Thursday, March 31, 2016

Branching Out with Some Mediterranean Food at O-Live Tree


O-Live Tree Mediterranean Cuisine
2010 Main Street 
Irvine, CA 92614

It's gotta be pretty scary opening up a restaurant. There are so many factors that can impose your doom, and that does not even include whether you have great food or not. You have to have a great location, or people will not know where to find you. There has to be good word of mouth, or people will not show up. You also have to self promote on social media and get your name out there, or you'll be passed up by one of the other estimated 10,000 restaurants in OC.

That's why we found ourselves at O-Live Tree on a recent Friday night. We were invited by the restaurant's PR person, as they held their first ever bloggers night. Even if you have never been here before, you know where this place is. It's a few doors away from the iconic Mick's Karma Bar, which has done a masterful job of overcoming this less than desirable restaurant location, and been buoyed by a huge social media presence.

O-Live Tree is located right in the heart of the Irvine Business Complex. surrounded by hotels, high rise buildings, and other restaurants. This restaurant I'm sure does a good business at lunch, but you probably can't pay the rent by serving just one meal a day, so the challenge has to be getting people to enter their parking structure, and finding their way to your restaurant. It's worked for El Torito Grill, McCormick and Schmick's, and the aforementioned Mick's, so why not O-Live Tree. This blogger dinner was a step in the right direction, along with their recently launched website as well.

We arrived here at just before 6pm, just as the last of the business people were clearing out of the parking structure. With validation, you have an hour and a half to eat here without incurring a parking fee, which is easily done with the speed of service here at O-Live Tree. When entering the restaurant, takeout is to the right, and the relaxed, well lit dining room is to the left. We noticed numerous takeout orders being picked up during our visit.

Their menu is pretty much what you would expect from a Mediterranean restaurant in OC. They have plenty of appetizers, wraps, soups, sandwiches, salads, and plates. Prices are very affordable, with appetizers being in the $5 area, and entrees ranging between $10 to $16. We quickly made our selections, and anticipated a very good dinner. Let's see how everything worked out for us at O-Live Tree Restaurant.




Katie had been fighting a bit of a cold, so she was drawn to this Homemade Red Lentil Soup ($4.90). Onion, potato, butter, and red lentils made up this creamy soup, which she is convinced helped her get over her cold quicker. Not so sure about that, but this was just what the doctor ordered for her.




This Falafel ($5.90) was probably the lone hiccup of the night for me. I found this falafel, which came four to an order, to be a little on the dry side, which was easily remedied with the provided well made tahini. I'm also used to the insides of a falafel being a little more on the green side, than this version. There was a very strong cumin flavor included here, which was a nice surprise.





Entrees were out next, and Katie selected this Chicken Kabob ($10.75) as her meal. I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the chicken here. It was very tender, well marinated, and had a nice char to it. With the plates at O-Live Tree, you have the choice of two sides and a sauce. Katie went for the humus and the rice to balance out her meal. The humus was tasty, and a great companion to the soft pita bread. A very good sized portion for the price.






As is my strategy when eating in most restaurants, if a combo meal is offered, I usually gravitate towards it, so I can try more options in that particular restaurant. That was the case here at O-Live Tree when I ordered this Mixed Combo Kabob ($16.90). For my two kabobs I had the lamb and the beef. I actually liked the beef version better, as it was cooked to medium, was still somewhat tender, and was spiced nicely. The lamb was spiced well, but a little on the gamy side. It could have just been the pieces I had, but I'd go for the chicken next time. I'm not really a tabbouleh or mixed salad fan, so I went with the same rice and humus that Katie got. I liked the humus, and it mixed well with the rice, which is how I like to eat my humus. The tzatziki sauce was very solid here, and I liked that this was a thicker version than most I have had. It really clung to the food, and added extra flavor.

Hopefully this bloggers dinner gets the word out about this hidden restaurant. Owner Melike Mehmetoglu was very hands on during this dinner, and you can tell how proud she is of her 4 month old restaurant. You can't help but root for someone like her to succeed in this tough business. Most of the items we tried were very solid, and something we would come back for. O-Live Tree is definitely making moves to get their name out there, as they just recently launched their website, and are very active on Facebook. Thanks to everyone at O-Live Tree for the invite to experience their restaurant.

