Friday, June 29, 2012

Flapping Our Wings at Crow Burger Kitchen - CLOSED

Crow Burger Kitchen
3107 Newport Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA 92663

We have been on a real burger kick recently. It could have something to do with it being summer and the smell of all the barbecues around my neighborhood. More than likely though, it is probably the fact that I am a burger-aholic. If there was a BA, (Burger's Anonymous), I would probably never get my three-day chip. Luckily there is no BA, so I do not have to worry about weaning myself off of burgers. I had this place in my sights after we ate at their sister location, Crow Bar Kitchen, and I found out that they have another restaurant devoted to hamburgers. That was all I had to hear, and with that, we were on our way.

Crow Burger Kitchen is located on the Newport peninsula, in a recently revamped shopping center that used to contain an Albertson's and a KFC. Both of these are long gone now, replaced with a remodeled Pavilions and a Chipotle. I had heard that the owners of this shopping center wanted to liven things up by adding some new life to this shopping venue, and Crow Burger Kitchen is one restaurant that is doing just that.

Crow Burger Kitchen is an offshoot of the very successful, Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona Del Mar. The two restaurants appear like they want to be independent of each other though. Both of their web sites have no mention of the other restaurant. They do not even share any common burgers with each other. They do share the same top-secret blend of prime chuck, short rib, hanger steak, and brisket to make their burgers. I was hoping I would like Crow Burger Kitchen as much as liked the Crow Bar and Kitchen. Let's see if this is the case.

We arrived at the restaurant at six on a Saturday night to a thirty-minute wait. Guess we should have made reservations, but our friend Becky is notoriously late, so we knew we had some time to kill. After being seated I noticed the hip and energetic staff buzzing around the place. The restaurant is darkened, and dominated by a brick wall, and lots of light-colored wood.

I admit I am no beer connoisseur. I asked the waitress to bring me something light, so she brought me a Joe's American Pilsner ($5)  from Avery Brewing Company. She was right on the mark with this selection. Light and refreshing. This pilsner did not get in the way of any of the foods that were upcoming. You can tell that they take their beer and wine selections very seriously at Crow Burger Kitchen. These are not your run of the mill beers that you are going to see at all of the other restaurants. I admit to not knowing more than a quarter of their offerings, but like I said, I am by no means a beer expert. Even though I have drunk my fair share of the golden brewed elixir.

We each picked a side item to go with our burgers, and this was Katie's choice, the Grilled Green Bean Fries ($3.95). When I heard her order these I did not think I would like these. They were actually seasoned really well and served with a nice olive tapenade. If these were just a little crisper they would have been even better.

One item that both Crow restaurants do have in common is the Duck Fat Fries ($3.95). These fries are as rich as they sound. Again, like the green beans, they could have been a little crispier, but they were still good. These were served with house-made ketchup that was not as sweet as store the store-bought version but was still good.

The last of our side items was the Vidalia Onion Rings ($5.95). I thought these were okay, but the breading separated from the onion very easily. This breading was very heavy, but not too greasy. The serving size of these were not overly large, six rings. So that works out to a dollar per ring, not such a great value.

Both Katie and Becky ordered the same burger, the aptly named, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger ($8.95). This cheesy burger comes on a wheat English muffin with black pepper cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese, garlic mayo, and an onion ring. Both of the girls really liked this burger, especially Becky, who paired this with a cabernet. This burger did feature lots of cheese, but the cheese did not overpower the meat here like I thought it would. I was also a little apprehensive about the cream cheese on this, but it melted down to a nice consistency. The onion ring added a nice crunch, and the English muffin really held everything together well.

I had looked at the menu before we got to the restaurant, so I knew I would be having the Hangover Burger ($8.95). This burger was almost made just for me. Fried hen's egg, bacon, and sharp cheddar joined the 5-ounce burger patty on a buttermilk bun. A real breakfast burger. The meat was cooked very nicely, and seasoned well. The fried egg was plenty runny after I broke the yolk. The bacon was thick and full of delicious flavor. My only minor complaint would be that this needed a mayonnaise type condiment of some kind to put this over the top. Really good burger though.

Crow Burger Kitchen is just as good as their sister restaurant, Crow Bar Kitchen. All of the items were very good, and the burgers are superior to most out there. There are only eight burgers on their menu, but they also offer an option to build your perfect burger, so the combinations are immense. I did not think the prices were out of control for gourmet burgers. The service was great the night we were here. They were busy, but our waitress was hustling and checked on us regularly. I imagine that wait times for tables can be quite long here because a lot of people eat and then have drinks at the same table. Glad we made it to Crow Burger Kitchen, and we are looking forward to having a summer filled with great burgers just like these.

Out of five pieces of licorice, (because there used to be a brand of black licorice named, "Crows" in the early 20th century), five being best to zero being worst, Crow Burger Kitchen gets 3.5 pieces of licorice.

For more information on Crow Burger Kitchen, click here:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mastering Dessert at Mastro's

Mastro's Steakhouse
633 Anton Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Okay, yes this a review of Mastro's Steakhouse, but you will not see any meat in this review. That was not our purpose on this trip. The steak aroma that wafted through the air was definitely intoxicating, but we had just come from another restaurant, and were only here for dessert. Well not just any dessert, but the dessert we have been hearing about for sometime now, the Mastro's Signature Warm Butter Cake.

We got to Mastro's at about 7 on a Sunday night. We did not have a reservation, but we were planning on sitting in the bar area. We were directed down the hallway, and found an empty table in the darkened lounge area. They had a couple of musicians playing hits from Billy Joel, Hall and Oates, as well as others. The vibe here was of a fancy restaurant, but maybe because we were in the bar area, it seemed a little less stuffy.

I was surprised to learn that Mastro's has only been around since 1999. It seems like I have been hearing about this place forever. Started in Scottsdale, Arizona, this very respected steakhouse has grown to nine locations, with a tenth opening up in Palm Desert later this fall. OC is blessed to have two locations of Mastro's, with the other being located in nearby Newport Beach.

Just because we were here for dessert, did not mean that I had to forgo a chance to have a birthday cocktail. I ordered a Rum and Coke ($8.00). I usually do not show the drinks I have on this blog, but this one I thought was unique because they gave me this tiny bottle of soda along with my rum. Very rare that a place does not shoot the soda out of a gun. Of course I only used a less than half of the Coke.

We were here for the cake, but Katie also wanted some Chocolate Gelato ($9) for dessert. I mean, who could have cake without ice cream? Okay, technically gelato, but you get the point. This came with three scoops of the delicious, light gelato. The chocolate was very prevalent here, and Katie called this gelato, "superior".

Now the reason we were here, the Mastro's Signature Warm Butter Cake ($14). This picture does not do this dessert justice. Biting into this is just like I imagine how winning the lottery would feel. A loss of your senses, a feeling of an outer body experience, then the realization that this is real life. This butter cake was all that it was hyped up to be. This was served with vanilla ice cream on top and some assorted fruit around the outside. The cake itself was mildly crunchy on the outside, and warm and buttery on the inside. Kind of tasted like a very rich Twinkie, but much better. The only thing that would have made this greater would have been more ice cream on it. Be warned, this is very rich though. I almost ate this all by myself, and paid the price for it, but it was worth it. Get this cake!

Just in case we did not have enough dessert on our table, our server brought out this Chocolate Sin Cake complimentary, because Katie had mentioned it was my birthday. I wonder what people around us must have thought with all of the desserts cluttering our table? Anyways, this cake was moist, and predictably had a rich chocolate taste. This is the cake to get if you are into chocolate. I shared this with my parents the next day, and it was still moist. Just in case this was not rich enough, they gave us a plate of real whipped cream to top this with. With all of our desserts, we did not need it.

I know this a dessert review about a place that is famous for their steaks, but the desserts need to be acknowledged here as well. Even if you are too full from eating steak here, leave room for dessert, you will be sorry if you miss the butter cake.

Out of five Arabian horses, (because Mastro's was founded in Scottsdale, home of the aptly named Scottsdale Arabian Horse show, which has been held since 1955, and draws thousands of visitors to the area), five being best to zero being worst, Mastro's Steakhouse gets 3.5 Arabian horses.

For more information on Mastro's Steakhouse, click here:

Mastro's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Birthday Dinner in Newport!

Cucina Alessa
6700 W. Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Birthday dinner time, but where to go? Katie would be paying, so I did not want to go out for a crazy expensive meal, but I still wanted something nice. I checked out my list of restaurants that we have to try and found Cucina Alessa. So we cut the birthday nap short and headed to Newport Beach.

Cucina Alessa is located a little off the beaten track in Newport. It is right on PCH, right before you cross the bridge to head into Huntington Beach. The parking lot is really tiny, so that might be a problem during peak meal times and when the beach is crowded. We were given the option of sitting inside or out, so we opted for the small, but nice patio out front.

Cucina Alessa has three locations, all in beach towns, Laguna, HB, and this one in Newport. Chef and Owner, Alessandro Pirozzi, was born in Naples and learned his cooking style from his grandmother. His menu has all the usual Italian favorites from all over Italy. Let's see if this will be a birthday dinner to remember, or will I forget about it like my advancing age.

First up, a check of the Bread Basket and Pesto Dip. The bread here was simple, but we could not stop eating it. They cut a sturdy Italian bread into strips and paired it with a solid pesto dip which included basil and olive oil. Not a bad start.

Nothing was really speaking to me on their appetizer menu until I saw the Mamma Mia ($15.99). Three meatballs in a ragu with burrata on top of them. These meatballs were pretty good-sized, and the burrata cheese made these very rich. The ragu was mild but still managed to have a good flavor. These meatballs were served with focaccia, which had a pizza crust kind of vibe, good for dipping into the sauce. We would not hesitate to order this appetizer again.

We both got side salads at Cucina Alessa. Katie selected the Della Casa ($4.50). This salad came with organic mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and shaved Parmesan, with an Italian herb vinaigrette. Katie called this salad, "good, but nothing out of the ordinary". She did remark that the vegetables used here were very fresh. I went with a Julius Caesar Salad ($4.75). For a side salad, this was a decent size. This salad had plenty of Caesar dressing and garlic Parmesan croutons. The shaved pecorino was plentiful and really added to this salad.

Katie really seemed to zero in on what she was going to order very quickly, the Pollo Tortellini ($14.99). This plate was made up of rosemary chicken, shallots, and green onions, all in a tomato vodka cream sauce. This plate came out of the kitchen nice and hot, and Katie could not hold back her praise for this meal. She felt it was one of the best pasta dishes she has had in a long time. She could really taste the rosemary with the chicken. The sauce was full of flavor, without being too heavy. She would definitely get this pasta again here.

Unlike Katie, it took me forever to come up with what I wanted for my birthday dinner. I finally went with the Penne Funghi E Salsicce ($14.99), which is just a fancy way of saying mushroom and sausage penne. I almost always gravitate towards a sausage dish in an Italian restaurant. I might have to change it up a little bit in the future. I really liked the sauce in this pasta dish, but this meal really lacked the pop I was expecting. It needed more sausage, and some red pepper flakes could have helped out here as well. The pasta is freshly made, and I could definitely tell the difference. Good-sized portion, but I will try something different on future visits here.

We really enjoyed our visit to Cucina Alessa. The restaurant, like the parking situation, is very cramped though. The patio, where we were seated was very narrow and tables seemed to be very close to each other. Inside seemed to be the same and very noisy. The menu at Cucina Alessa is diverse enough that you should be able to find something you will definitely like. They have all of the Italian standards, made with very fresh ingredients. I am looking forward to trying more of their menu and finding my, "go to" item here. The service was good on this night. Our waiter kept things moving along at a decent pace. The restaurant has a laid back, but nice feel to it. Not overly stuffy, but not a place to wear your swim trunks after a day at the beach. Prices are pretty good, especially for this area, and the portions sizes were good as well. Glad we finally made it to Cucina Alessa, looking forward to coming back.

Out of five tongue depressors, (not because this place will make you sick, but because this restaurant is just down the street from Hoag Hospital, and it is the largest employer in the city of Newport Beach), five being best to zero being worst, Cucina Alessa gets 3 tongue depressors.

For more information about Cucina Alessa, click here:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Meat-topia at Agora in Irvine!

Agora Churrascaria
1830 Main St.
Irvine, CA 92614

After leaving Agora Churrascaria, I came straight home and started looking for flights to Brazil. I do not eat Brazilian food all the time, but if it is as good as we had this night, it might be time for me to hop a plane and experience it for a few weeks or so.

We recently were invited to a blogger's dinner at Agora Churrascaria. Our hostess's for the evening were the wonderful Diana Daniele and equally great Jane Gillespie. They brought together the best blogger's that Orange County has to offer. I have read many of these authors blogs way before I even thought of starting this blog. Anita from Diary of a Mad Hungry Woman, Tom from Tom's Foodie Blog, Griffin, from Griffin Eats OC, Bobby from 100 Eats 100 Days, Austin representing The Hungry Dogg, Suki from Eat Suki Eat, the very talented Anne Marie, from Brekkie Fan's Blog, and the cantankerous duo of Kat from Kat's 9 Lives and Minerva from Much Ado About Fooding were all in attendance. As great as the company was, the food would not be overshadowed.

Before we get a look at the food, first a little bit about Agora. Agora is a Brazilian steakhouse opened by Scott Im in 2005. He is Korean born, but grew a love of Brazilian food while spending part of his youth in the South American country. Agora is an all you can eat meat lovers paradise. Meat is brought to tables by gauchos, who slice the various cuts of meat right off of the same metal skewers they are cooked on.

I snuck into the kitchen to take a few pictures of the meat cooking. Leonardo, the man holding the skewers above, is the General Manager of Agora and he told me that they go through about a ton of meat a week here. They offer 12 different cuts of meat for lunch service, and then that number jumps to 16 for dinner. It is not all about the meat at Agora though.

At Agora they feature authentic Brazilian drinks. They have four versions of the famous Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha. I sampled three versions on this night. The Original Caipirinha, which contains Sagatiba, Cachaca, lime and sugar was my second favorite version of this drink on this night. It tasted very refreshing, kind of like a cousin to the Mojito. Other versions included a Passion Fruit Caipirinha and, my favorite drink of the night, the Strawberry Basil Caipirinha. The canned Brazilian soda, Guarana was also a table favorite for the non-drinking crowd. Katie thought this was a sweeter version of Sprite, that was more refreshing.

Before the meat even hit the table, we snacked on gluten free, Brazilian Cheese Bread, Fried Bananas, and a salsa like, Tomato Vinaigrette. The cheese bread bowl was refilled numerous times throughout the night. I liked the banana as well. It was kind of nice to switch from savory to sweet every so often.

Not in the mood for meat? They had a well stocked salad bar featuring over 16 different salads, plus a selection of cold cuts, cheeses, and shrimp cocktail. Standouts for us were the Caesar Salad, Potato Salad, and the Shrimp Cocktail.

I knew the meat was on its way, but I had to go through the hot food bar at least once. I could have made a whole meal out of just the Black Bean Stew. There were pieces of what I thought was linguica in it. Very good when paired with the Garlic Rice. Other items of note were the Clams, Collard Greens, and Mashed Potatoes. All of this was a precursor to the main event, so lets bring on the meat!

At Agora there is only one rule that you have to follow. Green means go, and red means stop. As long as you have your coaster turned to the green side, the gauchos will keep bringing you meat, until you can not pack anymore away. Some meats were slid off the skewers, and others you had to use tongs to grab. I caught the hang of this rather quickly.

Wow, and you thought I was just kidding about all of the meat! This is just 12 of the 16 plus offerings on this night. My favorites included the Skirt Steak, Lamb Chop, and the Linguisa. All of the meats were cooked perfectly here. I have been to one other all you can eat Brazilian restaurant, and all of the meats started to taste the same. This was not the case here. At Agora the meats were seasoned differently, so it avoided this problem. Other meats included Filet Mignon, Bacon Wrapped Chicken, Chicken Hearts, Top Sirloin, Top Sirloin Cap, Tri-Tip, Pork Tenderloin with Parmesan, Baked Salmon, Beef Ribs, Beef Skewers, and Filet Wrapped in Bacon. For those that wish to have their meat with a different degree of doneness, the gauchos were very accommodating, and every effort is made to get you the type of meat you are after.

By this time of the night I knew I was going to have to be wheeled out of here, but of course there is always room for dessert. Everyone around me got a different dessert, so I took a picture of all of them. I ordered the Chocolate Gelato, which was a light end to my very heavy meal. Katie got the Acai, which was topped with bananas and granola. I did sneak a bite of Kat's Cheesecake, and thought it was very creamy. I was not as fond of this Flan at Agora. It was a little too chalky for me. I like a lighter, more caramel tasting flan.

Our night at Agora was a great experience. We left very full and satisfied with our meal. This is a special occasion kind of place for sure. We would like to express again our thanks to Scott Im, Leonardo Giannotti, and all of the wonderful staff at Agora for making this a great night out for us and all of our fellow bloggers. Also, thanks again to our hostess's for the evening, Jane Gillespie and Diana Daniele. We had a great time!

For more information on Agora Churrascaria, click here:

Agora Churrascaria on Urbanspoon

Agora Churrascaria generously gave us two $50 gift cards. We would like two of our lucky readers to experience this restaurant for themselves. There are two ways to enter. One winner will be picked from the comment section on this post, and the other will be picked from the comment section for this post on our Facebook page, which can be accessed here: One comment per page, and the contest ends on Sunday, July 1st at 11:59 PM. Winner will be announced on Monday July 2nd. Good luck!