Thursday, October 29, 2015

Back To Our List in Catalina

Maggie's Blue Rose
417 Crescent Ave. 
Avalon, CA 90704

Okay, so if you have been following along with this blog, you know that our last restaurant review was also from Catalina Island. We were on the island for a mini vacation with Katie's family. They had me write out a bunch of places to dine at, then as soon as we got off the boat, they threw away my list and ate at one of their favorite spots, Mi Casita. You can see how that visit was by clicking here.

Not wanting to rehash an old wound, Katie and I set out on our own for lunch after spending some good quality family time at the beach. I was looking forward to getting out of the sun for awhile, and we headed towards town. There were six places on my restaurant wish list, but we decided to have Mexican food again, hoping that Maggie's Blue Rose was going to be better than our last visit to a Mexican restaurant in Avalon. 

Maggie's Blue Rose is located directly across from the beach, directly below their sister restaurant, Steve's Steakhouse. There was plenty of foot traffic passing by this place, but we got right in at just before 1pm on a Saturday. Opened for just about a year and a half, Maggie's is one of the highest rated restaurant on the island, receiving four stars on Yelp, and they also won an award at the Taste of Avalon in their first year in business. 

The menu here could definitely best be described as modern Mexican. Not heavy on combination plates, instead they offer Mexican favorites with a twist. Mole and duck seem to be a big draw at Maggie's, and maybe coming from the same kitchen as the restaurant above, their lunch menu has three different steaks on it, along with crab, lobster, and something that you always see in a Mexican restaurant, pasta alfredo. After lounging around in the sun all morning, I was definitely ready for some food, let's see what came out for us. 

First things first, I want to apologize in advance for these not so great pictures that I took at Maggie's. I had left my usual camera back at the beach house, and shot these with my phone, which I hate doing, but I had to make due with what I had. Again, I'm sorry. Anyways, let's take a look at the Chips and Salsa that they brought out after we had ordered. These chips were pretty solid. They were thicker than most, and had a great crunch to them. They tasted freshly made. I liked that they offered two salsas. The chunkier of the two was good, with a very good texture to it. It was mild, and was definitely Katie's favorite. The habanero salsa had a great kick to it, and is one of the spicier that I have had in a restaurant recently. 

No big table side mixing of the guacamole here at Maggie's, but it did not matter, because this Guacamole ($6) went very well with the chips and salsas. Not overly seasoned, it had a good texture to it, with just the right amount of chunk. It could have used some jalapenos to spice things up, but otherwise a much better version than what we had at our first Mexican restaurant on Catalina.

Entrees made their way out of the kitchen rather fast at Maggie's, and within 5 minutes we were eating. Katie selected the Chicken Verde Tacos ($11), which contained shredded chicken, pickled onion, a little jicama slaw, and cilantro crema, all wrapped in a homemade tortilla. She threw out adjectives like delicious, tender, and flavorful to describe these tacos. She really enjoyed whatever the chicken was sauteed with. The tacos come with your choice of rice and beans, Katie got the cilantro rice with the vegetarian black beans, which she said rounded out the meal nicely. She'd definitely get this again.

Visually appealing for sure, I was pretty excited to try these Mole Braised Duck Enchiladas ($16). I really enjoy duck, but it kind of got overwhelmed by the mole. This mole was a good version, with plenty of complexity to it. Maybe if there was a little more of the duck meat in these enchiladas, it would have stood out more. The refried beans and Mexican rice were lighter than expected, but also could have used a little more seasoning. Still a very good lunch though.

Maggie's Blue Rose blew away our first restaurant experience on Catalina. Not really much of a contest though. The food at Maggie's at least tasted like something, which is sometimes a challenge in touristy areas. I really liked their take on modern Mexican food, and I did not think the prices were too crazy out of whack, as they can be in Avalon. Our server was right on top of things during our stay, and like I said, the food came out rather quick. We'd definitely eat here again on future visits to Catalina. It's easy to see how this place made it on our list of restaurants to eat at this weekend.

Out of five crowns, (because in some cultures the blue rose symbolizes royalty), five being best to zero being worst, Maggie's Blue Rose gets 3 crowns.

For more information about Maggie's Blue Rose, check out their website here:

Maggie's Blue Rose Mexican Fare Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Stellar Year at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival

Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival
Newport Beach Civic Center
100 Civic Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660

In only it's second year, the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival is the one event that I look forward to every year. This is like my Christmas morning. Eating, drinking, mingling with chefs, having a great time with my food writer friends, great people watching, and enjoying the beautiful Southern California sunshine. What could be better? The answer is, not much. This year was extra special as Katie and I bought our parents tickets to this premiere event to thank them for everything they have done for us this year.

Just like last years event, the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival returned to the beautiful grounds of the Newport Beach Civic Center. This two day event is not just about great food and wine, it's also about helping end the cycle of homelessness, one child at a time. Some of the proceeds from this wonderful event benefit Project Hope Alliance, a great organization that strives to provide housing, education, and most importantly, hope to Orange County's homeless population. So since you are doing something good for the community, there's an added bonus to enjoying yourself on a wonderful fall afternoon in one of the best cities in the United States.

Even though this is a two day event, due to craziness at my real job, I could only attend one day unfortunately, but that one day was enough to wear me out. I left this event full, and feeling pretty good. It might be pleasure overload if I attended both the Saturday and Sunday sessions. This year there were two different lineups of chefs under the two white tents of the Grand Tasting Pavilions. There are also chef demos with some pretty big names in the cooking world going on at this festival. Hubert Keller, Rick Bayless, Rick Moonen, and others made their way to Newport Beach to share some of their cooking secrets. There were more wineries pouring here than I could count, and they were sampling their best wines to festival goers. There was also wine seminars given by Master Sommelier's, which were both informative and fun. All of this was great, but I was here to eat as much as I wanted, and was really impressed with the fantastic lineup of restaurants on the second day of this event. Let's see what they had in store for us.

Before we get to the food, I had to try one of these Newport Swizzle Drinks from the good folks at Cruzan Rum. Checking out my Instagram feed from the first day of the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, these were a real hit with people that attended the first day. Using a half a watermelon as a glass, this cocktail included Cruzan white rum, lime, mint and bitters. Sweetened by the watermelon, this was a very refreshing drink, and brought to mind the kind of drink you might find on Gilligan's Island, complete with paper umbrella.

Our first food stop was at Andrea at Pelican Hill booth. I knew this afternoon was going to be a success with my parents when they were willing to try this Ricotta Cavatelli with Wild Boar Ragout and Porcini Mushrooms. My parents are pretty straight forward eaters, and not usually comfortable eating something they have never tried before, like boar. They not only ate this, but had an extra one. I knew after this, we were going to be in for a great day.

Roy's is one of those restaurants I never think about going to, even though I had a pretty great dinner there once. Chef Vega had Ahi Poke served on top of Yucca Chips for us. This poke was very fresh, and seasoned well. Not too surprised that a Hawaiian restaurant like Roy's knows how to do poke. Delicious.

Fig and Olive has been on my radar for awhile now, and this Fall Sea Scallop has nudged me into moving them higher on our list of restaurants to hit up. Scallops are one of my favorites, and this one had quite a lot going on with it. It was served with a wonderful cauliflower puree, a cauliflower semolina, lime juice, slivered almonds, parsley, cilantro, roasted almond oil, and citrus dressing. The scallop was done perfectly, not rubbery, tender, and the items on the side really enhanced the scallop. Really well done, and we can't wait to try this restaurant.

I was a little bummed that Del Frisco's was not sampling their famous ahi tacos, but they quickly made up for it with these offerings. Both the Pork Taco with jicama slaw and the Pulled Pork with Chips proves that Del Frisco's does swine very well. Their offerings were rounded out with a smooth and lighter than you'd expect Butterscotch Pudding.

The very talented Chef at Five Crowns, Steven Kling broke with tradition, when instead of serving their restaurant's signature prime rib, opting instead for this very well made Minced Duck. This was served on a crispy won ton, which kind of gave the impression of an upscale nacho. Duck is always a favorite of mine, and this was no exception. I came back here numerous times during my visit to snag more of these.

More ahi was in store when visiting the Stonehill Tavern at St. Regis Monarch Beach booth. Their version of ahi was served on a salted seaweed chip. This was my first time having a seaweed chip, and I have to admit that it was a great vessel for the tuna.

Not just because I'm a Ducks fan, but one of my favorite OC chefs is Jo Jo Doyle from the Honda Center. The two times I have met him, he's always been so personable, and answers all of my dorky questions. He also makes some awesome food as well, like this Espresso Beef Cheek. This little bite had a lot going on with it. Along with the coffee tinted beef there was some vanilla and a little bourbon flavor going on here, along with a sweet potato pudding. Very tasty. We are looking forward to eating many meals at honda Center during this hockey season.

No stranger to food festivals, Andrew Gruel's Slapfish was here with one of the longer lines for their Clobster Roll. This 50/50 mix of crab and lobster had people swinging back into line after they finished their first one. Seasoned simply to allow the true taste of the crab and lobster to shine through, this was my parents favorite bite of the event.

The guys over at Boathouse Collective were offering a cocktail to guests visiting their booth, the Good Eye Mighty. This citrus based beverage used lime and pineapple juice, along with vodka and yellow chartreuse. Equal parts sweet and sour, this was a very well balanced cocktail. For their food offering, Boathouse had a Japanese Potato Puree Cake. A very comforting bite of food.

The chefs at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival must have all been inspired by lemons, because we were not done having lemon based foods yet. Laguna Beach's own Montage Resort had a Meyer Lemon and Tangerine Meringue, and also some very tasty Lemon Macarons with olive oil and vanilla. I'm not much into lemon, but these macaroons were nice, with an outer crunch to them, and their trademark softer inside.

Not the best looking dish at the festival, but this Lemongrass and Maryland Crab Wonton had big time flavor. Not something I would normally associate with Anqi, which is located at South Coast Plaza, this had a very nice sauce to go along with it.

Studio, which is located at the Montage Resort in Laguna, had Octopus served atop eggplant and a cauliflower cacciatore. My parents shied away from this because of the octopus, but I love octopus, and loved this plate. Really tasty, and I liked the detail they used in presenting this.

Speaking of presentation, A and O Kitchen at the Balboa Bay Resort had boxes of bones that they used to plate their Bone Marrow with tomato confit and micro greens. Bone marrow is always a winner in my book, and this bone marrow cream was delicious. Also a little out of the box was their Foie Gras Cream Cones topped with Washington state huckleberries. I've never had foie in this form before, but this was the first of two times I would have it this way on this afternoon.

I saved my favorite booth for last, and what a production that was going on at Selanne Steak Tavern. Never one to take the easy route, Chef Joshua Severson offered four items for the festival attendees. Who says you can't have dessert first? Macaroons were big at this years event, and the two offered here were the Hazelnut Nougat and a Reese's Pieces Macaroon. No surprise to anyone, but I loved the Reese's version, and smuggled a few out in Katie's purse. Unfortunately they did not make it all the way home before I finished them off. No willpower. I also had no willpower when it came to the Brandt Beef Prime Short Rib braised in Cabernet and topped Crater Lake blue foam. I had this at last years event, and it just doesn't get old. They definitely do beef right at Selanne's. Not sure what was going on, but Selanne's had the exact same Foie Gras Cream Cone with huckleberry that was served at A and O Kitchen. Maybe one of them needed to borrow an item or something. Lastly, even though it has been so hot around these parts, I still enjoyed two helpings of this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with a hazelnut marshmallow. Real tasty with a touch of sweetness.

This year's Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival was even better than last years, and that's saying something. Even now, weeks past this event, my parents are still raving about it, and making plans to attend next years, which in case you were wondering is going to take place October 1st and 2nd, with the launch party happening on September 30th. I'll pass along more details as I get them, and I look forward to seeing how they are going to top themselves, if that's even possible. I really enjoyed that there were two lineups of restaurants per day, and even though the wine selection was phenomenal, they also featured plenty of cocktails and beer for us non-wine drinkers. My only wish is that I didn't have to wait another 11 months to do it all over again.

If you want to keep up with all of the happenings going on with the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, head over to their website here:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

26 Miles Across the Sea for This?

Mi Casita
111 Claressa Ave. 
Avalon, CA 90704

Sometimes you have everything mapped out, and then there's a big wrench thrown in the machinery. The wrench in this scenario is Katie's family. Yes, I love them with all of my heart, but they are very loyal to some pretty mediocre restaurants. When I first met them, they had a rotating restaurant routine of Cedar Creek, Mimi's Cafe, King's Fish House, and El Ranchito. Don't get me wrong, there are some okay restaurants on this list, but when you eat at them almost anytime that you go out, it kind of gets a little monotonous. So when we were headed to Catalina Island for a weekend getaway, they asked me to come up with some new places for them to try.

One problem, they have their favorites on Catalina also. Sadly, my list of restaurants to try would be discarded, until Katie and I snuck off for a lunch on our own. One of their favorite spots is Mi Casita, which is about a block away from the harbor, and located on the same street as our beach house rental was situated. I had read about this place, while doing research, and had an idea as to how it was going to be. I did go in with an open mind, and because I was pretty hungry, I did not put up much of a fight that they wanted to eat here.

Mi Casita has been around forever it seems. I do not have an exact date on how long they have been in business, but there first Yelp review was 10 years ago, and I know they were around a long time before that. The decor here is bright and happy, with every color of the rainbow represented inside the restaurant. Our party of nine was seated in the back of the restaurant, right near the bar. The menu here is rather large, and mostly what you would expect a Mexican restaurant in a touristy area to serve. We made our selections rather quickly, or as quickly as 9 people can, and waited for our food to come out. Let's see if I had made a mistake by not adding this restaurant to my list of must try places in Catalina.

As is customary when we eat in a Mexican restaurant, we have to show you the Chips and Salsa. The chips here were pretty good. nice and crisp, with a slight amount of grease on them, (not a bad thing in my book). The salsa was another story. Kind of bland, and really watery. Not a lot of chunk to it. which is the way I prefer my salsa.

I usually do not partake in alcohol when dining out, preferring to save money and space in my stomach for food, but we were on vacation this weekend, and I didn't want Katie's mom to be the only one drinking. I tried the House Margarita ($9.00) to help ease the pain of being with Katie's family for over 48 hours straight, (just kidding, kind of). This 18 ounce margarita was actually pretty good. Made with Cuervo 1800, it had a nice base of sweet and sour, and the tequila went down real smooth. Their signature drink might be the wine based cazuela, but it would be hard to beat this margarita.

After six years of knowing this family, I know that guacamole is always ordered when the Doyle's sit down for Mexican food. That was the case on this night for sure, This was a different Guacamole Appetizer ($6.95). It came with three small scoops of mashed up avocado, and had onion, tomato, and chopped up Serrano chili's on the side. This kind of do it yourself guacamole was kind of flat. First, it was kind of awkward mixing the stuff into the guacamole on the plate provided. The guacamole itself was under seasoned, and basically just mashed up avocados with no seasoning added. Not a big fan of this.

With a group this big, we needed to try the Mi Casita Sampler ($19.95). This appetizer sampler featured a bunch of the appetizers from the Mi Casita menu. There was a cheese quesadilla, buffalo wings, beef taquitos, and calamari included here, along with jalapenos escabeche, sour cream, and another scoop of the lackluster guacamole. The menu says that this feeds four people, but it fed all nine of us, because it was very mediocre. The wings, like the calamari was overly breaded, the taquitos were average, and the best thing included here was the quesadilla, which was your basic version. After eating this, it's easy to imagine them just opening up a big bag of frozen appetizers and dumping them in the fryer.

Entrees made their way out next, and first up is Katie's selection, the Panela Chicken ($15.95). This used a boneless chicken breast as a base, and is then topped with panela cheese, a tomatillo sauce and corn niblets. It also comes served with rice and beans. Katie really enjoyed this dish. She felt the chicken was tender, the panela cheese was lighter than expected, and the tomatillo sauce tied everything up neatly. She would definitely get this again, and is looking for a similar version in OC.

My brother in law Kevin is not really a picky eater. He once told me that a burger from Wendy's is the same to him as one from let's say G Burger. Crazy to a food guy like myself, but I can kind of understand this. He's more of a car guy, and knows the ins and outs of cars, and loves everything about them. I just want a car that's dependable enough to get me to work everyday. Kevin did not really give me much as to whether he liked this Beef Burrito ($11.95) or not. I know it had shredded beef, red sauce, beans, rice, and cheese in it, but he kept pretty tight lipped about his impression of this good sized burrito. We did think it was odd that the burritos at Mi Casita come with fruit, which kind of seemed out of place on the plate. He left the fruit behind when he hurried home to his wife with food to go.

Everyone else, besides myself had tacos at Mi Casita. I don't recall who had this Two Item Combination ($13.95), but it looked real average from across the table. You have your choice of beef or shredded chicken, and this was definitely shredded chicken. No rave reviews for his plate though. The taco shell looked and tasted like something from the grocery shelf. The chicken was okay, with nice crispy tips to it. The best part of this plate for me was the refried beans, which were a little overcooked, but made better with plenty of melty cheese on top of them.

It's probably no surprise to long time readers of this blog what I got on my first visit to Mi Casita. It's my custom to try Carnitas ($15.95) at a Mexican restaurant that I'm trying for the first time. This version was a little all over the map. Some pieces were tender and moist, while others were a little on the dry side. Kind of lackluster in the flavor department also. Not the worst version I have had, but definitely not above average.

Needless to say I was a little disappointed with our visit to Mi Casita. This was very plain, boring and uninspired Mexican food. Not anything that was awful, but it's easy to see why this was not on my list from the start. Katie's mom claims that they wanted to eat here to cut down on costs from other restaurants on my list, but I'd argue that this was way overpriced for mediocre food. An ala carte taco goes for five dollars here, and the eleven dollar burrito are just two of the prices that jumped out at me as being a little out of whack. I know this is a tourist area, and prices are always higher, but I don't mind higher prices if the food is better. We had no issues with the service on this evening. Our server Martin had everything under control during our stay. After eating here, I decided Katie and I would stick to my list for the rest of our visit to beautiful Catalina Island.

Out of five pieces of chewing gum, (because Catalina Island was developed as a tourist destination in the 1920's by chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley), five being best to zero being worst, Mi Casita gets 2 pieces of chewing gum.

To check out Mi Casita for yourself, head to their website here:

Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato