Tuesday, November 24, 2015

GD Bro Burger Settles in Santa Ana - CLOSED

GD Bro Burger
2321 East 4th St. 
Santa Ana, CA 92705

It seems like the burger wars are starting to heat up again in OC if they ever really cooled down. All of a sudden there seems to be a new burger place opening up every week or so. In just the last few months, Krave Burger, Holsteins, and Hopdoody Burger Bar have made their presence felt by opening new locations in Orange County. On our way to watch the Ducks early-season woes, we swung by another burger place that's getting a lot of attention for their burgers, GD Bro Burger.

If you are a big fan of the TV show "The Great Food Truck Race," then this restaurant might ring a bell for you. Unfortunately, I have not had too much time to watch food TV these days, as I have been binge-watching Mad Men and Breaking Bad on Netflix. I did look it up though, and the GD Bro Burger truck finished in third place on this year's race on Food Network. On the show, there were three of them running things, good friends Kevin, Geoffrey, and Mark. Now their restaurant website only lists Kevin and Mark as running things. Not sure what happened to Geoffrey, but I was still pretty excited to give this place a try.

GD Bro Burger is located in the old Toro Burger spot, on the corner of 4th Street and Tustin Avenue, right next to the 55 Freeway. There's a Subway right next door, along with a UPS store. I believed that the GD stood for god damn, but I was wrong. I guess that would make my mom happy that they are nice guys that wouldn't say god damn. It actually means globally delicious. There are currently six burgers to choose from on their menu, along with some signature fries, regular style fries, and mozzarella sticks. I've also seen some killer shakes on their Instagram page, but did not have one on this evening. Maybe next time. Let's see what we did have though, and how we liked it.

Let's start things off with Katie's selection, the KBBQ Poutine Burger ($9.95). Before we get to the burger, you'll probably notice the bright red buns at GD Bro Burger. These are their signature raspberry buns, but they also offer a traditional bun as well. To tell the truth, I did not really get too much raspberry from these buns, but they did an admirable job of keeping everything together, which is basically all I ask for in a hamburger bun. This burger was topped with mozzarella cheese, Korean short rib, pickled red onions, sesame seed chives, and homestyle gravy, which Katie asked for on the side. She stated that she has not had such a delicious burger in quite a long time. The short rib was tender, and added a nice flavor to the well made burger patty. A wonderful mixture of flavors made this burger a winner in Katie's book.

I was really torn when it came to choosing a burger here, but this Italian Stallion ($9.95) eventually won out. This pizza inspired burger came with mozzarella sticks, pizza sauce, spinach, pepperoni, and ranch. The toppings are what make the burgers here, but this is a good quality hamburger, and the toppings really enhanced it. The mozzarella sticks were some of the best I have had recently, and I was afraid that the pizza sauce would overwhelm, but it did not. The burgers were not overly huge, but I would not be able to eat two of them like I can do at Umami Burger. I liked this burger but would try their Mexican inspired Juan and Only Burger on my next visit.

We did try the Mexican inspired Consuela Fries ($5.95) on this evening though. These fries were topped with pepper jack cheese, avocado, pico de gallo, chipotle mayo, and some Cajun seasonings. I really liked the spicy flavor of these, and they resembled a much better version of In-N-Out's animal fries. The one problem with these was that the cheese was all clumped together, as these fries were not served hot. Lukewarm, but still a must-try when you come here.

I really enjoyed our time at GD Bro Burger. Are these the best burgers in OC? Not sure about that after only this one visit, but I think I'd need to come back and try some of their other burgers on their menu to make up my mind. It kind of seems to me that the toppings on these burgers are what make them stand out, which is fine by me. Don't get me wrong, the burgers on their own are good here, but what I really enjoyed was the creativity of their signature burgers. In my opinion, these are near the top of my burger list. I also did not feel that these burgers were too expensive, and they definitely did feel me up. The service that we experienced was great, and I should mention that they offered us samples of their house made juices when we walked in, and they were all pretty solid. I've heard that the wait times can get pretty long for this place, but we must have hit them at just the right time, 5pm on a Wednesday night, as we were able to walk right in, place our order, and have our food ready within ten minutes. GD Bro Burger is definitely a player in the burger wars that are taking place in OC right now.

Out of five spices, (because GD is the country code for the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, which is known as the Island of Spice), five being best to zero being worst, GD Bro Burger gets 3.5 spices.

For more information about GD Bro Burger, head to their website here: http://www.gdbrotruck.com/

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Driftwood Kitchen, Not Just a Pretty Venue

Driftwood Kitchen
619 Sleepy Hollow Lane
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Work has been pretty crazy for both Katie and I lately. She recently had her year end, which means 10 to 13 hour days at her job. My job has been hit by people going on disability, finding better jobs, or just not wanting to deal with the public anymore. Since we are short staffed, that means I get the pleasure of working six days a week. That's sarcasm if you could not tell.

Anyways, this has not left us anytime to get away for a little mini vacation since we got back from our honeymoon in April. I decided to mix things up for us on a recent Sunday, and surprise Katie with dinner with a view, and a quick walk on the beach. I decided on dinner at a restaurant I had heard a lot about, and one where we could witness the sunset. We headed to Driftwood Kitchen in Laguna Beach.

As you can see in the picture above, the view at Driftwood Kitchen is not exaggerated. During our visit, we witnessed almost everyone here taking time to make sure to take at least one picture on their phones. I was a little worried that with a view like this, that the food would be a secondary thought. Many beach restaurants rely on their proximity to the water as a drawing point, and take shortcuts with their food. Let's see if that would be how it plays out for us on this evening.

We arrived a little early for our 6pm reservation, but it was no problem getting seated right away. Driftwood Kitchen has the feel of a beach house for sure, which I was alerted to the fact that this used to be the former home of the Beach House Restaurant. Light colors, and good looking servers and clientele, brought to mind a real vacation vibe. The row of tables on the patio were in very high demand on this evening, with the hostess not knowing when one would be available. People seemed to linger as sunset quickly approached. We were seated inside, against the window nearest the patio, and had an excellent vantage point of the shore.

The cuisine here is the brainchild of Chef Rainer Schwarz, whose food we have tasted at various food festivals, but we were excited to try his food on his home turf. The menu promises fresh cuisine that's prepared simply, with a focus on seasonal ingredients. His menu is organized by small and large plates, along with soup, salads, and desserts. We had the view for sure, but I was excited to view the food hitting the table. Let's see what we thought of Driftwood Kitchen.

Since we were so close to the ocean, seafood was on our minds, so we started with the Dungeness Crab Cake ($15). This crab cake was served alongside an Asian pear and endive salad and a dill lebni, which I learned is a kefir cheese, which is made with live cultures, and has the consistency of sour cream. The crab cake here was pretty solid. Not a lot of filler holding it together, so you got plenty of the natural crab flavor coming through. The salad was a nice add on, but was easily overshadowed by the crab cake. I found the lebni an odd choice here. I've never had sour cream with a crab cake before, and it did not work here. I'd have rather of had a tarter sauce, or maybe a softer sauce that went better with the crab cake.  

Since we were experiencing a real vacation vibe, why not throw caution to the wind and order these Driftwood Fries ($9) as well. I had heard good things about these fries, which are hand cut from Kennebec potatoes. The fries by themselves were good, but could have been a little more crisp for my taste. However, these fries were pushed to even greater heights by the awesome herb aioli that these came with. Delicious, and even the house made ketchup was not as awful as other house made ketchup's almost always inevitably end up. Easy to see why these fries get such high praise.

As you can tell by these pictures, the sun had set between our appetizers and our entrees, as we definitely needed the flash to capture our dinners. Up first is Katie's selection, the Lobster Spaghetti Carbonara ($22). This mound of spaghetti may look small, but there was a lot going on with it. It was topped with grated pecorino romano, guanciale, (an Italian cured meat made from the cheeks or jowl of the pig), a farm fresh egg, and of course lobster. When this was placed in front of Katie, I thought that the serving size was a little on the small size, but a little of this went a long way since it was so rich. Katie liked that this had plenty of lobster included in it, which was prepared well, and very juicy. She also commented that she loved the layering of flavors in this, and it kept her taste buds guessing as she made her way through this plate.

