Sunday, April 28, 2013

Previewing Anepalcos New Dinner Items

Anepalcos Cafe
3737 W. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92868

I have written it before on this blog, and I still stand by it. Breakfast is the hardest meal for a restaurant to make memorable. Most breakfasts contain the same old items. So when you find a breakfast that you still think about, months, if not years later, you know that you have been to a good restaurant. That is why I was so excited to try Anepalcos, a restaurant that is known for their legendary Mexican breakfasts with a French twist, for dinner.

Anepalcos started out serving just breakfast and lunch at their original Main Street location. When they opened this new location, which is attached to the Ayers Hotel, they started serving dinners. It is hard to believe that they have already been open for a year now, and that we have not made it in for dinner until now. A lot of the numerous OC food blogs that I read are always crowing about how great the dinners are here. Our experience for breakfast/lunch were great, and can be seen here.

We were recently invited by Anepalcos Owner and Executive Chef, Daniel Godinez and one of the best food bloggers, not just in OC, but anywhere, Anita Lau, from Diary of a Mad Hungry Woman to come try out some new dishes that will be appearing on the Anepalcos dinner menu. This very intimate dinner was also attended by Terri Williams of Great Taste Magazine, Priscilla Mayfield of OC Food Nation, and Anita's son, Seb, or as I like to call him, the Human Garbage Disposal, because that kid can eat.

We arrived at Anepalcos on a Thursday night just before seven. I have always observed that restaurants in hotels never seem very crowded, but that was not the case at Anepalcos. The dining room here was bustling with much activity. The dining area is definitely dominated by the color brown, with the darker walls, trim, and the dark wood tables which are handcrafted in Mexico. After the drive up here from Irvine in rush hour traffic, I was definitely ready for some food. Danny must have known I was hungry, because the plates started coming out of the kitchen at a furious pace. Let's check out some of the new menu items at Anepalcos.

Chef Danny really started things off with a bang. The Pambazo Ahi Crudo is listed under the small plates portion of the menu, but the taste was anything but small. He starts by soaking the ciabatta in a Guajillo marinade, then tops it with ahi tuna, avocado puree, cilantro, red radish, Serrano chili, and chili oil. Even with all of these big flavor enhancements, the tuna was still the star of the show. It was very fresh, and tasted great. The chili was not overpowering, but played along nicely with the tuna. I had expected the bread to be a little soggy, but it still held its crunch. A great way to open this tasting session, and it really got our whole table excited.

The Ancas De Rana did not garner the same excitement from Katie. She is no fan of frogs legs. I have only had frog legs maybe a dozen times, and I can say that these were the best prepared ones I have ever had. They did not taste swampy like the others I have consumed. The frog legs were served with a black chili, baby carrot puree, a maple glaze, and sprinkled with some pepita dust, then placed on a corn cake. The corn cake was a little on the heavy side, and seemed a little out of place to me. The frog leg had an ample amount of meat, and was very well executed.

The last of the new small plates was the Tacos Orientales. This Asian inspired taco came with one of my all time favorite foods, pork belly. The pork belly at Anepalcos was very crispy, and I could not get enough of it. Joining the pork belly in this unconventional taco was a chili de arbol salsa and micro cilantro. The tortilla here was thicker than a normal tortilla. I'm not sure what kind it was, but it kept the contents all in one piece. A definite must order on my next visit here.

I was pretty excited to see this Al Adobo come out next, because not only did it feature a very finely cooked coulette steak, but it also came with a mini chilaquiles on the side. The chilaquiles at Anepalcos is of course a classic, but the steak was not to be out shined either. It was very tender, and the adobo sauce, along with the chimichurri sauce, really kept my taste buds intrigued with these two great sauces. A very satisfying plate.

This colorful plate really highlighted Chef Danny's playful plating technique. Just looking at this Surf and Turf plate made me feel really happy. Not only was this plate pleasing to the eyes, but it was also delicious as well. This surf and turf plate was made up of scallops and pork belly, both of which were done to perfection. The dish was all brought together by a nice black potato and truffle puree and an almond salsa. Very complex flavors all working together to create a memorable meal.

