Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stealing the Show at Leatherby's

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge
615 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

On a recent Thursday night, Katie and I were lucky enough to be invited to an event at Leatherby's Cafe Rouge. The occasion was an event to introduce their chef, Ross Pangilinan to some of the media. Chef Ross has been at Leatherby's since late last year. He is an eclectic mix; born in Tennessee, raised in Orange county, two stints in Michelin starred restaurants in France, opening Sinatra restaurant in Vegas, and this is his third time working in a Pantina owned restaurant.

Letherby's is located on the bottom floor of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, part of the Orange County Performing Arts complex in Costa Mesa. Opened since 2006, Letherby's has been a favorite spot for the theater set. Let's see if Chef Ross can keep them coming back.

Our first little surprise of the night was the amuse-bouch pictured above. It was a watermelon cube, topped with a blueberry, balsamic vinaigrette, and also Pop rocks, yes you read that right, Pop rocks! I have not had Pop rocks since I was kid, and now I was having them on top of watermelon, at Leatherby's. You first had the taste of the sweet, then a salty taste, and then it finished off with the bang of the Pop rocks. A real rocking, (sorry, I had to say it), start to the meal.

Alright, sorry my pictures all turned out so pink. I was under rose colored lights, and they were not the best to operate under, but at least you can clearly see the food. Just remember that the food was not all this pink. What we had here for our first course was the Fresh Seafood Quartet. Four different kinds of seafood, I may have missed some of the ingredients, but these were all good. The octopus on the bottom right was served with sweet tomato, olives and radish. Even though Katie and I are not fans of octopus, this tasted fine to us. The lobster on the bottom left was served with a panzanella salad. I could have had a lot more of this. The lobster tasted so fresh. On the top right we had tuna tar tare in a crispy won ton wrapper. The top left featured , Japanese hamachi topped with green apple, jicama, and seven flavor chili pepper. I felt that this was a playful way to present fish and accent each to make each stand on it's own.

The second course was the House made Fettuccine. This also had roasted mushrooms, white wine Parmesan sauce, and truffles. This dish was very creamy and rich. The richness did not come from the truffles, but from the Parmesan sauce. I really liked the texture of this dish.

Katie selected the Black Striped Bass as her main course selection. This was served with Israeli couscous, paella, mussels, shrimp, saffron and chorizo. Yes, you read that right also, chorizo. I only had one bite of this, and that was not enough for me to get all of these big flavors. I liked the bite I had, but I needed more to take it all in. Katie felt that the bass was very tender, but she was not wild about the skin being left on the fish. She was a fan of the paella and the couscous.

Through my rose colored picture you can see my main course, the Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast. This hearty dish was served with mushroom risotto, caramelized blackberries, Szechuan pepper, and cider jus. This was true comfort food. The duck had a great flavor as usual, but there were some fatty pieces. The mushroom risotto was unbelievable. The jus and blackberries worked well with the duck. I did not snap a picture of the other main course offered, but I did sneak a bite from Vanessa, the Beef Short Ribs were probably the best choice of the night. Very tender pieces, and accompanied by a mushroom red wine sauce that was awesome. Thanks for the bite Vanessa!

These two desserts were my favorites of the ones I tried. The first was the Sorbet/Ice Cream. This stood out because the watermelon sorbet had a hint of pepper after the initial sweetness wore off. It was an unexpected surprise, mush like the Pop Rocks at the beginning of the meal. The other dessert that stood out was the, "Not Classic" New York Cheesecake. I am usually not a cheesecake person, but this one was not chalky, and had a smooth texture. This was also sprinkled with butterscotch crumbles, and fresh berries. Very light and a great way to cap a great meal.

Before we left I snapped a few pictures of the dining room. I loved the wavy glass window that stretched all along the dining room. When we were seated at 6:30 the place was buzzing with activity, but as soon as the shows started, we were the only ones left in the restaurant.

This was a really nice event put on by Leatherby's. Chef Ross was very quiet and straight forward when he came out to our table. He was polite and answered all of our questions. I really enjoyed his playfulness of items in his dishes. It was also great getting to know some of the other blogger's that I read all of the time, Kat from Kats 9 lives, Griffin from Griffin Eats Oc, and more. Both Katie and I are looking forward to coming back to Leatherby's in the near future to do a review.

For more information on Leatherby's Cafe Rouge, click here:

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Loving Lakeside Chinese?

Lakeside Chinese Cuisine
23022 Alicia Pkwy
Mission Viejo, CA 92630

I always thought that my 100th post would be at some real fancy Newport Beach restaurant, or a restaurant that was in the Zagat guide. But here we were on a Saturday night, and I knew that this would be the place, Lakeside Chinese in Mission Viejo. We chose to stay close to home, not sure why, but this is where we decided on.

Living in Mission Viejo, I receive about a coupon a week from Lakeside Chinese and their sister restaurant Crown Chinese, (also in Mission Viejo). The coupons must work, because here we are. The restaurant was nearly deserted when we arrived at six o'clock on a Saturday night. The phone however was ringing off the hook from the moment we got there to the moment we left. They must do a huge take-out business. Let's see how the food tastes.

Our coupon was for five dollars off of a family dinner. Not the best coupon ever, but five dollars off is five dollars off. With the family dinner you receive soup, appetizers, and two entrees. Above is the soup that Katie picked, the Egg Flower Soup. This had a mild to almost non-existent flavor. This would not have had been my choice for the soup, but I was trying to be a good boyfriend, (plus I picked the entrees, so I got my way later on).

Here are the appetizers that came with our meal. We got Egg Rolls, Paper Wrapped Chicken, and Fried Won tons. None of these were very memorable. The egg rolls were just okay, but lacking in fillings. The paper wrapped chicken was greasy and just average. The fried won ton was the worst of the lot, this was just tasteless. This was nothing that you could not get at your local Panda Express.

The first of our entrees arrived, and it was Mongolian Beef. This is always one of my favorites in Chinese restaurants. This dish had plenty of onions, and the beef had a good flavor. I am not saying that this is one of the best Mongolian Beef dishes that I have had, but it was not too bad. This was my favorite dish of the night for me.

Our second dish was a chef's special, Honey Walnut Shrimp. I have had this dish at other restaurants and have liked it. Here it was just okay. The white sauce that came with this was a little off to me. I liked the candied walnuts, but the shrimp was kind of lost in this dish. The shrimp did not pop with flavor, like you would expect. Katie had never had this before, and was not a real fan, but I let her pick the soup, so we were even.

The last of our trilogy of dishes was the Orange Peel Chicken. I found this to be the most disappointing dish of the night. The chicken was all very tiny pieces for some reasons. The flavor was not too over the top with orange flavor. On the menu this said it would be spicy, but even Katie did not register the heat on this one. I would have liked this better with bigger pieces of chicken.

The dessert that comes with the family dinner was the above Caramelized Apples and Fortune Cookies. The apples were okay, but much like the rest of this meal, were just nothing special.

Lakeside Chinese is just your average neighborhood Chinese joint. It probably stays in business because it is convenient for many of the households around the area. Lakeside is definitely not destination dining. I could not see people going out of their way to eat there. That is not to say it is awful. It will do in a pinch, or when you do not want to drive out of your neighborhood, or when you want to take advantage of the numerous coupons they give out, the ones that clutter your junk drawer.

Out of five Pennysaver coupons, five being best to zero being worst, Lakeside Chinese Cuisine gets two Pennysaver coupons.

Lakeside Chinese Cuisine does not have a web site, but you can read their menu here:

Lakeside Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Decent Dining at Don Jose?

Don Jose
23972 Avenida de la Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

This is my 99th post on this blog, and it surprises me that I have not reviewed Don Jose before. I probably eat at Don Jose at least three or four times a year. That is a lot for me. It seems that since I have started this blog, I am always trying new places. So if I frequent a place more than twice, it must be among one of my favorites. I am always a little embarrassed to admit that I like Don Jose. I know that there are more authentic Mexican places around, but I always leave Don Jose feeling like I had a good solid meal there.

Don Jose has been around since 1972. They have nine locations, spread out through three counties. I usually go to the Laguna Hills location, and they always seem to have a steady stream of customers. They are very liberal with their coupons, (one arriving in my mailbox at least once a week), and they also send out coupons for your birthdays and anniversaries. Hopefully, the food will live up to the celebration.

The first things people notice about a Mexican restaurant is the chips and salsa. Both of these are passable at Don Jose. The salsa here is a little watery, but they score points for the big hunks of onion and cilantro in it. The salsa is not spicy but has a nice mild flavor to it. The chips are okay, but not too memorable

On this trip, Katie got the Fajita Quesadilla. This quesadilla is stuffed with cheese, chicken, green chile's, tomatoes, and green onions. I had half of this quesadilla, and it tasted fine. Not too greasy, but not big on flavor. The chicken was good, but a little overcooked, (what I have come to expect from Don Jose chicken items). Katie liked the quesadilla because it was not over-stuffed with cheese. She also felt that she could not go wrong ordering this again.

My old standby at Don Jose is the Ultimate Chimichanga. This behemoth of a chimi is filled with carnitas, beef, chicken, cheese, and beans. I always ask for no chicken to avoid dry pieces. The chimi is then topped with red sauce and more cheese. The picture above really does not do this dish justice. The carnitas is cooked well, and the beef goes so good with the red sauce. This is really more brick of food, and it will fill you up. The only gripe I have about this is the amount of guacamole they include with this plate. For a chimichanga this size you really should be provided more.

Going back through my pictures I had taken on a previous trip to Don Jose, I found these next two dishes. This was Katie's choice, the Mini Tostada, and Enchilada. Really more of a taco salad, than a tostada, the tostada included pieces of chicken, beans, greens, cheese, and their tostada sauce. The enchilada that came with this was cheese. Katie liked the salad and thought that the chicken was moist. The enchilada she was not so excited about. She felt the red sauce was off. I liked the red sauce here, so I guess we will have to chalk that up to a difference of opinion.

My combination plate on this night was the Taco and Cheese Enchilada. I felt that the shredded beef taco was okay, but needed more meat on it. The cheese enchilada was really good, but again they could have added more cheese. I almost forgot to mention that the beans and rice here are pretty good.

For dessert, we ordered the Deep Fried Ice Cream. Ice cream coated with crunchy bits and then topped with whipped cream. The coating here is kind of like a cornflake deep-fried. It contrasts with the smoothness of the ice cream to form a kind of yin and yang effect. Pretty good.

After writing this review, I came to a realization that Don Jose should not be in southern California, but maybe the Midwest, or somewhere that they do not have an over-flow of great Mexican restaurants. Do not get me wrong, I like Don Jose, and the above statement is not meant as a put-down, but we are spoiled here with some really great Mexican places. A place like Don Jose could clean up in the Midwest, where there are not too many places serving up even half as good of plates as Don Jose.

In the OC, Don Jose kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but they have been around for 38 years, so they must be doing something right. And that something is, that they never change. You are always guaranteed to have a solid meal there. When you find something on the menu that you like, you can stick with it, because it will taste the same next week, next month and in the years to follow. The service is always really good too. The food arrives quick and hot. In these times of change, Don Jose is as reliable as you can get.

Out of five Carmen's, (because Don Jose was a character in the opera Carmen, and you all know how I love operas), five being best to zero being worst, Don Jose's gets 2.5 Carmen's

For more information on Don Jose, click here:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Football Frenzy # 2 - Stadium Brewery

Stadium Brewing Co.
26731 Aliso Creek Road
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

In our second attempt to find the ultimate spot to watch football, we headed to Stadium Brewing Co. Our criteria is great food, fun atmosphere, and great service. I have been to Stadium Brewing one other time last year to watch football, and had a decent time, so we gave it a shot this year. Let's see how it worked out

We got to Stadium at about 9:25, because this was the first week of football. We got there a little early because we expected a big crowd. One problem, they do not open until 10. This was not a good sign, but we decided to wait it out. They have to realize that football fans like to hunker down, get a good seat, and watch the pregame shows, to see if there are any last minute injuries, or news they should know before game time.  So we waited by the door, with about twenty other early risers. 

The set up for football is okay. They have about ten TVs, but they have limited seating in the bar area, and it is hard to see all the games at one time. This was the first week of football, and since they opened at ten, and everyone was getting seated, it was chaos trying to decide what games were going to be put on where. Everyone wants to see their game where they are sitting, and the guys at Stadium Brewery did their best to make everyone happy. Let's check out the food.

Stadium Brewery has a special menu for Sunday breakfast. There are six items on this special menu, and this is what Katie chose from it, the Bourbon Apple Pancakes. These were some of the best pancakes Katie and I have had in quite awhile. Three buttermilk cakes, topped with sauteed cinnamon apples, bourbon sauce, pecans, and whipped cream. This was a winning combination. The sauce is what really made these, sweet, but not overly sweet, and the apples were cooked well also. This would definitely be what I would get next time I came here for breakfast.

For my breakfast I went with the Prime Rib Omelet. This three egg omelet contained thin slices of prime rib, bell pepper, onion, bacon, and was topped with cheddar and jack cheese. I would have taken a picture of the inside of the omelet, but it disappeared too quick. You will have to take my word for it, they had a lot of meat in here, and the taste was really quite good. I thought that for $12, you should get some potatoes, or at least some toast to go along with this, but nothing was offered with this. Kind of over-priced.

Mark waited until the lunch menu was offered, and went with his old standby, the Stadium Buffalo Wings. Again, I felt that these were not a great value, $9 for six to eight wings. The flavor tasted good to me, but these needed to have more meat on them if they were going to be worth a dollar a wing. Mark felt that these were nothing special. I did like that he said he wanted lots of ranch, and they actually brought him two side of ranch, that was cool.

What wasn't cool, was the service at Stadium Brewing. I know that this was the first week of football, and they seemed under-staffed by about five people, but what did they expect? This was not their first time having the NFL on Sundays. The bartender was trying to get to everyone, but it was impossible for him. Richard and Steve showed up on their lunch breaks, and did not get a chance to eat, because no one came around to see them the entire time they were there. I wonder how much business they lost, by not having more than four people staff the whole restaurant?

I liked the food at Stadium Brewing. I liked the food enough, that I might even comeback for dinner, but this will not be our ultimate football hangout spot. The service was awful, and the atmosphere was okay, not great. We are still looking for a great place to watch football on Sundays, so if you know of a place drop me a line.

Out of five tailgaters, five being best to zero being worst, Stadium Brewing Co. gets 2.5 tailgaters.

For more information on Stadium Brewing Co., click here:

Stadium Brewing on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rockin Out at the Slidebar

The Slidebar
124 E. Commonwealth Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92832

It is so rare that Katie and I get up to Fullerton, so we took this opportunity to try out Slidebar. I had been here once, right when they opened about four years ago. I remember it being loud, and really busy. This trip was a little different. When we walked in on this Saturday night at seven, the restaurant inside was deserted, except for one other table of two. All of the action was out on the patio, and people kept on coming, but they all headed out to the patio.

The only things I know about this place are that the band members of Lit are investors in this place, and that this place has a reputation for not having the coolest clientele hanging out here. The reviews on yelp, make this restaurant sound like you will get beat up if you look at someone the wrong way. They have bands that play here, so maybe that is when the violence starts. Luckily for Katie and I, we are going to be long gone by the time the slam dancing starts. On to the food.

For the first of our two appetizers we got the Irish Nachos pictured above. French fries covered in cheese, bacon, cheese, green onions, and cheese. Did I mention that these had cheese? I love cheese, and this almost had too much for me. The fries were really good, and after dipping these into the ranch, they were fried pieces of heaven. Maybe the cheese over-powered us because we were only two people trying to eat our weight in cheese, but I would definitely get these again.

Of course the last thing that I would want after our last appetizer would be more cheese, but you know me, I am a glutton for punishment. We had to order their famous Macaroni and Cheese. I am a moderate fan of macaroni and cheese, but this one is pretty good. I think I remember the menu saying that they used five different cheeses in this, Fontina, cheddar, Parmesan, Velveeta, and jack cheese. The cheese stuck to the noodles very well, and had a real creamy taste. It was a little browned on the top, a good portion size for an appetizer.

I ordered the Straight Out of Hell Burger. This burger was invented by former Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell. It has jalapenos, yellow peppers, bacon, cheese, onion rings, and a spicy barbeque sauce. Usually when an item says spicy, it is not. This for sure was! It was not an uncomfortable heat, but it was pretty close. The toppings were the real star here, the bacon was cooked well and the cheese kind of slowed the heat down. The meat was okay, but was kind of un-noticeable with all of the other stuff going on. Good solid burger. I also liked the grill marks on the top of the bun for some reason, it kind of looked cool.

Katie opted to get the Tequila, Chicken and Sausage Pasta. This is tossed tableside, and that is when they add the shot of tequila, so it does not cook off. I liked this dish when I had half of it the day after for lunch. The sausage was really good, and the sauce had a good flavor. Some extra Parmesan cheese would have been good on this. Katie, on the other hand, thought that this dish was too tangy for her taste. She was not a fan of the sausage, and would not get this again.

Slidebar is a must for OC music fans. The place is adorned with all sorts of memorabilia from Orange County bands. Even if you are not a fan of music, the food is pretty good also. Our service was pretty good, but they only had three tables filled when we left. I would definitely come back here again.

Out of five guitar picks, (for obvious reasons), five being best to zero being worst, Slidebar gets 3 guitar picks.

Slidebar does not have a web site, but click here for reviews and information;

Slide Bar on Urbanspoon

Football Frenzy #1 at Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings
23600 Rockfield Blvd.
Lake Forest, CA 92630

Fall brings autumn colors, declining temperatures and NFL football. Okay, southern California does not get any of these things, but the rest of the nation does. I still love football, even though we do not have a team. In fact my team, the Jaguars, are so seldom on free TV, that I have no choice, but to go out and watch them somewhere that they have all the games. And thus, that is the dilemma we face every Sunday, where to watch the game?

We look for a place that has good food, service, and a pleasant atmosphere. This may seem like an easy task, but it is hard finding a place that has this hat trick of characteristics. So I have set it as my goal, to find the best place to watch football in Orange county, (at least until my team is eliminated from playoff contention, which could be by the beginning of November, because they are not too good).  Our first stop is Buffalo Wild Wings.

I had never been to a Buffalo Wild Wings before. They seem to have sprung up all over the place in the last few months. I know of at least three in Orange county, (this one in Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, and Irvine). According to the Orange County Register they are looking to expand to at least 20 units in the near future. Let's see if this is going to be our new hangout for football.

BWW is a sports fan paradise, TV's all over the place, a full bar and for those that do not like football, they even have trivia boxes that you can lose yourself in, if you are not into the football. The service on this night is really good, so they are two-thirds of the way to becoming our football hangout. Now let's see about the all important food category.

Our first appetizer that we tried was the Crispy Southwest Dippers. In the menu these are descirbed as tortilla dippers, filled with fajita-spiced chicken, pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, corn and black beans. All served with a southwest ranch dipping sauce. This sounds like it would be big on flavor, right? No they were not. These were bland, and over fried., and that made the insides of this taste like nothing. If the menu had not told me what was in this, I would have had no idea what was in here.

The second of our starters was the Mini Corn Dogs, served with honey mustard sauce. These were fair, but nothing that you could not get at your local Weinerschnitzel, for about half the price, (these were $5.99).

Katie and I each ordered five of the Boneless Wings, because it was Boneless Thursday at BWW. The price for each boneless wing was 65 cents, as compared to the usual 90 cents they are the rest of the week. The hard part was to choose two of the fourteen sauces that they have. I went with the Asian Zing sauce, and Katie, surprisingly, went for the Hot sauce. She was sweating after a few bites of the hot sauce, but she said she could not stop eating these. I liked the heat on these, but found that the chicken was just average. The Asian Zing sauce was good too. Sweet and with a hint of spice. I would have liked a little more heat in this sauce, and then it would have been excellent. As a whole I liked these, but I would like to try the traditional wings next time.

As bland as Katie's Steak and Potato Flip looks, it tasted equally as plain the next day when I had the other half for lunch. The Potato Flip is flatbread pizza crust filled with steak, mozzarella, french fries, southwestern ranch dressing and honey BBQ sauce. There were only a few pieces of steak on here, and the cheese was almost non-existent. Katie, who is usually pleased by everything, was very under-whelmed by this also.

The Black and Blue Burger is pictured above. This burger was flavored with Cajun spices, and topped with blue cheese dressing. At least that is what the menu said. If I was blind folded and asked what kind of burger this was, I would have replied that it was a regular burger with no spices or blue cheese in the vicinity of this plate. I even asked for extra blue cheese dressing, and this still did not help this burger out. It was cooked okay, but I could not get over the lack of flavor.

So after reading the above, you know that this is not going to be my ultimate place to watch football. I liked the atmosphere and the service was good, but the food was the killing point here. I would go back to watch a game or two, but I would only eat the wings here. Our first drive in our goal to find a great place to watch football resulted in a field goal. We stalled in the red zone and had to take the three points. If that is too much football talk for you, the translation is that they started off good, but failed to deliver when it came to the food.

Out of five Bills, (for you non-football fans, that is the name of the Buffalo football team), five being best to zero being worst, Buffalo Wild Wings gets 2 Bills.

For more information on Buffalo Wild Wings, click here:

Buffalo Wild Wings on Urbanspoon