Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best and Worst Restaurants of 2012

Happy New Year everyone. I can not believe that this is the third year that I have written a recap of the best and worst restaurants we have visited. Time has really flown by. I guess it is true what they say, time flies when you are having fun. I really am having a great time sharing all of our dining adventures with all of you.

This is the third straight year that we have increased our reviews on the blog. A few stats for you to peruse. We have now eaten in 68 different cities, and have almost hit every city in OC. I promise we will make it to Cypress, La Palma and Seal Beach in the early part of 2013. We have written 383 posts, not including this one, and have visited 354 different restaurants. Wow, that sounds like a lot of eating. Hamburger joints seem to be our favorite, not surprising anyone there, with Mexican food coming in second, and sandwiches winning the bronze medal in the most blogged about food categories.

Besides the actual eating, one of my favorite things about this blog is the people we have met because of it.  Most of these people are fellow bloggers, and their blogs can be found on the right hand side of this blog, under the heading, "my favorite food blogs". When we started this blog, I thought it was going to be an isolated experience, but it has been anything but isolated. We have been lucky enough to have been invited to some events, and gotten to know, and become friends with a good many of the best food writers this county has to offer. I still aspire to be as good as them someday.

Lastly, we would like to thank you, our readers for making this such a great year. We have had the most page views and visits that we have ever had this year. We would also like to thank the people that comment or email about the blog. I really enjoy interacting with all of you. love getting your feedback and suggestions. Keep them coming.

Now without further ado, here are our top five best and worst restaurants that we have been to this year. We will get the worst one's out of the way first, so we can savor the best we had in 2012. Here are the worst restaurants of the year, in no particular order.

I think I can safely say that I am not the target customer that the Gypsy Den is going for. The food here was not awful on our visit, but it did not taste like anything either. I was expecting some flavor that never came. It was not all the Gypsy Den's fault though, my dining companions made some questionable choices when it came to their food. I mean really Clay? A Vegan Chicken Wrap, that sounded bad from the time he ordered it. I can see why people like this healthier based menu, but I would rather have a burger any day.

When you are a food blogger, you almost always have to make the decision on where to go for dinner. Back in July, I made the unfortunate choice of having dinner at Johnny Rebs'. I can remember growing up liking Johnny Rebs' but those days are over. The theme the night we were here must have been desert oasis, because almost all of the items we tried were dry. This restaurant did nothing to help my food blogger credibility with my friends. Not that I have any credibility to begin with.

Birthday parties with Katie's family usually mean two things, lots of laughs, and a bad restaurant. The New Shogun provided both of these for us. We all laugh a lot whenever we are all together, but lets just say they do not have the Midas touch when it comes to picking places for birthday dinners. I mean Emily once had us go to Bubba Gump Shrimp, and this teppan place was not much better. The focus here is on the show, and obviously not the food. The only thing more dated than the decor here, is the teppan master doing the onion volcano for the 200th time.

I am sure that most of you are shocked to see Peter's Gourmade Grill on this list. I am surprised they are here as well, but after our visit to their now closed Newport location, we could not leave them off of this list. It will be hard to forget this visit, much like they could not remember to order cheese, pastrami, lids for cups, forks, and marshmallows for their Gooey Fries. One of the biggest disasters we have had in our three years of going to restaurants for this blog, but they eventually made it up when we went to their Tustin location six months later. You can check that review out here.

One of my biggest disappointments this year was that we went to Woody's Diner, and did not keep on driving a little further into the shopping center to eat at Break of Dawn. This beach themed diner has some the most boring breakfast food in the county. I can usually find a bunch of things on a menu to eat, but at Woody's the breakfast menu was very average, and the food barely met that same mark.

Okay, here we go, the best five restaurants we have been to in 2012. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in any of these restaurants, feel free to bring me a dogie bag from any of them. They are all winners.

Like most people, we came to Anepalcos Cafe for their Chilaquiles, but soon found out that every item on their menu is a hit. This Mexican/French fusion restaurant is a larger version of their other Orange location, but this one serves dinner. We have already put it down on our list to come back and try their dinners in the new year. If they are half as good as the breakfasts here, we will be in for a real treat, and you will be seeing them on our list again of the best restaurants of the year.

