Monday, June 27, 2016

A Dinner 70 Years in the Making


17th Street Bar and Grill
17320 17th Street
Tustin, CA 92780

70 is a big number. I remember when I was a kid, I thought 70 years old was ancient. Part of that had to do with the fact that three of my four grandparents didn't live to see their 70th birthday, but the real reason for it of course is that when you are kid, time goes real slow, but as you get older, it seems like Christmas is here almost every month. My dad was turning 70 years old, and that's a pretty big deal, so I was tasked with finding a restaurant that was going to be good for my entire family, one that would not break the bank, and one that was centrally located for all of us to meet. I decided on spending the big guy's 70th at 17th Street Bar and Grill in Tustin.

Located right off the 55 Freeway, in the Enderle Center, which also hosts Zov's, Crab Cooker, and El Torito, 17th Street Grill definitely met my first criteria of being centrally located for everyone. This is the same spot that used to house Hof's Hut years ago, when I used to work in this area. 17th Street Grill is owned by the same guy, Steve Silverstein, who runs the very popular North OC mini chain of pizza restaurants, Zito's Pizza. In fact, this spot used to be called Zito's Bar and Grill up until a year ago, when they switched over to the 17th Street name, and I'm guessing they wanted to distinguish themselves as more of a full service restaurant, rather than a pizza restaurant that most people probably expected.

The menu here is way more diverse than a pizza joint. They of course offer Italian favorites, including pizzas, but also feature fish, steaks, and chicken entrees, along with burgers, subs, and sandwiches. They also have a dozen or so appetizers, and about the same number of salads. Prices are right in the range of $15 per entree, which helped me out, as I was going to be buying dinner for our party of nine. The menu was diverse enough that even my fickle eating nieces would find something to order here. Let's see if 17th Street was a worthy spot to celebrate dad's big 70th.



Any family celebration needs to start with appetizers, as it helps to limit the conversation to a minimum. Kidding of course, or am I? Anyways we started with the Breaded Zucchini ($10) at 17th Street. This was a very good version of this appetizer. The zucchini had a great breading surrounding it, which was crunchy, but did not overpower the zucchini inside. The ranch dressing here is stellar, and made this even better.



Katie considers herself to be an expert on Garlic Knots ($7), and she considered these to be pretty good, but not good enough to dethrone her defending champ, the ones at Oggi's. These tied pieces of dough were baked and tossed with garlic and butter. I prefer to dip these in ranch dressing, but the marinara was good as well. Definitely a good start to our meals, and got us excited for our entrees.



One more thing before we get to those entrees. Katie was the only one of us to get a salad, and she seemed pleased with this House Salad ($6). The house salad at 17th Street Grill utilizes a base of iceberg lettuce, and is then topped with salami, mozzarella, and mushrooms. Pretty good sized for a small house salad, Katie enjoyed the freshness of the produce here, and they were very generous with the cheese and mushrooms.





Since 17th Street Grill is owned by the folks that brought us Zito's, it was no surprise that pizza was ordered by members of my family. My brother in law went with what I probably would have ordered if I was going the pizza route, the Butcher Shop ($15 for the 12 inch version). This pizza was a carnivore's dream; pepperoni, ham, sausage, and bacon, then covered in mozzarella. My mom, who's a lighter eater went with a simple 8 Inch Pepperoni ($8). No complaints about either of these pizzas. My brother in law loved the thick crust here, the meats lacked a greasiness to to them, and both my mom and brother in law took some home for lunch the next day.




This Jalapeno Turkey Dip ($12) proved to be very popular, with Katie, my sister, and the birthday boy, my dad ordering it. This sandwich included sliced turkey, jalapenos, plenty of provolone cheese, au jus for dipping, all on a french roll. It usually comes with fries, but all three of them opted for the healthier fruit option. Not exactly the meal of choice that I'd want to start my 70th year with, but there were no complaints from any of them with this sandwich. Even Katie, who is sometimes sensitive to heat, had no problems with this sandwich, and liked the way the flavors combined here.




We don't eat with kids too often, so it's always interesting to see what kids order when they go out to eat. My nieces took advantage of the children's menu here, and had the Spaghetti and Meatballs ($4.99) and the Chicken Fingers ($4.99). The spaghetti looked like the better of these two options, but fickle Lillie only ate a few bites of this after being promised she could have dessert at home if she made an effort to eat. Most of this got boxed up for my dad's lunch the next day. The chicken fingers were more well received by Kaylie and Gracie. They liked the chicken fingers well enough, but they both loved the fries here.




For awhile now I've been craving meatball sandwiches, so I tried the Meatball Sub ($11) at 17th Street. This sandwich used a French roll as a base, and then filled it with meatballs, marinara sauce, and plenty of mozzarella. Not one of the best I have had. The meatballs here were too small, and kind of got lost under all the cheese and sauce. The meatballs should have stood out more, but that was not the case here. It was okay, but nothing great. The fries were pretty average, and I ended up giving some of them to my nieces.


17th Street Bar and Grill is not going to blow your socks off with their food, but for this occasion they were a great choice, if I do say so myself. Knowing my family as I do, I knew they would end up liking this restaurant, as it had enough variety, and at a fair price. If I were coming here again, I'd probably stick with the appetizers and pizzas, but I might be tempted to try one of their burgers next time as well. We had great service on this evening, and the food came out in a pretty timely manner. The restaurant side was not nearly as full as the bar side, which made us feel like we had almost the whole restaurant to ourselves on this Monday evening. I'm glad we could all celebrate my dad's big 70th as a family. Happy birthday old man.

Out of five microwave ovens, (not because they use them here, but because they were first sold the same year my dad was born, 1946), five being best to zero being worst, 17th Street Bar and Grill gets 2.5 microwaves.

For more information about 17th Street Bar and Grill,  head to their website here: http://17thstreetgrill.com/home/

17th Street Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Relaxing Evening at Back Bay Bistro


Back Bay Bistro
1131 Back Bay Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660

I get a lot of emails from people out of the area, asking me where they should eat when they are visiting our great county. Sometimes they say they are going to be around Disneyland, and they don't want to eat the food at the park. An even larger majority of tourists ask me to give them a restaurant with a view of the water, a place where they can soak up the California sunshine along the shore, and have a great meal. After being invited to Back Bay Bistro at the Newport Dunes Resort, I will definitely start sending our out of town guests to this restaurant with some of the best views of the Back Bay.

Back Bay Bistro is located at the Newport Dunes Resort, which is just off Jamboree, and situated on Back Bay Drive. I've lived in OC all my life, and only thought of this resort as a campground, but it's so much more. This 110 acre resort has one of the most convenient boat ramps around, they not only offer camping for RVs, but there's also beach cottages available for people like me that are inept at camping. Other amenities include one mile of beach, where they have playgrounds, a water-park, and offer visitors the opportunity to rent sailboats or pedal boats for tours of the Back Bay. There's also lots of events happening at the Dunes, so there's almost always something to do, and what I like to do is eat, and they have a spot for that as well, Back Bay Bistro.

Just like Newport Dunes Resort, there always seems to be something happening at Back Bay Bistro. I get emails from them all the time for events and specials happenings at the restaurant. They have a pretty impressive Taco Tuesday. On Wednesday's they offer half priced bottles of selected wines from 5 to 9 pm. Sunday is Pasta Night, and also kids eat free on Sunday evenings. There's a Jazz night every month, and for you sports fans out there, there's LA Rams legend, Vince Ferragamo's Wine Dinner every third Thursday of the month. A great opportunity to meet a sports legend, hear some great stories, and of course partake in some wonderful wine and food.






Even though we weren't here for the wine dinner, our disappointment soon washed away, as we took in the great view from our table and the Back Bay Bistro patio. We were cheated out of a sunset dinner because of the June Gloom, but the scenery was spectacular nonetheless. It was fantastic watching the boats dock and set sail around us while eating. There's something about the sea air that really gets me hungry, so let's see how the food turned out for us on this evening.



Of course with the relaxed, vacation feel of Back Bay Bistro, a beverage from the bar was definitely in order. I had a hard time choosing from their impressive cocktail list, but finally settled on their Chupacabra ($11). When I'm having trouble selecting a cocktail, I usually just pick the one that sounds the most unique, and this one filled the bill for that. They use a base of Milagro Silver tequila and Bacardi rum, then add muddled jalapeno, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup. I really liked the contrasting feels of each sip of this drink. In some I got the slight spice from the jalapeno, and in others I got the sweet from the syrup. It really kept me guessing and interested throughout the short life of this drink.




Before we ordered, the folks at Back Bay Bistro set out these rolls for us. Came out nice and warm, with plenty of butter. I like when they provide lots of butter, so I can spread as much as I like, without bothering the wait staff for more. These were good sourdough style rolls, which they refilled a few times during our stay.



The first of our two appetizers was this very photogenic Ahi Tower ($14). Cubed avocado and ahi tuna are layered with tomato and a citrus gastrique. The tuna is seasoned very simply here, so the richness of the ahi shines through. The double layer of fresh avocado of course works well with the ahi. The citrus was very muted here, relegated to a supporting role in this starter.




