Friday, June 25, 2010

The Good and the Bad of Bad to the Bone BBQ

Bad to the Bone BBQ
31738 Rancho Viejo Road, #E
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

I have been on a self- imposed sabbatical from barbeque since I got back from Dallas in April. I did not think it would be fair to anyone if I was judging barbeque, not after having some of the best that the Lone Star state had to offer. But the old cravings have resurfaced, and I was ready to come out of my barbeque furlough. To mark this occasion, I went to the highly regarded Bad to the Bone BBQ, in San Juan.

Bad to the Bone, has been around since 2005. They were opened by two guys that have a passion for the meaty arts. They smoke their meats over hickory wood, for many hours. They have since opened one other location in San Clemente. Let's see if this was a great place to break me back into Orange County barbeque.  

For an appetizer, we started with the Stuffed Potato Skins. These were nothing like the menu described them. The menu said that these would have guacamole and bacon, but these came out with barbeque sauce and slices of beef on them. They were not bad, but not what we were expecting. They were missing the saltiness of the bacon. The beef on these was good, and hopefully, that was a sign of things to come.  

Starting off our meat-a-palooza, was the BBQ Tri-Tip Sandwich. This was served on a French roll with BBQ sauce on it. Katie ordered this with cheese and onions, but like the potato skins, this is not what she got. The sandwich was good anyways, but the onions and cheese probably would have put it over the top. The meat was very tender and smoky. The sides that she chose were potato salad and sweet potato fries. Both her and Richard loved the sweet potato fries, and I will yield to their opinion on these. The potato salad was average and was lacking in big flavor.

Richard, the birthday boy, ordered the full rack of Baby Back Pork Ribs. The ribs had a very smoky flavor, almost too much. The meat did not fall off the bone like the ribs did in Texas, but the meat did taste good. The ribs were also smaller here as well, not sure why that would be. For one of his sides, Richard got the Ranch Beans. I liked these, but they came out lukewarm at best. The flavor was fine but was made better with a few drops of hot sauce. One other point I wanted to make was, why would they put that piece of watermelon on the plate? That was one of the sorriest fruit garnishes that have ever appeared on this blog. They should have just left the watermelon out because serving it is just embarrassing.

I went with the Four Meat Combo Plate. I wanted to try as much of their menu as I could. The worst part of this plate was the Tri-Pepper House Sausage. The temperature issues resumed with this item. The sausage was not even close to being warm. The flavor was good but was hard to eat not being warm. The brisket and tri-tip were very tender and had great flavor. The winner of this plate was the pulled pork. They say that this is slow smoked for 14 to 16 hours, and after tasting it, I can assume they are correct. This was some of the best-pulled pork I have had around here, and I am looking forward to coming back and trying it on a sandwich. For a side item, I got the Garlic Mashed Potatoes. These did not have a lot of garlic on them, and some of the chunks of potato were not cooked all the way through. Not too impressed by these.

The consensus of our party was that Bad to the Bone is a good barbeque joint, but there is plenty of room for improvement. The meats were really good, and tender. They have a few temperature issues to work out. The meats are really the highlight here, but the side dishes are just mediocre or worse. The way that you order at a counter, then find your seat, and have the food brought out to you, is an awkward way of doing things for a barbeque joint like this. The guys were very slow to clear plates, and they were not very friendly. Also, there was no sauce on the table. It would have taken a while, to get someone's attention, so we just made do with what we had. So I am still looking for a barbeque place to make me forget my Texas adventure. If you know of anywhere, let me know.

Out of five George Thorogood albums, (because he sang the song, Bad to the Bone), five being best to zero being worst, Bad to the Bone barely gets 3 George Thorogood albums.

For more information about Bad to the Bone, click here:

Bad To the Bone BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grilling the Grill Hut

Grill Hut
28815 Los Alisos Blvd.
Mission Viejo, CA 92692

It was Katie's turn to choose what we were having for dinner. We both wanted to stay somewhat local, since it was a lazy Sunday night, so she decided to get Grill Hut in Mission Viejo to go. Grill Hut is in a shopping center that I never even knew existed, until we found ourselves there. They have two locations, (the other is in Laguna Niguel). Grill Hut has been in business since 1999.

I am in no way a big authority on Middle Eastern food, so I was not sure what to expect. The menu here is pretty limited, they have five types of kabob's, salads, wraps and sides. Let's see what we came up with.

Katie opted for the Chicken Kabob Dinner. This is served with your choice of grilled tomatoes, green salad, or rice. She chose the latter two. I was a little disappointed that you only get one kabob with four pieces of chicken on it. Adding to our disappointment was the fact that the counter guy forgot our salad dressing, Katie had raved about the dressing, and she was visibly bummed to be without it. After adding some dressing from home, it tasted like your average salad. The chicken was okay, not spiced like anything, not bad, not good, just plain.

I had the Steak Kabob dinner. This was better than Katie's. The steak was seasoned well, and cooked perfectly. Very tender pieces of meat on this one. Of course you still only got four bite sized pieces of meat with this kabob. The vegetables were grilled well on this too. They really load you up on the rice. I could not even come close to finishing the amount of rice they gave us. The rice tasted fine, but how much of it can a person really eat? Also the salad was nothing special.

Lastly, we got a side of Humus with Pita Bread. I have never been formally introduced to Humus before, but this was very good when dipped with the pita bread. I am now looking forward to trying some different flavored humus that I have seen in the markets, so thank you Grill Hut for getting me on my humus kick.

Grill Hut as a whole was okay. I felt that it was over priced for what you get. The chicken kabob was $8.99, and the steak kabob was a buck more. I wish they had a combo plate, where you could try more than one kabob at a time. The sides were nothing special and they added extra sides to the plates to distract you from the lack of main course that they serve you. Probably will not go out of my way to go back, but I am looking forward to trying other Middle Eastern restaurants.

So out of five belly dancers, five being best to zero being worst, Grill Hut gets two belly dancers.

For more information on Grill Hut, click here:

Grill Hut on Urbanspoon

Amber's Hidden in Plain Sight?

Amber's Cantina
31341 Niguel Road
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Amber's Cantina can be easy to miss, even though the two times I have been there, I have had to wait close to twenty minutes. So, either the food is pretty good, or the restaurant is really small. I will answer both of those statements with a yes. Amber's is in the shopping center that once had a Peppino's in it, on Niguel road. Sandwiched between an out of business florist and a nail salon, this tiny strip mall restaurant blends in with its surroundings so well, that it is kind of like a chameleon, but it is worth seeking out.

The small,  twenty table restaurant is staffed by an all woman wait staff. All of them have been very friendly, and not trying to be sexist, they are all very easy on the eyes. For as busy as the place is, it is a controlled chaos. The food comes out relatively quick, and Katie has stated that she enjoys the atmosphere of this place. Let's see how the food tastes on this visit.

First up are the chips and salsa. The tortilla chips here are thick and very crisp. The salsa is fine, I would like a little more spice. I did like the big chunks of onion in this salsa, and the flavor is decent also.

For an appetizer we chose the Mexican Pizza. A flour tortilla topped with beans, beef, guacamole, sour cream, enchilada sauce and cheese. This is very good, but I wish they would slice it up for you. The tortilla, even with all of the stuff on it still stays crisp. I thought that the $6.25 price for this was well worth it.   

Katie got the Two Item Combination Plate with a shrimp enchilada and a chicken taco. As far as the chicken taco goes, it was better than most that she gets. I usually shy away from chicken tacos, because at most Mexican restaurants the chicken comes out too dry. I also feel that chicken tacos have less flavor than other tacos on the menu. The shrimp enchilada was good, and had plenty of shrimp in it. I liked their enchilada sauce as well.

I had the above Amberito. This is basically a kitchen sink burrito. There is a little bit of everything in here. Beans, cheese, steak, chicken, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, peppers and onions, topped with three sauces, verde, enchilada and ranchero sauce. There is definitely a lot going on here. I liked this burrito, but it was better after I added some Tapitio to it. The rice and beans were good as well. Lots of cheese on the beans, which I like. A pretty solid burrito.

Amber's is a decent place to go for Mexican food. I am looking forward to going back and trying some of their other items. I thought that it was priced competitivley with other Mexican restaurants around the area. Make sure you bring your GPS with you or you may miss this place.

Out of five flamenco dresses, (which is part of their logo), five being best to zero being worst, Amber's Cantina gets 3 flamenco dresses.

For more information on Amber's Cantina, check them out here:

Amber's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Deep Dish Pizza Paradise in RSM?

Selma's Chicago Pizzeria
30461 Avenida de Las Flores
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

I made the mistake of watching a show on the Travel Channel, "Food Wars". They were showing New York Pizza versus Chicago deep dish pizzas. Just watching that show made my mouth water for a deep dish pizza right out of the windy city. But, not wanting to bust the bank account for a quick trip to Chicago, Katie and I headed out to Selma's to sample their take on the deep dish pie.

Selma's has been around since 2003, and one of its founders, Mike Phillips Jr., is the son of one of the creators of BJ's, Mike Phillips Sr. This place definitely has a BJ's feel to it. Not the newer, sleek BJ's restaurants, but the older brick walled, beach city BJ's eateries. Selma, in case you are interested, is the owners grandmother, and inspiration for much of the menu. Let's see if they have made grandma proud.

For an appetizer we went with their, "Not Another Fried Cheese" Cheese. This is fried provolone cheese rolled in seasoning and served with marinara sauce. I really liked these, the provolone was a nice change from fried mozzarella. The marinara sauce was just okay.  

Katie ordered the White Sox Pizza. Olive oil, fresh garlic, ricotta and parmesan cheeses, tomatoes, and spinach were on this one. I knew going into this, that I would not like this pizza. It was rather bland tasting, and not really to my personal taste. Katie liked this one though. She thought all the ingredients tasted fresh, and melded together well.

I got something that was more to my taste, the small sized Meat Head Pizza. This pizza had all the meat under the sun on it, ham, meatball, sausage, and pepperoni. I liked this pizza well enough, but it did not cure me of my hunger for a real deep dish Chicago pizza. The dough was not sweet enough, and the cheese was just not quite right. They did put plenty of toppings on this one, and it did come out piping hot. Simply put, it was good, just not great.

Just in case you did not believe the connection between Selma's and BJ's, they also have their own version of the Pizookie, known as the Mother Ship. Baked in a pan, a chocolate chip cookie topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. How can this be bad? The answer of course is, it is not bad. I thought the cookie could have been warmer, but that was my only complaint with this.

I liked Selma's, but I was not wowed by it. It is a decent place to go to every once in awhile. The service and atmosphere were both good and made us feel comfortable. I am still in search of my deep dish hot spot in the OC, so if you know of anywhere close that has good deep dish pie, leave me a comment.

Out of five Sears Towers, five being best to zero being worst, Selma's gets 3 Sears Towers.

For more information on Selma's, check them out here:

Selma's Chicago Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Trip Outside the Orange Curtain

Gaffey Street Diner
247 Gaffey Street
San Pedro, CA 90731

My work schedule is about to change, and this was going to be the last Sunday I was going to be off for a while. So Katie and I decided on trying a place where I could use my new GPS, and have a good breakfast. We like trying places that we have seen on TV, so we settled on Gaffey Street Diner in San Pedro.

This place was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri. We have had some good luck with Guy's picks, (Twisted Root Burger in Dallas), and some bad luck as well ( The Four Kegs fiasco in Vegas), but we are always up for letting Guy redeem himself. This restaurant is owned by a husband and wife team that is known for making much of their food in the house. It has to be good right? Let's see what we came up with.   

This is the homemade biscuit that came with Katie's meal. The pictures make this look better than it was. I felt that it was a little dry and did not have much flavor. I really wanted to like this better, because this is one of the things they made on the show. 

Katie got the Apple Pancake special. The eggs and bacon came out cool, and fast. But, they made a mistake and brought out more eggs and bacon with the pancakes, which were much fresher. The pancakes were the best part of this plate. They were really heavy on the cinnamon and did not skimp on the apples. They were really rich and flavorful, a good pancake and much better than the ones I have had at the Original Pancake House.

This colorful looking plate is the John Wayne. The story goes that when the owner worked at a different restaurant, John Wayne used to come in and ask for something that would cure his hangover, and this is what he came up with. Home fries on the bottom, eggs, and cheese in the next layer, and then a chili Verde sauce on top of that, garnished by two sausage patties. This breakfast was as flavorful as it looks. Everything melded together well, and I would definitely get this one again. The Duke does it again!

I liked the Gaffey Street Diner. I was expecting it to be a little better though. When you see a place on TV you expect it to be out of this world, and this restaurant was good, but not great. It makes me wonder how these places get on the radar of the producers of these shows because this is the type of place you would just drive by, and not think about going. It is a good solid place though, and the service was good and fast. They really made you feel at home.

Out of five cargo containers, (because Gaffey Street Diner is so close to one of the world's busiest ports), five being best, to zero being worst, Gaffey Street gets three cargo containers.

For more information on Gaffey Street Diner click here:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Soaking Up the Sun at the Beachcomber

The Beachcomber
15 Crystal Cove Way
Newport Beach, CA 92657

Katie wanted to take me out for my birthday, but she was not so sure where to go. She scoured Urbanspoon, read numerous food blogs, consulted the Zagat guide, talked to numerous friends and colleagues, wrote to Dear Abby, inquired with a medium, and finally decided on the Beachcomber in Crystal Cove. I am not really sure she did all of this, but if she did, I appreciate it. Of course she did not have to go to all of this trouble, I would have loved just being anywhere with her, trying a new place.

The Beachcomber is in Crystal Cove, which is south of Corona Del Mar. I had never been to Crystal Cove before. They are really renovating the place, and there is a lot of construction going on. Crystal Cove was the setting for numerous movies, (Beaches was partly filmed here), and they have over twenty cottages to rent. The cove was a weekend getaway spot for many people in the 30's, and being here is like being transported back to that era.

So now on to the reason that we have come to Crystal Cove, the Beachcomber. The aptly named Beachcomber is mere steps from the sand. It is one of the most picturesque restaurants that Orange County has to offer. They have a huge patio that is comfortable and inviting. Each table is given two blankets, in case you feel a chill in the air. Let's find out if the food is going to get a chilly reception.

To begin the meal at the Beachcomber, we chose to start with Nana's Crab Cakes. These are made with blue crab and then fried. The inside, as you can see is very flaky, and good. The remoulade sauce that was served with this was superb, and really made the crab cake better. I did feel that these were over-priced for the two crab cakes that we were given. There was so much greenery on this plate, that there was no need to order a salad. I used the extra remoulade sauce to make an impromptu salad.  

Katie ordered the Ultimate Tuna Melt. This sandwich has albacore tuna, red onion, herb aioli, and Gruyere cheese, on their French bread. I am not usually a big tuna melt fan, but it was pretty good. The bread was excellent, and the cheese was melty and plentiful. This dish usually comes with tomato gorgonzola bisque, but Katie subbed that out for fries. The fries were crispy, and not too oily.

My birthday lunch was the Blackened Swordfish Tacos. These Creole spiced tacos were served with organic mixed greens. After eating the greens that were with the crab cakes, I was done with salad, and should have asked for another side dish. This fish was cooked well and spiced great. The menu said these were served with a pineapple tarter slaw. I did not taste this at all, I should have asked for more of the delicious remoulade sauce.  

If I have not mentioned it yet, this was my birthday, so they brought out the above Sundae. This featured slightly brown bananas and vanilla ice cream. It is your pretty standard sundae, with no topping.

So, what to make of the Beachcomber? The food is good, but the view and service makes the food taste better. This is the type of place that you want to take tourists, to show off our beautiful coast. Or a place to go to escape from reality, at least for an hour or two.

Out of five metal detectors, (because beachcombers use these to find treasures along the beach), five being best to zero being worst, the Beachcomber gets three metal detectors.

For more information on the Beachcomber, click here:

Beachcomber Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Taking Paws at the Lazy Dog Cafe

Lazy Dog Cafe
13290 Jamboree Road
Irvine, CA 92602

Lazy Dog Cafe has gotten a lot of buzz from the on-line community the last six months. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Lazy Dog is always in the top five most searched restaurants on Urbanspoon, and has been reviewed on numerous Orange County food blogs in the past few months. Not wanting to be left out, my parents and Katie went to sample the Lazy Dog on a Sunday afternoon.

Lazy Dog opened for business in 2003, and was started by the founder of Mimi's Cafe, Thomas Simms, and his son. They have grown to seven locations and have three in Orange County. The vibe here is a cross between Elephant Bar and Claim Jumper. Their menu is a little bit of everything from around the world. Pasta dishes, Asian favorites and traditional American faire dot the extensive menu.  Let's see if the Lazy Dog, is a top dog, (okay I promise I will not throw too many horrible puns out here).

Our first appetizer was the Parmesan Zucchini Fries. These were breaded well and were not too greasy. You could even still taste the zucchini, which is sometimes rare when ordering fried zucchini out. This was also a pretty good sized portion for the $7.45 price tag.

The appetizer above was on the house. When you tell them that you have never been to Lazy Dog before, they give you this Grilled Garlic Flatbread. A very nice touch. I thought that this was just okay. It did not have lots of garlic flavor, and was a little dry, but it was free and that is a dog gone good deal, (sorry I tried to slip that one in there).

My Mom got the Walnut Chicken Salad Sandwich. This is not your normal chicken salad sandwich, it has walnuts, cranberries, red onion and celery, with a curry mayonnaise. Very flavorful and it really tasted fresh. The fries were good and hot also.

The BBQ Beef Sandwich was my Dad's choice for dinner. Beef, caramelized onions, BBQ sauce, and cheddar cheese combined to make this very good sandwich. I normally do not like cheese on barbeque sandwiches, but the cheese did not distract from this. The meat was cooked well and the sauce had a good smoky flavor. Instead of fries Pop went with the Asian Slaw. I thought this was just okay, nothing too special. 

This colorful looking plate belonged to Katie. She got the Sundried Tomato Pesto Pasta. This entree featured chicken breast, mushrooms, broccoli and onions. Very flavorful dish, and my personal favorite of the night. This really had a lot of flavor and really popped when red pepper flakes were added. The chicken in this was one of the most tender I have had in recent times in a restaurant. I was very happy Katie did not finish this, so I could have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Lastly, was my meal. I had the Bacon Wrapped Coulotte Steak. The Coulotte steak is a small boneless steak cut from the sirloin. They wrapped this 8 ounce steak in bacon with a Burgundy wine sauce. Very tasty steak. It was cooked medium rare and they got it right. This was served with mashed potatoes and confetti vegetables. I liked the mashed potatoes, but the confetti vegetables were odd. They were long strands of vegetables, the size of spaghetti noodles. I would have much rather just had regular veggies.

The consensus choice for dessert was the Banana Custard and Cream. This was a very good dessert. Bananas folded into house made custard, served on top of homemade graham crackers, served with chocolate and raspberry sauces. A real bargain here at $3.95. 

Lazy Dog was all that it was cracked up to be. The food was good, prices were reasonable and they have a good variety on their menu. I saw at least three things that I would like to try on future visits.  Our server however had no personality. The management team here made up for our server's lack of friendliness. They all came over and talked to us, and asked how we liked the place. Very good people there.

Out of five flea collars, five being best to zero being worst, Lazy Dog Cafe gets 3.5 flea collars.

For more information on Lazy Dog Cafe, click here:

Lazy Dog Cafe (Irvine) on Urbanspoon