Thursday, March 23, 2017

Istanbul Grill Take Two

Istanbul Grill
18010 Newhope St. #D
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Doing what we do, reviewing restaurants, we do not often get back around to repeat visits to restaurants. There's always something new to try, and we want to give our take. It usually takes a special circumstance for us to make a return visit to a restaurant, and this trip to Istanbul Grill in Fountain Valley is one of those special trips.

Our original visit was early last year, and not to let the cat out of the bag, but we really enjoyed the food here. I was all set to write my review, and then my computer hemorrhaged, and I lost all of my photos. Yep, that's right, no backups either. So a year and a few months later, my new computer is working like a champ, and we finally made a return trip to Istanbul Grill

Istanbul Grill has been open in this easily accessible shopping plaza for going on four years now. Located right across the street from Costco, on the corner of Talbert and Newhope, right next to the Flame Broiler and Cancun Fresh restaurants. Istanbul Grill is a Turkish restaurant, but much like the city of Istanbul, which sits on the Bosphorus Strait, which straddles both the continents of Europe and Asia, most people will recognize items on the menu here as something they have had before in a Mediterranean restaurant. Enough of the geography lesson, let's check out Istanbul Grill.

Istanbul Grill is a very comfortable restaurant. Both times we had been here, we got sat right away. There's probably about twenty tables and a patio area with a few more, but we haven't seen anyone sit out there the two times we've been here. Through the decor here you can tell that they are very proud of Turkey, with plenty of pictures on the walls and a large flatscreen flashing pictures from that unique country and some shots of their food. The wait staff is very good answering questions about their menu. Let's see what came out for us on this second trip to Istanbul Grill.

Starting things off would probably be the Turkish equivalent of chips and salsa in a Mexican restaurant. The bread is a little thicker than most pita bread slices we have had but tasted very fresh. I did not catch the name of the sauce that came with this, but I'd guess that it was oil based with some Turkish spices included. It was mild, with an earthy feel to it. Katie seemed to like it a lot better than I did.

When dining in a Turkish restaurant, or any Mediterranian restaurant, it's a must to give their Hummus ($6.95) a try. This one at Istanbul Grill had a very smooth consistency to it. One of the smoothest I have had. Unfortunately, the tradeoff was that it kind of lacked in the flavor department. The tahini, garlic, and lemon did little to lift this hummus anywhere above average. Next time I'm going to ask if they have a spicy version.

After being up in the valley a few years ago for a party, I've been on the lookout for a Falafel ($7.95) that rivaled the one I had all those years ago. This one was fine, but not even close. These small balls of chickpeas flavored with garlic, parsley, and cilantro were a little on the dry side and packed a little too dense, so they lacked a lightness that I appreciate in my falafel. This came with a very good tahini sauce, which helped these out a bit. Katie's a big fan of garlic sauce, and liked this one, but was not blown away by it, like the one she had by her former workplace in Ontario.

Entrees are where Istanbul Grill really shined for us. I had the Kebab Combination ($15.95) and could not have been happier. The only difficulty was picking the two that I wanted. I settled on the Lamb and Ribeye Steak Kebabs. Not a bad bite out of the bunch. The lamb was strong here, with a good amount of spices included, and the meat itself really lacked the gaminess that most people complain about when eating lamb. I really liked that they asked how I wanted the ribeye to be cooked when I ordered it. I had it come out medium rare, and that's how they made it. Tender and juicy. Not that it needed it but I alternated using the garlic sauce and the humus with each bite of meat. This also came with rice pilaf and veggies, which also were pretty solid for side items. A very satisfying meal.

Katie was also pretty pleased with her dinner selection on this evening, the Chicken Shish Kebab ($13.95). I'm alway very wary when she orders chicken in restaurants because a lot of times it's way overcooked. Not the case here. This was some very tender cubes of chicken that were marinated nicely in their special sauce and then chargrilled. She was extremely happy with this meal.

When it was time for the check to come, a man, who I assume is the manager or owner came by and asked us how everything was. We told him it was great, and he offered us a piece of Turkish Delight and a Turkish Coffee. Katie took the coffee and I had a piece of the Turkish delight. After this encounter with Turkish delight, I can now confirm I am not a fan of this gel encased, licorice-flavored candy. It reminded me of a candy that grandmothers would have sitting out to trick their grandkids. Katie was a fan of the small, but powerful Turkish coffee, which was strong, and packed a mean caffeine punch, which kept her up even longer than usual on her phone.

