Monday, September 30, 2013

Crowing About Our Trip to Early Bird

Early Bird 
1000 E. Bastanchury Rd.
Fullerton, CA 92835

I have always said that breakfast is the most difficult meal to make. Not that making an omelette is difficult, or pouring the frozen pancake batter into a skillet is burdensome. No, that part is easy, except for maybe Katie. Anyways, the tough part about breakfast is making it your own. Standing out from the crowd. Most breakfast menus contain the same old items. Pancakes, French toast, and some uninspired egg dishes.

Don't get me wrong, I love breakfast food, but I like when restaurants make breakfast their own by spicing things up. I can count on one hand the most memorable breakfasts we have had during the run of this blog. Matt's Big Breakfast in Phoenix, Doughnut Plant in New York, Mike's City Diner in Boston, and our only OC representative on our great breakfast list, Break of Dawn in Laguna Hills. All these places take breakfast items, and took them up a notch using great ingredients and making their dishes unique. After all I had heard about Early Bird, I had a sneaky suspicion that they could make it onto our great breakfast list. Let's see if this premonition would come true.

First a little background on Early Bird. This restaurant has been around for just over a year now. Joesph Mahon, the man behind the great burgers at Burger Parlor was the original boss of the kitchen, but earlier this year he left to focus on Burger Parlor. Enter new Executive Head Chef Frank DeLoach. With chef Frank at the helm, the kitchen has not missed a beat according to people that have eaten here before and after Mahon's departure. Early Bird is also expanding soon. They are going to be opening another location in Yorba Linda, a city that is definitely starved for a great breakfast place.

We met my parents at Early Bird at 10am on a recent Sunday morning, and were met with a 40 minute wait. I, of course did not mind waiting, because this place had been on my list of places to try forever. My parents must have sensed my excitement about this restaurant, as they were real troopers about the over half an hour wait, as they passed the time talking to both Katie and I. Early Bird is located in the same shopping center as Stater Bros. Once seated inside, I really thought the space was pretty comfortable. A lot of breakfast joints try to cram as many people in as possible, but the distance between tables here was nicely spaced. The decor here is pretty minimal, while conveying a nice clean image. The waitstaff texts orders into the kitchen on Blackberries, and then the food is brought out. I believe this was the first time I had seen this in a restaurant, and it seemed to be a good system. The food made it out to our table in a pretty timely manner, let's see how everything turned out for us.

We will start with my Dad's selection for breakfast, the Frank Floyd Benedict ($9.75). This Benedict was made up of poached eggs, roasted portabella, spinach, smoked salmon, and a Bearnaise sauce. My Dad seemed very pleased with this meal. He finished quickly, and felt that this was one of the best Benedicts he has had. The Bearnaise sauce was not too heavy, but still maintained a good flavor profile, the spinach was not over cooked, and the eggs were poached perfectly. Along with the Benedict, this was also served with a choice of potatoes, which my Dad got the Skillet Potatoes. These were fried well, not too greasy, and seasoned nicely. I always think it is odd when my Dad gets Rye Toast at breakfast, but it works surprisingly well. I'm not sure where they get their bread from, but this was a good marble rye.

Maybe not as artistic looking as the chilaquilles from Anepalcos, but in Katie's opinion, this version is pretty close when it comes to taste. This Carnitas Chilaquilles ($12.95) came with two eggs any style, carnitas, avocado emulsion, fried tortillas in a chili sauce, and queso fresco. She really liked this. She thought it was going to be a heavier dish than it was, but it surprised her with the lightness of it. The tortillas were fried perfectly, and the of course the eggs were prepared just as she had requested. I kind of thought that the carnitas got a little lost here, but Katie only parted with one bite of this, so maybe she was keeping them all to herself. We still like the chilaquilles at Anepalcos just a little bit better, but these are not to be missed here.

I had a pretty hard time making a decision on what to have at Early Bird, but when I saw the Duck Confit Hash ($13.50) it made my decision for me. I love duck, but do not get to have it too often, and I can not recall a time I had it with a breakfast dish. At Early Bird the duck is joined on the plate by two sunny side up eggs, arugula, potatoes, onions, scallions, and golden raisins. Let's start with the duck. It was not crazy greasy as some duck tends to be. It had a nice smoky flavor that went well with the eggs. The veggies were great, and I was skeptical about the raisins in this, but they helped balance out the plate by adding just enough sweetness. The serving size of this was just enough, (but of course I could have eaten a lot more). A very solid breakfast plate.

My Mom is pretty predictable when it comes to ordering in breakfast restaurants. She almost always gravitates towards breakfast sandwiches. It is kind of her thing I guess. After consuming her Grand Moff Breakfast Sandwich ($8.95), she exclaimed, "this is the best breakfast sandwich I have ever had". This is some pretty strong praise from a woman that knows a thing or two about breakfast sandwiches. This breakfast sandwich came with both sausage and bacon, a sunny side up egg, tomato jam, and smoked Gouda for the cheese. This is like an Egg McMuffin on steroids. Of course both bacon and sausage can never be a bad thing on anything, the smoked Gouda really was a nice choice here, and the tomato jam provided just a touch of sweetness to cut the smokiness from the breakfast meats. Glad this sandwich could make my Mom so happy.

Even though I had ordered the duck confit, I still had enough room for the special they were offering on this particular Sunday. I love waffle sandwiches, and the Elvis Waffle Sandwich ($7.95) did not disappoint. This waffle was filled with banana, bacon, and Nutella. I really liked this sandwich. The outside of the waffle was crisp, and held everything together well. The bacon was crisp as well, and was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the Nutella and banana. I think some peanut butter would have gone good with this also, just a hint for the guys at Early Bird when they want to offer this special again. It pained me to give bites of this away to my fellow table mates, but I did the honorable thing and gave them some.

I was pretty excited by all of the food we had at Early Bird. This definitely is a breakfast spot worth hitting up. They are doing some great things here for breakfast, and it has really piqued my interest to try their dinner soon. It is true that they are a little on the high side for breakfast, but you are paying for higher quality than you would get at Denny's and other regular breakfast spots. They are using locally grown ingredients from family farms here, and the result is a better tasting breakfast. It is safe to say that after eating at Early Bird, they have now made it onto our list of the most memorable breakfast places we have been to during the run of our blog.

Out of five worms, (come on, this was an easy one because everyone knows what the early bid catches), five being best to zero being worst, Early Bird gets 4 worms.

For more information about Early Bird, check out their website here:

Early Bird on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Taste of the Islands at Hapa J's

Hapa J's
2016 S. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

Katie and I have not really gone on vacation this year. Last year we took a road trip to the Grand Canyon, by way of Vegas, and we also went on a Caribbean cruise out of Tampa. This year, we have not been anywhere. We have another trip to Las Vegas planned, but we are playing our vacations very low key this year. We had thought about Hawaii, but when we looked at the airfare, it was pushing towards the $600 mark. A little steep for us. So we are going to have to settle on getting our island vibe here on the mainland.

I had heard about Hapa J's while reading the OC Weekly Best of 2011 edition. Hapa J's won for the best looking waitstaff category. This of course caught my attention, but was not the only reason that we had to come to Hapa J's, (at least that's what I told Katie). While we were eating at Rider's Club Cafe one evening, we got to talking to some people, and they told us that we must go to Hapa J's to try their Man Style Hapa Fries. After what they described, I knew we would be feeling the Aloha vibe of Hapa J's very soon. So, we trudged down to San Clemente on a recent Saturday night to escape the inland heat, and experience what Hapa J's has to offer.

Hapa J's has been around for 4 years now. Back in 2011, they not only won the best looking waitress category, but they won first place at the I Love Poke Festival down in San Diego. We got to Hapa J's at about 8PM. This restaurant is pretty good sized, with vibrant colors adorning the walls, nice comfy booths, and a more muted island theme than I was expecting. The customers ranged from surfer dudes getting a bite to eat before heading out for a night of drinking, to families with little ones coloring quietly, as their parents enjoyed a rare night out. Since there were all these people here at this later than normal dinner hour, I had an inkling that were going to be in for a good meal at Hapa J's. Let's see how everything turned out for us.

Much like chips and salsa are presented at Mexican restaurants, this Edamame showed up at our table, just after we had ordered. These were salted, and provided a quick little snack for us. We had ordered a lot of food, so I steered clear of eating too much of this edamame though.

We had ordered two appetizers and two entrees, and they all hit our table at the same time. I thought our table was going to tip over with all of this food. Let's start with what Hapa J's is probably most famous for, their poke. We selected their Ahi Poke Trio (market price, but on the night we were here this was $18). I really liked the variety of this plate. It really showed how varied they could make the poke taste, just by using different preparation styles.  My favorite of the three was the Spicy Tobiko. I know, not really surprising that I would like something that was spicy. This was not crazy spicy, but had just enough of a pop of flavor to not overwhelm the poke. My silver medalist out of this trio was the Sesame Poke. This one had more of an earthiness to it, that helped to cut the richness of the ahi. I probably liked the Shoyu poke the least. It was very fresh, but the flavor of this compared to the other two just kind of seemed plain. I really did enjoy this appetizer a lot though. The poke was rich and tender, and I enjoyed the way the chef played around with different flavors here.

Our second appetizer could have fed about six people. These are the Hapa Fries Man Style ($13.75). Here they take a very large plate, use yukari seasoned fries as a base, then add three different sauces, add cheese, and plenty of Kahlua pork. Wow, this rocked my world. I still had my entree to eat, but I could not stop eating these. The Kahlua pork was some of the best I have had. It was very moist, lots of flavor, and they did not skimp on the amount they used here. Even though the fries were weighted down by two tons of toppings, they still remained crisp, even as they were being scooped into the to go container. Even with all of these big flavors working here, everything was very well balanced. Next time I come here, this will be the only thing that I will need to order, of course I will still need three friends to help me finish it.

As if we needed them, we still had our entrees to consume as well. Starting with Katie's dinner, the Chicken Yakisoba ($12.75). Here the yakisoba noodles are stir fried with mixed vegetables and chicken breast, then topped with cilantro and green onions. This big portion had some pros and cons in Katie's opinion. She felt there was too much cilantro on this, and the flavor was only enhanced when she added soy sauce and Sriracha to this big pile of food. She did feel that the chicken was tender, the veggies were fresh, and she liked this option of having a lighter meal than she was expecting to have at Hapa J's.

As is my custom when eating at a restaurant for the first time, I almost always look for menu items that contain numerous elements, so I can try as much as possible at a restaurant. At Hapa J's this meant I would be having this Mixed Plate ($12.50). The mixed plate includes a mound of Kahlua pork, Kal-bi short rib, and chicken katsu. Easily, the pork was the best out of these three meats. This was the same pork that was used on the Hapa fries, and it was just as good on its own. It was still moist, tender, and the Kahlua was very noticeable. The chicken was probably my next favorite. The breading was alright, and the chicken inside was pretty solid, if not a little boring. The short rib was the real disappointment of this plate for me. There was not a lot of meat on these, and they were kind of fatty. This plate is served with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad, as is the tradition in Hawaii. The rice was pretty average, and the macaroni salad was about the same. It's safe to say, the highlight of this plate for me was the Kahlua pork, and I was thankful that there was a lot of it here.

I ended up taking a good deal of this food home with me, and had enough for lunches the next two days afterwards. If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a pretty big eater, so you know that this was a lot of food if I had enough for three meals. I am really happy those guys at Rider's Club told me about Hapa J's. For the most part I really liked most of the items that I had here. Basically, anything that featured their Kahlua pork, or their poke is going to be a winner here. The service on this night was a little on the spotty side. The food all came out at once, and our waiter only checked on us sporadically during our visit. Yes, instead of getting one of the good looking waitress's, it was just my luck that we ended up having a waiter. No big surprise there. I am sure that some of you out there are going to bemoan the slightly inflated prices here, but you do get a lot of food, and it is definitely cheaper than that $600 round trip ticket to the Aloha State.

Out of five ukuleles, (because it is the unofficial musical instrument of Hawaii), five being best to zero being worst, Hapa J's gets 3.5 ukuleles.

For more information about Hapa J's, go to their web site here:

Hapa J's on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sneak Preview of the Patchwork Edible Edition

Patchwork Edible Media Preview at SOCO
3303 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

To be honest, when I was walking into this event, I had no idea what to expect. I had never heard of Patchwork before. I am not someone that is into crafts, I don't really care for shopping, and if you have ever seen me out, you know I am probably one of the least fashionable person in any room. From what I could gather about Patchwork from their web site, they were kind of a cross between Sawdust Festival, farmers market, and craft store. Not really any of my favorite places.

This was going to be different though. This Patchwork event was going to be all about food. An edible festival, if you will. I could definitely get excited about something like that. Looking deeper into it though, this is more of a food lovers summit. They are bringing food authors, chefs, bloggers, vendors, and food producers all together for this two day event at SOCO in Costa Mesa. SOCO itself is becoming a culinary destination for food lovers from all over Southern California. We have made several trips to this center this summer, and we have many more to make as we try to cross some restaurants off of our list.

Anyways back to the Patchwork Edible Show. Patchwork Shows started seven years ago, and this is going to be their first food related show. Sure they have a Marketplace, which will feature over 50 regional small food business's along with food-centric items and beverages; including beer, wine and other innovative drinks. Patchwork Edible Edition will also feature food related panels, cooking demos, hands on workshops, and for those looking to get into the cottage food industry, they will be providing resources and programs to educate the next wave of food entrepreneurs. This is going to be a lot of stuff packed into these two days. Now that I had more of an idea of what this show was all about, I was even more excited for it to get here. Lucky for me, this event was was showcasing some of the great exhibitors that will be part of Patchwork Edible Edition on October 5th and 6th. Let's see what we got here.

It's not only going to be craft food vendors at Patchwork, there will be some pop-up restaurants as well. Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop was on hand giving out samples of their Grilled Peach with Burrata Cheese and their Truffled Mushroom Flatbread. The grilled peach was better than I expected it would be, but the flatbread was where it's at. Very tasty. We have not been to Greenleaf yet, but we will make it to their new SOCO location soon.

Ontoria is a restaurant in Costa Mesa that I have never heard of. They are located on Bristol, right under the 73 Freeway. On this night they were making their Fresh Burrata. This was topped with fruit, and was very creamy and delicious. Now that I know who they are, we may have to make a visit to their restaurant soon.

Since we always eat out, I am always on the lookout for healthy snacks when I am at home. I may have found one with The Yes Bar. This snack is grain free, and Paleo friendly. The bars are made up of nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and other things. For being good for you, these sure did not taste like it, they actually tasted good. I was fond of the macadamia nut chocolate chip that I tried. I took a few extra samples to work the next day.

Even before we came to this event, I had heard great things about Front Porch Pops. I was a little disappointed that they did not have any of their popsicles out for samples, but they did have other treats, including fresh baked pretzels, and one of the more unusual treats of the night, Brie Ice Cream. Yes, you heard that right, brie ice cream. It was very smooth and creamy, and left me wanting more. I will have to make a trip up to their storefront up in Orange, or maybe catch them at the SOCO Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

Proving that things run in cycles, the Preservation Society is bringing back canning. This is not your grandmothers canning though. They had some interesting offerings here. Lemon Passionfruit Marmalade, Jalapeno Lime Jelly, Curry Pumpkin Pickles, and Herbed Beets with Orange and Shallots. Can't wait to try some of their stuff at the Patchwork Edible Show.

What goes good with preserves? Yes, bread of course. Anytime we see Bread Artisan Bakery at an event, we know we will be lingering around, and stuffing ourselves with samples for awhile. This family owned and operated bakery is quickly becoming one of our favorite bread providers. Their stuff is very good. Glad they will be at the Patchwork Event.

The always innovative guys from Portola Coffee were doing something a little outside the box at this event. They made ice cream using liquid nitrogen, brewed espresso, then turned both into an affogato. I did not get a chance to try this, but from what I heard, it was amazing. These guys always have something going on here.

You can revoke my food blogger card if you would like, but I had no idea what Kombucha was all about until I tried Kombucha Dog. Kombucha is fermented tea loaded with antioxidants, detoxifying acids, and probiotics. Kombucha was good, and I guess it is good for you, but I really liked that the folks over at Kombucha Dog place canines on their labels. These are dogs that are in need of rescue, and you can find ways to help them on their website. It's always nice when a company doesn't just care about making money, but gives things back to the community.

I'm not much of a soda drinker, unless you count the rum and cokes I have when I am watching my horrible football team play. This Joia All Natural Soda was pretty solid though. I really enjoyed the unusual flavors, Pineapple-Coconut-Nutmeg, Lime-Hibiscus-Clove, and the one that I tried, the Ginger-Apricot-Allspice. They do not use high fructose corn syrup or anything artificial. A very well made beverage.

These were just some of the vendors that will be at the Patchwork Edible Edition. If this sneak peek is any indication, this is going to be a great event. All these food vendors, panels, cooking demos, and hands on workshops are all being offered free of charge. Yes, you heard that right, there is no admission fee to get into this great event. I am really glad that I came to this event, and learned about the great things that will be going on here. There is no doubt that we will be at SOCO October 5th and 6th. Hope to see you there as well.

For information about the Patchwork Edible Edition, go to the Patchwork website here:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Little Bit of Paradise Here in OC

Splashes at the Surf and Sand Resort
1555 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

This summer overall has not been crazy hot, except for the last month or so. The last few weeks have become unbearable. I really shouldn't complain, with all the flooding that has gone on in Colorado, and the tornadoes that have touched down in the Midwest, we in California have had it pretty easy. Only a few weeks of 90 degree weather, as compared to what the rest of the nation goes through all year round, we got it easy. Even though I should be thankful we don't have to go through what the rest of the US goes through, I was still excited when we were invited to come down to the Surf and Sand Resort in Laguna to meet their new chef, get a sneak peek at their new Fall menu, and of course escape the blistering heat inland.

You could not ask for a more beautiful setting than the Surf and Sand. When we got out of the car, I told Katie it instantly felt like we were on vacation in a tropical paradise, instead of just being fifteen miles from home. We were ushered to the pool area, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Wow, what a view. Chef David and his team were busy preparing last minute details on the food we were going to be having, so we made a beeline for the bar, to try the two new cocktails at the Surf And Sand.

The first cocktail I tried was the oxymoron named, New Old Fashioned. This take on the old standard drink of are elders, got new life at the Surf and Sand. This version uses Hudson Bourbon and Koval Honey Chrysanthemum Liqueur, which is aged in an oak barrel for 2 to 3 months, then is combined with muddled sugar, bitters, orange, cherry, lemon, and soda water. The result is a not too sweet cocktail, which is refreshing, but not too strong. I am not much of a bourbon drinker, but all the fruit helped to neutralize the bourbon taste for me in this drink. A very solid drink for the bourbon drinkers out there.

As much as I liked the New Old Fashioned, this Pamplemousse Fizz was more to my liking. This drink started with a base of Hendricks Gin and Pamplemousse liqueur, which is also aged in a barrel for two months. It is then muddled with mint and grapefruit, then topped with soda and a lemon twist. This is a drink that could get me in some trouble. It went down way too easily. I could easily imagine having a couple of these by the pool at the Surf and Sand.

As I quickly downed my second drink, Chef David Fune was just about ready with everything. Chef David recently came aboard at the Surf and Sand Resort as their new Executive Chef of the property, including the critically acclaimed Splashes Restaurant. Chef David comes from San Diego, where he worked at the Hotel Del Coronado. He also had stints at Pechanga, as well as his latest gig before the move to Splashes, as Executive Chef at the Temecula Creek Inn. As if that was not enough of a resume, Chef David has also appeared on the TV show, "Chopped", one of Katie's favorite shows. The show aired in June, and I do not want to give anything away, but he did do pretty well. He welcomed us, and told us a little about what he is trying to do at Splashes. He really loves local flavors, and describes his food as simple and fresh coastal cuisine. After getting to know Chef David, I was very excited to see what he had planned for us.

As soon as Chef David was done talking, it seemed like everyone headed straight to this Wild Mushroom Flatbread. This was definitely a favorite of almost everyone in attendance. This flatbread was topped with tallaggio cheese, mushroom duxelle, and an onion veloute. I learned two things about this dish when I got home, and found the answers on Google. Duxelle is finely chopped mushrooms, and the onion veloute was the cream sauce on this flatbread. I acted like I knew what I was eating, but I really had no idea until I looked it up later. Hopefully I acted like I knew what I was doing on this night. I know my secret will stay safe, since none of my fellow food loggers ever read my blog. This was a very good flatbread. Very crispy, the mushrooms provided an earthiness, and the toppings were very subtle and fresh.

Since it has been so hot lately, the last thing I expected to enjoy was soup. That was until I tried this Charred Eggplant Bisque. This was topped playfully with a crumble made from everything bagels. I am not a big eggplant lover, but this had a very comforting smokiness that really brought to mind the fall season. Not too salty, and a very smooth taste. This was another favorite of all in attendance.

It seems like everywhere we have been lately, there has been ahi on the menu. This was also the case here, with this Ahi Mi Cuit. Of course this had me rushing to Google as well, and I learned that mi cuit means semi cooked. I guess I should have took French in high school. This ahi was joined on the plate with pickled pear, onion, and a quail egg. The ahi was very fresh, and the accompaniments did not get in the way of the flavor of the tuna. For me, the other items on the plate were really just about textures, adding some crunch to this. I was also a fan of the presentation with this one, a lot of attention to detail.

My absolute favorite item of the night was this Pork Osso Bucco. I could not contain my glee with this plate, as I had three helpings of these. The pork was fall off the bone tender, with an almost pot roast type flavor. The sauce was a very rich Parmesan broth, and the pork was paired nicely with giant white beans, spinach, and pinenuts. Comfort food for the coming cooler weather. I will definitely be back for this item, so good.

As much as I loved the pork, I was not so enthralled with Chef David's version of Lasagna. Maybe because when I hear the word lasagna, I expect red sauce, pasta and meat. Chef David's interpretation was a little different. He started with Belgian endive as maybe the pasta, then used walnut butter and white bean chevre mousse as the sauce, and finished it with langoustine as the meat. I guess all the components are there, but I expected a little more from this dish. The flavors were way too subtle for me, and when I heard there was lobster in this, I could not recall tasting it. This was definitely not the dish for me.

Desserts are not to be missed at Splashes, as evident from this Maple Cheesecake. This is not just your standard, run of the mill cheesecake. This had a lot going on with it. The cheesecake starts with a base of graham cracker crust, then includes an apple bacon confit, a bourbon apple puree, and is finished with a walnut Parmesan tuille, which is a small curved cookie, (I had to look that one up too). I am pretty picky with cheesecake, because some can be dry and chalky. This was not the case here. The cheesecake portion was smooth and moist, while the maple definitely shined through. The bacon added just enough saltiness to balance out this dessert. I also was a fan of the torched top of this cheesecake.

As the sun set into the Pacific, it was nearing time to leave the Surf and Sand Resort. Our three hour vacation in paradise was wrapping up. It would soon be back to the real world; battling traffic down PCH, getting ready for work the next day, and of course, living with the 90 plus degree temperatures again. It was great meeting Chef David, as he has appeared to bring new life into the food at Splashes and the Surf and Sand Resort. I talked with a few of the people helping prepare the food on this night, and they all really love working with him, and like the direction that the kitchen is going. If this little taste of their new fall menu is any indication, I would say that I am very happy with it as well. Can't wait to come back to Splashes and the Surf and Sand Resort, and have another vacation for a few hours soon.

We would like to thank everyone at the Surf and Sand Resort for the wonderful service that they provided us on this night. Even though we were only miles from home, you guys made us feel like we were on vacation, without a care in the world. We can not thank you enough for that. We would also like to thank Chef David Fune, for taking the time to answer all of my questions, and share his passion for what he does. Lastly, we would like to thank Lindsay Weightman, and the entire J Public Relations team for thinking of inviting us to this great event. We really had a great time.

For more information about the Surf and Sand Resort or Splashes Restaurant, go to their web site here: