Thursday, June 30, 2011

El Farolito De-Lighting Us with Food

El Farolito
201 S. Bradford
Placentia, CA 92870

Sometimes writing this blog can be a little tough. There are lots of restaurants that are just plain average. It is harder to write about these mediocre restaurants, because they are boring, and the words come easier when I am passionate about a place. This post will be one of the easiest I have written in awhile.

It was my parents anniversary so I wanted to take them somewhere close to their house. I had seen a few reviews for El Farolito, and they were mostly positive, so that is where we headed. We arrived at six on a Saturday night. The wait was about twenty minutes in this very busy restaurant.

El Farolito is a little off the beaten track. I grew up in North Orange county and had never been here before. This family business has been around since May, 10th, 1974.  In those thirty-seven years, they are still owned by the same family, and more than half of their employees are family members. All of this family around makes this restaurant seem more like someones house, rather than a restaurant. Let's see if the food resembles home cooking.

First stop is the obligatory shot of the chips and salsa. The chips here were very good. I am not sure if they were made on the premises, but they were nice and thick. Not too greasy. The salsa was a fine as well, with a nice little spice to it. I only wish it was a little thicker. One word of caution though, the menu says the first serving of chips is free, and then they charge $1.25 for each additional serving. We did not finish our first bowl of chips though.

 I was extremely hungry, so we ordered an appetizer to start. The Mexican Quesadilla was filled with cheese, tomatoes and pork, with beans and guacamole on the side. We were not such a big fan of the tomatoes in this quesadilla, but the pork was tender and the tortilla was crisp, so it more than made up for the tomatoes. The beans and the guacamole were both real smooth. No big hunks left in the guacamole. Very tasty start.

This big mound of food was my Dad's order, the Arroz Con Pollo. This chicken and rice dish was covered with cheese and ranchera sauce. I am usually skeptical about getting chicken in Mexican restaurants, because it is usually dry, but this chicken was very moist and tender. The ranchera sauce had quite a lot of flavor, and my Dad could not have been happier with this dish. He only wished that there was more chicken on this.

Katie has been gravitating towards lots of shrimp dishes lately, and El Farolito was no exception. She went with Fajitas De Camaron. Here the shrimp are sauteed with onions, peppers, and tomatoes. Katie called this dish, "Some of the best shrimp fajitas I have ever had!". She was also excited because this dish really filled her up, and was served nice and hot. The flavor seemed to be right on the spot.

Fittingly, my Mom ordered a two item combination plate, which was called the Mama's Plate. For her two items she chose the cheese enchilada and beef taquitos. This was a big plate for my Mom to attempt to eat. I was happy when she ordered it, because I knew I would get a good portion of it. She really felt this was a great tasting plate. The taquito I had was very fresh tasting and lacking in grease. The cheese enchilada had a very good sauce and was full of cheese. Very tasty.

Before coming here I knew what I was getting, the Pork Carnitas. This is probably the most popular dish that they serve here, and for good reason. The carnitas here are simply some of the best I have had since starting this blog. Not too greasy, with a little crispness to them. The flavor was outstanding. I was stuffed, but still could have been able to eat another plate of carnitas. The beans here are very good as well. You can tell that they are homemade. Very smooth beans. I am also not too much of a rice guy, but even this was full of flavor. A truly great plate of food.

El Farolito is the real deal. The prices were very reasonable. For all of the food above, plus drinks, and a mango margarita, the bill was $50. The service was very speedy. You can tell that this is a real locals place. The people that work here seemed to know a lot of their customers. I assume that the wait for a table can be pretty long at peak times, but it would be worth it for you to wait. My only regret about eating here, is that I had not done it sooner. So many wasted dinners, but now I have time to make up for it, and I am going to enjoy doing it.

So out of five paper lanterns, (because that is what farolito translates to, and because this place really brightened me up with their food!), five being best to zero being worst, El Farolito gets 4 paper lanterns.

For more information about El Farolito, click here:

El Farolito on Urbanspoon

Beating the Drum or Singing the Blues at the Blue Beet?

The Blue Beet
107 21st Place
Newport Beach, CA 92663

The birthday dinners keep rolling on, and this time it was my friend Matt who took me out to eat. We headed to a place I have been many times before, but this was my first time being here for dinner. This also is probably the first time I have been here stone sober. In my younger days, the Blue Beet was in my rotation of Newport bars I would frequent. Tonight we were here to see if they serve up great food to go with their stiff beverages.

The Blue Beet actually is the oldest bar in the city of Newport. Opened in 1912 under the name Stark's, it was even open during prohibition due to police indifference. Renamed Sid's Blue Beet in the mid sixties, the Blue Beet was home to a 24 hour poker game, and many colorful characters through the years. This three story bar has a lot of character, but we are also hoping that the food does too. Let's check it out.

To start us out we went with Sid's Famous Garlic Cheese Bread, which is cooked to order. This doughy bread was okay. Heavy on the cheese, which is good, but kind of light on the garlic. We devoured this rather quickly.

Not content with just one appetizer, we also had a Basket of Onion Rings. These had a crisp outer shell and were sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, a nice touch. The onion rings were good without being greasy. Matt also really enjoyed the BBQ sauce that was served with these.

All of us at the table ordered the Blue Beet Dinner Salad. This very generous dinner salad included mixed greens, shredded beets, (of course), carrots, celery, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and sunflower seeds. Two things really made this dinner salad stand out, the sunflower seeds and the dressing. The dressings are made in house, and you can really tell the difference. The blue cheese was very thick, and had a great flavor, while the Ranch was some of the best Katie has had in awhile. I am not much of a beet guy, but they did not get in the way here, and actually were kind of nice for a change.

On to the entrees and starting us off is the Encrusted Halibut. The fish was coated with Parmesan and bread crumbs and served with a pesto sauce. The fish was very buttery, but had no taste other than that. The sauce really disappointed here. The green beans and rice were above average.

Matt, my main steak friend, ordered the Sid's Favorite Filet. He had asked for this medium well, and after one trip back to the kitchen for a little more cooking time, it came out the way he wanted it. Matt described this steak as juicy, but average. He loved the rice calling it, "great", but was less enthused about the beans because they were over cooked. I did have a bite of the steak, and felt that it had a good flavor, and was cooked well.

I am sure it is no surprise that I also had a steak, and my steak of late has been the Ribeye. This heavily marbled piece of meat had a good flavor, but was also a lot more fatty than other ribeye's I have had lately.  I had no problem with the fat, because I knew what I was getting when ordering this cut of beef. I substituted creamed corn for the green beans that were supposed to come with this plate. The corn was okay taste wise, but was really watery. The other side item, garlic mashed potatoes failed to impress as well. There was a real shortage of garlic on these, and they should have just sold these as regular mashed potatoes.

Last, but not least was Katie's choice for the evening, the Chicken Marsala. This Marsala was served over pasta, with mushrooms, chicken and a wine sauce. Katie had mixed feelings about this plate. She enjoyed the sauce and mushrooms, but found the chicken to be tough. She also felt that the green beans were a decent side dish, but they did not wow her.

Blue Beet has only one item for dessert, and this is it above, the Homemade New York Cheesecake. This is made by the Alta Coffee Shop in Newport Beach. I am not one to swoon over cheesecake, but this one was really pretty good. Not too dense, silky smooth, and with a great crust, this was a very well balanced cheesecake.

The Blue Beet was relatively quiet for dinner. We were only one of three tables that was having dinner here. The bar was filled, and they were getting ready to have a band start at nine when we were leaving. Our server was very good, and kept things moving at a laid back, beach pace. Dinners were in the twenty dollar range, and portion sizes were good for the amount of food we received.

The food here lacked the wow factor though. The steaks were good, but not among some of the best I have had. They do have decent daily specials, (prime rib or baby back rib dinners for under twelve dollars). The appetizers were good, but the side items were kind of bland and boring to me. The Blue Beet will always be one of my favorite hang out places, and if I did find myself here and hungry, I would definitely eat here again.

Out of five blood turnips, (which used to be a common name for beets), five being best to zero being worst, the Blue Beet gets 2.5 blood turnips.

For more information about Blue Beet, click here:

Blue Beet Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blowing Out the Candles at Gulfstream

850 Avocado 
Newport Beach, CA 92660

After about five failed attempts we finally made it to Gulfstream. Whether it was lack of reservations, conflicting plans, or just plain laziness, I would not be deterred this time. When Katie asked where I wanted to go for my birthday, it was a no brainer that we would eat here.

Gulfstream is owned by the Hillstone restaurant group. They also run Houston's, Bandera, and other fine dining establishments around the country. Gulfstream is rated very highly on Yelp and Urbanspoon, but I had not personally known too many people that had ever been there. So, I was excited to see if Gulfstream would be worth all the hype.

We arrived at six on a Friday night. The restaurant was empty, but filling up around us as the night went on. The bar was where all the action was. The outside patio also seemed like a place to seen, as it was very busy. The atmosphere here is laid back elegance. There is lots of wood to contrast with the white table cloths and napkins. The kitchen was open, with lots of activity going on in there. Let's see what they had planned for us.

We started the meal with the Dip Trio. This appetizer is served at all Hillstone restaurants, but is tweaked depending on the restaurant. At Gulfstream the dip trio consists of guacamole, humus, and smoked trout dip. To my surprise the trout dip was not overly fishy, and was smoother than I would have expected. The guacamole was nice and fresh, but not the best I had ever sampled. The humus was rich in flavor, but not heavy in the least. Both Katie and I felt this was a very pleasant start to our meal.

When I saw that they had Heavenly Biscuits on the menu, I definitely had to try them. These biscuits were very light and fluffy, with a hint of rosemary. Not dry, and when I added honey to these, they truly lived up to their name. A must get, when you eat here.

The night we were here they offered Crab Cakes, and Katie could not resist them. These cakes were served with a Pommery mustard sauce and Cole slaw. Katie called these crab cakes succulent. Although this crab cake had a thicker cut of crab than she usually likes, she felt that the mustard sauce here really combined well to make this dish work. The Cole slaw she was not to wowed by, calling it good.

It was my birthday, so I was going to go big. I have been on a rib eye kick lately, so this was a great opportunity to give their Prime Rutherford Rib Eye a try. This 24 ounce bone in rib eye had very different layers to it. I ordered this medium rare, and the outer portions of this were more medium, but the insides were definitely cooked the way I wanted it. It is probably pretty hard to get a steak that is 24 ounces to be cooked medium rare all the way around, but this did not detract from the excellence of this steak. The sauce on this hunk of meat was very good. I was informed it was Rutherford's Worcester sauce. The waiter said it combines over twenty ingredients to create it. The rib eye itself was very well marbled and bursting with flavor. The rib eye was served with tomatoes with blue cheese on top. I am not much of a tomato guy, so I took the blue cheese off the tomato and added it to the steak for a winning combination. I also ordered Mashed Potatoes as a side item. These were very buttery, but did not knock our socks off.

No birthday would be complete without dessert, so we ordered their Tres Leches Cake. This was served with blueberries, strawberries, bananas and whipped cream. The fruit here was all top notch. The cake itself was served very cold and was extra creamy. The only thing that could have made this dessert better was if there was more caramel on this.

There was a lot of good, and some not bad, but things that can be improved at Gulfstream. The service was really good this night. The waiter we had was a real pro. Not intrusive, but always around to answer questions, refill drinks and kept things moving in an efficient manner. We really felt like a guest in this restaurant. The food was good, but maybe because of its location was a little over priced. Also the menu is a little too limited. I know most fancy places like to focus on a few plates and make them well, but a little more variety would not be so bad either. Overall, I did like Gulfstream, and will keep it in mind for special occasions.

Out of five horses, (because Gulfstream Park in Florida hosts three grade 1 horse races each year), five being best to zero being worst, Gulfstream gets 3.5 horses.

For additional information about Gulfstream, click here:

Gulfstream on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pizza Night in RSM

Pizza e Vino
31441 Santa Margarita Parkway
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688

Katie's sister and brother in law, (Sara and Kevin), were nice enough to take me and Katie out for an early birthday dinner. After very little deliberation we decided on heading over to Pizza e Vino. This tiny eatery right near the lake in Rancho Santa Margarita has gotten a lot of buzz for their pizzas. In fact, by some they have been crowned best pizza in the OC. So needless to say, I was excited to try it out.

Pizza e Vino is a pretty small place. They have maybe twelve tables inside, and about ten outside on the heated patio. We arrived at 7 on a Thursday night and were sat immediately. The restaurant was pretty busy. The atmosphere here is subdued and dark. The menu is what you would expect, very pizza oriented. They feature a few appetizers, a few salads, one pasta dish a night, and about twenty or so pizzas.

The pizzas at Pizza e Vino are crafted like those in Naples, Italy. Their red sauce is created by using tomatoes from Mount Vesuvius, the flour for the dough is imported from southern Italy, and the pizzas are baked in a wood fired oven at 850 degrees.  Let's find out if all of this extra work makes for a better pizza.

But first, before we get to the pizzas, both Katie and I wanted to try their salads. I had the Caesar salad above. I liked this salty salad. It came out nice and chilled, but more croutons on this would have made it better. Katie had the House Salad. This mixed green salad came with carrots, tomatoes, cannellini beans, and balsamic vinaigrette. Katie really liked the beans in this salad, because they made for a nice texture.

I know I promised you pizza, but as usual Sara did not want to cooperate when she ordered the Pasta Special of the day. This night it just happened to be angel hair pasta served with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese. Sara said, "this was delicious". I had a bite of it and I would have called it plain tasting, but made with fresh ingredients. This is something I would see on a menu and would never order. I need a little more complexity to my pasta dishes.

Finally we come to the pizzas. Up first was Katie's choice, the Pesto Pizza. The toppings on this, "no red sauce"  pizza included chicken breast, goat cheese, oven dried tomatoes, mozzarella, and of course pesto sauce. Katie found the chicken to be tender, the crust to be really nice and chewy, and flavor here to be abundant and mellow. I had a small piece of her pizza, and felt that she was right on about all of her claims. Not to ruin anything, but I would say this was the best pizza of the night.

Kevin, the real traditionalist amongst us ordered the Pepperoni Pizza. This also came with mozzarella and pepper flakes. Kevin felt that the pepperoni was saltier than normal, but he liked that the crust was thinner than other pizzas, so it was not too heavy. One thing he noticed, that I did as well, was that the pizza was soggy in the middle. Not sure why this was, maybe it was the way it was cooked, but it was noticeable on my pizza, as well as his.

I had a hard time choosing my pizza, and after some deliberation I went with the Salsiccia pizza. This came with mozzarella, fennel sausage, oregano, and chili flakes. This was basically like the pizza I had at Pizzeria Ortica. The sausage was good, but they were not very generous with it. The rest of the pizza was a little plain tasting. The menu said there were chili flakes on this pizza, but I did not sense any.

For dessert the four of us split a Chocolate Cannoli. I had never had a chocolate cannoli before, and I actually liked this a lot. I think I liked this because of the filing. It was not so cheesy, like some cannoli's can be. This might have been due to it being a chocolate cannoli. I definitely could have eaten a few more of these.

So is Pizza e Vino the best pizza in the OC? Simply, no it is not. I would classify their pizza as fancy pizza. So far my favorite fancy pizza is still Pizzeria Ortica. The crust here was not as flavorful, and the toppings did not pop with flavor. The sogginess in the middle of the crust also concerned me. The service when we were here was average. I was still happy to try this place though, and it was a great birthday dinner. Thanks Kevin and Sara. You guys are the best.

Out of five ink pens, (because the city of Rancho Santa Margarita is the longest city name in California, and you would go through lots of ink pens to write out your address if you lived there), five being best to zero being worst, Pizza e Vino gets 2.5 ink pens.

For more information on Pizza e Vino, click here:

Pizza E Vino on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jimmy's Pizza Party at Pizza Port!

Pizza Port
301 N. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

This time of year we always have lots of birthdays going on. This time it was Jimmy's turn to blow out the candles. Where did Jimmy choose to have his birthday dinner? Pizza Port in San Clemente. I had never been here before, so we grabbed my camera and headed south down the freeway.

First a little history. Pizza Port was started by a brother and sister in 1987. They bought a struggling pizza joint in the quiet beach town of Solana Beach, which is just north of San Diego. They re-worked the menu, adding their own special touches, and five years after they opened, they started brewing their own beer. Now almost twenty years later they have four restaurants, and have won some major awards for their beer brewing. Let's see if they should win anything for their pizza.

We arrived at six on a Sunday night. The layout of Pizza Port is a little odd. You park on the roof, then walk down three flights of stairs to order. The vibe here is beach casual. It seemed like the Sunday we were here there were lots of people that had hung out at the beach all day, then they decided to come have some beverages and pizza here.  Let's check out the food.

Starting us off we had their Beer Buddies. This is their pizza dough, brushed with garlic, and served with Ranch dressing and marinara. An interesting take on garlic bread. I actually really liked this basic appetizer. This would have been made even better with a little cheese on it, but it was still worth getting.

The salads at Pizza Port were average. We ended up with two of their Party Sized Salads. The one above is the Garden salad, and the other one that I did not get a shot of was the Caesar salad. The Caesar came with dressing on it, but it was so light on dressing, that it was barely noticeable.

Alright, here is a shot of the pizzas from Pizza Port. I just want to make it known that I did not get a say in the topping choices for these pizzas. Pretty standard choices here, but to be honest I was pretty impressed with their pizza. The simplicity of the toppings really showed that their dough and cheese was good quality stuff. Of course next time I go, I will have to try their Meat Extreme Pizza, or their BBQ Cheeseburger Pizza, but this was a good introduction to their pies.

Pizza Port piqued my interest with this visit. The atmosphere was pretty chill, the pizzas that we had were pretty solid, and I definitely will try their award winning beer the next time I am here. The birthday boy, Jimmy seemed pretty pleased with his selection of restaurants as well. I was just glad to be able to help share in his big day.

Out of five Wolf Men, (because former San Clemente resident Lon Chaney Jr. was famous for portraying the canine character in movies), five being best to zero being worst, Pizza Port gets 3 Wolf Men.

For more information about Pizza Port, click here:

Pizza Port on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Birthday Trip to the Tilted Kilt

Tilted Kilt
6575 East Pacific Coast Highway
Long Beach, CA 90803

It was my buddy Riley's birthday. He was turning 24, and I was trying to think of a place to take him for his big day. After reading OC Weekly's review of the Tilted Kilt, it seemed like this place was almost made for him. So we headed just across the county line to Long Beach to give it a try.

The Tilted Kilt launched in 2003 and today they have 30 restaurants in 20 states. They expect to have 80 units opened by the end of this year. The reason for the rapid expansion? It probably has to do with a term that I learned while writing this post, breastaurants. The Tilted Kilt has their waitresses dress in short, plaid skirts and matching bras, with knee high socks and white shirts tied to show their midriffs. Easily one of the best waitress uniforms to come along in a long while. Of course a restaurant is not judged by a waitress's attire alone, so let's check out the food.

It took us an hour in rush hour traffic to get to Long Beach, so we were pretty hungry when we got to the Kilt. So we started with two appetizers, the Mozzarella Sticks and Potato Skins. The fried cheese was good and crispy, without being real greasy. The potato skins were crisp as well, but they did lack an abundance of cheese. Both of these appetizers came out real quick. Like less than three minutes after we ordered them. I was worried that they had been sitting around, but they did come out hot.

The birthday boy Riley ordered the Maggie Mae's Fish and Chips. These two pieces of cod came with tarter sauce and Cole slaw. Riley, always the clever one remarked, "these fish and chips are a 10, to match the waitresses." I think that he is hoping that one of the waitresses will read this and want to get in touch with him. Anyways, I did try these and they were pretty good. Again, they were not greasy, and the fish did seem pretty fresh.

Yes, of course Katie came with us here, and she went with the Chicken Tender Wrap. With this she got to choose her sauce, and she went with TK signature sauce, which was spicy and sweet. She liked the chicken in this because it was not heavily breaded and it was tender. The only fault she found with this wrap was that the tortilla did not stand up to the contents inside. It fell apart halfway through her eating this. She also upgraded to sweet potato fries for an extra charge. She felt these were just average, and would try a different side next time.

This being a bar and everything, I of course had to get a burger, so I had the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger with the BBQ sauce on the side. This burger was cooked fine, and very tasty. The bun was fresh, the meat was juicy and the bacon cooked crisp. The fries were okay as well. I liked this, but would like to try other items on their menu next time. The meatloaf sandwich and Sheppard's pie piqued my interest the most.

Since it was Riley's big day we got a free dessert, which was the Tilted Guilt. A chocolate chip cookie topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup. This was served warm, and is the Tilted Kilt's answer to the Pizookie from BJ's. The only complaint I have with this was that there was not enough ice cream on this. More would have made this much better.

Comparisons to Hooters are of course going to be made in the battle for the best breastaurant. In my opinion there is no contest. Starting with the atmosphere, the waitresses, and trickling down to the food, the Tilted Kilt beats them in all facets. The waitress's were friendly without being over the top flirty or trashy. The menu here is more substantial and has higher quality foods than Hooters. At Hooters the girls are the main focus, while at TK, the girls are great to look at, but they also have better food and a better atmosphere behind them. This makes the Tilted Kilt more of the full package.

Out of five golf balls, (because this place has a Scottish theme, and Scotland is the home of golf), five being best to zero being worst, the Tilted Kilt gets three golf balls.

For more information on the Tilted Kilt, click here:

Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery on Urbanspoon