The only thing keeping G Burger from taking over the OC burger scene is their current location in the most northern city of OC. Let me tell you though, it is worth the drive to get here. At G Burger they do not cut corners. They make as much as they can from scratch, and the namesake G Burger with everything on it is one of the best burgers I have had. It is not all about burgers here though, they also have chicken sandwiches and their side items are not to be missed, including their onion rings. Wow!

We only have two disappointments with Slapfish: A Modern Seafood Shack. One's that they are not located closer to us, and two is that it took us until August to make it to their restaurant. So much wasted time. Both Katie and I sampled about 5 items off of their menu on our trip here. All five were fantastic. The chowder fries, the fish taco, and the major crunchy fish sandwich should not be missed. Keep an eye out for their specials as well. Theses guys are very passionate about serving fish in a responsible way, so they work with other agencies to prevent over fishing and harmful fishing practices. Serving good food with a conscience, how could Slapfish not be on this list?

My family used to go to Mr. Stox for almost every family celebration, but with their impending closure it is a good thing we found The Ranch Restaurant. The Ranch could not be in a stranger place, an industrial area, just off of Ball Road. Located on the bottom floor of the Extron building, this saloon/restaurant is the dream of Extron owner, Andrew Edwards. He wanted a place where he could listen to country music, and also serve some of the best food around. Mission accomplished. The Ranch has a seasonal driven menu that is not overly large, but whatever you choose from it will be great. We are looking forward to many more family celebrations here.

Nothing sparks debate quite like pizza, so let the conversation start. The best pizza I had this year was from Tony's Little Italy Pizza. This is the real deal, Chicago style pizza that you thought you could not get out in Southern California. The pizzas here are deep dish, and full of toppings, sauce, and cheese. I struggled to eat two slices, and I am a big eater. Make sure you call in your orders, because these big boy pizzas take over 45 minutes to make, but are well worth the time.

So there is the list of our top five restaurants for 2012. I want to just acknowledge a few other restaurants that just were outside of the top five, in no particular order. Game Day Hot Dogs, De Simones Sandwiches, Mick's Karma Bar, Park Avenue, Bruxie, Crow Bar Kitchen, Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen, Chapter One: the Modern Local, Soho Taco, Nick's Laguna Beach, Stack's Pancake House, Tap's Fish House and Brewery, Pee Wee's Hot Dogs and Burgers, Shortstop BBQ, Crow Burger Kitchen, and Bayside Restaurant. Thanks to all of you for some very memorable meals out.

Special thanks go out to all of my dining companions this year. Thanks for allowing me to dictate where we would be eating, allowing me to snap pictures of your food, and then answering my endless questions about how you liked the food. We had such a good time, let's do it again in 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Another Night in the IE at Anchos

Anchos Southwest Grill and Bar
10773 Hole Ave.
Riverside, CA 92505

Getting back from our vacation, we were going to be swapping pictures with Sabrina and Anthony, who live in Corona. Since we've been back we had not had Mexican food in a long while. Meanwhile, my Uncle Jerry has been raving about this restaurant in Riverside since September. So it seemed like Anchos would be the natural choice for us to quench our Mexican food cravings, and satisfy my Uncle's request that we try this restaurant. It was off to Anchos we go.

Anchos has been anchored in the Inland Empire for over twenty years now. Almost everyone that lives in the IE knows about this restaurant. They have won numerous awards for their food. Anchos has been mentioned in "Best of Lists" from Inland Empire Magazine, the Press Enterprise, as well as other media sources. We arrived here on a Saturday night at about 7:30, and the place was packed. The location is a little odd. They share a shopping center with the County of Riverside Health Agency. This shopping center is kind of off to itself, in a heavily residential area. It was promising that even with the hidden location of this restaurant, we still had a ten minute wait for a table.

The outside of Anchos reminded me of what some of the old El Torito's used to look like. White stucco buildings, with wood logs sticking out near the roof line, lending to the hacienda kind of vibe. The inside was one giant room, full of tables. They must have had at least forty tables in this restaurant. The large, boisterous  crowd really gave this place a life of its own. The inside of this restaurant really reminded me of a Chevy's. The menu here is pretty large, but we finally decided what to order. Let's see what this Riverside culinary landmark had in store for us.

Most places just give you Chips and Salsa, but at Anchos they also give you a refillable basket of flour tortillas. I had not noticed it while we were being seated, but in the middle of the dining room was a tortilla making station. We all really enjoyed this touch. They even gave out butter to go along with these tortillas. There is something magical about freshly made tortillas. They just make the world a happier place. Thank goodness for the tortillas, because the tortilla chips were not the best here. They are made here, but are very thin and needed more substance behind them. The salsa is also made at Anchos. This salsa did have a little heat behind it, but I like a chunkier salsa than this overly blended one.

As is customary when it is on the menu, Katie always has to order a side of Guacamole ($4.00). This guacamole featured very fresh avocados, but the guacamole needed to be seasoned a little more. Not the worst guacamole we have had, but it needed something extra added to it.

We already had the tortillas, so it was natural that we get the Queso Flameado ($9.99). I have had something similar to this called Queso Fundido in other restaurants, so I was looking forward to Anchos take on this dish. This stringy and thick dip is made of cheese and chorizo. This is a very heavy and greasy appetizer, but it is oh so good. Kind of hard to scoop out of the bowl, but it went well with the tortillas and the guacamole. The chorizo added a nice bite to the dip, and helped prevent a cheese overload. We all would get this appetizer again.

Before we delve into each of our meals, I wanted to show how crowded our table got after they brought out the food. Yes, for some reason they serve their rice and beans on separate plates at Anchos. They also had separate plates for the chiles rellenos that came with mine and Anthony's combo meal. Maybe to conserve space and eliminate waste, Anchos should consider serving their beans and rice family style, out of one bowl for an entire table. Just a thought I had after looking at this picture.

Starting off our entrees will be Sabrina's selection for the evening, the Chicken Enchiladas ($11.99). At this point of the blog, I would usually say something sarcastic about my table mate Sabrina, but I am going to refrain from this. It is the holiday season after all. Speaking of the holidays, Anchos gives you a choice on what sauce you want over your enchiladas; red, green, or Christmas sauce, which is a combination of both red and green sauce. The menu says this is a specialty of the Santa Fe area. Sabrina probably does not even know where Santa Fe is, but she thought these enchiladas were just okay. She liked the green sauce better than the red, and felt the chicken was just average. The serving size of this meal was on the large size, even without including the rice and beans. I know Anchos is busy, but they definitely need to work on their plating. From the looks of this plate, they just plopped these two enchiladas down.

The Chicken Fajitas ($14.99) are done a little differently here at Anchos. They do not come out steaming hot and sizzling, and they do not include bell peppers. Besides the grilled onions buried underneath the chicken, all of the other produce is placed on yet another plate. I am not a big fajita fan. I actually like that these fajitas did not come with bell peppers and I did not miss the sizzle that makes other diners in the area take notice. I applaud you Anchos for taking a stand on how you prepare your fajitas. That is where the accolades for this dish stop though. I felt awful for Katie to have to try to get through this meal. Lesson number one about Anchos, skip all chicken. This chicken was so dry it was like sand paper going down. No amount of refried beans could make this taste any better. After getting home and reading the reviews, everyone seems to be in agreement that the steak is the way to go at Anchos. Sorry Katie, I wish I would have known this before we came here. Not only was the chicken dry, but it was also flavorless. It really needed more seasoning. I took her leftovers home, but could not make them edible the next day either.

Both Anthony and I got the same thing, which usually means that I have to write less, but at Anchos, Our Number One Combination Dinner ($15.50) came on a whopping four plates, so no shortage of writing for me. Let's start with plate number one. This combination meal came with two chicken enchiladas, a crispy beef taco, and a tamale. The chicken enchiladas came Christmas style, with both red and green sauce. Both of these sauces were pretty pedestrian. Not too much going on with these enchiladas. The chicken was dry, but not as dry as in the fajitas. The tamale was probably the best thing in this combo meal, and even that was not memorable. I'm not even sure if it was a pork or beef tamale. I remember it being semi-moist, but not big on flavor. The Beef Taco was probably the most disappointing thing on this plate. It was not filled with very much beef, no cheese anywhere to be found here, and the tortilla had a supermarket shelf quality to it. I only ate half of it. Taco Bell makes better tacos than this.

Plates two and three were the Beans and Rice. Again the theme of the night went unchanged, because both of these tasted like nothing. I liked that they had hunks of chicken in their rice, but then I realized it was the same dry, flavorless chicken that was in the fajitas. The refried beans were a little on the soupy side, and were only useful when trying to make other items we had more moist. When we packed some of our food to go, both of us left these two plates on the table.

The last of our four plates was the Chile Relleno. At Anchos they make their chile rellenos with Poblano chilies. The Poblano chili is a very mild chili, so this relleno lacked the bite of other ones we have had. They stuffed the Poblano with jack cheese, then doused it with a red sauce that almost resembled tomato sauce. I was a little more forgiving about this chili relleno than Anthony, who said it, "tasted like nothing. No flavor whatsoever." I thought it was okay, but nothing I would get again.

So if you have made it this far through our review, you know this is not going to be one of our highest rated restaurants. I do give Anchos some leeway here though. They are not claiming to be a Mexican restaurant. It's in their name that they are a Southwestern grill, so that will explain the lack of heat in their food, but it does not explain the lack of flavor or the overcooked chicken. Our meal started out good with the freshly made tortillas and queso flameado, but after that it was just one low light after another. Maybe we should have just stuck to their Southwestern specialties like their ribs, skirt steak, or bacon wrapped shrimp. These are the items that get praised on-line at Anchos. The prices were pretty high here. There are no combination plates that are under $14, but you do get a lot of mediocre food with these combination plates. The service the night we were here was pretty solid. Our waiter had a very pleasant personality and checked on us often enough. It is safe to say we will not be going back to Anchos anytime soon. This place is all yours Uncle Jerry.

Out of five navel oranges, (because the city of Riverside is not only home to Anchos, but it is also the birthplace of the navel orange in California, way back in 1874), five being best to zero being worst, Anchos Southwest Grill and Bar gets 2 navel oranges.

For more information about Anchos, check out their web site here:

Anchos Southwest Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A New Burger Comes to Town, Welcome Smashburger

26541 Aliso Creek Rd. Ste. C
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

As we near the end of 2012, it has become clear to me that the burger craze of this year will keep rolling right along well into next year, and who knows how long after that. The OC area has been inundated with new burger places this year and last. I for one, welcome all of these burger places, many of which are from outside this area. The Habit, Five Guys, Boardwalk Burgers and Fries, and Umami Burger are all encroaching on what used to be, or for some people still is,  In N Out territory. I will leave the debate for which burger place is best for another post, but for now I was one of the lucky ones to be able to attend a media tasting of another newcomer to the area, Smashburger.

I had heard of Smashburger before, because I read a few San Diego food blogs. There are 11 San Diego location of this new burger concept, and now they are spreading northward. The food bloggers to our south really enjoy the burgers here, so I knew I would be in for a treat. It just so happens that this latest location is mere blocks away from my, "real" job, so I was able to make the lunchtime media preview of Smashburger. I was also lucky enough to bring my friend Steve along, so he could get the food blogger and Smashburger experience as well.

Back to Smashburger though. To say that they have shot out of nowhere would be an understatement. They recently topped Fast Casual's 2012 Movers and Shaker list, and was also named one of America's Most Promising Companies by Forbes magazine in 2011. With these great accolades it is no wonder that they are now operating 191 restaurants across the US, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Costa Rica. All this from a company started less than five years ago.

Here's a quick look around the place. Ordering is done at the counter, where you are given a number, then the food is brought out for you. The interior design of Smashburger has a clean and sleek design. Much like other burger places their logos and walls are dominated by red and white colors. I really enjoyed the video menu boards above the counter. They gave this burger spot a more modern feel. For those of you that would like an adult beverage to go along with your meal, they offer wine by the glass and at least five different bottled beers. Some of the beer selections that I saw were Corona, Stone IPA, Stella's and two more that I did not catch the names of. I was here on my lunch hour, so there would be no drinking for me, but I did my fair share of eating. This is what came to out table after we had ordered.

I guess we will start with my good friend Steve's meal first. Steve had the Avocado Club Smashburger ($5.99). This burger came with avocado, tomato, lettuce, ranch dressing, applewood-smoked bacon, and mayo, all on a multi-grain bun. Steve was a very happy boy eating this burger. The burger was cooked exactly medium, which is the way he likes them. The produce at Smashburger was all very fresh, and really added some nice flavors and textures to the burger. The avocado was especially creamy. The mayo and ranch combination worked well, and the bacon here is not to be missed. I was a little unsure about the multi-grain bun, but it did not taste as healthy as I would have imagined. It held all of the burger parts well. The Chili Cheese Fries ($2.99) were a good sized portion. The fries were layered with a meat based chili, cheddar cheese, onions, and some of the hottest jalapenos we have had. What I liked most about these chili fries was that they were layered well. I hate when places put all of the toppings on top of the fries, so when you get down to the bottom, all you have left are plain fries. The chili was not a spicy chili, but the fresh jalapenos had enough heat to remedy that situation. I could tell that Steve was very happy with his meal, because this was the only time I can remember him being so quiet. Thanks Smashburger.

The base model that I judge any burger place on is their version of a bacon cheeseburger. At Smashburger it is their Classic Smash with Bacon added ($7.49). This burger was seasoned well, and the applewood smoked bacon was one of the best I have had on a fast food burger. The juiciness of this burger needs to be mentioned as well. For a little extra kick, I got the spicy chipotle mayo to add to the burger. The sauce did not overpower the burger, but complimented it rather nicely. The egg bun used at Smashburger was very fresh, and pillowy soft. I ordered the Smashfries (1.99) to go along with this burger, but I did not get a chance to snap a picture of them before they were gone. I know, real rookie food blogger mistake. Anyways, the smashfries are their regular french fries tossed with rosemary, olive oil, and garlic. Since these are the same price as the regular fries, it is a no-brainer that I would get these again. The french fries were a skinny, fast food fry, but with the addition of the garlic, rosemary and olive oil, it really kicked them up a notch in the flavor department. The garlic was the most prominent, which was fine by me because I am a garlic fiend.

I was pretty full from the burger and fries, but I was convinced to try the Chili Cheese Dog ($4.99). This all beef Angus hot dog came with chili, cheese, onions, and more of those hot jalapenos. The hot dog had a great beefy flavor, but I had to take a few of the jalapenos off to avoid some of the heat they emitted. The chili by itself was pretty mild, but t congealed well with the hot dog, cheese and onions. My only complaint about this chili cheese dog was that it needed a little more cheese. Other than that, this was a very solid chili cheese hot dog.

No, I did not eat all of this as well. I snapped a few pictures of other people's food before they got the chance to eat it. Special thanks to my good friend, Shelby, from Glitterful Felt Stories for letting me take pictures before they dug in. She seemed very pleased with her food. Smashburgers is not just all about burgers and hot dogs, they also offer four salads as well. I did not get a chance to sample the Baja Cobb Salad ($5.99) above, but it was a very generous serving size. The Veggie Frites ($2.99) are not going to replace my love of french fries anytime soon, but they were a crowd favorite on this afternoon. The OC Burger ($5.99) will be the next burger that I will try on my next trip here. At Smashburger they have a signature burger for each region, and in Orange County it is the aptly named OC Burger. This burger comes with portabella mushrooms, arugula, grilled onions. Swiss cheese, and truffle mayo. That sounds like a winning combo for me, and I can not wait to try it.

As a special treat at the end of our meal, we were taken to the back of the restaurant and made our own Smashburger, with company founder Tom Ryan. To say that we were in awe of Tom Ryan would be an understatement. My buddy Steve, pictured above on the right with Tom Ryan, called him, "a food genius". Why the high praise for Mr. Ryan? He only created the Stuffed Crust pizza and the Lovers line of pizzas for Pizza Hut, the McGriddle, Big and Tasty, and the Dollar Menu at McDonald's, and as if that was not enough, he also came up with the Steakhouse Beef Dip and the Sammie's at Quizno's. Quite an impressive resume to say the least. Both Steve and I attempted to make our own Smashburger. I can admit that Steve's turned out  better than mine, but I would expect that since Steve is a butcher by trade. The grill at Smashburger can handle only four burgers at a time, so each patty gets the attention it deserves. The 100 percent Angus beef is packed loosely into a ball, and then flattened with a tool that Tom came up with. The secret to creating a good Smashburger is not to over handle the meat. The burger is flipped just one time, and then it is ready to be placed on the bun. It was a real honor to be able to cook with this legend of fast food. Both Steve and I still talk about this experience we shared together.

After this introduction to Smashburger, we are looking forward to our next visit. The thing that sets Smashburger apart from its competition is the quality of ingredients that they use. All of the produce, meats, and condiments had a freshness that you do not see from a fast food concept. The menu is varied enough that anyone can definitely find something on it that they will like. We hope to see this burger trend of other regions favorite burger places invading Orange County continue into the new year and beyond. As their expansion into OC continues, Smashburger may just become one of our counties favorite burger spots in the very near future.

Special thanks to everyone at Smashburger for the opportunity to experience Smashburger first hand. Starting at the top, we would like to thank Tom Ryan for talking with us and allowing us to flip burgers with him. We also need to mention franchise owner of this location, and the Mission Viejo Mall location, Ernie Sandoval. Ernie, you may have a hit on your hands here. Our gratitude also goes out to the staff of Smashburger, all of whom took very good care of us on this particular afternoon. Lastly, we need to thank Ali Metzger at Bolt PR for the invitation to this great event. Thanks so much Ali, we had a great time.

Experience Smashburger for yourself. Visit their website for locations and other information here:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cruising Up to Stanton's Park Avenue

Park Ave.
11200 Beach Blvd.
Stanton, CA 90680

When I put my mind to visiting a restaurant in every city in OC, I had no doubts where I would be eating when we finally made it to Stanton. I have lived in OC all of my life, and yet I can not ever remember spending any significant time in this three square mile city. I am sure Stanton is a great city to live in, but I guess I have never had a reason to visit this land locked metropolis, until I had to pick a restaurant to eat at here. When people think restaurants in Stanton, Park Ave. is almost always mentioned near the top of their list, so we made the trek up the five freeway to see what all the fuss was about.

Park Ave  has gotten a lot of acclaim throughout the years. They have been called the best restaurant in Orange County, by Orange Coast Magazine. They have received glowing reviews from both the LA Times and the Orange County Register. They are mentioned in the very condensed OC portion of the Zagat guide. In fact, on your way to the restroom at Park Ave, they have plastered their walls with tons of reviews for you to peruse. With all of this buildup, I was really looking forward to a great dinner.

We had seven o'clock dinner reservations the day before Thanksgiving. I had expected the restaurant to be dead, because when I called to make reservations they said they would be closing early because of the holiday, but there were plenty of people dining inside when we arrived, and well after we left. From the outside, this restaurant resembles a 70's style house that you could imagine the Brady kids living here. I checked for astro-turf in the backyard, but was surprised to have found none.

Once inside the restaurant, the vibe changes to, "rat pack" sleek. It would not be a stretch to think of Sammy, Frank and Dean eating here for dinner. The front dining room, where we were seated, had about fifteen tables or so, and is dominated by a large rock wall. The color scheme at Park Ave. is governed by browns and dark red booths. The lighting is low, but the noise level in the dining room was pretty high. Enough with the ambiance of this restaurant, let's get to the food.

Starting us off is the bread basket that was placed on our table after sitting down. The bread here was pretty good. Not anything that rocked our world, but a nice start to the meal, and because we were so hungry, this bread basket disappeared rather quickly.

I'm a sucker for avocados, so when I saw that they had Grilled Avocado ($10) on the menu, I knew we would be trying this appetizer. Avocado never disappoints, and it doesn't here either. This simple appetizer is   seasoned with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, then served alongside sourdough toast. The grilling of the avocado really brought out its creaminess. This would be a great, easy way to prepare avocados at home. The sourdough went well with this, but the avocado was so big we definitely could have used more crisps to go along with this.

I am really picky about macaroni and cheese, so I usually do not try it in restaurants. Both Katie and I could not resist trying the Spicy Lobster Mac N Cheese ($15) at Park Avenue though. This mac and cheese was topped with bread crumbs, toasted red peppers, and made with three cheeses. We did not get the spiciness that I thought we would, but that was made up for by the abundance of lobster in this cup. Every spoonful of mac and cheese contained a very generous amount of lobster as well. The mac and cheese was very comforting, but could not out shine the lobster here. This was a small portion, but very rich in flavor.

Wedge salads are a lot of trouble to eat, but they are hard for me not to order. This Iceberg Wedge ($8) was prepared simply, with only peppered bacon, a few tomatoes, and a blue cheese dressing. The dressing here must have been homemade. It had a great thick texture to it, with a great blue cheese kick. The bacon was crisp and the pepper really showed up here as well. The iceberg is grown in their garden, and was very fresh. One of the better wedge salads I have had.

As much as I love wedge salads, Katie's, "go to", salad seems to be the Heirloom Tomatoes ($12). Park Ave's version of a Caprese salad came with fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette. She called this salad, "one of the best I have had". All of the ingredients were so fresh that it was hard for her to say anything bad about this dish. The tomatoes had a great freshness about them that really brought out their sweetness.

We might as well stick with what Katie ordered for dinner, the special of the night, the Wild Swordfish ($30). This swordfish was topped with a mound of arugula and lemon juice. Katie had not had swordfish before, so she was a little taken back by the steak like feel of the fish. She did end up liking this though. She liked that the dish came together by having the bitter tasting arugula, with the sourness from the lemons and the sweetness of the fingerling potatoes. Really made this a balanced plate. She's not sure she would get this again, but was glad to have tried it on this visit.

Before I started this blog three years ago, I had never had a short rib. I know, sheltered right? Now I can not get enough of them. The Bone In Short Rib ($30) was so tender it just fell off the bone when I lifted up my fork to cut it. This short rib was like a giant piece of the most tender stew meat you have ever had. Not over seasoned, it let the natural meat flavors rule the roost. This was served with a braised celery, which added a nice texture to the dish, but not much else, and a horseradish whipped potato. The promise of horseradish was diminished after my first few bites of these potatoes. I liked the smooth texture of the potato, but the flavor was pretty pedestrian. I would get this again though, because the short rib was so good.

Dessert time at Park Ave and Katie got to choose first. She had the Macintosh and Golden Delicious Apple Turnover ($8). This turnover was topped with a brown sugar and bourbon ice cream. All of the ice creams at Park Ave are made in house by Head Baker, Alice Castro. Not the best tart she has had, but what made this dessert for her was the brown sugar bourbon ice cream. It really kicked this dessert up a few notches.

Since I saw that they make their own ice cream here, and that they have a Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sundae ($7), I decided to splurge with my own dessert as well. This sundae was pretty good sized, with three scoops of peanut butter ice cream as the base. The ice cream was very smooth, with a nice consistency. I really got the peanut butter flavor from the ice cream. The sundae was complimented with mini chocolate chips and a marshmallow cream that was nicely toasted on top. I am not too big of a fan of marshmallow, but this one was pretty good. I would have liked more chocolate on this sundae, but that is just because I am a chocolate and peanut butter fiend. Not a bad end to this meal though.

Park Ave. was a very solid place to have dinner. I think a lot of the hype around this restaurant stems from the fact that it is not in a place that you would expect to get this kind of meal. This is the kind of restaurant that could exist easily in other areas of OC though. The food was all pretty good, with very few exceptions. I thought some of the portion sizes were a little on the small side for the price being paid, but all of the food here is very fresh. They have their own large garden in the back, where they grow many of their own herbs, fruits, and vegetables. This extra effort really shows up in the quality of the food they serve. The service on the night we were here was very good. Rachel kept great tabs on us all night, and kept things moving along at a very gentle pace. After finishing up our meal, we were invited to stroll through the gardens in the back. Like many bloggers and print media people before me have said, it was hard to believe we were in Stanton. We were, and I can now say that I have spent some considerable time in the city of Stanton.

Out of five birds of paradise, (because this is the official flower of the city of Stanton), five being best to zero being worst, Park Ave gets 3.5 birds of paradise.

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