Sunday, June 30, 2013

Finding Anything But Common Food at 370 Common


Three Seventy Common Kitchen + Drink
370 Glenneyre St. 
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

It must be difficult for Katie to pick where to take me for my birthday. She knows that I am pretty picky when it comes to restaurants. Not that I would be totally upset with her if we went to a bad place, or even a mediocre one. I try to view it as just part of the journey of this restaurant blog. This year Katie just asked to see our restaurant wish list. She picked one off of the list, made reservations, and then we were off, with me being more clueless than usual. I had it narrowed down to two places when we arrived in Laguna, and I was very excited when we arrived at 370 Common.

370 Common is on almost every OC foodies wish list of places to eat. It has been on my list since I read an article about it in Orange Coast magazine. That was more than a year ago when that article piqued my interest, and 370 Common has been open for two years this September. If you remember where Sorrento Grille was, 370 Common now occupies that same space. In fact, Chef Ryan Adams used to be the Executive Chef at Sorrento, but after that restaurant group faced money problems, Chef Adams jumped in and bought the place. I never went to Sorrento Grille, but from what I have been able to gather in other reviews, the restaurant has not changed too much.

We got to 370 Common at about 5:30 on a Sunday night. Unknown to Katie, Sundays at 370 Common are called, "Sunday Social Dinners", where they do away with their regular menu, and have one set menu for the evening. From what our waiter told us, they rotate the protein type, but the one mainstay per month is the fried chicken dinner, which has almost achieved cult status at this point. We missed out on that, but we decided the menu that was offered on this particular Sunday night was definitely worth staying for, so we grabbed a seat in the open and airy dining room. When we sat down they were not particularly busy, but as our meal progressed, the tables filled up around us. Our waiter came over and took our drink orders, and since it was a set menu, there was no ordering to do. The cost of this Sunday Social dinner was $30 per person, and does not include drinks, tax, or gratuity. Not a bad price for a three course meal with side items. The parade of food gradually made its way to our table. This is how it came out.


Before we get to the Sunday Social part of the meal, when we sat down we were presented with this bread plate. Pretty standard fair here. The bread had a good chew to it, the butter was soft, and the three pieces of this disappeared very quickly. I'm not sure what it is, but every time a bread basket is placed in front of us at a restaurant, we act like we have just crossed the desert, and this is the first food we have eaten in weeks. It could be that we don't have bread baskets when we eat at home, so maybe it's just the novelty of it.


The Sunday Social menu is all served family style, so Katie and I had plenty of salad to split between the two of us. Starting things off was this Marinated Vegetable Salad. When this first hit the table I was a little skeptical that I would enjoy this salad, but I was wrong. I generally enjoy creamy dressings, such as ranch or blue cheese, but this herb vinaigrette was delicious. The produce used in this salad, along with all the vegetables used during this dinner, were hand picked by the chef at local farmer's markets. You could definitely taste the freshness. This salad contained mixed greens, red and yellow peppers, pearl onions, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and croutons. My favorite parts of this very well made salad were the grilled pearl onions and the croutons, which really grew on me as I consumed this salad. A very strong start to our Sunday dinner.



Okay, so I guess that I did lie to you when I said that there was no other options for the Sunday dinners, because they do offer a vegetarian option, which is what Katie went with. The vegetarian option the night we were here was a Vegetable Pappardelle Pasta. This had a plethora of veggies included in this; watermelon radishes, pearl onions, mushrooms, peas, and others that I did not catch. The sauce was a wonderfully made pesto. Katie really enjoyed this dish, with the house made pasta, the flavorful pesto, and the fresh vegetables. She made very quick work of this meal, which was a larger serving size than it appears in these pictures.