Our second trip to Istanbul Grill was just as good as our first and really showed us why this restaurant is always mentioned in the upper echelon of Mediterranian restaurants in OC. Yes, I expected a little more from the falafel and the average hummus, but the entrees were excellent, and even a better value at lunch, where you get a starter, entree, dessert, and pita bread for $8.95. A savings of over 50 percent, and the perfect opportunity to try this Turkish restaurant, without a large investment. Even if you are here for dinner, you'll still enjoy it. The kebabs are some of the best we have found in OC and the service has been warm and friendly both times we've been here. I'm still not happy that my computer crashed, but it did necessitate a return trip here, which we will have to make more of a habit of doing.

Out of five tubs of popcorn, (because the first movie theater debuted in Istanbul in 1896, and has lead to this city becoming the hub for the Turkish film industry), five being best to zero being worst, Istanbul Grill gets 3.5 tubs of popcorn.

For more information about Istanbul Grill, head to their website here:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hurry! King Crab Combos Are Ending Soon

Black Angus
1350 North Tustin Ave. 
Santa Ana, CA 92705

Your choices for a reasonable steak dinner are shrinking. With the closure of Lone Star Steakhouse earlier this year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a good steak dinner, without breaking the bank. Yes, there's still Outback and Sizzler, but I haven't been to either of these two chains for a long time now.

I hadn't been to Black Angus either, until late last year. Before that visit, it had probably been about ten years since I had been inside a Black Angus. Part of the reason for this was because the location nearest my house had closed years ago. I ended up being pretty impressed with that visit late last year and had eagerly awaited a chance to return.

That return trip came last week when my sister and I had made plans to meet up for a long overdue happy hour session. This was a sort of homecoming for her, as she used to tend bar at this very Black Angus location in the mid 90's. We both had some pretty good memories in this building, which is situated right across the street from Western Medical Center.

Our happy hour date turned into more of a dinner date when we ran into District Manger for Black Angus, the very personable Jeff Gadberry. He insisted that we try their wildly popular special going on right now, the King Crab Combos. With these combos, you not only get a good amount of crab but also get your choice between a Top Sirloin, Filet Mignon, or their very good Prime Rib. Who are we to resist crab and steak on the same plate?

 We took a seat in their very comfortable lounge, which is accented with some nostalgic pictures of sports stars from yesteryear. The open seating bar area filled up rather nicely during our stay, as people took advantage of the great happy hour deals. Happy hour goes from 3 to 7 Monday through Friday and all day on Tuesday and Sundays. They offer beer, wine, cocktail, and appetizer choices anywhere from $4 to $7 during these times. A great deal where you have a few drinks and two appetizers and still won't spend $20.

We started things off with the Crispy Fried Garlic-Pepper Zucchini ($4). I've always had a soft spot for the zucchini here, which comes with a wonderful housemade cucumber dip. The combination of the very good panko crusted breading and the consistency of the dip goes great together and makes this a winning choice for starting out any visit to Black Angus. Very well done.

Since we were going to be gossiping about some family matters, a couple of cocktails were definitely in order. We tried the Irish Winter ($8.50) and the Tangerine Drop ($8.50). These are both on their featured cocktail menu and are available for a limited time. The Tangerine Drop was a favorite of my sister, as she had two of these during our stay at Black Angus. This more refined take on a lemon drop starts out with Absolut Citron Vodka, then a fresh tangerine and a lemon elixir is added. It's then finished off with a splash of champagne. My sister enjoyed the citrus explosion this provided, and would not hesitate to get this on her next visit. I was a little hesitant when the Irish Water was put in front of me, as I'm not really a big fan of Jameson Irish Whiskey, but it was downplayed in this beverage. This is their Texas tea with a shot of Jameson and a splash of cranberry. Very refreshing and delicious, but be advised, this could sneak up on you if you have too many.

Now the focal point of our experience at Black Angus on this particular evening, the King Crab Combo with a Filet Mignon ($34.99). This was a good amount of food, which I happily tackled earnestly. The three crab legs provided plenty of sweet and fresh meat. I was informed that these crab legs came from the Pacific Ocean, near South America. So maybe these were centolla crab, but I'm not sure. Whatever they were, it ended up being fantastic. My sister, who is not really a fan of crab really enjoyed the tiny bite I gave her. I did not really want to share.  The six-ounce filet was done to a perfect medium rare, and was very tender, while the caramelized shallot and bleu cheese butter added an unneeded, but welcome flavor boost to my steak. With this meal, you also get your choice of two classic sidekicks, and I went with the Mac and Cheese and the Roasted Brussels Sprouts. The mac and cheese was a tad on the runny side, but I liked the breadcrumbs topping this and the creamy cheese covering the elbow-shaped pasta. The brussels sprouts were very good, with some good caramelization included here, which added some sweetness. A very good end to this wonderful meal.

My sister is pretty basic when it comes to her meals, and that held true at Black Angus on this evening. She opted for the Top Sirloin Center Cut ($19.99) with the same shallot and bleu cheese butter I had on my filet.  As is the case with lots of top sirloin steaks, there were a few bites that were a little on the fatty side here, but the majority of this steak was done nicely, and extremely tender for a top sirloin. For her sides, she went with the Grilled Asparagus and the Au Gratin Potatoes. The asparagus was done nicely over the grill, which helped this vegetable pick up some extra flavor. The potatoes tasted almost the same as my mac and cheese, but with a better consistency. Definitely the better choice between the two.

My sister had just ordered her second Tangerine Drop so I could not let her out drink me, so I ordered one of my all-time favorite cocktails, a Montana Mai Thai ($8.50). Drinking this automatically brings to mind a tropical island out in the Pacific. Malibu Coconut Rum, Captain Morgan's, orange and pineapple juices, and a splash of Meyer's Dark Rum as a floater combined to bring a little touch of the South Pacific to Santa Ana. Dessert had to be ordered as well, especially when I heard they had Peanut Butter Cup Pie ($6.50) as their seasonal dessert. Any Resse's fan will get behind this pie. It starts with a peanut butter and graham cracker crust, and is then layered with chocolate ganache, peanut butter mousse, whipped cream, both chocolate and peanut butter drizzles, and finished with a miniature Reese's peanut butter cup. That's a lot of peanut butter, and perfect for a self-professed peanut butter fiend like myself. Make sure to get into Black Angus soon, as this is a limited timed item.

Speaking of limited time things, like I stated earlier, the King Crab Combos are only available for a very limited time now, so if you want to experience them, it would probably be best to get into your nearest Black Angus this week. Fret not if you don't make that deal because a little bird told us that they are going to be having a lamb special coming up next, and a lobster and steak promotion which is one of their most popular of the year. Once again, Black Angus proves that you can still get good steak dinner at a value price, and that's probably why they are sticking around while their competitors are falling by the wayside.

We would like to thank everyone that we encountered during our visit to Black Angus. Our waitress Lindsay could not have been nicer, even if she did stump me on one of the world capitals that I profess to know all of. She made some great recommendations and kept excellent care of us. General Manager Jennifer Sarte was a whole nother story. She and my sister ganged up on me more than I care to remember. Even she could not dampen this visit. Kidding, of course, Jennifer, or am I? Lastly, we would like to thank the graciousness of District Manager Jeff Gadberry, who not only shared his passion for what they do and serve at Black Angus, but he's an equally great man who we enjoyed reconnecting with. We hope our paths cross again soon Jeff.

To find your closest Black Angus, head to their website here:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Making Hogs of Ourselves at Brew Hawg

Brew Hawg BBQ
665 N. Tustin St.
Orange, CA 92867

Finally getting around to seeing some of our friends we haven't seen in awhile. We met up with my good friend Kevin and his much better half, Denise recently. Seeing our friends is always a good excuse to try out a restaurant that has been on my restaurant wish list for a good amount of time. On this evening, we were able to cross Brew Hawg off that ever-growing list.

I'm always down to try barbecue and had heard some really good things about this place. Based on the name of this restaurant I had thought this was going to be a barbecue restaurant with an emphasis on beer, but the brew that is in their name is in reference to root beer, which is partially brewed on the premises of this small three table restaurant. There is some talk of Brew Hawg moving in the near future, to a bigger place and maybe even getting a liquor license, or at least a license to serve beer and wine.  For now, look for them near the intersection of Mayfair and Tustin, in a non-descript shopping center which features a Japanese restaurant, a Tae Kwon-Do studio, and a dentist.

We got here at 7 pm on a recent Saturday and were kind of taken aback by this small restaurant which had a steady stream of customers, most of which were getting orders to go, instead of waiting for a table to open up. I'm not going to lie, this is a pretty uncomfortable spot, which is small and tight with people hoping to snag a seat and waiting for their to-go orders. We got lucky and got a table when the person sitting at it had their number called that their food was ready.

Ordering is done at the counter, and then the food is brought out to you in to go containers, even if you are eating it here. The menu features plenty of favorite barbecue items, and a couple of odd items for a standard barbecue restaurant, (pastrami, BBQ Waffle Cone, and a vegan option that I did not inquire about). Brew Hawg offers their meats in a number of ways, including a combo plate, by the pound, as a sandwich, or featured as a bowl with mac and cheese or another side item. We quickly made our choices and waited at our coveted table. Here's how it all came out for us on this particular evening.

