This post is going to be a little different from our usual restaurant reviews. My good friend Richard never gets to come hang out with his friends, but on his birthday this year, I had an excellent idea of taking him on a bar crawl to find him a great mojito. It just so happens that mojitos are his favorite alcoholic beverage, and he got permission to come out and find the best one with me.
The first task was scouting a location with an abundance of mojitos available for us to try. There are not too many places left in OC where you can do pub crawls. Yes, there are the beach cities, but after this evening, he was going to need a ride home, and since his wife had already relented into letting him go, we could not put her out more by making her drive any further to pick his presumedly drunk ass up.
For those of you that are new to the mojito scene, they are a rum based drink, which also includes sugar, lime juice, soda water, and of course muddled mint. The birthplace of this cocktail is Cuba, but there are conflicting stories as to who invented it, and how it got named. It's also been rumored to be Ernest Hemingway's favorite cocktail, but this is also doubted by some historians.
I did a quick search online and found that the Irvine Spectrum would fill the bill nicely for us. Not only is it centrally located between mine and Richard's abodes, but a quick Yelp search confirmed that nearly 10 of their restaurant tenants serve, or are capable of serving a mojito. Score.
We were not going to be drinking ten mojitos, and I wasn't even going to be ordering one, as they are not really my favorite. I picked five places to try, and we can maybe try the other five next year. We also would be ordering something to eat at each of these places, because we're responsible like that. So sit back, relax, and watch the mojitos fly, as we try to find the best mojito at the Irvine Spectrum.
We started things off at Del Frisco's Grille due to their proximity to the parking structure that I parked in. We were here at just after 3 pm, and the bar was pretty empty but filled up as we approached their happy hour, which starts at 4. They do not have a mojito on their cocktail menu, but their amicable bartender, Diane made Richard his initial birthday Mojito ($11.50) happily. This beverage drew rave reviews from Richard, who thought it had the right amount of sweet, with just a tinge of bitterness on the back end of the drink. He was less excited by the Cheesesteak Egg Rolls ($13), which he called bland. I've always said that these would be made better with the sauce served on the side, instead of streaked across the plate. On to spot number two.
Yard House was next on our journey. The best part about our time at Yard House was that we hit this place right at Happy Hour, which goes from 3 to 6 pm weekdays. The Mojito ($7.75 with the $2 off during happy hour) was obviously made from a mix, and not really good. Way too sweet, Richard couldn't even tell if there was alcohol in here or not, as it tasted just like sugar water. The Blue Crab Cakes ($7 on HH, but $12.45 most of the time) were also not worth the bother. These good sized crab cakes were mostly filler, overly breaded, and placed in this weird, runny white sauce, along with diced mango, papaya, and passion fruit. Nothing about this screamed order this next time to us, so we'll skip it on future visits.
Another happy hour spot we were lucky to hit was Paul Martin's American Grill. I've always kind of been let down by this restaurant, as I've always though it should be better than it is. This was not the case on this late afternoon. The Mojito ($5 on HH or $13 all other times), was pretty solid and helped wash away the taste of the one we had back at Yard House. It was definitely made to order and was just a tad too heavy with the rum for Richard's palette. Happy hour goes on from 3 to 7 pm, seven days a week here at Paul Martin's, which gives you ample time to take advantage of their Bistro Burger Special ($14), which also comes with fries and your choice of a craft beer. The burger was pretty solid and was made even better with great melted cheese, which spread evenly across the warm beef. This simply dressed burger is rounded out nicely by a very well done bun, which is soft, but keeps its integrity. The fries were good as well and seasoned with salt and herbs. The perfect spot for two guys visiting as many bars as possible in a short time.
I've always been a big fan of Wood Ranch. Yes, their barbecue is good, and in fact, I think they are one of the better of all the chain barbecue restaurants, but there's something else that I crave when I walk by here at the Irvine Spectrum, their Oreo Cookie Crunch ($6.95). Of course first, we had to try the Havana's Best Mojito ($7 for happy hour, or $9 the rest of the day). This was not an awful version of this drink. It was pretty sweet, and the mint was kind of lost here, but you still knew you were drinking a mojito. Pretty good balance. Glad they took the time to prepare this cocktail the right way. The Oreo cookie crunch was delicious and so simple. It's a scoop of good vanilla bean ice cream, rolled in Oreo cookie crumbs, and then served with chocolate and caramel sauces. This works wonderfully, and the only way to make it better would be to swap out the chocolate sauce and use hot fudge instead. Still one of my favorite desserts I've had during the seven-year run of this blog.
Yes, we had already had dessert, but we still had about twenty minutes before Richard's wife would pick him up, so we decided to try the Mojito ($10) at Cucina Enoteca. When we were at other bars, bartenders told us that they thought this would be the best mojito that we would encounter on our trip around the Spectrum. It wasn't. It wasn't horrible, but was definitely on the bitter side, and was rather boring due to the lack of mint used in it. What wasn't boring was this Giant Meatball ($9). The food has always impressed me here, and this meatball was no exception. Very tender, with a great flavor to it. I liked the melted cheese on top of it, but what rounded this all together for me was their very tasty red sauce, which really made this dish pop. A must get when eating at Cucina Enoteca.
So we made it through five different mojitos in the span of three hours. Who had the best? We liked the one at Del Frisco's Grille as our number one pick. It was the most balanced and refreshing versions that we tried on this afternoon. Second place would go to the one at Paul Martin's, and then the one at Wood Ranch would probably be third. The worst was by far the one at Yard House, which almost every bartender that we asked had predicted it would be.
Their food was not much better. The Yard House crab cakes definitely were the worst thing we ate on this afternoon. Not a very good showing for the folks at Yard House. The best food item for me probably was the meatball from Cucina Enoteca, then the Oreo Cookie Crunch and the bronze medal would go to the Burger at Paul Martin's.
All in all, this was a great afternoon with my friend Richard. We got to celebrate his birthday, go bar hopping, and try some pretty good food. I can hardly wait until next year when we get to hang out again and try the rest of the mojitos offered at the Irvine Spectrum.
To help plan your pub or food crawl around the Irvine Spectrum, check out their website here: http://www.shopirvinespectrumcenter.com/