If you would like more information about O-Live Tree Mediterranean Cuisine, head to their website here: http://www.olivetreeirvine.com/index.html

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Piece of Havana on Harbor Boulevard


Moros Cuban Restaurant
380 North Harbor Blvd. 
La Habra, CA 90631

Yes, it's been a long time since we have made it up to OC's most northwestern city. The Seattle of the OC, if you will. When most people think of La Habra, they almost always question me that this city is not actually in Orange County. Yes, this city contracts with the Los Angeles County Fire Department for fire protection, but trust me, La Habra is really in OC.

We have not come up this way in over 4 years, when we made our maiden voyage here to visit one of the best burger spots anywhere, G Burger. This trip we were visiting my parents, who live in Yorba Linda, and we all had a craving for Cuban food. A quick search of Yelp brought us to Moros Cuban Restaurant.

Moros is celebrating their 5th anniversary of being in business this year. That's a pretty big milestone in the tough restaurant business. Located in a nondescript strip mall, which big draws appear to be a Pizza Hut and Cask and Hammer, an interesting looking dive bar, this five year anniversary is even more impressive here, where if you blink driving up Harbor, you might miss this place.

Their website describes their restaurant as a modern take on Cuban cuisine, which is influenced by Spanish and Latin cooking. The kitchen, and this restaurant is helmed by Sean Saafan, an Egyptian, who at the age of 19, moved to New York, attended the French Culinary Institute, and graduated top in his class. Pretty impressive resume here, and it made us very excited to try the food at Moros.

We arrived at Moros just before 6pm on a recent Saturday. Not a big place, I was a little worried that we were going to have a long wait, but we just had to wait for one of the 12 tables to be cleared, and we were seated. There's no hostess stand here, and when you walk in you see the steam tables used for their Sunday buffet, and you think you order at the counter, but it's waiter service here. Lots of bright colors adorn the space, and the smells from the kitchen really got our mouths watering. We hurriedly made our selections, and waited for our food to come out.




Before our food hit the table, we were presented with these Rolls and Black Bean Dip. The rolls had a subtle sweetness to them, and this wonderful bean dip added some nice flavor to the rolls. In the picture the bean dip appears to be runny, but it had some texture to it. I ate my fair share of this.



Whenever I think empanadas, I always think of Argentina, but other countries feature these portable meat filled pies as well. At Moros they offer either Beef or Chicken Empanadas ($5 for an order of three), so of course we had to try both. The better of the two was the beef version, but both suffered from a very bland, and almost dry outer shell. The chimichurri served with these helped a little bit, but not enough. These were not filled with enough meat to overcome the outer shell. We'd skip these next time.




Something that you must not skip though, were these Papas Rellena ($5). These little balls of deliciousness were filled with some ground beef and onions, and then encased in mashed potatoes, and fried. Kind of like a bite sized version of sheppard's pie. They were served with a thin white sauce, which coated them well, and added some extra flavor. Very tasty appetizer.



Entrees are up next, and I was a little surprised with my sister's selection, the Churrasco ($19). I can't remember the last time I saw her order steak in a restaurant, so this was something rare indeed, no pun intended. This skirt steak was actually done to her requested medium, and it was still pretty juicy and delicious. It came with grilled onions and chimichurri sauce. Skirt steak can sometimes be hit or miss, but this was a winner on this evening. It also came with a mound of rice and some very good plantains. My sister did not eat too much of this, but took the rest home, and enjoyed it the next day.




I really wanted to try one of their rice dishes here, but the menu states that they take 30 to 40 minutes, and I did not want everyone to have to wait for my food, so I went with this Lechon Asado ($14). This marinated pork came topped with onions and a mojo sauce. Some pieces were a little dry, but this was remedied by asking for a little extra mojo sauce. This was a pretty good sized portion, and it was very good the next day. The rice here was good, but the plantains were better. Fried nicely, and not overly sweet. Just the way I like them.


Both Katie and my mom got sandwiches, so we'll start with Katie's first, the Chicken Sandwich de Moros ($11). This sandwich also comes in a beef or pork option as well, but Katie's always partial to chicken. The chicken was joined on the toasted bread with plenty of greens, tomato, and their secret sauce. Katie felt the chicken here was a little on the dry side, but she enjoyed the flakiness of the bread. She thought this was a decent chicken sandwich, but did not really think of this as being very Cuban. She'd get something else on her next visit here.




My mom is a sucker for Cubano Sandwiches ($11), so I was not shocked to see her order this. In my opinion, the Cuban sandwich is one of the most balanced and delicious sandwiches ever created. You have saltiness from the ham and pork, the tang from the mustard and pickles, the creaminess of the Swiss cheese, and a touch of sweetness from the bread they use. All these components make a pretty awesome sandwich, and this one at Moros was right up there. They use a lot of meat in this, a lot more than we are used to seeing in a Cuban sandwich. It could have been pressed together a little more, but the abundance of meat probably prevented that. This was served with some long, steak sized fries, which had a nice crispness to the outside of them. My mom is more partial to smaller fries, but found these to be acceptable. A lot of food here, and half of it got packed away for my dad's lunch the next day.


Speaking of my dad, his entree was the last one to hit the table. It's always a crap shoot as to what he's going to order, but he settled on this Camarones Al Ajillo Con Rum ($16). This shrimp dish with peppers and rum made my dad very happy. The waitress kind of talked him into going with a lower spice level than he would have liked, but the flavors were still pretty stellar here. The shrimp were cooked well, but the sauce was what made this dish for me though. When it was mixed with the rice, it kind of resembled a jambalaya. Very tasty, and deceivingly filling.

Moros is not like any Cuban restaurant we have been to before. I think they definitely nailed what they are going for here, and that's a modern take on Cuban food. The flavors were bold, some of the meats did have some issues, but for the most part everything was very solid. The next time we are here I'll definitely invest the time, and try one of their rice dishes, which looked and smelled wonderful when it was brought out to nearby tables. I thought the prices were more than fair for the amount of food you get here. Service was superb, with Diana taking care of our every need, even on this busy Saturday evening. Glad we made it up here to La Habra again, and it will definitely not be four years before we're back.

Out of five horses, (because the La Habra Stakes is run at Santa Anita Park almost every year), five being best to zero being worst, Moros Cuban Restaurant gets 3 horses.

For information about Moros Cuban Restaurant, head to their website here: http://www.moroscubanrestaurant.com/#about

Moros Cuban Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Not Wurst By A Long Shot


Wursthaus
305 East 4th Street #106
Santa Ana, CA 92701

I was pretty upset when I was leaving Wursthaus. Not upset with anything that happened inside this restaurant, it was more about wasted time. They recently celebrated their one year anniversary, and I had yet to make it in for a visit. It took an invite from the great PR company, Ajenda Public Relations for me to get my butt in here, and I have been thinking about going back ever since.

Downtown Santa Ana has tons of great spots. There's of course 4th Street Market, with all of those great options, there's also Kutsi Cocina, Chapter One, C4 Deli, and I could go on and on, but Wursthaus is not to be overlooked when headed to this restaurant rich area. Located on the corner of 4th and French Streets, between the Northgate Market and the Playground Restaurant, I was excited to see what they had waiting for us inside this red brick building.

What they have is a re-imagined German beer hall, without all the over the top frivolity of an Oktoberfest celebration. There's no hard to handle beer steins, no Oom Pah Pah band playing, and no shot girls in lederhosen, although I would not be opposed to this if they wanted to add this feature. Co-owners, Gabriel and Georgina Ruiz have updated the brew hall concept, with a backroom that features long communal tables, wood topped bar, and  nice mellow atmosphere.

As we arrived here at just after 5pm, it appears that this is a favorite of people for after work beverages and food. There was a rather large group huddled in one corner, the bar seating was already pretty filled up, and as the night went along, the communal tables became exactly that, filled with people, strangers and friends partaking in libations and in what the OC Weekly had voted the best hot dog in Orange County last year.

The ordering process can be a little intimidating here, but only because there are so many great options. First you choose your sausage from the classic, gourmet, or exotic section of the menu. Next up is your choice of pretzel bun or a traditional grinder roll, and then you finish it off by adding toppings to your creation. Ordering is done at the front of the storefront, and then delivered to you in the surprisingly large back room. Let's see how everything turned out for me and my good friend George on this evening.







Starting things off are a few of the beverage offerings available on this evening. At Wursthaus they have 20 Belgian and German beers on tap, and more bottled. I'm by no means a beer expert, but the bartender was very open to allowing me to try a few samples, until I found something that I liked. I eventually went with the Leffe Blonde ($5), which was one of their lighter offerings, and one that would not overpower the sausages I'd be having. George is not much into beer, so he enjoyed a Filbert's Watermelon Soda ($2.90). No fountain drinks here, but they had a nice selection of bottled drinks, and also for you coffee fiends out there, they also feature critically acclaimed Stumptown Coffee products.




The item I was most excited to try was the first one out of the kitchen for us, and it was also the one that I had heard the most about from Wursthaus, the Drunken Fries ($9.50). I'd describe these as Animal Style Fries on steroids. They start with a base of their very good Belgian fries, which are hand cut from Kennebec potatoes, then they are triple fried, to provide a good crispness, while leaving a soft and tender inside to them. These fries are then topped with IPA caramelized onions, a very tasty house andalouse sauce, and your choice of sausage. We went with the spicy Polish, which added a nice slow heat to this. This has been haunting my thoughts since my last visit here, it's that good. George really enjoyed the fries, calling them, "the best fries he has had."



George and I did two rounds of sausages here, and I started my sausage saga off with this Smoked Polish ($6.50). The sausage is the star of the show here, with a good amount of paprika present, along with a tinge of garlic to compliment the pork. I had mine topped with plenty of jalapenos to provide a slow burn. The pretzel bun here is pretty tasty, and it is sourced from local Santa Ana bakery, Bread Artisan Bakery. Their stuff is always stellar, as was the case here at Wursthaus.




George's initial foray into sausage nirvana was this Gourmet Chicken Jalapeno Sausage ($7.50). He likes his stuff topped with sauerkraut and tri-colored peppers. He really enjoyed this, and for once he was quiet, which if you know George is kind of a rarity. I was pretty happy that there were six condiment choices on each table. Yes, five of them were a type of mustard, (Dijon, spicy, honey, American, and whole grain), but I always enjoy mixing and matching to find my perfect combination for each sausage.



For my second, and final sausage at Wursthaus, I selected this Smoked Cheddar IPA Bratwurst ($7.50). I kind of just ordered this on a whim, not expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. It had a great snap to it, with a nice and meaty inside. The cheese in here was not overly prevalent, and allowed the natural flavor of the pork to come through. This went really well with the American mustard provided on the table. After having this, I also figured out that I'm more partial to the grinder rolls, than the more bready pretzel rolls.




I was pretty surprised when George ordered this Smoked Hungarian ($6.50). I guess even after knowing someone for 26 years, you can still be surprised with something they do. Another pork based sausage, which is spiced with garlic and paprika, this had George singing its praises. He loved the heartiness here, which went well with the slightly sweet caramelized onions. A very nice pairing, even if this is not the most photogenic food item ever.

Yes, it took a little nudge for us to make into Wursthaus, but we will not need to be nudged again for our eventual second and subsequent visits. I have not been to Wurstkuche in LA, but I have been to Linx, Dog Haus, and Joe's, and this is right up there with those sausage titans. A number of their Yelp reviews mention the relaxed vibe here, and I think that's a fair assessment. Wursthaus is not trying to be too hipster, they are not really trying to be something they are not. They have cultivated a spot where you can hang out, enjoy some European beer, and have a sausage or two, while enjoying your friends company. A perfect fit for Downtown Santa Ana.

If you would like to experience Wursthaus for yourself, or for more information about Wursthaus, head to their website here: http://wursthausdtsa.com/#food