You can never have too much steak, and Anepalcos proved that with their version of the Hangar Steak. The steak was matched up nicely with a green potato puree, Enoki mushrooms, a maple glaze, and a black chili sauce. The steak was a little over cooked for my taste, but the sauces helped to hide this fact a bit. The purees and sauce here at Anepalcos are a very big factor in the success of this restaurant. All of them really compliment the dishes they come with.

Proving that you can not do wrong by ordering a seafood dish at Anepalcos, the Red Snapper hit our table next. This fish was flaky and light, with a very nice cauliflower and corn sauce, pink cauliflower, and sauteed corn. This was probably the most mellow of the plates we had on this night. It was a nice change of pace, and was Katie's favorite. This is a great choice for people that want a lighter meal.

This would be my first time having nopales ever. I know, I should have had them sooner, but never have. This Mixiote Lamb came with nopales and slow roasted potatoes. The red sauce was of course fantastic, but the lamb here was a little over done. I could imagine eating this dish on a colder night, when a hearty meal is called for.

The last of our entrees was this interesting Chile Negro. Arroz verde, red radish, and micro cilantro join a ancho chile filled with sirloin beef. This dish was pretty good, but not like any chile relleno I have ever had. It was not as heavy, and did not have that big pop of flavor that I have been accustomed to with other chilie rellenos.

Not new on the menu, but I was happy that we got to try the desserts at Anepalcos. Since this is a French inspired Mexican restaurant, it is no surprise that they have crepes on the menu. These were way better than the crepes you could get when I was a kid at the Magic Pan, (if you remember that restaurant, you are old just like me). I'm not a big fruit fan, but this strawberry crepe was pretty tasty. The crepe that really caught my attention was the Chocolate Crepe. I was dining with other people, and was expected to share, but I had a hard time not hoarding this one all to myself. The crepe portion of this was well made, and of course you can almost never go wrong with chocolate. The last dessert we had was another Anepalcos classic dessert, the Passion Fruit Panna Cotta. With my dislike for fruit desserts, I was not sure I was going to enjoy this, but the texture was spot on, and the flavor was not overly sweet. Very refreshing, and a great end to the meal.

With all of these new additions to the Anepalcos menu, along with their already fantastic remaining favorites, it will not be too long before we return for dinner. This night could not have gone better. Great dinner guests, great food, all in a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. What really sets Anepalcos apart is their uniqueness. I have not been exposed to Mexican food with a French twist before. It really makes it even more special to come here knowing that this is not the kind of food that you can just get anywhere. Chef Godinez really knows what he is doing in the kitchen, and it shows when the food hits the table. These new menu items are now being offered at Anepalcos. Thanks again to Anita and Chef Daniel for the wonderful evening.

To find out more about Anepalcos Cafe, click here:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Trying to Settle the Taco Debate in Yorba Linda

Esther's Taco House
2001 E. Orangethorpe Ave.
Placentia, CA 92870

A few reviews ago, I wrote about a war between restaurants brewing in my hometown of Yorba Linda. On one side of the fence, or should I say one part of town, you have the supporters of Blue Agave. On the other side of town you have the fans of Esther's Taco House. Now I know that these restaurants probably do not have any ill will towards each other. I mean, Yorba Linda has a population of 65,000, so there is definitely room for the two of these restaurants to survive here. They have done so for almost twenty years apiece. They do not even serve the same kind of food. Blue Agave serves a southwestern style menu, while Esther's is more of what some would call traditional style Mexican food. Okay maybe this war between the two restaurants really is just in my own mind, but I have wanted to try Esther's for a long time now, so I enlisted my Mom into going with me to the Esther's Taco House.

I always like hearing the history of restaurants. Esther's actually has a very long history. In a nutshell, the restaurant was opened in 1957, by Esther Santana in Downey. This incarnation of the restaurant was just a take out joint at first, but after a shoe store went out of business next door, they opened up a dining room. Then in 1972, the family opened another location in Long Beach. Esther passed away in 1994, but her legacy has now passed to her daughter Linda, and her son Brian. Wanting to open closer to where they live, they closed both the Downey location and Long Beach restaurant and opened in Placentia. A Yorba Linda location would follow, and that brings us to present day.

