Friday, September 30, 2011

Finally Making It to Los Sanchez!

Los Sanchez
11906 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

My friend Sammy has been telling me that I have to try Los Sanchez, ever since I started this food blog. Two years into the blog, and I have finally made it to one of Sammy's favorite places. Sorry for the delay big guy.

Los Sanchez is a Garden Grove institution. Everyone from GG, always tells me that I have to try Los Sanchez. They are in a new location. Not sure where the old one was, but even switching locales has not hurt business here. They proudly state that they serve Sonoran style Mexican food. After a quick web search, I came across Chowhound's lively debate on what makes Mexican food Sonoran. You can read it here.

We arrived at Los Sanchez at about eight o'clock on a Saturday night, and the place was hopping. The restaurant is pretty good sized for a Mexican fast food place. They feature a large outdoor patio in front and a large dining room containing about 25 tables. The menu is a little overwhelming when you come in. There are tons of pictures hanging above the register, so it took sometime for us to decide what to get, but this is what we came up with.

Starting us off is the chips and guacamole. The chips were pretty average, but the guacamole was below that. Very runny guacamole here. Almost seemed like it was made in a blender that was set on liquefy. It was not very flavorful either.

One thing I have learned while writing this blog is that there is no way to take a great picture of a burrito. You can take a picture of the cross section, but even then it never really turns out that great. So here is the Barbacoa Burrito that Richard ordered. He was not very enthused with his choice. The burrito here just contained barbacoa beef and cheese. Richard summed the burrito up like this,  "It was bland, a Chipotle burrito has more flavor." Not so sure about that, but I did not get a chance to try this burrito, so I will have to go with what Richard said.

Katie went with an unusual choice for her, when she ordered the Quesadilla Dinner. She opted to get this with  cheese only, even though meat was an option. The quesadilla was very greasy. Kind of reminded me of one that I have had at Del Taco. I am not one that is skittish about grease, but this might have been a little much for even me. Katie said words that I never I thought would be uttered, "there was too much cheese on this". She did like the rice here though.

The first part of my meal was the Super Taco, with Asada. Not sure what makes this a super taco, it could be all the lettuce and cheese that was added to this. I had enough lettuce left over to make a side salad. The meat on this taco was okay, not very tender. I would skip the asada the next time I came here.

For the main part of my meal, I went with my standard meal at a Mexican restaurant, a Carnitas Plate. I judge  Mexican restaurants based on whether they can prepare this dish properly. Here it was just okay. The pork could not stand on its own. It was average tasting, but made a little better when mixed with the beans and the runny guacamole. I liked the beans and rice okay, and I thought the portion size of this plate was pretty good.

My friend Sammy just happened to be at Los Sanchez when were here, so I snapped a quick picture of his Albondigas Soup. This big bowl of soup really seemed to please Sammy. The soup looked freshly made, and had plenty of meat and veggies.

Needless to say we were not too impressed with Los Sanchez. Maybe we just hit the wrong items on their massive menu. Maybe we hit them on a bad night. The meats here were a little on the bland side, and the cheese made everything greasy. I can see this spot being popular with the late night crowd, and I am told they do a great business for lunch. The service was great here. From the counter girl, to the girls clearing the tables in the dining room, to even the guy with the deep voice, bellowing out the numbers for pick up. All of them were really great. The prices were pretty great as well. All of the items here are in the $4 to $9 range, and the portion sizes are a great value for the prices they are charging.

Out of five strawberries, (because Garden Grove is home to the Strawberry Festival, even though there is only one strawberry field remaining in the city), five being best to zero being worst, Los Sanchez gets 2 strawberries.

For more information about Los Sanchez, click here:

Los Sanchez on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Little R and R at the Surf and Sand Resort

Splashes at the Surf and Sand Resort
1555 Pacific Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Do you dream of being lulled to sleep by the waves rolling over the shore? Do you long for a place that washes away the troubles of your day, just by enjoying the view from your seaside table? Want to get away from it all, even if it is just for one night, or one meal? Luckily, Katie and I got to experience this, thanks to McCue Marketing Communications and The OCeanfront.

The setting could not have been more perfect as we rolled in straight from work. The traffic we battled to get to the Surf and Sand Resort was just a mere annoyance after our first glimpse of the views from the legendary Laguna Beach hotel. We were lucky enough to be invited to a Seafood BBQ poolside, but first we got to tour the rooms, let's take a look.

The rooms at the Surf and Sand have recently gone through a $3 million renovation. They now feature a California coastal theme, modern lighting, and  marbled entryways. The suite we toured had a very relaxed feel to it. I usually always focus on TVs when I enter a hotel room, and here I am not even sure if they have a TV,  wonder why?

Oh yeah, I probably did not notice the TV, because of these great views. I did check the Surf and Sand web site and they do have TVs in their suites, but why would you waste your time with them when you have this view staring back at you?

After the tour of the suite, it was off to the poolside BBQ. Of course the surroundings were gorgeous. There was even a couple getting married on the beach below us. I am not sure if it was the ocean air, or if I am just always hungry, but I was ready to eat. So let's checkout what was prepared for us.

Starting us off was the Roasted Corn Salad. This salad not only featured corn, but tomatoes, olives, and peppers, among other items. The result was a fresh tasting salad, which was light, and combined flavors and textures well.

Chef Armstrong, of Splashes Restaurant located at the Surf and Sand Resort, offered up two kinds of Ceviche for us to try. The green one, was a ceviche made up of local fish. This one had a real mild taste, and the green sauce, whatever it was made of, was very smooth. The more traditional ceviche was a lot more what I am used to when I think of ceviche. This one had a little more bite to it, which really brought out the seafood.

Katie was of course pleased to see Grilled Shrimp Skewers in the buffet line. The shrimp was very good, and when paired with the Grilled Pineapple Salsa, really made a winning combination.

The star of the show this night for me was BBQ Octopus. I really could have eaten the whole plate by myself. I was not shy having two servings of this. I had never had octopus served this way before, and hopefully this will not be the last time. The octopus was a little chewy, but not like you would expect. The seafood flavor definitely was present, and the sauce this was served with paired up nicely. Very well done.

We were also served Grilled Red Snapper, pictured here with more octopus of course. This mild tasting fish was nice and flaky. A little on the mild side for me, but Katie really enjoyed this.

For dessert we were given the option of three desserts, so of course I had to try all three. The S'more Tart was my favorite out of the three. I really enjoyed the playfulness of this, and it really brought to mind my childhood, sitting on the beach, cooking s'mores. The White Chocolate Bavarian Shooter was very smooth and light. The Savory Apple Tart was good, but I did not get a lot of apple flavor out of this.

This was really a great night, with great food, and awesome people. It was really nice catching up with bloggers I have already met, Kat, from Kat's 9 Lives and  Holly, from the Endless Supper, as well as bloggers I met for the first time, Michael, from South Bay Foodies and Priscilla, from She's Cookin. We all had a great time enjoying the food and atmosphere. Thanks also to Chef Jeff Armstrong for the wonderful dinner. We can not wait to come back and try his restaurant Splashes. Also, thanks again to everyone at McCue Marketing Communications, especially Sienna, Michelle, and Anne, for the invite.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Our Little Slice of New York in OC

1828 N. Tustin Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92705

I worked in Santa Ana the decade of the 90's. Okay, typing that sentence really makes me feel old. Really, twenty years has passed since then? Man that is crazy. Anyways, my original point is that I must have passed Benjie's over 2,500 times while I worked in Santa Ana. All those times passing by, and I never went once, until this Labor Day.

We had plans to go to two other restaurants, but both were closed for Labor Day. Who knew that restaurants would be closed on this holiday? So after Katie whipped out her smart phone, we scoured Urbanspoon for restaurants close by, and up popped Benjies. I am usually in the mood for a great sandwich, so that is where we headed.

Benjies has been around since 1967. Ions of years in the restaurant business. Located between Old Tustin Avenue and Tustin Avenue, this deli was started by native New Yorker, Stan Weinstein. Stan, like most of Orange County, wanted an authentic NYC deli, so he opened this place up. Stan's son, Lloyd now runs the place, and not much has changed since they first opened. It is kind of like Benjies is in some kind of time warp. I half expected one of the Brady Bunch kids to come out and ask Alice what was being cooked for lunch. Okay, enough nostalgia, let's check out the food.

Katie was feeling breakfast when she walked in here, but as soon as she learned she could have her sandwich on a bagel she changed her mind. She went with the Albacore Tuna Salad on a bagel. She called this sandwich, "comfort food at its best". She felt that the tuna salad was fresh, and the bagel was very good. She was also pretty happy with the macaroni salad. 

Of course I had to go for my favorite sandwich in a deli, the Reuben. Corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut, all surrounded by grilled rye bread. Quite simply, this is one of the best Reuben's that our county has to offer. They were very generous with the corned beef. The sauerkraut did not over power the meat, but complimented it nicely. The meat itself, had a great taste to it, and the bread held up to the contents of the sandwich with no problem. The cheese added a little moisture, and as an added flavor enhancer, I also got a side of Russian dressing to dip the sandwich in. For my side item I chose the Potato Salad. This potato salad was good, but did not really stand out as much as the sandwich did. 

I saw that they had Chocolate Chip Cookies on the menu, so we ordered two of them for a light dessert. The cookies were okay. This cookie was more on the crunchy side, and it reminded me of a Chips Ahoy cookie. We would probably skip this the next time we were here.

I think that Stan Weinstein fulfilled his dream to have an authentic New York deli in Orange County. The sandwiches were great, and could rival some of New York's finest. The menu here is very large, and we look forward to trying more items from it. The service was pretty good. Most of the waitress's have been employees of Benjies for thirty or more years. The prices were not cheap here, but the sandwiches will fill you up. My Reuben was $12, and Katie's tuna sandwich was $10, but you do get a choice of a side with them. Eating here really makes me wish I would have stopped by at least a few of those 2,500 times. 

Out of five stray dogs, (because the 1974 movie, Benji featured a stray dog that saves two kidnapped children, and also because at Benjies they probably have not updated the decor since 1974), five being best to zero being worst, Benjies gets 3 stray dogs.

For more information about Benjies, click here:

Benjies New York Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sailing to Las Barcas

Las Barcas Gourmet Mexican Food
21032 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

We get tips about places from everyone, and we are trying to get to them all. Right now I have a list of over thirty places people have told us about. My friend Stephanie gets credit for this one, and judging by the amount of people eating here at 8:45 on a Sunday night, I had very high hope for this restaurant.

Las Barcas is a Huntington Beach institution. Ask anyone in Surf City about Mexican food, and this place definitely gets a mention. Opened in 1987, by a couple from Argentina. They left their home country to come to HB and create a Mexican restaurant that features fresh and gourmet food, at reasonable prices. Now run by their sons, and still in their original location, lets see if they are still churning out great Mexican food.

We usually always get a side of guacamole to go along with our chips and salsa, and at Las Barcas, the side order only set us back $1.35, a real bargain. The guacamole was seasoned well, and was almost neon green. Very fresh, you could tell they had made this up recently. The chips were okay, maybe a little over salted for my tastes. I did not get a clear picture of the salsas, but they were okay as well. All of them seemed more on the mild side to me, but had a decent flavor.

This beautiful looking burrito was Katie's choice for dinner. She had the Shrimp Burrito with enchilada sauce and cheese added for an additional $1.35. The burrito contained  beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, smoked cream sauce, and a lot of shrimp. This burrito was very good sized, and they did not skimp on the shrimp. Katie enjoyed the flavor and freshness of this burrito.

As I am sure you have guessed by now, if you are a loyal reader of this blog, I always try a Carnitas Plate at any Mexican restaurant I am trying for the first time. No exception here. The carnitas here were very good. Crispy, with a little bit of chew to them. The pork could definitely stand on its own. When I first saw this plate, I was a little underwhelmed by the amount of meat here, but it made three tacos easily, with some to spare. The beans were very good, and the rice was above average as well. Solid plate of food here.

We had also heard about their fish tacos, so we of course had to try one. Above is the Grilled Fish Taco. Katie was very happy with this taco, calling it, "amazingly fresh, with great taste". The taco was stuffed, and the two tortillas held there ground and kept the contents of the taco inside. The fish was mild, the cream sauce was good, but I would have liked less lettuce on this. It would have even made the taco photograph better.

I could not let Katie out eat me, so I also tried one of the tacos here. I went with a Grilled Steak Soft Taco. This taco came with pico de gallo, lettuce and guacamole. This taco was good, but did not wow me. The meat was okay, and again too much lettuce on the taco. Solid taco, but a little over priced at $3.50.

La Barcas is a pretty good Mexican restaurant, and I understand all of the praise for it. The food is fresh, but I am not sure about gourmet. The counter guy was very patient with us, as we took in the large menu here. The restaurant area is a little cramped, and I have been told that it is best to call in orders ahead of time during peak times. The prices were a little on the high side. The shrimp burrito went for $7.75, and the carnitas platter was $9.50. I would not hesitate to eat here again though. One last tip, the shopping center Las Barcas is housed in is going through some renovations, so it might be a little hard to find this place, but it is definitely worth the hunt.

Out of five boats, (because translated from Spanish, barcas means boats), five being best to zero being worst, Las Barcas gets a solid 3 boats.

For more information on Las Barcas, click here:

 Las Barcas Gourmet Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 16, 2011

Expanding Our Food Repertoire at Natraj

24861 Alicia Parkway
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

I am not going to try and fool you. I have no idea what Indian food is all about. The last time I had it in a restaurant could be like fifteen years ago. I know what you are thinking, what kind of food blogger are you? Okay, I admit I have to get out of my food comfort zone more. In my defense though, we have gone to our first Thai place this year, along with trying the cuisines of Lebanon and Peru. So slowly, but surely we are eating around the globe, as we eat around OC.

A wonderful couple, Maureen and Dennis really wanted us to try one of their favorite Indian restaurants, Natraj. This restaurant has been around since 1991, and been in its present location since 1993. Two partners ran the business, and at one time operated four restaurants. After one of the partners wanted to move back to India, they sold off three of the four restaurants. The three restaurants that were sold kept the Natraj name, adding to confusion, but these restaurants are not owned by the original owners or family members. The owner that stayed here, now operates the original Natraj in Laguna Hills, and has opened three fast food/casual Indian restaurants, Natraj's Tandoori, (two in Irvine and one in Foothill Ranch).

Natraj is tucked in the back of a shopping center that features a Dick's Sporting Goods and a Big Lots. The restaurant is spacious, yet a little dated in its decor. The waiters, all men the night we were here, are all dressed in white dress shirts and black pants. Very professional looking to match the service they offered us this night. The Natraj menu is a little overwhelming. They offer close to sixty entree items, and even more if you count the appetizers and breads. Let's see what we went with off of this big menu.

Our meal started off with the Indian equivalent on a bread basket. Not sure what they call this kind of bread. It looked like a tortilla, but it was stiffer, and less bready. We also had three sauces served with this. They ranged from sweet to a little spicy. I forgot to write their names down, but they were pretty good.

Much like my strategy in any restaurant, I always want to try as many items as I can on one visit. So of course  we went with the Mixed Hors D"Ouvres. This sampler platter came with chicken tikka, samosa, seekh kabob, and pakoras. Out of these my favorite was the chicken tikka. The chicken was tender and the spice used here really popped with flavor. The pakoras were vegetable fritters, that I could see myself dipping into ranch dressing next time. They were fried just right. I was not so excited by the samosa, which is the cone looking item. The insides of this was filled with potatoes and peas. I found it to be a bit boring when it came to flavor. The seekh kabob was made of lamb, and really left no mark on my memory.

Maureen informed us that she always gets the same thing when she eats at Natraj, the Chicken Pasanda. This mild chicken dish is served in a nut sauce. She loves the mildness of this dish, and felt that the chicken was cooked well.

Dennis almost got an identical dinner from his wife, the Chicken Korma. This chicken dish is simmered in a mild almond and cream sauce. Dennis had no complaints about this meal. From where I was sitting, the sauce looked velvety smooth.

Katie and I ate at a Biryani cart in New York, and that was about the extent of our Indian food knowledge. She stuck to what she knows when she ordered the Chicken Biryani. This dish combined chicken with herbs and spices, with basmati rice. Katie enjoyed the slight heat this dish had, and it definitely reminded her of that street cart in NYC. Her pleasure of this dish was enhanced when she combined the yogurt sauce and  garlic nann with this plate.

I admit I was intimidated by the large menu here, and I choked. Maybe, I should rephrase that since this is a food blog and everything. I mean to say I think I ordered the wrong item. I went with the Lamb Saag. Lamb served with a spiced cream spinach. I love creamed spinach, and I love lamb, so I did not think this could go wrong. Unfortunately the lamb was not very tender, and the spice used in the spinach did not find favor with my taste buds. I should have gone with a safer bet. Maybe at the next Indian place.

To go along with our meals we also ordered the Garlic Naan. This leavened bread was sprinkled with fresh garlic. This is a must have when eating here. The garlic is very prominent and really makes the bread come alive.

We had three of the six desserts offered here. Starting us off is Katie's choice, the Mango Ice Cream. She called this dessert, "very refreshing and delicious". Maureen always goes for the Kheer, which is an Indian rice pudding with a pistachio garnish. I had the unusual sounding Gajjar ka Halwa, which is a carrot pudding with pistachio and almond. I thought this would be like a pumpkin pie flavor, but there was definitely no cinnamon or nutmeg in this. In fact there was no sweetness in this at all, and it was served warm. It was not awful, but is something I do not think I would get again.

To sum up my first experience at an Indian restaurant, I would say I did not make the right choices when it came to my preferences for food. I did get exotic items, and I liked the spices used, but I would definitely get different things next time. The other foods I tried here I liked, and I am looking forward to trying Indian food again in the future. Most meals were in the $13 to $17 range, and the portions were average sized. So I guess you can say this was my practice run for Indian food. Thanks Maureen and Dennis for the company, and we look forward to trying Indian food with you again.

Out of five tandoor's, (a small, clay oven used here at Natraj and other Indian restaurants), five being best to zero being worst, Natraj gets 2.5 tandoor's.

For more information on Natraj, click here:

Natraj on Urbanspoon