Not the most picturesque plate I have ever photographed, but when I saw this Butcher Steak and Pork Belly ($24) on the menu, I had to have it. I mean, two meats on one plate, and one of them is pork belly? Sign me up. This double dose of meat came with some roasted mushrooms, a chimichurri, and some fried red onions. Both meats were delicious, with the steak cooked to a wonderful medium rare, and paired nicely with the chimichurri for a slight Argentine influence. The pork belly was not to be outdone, as it had a great flavor to it, and was fried wonderfully, resembling a great hunk of slightly fatty bacon. Divine. Even with some great seafood options on the menu at Driftwood, I would be hard pressed to deviate from ordering this on my future visits here.

Not on the dessert menu anymore, but I had heard great things about this Sticky Toffee Cake ($9), so I inquired about it. Our waiter informed us that it is what's offered to people celebrating an event at the restaurant. I asked if we could order it, and he obliged. It was delicious, with a nice salted caramel and a whipped cream to accompany it. Next time we will definitely make up an event we are celebrating, just so we can have this dessert, and save nine dollars at the same time.

I'm pleased to report that after eating this meal at Driftwood Kitchen, I can definitely say that they are not just relying on their view to bring people through the door, the food is almost as fantastic as their vantage point over the Pacific. Even though we were in the touristy area of Laguna Beach, I did not feel that the prices were too crazy for what you get at Driftwood. Service was on point, and very friendly. This restaurant was the perfect spot for a little two hour getaway from the hassles of real life. We're looking forward to heading back again real soon.

Out of five sand dunes, (because driftwood is sometimes the foundations of sand dunes), five being best to zero being worst, Driftwood Kitchen gets 3.5 sand dunes.

For more information about Driftwood Kitchen, go to their website by clicking here: http://driftwoodkitchen.com/

Driftwood Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kissing Summer Goodbye at Baci Di Firenze

Baci Di Firenze Trattoria
416 North Lakeview Ave. 
Anaheim, CA 92807

Fall is finally in the air for Southern California. Not that the last few months have felt like it, as we have routinely had days in the 90's, but it seems like we have finally turned a corner weather wise. Now that the weather is finally cooperating, and with the arrival of pumpkin flavored everything and football, it is finally feeling like fall. Football is what brought us up this way on a recent Saturday night. My niece Kaylie is a cheerleader for her hometown Yorba Linda Giants, and we were coming to watch her perform, but first we were having dinner with my parents, and I chose to eat at Baci Di Firenze.

Baci Di Firenze is located across the street from the old Kaiser Hospital space in Anaheim Hills, and in the same shopping complex as the Steer Inn. From what I can gather looking at their Yelp page, they have been in business for 8 years, even though our waiter commented that they have been around for only six. The entrance to the restaurant is a little odd, as you enter through the side outdoor patio. Not a huge restaurant, with maybe about 15 or so tables inside, we got seated right away without a reservation at about 5:30 on a Saturday night. The place did fill up to capacity during our stay though.

The menu here is pretty much what you would expect from an Italian restaurant in Southern California. There are a good number of pasta dishes, veal, beef, chicken, and seafood entrees to choose from. Prices for entrees are in the $16 to $30 range, and they do include a side of pasta or veggies with them. We were kind of on a strict time schedule, so we made our choices rather quickly, and waited for our food to come out. This is what transpired for us on this evening at Baci Di Firenze.

Bread is always an important thing for Italian restaurants, and this bread at Baci Di Firenze was pretty solid. The outside had a good solid crust to it, while the center was soft. It went well with the oil and vinegar provided, but I would have liked to have tried it with some butter as well. Tasty bread, and they were generous refilling the basket throughout our stay.