Unlike Katie, I was very excited for the meat portion of the Sunday dinner, which just happened to be this glorious Pork Chop in a spicy wash. Quite simply, this is the best pork chop I have had to date. The pork was tender, and the flavor was fantastic. My only minor complaint is that there could have been more sauce served with this, but I tend to like a heavy hand when it comes to sauces. The chop was moist enough without an excess of sauce though. The bones were picked clean after I got done with this pork chop. This was served on a bed of Garlic Herbed Mashed Potatoes that had a great texture, very smooth, and the flavor was good, even without a lot of detectable garlic flavor. Very well made mashed potato. This plate really had my head spinning, as I fell in love with it. I felt like a 14 year old kid getting the chance to sit next to his high school crush in class. Yes, it was that good.




Even though there was no way that the side dishes could compete with that pork chop, they were still pretty good. As my Mom could tell you, I am not a big fan of green beans, but the Green Beans here are not like the ones that she would serve us out of the can. These were fresh, and topped with crispy shallots, chile, and lemon. Good enough to make me change my mind about green beans, at least ones that are not from a can. The other side dish was Bacon Roasted Summer Squash. The squash was grilled perfectly, with just the right combination of pepper and smokiness from the bacon. This was the clear winner in my opinion of the two side items. Even with just the two of us, we had no problem finishing the squash.



Again, I was a little apprehensive when we were given our dessert at the end of this meal. I am probably one of the few people you know that does not enjoy fresh berries, but this Berry Pound Cake really surprised me. The berries and pound cake were joined on the plate by mascarpone and vanilla bean ice cream. The best part of this for me was the pound cake and the ice cream. The pound cake was a much better option than that spongy shortcake that most places use. This had a great sweetness to it, and did not get soggy even with the toppings. The mascarpone was not as sweet as whipped cream, which helped to balance out this dessert a bit. Another winner.

If you just looked at the pictures of this review, and did not read what I wrote, I can sum 370 Common up in one word, "great". I'm not saying this Sunday Social menu is for everyone though. Some people like to make their own choices when they are in a restaurant, so those people should come to 370 Common on any night but Sunday. It is kind of scary being at the whim of the chef, but this Sunday dinner really proves that you can not go wrong with Chef Adams. Even though there were some things on this menu that I am not too fond of, he presented them in a way that made me like them, which is the goal of any great chef. I really thought this Sunday dinner was a great value. $30 per person for all of this food, and we even had some leftovers to take home for lunch the next day. The service was very good on the night we were here, our waiter, and everyone else we came in contact with really talked this restaurant up quite a bit. It's awesome to see so many people proud of where they work. We look forward to coming back again and trying their regular menu, but we will not hesitate to come back on a Sunday either. Good choice for my birthday dinner Katie. Job well done.

Out of five lemons, (no, not because I am sour about getting older, but because one of the sister cities for Laguna Beach is Menton, France, home of a Lemon Festival held every February), five being best to zero being worst, 370 Common gets 4 lemons.

For more information about 370 Common, click here: http://www.370common.com/

(370) Three Seventy Common: Kitchen + Drink on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hoping for the Luck of the Irish at Dublin 4


Dublin 4 Gastropub
26342 Oso Parkway
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

I love getting tips about places from people. This little gem comes from a great friend of mine that comes into my work, nearly everyday. Her name is CJ, and she definitely has some high standards when it comes to food. She makes a lot of great dinners at her house, makes her own pastrami, and has given me some tips in the past that have turned out to be some great spots. She had told me about this place over a year ago, and we are finally making the short trek from our house to Dublin 4 Gastropub.

Dublin 4 has been open for over a year now. In that time they have received some great press from a lot of the culinary media in OC. Named after a postal code in upper, middle class Dublin, this was the area of Ireland that owner Darren Coyle hailed from, before immigrating to Mission Viejo with his wife, Jean. Dublin 4 is located next door to their first business, Wineworks For Everyone. I have not been inside that business, but from what I can gather from their website, it is part retail store and part bistro, where they attempt to pair their wines with the food that they serve. After looking at their Wineworks For Everyone menu, I am looking forward to coming back and trying that restaurant as well. For now though, we are focusing on Dublin 4.

Getting to Dublin 4 can be a little tricky. They are located right by the on ramp for the 5 Freeway going north, on Oso Parkway. This is a small center, that features a Starbuck's, and very little parking in front. We valeted our car, just so we did not have to hassle with the cramped parking situation in the upper portion of the parking lot. We got to Dublin 4 on a Saturday night at about 6PM. Rookie mistake, we did not have reservations, and they were booked until 8PM. Luckily we were directed to two open seats at the very busy bar.

The decor at Dublin 4 is not over the top with Irish paraphernalia. There are portraits of Irish writers on the walls, but not a four leaf clover in sight. They definitely pack the people in here, and the room is a little on the loud side. Dublin 4 is a little brighter than most gastropubs we have been to. Customers were mainly middle aged, with a good number of regulars at the bar, mixed in with us common folk that did not have reservations. The bartenders really took good care of us, and took our orders promptly. After a quick glance at the menu, this is what came out for us.



I had checked Yelp before we had gotten here, and the D4 Reuben Rolls ($12) got some pretty high praise. These are kind of like a Reuben sandwich in egg roll form. The corned beef that they use in these is cured in house, and joined by sauerkraut, Blarney cheese, and a D4 sauce, that resembled a richer thousand island dressing, without the pickles. I really liked this twist on the classic Reuben sandwich. The egg roll was not too greasy, the meat brought a nice saltiness, and the Blarney cheese was very subtle, and just added some creaminess to the mix. Nicely done appetizer.



The first item listed on the Dublin 4 menu was this Beer Blessed Cheese and Potato Soup ($9), and I knew as soon as I saw this item, we would be splitting a bowl of this. The cheese used in this is an aged Irish cheddar, with smoked bacon, and a toasted wheat slice of baguette floating on top of the soup. This soup was not as cheesy as I thought it was going to be, thus it was not as rich and heavy. I did not detect too much in the way of the bacon or potatoes, but maybe the potatoes were in there and helped to mellow out the soup. The creaminess of this soup was spot on, and the floating slice of bread was great for dipping into the soup. I would definitely get this soup again



Katie seemed to take a long while deciding on what to have at Dublin 4, finally settling on the Free Range Brick Chicken ($24). The chicken was nice and tender, had a good flavor, and left Katie very satisfied. She was not too keen on all the skin that was left on this, but it would not prevent her from getting this again. The roasted garlic reduction went very well with this chicken. Grilled asparagus and a white truffle Parmesan polenta joined the bird on the plate. The asparagus was predictably fresh, while the polenta was flavorful, but not too rich, even with the truffle used in it.




Again, because of the strong Yelp reviews for an item, I went out of my comfort zone slightly, and ordered the Prime Colorado Lamb Burger ($16). I can honesty say that this lamb burger was one of the best I have had. The meat was nice and juicy and had a good meaty flavor. The burger was topped with fire roasted red peppers, a goat cheese, pickled red onion, arugula, and a roasted garlic spread. With all of these condiments I thought the burger would have been overwhelmed, but it enhanced the lamb. The peppers and onion added some texture, the goat cheese added creaminess, and the roasted garlic provided a flavor blast to this burger. The bun was very sturdy, and held the contents of the burger well. It is no wonder this has become a favorite of so many people coming to Dublin 4. The fries here were white truffle thyme frites. A little on the skinny side, these had a nice mellow flavor even with the inclusion of truffle used in these.




Even with all of the food we had eaten, missing out on dessert was not an option. Of the three desserts listed, the House Churned Guinness  Ice Cream with Cacao Chocolate Lava Cake ($9), was the one that sounded the best to us. Katie detected the Guinness in the ice cream a lot more than I did. It might have been because the chocolate really overwhelmed this dessert for me. If you are a chocolate lover, this is for you. The cake was good, but I expected a little better. It would have been killer if this had been heated up a bit. Also, a little more ice cream would have helped this out as well.

I was very satisfied leaving Dublin 4. I left feeling full, and almost all of the food really was done well, and with fresh ingredients. The only minor quibbles that I have with this restaurant was the lackluster dessert that we had, and I thought some of the meals were a little on the high side. If you do not mind paying for quality, this could be the place for you. We sat at the bar, and the two bartenders that were there took great care of us. Next time we come to Dublin 4, we will definitely make reservations so we can sit in the dining room. See CJ, we really do listen to your tips, it just takes us a long while to get around to trying them.

Out of five band aids, (because the South Side of Dublin is covered by the Dublin 4 postal code, and Bob Geldof is a famous resident of that area, and also wrote the famous Christmas song , "Do they Know It's Christmas", sung by Band Aid), five being best to zero being worst, Dublin 4 gets 3.5 band aids.

Dublin 4 does not have a web site, but you can find info and reviews here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/dublin-4-mission-viejo

Dublin 4 Gastropub on Urbanspoon 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Partaking in Piles of Pastrami at The Hat


The Hat
23641 Rockfield Blvd.
Lake Forest, CA 92630

Four years into this blog, and there are still some restaurants that I am surprised we have not been to yet. I do have my reasons for forgetting about The Hat. They are located right across the street from one of my favorite fast food style Mexican restaurants, Albatros. That is another restaurant that we have not blogged about. I kind of feel like I am slacking here. When I reach the corner of Rockfield and Center Drive, I almost always veer into the Albatros parking lot, lured by the thoughts of carne asada fries. The Hat usually goes ignored by us, not because it is bad, but because the carne asada fries are just too powerful to overcome.

This trip was different though. I had a new purpose. As I often do, I was talking about food places with some of my coworkers. One of the beer reps just happened to be walking by when we were talking and mentioned The Hat. He told me that I had to try their chili cheese fries with pastrami on top of them. For the rest of that day I could think of nothing else, least of all the work that I needed to get done. I pretty much just let the place burn down that day. It seemed like forever until Katie got off of work, so we could head over to  The Hat for dinner, even though it was only about an hour and a half. I was really excited.

The Hat has been around since 1951. That is 62 years for you math deficient people like me. I had to get out a calculator just to make sure I got the the math right on this one. That is a very long time in the restaurant business. Almost ancient. For some perspective, back in 1951, Truman was President, I Love Lucy debuted on TV, and the United Nations opened its doors in New York. That's a crazy long time ago.

My parents both grew up in Southern California, and my Mom had some of her younger years in Alhambra, right near where the original Hat still operates. Today there are 10 locations of The Hat restaurants, with two OC locations. The other OC outpost is in Brea, right near the Brea Mall.



We got to this South OC restaurant at about 6PM on a Wednesday evening. Throughout our visit there was a steady stream of customers walking through the door. The restaurant is very well lit, and they really keep it cleaner than I imagined it would be. Oldies music plays over the speakers, and your order is taken at the counter. When you number is called, your food is ready. One thing I am always amazed at on visits here, is all the different condiment packets that they offer. It is not too often that you see thousand island dressing coming out of ketchup style packets. They have tons of them, just like at Chick-fil-A, which is another restaurant I have not eaten at in a long time.



Our food came out rather quickly, and before we get to what brought us here, lets take a look at Katie's sandwich, the Pastrami Dip ($8.59 with cheese). This is the sandwich that made The Hat world famous. Okay, maybe not world famous, but semi-famous. I can't imagine kids in Gambia dreaming about the day that they can come to the US and have this pastrami sandwich, but you get the point. Back to this sandwich though. It is dipped in what I guess to be, the pastrami au jus, but I am not sure. It is not dunked like the French dips at Philipee's, but it does get a little moisture on the bun and meat. It comes with light mustard and pickles, but I am sure you could get this without if you asked for it that way. The pastrami is really piled onto the sandwich. Katie took a good deal of it off, just so she could make the sandwich more manageable. She liked the pastrami here, but with so much, the salt really became the dominate force here. The pastrami was not too fatty or greasy, which she was thankful for. She would definitely get this sandwich again.



Yes, there actually is a burger patty buried under all that pastrami. This Pastrami Burger ($7.99) was my choice for dinner on this night. Keep in mind that we still had more to come at this point. This pastrami burger was overwhelming, even for me. This burger comes with single patty, sliced cheese, lettuce, tomato, and enough pastrami to feed a small country. The beef and cheese really got lost here. I almost could not taste it. I really liked the pastrami that was on this. It was sliced on the thinner side, with a nice meaty taste to it. I would probably skip the burger portion of this sandwich on my next trip to The Hat though. It really became unnecessary with the overwhelming flavor of the pastrami.



Now, the real reason we came to The Hat, the Chili Cheese Fries with Pastrami ($7.99). This is really the only thing we should have ordered. If you have ever been to The Hat, you know that they give you an abundance of fries. Even a small order of fries can feed three people. The two pictures above do not even show the massiveness of this order of fries. Placed on a drink tray, we had enough for both of us, and then brought half home for my roommate Rob. He could only manage to eat another fourth of the fries. The fries are topped with a meaty, and well spiced chili, grated cheese, and lots of shredded pastrami. Something about the pastrami on top of this mound really elevated this from normal chili cheese fries. The thickness of the fries actually helped here, by holding more of the toppings. It has been two weeks since we came here, and I have thought of these fries often.

Our trip to The Hat was truly a gut busting experience. We should have just split the chili cheese fries and been done with it. The rest of the meal was good, but the serving sizes are so big here, it really overwhelmed us. This is not the best pastrami you are going to have, but it is better than average, and about on par with Togo's in my opinion. The prices are a tad on the high side, but with the amount of food you are getting, you will have enough for two meals. I'm really glad that we finally blogged about The Hat, and I look forward to going back again for those chili cheese fries.

Out of five thermometers, (because thermometers have mercury in them, and mercury was used by hat makers back in the day, thus making the hatters crazy or mad), five being best to zero being worst, The Hat gets three thermometers.

For more information about The Hat, click here to go to their website: http://www.thehat.com/index.htm

The Hat on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hurry Up, Small Plates, Big Pours Ends June 30th


Fleming's Prime Steakhouse
455 Newport Center Dr.
Newport Beach, CA 92660

One of the things I love about Fleming's is that there is always something going on. Sure their food is great, but they do no rest on that alone, even though they could. They always have some new promotion happening here. Something that gets people in the door, and trying new things on their menu. They have one of the best happy hours around, with the 5 for $6 til 7 promotion. With this happy hour they offer five appetizers, five cocktails, and five wines by the glass for $6, until 7PM. Also offered for $6 during happy hour is one of the best burgers you will have, the Prime Burger, which comes with cheese and bacon. I still look back fondly on that burger, which I had nearly a year ago. This trip to Fleming's is for another promotion, the Small Plates, Big Pours. 


When we arrived at this media event for Small Plates, Big Pours, we were ushered into the Wine Cellar, which is a private dining room capable of hosting up to 54 people. I had been to Fleming's a number of times, and have never even known this room existed until this past Saturday. This room is part of a million dollar renovation project that has taken place at the restaurant not so long ago. The room is ringed by mosaics of winemakers, and other Fleming's influenced people. The mosaics are made up of tiles that feature the labels of the winemakers wines. Very creative. 



Before we get to the Small Plates, Big Pours portion of the afternoon, we had a special treat come out for us, off of the 5 for $6 til 7 menu, the Pan Crisped Pork Belly. One tidbit of advice I have been prone to throw around to anyone that wants to listen to me is, "if you see pork belly on any menu, order it. You will never be disappointed". The pork belly at Fleming's definitely backed up my statement. This pork belly was served with a very nice cherry chutney sauce and a cheesy polenta that reminded me of a very well made cheesy girts. This is usually served with three pieces on the happy hour menu. I could have eaten about three plates of this for sure. The pork was crisped wonderfully, had just enough fat to add flavor, and went well with the other items on the plate. Pretty much a must get item when coming here for happy hour. 



While we were waiting for our next plate of food to come out, we were introduced to the new Winepad that is new at Fleming's. Think of this as an interactive wine list, with a twist. Sure all of the wines are listed here, but you can also select what you are having for dinner, and the Winepad will let you know what wine will go good with your entree. For a wine novice such as myself, this would be a very useful tool. The Winepad gives lots of information about the wines, and even has a Spin the Bottle feature that randomly chooses wines off of their 218 bottle wine list. A very progressive way of selecting wines, and a great way to get more people into wines, like myself. It took a long time before I got my shot of trying this Winepad, because Katie was so involved with it. 


Now onto the Small Plates, Big Pours section of the afternoon. There are seven different options available, with a suggested pairing for the wine. If however you would like to have a different wine, with your small plate, you may choose another one off of the list. The Small Plates, Big Pours are available all night in the bar area, and come at a cost of $24.95. The small plate is described as a serving size that is in between an appetizer and an entree. The big pour is a glass of wine that is filled to one and a half times the standard wine pour. By this time I was getting very excited to see what was headed our way from the kitchen.  




When asked what I wanted to try of the seven options listed on the Small Plates, Big Pours menu, I was immediately drawn to the Braised Short Rib with B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cabernet 2010. When I first saw the short rib I thought it might have been overcooked, but it was fork tender, with lots of big flavor. The au jus was a nice compliment to the meat, and the spinach and arugula served alongside of this was cooked well. I am not going to try and fool you into thinking I know a lot about wine, but I do know that this Cabernet went well alongside this short rib. The wine was pretty smooth, with a little hint of fruitiness in the background. 




With a little prodding, I steered Katie towards ordering the Fleming's Lobster Tempura with Franciscan Estate Chardonnay, from Napa Valley. Who could ever say anything bad about lobster? Even though the lobster had a tempura batter around it, it did not overpower the dish, and let the lobster shine through. It was served alongside a very well made soy-ginger dipping sauce. I am usually against dipping lobster in anything but butter, but this went very well here. Along with the lobster tempura was an arugula-jicama salad, which provided a nice spice. Katie did not say much about her wine, but the sip that I had was very good, with a nice crispness. 


As our meal was wrapping up, there was an opportunity to snap a picture of the great people that made this event possible. From left to right, Chef Partner and all around great guy, Chris Hutten provided us with all of this great food that was provided to us. In the center was our ever gracious hostess for the afternoon, the always hospitable Lee Healy. Then on the right, is the latest addition to the Fleming's Newport Beach family, Jose Jimenez. Jose has some big shoes to fill with the departing of the former Operating Partner, Russ Bendel, but just from talking to him briefly on this afternoon, we would say that Fleming's is in very capable hands. Thanks to all of you, and everyone that helped make this a very enjoyable afternoon at Fleming's. 

Jose used to work at the Rancho Cucamonga Fleming's location, where they serve brunch. Now that brunch has followed him to this Newport location. With great brunch entrees like a Filet Mignon Eggs Benedict, Baked Brioche French Toast with a Walnut Crisp, and a Prime Burger with Fried Egg, I can not wait to come back and try their brunch that is available Sundays, from 10 to 2PM. Just another way that Fleming's is always evolving, and getting new people through the door. 

The Small Plates, Big Pours promotion runs through the last day of June, and is available during their operating hours in the bar area. For more information on all the great happenings going on at Fleming's, click here to go to their web site: http://www.flemingssteakhouse.com/