Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dining out During Newport Beach Restaurant Week


Bungalow
2441 East Coast Highway
 Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Okay, so before I start this entry, I must apologize for the pictures. We did not have reservations at Bungalow, so we were sat out on the heated patio, and there was no light out there. It was such a nice place I was trying to not use a flash, so the pictures suffered. My apologies.

Newport Beach restaurant week is held twice yearly, once in January and then again in October. Restaurants offer prix-fixed meals for a substanually reduced price. It is a great chance to experience a place that may be out of your budget. For this reason Katie and I decided we would try Bungalow in Corona Del Mar.

Bungalow is located on PCH and MacArthur, about two blocks away from Fashion Island. The menu consists of steaks and seafood, in the $30 to $40 range. Our special Newport Beach Restaurant Week menu had three course meals for just $25 dollars, so lets see what we got.


Here was my first course, the Steakhouse Wedge salad. This salad featured red onion, tomatoes, lardons and roquefort dressing. First off, I had to look up what lardons are. They are according to the dictionary, strips of fat used in larding. They looked like pecans and tasted like bacon bits though. Very tasty. Also tasty was the dressing. It really tasted homemade, and very creamy. The salad was not too big and made me wonder if I was getting a smaller version because I ordered off of the prix-fixed menu. This salad is regularly $11, I would expect a bigger salad for that much.


This is Katie's salad, again sorry about the picture. She loved this salad so much that I had to include it even with the sub-par pic. She got the Bungalow salad, which consists of greens, red onion, bay shrimp and feta cheese. She loved the vinaigrette dressing that came on this salad. This salad was bigger than mine, and is usually priced at $10.


Here is my filet mignon served with cooked spinach and polenta cake. The spinach was just okay and the polenta cake was a pleasant surprise, but the best part of this plate was the steak. They serve only prime grade steaks here and this was definitely the prime time player here. The filet was so tender that I cut it with my fork, and the taste was amazing. Well worth the usual $34 dollar price tag.


I did not think my choice could be topped, but Katie managed it with her fish and chips selection. The fish was tender and almost buttery, and lacked the greasiness of many other places fish and chips. Probably the best fried fish that I have ever had. The tartar sauce was also really good. The fries were okay, but I was real happy when Katie offered me one of her pieces of fish because she was already full and wanted to save room for dessert. Thanks babe!


This was my choice for dessert, the Chocolate Souffle Cake. Very rich and decadent, this was the perfect way to end this awesome meal. I could not finish this quick enough.


Vanilla Crème Brulee was Katie's choice. This was very smooth, and had just the right sweetness to it. Katie remarked that this was the best creme brulee that she has ever had. I cannot disagree with her on that.

I felt that Bungalow is one of the best restaurants that I have ever eaten in. It will definitely be on my list when there is a special occasion, or in October when restaurant week returns. Bungalow has the feel of being in the Florida Keys, not that I have been there, but it is what I imagine it to be.

So in the spirit of the Florida Keys, out of five palm trees, five being best to zero being worst, Bungalow gets four palm trees.

You can learn more about Bungalow from there web site right here: http://www.thebungalowrestaurant.com/index.htm

Bungalow on Urbanspoon

Is Casa Franco like striking oro?



Casa Franco
24395 Alicia Parkway
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

Mission Viejo had turned into Waterworld this past week, so that is why Katie and I did not want to stray far from home and why we have had so many posts on the blog from Mission Viejo. Sorry about that, but we will get out of MV to review some restaurants as soon as the flood waters subside.

For this culinary adventure we trekked to Casa Franco in the old Mervyn's shopping center at Alicia and the 5 freeway. Casa Franco is a hole in the wall place, and it seems like they like it this way. On this rainy Thursday night there was a five minute wait. With so many people in this small place, lets see if they are brought here by the food...


Here is the Casa Franco salsa. This salsa was smooth and had a little spice to it, just what you need on a cold rainy night. Very good start, but the chips were just okay.


Here is a picture of our cheese quesadilla, served with guacamole and sour cream. Pretty basic, but tasty and not greasy at all.


Here is Katie's combination plate. A chicken tamale and a chicken taco, served with beans and rice. I liked this plate, but I felt the chicken was a little dry. I am also not a real fan of tamales. I think that a lot of them are too dry. This one was also. The taco had a good shell, and plenty of cheese. Beans and rice were good though.


My Red Chili Colorado burrito is the one above. This was the real deal. Very good sauce, and the beef was jam packed in here. The sauce had a great spicy flavor and really made this dish enjoyable. Once again the beans and rice were good.

So Casa Franco is not the best Mexican food that I have ever had, but it is on par with Don Jose's, and I really like Don Jose's. They are both reliable options when it comes to Mexican food. They are both very good values for the money. Also a little tip for all of you taco Tuesday fans out there, they do have dollar tacos on Tuesdays, and they are just like the one that Katie had, not any smaller. 

Out of five sombrero's, five being best to zero being worst, this place gets three solid sombrero's. Sorry could not think of anything clever here, so went with something off the top of my head, like sombrero. Ah, get it?

Casa Franco does not have a web site but you can find there menu here: http://www.sporq.com/missionviejo/casafranco/24395aliciapkwy

Casa Franco on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will Red Robin Lay an Egg?


Red Robin
3015 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92782

We were going to Cirque de Solei, so I was left in charge of finding a place to eat, that was close by. After doing a quick search, I saw that Red Robin was in the general area. I never think of Red Robin. They always seem to get left off of my radar, not that they are bad, but I always get side tracked into going somewhere different.

Red Robin is a bright, family themed restaurant that always seems to have people eating there. They are never slow. They just opened there 400th restaurant in 2008, so maybe they are doing something right, lets find out if it is the food.


Here is Katie's Twisted Caesar Salad. This item is no longer on the menu, but you can still order it. It is basically a chicken caesar salad with tube pasta in it. I do not understand why she liked this, it tasted pretty boring to me, but she raved about this salad and was really excited she could still order it.


Here is my Mom's Chicken Tortilla Soup. This vegetable and chicken soup was a hit with my Mom, who said that she enjoyed that it did not have hunks of tomato in it, like at Chili's. This soup seemed okay, but what makes it a tortilla soup? The tortilla strips? I guess, but it seemed like a basic chicken and vegetable soup. Not my cup of tea, or in this case soup! Ugh, sorry about that!


Now here was my burger. Red Robin is known for their classic gourmet burgers, and here is their Guacamole Bacon Burger. I substituted cheddar for swiss. The burger was cooked medium, just the way that I like it. Very tasty burger, I was pretty hungry and devoured this quick. The guacamole was good and the bacon was tasty. Even the fries, sorry not pictured, were good, and I am usually not a fan of big steak fries. Really a good meal.


My Dad's burger is above. The Royal Red Robin Burger is a bacon cheese burger topped with a fried egg. This heart attack on a bun had my Dad very happy. He really liked the burger, and we all enjoyed the peace and quiet while he ate it. Just kidding Pop!

Red Robin is known for their burgers and this is why you should go there. The other things on their menu are just filler. They are decent but nothing to get all excited about. The burgers on the other hand were really good, and will be the reason that I would go back.

Out of five robin eggs, five being best to zero being worst, Red Robin gets 2.5 robin eggs. 

For more information on Red Robin, fly on over here: http://www.redrobin.com/default.aspx

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cicero's a Hidden Gem?


                                                                   Cicero's Pizzeria
                                                          26861 Trabuco Road, Suite B
                                                             Mission Viejo, CA 92691

This week in Mission Viejo has been one of the wettest that I can remember, and I know for some of you that do not live in southern California, you think we are a bunch of babies, but it has been down to like 50 degrees lately. Time to break out the parkas! So on one of these cold rainy nights my girlfriend and I did not want to stray far from home, so we headed to Cicero's about two blocks from my house.

I had always heard about this place, and we always get coupons for them, but I had yet to make it in until now. So lets see if I had been missing something.

On this Wednesday night the place was deserted except for the two of us brave souls fighting the elements for the two blocks it took us to get here. The restaurant is in the corner of the Ralph's shopping center, at Trabuco and Alicia. Pretty tucked away if you are not looking for it. They have four booths and a painted wall, with I am sure some of their loyal customers depicted in the picture. The place seems pretty down to earth, and has me curious about the food.


We both got entree's, and these are the salads that are served with them. Pretty good size and really tasty. I really liked the garbanzo beans and beets that came on this very cold salad.


Katie went with the cheese ravioli. The meat sauce was really good, and the ravioli, stuffed with ricotta and Romano cheeses was also good. This plate and mine really came out hot, very nice on a rainy night.



Here is my cheesy lasagna. Once again the meat sauce on this dish was very good. At first I thought that this was not going to be enough to fill me up, but the serving size for this dish was a very good value for the ten dollar price tag. I would  definitely get this meal again when we come back.

Cicero's was a pleasant surprise in our own backyard. Both Katie and I are very eager to try the pizza next time. As we were there, at least ten people came in to pick up their pizzas, so if these brave citizens were willing to brave the elements to try Cicero's pizza, it must be a decent pie.

In honor of the rainy weather, out of five umbrellas, five being best to zero being worst, Cicero's receives three umbrellas.

If you would like, you can find information on Cicero's here: http://www.cicerospizzeria.com/

Cicero's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

ESPN Zone, a Hit or an Error?

ESPN Zone
1545 Disneyland Dr.
Anaheim, CA 92802

For Christmas I got my girlfriend a pass to Disneyland, and after the holiday crowds left D-land, we decided to go renew our passes. So we did not have to add parking to our passes, we had to eat dinner at the Disneyland resort to get our parking validated for an extra two hours. Now the only decision to make was where to eat. We decided to eat outside of Disneyland, and eat in the Downtown Disney area. After walking through the area, we decided on ESPN Zone. I had eaten here once about five years ago, and thought that it was okay, so we gave them another shot.

The place was pretty busy for a cold Friday night. We had to wait about ten minutes. They have about fifty TV's in the dining room, all but three turned to the Lakers/Clippers. You would think that the, "Worldwide leader in sports", would have more variety than this to choose from, but this is probably what most of the customers wanted to see. I was hoping for a hockey game or maybe some curling. No luck, so lets see some of the food.



This is Katie's dish, the Shrimp Scampi and Penne. First the good, this dish had lots of shrimp on it, at least ten. At some places they really skimp on the shrimp, but not here. Now the bad, the sauce was just a little off for me. It tasted a lot like bottled Italian dressing, not very good. The penne was cooked okay, but I just could not get past the wine sauce.


Here is her garlic bread that was served with her entree. Pretty mediocre, and very dry. The garlic was pretty un-noticeable. They might have well just called this toasted bread.



Here is my burger, the Black and Blue Burger, with bacon added. The burger comes with gorgonzola cheese and blackening spice on it. The meat was okay, but was a little over done for my taste. The bun was too spongy. The fries tasted good, but the side of ranch I ordered with them almost tasted to me like it was about ready to turn sour pretty quick. I feel that the $16 that you pay for this burger, it should be better than it is. The bacon did kick the taste of the burger up, really a good piece of swine, very peppery.

So ESPN Zone was just okay. I knew going in that it was going to be over-priced, just because you are at Disney, but the food was just so-so. Not too much to gloat about. So out of five ESPY awards, five being best to zero being worst, ESPN Zone receives 2 ESPY awards. If any of you know where we should eat in the Disney resort area, please leave me a comment. Thanks in advance.

If you would like more information about them, check them out here: http://www.espnzone.com/

ESPN Zone on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cafe Rio vs. Chipotle


Cafe Rio
24312 Rockfield Blvd.
Lake Forest, CA 92630

I have to admit something, I do not like Chipotle. There I said it. I think it is bland tasting Mexican food. Mexican food for me is all about the flavors, and in my opinion Chipotle is pretty sterile Mexican food. I have many, many friends that do not feel the same way as me though. They love Chipotle, to the point of ridiculing me for not liking it. So when I heard there was going to be a new, "Chipotle" style restaurant opening up, I was not too excited, but I kind of wanted to prove to my Chipotle friends, that their beloved restaurant could be easily duplicated, and thus proven to be just an average place to eat.

So I got six of my most ardent Chipotle fans together, on two separate trips and this is what they came up with.


Here is Richard's dish. Richard is probably the biggest fan of Chipotle that I know. He would take only Chipotle on a deserted island for the rest of his life. He opted for the fire-grilled steak burrito, served enchilada style. The burrito was two dollars more than Chipotle, because it was served wet. He liked the option of getting it with cheese on it, but was not into the enchilada sauce. He thought it was too over-powering. He thought that the burrito was just as good as Chipotle. He also noted the great drink selection that they have. They have twelve beverage options at their fountain.


Now here is Luis's fire-grilled steak burrito. He felt that this burrito was bigger than Chipotle's, but was disappointed that chips and guacamole was an extra $4.25. He decided against the chips and guacamole. He liked the burrito okay, but did not think it was as good as Chipotle's. Both Luis and Richard commented that Chipotle's rice is way better than Cafe Rio's rice.


On this trip I decided on the two enchilada plate with pinto beans and rice. I got one beef and one pork barbacoa enchilada. The beef was bland, but the barbacoa was sweet, almost like a chocolate. Very good flavor, but not what I was expecting. The boys were right, the rice was just average, and the beans were mediocre. They also used a lot of enchilada sauce on this dish, so it was hard to taste anything but the sauce.

 

Here is Emily's cheese quesadilla and side of rice. Emily is on her quest to find the best cheese quesadilla in all of Orange county, so if you could help her out in this, she will be eternally in your debt. This unfortunately was not her best quesadilla, but she did think it was good. She especially liked the tortilla, and could tell that they were made fresh. She felt the rice was okay, but not as good as Chipotle's.


Besides myself, Marcy is the only one with us who is not a big fan of Chipotle. She is from the San Diego area, so she likes real Mexican food, and thinks that Chipotle is too Americanized. She ordered the chicken tostada. At $5.25, this could be the best value on the menu. The tostada includes a corn tortilla, beans, cheese, rice, sour cream, tortilla strips, choice of dressing, along with your choice of meat. Really more of a taco salad, than tostada, she liked the dish, and was happy that Cafe Rio had a broader menu and was more authentic than Chipotle.

 

Sara settled on this chicken burrito that she describes as, good not great. She thought that it had a plain taste, and after she let me sample it, I decided that she was dead on with that account, very bland. She did comment that the tortilla was good, but she still likes the Chipotle burrito better.


Kevin got the pork barbacoa burrito. He described the meat as being sugary, but flavorful. He did not like the fact that you could not pick the burrito up, because there was too much liquid in it. This is true of a lot of their dishes, very runny. He also thought the overall operation was not as smooth as Chipotle's. The assembly-line at Cafe Rio, does not run as smooth as Chipotle's, but we were there at peak lunch hour. It was chaos behind the glass, and they seemed to have too many people back there, and food easily got lost in the confusion.


This time I got the two tacos. The one on the right is the barbacoa and the one on the left is the chile roast beef. The beef was as plain tasting as it looks and very dry, but the pork barbacoa had that sweet, mole like taste that got raves from both Richard and Luis on our first trip to Cafe Rio. I also got black beans and rice, but they were just okay. The salsa that they have here tastes like cut up tomatoes, there is no heat or spice to speak of.

So how did this experiment work out? Well Richard, Luis, Emily and Marcy all said they would come back to try it again. Luis especially liked the fact that they have a card that after you buy ten meals, you get one free. Richard said that Cafe Rio could work into his rotation of restaurants, but he is still a Chipotle man. He said he was excited to try the coconut shrimp taco special on Tuesdays though. Sara and Kevin can not be swayed from Chipotle. They thought it was okay, but not enough to merit a return trip. So thanks to my guinea pigs, pictured below. Thanks for all of your opinions, you guys rock!


I have been to Cafe Rio three times now. I have seven more times to get my free meal. I think it will be a long while before I get that elusive meal. Not that it is bad food, but it is just not my kind of Mexican food. Just like Chipotle is not my kind of Mexican food. So I will stop bashing Chipotle, and just take it for what it is, just not my cup of sangria.

Out of five multi-colored chairs, five being best to zero being worst, Cafe Rio receives 2.5 multi-colored chairs.

For more information on Cafe Rio, you can check them out here; http://www.caferio.com/

Cafe Rio on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Hour/Happy Times at RA Sushi!


RA Sushi
2401 Park Ave.
Tustin, CA. 92782

So, the couple above is my sister and brother-in-law, and they love sushi. I, on the other hand, will eat it, but it is not my favorite thing in the world. They had been to RA Sushi in Corona, and rave about the happy hour. Now, I do love happy hour, so we decided to check it out.

When you walk into RA, it has the feel of a P.F. Changs, but much hipper and fast paced. Decorated in lots of red and black, we made our way to the bar for the happy hour. The bartender, Drew was on top of everything for us on this busy Saturday night. Yes, they do have happy hour Monday through Saturday 3-7. As the night went on, more and more hipsters arrived and were scouting out for prime spots on the patio, or at the bar. So lets get to the food, before they try to snag our seats.




Here is your standard California roll. It was good, and at $3, for eight pieces, it was well worth the price. Pretty decent flavor also, but it was brought to life with the wasabi.


Next we have the spicy sesame chicken wings. These nicely presented wings were not nearly as spicy, as they were sweet. The chicken was a little fatty, and the sauce was okay, but again at $3.50 for six wings, you can not complain too much.


Here are the pineapple cheese wontons, with roasted pineapple dipping sauce. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of cream cheese wontons, so I will not add my two cents here, but everyone else really enjoyed this. And again, this is under four dollars.


Here is one of my favorites of the night, the "RA"ckin Shrimp. The shrimp may not have been huge in size, but they were flavored well, and the creamy ginger teriyaki sauce was an added bonus. Very good dish, and it was a real hit with all of us.


Sorry the picture is so blurry, still trying to figure out my new camera. If you can see through the haze, what we have here is the blue claw crab cakes, served with ginger mayo. The mayo actually made the dish, because the crab cakes alone were a little dry. Still a decent dish, just not great.


Here is another one of my favorites, the Viva Las Vegas Roll. It is crab and cream cheese wrapped in seaweed, then lightly tempura battered, then topped with spicy tuna, more crab, lotus root and eel sauce. A lot of items that create a lot of flavor. These were really tasty and had all of us raving, so we ordered another plate of them.


The lobster spring rolls above, were just okay. The rolls were filled with cream cheese, mango and lobster. I do not recall now, even tasting any lobster, so they totally skimped on that. The mango sauce was pretty good, and helped out with the bland taste of the roll.


This is the Crispy Spicy Tuna. This was another big hit for us. It was big on flavor, and had a great texture. The soy chili sauce again went really well with this.

As for drink specials during happy hour, there were plenty to choose from. A partial list includes, $1 sake, $2 domestic beers, $3 well drinks, and  $4 wines and martinis. Katie got a Sake Sangria that she really enjoyed.

So how would I sum up my time at RA? I think of it as the Fridays of sushi places. Just like Fridays they try to get you in with great prices on happy hour items, and then they hope that you try something off of their regular menu, to get you hooked. Mission accomplished RA, I will be back, but I think only for happy hour, I am not a sushi convert yet.

So, out of five spicy tuna rolls, five being best to zero being worst, I give RA Sushi 3 spicy tuna rolls.

For more locations of RA, and more info about there happy hour check them out here: http://www.rasushi.com/

RA Sushi Bar Restaurant on Urbanspoon