Even though salads were not included with our meals, three out of four of us ordered one to start things off. Katie selected this Insalata Alla Baci ($5.50), their version of a house salad to get things rolling. This salad combined mixed greens, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, and red onion, with a very well done creamy Italian dressing. Katie of course mentioned the freshness of the produce here, and the wonderful house made dressing, that she could not get enough of. A very promising start to her meal.

I might be overstating my love for this Insalata Alla Cesare ($6.95), but this was one of the best I have had during the 6 year run of this blog. All of my requirements were met for a great Caesar salad at Baci Di Firenze. The dressing was on point, and there was plenty of it included here, without overloading the fresh romaine. There was also plenty of shaved Parmesan topping this, and some very well made croutons. My dad's not a crouton fan, and even he did not gripe about the inclusion of croutons on his salad. Since this visit, every time we are up this way, I think about stopping in for just this salad, it was that good.

Just like you can expect to be in for a crowded day when you visit Disneyland, you can almost always expect my mom to have chicken Parmesan in an Italian restaurant. This was the case on this night as well. This Pollo Alla Parmigiana ($16.95) had her singing its praises. The chicken breast was lightly breaded, with plenty of mozzarella cheese and a lighter than normal tomato sauce. The chicken was tender, and true to form, she took half of this to go for my dad's lunch the next day.

Sorry for the shot from across the table, but my dad could not wait to dig into this Pollo Al Marsala ($18.95), so I had to take this picture real quick. This traditional Italian Marsala dish had a good sized portion of chicken breast sauteed with Marsala and mushrooms. The chicken on its own was good, but what really made this dish was the delicious sauce. It really pushed this meal to well above average. My dad also enjoyed the mushrooms, which did not only taste good, but kept my mother, who has an adverse reaction to the fungi, from trying any of his meal. Well played sir.


I must have zoned out when Katie was ordering, because I was shocked to see her plate arrive at the table. She had the Involtini Di Pollo ($20.95), and this had a lot going on with it. Her chicken breast was stuffed with Italian ham, spinach, and mozzarella cheese, and topped with a mushroom sauce. Kind of like a saltimbocca, but with spinach added. The ham added a nice saltiness here, which gave this plate some bite. She was very happy with her selection.

I wish I could say the same with my choice on this evening. This Cannelloni Alla Romana ($16.95) did not live up to my expectations. The menu says that these crepes were stuffed with veal, cheese, and and tomato sauce, but they must have forgotten the veal, because there was none present. Still moderately tasty, this definitely needed meat to make it better. I will definitely try something else on my next visit.

Even though my meal was not what I expected, everything else we had on this evening was above average. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the mood for upscale Italian, in a relaxed, family run atmosphere. Yes, the prices might be a little on the high side, but you're paying for the quality here, and they do Italian the right way.  The service was a little stiff at first, but quickly warmed during our stay. A great place to eat before watching my niece cheer, and enjoy some of the cooler weather we have in store for us.

Out of five boars, (because this restaurant's name translates to Kisses of Florence, and one of the most popular tourist spots in that city is a bronze statue of a boar, which tourist rub its snout hoping it will bring a return trip to the city), five being best to zero being worst, Baci Di Firenze Trattoria gets 3.5 boars.

For more information about Baci Di Firenze Trattoria, head to their website here: http://www.bacianaheim.com/

Baci di Firenze Trattoria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Send Off for our Friend Josh at Ricardo's Place

Ricardo's Place
32082 Camino Capistrano 
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

One of my favorite people just left where I work recently, and he'd be pretty shocked that I would write this statement. My friend Josh has taken some good natured, and some not so good natured ribbing from me over the last eight or so years. No matter what came out of my mouth, Josh would respond with his trademark laugh. I wanted to congratulate him on getting out of where we work, and doing something that he's really passionate about, nursing. So we decided to meet up for a celebratory dinner at Ricardo's in San Juan Capistrano.

Ricardo's Place is the sister restaurant of one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in South OC, Cocina de Ricardo, which is in Lake Forest. That restaurant is run by Ricardo's brother, Mario, and this San Juan outpost is run by Ricardo himself. Opened since 2003, Ricardo's Place uses the recipes of his Mamacita Alicia and Grandma Juana. Ricardo is a local guy, who graduated from San Clemente High School, and wanted to share his family's passion for good Mexican food with the people of his community.

