fresca. The result is a very hearty dish that does not try to hide the Brussels sprouts, but showcase them alongside the chorizo and the crema. I will definitely be getting this on my next visit.



Probably the most visually stunning dish of the night was this Al Pastor Pork Chop ($16). When I was growing up, my mom never cooked pork chops that looked like this. This very meaty chop had a very pleasant al pastor glaze to it, which did not interfere with the natural flavor of the tender pork. The one misstep of the night for me was the farro salad that was plated next to the chop. A little on the bland side, and I would have liked more of a starchy side item to play up the comfort food feel of the pork.



We finished things off with this very good Asada Brava ($19). This rib eye was cooked to a beautiful medium rare, tender, and with a very nice Latin rub on it.  We were also a fan of the creamed corn poblano, which was a nice twist on regular, old creamed corn. A very nice finish to the night at El Amerikano.

Katie was enamored with the food that we had on this night, and has already made me promise that I'd take her back to El Amerikano again real soon. As a newly diagnosed diabetic, she really enjoyed that they offer plenty of options that are diabetic friendly. I was just happy that the food we had tasted so good. This is a very unique restaurant in OC. They are doing stuff here that is not really going on in any other kitchen around. Yes, they serve burgers and sandwiches, but they are throwing their own spin on things, which makes them stand out. I was also pretty impressed with their price point here. No menu item is over the $20 mark, and there are plenty of things to choose from that will not even set you back ten dollars. A very good value in this area of Fullerton.

We would like to thank everyone at El Amerikano for their hospitality, great food, and service on this night. It was a real pleasure getting to meet both Chef Konstantine and owner Vasili. Thank you both for your wonderful generosity, and it was a pleasure seeing your passion for your restaurant first hand. We would also be remiss if we did not thank everyone at Moxxe PR for this wonderful opportunity to experience this restaurant. Thanks so much for thinking of inviting us.

If you would like to experience this restaurant for yourself, or would like more information about El Amerikano, go to their website here: http://elamerikano.com/

Saturday, February 28, 2015

No Bronx Cheer For These Sandwiches


Bronx Sandwich Co. 
13041 Newport Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780

It's usually my policy to give a place a year before I review them. This allows for a filling out process, and doesn't fill my restaurant blog with places that have gone out of business within the first year. I've read that 90 percent of new restaurants fail during their first year in business, a huge number that has been doubted by some in the restaurant industry. Whatever the real percentage is, it's definitely a crap shoot to open a restaurant, but after seeing these sandwiches on Instagram, I had to try the new sandwich shop on the block, Bronx Sandwich Co.

Bronx Sandwich is located in the same shopping plaza as Tustin Brewing Company, and right next door to the soon departing Nieuport 17. They have been open since the first of the year, and there's already another location that is labeled as coming soon on their website. That spot will be in Anaheim, at the corner of Euclid and Ball, in the same shopping center as Northgate Market and Chipotle. No word on an opening date for that one yet, as the girl at the counter was not so sure when that one would be opening.

We made two early evening visits to this Tustin location to try out these monstrous sandwiches we have seen on Instagram. Not sure what was here before Bronx Sandwich Co., but the space is pretty impressive. Very high ceilings, and plenty of room to enjoy your sandwiches. There's even two TVs that have been turned to sports each time we have been here.

Their menu has a pretty impressive list of hot and cold sandwiches, street fries, two entree salads, and for some reason, two rice bowls that feature either shrimp or chicken. I was here for sandwiches though. Their meats come from east coast staple, Dietz and Watson, and their bread is sourced from legendary OC bread maker Dean Kim's, OC Baking Company. With these two companies supplying the two most basic parts of the sandwich, I had very high hopes for Bronx Sandwich Co. Let's see if those hopes would be confirmed or dashed after eating here.




On my first trip here, I ordered two sandwiches for myself. No, I did not finish them both, but I did put a pretty good dent into them. I selected the Bronx Club ($8.99) first,  because this was the sandwich that got a lot of love online. It was served on a French baguette, and filled with plenty of roasted turkey, creamy Havarti cheese, bacon, avocado, lettuce, and mayo. All of the layers of this sandwich were of a high quality. The bread was spongy enough to hold everything together, while maintaining a softness. The turkey tasted very fresh, and they did not overload this sandwich with too much produce. The bacon kind of got lost here due to the large amount of cheese that they piled on. The cheese kind of clumped together in the middle of the sandwich, and overpowered it. This was much better when I took out some of the cheese, so I could taste the rest of the sandwich. Still good, but my next sandwich was much more to my liking.




I'm definitely a sucker for a good Reuben, and this Pastrami Reuben ($9.99) was right on point. Plenty of pastrami, Swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, and sauerkraut are sandwiched between two pieces of rye bread to form this very solid sandwich. The pastrami could have been served a little warmer, but it did have a good flavor to it. I'd probably go with cole slaw, instead of sauerkraut next time, and I'd also forgo the rye bread, and have this sandwich on a french baguette. The rye was good, but needed to be toasted a little bit. Still a good Reuben, and I look forward to having it again, with these modifications.


Katie for some reason on this night was not feeling like a sandwich, so she opted for this Chicken Caesar Salad ($7.99). She was surprised by the size of this salad, which was made up of romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, Caesar dressing, and grilled chicken. She liked the warm chicken that topped this, as it made this salad more of a meal. Her only suggestion to make this Caesar better would be to use shaved Parmesan, instead of the powdered stuff.




On our second trip to Bronx Sandwich Co., Katie was more in the mood for a sandwich, and had the Hero ($8.99). This turkey pastrami sandwich came with Havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, on your choice of bread, which Katie chose rye. I've never really been a big fan of turkey pastrami, but this one was the best that I've had. Almost like the real thing. Katie left here a very happy girl after eating this sandwich. They did not overload this with lettuce, the Havarti added a nice creaminess, and there was just enough mayo on here to compliment the very well made turkey pastrami. After just two visits, Katie had found her favorite sandwich here.




I was kind of torn on what would be my sandwich on this trip, but I went with my gut, and tried the Sloppy Bronx ($9.99). I may have found my favorite sandwich at Bronx Sandwich Co. as well. This sandwich had a little bit of everything that I love, roast beef, a hot link, coleslaw, french fries, mayo, mustard, chipotle dressing, and three kinds of cheeses. This was kind of a variation on the Fat Darrell sandwiches that were made famous by the show, "Man V. Food." Those sandwiches had chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and more in them, but this sandwich kind of had that same feel to it. The way the sandwich was constructed, it was hard to get a bite with everything included, but once I did, it was magical. The ingredients inside went wonderfully together, and there was just the right amount of condiments included here. I might suggest that they go a little lighter on the mustard next time, but this sandwich will be hard to resist on my next visit.

After our first visit to Bronx Sandwich Company, we liked it. After our second visit, we both liked it a lot more, and we are hoping that after our third visit, we will end up loving this restaurant. Sandwiches can be a little tricky, depending on who's making them that particular day, and the freshness of the bread and meats. Both time we have been here, freshness has definitely not been an issue. This is the kind of place that you will have to come to more than once to find your perfect sandwich. Earlier in this review I said that I might have found my perfect sandwich, but that does not mean that another sandwich on this menu can not compare to the Sloppy Bronx. I look forward to the deliciousness that will be coming my way trying to dethrone this sandwich on my next trip here. It's definitely safe to say that after eating at Bronx Sandwich Company, they will be one of the 10 percent or so restaurants that will make it til their first anniversary.

Out of five bombers, (not only does this describe these sandwiches, but the Bronx is also home to the New York Yankees, whose nickname is the Bronx Bombers), five being best to zero being worst, Bronx Sandwich Co. gets 3.5 bombers.

For more information about Bronx Sandwich Co., go to their website here: http://bronxsandwich.com/

Bronx Sandwich Co. on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hoping For A Repeat of Our First Salvadoran Experience


El Paraiso
25252 El Toro Road Suite B-2
Lake Forest, CA 92630

Ever since we went to a wedding in Santa Maria, we have been on the lookout for Salvadorian food in Orange County. On a whim, we searched around our hotel in Santa Maria, and a Salvadorian restaurant was the closest, and one of the highest rated on Yelp. Katie and I became enamored with pupusas and the tamales of El Salvador after eating there, and we wondered about the Salvadoran scene back home in OC.

A quick search of Yelp yielded about 14 restaurants that claim to serve Salvadorian food, but most of these are a hybrid of other Central American cuisines as well. As luck would have it, one of the 14 Salvadoran restaurants is pretty close to our house, so we made a beeline for El Paraiso in Lake Forest.

El Paraiso is in the only shopping area at the corner of El Toro Road and Jeronimo. There's a pho place and a liquor store in this small shopping center, and not much else. We drove past El Paraiso the first time through the shopping center, but persistence paid off on our second sweep through, as we finally found it.

Not really a big restaurant, we were surprised to see this place nearly full on a recent Tuesday night at 5:30. There's about ten tables here, and they are pretty close together, as we were bumped around by diners either getting up from their table or snagging a seat. Decor is obviously not the main draw here, but they do have two nice TVs, which were both turned to different soccer games during our stay at El Paraiso.

The menu is pretty ambitious for such a small restaurant. They have appetizers, Salvadoran specialties, breakfast plates, a number of seafood options, soups, and a good amount of Mexican items. No soda fountain here, as they have canned and bottled sodas, along with juices, horchata, and beers. My favorite, iced tea, was not offered, so I settled on a horchata. The horchata here was good, but after a few sips, the sweetness was a little too much for me. After about five minutes, our food started to make its way out to our table. Let's see if this Salvadoran experience will equal or surpass our Santa Maria adventure.




As is Katie's custom, if Chips and Guacamole ($4.99) are offered in a restaurant, she has to try them. The tortilla chips were pretty average here, as was the salsa, which only had a hint of spice to it. The real star of this plate was the guacamole. It had a good chunk to it, the avocados were fresh, and the inclusion of jalapenos in this made this a better than average guacamole. Definitely worth trying.





I'm going to lump both mine and Katie's meals together, since they looked almost identical. We both had the Combination ($6.99), which included your choice of pupusa, a tamal, rice and beans. There are 10 different varieties of pupusas to choose from. Katie selected the squash and cheese one, just like she had in Santa Maria, while I went with one filled with pork and cheese. Pupusas are made out of a thick rice flour, and stuffed with your choice of ingredients. Kind of like a pocket bread. They do not over stuff these by any stretch of the imagination. Katie liked the one here a little less than the one she had up north, because it seemed to be a little greasier. It was still a good pupusa in her book though. I liked mine just as well as the others I have had. The insides were a little subtle, but still noticeable. Tender shredded pork and the traditional queso blanco went well with the outer layer of the pupusa. We both really like these Salvadoran tamals a lot more than the corn husk variety. They are wrapped in banana leaf, which seems to make them more moist. The insides had tender chicken and mine a good amount of shredded pork. The rice was lighter than I was expecting, and the beans were smoother than what we are used to, but still good. With the pupusas, you are also served the traditional Curtido, which is a fermented cabbage relish, which you are supposed to eat with the pupusa. It's okay, but I'd rather eat my pupusa without it.




I had forgotten how filling  pupusas were when I ordered, so when this Huarache ($4.99) came to the table, I realized I did not need to finish it, and took most of it to work with me the next day. This was my first time having a huarache, which has a thick fried masa base, which is then topped with your choice of meat, (I went with carnitas), beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese, and a little splash of hot sauce. Similar to a tostada, but with a thicker base, I grew to like this more with every bite. The masa base threw me for a bit, but the toppings won me over here. The sour cream could have been spread more evenly, but the pork was tasty, and I liked the smear of beans and the slight heat of the hot sauce. I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for more huarache's on menus when I'm out.

So, El Paraiso was pretty solid for Salvadorian food, but just a shade better was our experience in Santa Maria. We will definitely be back though, because it saves us from a three hour drive north on the 5 Freeway, and that's without traffic. I look forward to trying their plantains or yuca frita on my next visit here. The service was good. All of our questions were answered, and we felt that the value for the money was well worth it. Ordering just the combination plate here will fill you up, until your next meal time. Glad we have a Salvadorian place that's a lot closer than halfway up the state.

Out of five volcanoes, (because the coat of arms for El Salvador has five volcanoes on it, which symbolizes the five member states of the Federal Republic of Central America), five being best to zero being worst, El Paraiso gets 3 volcanoes.

For more information about El Paraiso, go to their website here: http://www.elparaisorestaurant.net/

El Paraiso on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Dinners at Provenance


Provenance
2531 Eastbluff Dr.
Newport Beach, CA 92660

When the calendar turns from one year to the next, I get pretty excited. Not only did I make it through another holiday season, but the new year means that there are a whole slew of Restaurant weeks happening all over OC. The first part of the year for restaurants is generally pretty slow. People dieting and trying to save money are pretty much the reasons for this. So the restaurant industry has come up with restaurant weeks to lure people to ditch those new years resolutions, and get in their doors. This is real good news for food lovers, such as myself.

For those of you that don't now how restaurant weeks work, these primarily happen in one specific city, for the period of a week, and are at numerous restaurants within the city. The restaurants offer set menus for a designated price. Most of the time there are three courses, with two to three selections to choose from per course. I really enjoy doing the research on finding the restaurants that offer the most bang for your buck. Sometimes though, like this night, I just picked this restaurant because I have had it on my list of places forever. That's why we made the choice to spend our Newport Beach Restaurant Week experience at Provenance.

Provenance comes to us from the great Cathy Pavlos, of LUCCA in Irvine. She opened that restaurant in 2005, and has won tons of awards and accolades at that location. This is her second OC venture, which opened in the spring of 2014, and has gained some good praise from local foodies and some of my favorite food bloggers.

Provenance takes over the beloved Sage Restaurant, which was in this spot for a good many years. They are going for a Napa Valley kind of feel to this restaurant, and based on our experience as we walked in this place, I'd say that they nailed it. Sandwiched between a Ralph's supermarket and a CVS Pharmacy, you definitely lose that strip mall kind of feel once you are inside the space. Helping in this is a 1,300 square foot garden in the back of the restaurant, which yields its bountiful offerings to that days menu.

We had reservations at 6pm, and were seated promptly by a very nice hostess. My hurried count of tables were 12 each inside and outside, most of which were filled during our visit. Our waiter let us know that they were twice as busy as usual due to the Newport Restaurant Week promotion. The restaurant has a nice, clean look to it, with lots of exposed, lighter woods present, and a large glimmering wine case as a focal point of the restaurant. The chairs were not particularly comfortable, as they did not allow for slouching, which would make my elementary school teachers very happy, as I was told to sit up straight about a thousand times during my school days. We quickly made our selections off the $40 pre-fixed menu, and waited anxiously for our food to come out. This is how it all unfolded for us.



Starting things off for us were these House Made Yogurt Biscuits. These had a great balance of not being too light, while also not being too dense. A very delicate balance to achieve. A bigger burst of flavor than what I was expecting, these were made even better with the generous sized serving of honey butter that accompanied these. We made these disappear rather quickly.


Dining off of the restaurant week menu, both Katie and I always choose differently, so we can get a good cross section of what a restaurant has to offer. She selected this Cauliflower and Quinoa Soup to start. Katie really enjoyed this soup. It had a heartiness to it, but it was not so heavy that it bogged her down. She also loved the drizzle of creme fraiche on the top of it.



To be honest, Katie had taken my first choice on the appetizer portion of the menu, so I went with my second choice, the Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad. This salad came with a whole lot of items involved in it. Included with the brussels sprouts was a crispy prosciutto, walnuts, dried apricots, arugula, scallions, shaved Parmesan, celery, and a champagne-dijon vinaigrette. This salad was a miss for me. Yes, a lot of this salad was fresh, probably a lot of it from their garden, but for as many things as went into this salad, it was kind of boring. The arugula really took over here, while there was not too much in the way of brussels sprouts on the portion that I had. The crispy prosciutto was hard to get through, and the light touch of the dressing was not enough to awaken my taste buds.



We've been to a lot of restaurants during restaurant weeks, and they almost always put a short rib on the menu, and that was the case here at Provenance. This Angus Beef Boneless Short Rib was placed on top of cheesy grits, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, roasted shallots, a veal demi glace, and a citrus gremolata. I learned that gremolata is a herb condiment made up of lemon, parsley, and garlic. Thanks Google. Katie loved the tenderness of this short rib, as it just fell apart as her fork went near the meat. The wonderful flavor of the beef went very well with the cheesy grits. She would have a hard time ordering anything else here.




It's probably not too surprising that I would order a menu item named the Turf and Turf, which consisted of a Certified Angus Beef Ribeye and Mongolian BBQ Spiced New Zealand Lamb Chops. I do enjoy my fair share of meat, and if I can get two kinds on the same plate, I could not pass that opportunity up. We'll start with the ribeye. It was pretty average. I liked the look of this steak more than the actual taste of it. The meat itself tasted fine, but needed a sauce or more seasoning to make it more interesting. The grill marks were evident, but it was cooked medium well, rather than my preferred medium rare. In fact they did not even ask me how I wanted this prepared, which I thought was weird when I now think about it. The steak was plopped right on top of some hand cut fries, which were good, but cut a little too thin, and almost resembled potato chips. Much more to my liking were the two lamb chops that came nicely seasoned, with plenty of meat on them. I could have eaten a lot more of these. Not too gamey, like a lot of lamb can be, these were tender and juicy. A big highlight of the night for me.



Dessert was up next, and Katie tried the Dark Chocolate Creme Brulee. I know what you're thinking, that doesn't look like creme brulee. That's what I thought too. No caramelized top, it was more like a chocolate mousse. Not overly sweet, and not anything Katie was thrilled with. She would opt for a one of their fruit based desserts on her next visit.




I'll preface this part of my meal by stating that I'm not really a big fan of deconstructed desserts, and especially when there's no mention of it being deconstructed on the menu. Luckily, I had done a little research before coming here, so I knew what I was getting into when I ordered this. I love carrot cake, but this Old Fashioned Carrot Cake was not my favorite version of this classic dessert. Because this was deconstructed, it was real hard trying to get the perfect bite here. The cake was not very moist, and this needed more icing than what was provided. Disappointing end to the meal.

Leaving Provenance I kind of felt like both Katie and I had two different experiences based on what we ordered. Her short rib and soup were both really good, but my steak, salad, and dessert really disappointed. I can see what they are trying to do here. They are trying to be a little experimental, but you don't want to misguide people. The food is very fresh, but some of it is misrepresented on their menu. The carrot cake, chocolate creme brulee, and their brussels sprout salad need to be described a little better, or renamed altogether. It's definitely lighter food, and you can leave here after eating a three course meal like us, and not go home with that heavy feeling in your gut. Yes, I probably ordered the wrong things, but thanks to Newport Beach Restaurant Week, at least I did not pay full price for my meal. We'd definitely come back, as I hear that their brunch is pretty stellar. For now, we are looking forward to Orange County Restaurant Week, which begins the first week of March. A great time of the year to be a foodie.

Out of five easels, (because the word provenance is the origin or history of an object, usually in relation to a work of art, many of which are created using easels), five being best to zero being worst, Provenance gets 3 easels.

For more information about Provenance, go to their website here: http://www.provenanceoc.com/

Provenance on Urbanspoon
 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.