Friday, May 30, 2014

No Need to Trip at SeaLegs


SeaLegs Wine Bar
21022 Beach Blvd. 
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

I'm not going to lie to you. I was not too excited to come to SeaLegs Wine Bar. I'm not really a wine kind of guy. I'd be much more happy with beer or rum. I know it's probably not a shock to anyone that I'm also way more into food than wine, and it's been my experience that when a place focuses so much on wine, the food is usually an afterthought. I can admit when I am wrong though, and boy I was definitely wrong when it came to SeaLegs.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Since SeaLegs opened up just over two years ago they have won praise from people on Yelp, have won a Golden Foodie Award, and been on numerous top ten lists for their wine and food. My fellow OC food bloggers have all really enjoyed their visits here, and it was definitely time for us to see what all the hoopla was about at SeaLegs.

SeaLegs is located in the last shopping center before you hit the water on Beach Boulevard at Atlanta. This shopping center is also home to Mama's on 39,  Las Barcas, and Boardwalk Burgers and Fries. I'll tell you, I could almost spend a year just writing about the restaurants on Beach Boulevard, there are so many to choose from around here. Even with all of these dining choices, SeaLegs had quite a crowd on the recent Wednesday evening we showed up to check out their new Spring/Summer menu offerings.

The first thing I noticed after we were seated was that this was not as stuffy as other wine bars I have visited. This restaurant was loud, which brought life to it. I immediately felt comfortable here. SeaLegs had a kind of Hampton's or Cape Cod feel to it, without the hassle of flying cross country. The focal point of SeaLegs is the beautiful wine case behind the bar. After I got settled in, I became aware that SeaLegs had a ratio of six women to every man, so if you are a single guy, this might be the place for you to find your other half. I already found my other half, so I was definitely focused more on the food that was making it's way out to our table. Let's see if it will be a match made in heaven.



I never order artichokes in restaurants, but that might change after trying this Grilled Heirloom Artichoke ($12). This huge artichoke was served with a wonderful basil aioli. Grilled perfectly, this artichoke was very meaty, and was made even better with a few squirts of the grilled lemon provided. Really a tasty starter, and more than enough for both Katie and I. They paired this with a Chasewater Reisling ($9). Reisling might be my favorite kind of wine. This one was light, with hints of apple in the background. I was pretty happy Katie allowed me to finish off her glass of Reisling.




Coming out the same time as the artichoke, a new edition to the Spring/Summer menu at SeaLegs are these Grilled Turkey Meatballs ($12). When I think of turkey meatballs, I always think they are going to be bland, but that was not the case here. The meatball had a hint of sweetness, which I thought could be from a hint of cinnamon. These meatballs came with a harissa and tzatziki sauce, which kind of gave these a Moroccan tinge to them. The harissa had a nice spice, while the tzatziki sauce cooled things down a bit. The meatball itself was fork tender. Very tasty.




The next course came out lead by Rebel Coast's Reckless Love Cabernet Blend ($21). This cab possessed a rich aroma, but was not too heavy. Full of flavor, this really coated the mouth on the way down, and the bottle even glows in the dark. This fun winery does not take themselves too seriously, and it's definitely worth a visit to their website here: http://rebelcoastwinery.com/. This blended cab was paired with a Farm Fresh Vegetable Flatbread ($14). I'm usually a little leery when it comes to flatbreads with just veggies on them, but I liked this one. This flatbread started with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and was then topped with heirloom grape tomatoes, asparagus, shredded zucchini, micro arugula, basil, and herb oil. The produce that topped this was very fresh, and the asparagus had a nice crispness to it. The cheeses added a smokiness, which went well with the sweetness from the tomatoes. I'm not turning my back on meat, but this flatbread has taught me that vegetables can be my friends too.



They must have known that I was craving meat, because the Charred Filet Medallions ($16) came out next. These billiard ball sized pieces of filet were topped with a pickled onion and a sweet red wine demi-glaze. The meat was tender, the sauce was sweet, and the pickled onions added some unexpected flavor to this. My favorite item of the night was up next, the Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus ($12). This blew me away. The prosciutto was crisped, the asparagus retained a juiciness, and the inclusion of the roasted tomato and sunflower seeds rounded this out perfectly. Such a simple dish, but one I have thought about regularly since we left SeaLegs.  I must have still been in an asparagus stupor, because I did not snap a picture of the wine that we had this round. It was Boeger Winery's Barbera ($14), which had the sweet aroma of burnt creme brulee running through it, but when consumed it was not as sweet as expected.


I was sad that we were nearing the end of our first SeaLegs experience, but this Pina Colada Cake ($10) helped to soften the blow somewhat. This is new to the menu, but I feel it should stay on for a long time. This cake had pineapple running through the middle of it, sandwiched between two moist layers of cake, and topped with a coconut cream frosting. After eating so much food, I was happy this cake was very light, but still had just the right amount of sweetness to it. It will be hard not to have this cake on my future visits here, but I'm going to have to try their carrot cake soon.

I left SeaLegs a little bitter that I had not been here until now. All that wasted time not coming here, because I thought they would be too focused on their wine to care about the food. Chef Alexander Dale has convinced me that I was wrong about my assumptions. Everything we had on this night was top notch. We are really looking forward to coming back again real soon to try some of their other menu items, like their Bleu Sliders, Lump Crab Cakes, and their Truffle Mac and Cheese. I wouldn't call these small plates, but they are not full sized entrees either. The dishes here promote sharing with your tablemates. I can definitely see both Katie and I coming here and ordering three plates to share between us, and if one of them is the prosciutto wrapped asparagus, then she will only have the choice of the other two plates. I really loved that asparagus.

We would really like to thank everyone at SeaLegs for the wonderful hospitality that we experienced on this night. The staff made sure that all of our needs were met, and that we enjoyed everything. Our waiter, Jeff was very knowledgeable about the entire menu, as well as all the wines. We also need to acknowledge our hostess for the evening, the very personable Lauren Henry. Even with it being a busy night here at SeaLegs, she took the time to check on us often, and answer all of our silly questions. She not only did this with us, but we saw her do this all over the restaurant with all of the customers. Lastly, we need to express our gratitude to the great Janet Pacheco for setting up this tasting of the Spring/Summer menu. Thanks for everything Janet.

If you would like to experience SeaLegs for yourself, find out more about them here: http://www.sealegswinebar.com/.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Family Celebration Time at North Woods Inn


Clearman's North Woods Inn
14305 Firestone Blvd. 
La Mirada, CA 90638

You have probably passed by it a million times. The snow covered restaurant off of the 5 Freeway going towards LA. It's right where the traffic always seems to start backing up entering Norwalk and all points beyond. Why is this section of the freeway only three lanes wide, when it should be about six lanes across? Okay, that's the end of my traffic rant for now, but if any of you work for Caltrans, can you please put in my request for more lanes on the 5 Freeway?

Anyways, back to the snow covered restaurant at the Valley View exit of the freeway. Clearman's North Woods Inn seems to have been around forever. The truth is, it has only been in this location for 25 years now. Yes, that's a long time in the restaurant business, but it really does seem like I have seen this restaurant since I was a kid. In those 25 years, my family and I have celebrated numerous birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations here. The reason for this visit, more of the same, celebrating Katie's birthday and my sister's anniversary.

North Woods is part of the Clearman's Restaurant Group, which operates two other North Woods locations, (Covina and San Gabriel), along with Steak N Stein in Pico Rivera, and the Galley, which is also situated in San Gabriel, and is more of a casual sports bar type of place. The menus in their restaurants are all kind of similar; steaks, seafood, and sandwiches dominate the menu, but what really gets people talking are their side items that come with the dinners. More on them later.




We got to North Woods just after 3PM on a recent Sunday afternoon. We went with this unusual time to maybe avoid the crowds. Mission accomplished. We were almost the only party in the restaurant, but as we were leaving, it started to fill up. Waits for tables here can get pretty long during peak meal hours. Once you enter North Woods, the hunting lodge feel continues inside. It always seems to take awhile for my eyes to adjust to this dark restaurant. We got here so early that there were very little peanut shells on the sawdust covered floor, but we made quick work of that. Snowshoes, Tiffany lamps, and stained glass windows lend to the cabin decor here, which has never changed, much like the staff, which we have seen from year to year. Also not changing is the menu. With so many trips here over the years, I pretty much knew what I would be ordering when I walked into North Woods. Let's see if this visit would be the same as all of our previous ones.


Whether waiting for your table to be ready, sitting in the bar, or seated at your table, you will definitely have the opportunity to eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. Go ahead, there are signs letting you know that it's okay to dispose of the shells all over the restaurant. These unsalted peanuts are okay. Wish they were salted, but I found myself grabbing a couple of handfuls while waiting for our food to come out.