San Juan has quite a good number of Mexican restaurants within its borders, and to have stayed in business for over ten years, speaks well in this highly competitive market. We arrived here on a recent Thursday evening around 6pm, and were seated while waiting for our guest of honor, Josh to arrive. This restaurant appears bigger than Cocina de Ricardo, and the place was filled with lots of people throughout our stay. Josh finally arrived, and we made our choices from the rather large menu of the usual Mexican favorites we have come to expect from a Mexican restaurant in this neck of the woods. Let's see if we can add this spot to our list of favorites in San Juan Capistrano.

Since we had to wait for Josh to arrive, we had plenty of time to have some Chips and Salsa. I really enjoyed this salsa, with its bright red glow about it, and plenty of chunk to it. Yes, it could have been a little more spicy for my taste, but it was a great vessel for the well made chips. We were well into our second basket of chips when Josh sauntered in. Hope he's going to be more punctual at his new job.

Since the chips were pretty good, and they did not hesitate refilling them as Josh had more than his fair share, we decided to try the Guacamole ($8.95) at Ricardo's. Again, the texture of this was right on point. It had some decent sized chunks to it, but was still easy to get a chip through. It was not overly seasoned, which allowed the natural flavor of the avocado to come through. I would have liked the inclusion of maybe some red onion or sliced jalapenos to spice this up a bit though.

The entrees made their way out pretty quickly, which was nice so at least Josh would be quiet while he was eating, and we could have a little peace during our meal. Let's start with Katie's meal first. She had the Two Item Combination ($11.50). There were a good number of choices for her to choose from to form her ultimate combo, and she went with her standard, a chicken hard shelled taco and cheese enchilada. She called this meal, "solid, good old fashioned stick to your ribs Mexican food."

I had the Three Item Combo ($14.50) as my meal. I usually try carnitas when I'm eating in a Mexican restaurant for the first time, but I was in a combo kind of mood on this night. I had a shredded beef taco, cheese enchilada, and a carnitas burrito. I really enjoyed the carnitas burrito. The pork was fried crisp, just the way I like it, and the burrito was filled pretty full of the swine. The beef taco was filled with a good amount of beef as well, and topped with plenty of cheese. Ricardo's gets a lot of praise for their enchiladas, and I thought they were just okay. The red sauce here just didn't do it for me. I also would have liked there to be a little more cheese in them. The beans and rice were pretty good. The beans were definitely my favorite of the two, and tasted freshly made. A very solid combo meal, just like the ones I've had up the freeway at their sister restaurant, Cocina de Ricardo.

Josh is never one to pass up a free meal, and I was a little surprised when he only ordered this Shredded Chicken Burrito ($8.95). I thought he was going to order a few plates of food, and then take the leftovers home to feed his family. Anyways, this was a very simple burrito, filled with shredded chicken and beans. It was about double the size of my carnitas burrito that I had with my combo, and filled him up nicely. He said the chicken was  moist and tender, but he'd probably try something else on his next visit here.

I entered Ricardo's Place knowing exactly what I was going to be experiencing food wise. The food here is exactly just like what we have every time we eat at Cocina de Ricardo. We live right in the middle of both of these fine Mexican restaurants, so depending on which side of the 5 Freeway has heavier traffic will dictate which one we drive to. The service on this evening was pretty good, with minimal, to no wait times for food, refills, or the check. Be aware that for some reason Ricardo's Place is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays, but you can head to Cocina de Ricardo on those days. I'm glad we could take Josh out to celebrate his new job, and add another pretty solid Mexican restaurant to our rotation in San Juan.

Out of five islands, (because when I hear the name Ricardo, I always revert to my childhood of watching Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island), five being best to zero being worst, Ricardo's Place gets 3 islands.

For more information about Ricardo's Place, head to their website here: http://ricardosplace.net/

Ricardo's Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato