Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Can This Place Cut the Mustard?

Mustard's Chicago Style Hot Dogs
3630 Katella
Los Alamitos, CA 90720

Hockey is back. Yes, as many of you may know from knowing me, or reading this blog, I love hockey. I have been going nuts with no sports to watch. I have never really been a basketball fan, my football team was pretty much counted out when they opened up training camp, and my college basketball favorite will be lucky to make any kind of appearance in a post season tournament. To say that my teams stink, would be an understatement. So I was very excited when my beloved Ducks would be back on the ice after a delay of 113 days due to the NHL lockout.

One of my favorite days is when we divvy up our season tickets, so I can get to planning what games I will be going to. We usually do this in an area that is conducive to the three of us. My Dad works in Long Beach, Steve lives in Los Alamitos, and I live in south OC, so I am usually the one that has to drive the farthest. I don't usually mind because it gives me a chance to try a restaurant in an area that we do not frequent as much. This year we would be getting our game day tickets at Mustard's in Los Alamitos.

Mustard's is located in a small strip mall on Katella. If you blink you may miss this place. It is sandwiched by a McDonald's and Maderas Steak and Rib Restaurant. Mustard's specializes in Chicago style food, although their menu covers just about everything from chicken sandwiches, burgers, and numerous sandwiches. Not only a large menu, but they also feature daily specials which are plastered near the register. I was ready to eat, so let's see how this compares to other Chicago style food joints we have visited.

Chicago is known for their hot dogs, but I do not think they are known for their chili dogs. Nonetheless, both Steve and my Dad got the Windy City Chili Dog ($3.49). I  guess if you slap a Chicago style name on anything it becomes a Chicago kind of food. This chili dog came with the requisite poppy seed bun, onions, chili, and cheese. Both Steve and my Dad liked their dogs, as was evident by how quick they were gone from the table. The chili was not a spicy chili, but added moisture and a little flavor to this hot dog. The chili and onions were pretty plentiful on here as well.

The people of Chicago do their hot dogs a little different from the rest of us. I would describe this Classic Chicago Dog ($3.09) as a salad bar on top of a hot dog. Each of these hot dogs comes with more vegetables than I probably eat in a week. This hot dog starts with a soft poppy seed bun, and a 100 percent pure beef Vienna Kosher Style Hot Dog. The hot dog had a very nice pop to it, and the beef inside had a great flavor. Then here comes the cavalcade of veggies. The hot dog is topped with onions, relish, tomato, neon green pickle relish, a pickle spear, hot sport peppers, celery salt, and mustard. No ketchup ever touches a true Chicago dog. I learned that lesson the hard way. I took one bite with all of the veggies, but took off the tomato and the pickle spear to finish this pretty good hot dog. This version lives up to the one that I had just outside the gates of Wrigley Field. I recommend getting this dog when coming to Mustard's.

To go along with my Chicago dog I had to have a side item, so I went with the Onion Rings ($2.89). These are a very basic onion ring. Not awful, but not anything that you couldn't get anywhere else. I did like that these came with ranch dressing, without me having to ask for it.

Along with the Chicago hot dog and deep dish pizza, probably the next most iconic Chicagoland food is the Italian beef sandwich. My favorite variation of this fantastic sandwich is the Italian Beef and Sausage Combo ($6.95). You basically get two sandwiches in one with this variation. Thin sliced roast beef is placed alongside an Italian sausage in the same bun, then topped with sweet bell peppers, grilled onions, giardinera (a relish of pickled vegetables), and au jus. Normally the sandwich is dunked into the au jus, but at Mustard's they have the au jus on the side and you pour it on yourself. For someone that likes their sandwiches double dipped, I did not have enough au jus for my taste. I know I could have asked for more, but you do not get the sandwich submerged by pouring it on yourself. The sausage had a nice mild taste to it, but the Italian beef was lacking in the flavor department. It kind of tasted like nothing. The bun held up to the contents of the sandwich, but this was just a mediocre Combo sandwich.

One chili dog was not going to fill my Dad up, so for round two he got this Turkey Melt ($5.75). This turkey melt came with tomato, Swiss and American cheeses, and mayo, all on rye bread. I did not think this sandwich looked appetizing at all, but the old man had no complaints about it. The turkey patty appeared to be very thin, but again this did not last long once it hit the table. This sandwich came with a side of potato salad. The potato salad was pretty solid. Not anything that wowed us, but it was good enough.

Mustard's fills a need when you need a taste of the Windy City, and want to forgo the cost of plane tickets to the Midwest. This restaurant is not as good as Portillo's in Buena Park, but if you are nowhere near Buena Park, you can get a good Chicago dog here. The Italian beef sandwich leaves a lot to be desired, but will do in a pinch. Side items were pretty average, but on future visits I would try the chili fries or fried zucchini. You are also not going to be wowed by Mustard's ambiance either. It is a little cluttered, and predictably there is lots of Chicago memorabilia on all the walls. Service was fair, we ordered at the counter and then your number is called and you pick up your food at another window. The food did come out fairly quick. We got here at about five on a Wednesday night, and there was a steady stream of customers through the doors. The food here kind of took a backseat to the excitement we felt about a new hockey season and getting our Ducks tickets.

Out of five stovepipe hats, (since Chicago is in Illinois, and that state is known as the Land of Lincoln, and Abe is known for wearing a stovepipe hat), five being best to zero being worst, Mustard's Chicago Style Hot Dogs gets 2.5 stovepipe hats.

Mustard's Chicago Style Hot Dogs does not have web site, but you can find information and reviews here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mustards-chicago-style-hot-dogs-los-alamitos

Mustard's Chicago Style Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 22, 2013

A New Slater's 50/50 Opens In OC - CLOSED

Slater's 50/50
24356 Swartz Dr.
Lake Forest, CA 92630

My love for Slater's is of course known to almost everyone that knows me, or reads this blog. I mean you only have to look at our Restaurant Roll Call section, along the right hand side of this blog to see that we have done three stories on Slater's 50/50. Well make that four because Slater's has now opened up another restaurant, and this time it is dangerously close to where I live. I might be in trouble.

Yes it is true. Slater's has now opened up their third OC location, and fifth restaurant overall. In case any of you are still not sure what the big deal about Slater's 50/50 is, here's the big deal. Slater's has come up with a fifty percent ground beef burger, along with a fifty percent ground bacon burger, put it all in one patty, and made bacon lovers across Southern California very happy in the process.

What's that you say? You don't get the big fuss about bacon. Okay, they have other things for weird people that do not enjoy bacon. They have some great appetizers, massive chicken sandwiches, all beef burgers, turkey burgers, veggie burgers, and some outrageous desserts and milkshakes. Between the regular menu, the design your own burger selections, and the burgers of the month that they feature, I have never gotten the same thing twice here. No surprise, but this trip I was also going to get a burger I have never had here before.

This Slater's 50/50 is located in the old Hooter's location that you can see going up the 5 Freeway at El Toro Road. Some say this shopping center is cursed. I think it is just hard to get in and out of. There is a patio store, a Tommy's Burgers, and a dance studio in this center. This shopping center kind of fits the mold of other centers where Slater's is operating. Out of the way shopping centers where you expect them to fail, but they end up driving people into these out of the way shopping centers. They have definitely brought the people into this shopping center on their first Friday night. People were standing outside waiting for a table, the bar was packed and the food was flying out of the kitchen. Let's see what we got on this visit.

Since it was just Katie and I having dinner on this night, we did without our usual order of Vampire Dip, which is a great appetizer, but more geared towards more than two people. Slater's offers a pick your own appetizer option, which we took full advantage of. On this jaunt to Slater's we tried the Fried Dill Pickle Chips, the Beer Battered Jalapenos, and the Fried Bacon Mac N' Cheese Balls ($6.95). My favorite of this trio was the fried jalapenos. These breaded jalapeno rings were paired nicely with the cilantro-lime sour cream. The jalapeno had a little heat to them, but was cooled down a bit by the sour cream. These were addicting. The fried mac n' cheese balls went away quickly as soon as this plate hit the table. The bacon was not as prevalent as I would have thought, but the macaroni was cooked well, and the Tapatio ranch went hand in hand with these. Fried pickles are not usually my thing, but Katie really enjoyed these fried pickle chips. These were supposed to go with the mustard sauce, but we used the Tapatio ranch on these instead.

Katie wanted to prove to the world that you do not have to have a burger when you come to Slater's. She had a Side Salad ($4.95) and the Buffalo Chicken Mac N' Cheese ($7.95). She really liked the big time flavor of the mac and cheese, but it was very rich. She had enough for lunch the next day. This mac and cheese came with a three cheese Alfredo sauce, buffalo chicken nuggets, blue cheese crumbles, celery, and crumbled up Cheez-Its. Everything that makes buffalo wings great. The side salad was pretty basic. The greens were fresh, and the ranch dressing had a great consistency to it. Not a bad sized salad for under five dollars.

I had decided what I was going to order when I was at work during the day. Of course once I sat down, I had second thoughts, but I stuck with my initial choice of the Big Daddy Patty Melt ($11.95). This is not your Grandparents patty melt. This two-thirds of a pound ground beef patty melt included melted cheddar and Swiss cheeses, grilled onions, and a horseradish aioli on large slices of rye bread. I did make one modification to this big burger by adding bacon to it. It is Slater's 50/50 after all. I am usually a big eater, but even I had a little trouble finishing this patty melt. I would have liked the bread to have been toasted a little more, but the insides of this patty melt were very good. The cheeses went well with the big burger patty, the onions added a sweetness to the burger, and the horseradish sauce was subtle, but I did get some tanginess from it. Very good and filling dinner.

For a restaurant that has only been open for five days, and dealing with their first Friday night of business, Slater's 50/50 was in complete control. We recognized many of the staff from other Slater's locations. In fact, our great waitress Sarah was from the Huntington Beach restaurant, helping out train the new hires. All of this extra staff really helped  by keeping things moving along. The food came out in a timely manner, it came out hot, and they were quick with refills of our drinks. I would say the night was a complete success. Welcome to the neighborhood Slater's 50/50. I am sure we will run into each other soon and often.

We would like to thank everyone at Slater's 50/50 for the wonderful opportunity to experience their new restaurant. We would also like to express our gratitude to Gabrielle, from Bread and Butter Public Relations for helping us set up this great night.

To find out more information about Slater's 50/50, click here to go to their web site: https://slaters5050.com/

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taking the Plunge at DivBar - CLOSED

2601 W. Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663

It's another week in the early part of the year, and another city is hosting a restaurant week. This time it is a city where I lived for over ten years, Newport Beach. Newport not only holds special memories for me, but the city also has some of my favorite restaurants located within its boundaries. So, it was no big surprise that we would make a special effort to try as many restaurants as we could during this week long culinary event. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with our busy schedules, we only had time to hit one of the restaurants on our list, so it was a done deal that we would be heading to DivBar for our only Newport Beach Restaurant Week experience.

DivBar is located in the old Josh Slocum's location on PCH. In fact they still have the Josh Slocum's sign on their fence by the valet stand. Josh Slocum's is of course the restaurant that Dennis Rodman famously owned about ten years ago. This is not the only reference to a long gone Newport restaurant, there is also an Arches sign up by the bar. I kind of liked the slight nod to local restaurants that have since met their doom.

Now back to the present though. DivBar opened their doors in the middle of last year. They are owned by Jeff Reuter, of 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront fame. We have not been able to try that restaurant yet, but have heard some good things, and it is definitely on our list of places to go. DivBar kind of had a rocky start to its business, much like lots of other restaurants. They opened in early July last year, and on-line there were many people who were complaining on Yelp about their service, food, and anything else they could think of. This must have just been early growing pains though, because lately almost all of their reviews have been glowing, and then the cherry on top must have been this review from Brad A Johnson, the award winning food journalist at the Orange County Register, who had lots of nice things to say about DivBar here.

We got to DivBar on a very busy Saturday night in Newport. The parking here is valet, but it is probably worth the hassle due to the lack of parking in this Mariners Mile section of Newport. They have definitely made some improvements to this restaurant since it was Josh Slocum's. There is a nice patio out front that has maybe six tables, the inside is decorated with lots of stuff on the walls, and they have a bar placed right in the middle of the restaurant that dominates the space. The noise level in this restaurant is pretty loud, while the restaurant lighting is on the dark side. I mention this so you do not judge my pictures too harshly.

We are seated right next to the bar, and are promptly welcomed by the now former Consultant of DivBar, Bill Bracken. Bill was in charge of setting up the kitchen at DivBar, after very successful stints at the Island Hotel in Newport and The Peninsula in swanky Beverly Hills. Bill was very personable, we talked barbecue and he seemed very excited that we were here. He was eager to show off DivBar's three course $20 restaurant week menu, so let's get to the real reason we are here, the food.

Not part of the restaurant week menu, Bill sent this appetizer out for us to try. The BB's Original Mac ($8.95) came out in a cast iron skillet that contained macaroni combined with Taleggio cheese, crushed truffles, and Parmesan tuile. I will admit that I had to look up what tuile is when I got home. It is a thin crisp of cheese, and in this case the cheese used was Parmesan. This mac and cheese was pretty rich, but straddled the line of not being too rich. It was not overly cheesy, but the truffle was a good substitute for the absence of cheese. I would sum this mac and cheese up by calling it simple, but with a little kick.

Also not on the restaurant week menu, but we had to order the Kaylie's DivBar Artichoke Dip. This dip was also served in a skillet, along with a side of Frito's. This was a pretty smooth artichoke dip. No big pieces of artichoke were found here. If you are sensitive to salt, this dip might not be for you. It did have a nice spice, and the Frito's were a nice touch here. We liked this appetizer and would get this again on future visits.

Okay, two items in and we finally will start with the $20 Restaurant Week dinner. The first course was a Sampling of DivBar Appetizers for us to share. This sampler platter came with three different appetizers. The DivBar Fries with Chipotle Aioli, Ahi Tuna Tartar, and a Crispy Calamari. The fries were cut into wedges, which were fried perfectly. The chipotle aioli was very good, but these fries needed some more of it, or maybe it should have been put on the side instead of on top of the fries. Katie is no fan of calamari, so I got all of this squid to myself. This calamari was buttermilk soaked, then quick fried and finished with a chili lime sauce. The breading was not too heavy, the calamari was pretty fresh, and the chili lime sauce really hit the spot here. Very good, and they definitely made this calamari their own. I am not too much of a tuna tartar guy, but this one was not too bad. It was served oddly enough with tortilla chips, but it was very fresh and almost had a tuna salad feel to it. Not something I would probably order again, but I was glad I got a chance to try it.

So naturally we are in a restaurant that features barbecue, and Katie opts to get a fish dish. The fish offering on the restaurant week menu was a Potato Crusted Black Cod. The fish was paired with an orange reduction and fresh dill oil. It also had shredded veggies hiding underneath the fish. Katie felt that the cod here could not stand on its own. The fish in her opinion was tender, but was not remarkable in any other way. She liked the citrus and dill sauces that came with this, because she felt these were more of a necessity than just a side condiment. The vegetables were fresh, but more of an afterthought.

I was not going to come to DivBar and not try their barbecue, so I went with their Smoked Meat Combination. This combo included smoked brisket and baby back ribs. Both meats were very good. The smokiness of the meat was very evident, so if you are not partial to that, these would not be the meats for you. I do like the smokiness, and it was very apparent that they actually do smoke their meats for at least 12 to 18 hours before serving. The meats were both very tender, and full of smoky flavor. The sauce here was good and subtle. It allowed you to still taste the meat. I would definitely come back here for barbecue. This plate also came with Asian Slaw and a hunk of Jalapeno Corn Bread. I enjoyed the corn bread, but wish that it came with some butter. The slaw was fresh, but I am not sure what made it Asian. It was still a decent side dish though.

It seems like almost every restaurant we have been to lately has had a skillet cookie dessert. DivBar was no exception. Here they call it the Kast Iron Kookie. This skillet was not very big, maybe six inches, but the cookie was cooked a little longer than other skillet cookies I have had in the past. It made for a crunchier cookie, which I liked. Of course there is never enough ice cream on these desserts for us. Both Katie and I ended up fighting over the forkfuls of ice cream. It almost got heated, but cooler heads prevailed.

As far as restaurant week menus go, this one was a winner. Both Katie and I left feeling very full, and at only $20 this was practically a steal, and a great way to try a bunch of items at a restaurant we have never been to. This visit really piqued our interest in returning to DivBar. They not only have barbecue, but they have pizzas, chicken and burgers that grabbed our attention. The vibe here is a little on the cool Newport Beach kind of scene. Lots of good looking people in front of the bar and behind it. The service was very good for us on this night. Our waitress really made sure we were taken care of, which can sometimes be tricky when you are seated in the bar area of a restaurant. One last thing, it is not too late for you to experience this restaurant week menu for yourself. Starting on Sunday, February 24th til March 2nd, DivBar will be featuring this same restaurant menu for the upcoming Orange County Restaurant Week. A great deal, so there is no excuse not to go.

Out of five worms, (in honor of Dennis Rodman, since he used to own the restaurant in this same location, and that was his nickname during his NBA career), five being best to zero being worst, DivBar gets 3 worms.

For more information about DivBar, click here: http://www.divbar.com/index.html

DivBar on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Burger So Nice, They Named It Twice

27741 Crown Valley Parkway
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

Islands holds a very special place in my food history. It is one of the restaurants that helped me bridge the gap between the food I used to eat as a kid and the food that I now eat as an adult. As a kid of course you love McDonald's, and think that it is the best hamburger in the world. Islands opened up in Orange County in the mid eighties, when my taste buds were opening up to more adult food. Islands helped me to understand that there are way better burgers out there than just fast food cheeseburgers.

Now that I am of an adult age, (even though I still feel and act like a kid sometimes), I still visit Islands probably four to eight times a year. This might not seem like a lot, but writing this blog it is hard for us to hit a restaurant more than once. We usually save Islands for nights where we do not want to go too far from home, and want a good burger in a relaxed atmosphere. I say relaxed because the tropical island/surfer theme always brings me down to a tranquil place after a hard days work.

Islands started in West Los Angeles in 1982. Now in their thirty-first year in business they have over 50 locations spread out between four western states. The restaurant is still privately held, and every time we are here, they are pretty busy. Gone are the flowered shirts that the young staff used to wear, but the TVs showing skiing, surfing and other extreme sports still lives on. Though Islands started with a very basic menu of burgers back in the 80's, they have now expended their menu a bit to include salads, tacos, sandwiches, and some new burgers. It is one of these new burgers that brings us here today, as Islands invited us to come in and try their latest creation the Nalu Nalu Burger.

Of course right after we sat down, I knew we would not be starting with the Nalu Nalu Burger right away, because there were Cheddar Fries to eat. This trip to Islands we got crazy by adding bacon to the top of the mound of fries, cheddar cheese, and scallions. This appetizer always tastes great, but with the added bacon it went up in the flavor quotient. They are always very generous with the cheese here, the fries stayed crisp, and the ranch dressing went very well with this. A great appetizer for sharing, we made very quick work of these cheddar fries.

Katie did not feel like having a burger, so she decided to have the Island Fish Tacos. These tacos are offered in pairs or as a trio. They were stuffed with fried fish, cilantro, cabbage, a chipotle white sauce, and tomatoes. Katie called these tacos, "solid". The fish was flaky, the tortilla was sturdy and the chipotle white sauce added a good amount of flavor. Almost overshadowing the tacos in Katie's opinion were the Ranchero Beans that came with these tacos. She loved the taste of these beans, and thought they were spiced very well, with a little kick to them.

Now the real reason that we came to Islands, the Nalu Nalu Burger. I would describe this burger as a Philly cheese steak in burger form. This large burger of course started with the great Islands patty, then was topped with a garlic aioli, provolone cheese, sauteed onion, mixed peppers, lettuce and spicy pepper rings. All items that I love on cheese steaks. This burger has just been added to the Islands menu for a limited time, but it is already an employee and customer favorite. I am always partial to their Big Wave with Cheese and Bacon, but even I would have a hard time passing this up on future visits. The burger was messy, but in a real good way. The bun did an admirable job keeping all of these contents together, while being very fresh. Even though I had my fair share of fries with our appetizer, I still got the endless Island Fries that come with every burger and sandwich. These fries are cut fresh everyday, and as a bonus they have zero grams of trans fat. So eating these are actually good for you, almost.

We very rarely get dessert when we come to Islands, because we are always full by this point of the meal. This time though we made the sacrifice to have the Chocolate Lava Sundae. This sundae's base is made up of a rich, chocolate brownie, then topped with ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. The thing that set this brownie sundae apart from others, was that they put plenty of ice cream on this one. There was no need for Katie and I to fight over the ice cream, because there was enough on here for both of us.

Our experience at Islands could not have been better. The Nalu Nalu Burger really lived up to its billing, but again, be advised that this burger is only available for a limited time. So get going to Islands to experience one for yourself. Our service was first rate on this visit. Our waitress, Erica was really on top of her game this afternoon. She created a good pace to our meal, anticipated our needs, and made our lunch very enjoyable. In fact, everyone we encountered on this visit really made us feel welcome, from the hostess's to the manager, Steve. It is for these reasons that we always find ourselves coming back to Islands from time to time. We would also like to thank the fantastic Maggie Holmes for letting us know about the Nalu Nalu Burger, and for arranging for us to try it. Thanks for everything Maggie.

If you would like to find your nearest Islands restaurant, go to their web site, which is right here: http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Restaurant Week Comes to Irvine

Cucina Enoteca
31 Fortune Dr.
Irvine, CA 92618

I love the month of January for a few reasons. One reason of course is because the month of January signifies the end of the holiday season. Everyone gets back to their normal routine, and there are no presents to buy. Another reason to love the first month of the year is because it features the football playoffs, culminating in one of my favorite sporting events, the Super Bowl. Another January event that resembles the Super Bowl, for food bloggers at least, is that this is the month that many cities hold their Restaurant Weeks.

On this particular January night it was the city of Irvine's turn to showcase some of their best restaurants with Restaurant Week menus. When I heard that Irvine would be hosting a restaurant week, I immediately went to the web site to look for a restaurant to try. As soon as I saw the list of restaurants, I knew where we would be eating, a restaurant I have wanted to try for a long time, Cucina Enoteca.

Cucina Enoteca comes to the Irvine Spectrum by way of San Diego. Their sister restaurant down south goes by the name Cucina Urbana, while there is another Cucina Enoteca being planned for the Del Mar area. This location of Cucina Enoteca has been around the Spectrum for a little over a year now, and I have heard some really good things, so I was pretty excited to try them out for Irvine Restaurant Week.

We got here at about six on a Wednesday night. They had about a forty-five minute wait, which was a good sign, because as we walked around the Spectrum waiting for our table almost all of the restaurants were half full, with no wait for dinner. Cucina Enoteca has a large retail wine shop in the front of their restaurant, which offers a very affordable $8 corkage fee, or you can purchase wine to go at close to a retail price. The rest of the restaurant is decorated rustically. On the verge of having a hipster type feel to it, Cucina Enoteca does not cross that line, but creates a very comfortable atmosphere in which to dine. We were really looking forward to trying their Californian inspired Italian cuisine, so without further ado, this is what came out of the kitchen for us during our Irvine Restaurant Week visit.

Both Laura and I started with an appetizer to start our meals. She ordered one of the most talked about dishes on-line, the Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms ($9.75 for the non-restaurant week menu price). These squash blossoms are stuffed with a herb ricotta, then topped with a purple basil pesto and a light cured lemon aioli. I really enjoyed this appetizer. The squash blossom itself was fried well, with little grease, and a very light breading. I thought that the aioli and pesto would overpower the squash, but that was not the case.  Instead they complimented it wonderfully, enhancing the earthiness of the squash blossom. Very well made appetizer. I selected the Ricotta Gnudi ($10.50) to start my Cucina Enoteca experience. This dumpling like item is made with ricotta cheese, then rolled in sage brown butter, and topped with parmigiano. I liked the first few bites of this, but then the cheese inside became too much. It was very dry, and while the flavor of this was pretty good, the dryness that resulted from eating this could not be overcome. Not awful, but not my kind of appetizer.

Katie felt like having a salad to start her meal, so she went with the Farmer's Chopped Salad ($9.50). This salad had a little bit of everything in it. Radicchio, artichoke, pepperoncini, Gorgonzola, borlotti bean, and a black olive crouton was joined in the bowl with the fresh greens. This salad was dressed with a garlic oregano vinaigrette. Katie felt the white beans took this salad to another level. She liked the freshness of the produce, and felt this was a very good start to her meal.

Our friend Laura is not into eating beef or chicken, so it was no surprise that she ordered fish as her Irvine week entree. She seemed pretty pleased with her choice of Pan Seared Ocean Trout ($20). This fish was paired with Umbrian lentils, spinach, and a rarely used root vegetable, salsify. She was very happy with the large serving size of this plate, and felt that the fish was cooked perfectly. The prosecco butter sauce went very well with trout.

Rob was being difficult and did not want to take advantage of the great value that was Irvine Restaurant Week. Okay, maybe that was not true, he really just wanted to eat a steak, so he got the Brandt Farms Ribeye ($25) off of the regular menu. We were a little confused because this steak came in the form of a filet, but we were assured this was the ribeye. Adding to our confusion was the fact that this did not have the usual fat that a ribeye has. Even with all of this confusion, Rob still managed to enjoy this steak. The meat was topped with some spinach and a smoked tomato vinaigrette. The two side items, the Gorgonzola potato croquette and the baked shallot added some big time flavor to this plate. In the end, Rob said he would get this again.

Back to the Irvine Restaurant Week items that we had, and probably the tables favorite meal of the night, the  Short Rib Pappardelle ($19.50). This was Katie's pick, and she could not have been happier. Along with the short rib and pasta, this came with cremini mushroom and parmigiano. This dish had a real comforting feel to it. The short rib was of course very tender and the pasta was cooked very well. The sauce held to the noodle well, and helped round out this dish. Katie would have a hard time deviating from this plate on future visits here.

I usually shy away from getting chicken dishes in restaurants, because most places tend to over cook chicken, but I decided to tempt fate at Cucina Enoteca. I am sure glad that I did. This Roasted Jidori Chicken ($19.50) was superb. This well rounded chicken dish started with a very moist and flavorful chicken. It was made even better with a well made fontina polenta, a pistachio pesto, and a poached hen egg. These items added plenty to this dish, along with some asparagus and Swiss chard to round out the meal. Like Katie, it would be hard for me to not order this again. I almost ordered another one to take with me for lunch the next day.

To complete our three course restaurant week meals, the three of us each selected a different dessert to try. Katie was feeling like chocolate, so she had the Bittersweet Chocolate Budino ($8.50). This dessert was very rich and smooth, but the richness was cut a little bit by a salted chocolate cookie. Laura went with the Panettone Bread Pudding ($8). This bread pudding had a lot going on with it. It had a very nice spiced streudel on top of it, along with some candied orange bits, and then for good measure it was topped off with some rum raisin gelato. I am usually not a big fan of bread pudding, but this one was pretty moist, with some good bursts of flavor. I have never met a doughnut I didn't like, (okay maybe those awful maple bars), and the same holds true after having the Zeppole ($8) at Cucina Enoteca. These Italian style doughnut holes came filled with a chocolate and Nutella mixture. How can that ever be bad? They were then rolled in sugar and served with a cappuccino crema. I am not too big of a fan of cappuccino, but even my distaste for coffee flavoring could not dampen my love for these zeppole. They were served warm, and they did not last too long on my plate. A very good end to this meal.

Our trip to Cucina Enoteca really lived up to the hype. I really enjoyed this new take on Italian food. There were no heavy sauces, or lots of cheese here. Not that I mind traditional Italian food at all, but this was a nice change of pace. Leaving here I did not have the overly stuffed feeling that you normally get after eating a big, heavy Italian dinner. Everything that came out of the kitchen on this night really had a great freshness to it. The service we had on this night was very solid. Our waiter really kept things moving along at a nice pace. Participating in Irvine Restaurant Week really worked for Cucina Enoteca. It got us in the door, and really piqued our interest in the food that they serve here. We really look forward to exploring more of their menu on future visits.

Out of five corks, (because wine plays such an important aspect at this restaurant, and because I learned while writing this review that enoteca means wine in Italian), five being best to zero being worst, Cucina Enoteca gets 3.5 corks.

For more information about Cucina Enoteca, click here: http://www.cucinaenoteca.com/home

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