After we had made a trip to the Yorba Linda restaurant and discovered that they are closed on Mondays, (how about including your hours on your website?), we took the ten minute drive to their original OC location in Placentia. They are located in the same shopping center as The Pizza Store, Jack in the Box, and Kimmie's Coffee Cup. This restaurant is on the large size, with plenty of tables for the bustling lunch scene. Based on the banter between the staff and customers, there seemed to be a lot of regulars here. The menu was very traditional, with tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and tostadas dominating the menu. They also had a fairly large amount of lunch specials going on here, so we ordered our food, and this is what hit the table.

Of course, as with almost any Mexican restaurant, the Chips and Salsa hit the table before the meal. I was very impressed with the chips and salsa at Esther's, and I do not even think it was because I was hungry. The chips here are thicker than most, with a very nice crunch. They seemed like they were recently fried, with just a touch of greasiness that made them addictive. The salsa had a great consistency to it. The tomatoes were the right size, there were enough onions for flavor, and the liquid to chunk ratio was right on. Good flavor with this salsa, but it could have been a little hotter for my taste. The Hot Sauce would satisfy my heat needs. This was some real hot sauce. It went very well with the chips, and really made the food come alive at Esther's. I can think of only a few hot sauces that I have liked better in restaurants.

My Mom is not a big eater, so it was no surprise to me that she would get a one item lunch special. She went with the One Carnitas Taco with Rice and Beans ($6.89). We were both surprised by them adding lettuce to a carnitas taco, but it was easily discarded. My Mom ordered this taco soft, and it came with a decent amount of pork in it. The meat was tender, with a nice flavor. The beans were a tad overdone, but still had a smooth taste to them. The rice here was pretty bad. On the dry side, and really lacked any sort of taste. My Mom would get this plate again, but maybe just ask for double beans.

One thing that no one will ever call me, is a small eater. When I am in a restaurant I want to try as many things as possible, and a combination plate is the best way to do this. I decided on the Three Item Combo ($13.59). For this combo I came up with the combination of a Beef Taquito, Cheese Enchilada, and a Hard Shelled Chicken Taco. Let's break this plate down item by item. The taquito was one of the better ones I have had. It was not as greasy as I had expected, and it had plenty of meat inside, along with plenty of guacamole served on the side. The cheese enchilada had lots of cheese, with a very mild red sauce. Predictably the cheese did overpower this portion of the meal, but if you love cheese, this is the item to get at Esther's. I was probably most excited to try their chicken tacos here. I had heard good things about them, and they lived up to the hype. The fried tortilla reminded me of my Mom's tacos, the chicken inside was very tender, and they put more than enough cheese on here. A very well made basic taco that I would definitely get again. I will echo my mom's sentiments about the beans and rice. The beans were good, but overdone a little, and the rice was not good at all. Put me down for double beans next time I am here as well.

I really enjoyed Esther's Taco House. The food was all good, and it was very safe and comforting. Very basic Mexican food is served here. I did have a couple of gripes with Esther's though. The prices are a tad on the high side for the amount of food that you get. I did not think that my three item combo was actually worth the almost $14 I paid for it. For dinner, one taco and beans and rice comes out to $7.50. That is a little steep for this restaurant. We had spotty service while we were here. They seemed to only have twos servers on staff, and a full restaurant during the lunch rush. The ordering process and food came out quickly, but then everything came to a standstill when we had finished our meal. Our empty plates stayed in front of us for a long while, and the check did not come for almost fifteen minutes. Even with these minor hiccups, we will be back to Esther's. As far as the war in my mind over the better restaurant between Blue Agave and Esther's, I will cop out and say that they are both good, and too different for me to say which one I like better.

Out of five stars, (because the name Esther is derived from the Persian word which means star), five being best to zero being worst, Esther's Taco House gets 3 stars.

For more information about Esther's Taco House, go to their website here:

Esther's Taco House on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Long Wait is Over, Sidecar Doughnuts is Open

Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee
270 E. 17th St. #18
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

I felt like Christmas had come early for me last week. Well, okay maybe that is not the way to put it, because anyone that knows me, knows that I am not a fan of that holiday. That's for another post though. This post is all about doughnuts. Orange County was lucky enough to be home to a new doughnut shop that flung open its doors to the world last Friday. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a media preview of this new doughnut shop, and I was very impressed.

