Monday, September 18, 2017

MMCXLV


2145 Pizza
2145 Placentia Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

It sees to me that some restaurants kind of love to be a bit vague. 2145 is one of those restaurants. If you've driven by their corner at Victoria and Placentia Avenue, you have seen their sign, which only lists their numeric name and mentions nothing else like what kind of restaurant this is, if this is even a restaurant, and the sing is even lacking a logo. Kind of refreshing but at the same time a gamble as to whether people will stop and give them a try.

We were out with our very good friends Tom and Daniele, Daniele of the very popular Dani's Decadent Deals. They had heard of this place, and I had just read a review of it in the OC Register and OC Weekly. Even with all the ambiguity about this place, we arrived at a full restaurant on a recent Saturday night. Guess their gamble has paid off.

2145 is housed in a former auto garage. There are the large roll-up doors out front, which served as auto bays in former days. The kitchen appears to be the former office, and now houses a large pizza oven, which is really the only clue you get from the street that this is a restaurant. There's a quaint back patio, which had lights strung up to provide a hipster, but very comfortable feel to it. The clientele here is varied but skewed towards a younger, more millennial demographic.

The menu is pizza-focused, and Chef Eduardo Salcedo uses Japanese flour to create his pies in the large, wood-fueled pizza oven. If I hadn't had read that he uses a Japanese flour, I never would have known. It's exactly like the double 00 variety that we have had at Neapolitan pizza places. Besides the seven varieties of pizzas offered, there's three salads, seven small plates, and the only other entree offered other than the pizzas is a steak sandwich, which we hear is more of a deconstructed sandwich. Pretty hungry by the time late stragglers Tom and Daniele moseyed in, we hurriedly made our dinner selections.



We started things off with these Garlic Fries ($6). These fries were outstanding. Freshly cut, and with your choice of sauce, we had the very solid garlic aioli, these fries had me wanting more. They came out fresh and hot, and even though these were garlic fries, they were not overloaded with garlic flavor. A very nicely balanced french fry.



Brussels Sprouts ($8) used to get a bad rap when I was growing up, but thanks to many talented chefs, they have made a resurgence.  The sprouts were flash fried with some red wine mustard vinaigrette and then some toasted pistachios were added into the mix. A refreshing change from the suddenly predictable bacon centric version that many chefs go for. The mustard did not take over this plate but starred alongside its sprout counterpart.


Daniele, the only salad eater amongst us tried out this Mixed Green Salad ($9) and enjoyed it immensely. This is not your basic garden salad. They start with a bed of farmers market fresh greens, then add crumbled gorgonzola and candied pecans, and finish it off with a balsamic vinaigrette. At nine dollars there was more than enough for Daniele to share with Tom. I liked this simple salad and loved the crunch from the pecans the best. This salad inspired me to try their grilled romaine salad on my next visit to 2145.



The most talked about pizza on 2145's Yelp page is this Blue Cheese Honey Pizza ($15). I kind of winced when I heard about this pie. Honey and blue cheese did not really seem like it would work for me, but I must admit that I did enjoy it to an extent. I liked the piece that I had, but I think my taste buds would have been bored by eating this whole pizza. The sweet counteracted the slightly mellower gorgonzola used on this pizza, and the white cheddar and mascarpone kind of helped to even it out a bit. Not really a pizza for everyone, but Daniele was in love with this one, and had a hard time sharing any part of it with us. Very selfish.


More in line with what you expect when coming to a pizza place, this very photogenic Margherita ($13) not only dazzled with its looks but was very tasty as well. This classic Italian pizza used crushed San Marzonos tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and a few torn pieces of basil. Katie loved this pizza and said it was one of her favorite versions of a Margherita pizza that she's had. She loved the lightness of the pizza, but it did not sacrifice flavor by being so light.



Proving once again that great minds think alike, both Tom and I gravitated towards this Pancetta and Egg Pizza ($17). This breakfast-styled pizza impressed. Of course, I loved the pancetta and the yolky egg topping this, but it also included some mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, red onion, and rosemary mascarpone. The dough at 2145 was sturdy enough to stand up to all of these toppings, without getting too soggy, which is usually my biggest complaint with these kinds of pizzas. I could eat it with my hands, and not worry about it falling apart on me. I also enjoyed the slightly charred crust on this, as it added a slightly smoked flavor to this pizza.