It's a close race, but I probably liked this Crab Cake ($14) even better than the ahi tower. This very solid crab cake used both lump blue crab meat and Canadian rock crab to assemble this cake, which did not use a lot of filler. It was almost pure crab bliss here, and it was made even better with the very well done tarragon aioli. I know it was not meant to be showcased, but the coleslaw used here for a little color should not be discarded. One of the better ones I have had recently. I look forward to coming back again and forgoing the fries, and getting this coleslaw again. A must try for coleslaw lovers.




We were told that we must try their award winning Seafood Chowder ($8) and now I'm telling you that you need to try it also. Chef Bruno Massuger was not exactly very forthcoming in what goes into this seafood chowder, but it was delicious. It was a very creamy chowder, and one that did not lack for including lots of chunk inside of it. I'm not sure what awards this chowder has won, but I found myself licking the cup clean, and wishing I had ordered the bigger bowl instead. Excellent work chef, and you have every right to keep this a secret.




When you are so close to the ocean, it's natural to want some seafood, and that's what Katie ordered on this evening. She had the Chef''s Daily Feature (Market Price), which just happened to be Opah on this evening. She was really surprised by the portion size she was given, and it was served in a very solid sauce. The opah was very light, and prepared well, with some nice grill marks across it. Katie called this delicious, and the plate was rounded out with a scoop of mashed potatoes, and some asparagus spears.




Since it was Friday, I thought I'd take advantage of their Prime Rib Special ($30 for the 14 ounce option). Prime rib is only available on Fridays at Back Bay Bistro, and it has become quite a popular night of the week for people to take advantage of this great deal. They offer a 10 ounce portion as well, but do yourself a favor and spend the extra $5 to get the bigger slice, it's the start of the weekend after all. I don't want to speak ill of a prime rib competitor that I visited recently, but this version was much better than that outdated, supposedly prime rib specialty restaurant. This prime rib was flavorful all the way through, was leaner than most, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and came with some au jus for an even bigger flavor boost. This dinner was rounded out by some veggies, and a baked potato that came with all the trimmings on the side, so you could dress it any way you like. A very satisfying meal.



Dessert was up next, and we had a short debate on what to have, and decided this Creme Brulee ($8) would be the way to go. This was a good sized creme brulee, which helped prevent Katie and I from fork fighting over this creamy dessert. A great way to end our meal at Back Bay Bistro.

I'm really excited we finally got the chance to experience Back Bay Bistro for ourselves. Not only is this a great restaurant for the people who are camping at the Newport Dunes Resort, and want something better than barbecued hot dogs and burgers, but it's also a great spot for locals to take advantage of. The dining room offers gorgeous views of the bay, and there always seems to be something going on here, whether it's their nightly specials, their wine dinners, or their almost legendary Sunday brunch, which features an impressive array of seafood favorites, along with your favorite brunch staples. Our server, Sabrina was wonderful, and everyone we encountered on this evening really made us feel at ease, and helped provide a greatly needed vacation feel to our day. We look forward to sharing this restaurant with not only our out of town guests, but people from around the area as well.

For more information about Back Bay Bistro, head to their website here: http://www.newportdunes.com/back-bay-bistro/

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hail to the Chef at the Anaheim White House


Anaheim White House Restaurant
887 South Anaheim Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92805

If there's one thing I've learned in my first full year of being married, it's that if you listen to your wife, it will pay off in spades. Katie probably thinks that what she tells me goes in one ear, and out the other. For the most part it's probably true. I usually feign an interest in what goes on at her work, or all the latest news with her family, but when it comes to her talking about something she wants to do, or something that she likes, I take notice. That's how we ended up here, at the White House Restaurant on her birthday.

About three years ago she waxed on poetically about the White House Restaurant, and how she wanted to eat here, and donate money to Bruno Serato's charity, Caterina's Club.  This important charity, which has put Chef Bruno in the national spotlight, is named after his mother, Caterina Lombardi. After a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Anaheim to meet some children, she found out that many of these kids resided in local motels, and many did not eat dinner. She asked her son to go back to his restaurant and make enough pasta to feed the hungry kids. Now in their 11th year, Chef Bruno provides over 5,000 meals a week in 28 different locations. They surpassed one million meals served, and are still going strong.

Not only has this program helped the children of Orange County, but it has also spawned new programs in other cities. This charity has also gotten Chef Bruno a lot of acclaim in magazines, TV, newspapers, and humanitarian awards. He was named a CNN Hero in 2011, and the accolades just keep on rolling in. I actually think that Katie has a crush on Chef Bruno, and with all he's done I'm kind of okay with that.

With all the good that Chef Bruno has done for the community, his restaurant should not be short changed in the attention department. Located on busy Anaheim Boulevard, and housed in an early 20th century mansion, this restaurant has won way too many awards for me to mention here, been visited by countless celebrities and dignitaries, and been named on a ton of best of lists. Chef Bruno took over ownership here in 1987, and his Northern Italian cuisine has been bringing people through the door ever since. It also brought us here for Katie's birthday dinner, and I was excited to finally show Katie that I do listen to her sometimes, and of course try Chef Bruno's cuisine.



Before we get to the real cuisine, I always like to show the bread that comes out before the meal. This was a good, crusty bread, which came with plenty of softened butter. They were a little shy about replenishing the bread, but that just helped me save room for the rest of my meal.



Both Katie and I started our night off with salads, and we'll start with the birthday girl's selection, the Caprese Salad ($13.95). All the crucial elements in the making of a Caprese salad were present here; Burrata mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette, red onion, and fresh basil. Katie loved this salad, calling it perfectly executed. Very creamy cheese, with thick cut, crisp tomatoes made this a shining example of what a caprese should be.



My Caesar Salad ($8.95) obsession continued at the White House, when I ordered their version. This simple Caesar consisted of the obligatory romaine hearts, a very sturdy Caesar dressing, and a few sprinkles of Parmesan cheese. The presentation was something here. It was placed in a rice paper bowl, with some overflowing pieces hitting the plate below. Kind of like a Caesar salad waterfall. Even though this lacked croutons, I still really enjoyed this salad. It had just enough dressing, and the romaine was fresh. Pleasing to the eye, and taste buds.





Entrees were up next, and we'll start with this Braised Beef ($31.95). This signature item at the White House starts with some tender Midwest short rib, which is braised in a Cabernet sauvignon reduction, then topped with mushrooms and placed on top of a yellow polenta. Katie liked the way the flavors melded so well together on the plate. The flavor of the meat was on point, and the polenta tied everything together well. She claims that this is the epitome of Italian comfort food. She also ordered a side of Pasta Marinara ($8.50), which was kind of a little boring in my book. It came to the table a little more than lukewarm, and the sauce did not cling to the noodles like I wished it would. We'd get a different side item next time.




The online buzz about this Ossobuco Milanese ($44.50) compelled me to try this, and the internet has never let me down, and after this, it still hasn't. This cross cut veal shank was probably one of the best I have had. The veal was beyond tender, flavored well, and served with some smooth and creamy polenta. A very good and satisfying dish, and made even better when I scooped the bone marrow out of the bones, and ate it on a dinner roll. Butter of the gods is what I've heard someone call this, and they are not too far off. Definitely one of my most memorable dishes to date this year.



When this Chocolate Banana Tart ($10.95) was placed in front of us, I thought it had a striking resemblance to Donald Trump, which was reinforced by the Instagram comments that I got from a few followers the next day. This was another winner on this evening. The baked puff pastry was layered with caramelized bananas and vanilla gelato, and then bathed in a pool of vanilla and chocolate sauces. The puff pastry was soft, and easy to get a fork through, unlike others I have had. The bananas were cooked well, and the sauces tied everything together perfectly. There was plenty of gelato here, and even though I ignored the spun sugar topping this, I enjoyed the originality of it.



Even though we had ordered dessert, they insisted on bringing us even more dessert. This little mini dessert sampler included a mini creme brulee, white chocolate covered strawberry, and a cream puff. We enjoyed this, even though we were pretty full by this time. The creme brulee was the best of the bunch here, and would probably be what we would lean towards when dining at the White House again.


To be truthful, when coming here I was a little skeptical about the food we were going to be eating. I thought it might have been over-hyped because of what a great humanitarian Chef Bruno is, and it also crept into my brain that this restaurant has been here for a long time, caters to an older client base, and maybe their food has kind of slipped. We found none of that to be the case on this evening. A month later, and I still think back fondly on that veal and the chocolate banana tart, and we eat out almost every night, so that says something about the cuisine here. Yes, this is definitely more of a special occasion restaurant, somewhere that you will not eat on the spur of the moment, which is good because they do get pretty packed on weekends, and when there's big conventions in town. The presentation of the food, with the large bread towers are a little over the top, and the kind of gaudy decor here may detract some diners from the food, but I felt these things added to the special feel of the restaurant. The service at the White House is first rate. Our server, Antonio was not only knowledgeable about everything here, he also was very personable and it really felt like he wanted us to have a great experience on this evening. I'm glad I listened to Katie droning on and on about this restaurant and her infatuation with Chef Bruno. It made her birthday memorable, and helped me score some much needed husband points.

Out of five baby blankets, (because this mansion was the home of Dr. Truxaw, who famously delivered 3,500 babies during his career), five being best to zero being worst, the Anaheim White House gets 3.5 baby blankets.

For more information about the Anaheim White House Restaurant, head to their website here: http://www.anaheimwhitehouse.com/

If you would like to help out, or learn more about Caterina's Club, click here to visit their website: http://www.caterinasclub.org/#intro

Anaheim White House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
 
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