Sidecar comes from the creative minds of Brooke Des Prez and Sumter Pendergrast. Each of them brings a different aspect to Sidecar Doughnuts. She is the chef, who comes up with many of the creative ideas for the doughnuts. He is the coffee guy that envisioned a gathering place where there would be cutting edge coffee. The result of all their hard work came to fruition with the opening of Sidecar Doughnuts.

When I first pulled up to the early morning event, I was immediately drawn to the 1959 International Harvester Metro Van parked out in front of the store front. For those of you old enough to remember, this truck is reminiscent of the old Helm's Bakery trucks that roamed neighborhoods in Southern California in the 50's and 60's. I did not snap a picture of the back, but this van also has the wooden drawers, where doughnuts are kept for catering events. Very nostalgic, and definitely a way to distinguish Sidecar Doughnuts.

Once I walked through the door, I was handed a sampler plate of doughnuts to try. This is what heaven must look like to Homer Simpson. I promise, that will be my only reference to Homer during this post. The storefront of Sidecar is very small. Of course there were about 20 of us crammed into the space, so maybe it just appeared smaller than it actually is. I can not imagine them putting any tables in here, plus it will detract from the real reason people are here, the doughnuts.

While no one was looking, I sneaked around the counter and took some close up shots of the doughnuts. Okay, truth be told they did not seem to mind, as the other invited guests were doing the same thing as me. On the day we were here they featured ten different varieties of doughnuts. These are scratch made doughnuts, with no preservatives. They are meant to be eaten right away, or at least within a few hours. They are a very light and non-greasy doughnut. In fact, I ate probably four whole doughnuts during my visit here, (don't judge) and did not even feel full at all. The flavors are going to rotate depending on the availability of seasonal ingredients. The big winners in my opinion were the cake doughnuts. The Birthday Cake, Cinnamon Crumb, Meyer Lemon Poundcake, and the Huckleberry were all among my favorites. Definitely some of the freshest doughnuts I have had, but also some of the greatest tasting ones too. They were not overly sweet, conservatively glazed, and unique with their flavor profiles. The raised doughnuts offered on this preview day were the Maple Bacon, Raspberry, Toasted Coconut, Callebaut Chocolate, and the Hawaiian specialty doughnut, the Malasada and the Malasada with Haupia (a light coconut cream). Out of this group I liked the Raspberry one the most, which is surprising because I am not much of a fruit person. It had a fresh raspberry flavor, that was more on the subtle side. Of course the Maple Bacon was good with it's low key maple approach and the saltiness of the bacon. I was also pretty impressed with the Malasada with Haupia, it really brought me back to Hawaii. I liked all of these, but am already looking forward to other visits to see what other doughnuts they are going to come up with.

No offense to Sumter, the Coffee Guy at Sidecar, but I am no fan of the breakfast beverage of choice for more than 100 million Americans every morning. I did hear rave reviews for the coffee here at Sidecar though. They are the first in Southern California to use Stumptown Coffee. Stumptown Coffee is a Portland born coffee company that has really made a name for themselves by doing small batches, keeping their standards high, and developing a direct trade program with the coffee producers. They develop direct relationships with the farmers, which improves the quality of the coffee, while offering incentive based rewards to the farmer. These rewards helps the growing communities financially and with sustainable improvements. At Sidecar they will be rotating a different roast that will be paired with what kinds of doughnuts they will be serving that month. Kind of like wine and food pairings, but at breakfast time. They will also be serving all of your espresso drinks as well at Sidecar, using Stumptown's Hair Bender Espresso. I always want Katie around, but more so at this point of our visit to Sidecar, because she knows way more about coffee than I do. I kind of just nodded and acted like I knew what I was talking about.

So a week in, and I have heard some real good things about Sidecar. On their opening day they sold out of doughnuts by noon, and the line was wrapped around the building. For those of you headed over there, I suggest that you get there early. They open at 7AM on weekdays, and 8AM on weekends. They are only open until they run out of doughnuts, which has been happening around two in the afternoon on average. They bake every hour, and what does not sell that hour is taken off of the shelf. These doughnuts are not cheap. They are priced anywhere from $1.50 to $4, which might deter some people from coming to Sidecar. That would be a shame though, because then they are missing out on what a well made doughnut this is. I am really looking forward to coming back to Sidecar Doughnuts and seeing what kinds of flavors they have up their sleeve.

To find out what flavors of doughnuts are being offered, and for more information on Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee, click here:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cookie Quest at South Coast Collection - CLOSED

Christopher Garren's
3321 Hyland Avenue Suite J and H
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I can clearly remember one of my first cookie memories. I was about three, and watching Sesame Street. I saw Cookie Monster going on and on about chocolate chip cookies. Mashing down on them, so the crumbs flew all over the place. I knew that if a monster could love cookies so much, there must be something to them. That show, that was so much apart of so many peoples childhood, helped me to become a great fan of the cookie. It helped spark my quest for a great cookie, which continues until this day. A quest that randomly brought us to Christoper Garren's.

After checking out Surfas, we decided to take a quick walk through the other stores at the South Coast Collection. Katie had wanted to get a coffee, but we ended up at the Seventh Tea Bar instead, due to the long line at Portola. With teas in hand, we walked around looking at all of the hipster type stores, that I really had no interest in buying stuff at. Craving a cookie, Christopher Garren's shimmered like a fedora in this hipster oasis, (fedoras are still considered hipster wear, right?).

To be honest, walking into Christopher Garren's I had never heard of this bakery. If you are a fan of baking shows you probably know that this shop has been featured on the WE Network show, "Amazing Wedding Cakes". I have never seen it, and I am not really sure that I get the WE Network with my cable package, but now I will have to look for it. They have been on this show for three seasons now, and have been in business since 2001. Their original location was on Newport Boulevard, but have been situated here at the South Coast Collection since 2009.

The interior of this bakery is a little on the girlie side. They have a very nice cake gallery off to the side, where they show off some of their creative cakes. I would have taken pictures, but there was a sign that asked for no photos of the cakes to be taken. Guess you will have to see their cake decorating prowess for yourself. My main focus was on cookies, but they also have a very nice looking display case that features many baked goods including; scones, brownies, tarts, bundt cakes, cinnamon rolls, and other various cakes. They also have a small breakfast and lunch menu that is served Tuesday through Saturday until 3PM. I had zeroed in on the cookie that I wanted, so we grabbed a seat at one of their tables and were ready to dig in.

Here's a quick shot of the two cookies that we got. The first thing I noticed was the size of these babies. They were pretty good sized, and pretty hefty in the weight department. Let's go in for a closer look, and more description about these cookies.

Katie for some reason was instantly drawn to the interesting Caribbean Cookie ($3.50). This cookie had a little bit of everything in it. Coconut, white chocolate, macadamia nuts, apricot, mango, and a touch of rum gave this cookie a kind of an island feel to it. To put it simply, Katie loved the uniqueness of this cookie. Everything came together for her here. I am not a big fan of dried fruit, but the base of the cookie was good for me.

I went the more traditional route with my cookie choice, the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie ($3.50). This was not just your average chocolate chip cookie though. What made it ultimate was that it contained not only chocolate chips, but oats, pecans, and coconut as well. When I looked at this cookie I thought it was going to be on the dry side, but it was moist enough with plenty of chocolate chips and maybe the coconut gives this cookie some moisture also. I have always been partial to oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and this cookie was more in this vain, but with a subtler oat flavor. The outside had a little crunch, and the inside had a nice softness. A perfect balance that makes for a very nice cookie. This cookie was heavy and did its job of keeping me full until my next meal.

I was pretty impressed with the cookies we had at Christopher Garren's. Cookies are all about flavor and texture to me, and these were spot on. One of the best cookies we have had to date. I know some might scoff at the price of these cookies, but after trying them I would consider them worth every penny. I am now looking forward to my next visit to the South Coast Collection for another trip to Christopher Garren's. I hear that they make a great cinnamon roll as well, so I will have to give that a try. Thanks Cookie Monster and Sesame Street for getting me hooked on cookies.

Out of five C's, (because as Cookie Monster famously sang on Sesame Street, "C is for cookie"), five being best to zero being worst, Christopher Garren's gets 3.5 C's.

For more information about Christopher Garren's, go to their web site here: 

Christopher Garren's on Urbanspoon