Not to ruin it for you, but skip the desserts at 2145. The Yuzu Creme Brulee ($6) could be one of the worst things I have eaten all year. The pistachio and candied ginger cookie that our server raved about was on the dry side and did not really satisfy. The worst part was the yuzu flavor that was running through the creme brulee. This might have been my first time having yuzu, which is a super sour and tart citrus fruit and comes to us from Asia. It'll probably be my last time having yuzu, which ruined one of my favorite kinds of dessert. The Horchata Tiramisu ($5) was not what we were expecting, but anything was better than that creme brulee. More of a budino than a tiramisu, the mascarpone, salted caramel, Mexican chocolate, and whipped cream did not really bring out a tiramisu vibe, but it was decent and helped get the yuzu flavor out of my mouth.

With the exception of the desserts, everything was pretty great at 2145 Pizza. I'd definitely come back and have their pizzas, fries, and sprouts again, but I also might like to try their pork belly and asparagus, corn dogs, and rigatoni on my next visit. The wine and beer list here were small but mighty, and they seemed to have something for everyone. Service was another story. At the start of our meal, our server was around making sure everything was alright, but as the evening went on he became AWOL a good amount of the time, and this was as the restaurant was thinning out, so it was not as busy as when we first showed up. Still, nothing that would make me skip this place though. I'm happy that we had found out about this restaurant, even if the sign out front was a bit vague.

Out of five video games, (because the Doom 3 video game released in 2004 takes place in the year 2145), five being best to zero being worst, 2145 Pizza gets 3.5 video games.

For more information about 2145 Pizza, head to their website here: http://www.2145eat.com/

Friday, September 15, 2017

Anchors Aweigh Stevie



Garage Kitchen + Bar
655 4th Street 
San Diego, CA

It's pretty crazy that we haven't been to San Diego in over eight years. Besides being one of the most beautiful cities in the US, there's always tons to do here. There are the museums at Balboa Park, walking around Old Town, taking in a baseball game at Petco Park, and of course a ton of restaurants. It was definitely time to review our first restaurant in what some call, America's finest city. 

We came down this way not only to eat but also to tour the USS Midway, which is permanently docked in San Diego Bay. Katie's uncle Jim is a docent on the ship and gave us and her cousins a private tour. This trip held another special purpose, as our cousin Stevie has enlisted in the Navy and leaves for basic training this week. This tour kind of gave him an idea of what he's got to look forward to in the next few years. 

After walking around this massive ship for close to five hours, it was definitely time to eat, and of course, when that time comes, all eyes fall on me to make a decision on where to head. Since we were so close to one of my favorite restaurants downtown, we headed to La Puerta. No good. Downton San Diego was buzzing with lots of people roaming the streets and La Puerta had about an hour wait for a party of seven, so a quick search of Yelp led us one block north to the Garage Kitchen and Bar. 

We arrived at the Garage just before half past two and were a little bummed that they were not serving their lunch/dinner menu, but instead offered their brunch menu until 3. Not wanting to wait, and eager to get some nourishment, we decided not to be picky by this point. We were quickly seated in the front portion of the restaurant, adjacent to the pretty crowded bar area. The Garage is part restaurant and part large music venue, which I spied as I went to the restroom. Both areas are separated by a hallway, so I imagine even if there's a show going on you'll still be able to hear your tablemates. Something I wish I wasn't able to do on this afternoon since I was sitting next to cousin Yvette, one of Katie's more questionable family members.

The Garage pays homage to all the San Diego bands out there that started in garages. This historic building also used to be home to Carriage Works, which started in 1890 until 1902. After that, the building was purchased by the Lyons Implement Company, which housed the complete line of Studebaker vehicles.  The structure has been other things as well but has been home to the Garage Kitchen and Bar since late 2014.

Executive Chef Brent Hersant is the man in charge of the menu at the Garage, and his goal is to use sustainable ingredients, create modern approachable food, and offer it at a fair price point.  We were all pretty excited to see if he had achieved his goal. So let's check out the food at the Garage.



As I said earlier, we were all famished by the time we finally sat down at the table, so Katie alertly ordered two sides of Fries ($3.50). These were thick cut, very sturdy french fries that came garnished with what I believed to be crispy shallots. Not too bad, they were obviously freshly cut and fried to perfection. The crispy shallots really did not add too much, and we discarded them to dip the fries in ketchup. 


I was sitting next to Yvette, so I definitely needed to drown my sorrows with alcohol. The Moment in Paradise ($9) would be my diversion drink on this late afternoon. Sky Vodka is the base of this tropical beverage, then they add pineapple and lime juice, then spice things up a bit with some cayenne pepper. I enjoyed this drink as it kept me interested with the unexpected spiciness from the cayenne, unlike my lack of interest from listening to Yvette drone on and on about her fascination with water. Ugh. 



Katie's much better cousin Steve ordered this San-Di-Cristo ($14) as his entree on this fine Sunday afternoon. I had actually debated on whether to get this sandwich or not. Between the two pieces of creme brulee french toast was a good amount of smoked ham, pork, swiss cheese, caramelized onion, and pear. I did not get a chance to try this one, but from the looks of it, it kind of had a Cuban feel to the sandwich, without the pickles and mustard. Steve said it was alright, and nothing that really made him stand up and take notice. 


This good looking burger is the Butcher's Burger ($15). The patty is made up of bison, boar, and grass fed Angus beef. It's then stacked with cheddar, bacon jam, crispy shallots, house sauce, and served with fries. This burger was juicy, but I kind of expected more from it. The patty was fine, but I think it might have just been better with the beef alone. The boar and bison did not really add too much. I've never really been a fan of bacon jam, and this one had made me wish they would have just stuck with good old fashioned strips of bacon. The house sauce was mellow and was much more pronounced when I asked for an extra side of it. A solid effort, but maybe they tried too hard to make this an extra special burger when they could have just stuck to the basics. Still a beautiful looking burger though. 


Last but not least was Katie's selection, The Benny ($14). Benedicts have become pretty original nowadays, and this one from the Garage wasn't any different. Perched atop a cheddar and chive biscuit, a poached egg is topped with sliced, roasted tomato, smoked ham, and then drenched with a saffron hollandaise sauce. Katie really liked this little tweak on a traditional Benedict. The hollandaise was a little on the thin side, but she loved the saffron tinge it had. She was also stoked on the use of a biscuit instead of the usual English muffin, which gave this a little more depth. This also came with some very fresh and vibrant fruit and rosemary potatoes which were okay. 

The Garage filled in nicely as a backup for the restaurant which we had originally set out to try. Even though the brunch menu was relatively small, and we would have liked to have been able to order off of the much more diverse dinner menu, we all found something that we all kind of liked. I enjoyed that the chef took chances with the food here and made regular breakfast items his own. Some worked, and some didn't but I enjoyed the effort. Service was spot on for our party of seven, and our server made sure we had plenty of refills at all times. A bittersweet meal since we will probably not see our cousin Stevie for a long while, as he's off to the navy, but hopefully this was a sweet send off for him. 

Out of five gas lamps, (in honor of our first San Diego restaurant review, and the area of town this restaurant is located in), five being best to zero being worst, the Garage Kitchen and Bar gets 3 gas lamps. 

For more information about the Garage Kitchen and Bar, head to their website here: http://www.garagekitchenbar.com/ 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Marching to Their Own Beat at Tempo


Tempo Urban Kitchen
731 South Weir Canyon Road #147
Anaheim, CA 92808

Here's another restaurant that I've wanted to try for more time than I can remember. It's also an overdue meet up with our good friends Erven and Rocio, who we can never see enough of. They have triplets and another kid, so it's kind of hard to get together between their soccer games, school functions, and family vacations. Persistence paid off though, as we made plans to meet up near their house, and give Tempo Urban Kitchen a try.

Since I first heard of Tempo, they have kind of gone through an evolution and quite a few high profile chefs. From the outside, it kind of seems like they were trying to find their identity. When they first opened in late 2014 in Brea, they were described as a molecular styled menu, which changed pretty frequently. Then they switched things up and focused more on a traditional menu with twists and turns included on almost every item. The food can be described as Mexican cuisine which is influenced by other cuisines throughout the world. Since we ate here a little over a month ago, they now have another new menu, which features ten brand new items.

The man behind Tempo is Jorge Cueva, who also is the president of the Lascari Restaurant Group. He spent years working at Daphne's Greek Cafe and Sharkey's Woodfired Grill. Tempo has been described as his passion project. Besides the original Brea location and this one perched up in Anaheim Hills, there's also been a lot of talk about expanding this concept to other areas as well. Las Vegas, Downey, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Newport Beach, Tuscon, Buena Park, and even across the border in Mexico have been mentioned. It'll be interesting to see how these lofty expansion plans work out.

We arrived at the Anaheim Hills spot, which is located in Ralph's shopping plaza, and also is home to the wildly popular Mediterranean restaurant, Rosine's, at just before 5 pm on a Sunday afternoon. The restaurant was busier than I expected it to be at this rather early dinner hour, and by the time we left the restaurant it was full of patrons. I liked the feel of the place, with its hanging light fixtures, the active bar along the back wall of the space, and the decor hanging on the walls, including the plate installation along the far wall. I can imagine that during peak times this restaurant can seem a little cramped, and the tables did seem a little too close together, but that might be necessary because they are so busy.



Before we get to the food at Tempo, I have to highlight this Tableside Hickory Smoke Old Fashion ($16). I'm a sucker for any dramatic tableside presentation, and this one was pretty special. Our waitress came over to our table and smoked some hickory under a glass, then blow torched an orange rind, then finished this little presentation by concocting this delicious cocktail. I'm not much of a bourbon drinker, but this was one of the best old fashions I have ever had. Not that I've had too many. Erven loved this drink so much he had it again, but had it made behind the bar, which saved $4. I kind of missed the dramatics though.




Tempo has a very impressive happy hour lineup, and the good news is that it's offered seven days a week, most days from 4 to 6 pm, and then it starts up again at 9 pm until close. Along with drink specials, there is a boatload of $5, $7, and $9 priced bar bites, and we took advantage of a few of them before moving on to the entrees. The Tinga Taquitos ($7) was a good choice. The chicken inside of these taquitos was solid, and they also came with lime crema and a serrano sauce, which added a touch of heat. I've said it a million times, if you see pork belly on a menu, you need to order it. I took my own advice by ordering the Pork Belly Bites ($9). These cubed pieces of pork were a little over cooked, but some pieces had the spongy quality that I look for when consuming pork belly. They were accompanied by a spicy honey and corn tortillas, which I did not use. The Fresh Oysters ($5) were an Erven pick, and I always think it's a roll of the dice to get oysters at a non-seafood specific restaurant. These oysters were very fresh, tasted great, and lacked the grittiness that can ruin an oyster experience for me.






I've been on a taco kick all summer, and it continued at Tempo with this House Taco Selection ($15). This is an excellent option for indecisive people or someone that wants to get the lay of the land at Tempo. This taco platter came with a beef cheek, carnitas, Korean pork belly, and a short rib taco. I loved the variety with this. My favorite out of the bunch was the Short Rib Mole, which included pickled red onion, lime crema, and crispy carrot shards. The short rib was predictably tender and the mole was excellent. I was also fond of the way the different textures combined with each other while consuming this taco. The beef cheek taco was simply prepared with just pickled red onion and cilantro, which allowed the beef cheek to be the star of the show. My usual favorite carnitas was relegated to third place here, as the carnitas were kind of bland and not really enhanced by the roasted pepitas or the mole verde. The worst of the bunch was the Korean pork belly, which had too much going on with it. The mango, red cabbage slaw, chile-soy, and the lime crema ended up masking the pork on this, which is a shame because unlike the pork belly bites appetizer, the pork belly on this was not overcooked.



Sorry for the poor picture quality of this Costa Azul ($14), but my camera was having issues. These bacon wrapped shrimp were stuffed with cheese and were as good as they sound. The shrimp were very good sized the bacon was crisp, but the cheese kind of got lost in the shuffle. I did enjoy the sauce that came with this, which I'd describe as a chipotle mayo. These also came with a spiced honey, but I stayed away from that.


I guess Katie wasn't feeling any of the entrees at Tempo, as she got these Nachos Gordos ($14) off of the appetizer menu. Based on the name of this, I expected a lot bigger pile of chips on this, but it was the perfect size for Katie on this evening. The chips were topped with an interesting blend of cheeses; mozzarella, cheddar, and pecorino, jalapenos, pico de gallo, guacamole, pinto beans, and her choice of a protein, chicken tinga rounded out this plate of nachos. She felt this was a lighter version of nachos than she was expecting. The chicken was good, but there could have been more of it on here, along with more cheese, and everything else.



Best item for the night for me was this Seafood Rice ($16). Saffron rice was mixed with octopus, shrimp, calamari, and other seafood, and it was all tied together with a chipotle sauce. Very flavorful and the seafood was very fresh and prepared well. This was a very comforting dish and one I would usually overlook, so I really was glad that Erven wanted to give it a try. This will not be my last time having this at Tempo.


Rocio went a little rouge at Tempo when she ordered this Chili Relleno ($12). The usual chile relleno at Tempo comes with short rib, chorizo beans, and comes encased in a corn dog batter. Rocio went for a more traditional version, with just the cheese inside of it, and a red sauce ringing the chili relleno. She seemed to like this a lot but was getting full before she could finish it. I like that Tempo was very accommodating with modifications to their menu items, something that is not really too common anymore in chef driven restaurants like this.


Dessert was the last thing on our agenda this evening, not that I needed it. We all split the Tres Leches Cake ($8). This was a decent rendition of this classic cake. It was not as moist as a lot of them that we have had, and the frosting could have been a little sweeter. I'd probably try the churros the next time I'm here.

Glad we finally made it to Tempo. Where does Tempo rank in my most recent Mexican restaurant experiences? I like Tempo better than Puesto, but not as much as Urbana in Anaheim. It's definitely in the middle of these two other kinds of similar, upscale Mexican restaurants. It will not be our last trip to Tempo, as there's way more to explore on their menu than we could have managed on this trip. The shareable urban grills, tortas, and flatbreads have caught my eye for next time. Service was exceptional on this visit, as our server Lana did an impressive job taking care of us during our nearly two-hour stay. It'll be interesting to see how Tempo evolves because with their impending expansion and the feeling I get that their menu will always kind of be tweaked here and there, with items being switched back and forth depending on the whim of the person in charge of this kitchen. As for now, this is a pretty solid spot, and it was an excellent restaurant for Erven and Rocio to catch their breath from chasing around their four kids.

Out of five gold stars, (because Tempo is the name of largest brewer in Israel, and one of their three brands of beer that they manufacture is called Goldstar), five being best to zero being worst, Tempo Urban Kitchen gets 3 gold stars.

For more information about Tempo Urban Kitchen, head to their website here: https://tempourbankitchen.com/

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Well Done, Asada


Asada
610 North Coast Highway #108
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Laguna is one of my favorite towns in OC to visit. I guess I should amend this statement. I love Laguna, but only after the summer tourist season has ended. It gets even quieter after the Sawdust Festival and Pagent of the Masters have shuttered for the season. Parking is a lot easier, the slow moving free shuttles leave the roadways, freeing up some space on PCH, and it's a lot easier to get to all of our favorite Laguna Beach restaurants. After this first trip to Asada, we can definitely add this new restaurant to our favorites in this seaside community.

Asada is not really new though. They opened in the space which is now is inhabited by Tortilla Republic in late 2011, but closed two years later. The man behind Asada is Scott McIntosh, who was so sure of a return to Laguna, that he retained all of the rights to the Asada name, and sure enough, he's returned triumphantly with the opening of the new, more casual Asada just over a year ago.

The success of Asada is not really a big surprise when you consider Mr. McIntosh's restaurant track record. He was instrumental in running Claim Jumper restaurants, which he worked at for 26 years, back when they used to be good. He's also helped run the now shuttered French 75 and assisted his old boss at Claim Jumper, Craig Nickoloff in opening the very successful Nick's chain of restaurants. Asada is a bit of departure for him, as he usually oversees restaurants that focus on American comfort food with big portions. Katie and I were excited to see his take on Mexican cuisine.



Located in the Boat Canyon Shopping Center, which is just mere blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Laguna, Asada has found a home in the old Senor Fish location, in this shopping plaza anchored by a Pavillions grocery store. We were pleased to find plenty of parking here, even after fighting our way down jam packed PCH on this warm early evening commute. Not having to plug a meter, or maneuver the crowded downtown streets of Laguna is reason enough to give Asada a try.

As I mentioned earlier, this a more casual, laid back version of Asada. Ordering is done at the counter, and then the food is brought out to you. Gone off of the menu is the delicious looking burger that they had before, but what's left is a wide array of Mexican favorites, along with plenty of starters, salads, and combo plates. They also serve breakfast all day, and the chilaquiles are calling my name on my next visit. Prices seem very fair, with nothing coming close to approaching the $15 mark. There's also a beer and wine offered, along with margaritas, which you can get in pitchers. No drinks for us on this evening, but we were definitely ready to eat.


I'm crazy about tater tots all of a sudden and was pretty excited to see them offered at Asada. These are not like the tots you had in your school cafeteria. These Carne Asada Tots ($9.95) came with plenty of sliced citrus marinated steak, chipotle ranch, cheese sauce, pico de gallo, and a dollop of both guacamole and sour cream. Tater tots turned up a notch, I was excited to scarf these down. The tater tots stayed remarkably crisp even with everything piled up on top of them. I'm usually not much into cheese sauces, but this was a very mellow one, and it worked here.



After a hard day at work, Katie wasted no time in digging into this #6 Combo ($12.95). The number six combo consists of a short rib enchilada and a crispy taco of your choice, which Katie opted for her customary pick, chicken. The short rib came highly recommended from Hannah, who took our order. Hannah did not lead us astray. The tender and flavorful short rib came wrapped in a tortilla which was topped with a delicious and dark salsa ranchero sauce, which almost had the feel of a comforting mole, without the hint of chocolate.  The chicken taco was encased in a lightly fried tortilla and came filled with jack cheese, pico de gallo, queso fresco, and a very well done poblano cream. The combo was rounded out by black beans and cilantro buttered rice, which was a nice diversion from the usual Spanish rice that is served in most restaurants.



My benchmark for Mexican restaurants is carnitas, so it was not a surprise that I found myself ordering the Crispy Carnitas ($13.95) at Asada. The serving size of this was what I noticed first, four large chunks of pork covered in a tomatillo salsa. I usually prefer red sauce, but the green went well with the well marinated and lightly fried carnitas. These were lighter than most but did not sacrifice in the flavor department. I had plenty of meat leftover after using the three tortillas that came out with this. I enjoyed the rice and the refried beans here as well. A very solid meal and one that I will probably repeat on future visits to Asada.


I enjoy flan well enough, but it's always kind of tasted the same to me. Now that I've had this Flan Butter Cake ($7.25), I don't think I'll be able to go back to having regular old flan again. It should be no surprise that this was good when you consider that Asada's sister restaurant, Reunion,  has one of the better butter cakes around and this mashup between traditional flan and butter cake is the perfect marriage between the two. The cake portion was nice and moist and the caramel covering this pushed it up a few notches.

I did not really know what to expect from Asada when walking in here, but leaving this establishment I was pretty pleased with the food here. Asada makes more sense as a fast casual concept, but the Mexican food here doesn't taste like most fast casual concepts. It tastes better. We found the dishes here to be flavorful and fresh. I really look forward to tackling more of their pretty expansive menu in the very near future. Service was very friendly and prompt. Glad it's getting closer to autumn, which makes it a lot easier to make our way down to Laguna and Asada.

For more information about Asada, head to their website here: http://asadatacos.net/