Whenever you run into someone that has been to North Woods, the first thing they instinctively bring up first are the side items that come with all of the meals here. The two salads and bread are all refillable, which really helps squash any family squabbles over who would get the last piece of bread. The salads are a Pickled Cabbage Salad and a House Salad, which kind of has a mild blue cheese dressing that they add liberally. There's really just one way to eat these salads, and that's to mix them together. They go so well together, the slightly sour taste of the pickled cabbage, and the tangy house salad. If you eat these salads separately, you are doing it wrong. There is however no way to eat their famous Cheese Bread wrong. Even though you have a meal coming, it's impossible to not fill up on this bread. Even writing this a few weeks later, I can still taste this cheese bread in my mind. Sourdough bread is topped with a cheese spread that bakes into the bread perfectly after it is placed under the broiler. Delicious, and one of the best bread baskets ever. I probably had six slices of this while eating here.



We'll start off the entree portion of this review with my niece's selections off of the kid's menu. Both Kaylie and Lillie had different kinds of chicken. Seven year old Lillie tried the Chicken Strips ($6.95). She's a pretty picky eater, but managed to eat a good number of the fries, and one whole chicken strip. She liked the barbecue sauce they used here. Kaylie is a much better eater, and really enjoyed the Kid's Fried Chicken Dinner ($6.95). She devoured the leg, and many of the french fries, but her Dad took the breast for lunch the next day.



Kind of a boring looking plate, my sister and mom split the Steak Chunks on a Skewer ($23.95). With this dinner you get two skewers that contain three chunks of meat on them. This is the perfect dish for those with tiny appetites, or people that filled up on the bread and salads. This plate, like all the dinners include Rice Pilaf and a Baked Potato. Unless you absolutely love traditional toppings on your potato, get the same cheese spread that is so good on the bread, slathered on top of your potato. It brings the baked potato to life.


Both my dad and brother-in-law got the same thing also, the North Woods Scallops ($29.95). This dinner came with about seven golf ball sized scallops on each plate. I tried these and thought they were a little rubbery, and not as flavorful as I would have liked. If it weren't for the breading, these would have been pretty boring. My brother-in-law said he would stick with a steak on his next visit.



Katie was a little taken aback at the sheer size of her Fried Chicken Dinner ($19.95). Yes, that's four pieces of nicely fried chicken on her plate. This chicken was not overly breaded, lacked a greasiness, and most pieces were pretty tender, with only the large breast kind of a little on the dry side. It's probably heresy to say this, but this fried chicken almost rivals the one served down the freeway at the famous berry theme park. When I don't get steak at North Woods, this is what I get.





I did get a steak on this visit though. I have not figured out what my favorite kind of steak is yet, and at this age, I may never have a favorite. I went with the Angus Rib Eye ($33.95) this night, because ribeyes are supposedly the most flavorful steak, but also the most fatty. This one had some fat on it, but it was not as bad as others I have had. This steak was 16 ounces, and cooked to my desired medium rare specifications. Not the most tender piece of steak I have had, but it did have a decent flavor profile. The baked potato came with plenty of cheese spread, so that was all good. The rice pilaf here is nothing to write home about. Very bland, and adds nothing to the meal.



When you tell them that you are celebrating something at North Woods, they always send out two scoops of Orange Sherbet. I always enjoy this after the large meal I just ate here. It's light, and cleanses the palette for a little while, before you can taste the cheese bread again.

We have been going to North Woods for a long time now, and it's always the same. This is a restaurant that does not take too many chances by adding trendy items to their menu. You're not going to see kale, truffle oil, or okra on the menu here. The menu has been the same for as long as I can remember, and that's probably the way most of their customers like it. The entrees are not of the Mastro's, Morton's, or Capital Grille quality, but they are passable. The real draw here are the salads and cheese bread, and that's enough to get us back here once a year for any kind of family celebration. The service is always real good, and the prices are a little on the steep side, until you realize that you are getting a full meal here, unlike those other fancy steak restaurants. So when traffic suddenly stops at the Valley View exit of the 5 Freeway, get off, and head to North Woods for some cheese bread and some salads. Not that the traffic will die down, but at least you will have the lingering taste of the cheese bread all the way to your destination.

Out of five softballs, (because La Mirada is home not only to North Woods, but is also where Jennie Finch, one of the most prolific woman of softball, grew up), five being best to zero being worst, Clearman's North Woods Inn gets 2.5 softballs.

For more information about Clearman's North Woods Inn, go to their website here: http://clearmansrestaurants.com/northwoods/

Clearman's North Woods Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Good News, Slapfish is Open in Laguna


Slapfish
211 Broadway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

I have been waiting for this expansion to take effect for a long time now. When I heard that Slapfish was going to be opening up new spots, I kind of felt like a kid waiting for Christmas morning to get here so I could unwrap my presents. It seems like it has taken a long time, but Slapfish is finally spreading the love across the county, and even going international. Our long wait is over.

Slapfish has finally opened another OC restaurant, and the lucky city is Laguna Beach. I'm excited because this cuts down on my drive time by at least twenty minutes to their original Huntington Beach spot. This means their chowder fries are closer, their crispy fish sandwiches are within reach, and if there's a good wind, I can almost smell their lobster rolls. Okay, maybe that one's a stretch, but you get the point. I'm pretty excited to have a closer Slapfish.

For those of you that are not familiar with Slapfish, they describe themselves as a modern seafood shack, one which prides itself on serving fresh seafood, from responsible and well managed sustainable suppliers. They reason that sustainable just tastes better, and after eating here, you can not argue that fact. Started as a food truck, Andrew Gruel and Jethro Naude opened their first brick and mortar spot off of Beach Boulevard in 2012. Now they are aggressively planning to franchise. They have already opened a Slapfish in the Middle East, with 50 more planned over there. Along with those, they are also planning on opening more across Southern California, along with the rest of the US. Some local spots I have heard whispers about are Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Newport Beach, but for now we have Laguna Beach.

This location is just right across the street from Main Beach Laguna. Kind of in a funky food court, closest to the intersection of Broadway and PCH. They are neighbors with an Asian restaurant and a gas station, and right around the corner from Carmelita's. This Laguna location is a more stripped down version of their Huntington Beach restaurant. Yes, they still have a lot of your favorites; fish tacos, lobster rolls, and chowder fries are all still here, and they also have a step by step ordering process where you choose your dish, (sandwich form, fish and chips, or salad), then you pick the kind of fish you want, and then select whether you would like it grilled or crispy. The night we were here they were offering Hake, Mahi, or Shrimp for the build your own meal option. These are subject to change based on availability though.

This Slapfish restaurant is pretty small, with a good majority of the seating occupying the back wall, which features bar seating. There is however a very nice patio out front, which I can imagine will be the place to be for us quite a few times during this summer. I came to Slapfish real hungry, so I could not wait to start eating. Let's see how everything came out for us.



Something I have never had at Slapfish before, but have always wanted to try is their Lobster Dip N Chips ($4). This creamy dip definitely had the lobster vibe going for it. This dip was very rich, with little hunks of lobster running throughout it. I am also a fan of the chips served here. On this night they were very fresh, crispy, and seasoned with maybe a light chili powder? Whatever it was, we made quick work of this very good dip.



One of the times we visited the Huntington Beach Slapfish, Katie had the Major Crunchy Sandwich ($8), and I remember her giving me one bite, and me wanting a lot more. I made a vow that this would be the night that I had my own crispy fish sandwich. The fish they use here is Hake, a relative of the cod family, and pretty popular in Europe. This sandwich was as good as I remembered it. Crispy on the outside, and the hake inside was nice and tender. You have your choice of six sauces on this, but you need to have the Awesome Sauce with this sandwich. The sauce is creamy, with just a hint of smokiness. Really a well made sauce. The sandwich is then topped with lettuce, tomato, and pickled onions, and sandwiched between a very well made brioche bun that does an admirable job keeping everything together here. The meal is rounded out with some well seasoned potato chips. This sandwich was so rich, it even filled me up, which is pretty rare.



Okay Katie and I did not really differ too much with our orders on this night, guess it was bad planning on our part. Anyways, she had the Grilled Mahi Sandwich ($9). This sandwich, like mine came with a choice of sauce, and she went with the Jersey sauce, which is a creamy lemon herb. This sauce was not overpowering, but added just enough flavor to compliment the fish nicely. The sandwich was also topped with tomato, lettuce, and pickled onions, just like my sandwich. Katie really liked this sandwich, and was happy they had a grilled option, which cut down on the richness a bit.

Even though I came here very hungry, and only ordered a sandwich and the lobster dip, I left here full. Not overly stuffed, but very content. The sandwiches at Slapfish are deceptively filling, and will satisfy even large appetites. We did not get it on this visit, but do not miss the Chowder Fries, and now you can add a fried egg to it for even more decadence. Sounds like we will be making many more trips here during the summer, unless of course they want to open one closer to our house, like say, Mission Viejo. No pressure, just a thought.

We would like to thank everyone at Slapfish for the opportunity to come down and see their new place. We are very excited to see what the bright future holds for you guys. We would also like to thank Mona and Talia of Moxxe Public Relations for thinking of inviting us to another one of their great events. We had a great time, and will be back soon.

For more information about Slapfish, go to their website here: http://www.slapfishrestaurant.com/

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hopefully Spirito's Will Move Us


Spirito's
2508 El Camino Real
Carlsbad, CA 92010

The month of May means that I have to start thinking about birthdays. My family has a lot of birthdays this month, and they pretty much continue right through the summer. First up is Katie's birthday, which is only two days into the month. I had a few things in the works for her for our anniversary, so I had to play it cool for her birthday. She's been toting around a broken purse for awhile now, so I told her I'd take her to get a new one at the Carlsbad Outlets. After we got a great deal on a purse, and other things, we had grown quite an appetite. Before we left the house, I had made a mental note of where I wanted to eat, so we headed to Spirito's.

I found out about Spirito's like a lot of people, when they appeared last year on Diner's, Drive-In's and Dives. They were featured about eight months ago, so we waited until the crowds died down a bit, and hit them up. On that episode they showcased their old school way of doing things. They make their pizza dough from scratch, they hand roll their ravioli, and they even bottle their own garlic dressing here. They pride themselves on being an old school Italian restaurant, reminiscent of the owners grandfather's place in New Jersey. With all of this talk of doing things from scratch, I was really looking forward to trying them out.

We got here at the odd time of 3PM on a recent Friday afternoon. Too late for lunch, and a little early for dinner, (unless you are part of the senior set), we hit this restaurant during a lull, but that just meant we had the place all to ourselves. Ordering here is done at the counter, then the food is brought out to you. Because the food is pretty much made from scratch, it does take some time for the food to make its way out to your table. We waited over twenty minutes for our food, and there was no one else in the restaurant during our time here. We were told that this place can get busy during meal times, and after their episode of Triple D airs on the Food Network. Let's see if this will be another hit that we will have to thank Guy Fieri for, or will we wonder why he showed up here.



Not featured on the show, but Katie really wanted to try this Spinach Bianco Pizza ($10) to start with. Since it was her birthday, I indulged her. This non-red sauce pizza came topped with spinach, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, garlic, and olive oil. Not really my favorite type of pizza, but this pizza won me over. I liked the thin crust on this, while the bite from the Gorgonzola kept me interested. This pizza was topped with just enough cheese, and the spinach was well done on this. Having this pizza piqued my interest about the rest of their pizzas, which I look forward to trying on future visits.




What was shown on Diner's, Drive-In's, and Dives was this Spaghetti and Meatballs ($9). This is a real solid version of this classic Italian dish, with a twist. You have your choice of either having a regular meatball, or a Roman meatball, which has pine nuts and raisins tucked inside of them. Definitely get this version. I'm pretty anti-raisin, but here the dried grape added a touch of sweetness that went well with the pine nuts. The meatball was also pretty tender. At Spirito's they do not call it sauce, they call it gravy. Whatever they choose to call it, it was pretty good. The gravy was more on the sweet and mellow side, with the absence of that acidic taste that a lot of sauces have. The pasta was of course really fresh, and this plate was made even better after I added some Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes to it. A very memorable spaghetti plate here at Spirito's.


Not on their regular menu, but written as a special on the butcher paper by the register, this Ravioli with Pork and Beef Ragu ($16) was also shown on TV. The raviolis here are hand made, light, and very big. Some of the biggest we have seen. The meats were pretty tender and flavorful, while the sauce had the same sweetness that the spaghetti dish possessed. The bread served with this was a great vessel for scooping up the rest of the left over sauce.

We ate almost all of this food at Spirito's between the two of us, and did not have that real heavy feeling that you get when leaving an Italian restaurant. I think that can be a testament to them using quality ingredients. Everything we had on this afternoon could best be described as solid Italian cuisine. We would definitely come back when we are in the area. Spirito's is proof that there is definitely some good Italian restaurants on the west coast. With everything being made from scratch, I did not think that the prices were crazy, or absurd at Spirito's. Be advised that they do not have a soda fountain, so all drinks are sold out of the can or bottle. Service was fair during our visit, as it seemed they had a lot of prep work to do in the kitchen, so they pretty much just left us alone to enjoy our meals. Katie was pretty pleased with this birthday dinner, almost as pleased as she was with her new purse.

Out of five skateboards, (not only because Carlsbad is the birthplace of skateboarding legend, Tony Hawk, but the city is also home to one of the first skateboard parks, built in 1976), five being best to zero being worst, Spirito's gets 3.5 skateboards.

For more information about Spirito's, go to their website here: http://spiritositaliandiner.com/welcome.html

Spiritos on Urbanspoon