Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pumping Us Full of Food at the Filling Station

Filling Station Cafe
201 N. Glassell
Orange, CA 92866

I have been gearing up for the busiest time of the year at my work, but I still found time to meet up with my cousin Chris. Everyone is very proud of him because he is doing great at Chapman College. I am proud of him because he chose to go to school in Old Towne Orange, and there are lots of restaurants that we can try. On this occasion we went with a place that has been on my list for awhile, The Filling Station.

The Filling Station is located on the corner of Glassell and Maple. The most distinctive part of the restaurant is the laid back patio. We were sat here on this Thursday afternoon. Back in the day the restaurant used to be a gas station, hence its name. They have many pictures on the walls depicting its past times as a gas station, and in case you did not correlate the petrol background of the Filling Station, they also have a gas pump on the partially covered patio. I was here for the food, so lets see if they are cooking with gas.

We will start with the scholar's choice for lunch, the Filling Station Burger Special. This came with avocado, bacon, and Swiss and cheddar cheeses. Chris called this burger, "good, and the meat was flavored well." This burger was good sized, and he could not finish it, so I took over the reigns and finished the rest of it. The burger was pretty solid.

I was in the mood for a burger as well, and I was going to order the same as Chris, but I knew I had to get something else to sample for varieties sake. I went with the Chili Burger, which is served open faced with their turkey chili and cheese. The burger itself was good, but a little over done for my taste. The chili was very mild, and really needed to be kicked up a notch in the spice department. Not a bad chili burger, but not too memorable either.

Chris was still recovering from the half a burger he ate, (lightweight!), so I was going it alone for dessert. I asked the waiter to bring out their best dessert and he came out with this Pumpkin Pie. The pumpkin part of this was as good as any pumpkin pie filling I have had, but what made this pie was the crust. Most of the time crusts are just an item to keep the pie together, but not here. This crust actually complimented the filling. The crust was light and flavorful, and really made this pie.

The Filling Station is not going to blow you away with their menu. They offer nine sandwiches and eight burgers on their lunch menu. They also have salads and soups, but come on, those are just appetizers. The food here is good, but safe. The prices are not too bad for a sit down restaurant. Our burgers were below the $10 mark, and they definitely filled Chris up. The service was unobtrusive and speedy. They were pretty crowded for lunch, and there was a wait when we left. I hear good things about their breakfast here, so I will definitely be back. I also look forward to many more meals with Chris, but hope he eats more in the future. Just kidding big guy!

Out of five gas jockeys, (a worker at a full serve gas station that pumps the gas, checks the oil, and cleans the windshield for you. Now these guys are only seen in Oregon and New Jersey, where you are not allowed to pump your own gas.), five being best to zero being worst, Filling Station gets 2.5 gas jockeys.

For more information on the Filling Station, click here:

Filling Station on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chilling Out at Chelas

Chelas Mexican Grill
29975 Alicia Parkway
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Orange County has an embarrassment of great Mexican restaurants. The competition among these places is pretty cut throat. Almost every neighborhood has their, "go to",  place for great food. These places can range from a hole in the wall spot to fancy restaurants where a single taco can cost $11, (the delicious El Jefe taco at Sol Cocina). With all this competition it must be a little daunting for a new Mexican restaurant to try to distinguish itself. That is what the new Chelas in Laguna Niguel is trying to do, distinguish itself from other Mexican restaurants.

Chelas opened within the last couple months. It is owned by the Vasquez family, who have taken their recipe's from their mother, and brought them into the fold here at Chelas. We entered Chelas at about seven on a Wednesday night. Ordering here is done at the counter, and then the food is brought out to you. The menu is basic Mexican food, consisting of tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc. Let's see how everything turned out.

Pictured above was one of Katie's choices, the La Gringa Taco. This taco comes with your choice of chicken or beef, she had chicken, and it also comes with guacamole, onion, cilantro, cabbage, sour cream, and Monterrey jack cheese. Katie liked the addition of cilantro, but was not wowed by this taco, calling it, "nothing too special".

This Crispy Chicken Taco was deemed much better by Katie. She was not overly impressed by the chicken here, but liked the Colby jack cheese.

It is probably difficult to tell from the picture, and the cheese on top of this, but these are the Taquitos. I would sum these taquitos up by calling them average. They were a little on the greasy side, but the grease did not translate into big flavor. I was also a little disappointed with the amount of guacamole served with this. Not even enough for one and a half taquitos, even though this order consisted of three.

The Chelas Burrito was the last portion of my main meal. This burrito was stuffed with carnitas, refried beans, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, cabbage, onion, and cilantro. This burrito did nothing for me. The flavor of this was bland, and it really had temperature issues. One bite would be warm and the next would be cold. I am sure it is from the produce used in it, but it was off putting. The burrito was good sized, but it was way over stuffed with lettuce, and I am still not sure there was even cheese in this.

At Chelas they pride themselves on making their, "secret recipe", Carrot Cake. It was actually pretty good. The icing was not over the top sweet, which is a good thing. The cake was moist, but could have used a touch more cinnamon or another spice to enhance the cake. The portion size of the cake was very generous.

Chelas did not knock my socks off. I felt that the food was on the bland side. It really reminded me of Chipotle. They do use lots of fresh ingredients. The produce was fresh, but they might have used too much of it in everything. The meats should have been the star of the show here, but it was hard to get past all the produce. The prices were okay. My burrito was a little on the high side at $8, and the Gringa Taco was $3.49. On this trip to Chelas, they did little to set themselves apart in the crowded Mexican food market of OC.

Out of five fish, (because a chela is a small, minnow type fish), five being best to zero being worst, Chelas Mexican Grill gets 2 fish.

For more information on Chelas, click here:

Chelas Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Fish Were Flying at Sushi Wasabi

Sushi Wasabi
14460 Newport
Tustin, CA 92780

This is the first year I have ever kept one of my New Years resolutions. Usually I blow my resolutions by the second week of the year, but not this year. What is this resolution that I kept? My resolution was to get out of my food comfort zone and try as many foods as possible. Okay, it was a pretty easy resolution to keep since it did not involve gyms, money, or any real effort on my part, but I have been proud of myself none the less. We have had Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Colombian, and Lebanese this year.  We have also been to a Japanese place, and you can add another one to the list, Sushi Wasabi.

We had a long overdue dinner with our friend Kat, from Kat's 9 Lives. She had suggested that we have sushi, from one of her favorite places. We arrived at about six on a Wednesday night. Sushi Wasabi is not exactly on the beaten track, and not where you would expect a great sushi restaurant to be. Tucked into a small strip mall with an auto parts store and a donut/smoothie shop, Sushi Wasabi has a great reputation among local sushi lovers and foodies.

We took a seat at the sushi bar, where everything is served, like the sign says, "Omakase Style". There was no ordering, no say in what you would be given, and there are signs on the door, and above the sushi bar that state that they will not be serving any California rolls at anytime. The stoic owner and chef of this restaurant was in full control of what we were given, and this is what he came up with this night.

Starting us off was the Albacore, which really had a fresh taste, and a very generous portion size. This fish was served in a ponzu sauce, with scallions. Very tasty start to the meal.

I could not decide which picture I liked the best, so I decided to put both of them up here. This Tuna from Hawaii was far from fishy tasting. It was as clean tasting as it was good looking in the pictures.

Next up in our fish parade was the Red Snapper, this one from New Zealand. This was also served with ponzu sauce. It has probably become obvious to you now that this fish was as fresh as you can get, just like all of the stuff we were served here.

The only roll we would be served all night would be this Blue Crab Roll. This would be the only one we would need. This was deemed best by all of us. It was dressed with mayo and rice, and had a consistency like a tuna sandwich, but much smoother, and way more rich and flavorful. Kat loved this enough to have many more of these. I could have eaten this crab by the shovelful.

This mellow looking piece was the Yellowtail. Do not let the plain look of this fool you, this one was delicious.

With a striking resemblance to Nemo, this Scottish Salmon was the next to grace our plates. The toasted sesame seeds on top of this was a nice touch here, and helped enhance the flavor of this. I even got a second one of this wonderful salmon.

At this point we had a nice change of pace with the Baked Scallop. This warm fish dish was big on salty flavor, but Katie was not a fan of this. She felt that the scallop's here were too small, and she prefers a meatier scallop. I liked this well enough, but maybe because it broke up the monotony of all the sushi.

The Chopped Toro was next up. Not only did this toro look like cotton candy, but it evaporated just as quickly. Very light and mega smooth.

And the fish just keep swimming by. These are the Oysters served with ponzu sauce. These were not as chewy as I expected, and the flavor of the sauce really enhanced the flavor of the oyster.

The one miss of the entire night for me was the Uni, which the chef said was from Santa Barbara. I have never had uni before, and the texture and flavor of it did not sit right for either Katie and I. I am sure it is not bad, but more of an acquired taste.

Finally we come to the last of our sushi cavalcade, the Shrimp. This shrimp was not as flavorful as I have had other places, but I am not used to having it prepared this way either. It was okay though.

To be honest with you this was a very hard post for me to write. I admit I am not very knowledgeable about sushi, and I do not appreciate it as much as I should. Hopefully that will come in time. I can admit something that I never thought I would say about a sushi place, I was really full after eating here. I had it all planned out to pick up something else on the way home, but it became unnecessary after the amount of fish I consumed here.

I do know that this was some high quality fish, and it was prepared well. After reading Monster Munching's review it seems that the chef's selections do not really deviate too much. He basically had the exact same meal two years ago. It was delicious, but a little pricey. For the three of us our bill came to $252, which works out to $84 a person before tip. A little on the high side for my novice approach to sushi. The service was not overly friendly, but they were quick to clear plates and refill our drinks. The sushi chef was very focused on his work, and only spoke to inform us what we were eating. No need for him to talk, because it gave us plenty of time to catch up with our good friend Kat. Thanks for taking us here Kat.

So out of five roots, (because writing this blog I learned that Wasabi comes from a root), five being best to zero being worst, Sushi Wasabi gets 3.5 roots.

Sushi Wasabi does not have a web site, but you can check out reviews and information here:

Sushi Wasabi on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

Football Frenzy #8 Rudy's Pub and Grill

Rudy's Pub and Grill
26772 Portola Pkwy.
Foothill Ranch, CA 92610

Okay, I admit I have been pretty lax on trying to find the best sports bar to watch football on Sunday mornings. It has been a crazy fall for me, but I think the real reason is because my favorite team the Jaguars, stink. I know that this is not a sports blog, but they get rid of their quarterback four days before the season, they have a coach who makes some questionable decisions, and they do not play their star player nearly enough. Ugh, it makes me not want to watch football, but I am a true fan, so we headed out to a sports bar I have never been to before, Rudy's Pub and Grill.

I guess I should clarify that, I have never been to this location of Rudy's. Their other location on the peninsula in Newport Beach used to be my old stomping grounds. My friends and I used to hangout there, even before they added the retractable roof, and got rid of the pool tables. This location opened in 2008, far away from the hustle and bustle of the Newport location, in the quiet suburban spread of Foothill Ranch.

We got to Rudy's just before kickoff, and lucky for us our friend Richard had saved us two seats at a high top table in the back of the restaurant, where our game was playing. The place was packed with spirited fans, that I was surprised to see in this quiet community. They have lots of TV's, but they seemed too high. The place was also very warm inside. After watching my team give up a touchdown in the first five minutes, I was ready to order some food.

Katie will start us off with her breakfast, the Huevos Rancheros. At Rudy's this traditional Mexican breakfast was served with black beans. Katie called this, "better than expected". She also felt that the black beans gave this dish a smokiness that really stood out. She also ordered a side of hash browns, which looked, and tasted very similar to those served at McDonalds.

To be honest, I have no idea what Richard was thinking when he ordered this Egg Dipped Bagel. Maybe he was not hungry, or did not read the description of this right. Anyways, this bland looking dish was just called okay by our good friend Richard. I had a feeling Richard would get something off of their lunch menu later on.

This colorful dish belonged to me, the Southwest Scramble. This scramble included eggs, cheese, chorizo, potatoes, onions, and chili's. With all of these ingredients, you would expect this to burst with flavor, but the opposite was true. This plate was dry, the eggs were unnoticeable, and Tabasco did not help this dish in the least.

As I predicted, Richard of course had lunch here. We had smelled the brisket cooking on the back patio all game long, and I was glad when Richard got it, so I could try a bite. The brisket was cooked perfectly to a nice medium rare. The sandwich was good sized, and came with guacamole, lettuce and tomato. It was good, but the meat could have been more tender. The bun was decent, and held up to the contents of the sandwich. Not bad, but I am not sure I would order this sandwich the next time I was here.

Rudy's was an okay place to watch football on Sundays. Our criteria is great food, great service, and great atmosphere. The service was the only thing great while we were here. Our waitress kept coming over and asking if she could get us anything else, and refilling our glasses on a regular basis. The atmosphere here is just okay. The restaurant is loud, and the fans are a little more on the rambunctious side. The food is really what does this place in. The breakfasts that we had did not satisfy, and the sandwich was average. Just like my teams lackluster performance on this Sunday, Rudy's matched it with a lackluster breakfast.

Out of five leprechaun's, (because the movie Rudy was based on a Notre Dame football player, and their mascot is a leprechaun), five being best to zero being worst, Rudy's Pub and Grill gets 2 leprechauns.

For more information on Rudy's Pub and Grill, click here:

Rudy's Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Family French Night at Gemmell's

34471 Golden Lantern St.
Dana Point, CA 92629

Real French food has been a mystery to me. I have had escargot, crepes, and croissants before, but I am talking real French food here, with the heavy sauces and difficult names. It is not that I do not like French food, but I have just not gotten around to having it until now. I had bought a Groupon for Gemmell's, so I would be getting $50 worth of food for $25. This way, if I did not enjoy the French food, I would not have to pay too much. As a double bonus, Katie's entire family would be coming with us. So, we would be able to look at more dishes, but the downside of that is that her sister Sara was going to be coming with us. Just kidding Sara!

Gemmell's is located in the harbor area of Dana Point. We got here at about six on a Thursday night. The crowd here is definitely on the older side, and the decor matches the clientele. We were seated on the enclosed patio in the front of the restaurant. The space was loud and cramped, even with just one other party of six dining out there with us.

Gemmell's has been around in its present location since 2000. There actually is a Gemmell, and he is the owner and chef of this restaurant. He has a long resume of places he has worked in and out of OC. After waiting for the final portion of our party to arrive, we ordered and this is how it all came out.

We were presented with the bread basket above. The bread here came out very hot, but the bread was nothing special.

Katie has really surprised me lately with some of her food choices, and her appetizer choice here was no exception. She had the Feuillette, which is puff pastry in a creamy white wine sauce, served with asparagus. This appetizer was simple, yet delicious. The puff pastry was cooked to perfection, and the wine sauce was really tasty. We would definitely get this again.

For shock value of course I had to go with the Casserole of Escargots. These Helix snails were sauteed in a Burgundy sauce, along with diced ham, garlic, mushrooms, and shallots. I have had escargot numerous times, but this is the first time I had it prepared this way. I was a little disappointed with the amount of snails I received, but the ones I did have tasted pretty good. The sauce was good, and after I was done with the escargot, I sopped up the rest of it with the bread.

The first of our trio of soups that our party ordered was Kevin's selection, the Lobster Bisque. He felt the taste of this soup was spot on and smooth, but he was a little disappointed that there were no pieces of lobster in this bisque.

The patriarch of the family, Dennis, went with Cream of Mushroom Soup. He was not wowed by his choice, calling it, "just okay, nothing special". Sorry the picture of this was so bad, I was halfway across the table from him.

Of course you can not go to a French restaurant without someone getting French Onion Soup. Here it was Katie's turn to have this classic soup. The onion soup here is topped with croutons and Gruyere cheese. I ate half of this soup, and felt it was pretty good. I liked the sweetness of the onion to go along with the saltiness of the broth. They really balanced each other out. Of course the cheese was a great part of this as well. Very solid.

Both of these meals were basically the same, so I lumped them together here. The Angel Hair Pasta comes with chicken or shrimp, and this was ordered both ways by my table mates. The pasta was prepared with vegetables, tomatoes, garlic, and basil. The result was a light tasting dish, that got rave reviews from not only the pasta, but the chicken as well. Sara, even called it, "the best chicken I have had in a restaurant!" That might be a stretch, but I tried some, and it was very tender.

Lynn was feeling shrimp too, so she had the Shrimp Provencale. This shrimp dish combined basil, parsley, Roma tomatoes, and capers, along with rice and vegetables. She seemed very pleased with this meal. The shrimp were cooked well, and the sauce was very satisfying.

One last pasta dish, I promise. Katie kept the pasta theme going with the Gemelli Pasta. The pasta came with a Dijon mustard sauce, shrimp, and veggies. I am not usually a big fan of mustard sauces, but this one was pretty good. The mustard was a little more subdued here. Katie also felt that they were very generous with the shrimp on this.

Well you can count on me to buck the trend and not order pasta. Chef Byron's Roasted Duck called, or should I say quacked my name from the minute I looked at the menu. This Napa duck was sliced and served in a sauce made from banana liquor and a dark rum reduction. It was also paired with caramelized bananas, which I felt was odd, but did not get in the way of this great tasting bird. The duck itself was cooked to perfection, and the portion size was very generous. The vegetables were okay, and the potatoes were better than that.

Now on to dessert, and you probably can't tell what our first one is because of all the fruit covering this, but it is Creme Brule. This mountain of fresh berries was very fresh, and really out shined the creme brule. It was decent, but nothing that I would rave about.

Just like the pasta dishes, almost everyone got tarts for dessert. Above are the Blueberry Tart and the Lemon Tart. The lemon tart really took its name to heart because it was very tart. Wow, that is a crazy rhyme! Maybe I should pursue my dream of becoming a famous food rapper, they could call me Vanilla Ice Cream. Okay, maybe that is not such a great idea. Anyways, I did not really care for this at all. The blueberry tart was way more mellow, and a lot better.

Dennis always loves ice cream, and here was no exception. I did not get his reaction from this Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream, but he did finish it all, and really how bad could ice cream ever be. I also wanted to include this picture because I liked that it included the ice crystals on the scoop.

It has almost become tradition now, whenever we go out to eat with the whole family, I have to include a picture of the pride and joy of the family, Emily.  So here is this installment. Thanks for the great photo Em, the camera loves you!

Okay, so the food at Gemmell's was very solid. For the most part everyone really liked what they ordered. The food came out nice and hot. The prices were a little on the high side, but nothing too crazy. Prices for entrees were in the $16 to $30 range. The decor seemed a little dated. The one big drawback here was the service. The food came out very slow, and the servers seemed overwhelmed by our party of eight. The entire meal took three hours, which is far too long. The waiters were not too quick on refills, and other assorted things. We might have just caught them on a bad night. The food was good enough that we would give them another try. After eating here, I am looking forward to trying more French food in the future.

Out of five tall ships, (because the city of Dana Point hosts the Tall Ships Festival every September), five being best to zero being worst, Gemmell's gets 3 tall ships.

For more information on Gemmell's click here:!

Gemmell's on Urbanspoon