Since Kevin and Denise were running a little late due to to a family birthday party, and we didn't want to sit at one of the tables without eating, we started off with this Mac Daddy ($7.75). We chose the pulled pork to go along with the mac and cheese, but you do get your choice of meat with this. The mac and cheese had a good consistency to it, but the cheese could have provided a little more flavor on this. The pulled pork made up for the average mac and cheese. It was tender, had a good flavor to it, and was one of the better versions of pulled pork we have had in some time. It really got me excited for the meats at Brew Hawg.

As is my custom during my first visit to a barbecue restaurant, I always search for the biggest combo plate available and at Brew Hawg that would be the Purgatory ($24.75), which Katie and I split between us. This comes with four choices of meat and four sides. For our meats, we went wth the aforementioned Pulled Pork, Hot Link, Baby Back Ribs, and Brisket. The best of the bunch was the pork, which was moist enough, but still had the firmness that you want from a good pulled pork. I liked the crispy bits that were included with this excellent swine. The silver medal of this plate would definitely go to the brisket, which came out chopped. Some really solid bites were included here, but there were some pieces that were a little drier than others, but that was easily rectified by adding a little extra sauce. The baby back ribs were okay, but again, some tough meat here and not a lot of it on each rib. I've decided that I'm kind of over baby back ribs, and will focus more on St. Louis ribs in the future. I think the extra fat gives off way more flavor, but that's just my preference. Back to this plate, the hot link was probably the weakest link of this meal. The sausage provided no heat and was pretty pedestrian. I'd skip it next time. When this was placed in front of us, I thought it was too small for the price, but it ended up being just the right size for both Katie and me to share, and we still had the sides to go.

The Brew Hawg menu lists eight side items, and with our meal, we got to try half of them. The lone standout here was the Coconut Creamed Corn. It had a good sweetness to it, without beeing too in your face. The slight coconut flavor definitely kept us interested. I liked the Peanut Slaw with its creamy dressing, but a few more peanuts in here would have given this a better texture profile. The Baked Beans were good but could have been pushed up a notch or two with some little shards of meat included in them. The Garlic Mash was decent but very light on the garlic and could have been a bit more creamy. With the exception of the corn, none of these really wowed us, but none were awful either.

Here's a quick shot of Kevin and Denise's dinner, the BBQ Damnation ($19.75). With this one, you get your choice of three types of meat and two sides. They went the Pulled Chicken, Brisket, and Tri-Tip route with their dinner choices. I did not try the chicken, but I did try the tri-tip and it was very good. For sides they had the Baked Beans and the Mac and Cheese, which they both seemed to really like.

As if Kevin did not have enough food, he also got these Porky Fries ($7.75), which he shared with us. They take their fries and top them with coleslaw, pulled pork, and a squirt of barbecue sauce. Whenever I have something like this, I'm always a little leery that the fries are going to become soggy which they didn't here. The fries were seasoned nicely and went well with the coleslaw and pulled pork. Kind of a down home poutine. Even though this could have been layered a lot better to allow more bites with everything included here, I kind of liked this better than the mac daddy we had earlier.

Near the end of our meal, and the end of the dinner rush, we had a chance to chat with Brew Hawg Owner Leo Martinez, who trotted out these Hawg Eggs ($6.75). These usually come five to an order, but we had just finished a big meal, and three worked out perfectly for us. I'm not really a big hard boiled egg fan but ate these with pleasure since they had that very good pork and barbecue sauce drizzled over them.

There's definitely a new trend going on in the restaurant world, and it's coming up with food that will look good, different, or generate buzz on social media sites such as Instagram and SnapChat. At Brew Hawg they have their own version of this, the Filled BBQ Waffle Cone ($4.75). The cone is layered with mac and cheese, then your choice of meat, and is finished off with garlic mash and a drizzle of barbecue sauce. This was fine, but a little difficult to eat. I actually liked the textural crunch that the waffle cone added to this. Leo said that since this has gone a little crazy on Instagram, they have gotten more business. Not hard to believe.

I had mixed feelings about Brew Hawg. I really liked their meats, especially their pulled pork and their brisket. I'll definitely try the pastrami and pork belly on my next visit. As for the sides, none really wowed me, with the exception of the coconut creamed corn. I do admire what they are doing here in this very tight space. Since the restaurant is so cramped, I can only imagine that the kitchen is the same. It'll be interesting to see how they develop after they move to bigger digs, which I'm sure they will do very soon. Just chatting with Leo for a few minutes, I could see the passion that he has for barbecue and that he wants to be mentioned in the upper echelon of barbecue in OC. He's just about there.

Out of five motorcycles, (because a hawg is a slang term for a Harley Davidson bike), five being best to zero being worst, Brew Hawg BBQ gets 3 motorcycles.

For more information about Brew Hawg, head over to their very limited website here: