Thursday, July 31, 2014

No Chance of Ending Up in the Doghouse After Eating Here


Dog Haus
105 N. Hill Ave. #104
Pasadena, CA 91106

Now that I'm engaged, there's so much stuff to do. For the most part I leave almost everything up to Katie and her family. Not that I don't care about stuff, but I'd just assume get married at the courthouse, or Vegas, but those ideas did not fly. So here we are having a large wedding, and getting farther and farther behind in planning it. My job right now for the most part has been to ask my five friends to be my groomsmen. I'm doing this all in person, so that's what brought us up to Pasadena on this afternoon.

The friend that I have known the longest, since kindergarten, is Ed, and he recently moved back here from the East Coast. I'm real glad he's a lot closer, but I'm also glad he moved to Pasadena, which has some pretty good restaurants. Might as well get some blogging done while we are up here, right? I had never heard of Dog Haus before, but they started following me on Twitter a few months ago, and it piqued my interest. After checking out their website, I liked what I saw, and I knew we would hit this restaurant up eventually, and that time is now.

Dog Haus first opened in Pasadena in 2010, and just four years later they now have four locations running, with four more coming soon, including one in our own backyard, at Main Place Mall in Santa Ana. From what I can gather, a group of three friends opened this place, which offers 100 percent all beef skinless hot dogs, sausages, and black Angus burgers all served on King's Hawaiian rolls. They have a very aggressive franchise plan with 51 planned locations on the horizon, with some of those being in Utah and Colorado. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to eat here, and I guess to also ask Ed to be in my wedding. Let's see how everything worked out for us at Dog Haus.



We'll start with the man of the hour, Ed. He's a pretty light eater, so he just had the Frickin Chicken ($6.99). This was off of their sausage portion of the menu. This starts with a chicken sausage, house made marinara, melted mozzarella, and a basil leaf, which you can not see in this picture. Kind of an Italian sausage sandwich feel to it. Ed liked this sausage, and finished it with no problem.



Dog Haus has a great option for those that do not want a full sized hot dog, like Katie. This Hot Dog Slider ($1.69) was about a fourth of the regular size, and topped with cheese sauce and bacon. Of course this is not for everyone, as I could have finished this all in one bite, but Katie was happy with this slider.



Not the most photogenic burger shot of all time, Katie's main meal was this Little Mule Burger ($6.99). This burger comes on a King's Hawaiian Bread bun, then is topped with fried egg, pepper jack cheese, tomatillo sauce, cilantro aioli, and sliced avocado. Usually Katie likes a simpler burger, and she liked this burger, but felt it was a little too rich. The beef got a little lost here with all of these toppings. The Hawaiian roll bun was a real highlight for Katie. She'd definitely go with a simpler burger on her next visit to Dog Haus.


Katie must have been real hungry on this afternoon, as she also had these Cheese Fries ($2.99). The fries here were just okay, and I was not really a big fan of their cheese sauce. It was a little too runny, and I'd rather have grated cheese melted on top of my fries. Not my favorite side item at Dog Haus.


These Tater Tots ($1.99) were much more to my liking. Tater tots always remind me of being a kid, and having these at school. These were way better than the soggy ones we had in our school cafeteria. They had a good crunch to the outside, and the soft potato inside made these a winner. Hopefully tater tots are making a comeback, and will be featured on more menus.



I admit that I went a little overboard here, because I did not know when I was going to come back, and there were so many things I wanted to try on their menu. The first of my three things to have was this Little Leaguer Hot Dog ($5.99). Kind of like a Frito pie on a hot dog. The all beef hot dog is topped with chili, shredded cheddar cheese, onion, and Frito's. This hot dog was pretty killer. The chili was good, but not a spicy chili. Good consistency, it added some moisture to this. I kind of missed the snap of the hot dog, but with everything else going on here, it made up for it. I also appreciated that the bun was toasted. Really a solid chili cheese dog.



In retrospect, I should have probably tried one of their sausages, but this Old Town Dog ($5.99) really caught my attention. It starts with a bacon wrapped hot dog, then caramelized onions, sauteed jalapenos, chipotle mayo, and cotija cheese are added. Really big flavors here. The bacon wrapped hot dog added a salty element, while the jalapenos and mayo added a bit of spice. The sweetness of the onion tried to balance things out. A good hot dog, but a little overshadowed by the toppings.



The last of my Dog Haus trifecta was the Holy Aioli Burger ($6.99). Now this was a rich burger. Smoked bacon, white American cheese, caramelized onions, and just for good measure, some garlic aioli is included. A really strong burger. I liked the meatiness of the beef, the aioli was not slathered on, but there was enough of it on there that you could taste it, and the sweet bun helped break up the saltiness a bit.

Needless to say, I was pretty happy that Dog Haus started following me on Twitter, because it got me in here to try them out, and learn that they are coming to OC soon. I liked everything I had, even though I kind of overindulged. When they open up closer to us, I will have a little more self control. I felt that the toppings on the hot dogs over shadowed the hot dog itself, and I think I might have even enjoyed their burgers a little bit better than their hot dogs. This is more of a casual spot, so service was not an issue, but it did take awhile for the food to get ready, but that just insured that it was freshly made. Can't wait for Dog Haus to open at Main Place, it will help fill the void of the departure of Pee Wee's Hot Dogs and Game Day Hot Dogs in Orange, which both shuttered last year. Oh yeah, and for the record, Ed said yes to being in my wedding, so, that's one thing I can cross off of my list, so now we're making progress.

Out of five huskies, (because my beloved University of Washington Huskies have played in the Rose Bowl more than any other college that has a dog mascot), five being best to zero being worst, Dog Haus gets 3.5 huskies.

For more information about Dog Haus, go to their website here: http://www.doghaus.com/#menu

Dog Haus on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bondi Grill House, Coming Up From Down Under


Bondi Grill House
7821 Edinger Ave. Suite 110
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

When you think of Australia, probably a few things come to mind. If you are like me, these things are koala bears, the music group Men at Work, the movie Crocodile Dundee, and of course one of my crushes growing up, Olivia Newton John. Okay, I might be dating myself with this list, but the point I wanted to make was that food is never really one of the things most Americans think about when it comes to Australia. Probably when you are asked to think about Australian foods, you either think of Vegemite, or maybe even meat pies. A new restaurant in the Bella Terra shopping complex wants to alert you to the fact that there's more to Australian food than just that brown spread that millions of Aussies wake up to each morning.

Bondi Grill House comes to us from famed surf spot, Bondi Beach, which is a suburb of Sydney, the largest city in Australia. See, you can learn some real facts reading food blogs, just give me half the money you win on Jeopardy if this comes in handy. Anyways, there are several sister restaurants to Bondi Grill House that operate under the name Hurricane's Grill in Australia. Of course back in Huntington Beach there's already a well known restaurant/bar with this name, so that's probably the reason for the name change. Even though Bondi Grill House has only been open for a couple of months, they are already working on another location that's under construction at the Tustin Marketplace. This new location, which will be bigger, is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

The people of Huntington Beach seem to have really taken to Bondi Grill House. The restaurant was full from the time we arrived, until we left. For those of you familiar with Bella Terra, Bondi Grill House is situated across from the Cheesecake Factory. Not an overly large restaurant, 3,500 square feet, but they offer a wonderful patio that is great for people watching. Even with the smaller size here, the table spacing allowed for a comfortable gap between customers. After driving up here during rush hour traffic, both Katie and I were excited to see what Bondi Grill House had in store for us.



To calm our nerves from dealing with the 405 Freeway, we had to partake in an adult beverage, or two. At Bondi they only serve beer and wine, so the powers at be came up with some great cocktails using wine, including this Blue Hurricane ($8.95). This drink starts with a base of Lillet Blanc, a hurricane liqueur, orange, and Luxardo cherries. I really liked the look of this, the way it separated into layers in the glass. The cherry sunk to the bottom, with the wine floating near the top. Not overly sweet, with a nice and refreshing taste, this drink started our night off with a bang.




Also getting us excited for what Bondi had in store for this evening, was this Garlic Bread Roll ($2.95). At some restaurants you order garlic bread, and you are sometimes not sure they remembered to add the garlic, but that was not the case here. This loaf of bread was very garlicky, as you can see from the picture above. The bread had a nice crunch to the crust, and was soft and flavorful inside. Exactly what I want when I order garlic bread.




I know I said that Bondi Grill House was an Australian import, so I'm not sure how these Boerewors ($11.95) found there way onto their menu, but after eating them, we are not complaining. For those that do not know, like me until this night,  Boerewors are a traditional South African sausages made of beef and spices. This is a very lean sausage, with little, to no fat inside of it. These sausages were served with the interesting sounding Monkey Gland sauce. We were assured that there was no actual monkey used in the making of this sauce. This sauce is actually more of a tangy barbecue sauce, which is sweetened with dried apricots, which went well with the beefiness of the sausage.


Artichokes seem to be on every menu we have come across recently, so maybe they are the new, hip food item of this year. At Bondi they keep the trend going with these Roasted Artichokes ($10.95). These fire grilled artichokes are served with a tzatziki sauce, which worked wonderfully with these very meaty artichokes. Perfect for sharing with friends.


Probably one of the biggest winners we tried on this night were these Peri Peri Prawns ($12.95). This got the nod of approval from the assembled food media on this night. These prawns were sauteed with butter, garlic, and peri peri sauce. Really reminded me of a lighter shrimp scampi, without sacrificing flavor. Maybe for lighter eaters this could be an entree, since it was served with rice.



Before we start the salad portion of the meal, it was time for another cocktail. This time I selected the Strawberry Basil Smash ($8.95). Again, this is a wine based drink that uses Sauvignon Blanc, strawberry syrup, fresh strawberries, basil, and soda water. When this came to the table I thought it might be too sweet, but the wine and soda water helped to balance things out.



The first of the two salads we got to try was my favorite of the night, the Spinach and Strawberry Salad ($12.95 for the large size). I'm usually against having fruit included in my salads, but this one was pretty good, and I liked that each bite had a different element to it. Baby spinach, sliced strawberries, goat cheese, spiced candied almonds, and a poppy seed dressing were all included here. I could not help but think that this would be my mom's favorite dish at Bondi Grill House, it has her written all over it.


It kind of resembles the other salad, but this Arugula, Orange, and Beet Salad ($12.95) was the only blight for me on this night. Just like the other salad, this also had the candied almonds and goat cheese, but it also added orange slices, arugula, beets, and organic quinoa. I think this lost me with the quinoa. I am no fan of quinoa, and have yet to have it in anything I have liked. Katie really did enjoy this salad more than the other though.



Now we were starting to get into my wheelhouse, when the entrees started to arrive at the table. Starting things off was this very good Lamb Burger ($13.95). I don't really get a chance to have lamb nearly enough, and this burger really hit the spot. A half pound of grass fed lamb, with red onion, tomato, lettuce, feta cheese, sun dried tomato, pickle, and tzatziki sauce gave this burger a very Greek feel to it. The bun was soft, but still held everything together. Lamb can sometimes be gamey, but this version was anything but. Eating this really got me excited to try their other burgers, like the one that caught my eye, the Millionaire's Bacon and Cheese Burger. That will be my next conquest on my next visit to Bondi Grill House.




Pulled pork is delicious, but so many things can go wrong with it. This one at Bondi was pretty stellar. They pile on a half a pound of tender pulled pork, then add coleslaw, and then place it all on a large roll. The pork had just the right amount of BBQ sauce in it, so it was not too soupy, and did not overpower the natural taste of the pork. I would have liked bigger hunks of  pork in this, but still a good sandwich. The onion rings are also worth mentioning here. They were lightly breaded, and used smaller onions than other versions. I imagine these would be great with a side of ranch dressing for dipping.




Bondi Grill House is famous for their ribs, and after trying these, it's easy to see why this is so. They have three kinds of ribs; baby back pork, beef back ribs, and these Bondisaurus Pork Ribs ($34.25 for a full rack). These ribs are huge, with tons of meat on them. I'm not even sure I could have finished this entire rack, even though I would like to try it sometime. This is 3 pounds of free range, all natural, Australian ribs. Bondi is the first restaurant in North America to sell these ribs, so they are a must order. They are basted in their house made barbecue sauce, then seared at 825 degrees. There are two sauces available, a mild sauce and another one with a little more of a kick to it. Of course I enjoyed the spicier version, but both were good.



As much as I liked the pork ribs, I might have liked these Beef Back Ribs ($29.95) a little bit more. I've always been pretty partial to beef ribs, and the ones here at Bondi had lots of meat on them. These were also one of the juiciest ribs I have had recently. A really tasty end to the entree portion of our night.



I had no idea that Sticky Date Pudding ($8.95) was a traditional Australian dessert, but Bondi Grill House educated me on that fact. This was not what I was expecting when it came to the table. It was a cake made with California dates, with vanilla ice cream perched on top of it, and a salted caramel placed around the base of the cake. I guess I was expecting more of a pudding, but this was pretty solid. I'm not even a big fan of dates, and I liked this dessert. The moist cake and the salted caramel sauce made this for me. A wonderful end to a great night.

Besides the new location in Tustin, Bondi Grill House has other things going on, like the premier of a new lunch menu coming soon. Their happy hour is also not to be missed. It's a daily happy hour between the hours of 3PM and 6PM, then it starts up again from 9PM to closing. Great food specials, along with fifty percent off all beer, wine, cocktails, and bottles of wine. A great place to eat before you hit up a movie at Bella Terra, or maybe a spot to get a drink after one. We really enjoyed our time at Bondi Grill House, and look forward to coming back soon.

Special thanks to General Manager, Elizabeth Flaherty for keeping tabs on us all night, and making sure we had everything that we needed throughout our stay. Also we would like to thank Bondi Grill House co-owner, Peter Hough. He answered all of our silly questions, and was a very cordial host. Of course we would be remiss without acknowledging our waiter and bussers on this night. Thanks for all that you did for us during our stay here guys. Lastly, thanks to Jane Gillespie for putting this all together and thinking of inviting us. Much appreciated.

For more information about Bondi Grill House, check out their website here: http://www.bondigrillhouse.com/home

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Hot and Steamy Dinner at Ritter's


Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking
1421 MacArthur Blvd.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

I have been hearing some pretty good things about Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking lately. It seems like every time I get my new issue of Orange Coast Magazine, or when I read the OC Weekly, there's some mention of Ritter's in almost every issue. The reviews have been glowing, so I put this down on my list of places to try right away.

I knew I wanted to go with my good friend Angel, and his wonderful girlfriend, Rebekah. They consider themselves to be very good judges of Cajun cuisine, and Rebekah even makes a very good version of gumbo as well. Orange County used to be devoid of Cajun restaurants. There was a place in downtown Santa Ana that I had been to growing up, and there was also a place in this weird food court type place by my dad's work in Irvine, but other than that we did not have tons of Cajun options here. That is until this whole Boiling Crab and other similar restaurants exploded onto the scene.

Ritter's has become so popular that they now have a second location in Huntington Beach. This first one, in Santa Ana is located right near the intersection of Bristol and MacArthur, in the same shopping center as Wienerschnitzel, and across the street from their competition, the Boiling Crab. We got here just before 6PM on a recent Friday. We were lucky enough to grab a table, before Angel and Rebekah showed up, but this restaurant filled up quick, and stayed that way during our entire stay.

The restaurant is not big, maybe 20 or so tables, with a long bar that overlooks the cooking process. The reviews I have read suggest that the bar is the best place to sit and soak in all the action here, but it's not really conducive when you are going to be talking and catching up with your friends. Be aware, this is a loud restaurant. Even with only twenty tables, the high ceilings do little to mute the conversations and blues and jazz that are playing over the speakers in the dining room. Be prepared for the chairs here, which are some of the most uncomfortable ones we have sat in during the five year run of this blog. Maybe they have these to keep the tables turning over, to avoid long wait times for tables. Let's hope the food was a little more comfortable than the chairs.



While we were waiting for Angel to finish getting himself restaurant ready, we were served this Bread Basket. These rolls were pretty crusty, which is good for dipping, and probably what you want to serve here. We went through two baskets of these during our meal.


Yelp was all abuzz with its love for the New England Clam Chowder ($4) at Ritter's, and for once, the Yelp kids got it right. They have both New England style and Manhattan here, but do yourself a favor and try the creamier New England version. This is going to sound like a diss, but the version here reminded me of the clam chowder I had at Polly's growing up. I used to love getting it every Friday night, and this version was just as creamy, more full of clams, and had a great flavor to it. One of the best chowders we have had during the run of this blog.




As much as we were looking forward to having the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp ($12), they were a letdown. The description made them sound so good. They are molasses marinated shrimp and mozzarella deep fried, then wrapped in bacon, which sounds awesome right? These were kind of boring though. All of the components were here, but they lacked that wow factor. These also might have been made better if they were not paired with a molasses mustard sauce. Not sure what kind of sauce should have been used here, but this sauce relied way too much on mustard to add flavor here.


When ordering the Red Beans and Rice ($5) they ask you how hot you would like it, based on a numerical scale. We asked for a seven out of ten, and I thought the heat here was pretty tame. Angel and Rebekah ordered theirs at an eight, and theirs were about the same. A little inconsistent, but when we told our waiter we would like these more spicy, he brought us out some habaneros, which cranked up the heat, and also made this dish a winner. Besides the beans and rice in here, there was andouille pork sausage included. I really liked this appetizer, and would just ask for the habaneros on the side, so both Katie and I could enjoy this with our desired heat levels.



Shrimp does funny things to Katie, so the Cilantro Chicken ($14) caught her eye immediately. This really had a pho vibe going for it. Chicken breast, Andouille sausage, and linguini noodles joined the tomatoes and cilantro in the lemon garlic broth. Katie felt this was a great option for people who want to eat a little lighter at Ritter's. She was really happy with this dish.


Rebekah went with Cajun staple, Jambalaya ($18) for her dinner on this night. This version was pretty traditional with shrimp, chicken, Andouille sausage, and rice, in a tomato based sauce. She liked this version, but has had better. The picture does not show it, but this was a pretty good sized serving of jambalaya.



Angel knew what he would be getting when he walked in here, the Ritter's Famous Gumbo ($20 with shrimp added). I believe he wanted to see if this version was better than his girlfriends, and being a good boyfriend he said hers was better. He did enjoy this though. He liked that the okra was not slimy, which is usually a big bone of contention for him with other gumbos. This also featured the trinity of Cajun cooking, which is cut up bell peppers, onion, and celery, along with pork Andouille sausage, and a mound of rice in a dark roux sauce. Angel definitely made sure to clean his plate on this night.



Just like Angel, I knew what I would be having at Ritter's even before walking in the door. The Ritter's Famous Pan Roast ($23 for the house version) was simply great. In my opinion, this was the best dish to hit the table on this night, and I was glad I was the one who had ordered it. The pan roast is a tomato cream sauce, with the trinity included, a big mound of rice in the middle, and the house version comes with shrimp, clams, crab and lobster. There was plenty of seafood in here, but the tomato cream sauce stole this show. Even writing this now, I still look back fondly on this meal, and especially that sauce. It's rare that you come to a restaurant for the first time and get the best thing on the menu, but I can't see myself getting anything else on future visits here.

Ritter's is worthy of all the press they have received recently. Both Katie and I really enjoyed our meals, and even Angel and Rebekah had to admit that their meals were pretty good as well. We had great service on this night, even though they were pretty busy during our stay. We even got a visit from Chef Ritter while eating here. He actually took the time to visit each table, which I thought was a nice touch. We will definitely be back. Glad to see that there are now more Cajun options in OC, and Ritter's is near the top of those options.

Out of five knights, (because ritter in German means knight), five being best to zero being worst, Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking gets 3.5 knights.

For more information about Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, go their website here: http://rittersskc.com/

Ritter's SKC on Urbanspoon