Sunday, October 14, 2018

Upscale Mexican for Everyone

Playa Mesa 
428 East 17th St. 
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

The restaurant scene in OC has been booming lately. It seems that every time I read the newspaper, another blog, or a magazine, there's news about another restaurant opening that I need to include on my ever-expanding list of places we need to go for a meal. After reading some very positive press about Playa Mesa in Costa Mesa, we decided that this new spot would be the site of a much-needed date night for Katie and me.

Opened for only 3 plus months now, Playa Mesa is one of the hottest places to eat in OC. The month after they opened, they were booked weeks in advance. A quick search of Open Table now shows that it's easier to get a reservation, but most weekend evenings there is still a wait for walk-ins. I had anticipated a busy night on the Sunday before Labor Day, so I wisely made reservations and we were seated promptly in the very busy dining room at our reserved time.

Playa Mesa comes to us from the team that owns Stag Bar, Dory Deli, Newport Brewing Company, Country Club and Wild Goose Tavern, the last two of which are also both located on this suddenly restaurant-rich stretch of 17th Street. Playa Mesa is their family-friendly endeavor. In almost every interview I have read with owners Mario Marovic and Andrew Gabriel they talk about how they want this to be a restaurant where parents can bring their kids, which is something of a departure from their other projects.

With proven owners on board, the kitchen is helmed by Roland Rubalcava, who was recently at acclaimed Taco Maria as the sous chef. He was basically the number two guy there, right underneath James Beard nominee Carlos Salgado. His family owns the La Reina Markets, which are a pretty big deal in Anaheim and Orange for their tortillas and other Hispanic specialties. Needless to say, with an ownership group with a successful string of businesses and a chef in the kitchen with a great pedigree, I was very excited to give Playa Mesa a try.

The building that houses this restaurant used to be a Ruby's Dinette, which closed over two years ago. You would never guess that this used to be a chain burger spot. A complete overhaul of both the outside and inside was done. The center of the restaurant now is dominated by a large circular bar and the dining area surrounds it. There are large windows on two of the four walls, which allow plenty of natural light to enter the space. The tables are not right on top of each other, and the pleasing decor and colors of this restaurant really make you feel comfortable.

The one-page menu features plenty in the way of appetizers, salads, tacos, enchiladas, entrees, and desserts. Prices range between $13 to $32 for entrees, They also offer a meal, which I assume is for sharing, the El Patron, which goes for $50 and features spare ribs, chicken, and other things. I was intrigued by this plate, but I decided I'd get something a little more in my price range for dinner. So without further ado, here's how everything shook out for us on this evening at Playa Mesa.

Chips and Salsa are offered after you sit down at Playa Mesa, so I definitely want to include these in our review. The chips were very well made, crisp, and a great vessel for the salsa and the guacamole you can see below. The problem was that they were over-salted, almost to the point that the salt was all I could taste. It really overshadowed the very smooth, slightly spicy salsa that had a little smokiness to it. At first, I thought we just got a bad batch, but our second round of chips was just as salty.

True to form, as soon as we sat down, Katie zeroed in on the Guacamole ($8). This again was a very well made version of one of our favorite dips. Fresh, mashed avocado was mixed with serrano chilies, red onion, lime, pepitas, and finished off with a sprinkling of cotija cheese. Great guacamole, not trying to do too much with it, it did have a slight tinge of spice but nothing that overshadowed the main star here, the avocado. As we ate this with our chips, the salt eventually did take over, but it was not the fault of the guacamole.

When we saw Queso Fundidio ($11) on the menu, we knew we could not resist trying the version here at Playa Mesa. When it was set in front of us, it was a little different from other versions that we have had at other places. We are used to a fundido that uses whiter cheese and has a stretchy cheese pull when getting it out of the still sizzling skillet. This was a lighter version, which seemed to be a cross between a fundido and queso dip. They use Oaxaca cheese with this one and add pork chorizo and scallions to it. It ended up being nice and mellow, with bits of the chorizo shining through. Tasty, but we were hoping that this would be served with their homemade tortillas instead of the salty chips.

Entree time and Katie usually steers towards chicken when eating in Mexican restaurants, and true to form she had the Chicken Adobo Tacos ($13) on this evening. There are four taco options on the menu, and they come two to an order with rice and beans, but you can't mix and match them. The chicken was an excellent choice. I usually shy away from chicken in Mexican restaurants because it's usually overcooked and needs to be seasoned. Not the case at Playa Mesa. Some of the most tender and flavorful chicken we have had. The chicken had an undercurrent of citrus running through it and was dressed simply with some onions and poblanos. A very well done plate that had Katie singing its praises.

The standard by which I judge almost every Mexican restaurant is how good their Carnitas ($19) are made. I figure if they make my favorite Mexican food item well, the rest of their menu has to be good as well. At Playa Mesa, they use pork shoulder for their carnitas and it does not come shredded, but rather cubed. The pork was not overly oily and was nice and tender. They did not try to do too much with the pork, instead, letting the natural richness of the meat shine through. This came garnished with pico and salsa cruda, which were fine but I would have rather of had some more of their great guacamole. Entrees here come with roasted seasonal veggies, which on this evening were cauliflower and broccoli, a first for me in a Mexican restaurant. They were done well, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the rice and beans that other places serve with their carnitas. Still a good version of carnitas that has intrigued me about the rest of their food.

Tres Leches ($9) was our last hurrah at Playa Mesa. I've had some good versions and rather forgettable versions of this dessert. This was one of the better ones. The sponge cake was definitely damp, as it should be, but was not drenched into a total mess when cutting it with our forks. What made this for me was the very good frosting topping this, which gave this a subtle, sugary boost that a lot of tres leches cakes seem to leave as an afterthought.

Playa Mesa fits right in with the burgeoning restaurant scene on 17th Street and definitely holds its own. This first trip has definitely piqued my interest and warrants a return visit in the near future to explore more of their menu. I look forward to trying more of their entrees and maybe their chilaquiles off of their brunch menu. Service was excellent this evening. Our server Carlie kept great tabs on us, and the management team here was very active in the dining room running food and making sure every customer was happy with everything. The positive press is well deserved for Playa Mesa, and I look forward to seeing how they evolve further down the road.

Out of five crazy chickens, (because the top employer in the city of Costa Mesa is the fast food chain, El Pollo Loco), five being best to zero being worst, Playa Mesa gets 3 crazy chickens.

For more information about Playa Mesa, head to their website here:

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Hoping to Catch a Good Fish Taco at Hole Mole

Hole Mole
14430 Newport Avenue
Tustin, CA 92780

For a little while now, I have nicknamed my dad "Fish Taco". It started about a month ago when my mom told me that he went to their local burger restaurant and for some inexplicable reason he got fish tacos. This is a restaurant that is right across the street from the local high school, a place that mainly serves burgers, hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches, and chili cheese fries. He was actually surprised that his fish taco was subpar.

I tried reasoning with him that they probably only serve a handful of fish tacos during the week, so the fish is probably frozen until it hits the deep fryer. He didn't want to hear it, instead, countering with, "if it's on their menu, it should be good". Okay, it makes sense, but after 9 years of visiting restaurants for this blog, I've found that there's plenty of items on menus that don't taste good.

My reason for bringing this up is because with all of this calling my dad by his new nickname, I must have subliminally been craving fish tacos. So when it was time to meet up with my parents for dinner, I found myself searching for fish tacos on Yelp. One place that looked pretty promising and was in the middle of us was Hole Mole in Tustin.

Hole Mole is actually a mini-chain of restaurants with seven locations spread throughout Southern California. They have three spots in Long Beach, one each in Carson and Signal Hill, and OC outposts in Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, and Tustin. They are a family owned business serving what they consider to be classic Southern California comfort food. They get a lot of love for their Taco Tuesday, with lines out the door of hungry customers looking to snatch up their $1.19 tacos.

We were not here on a Taco Tuesday, so we did not have to battle the crowds, but parking at this Tustin location is challenging to say the least. If you've ever eaten at Sushi Wasabi, which is also in this narrow strip mall, you probably have had the same issue finding one of the coveted twenty parking spots here.

Hole Mole is housed in one of those places that have changed hands a bunch of times. It has been at least two Korean barbecue places, a teriyaki restaurant, and a Cajun spot.  Hole Mole has brought some stability to this building, as they have now been here for coming up on 7 years. It's situated in a small A-frame building, with an eight-table patio on the left-hand side of the restaurant. The inside dining room is compact, with maybe five small tables, a tiny condiment bar, and soda fountain. Ordering is done at the register, and the food is brought out for you. Let's check it out.

As I have written on this blog many times, my mom is a pretty light eater, so she opted for just this Chicken Quesadilla ($4.99) which ended up being the perfect size for her. It was grilled nicely and had a good amount of cheese and chicken included in it. There was, however, no sour cream that came with this, so she had my dad go back up to the register to ask for some. Still a solid quesadilla in my mom's opinion.

I judge almost every Mexican restaurant by their carnitas, so a Carnitas Taco ($1.49) was a natural choice to start with on this early evening. This was slightly bigger than the street taco size I was expecting. It came with a little onion, cilantro, cubed tomato, and shredded carnitas. The carnitas was chopped into small pieces, so they did not stand out as much as they could have. The tortilla was fair and did a good job holding everything in place. Not the best, but a solid taco for the price.

I had heard good things about both the fish taco and the shrimp taco at Hole Mole. I actually liked the Shrimp Taco ($2.49) best out of the two. The shrimp was tender and because it came dressed simply with some cilantro and caramelized onions, the shrimp shined in this taco. The Fish Taco ($1.89) was not bad, but just not as good as the shrimp version. The fried fish was pretty good sized and came with some crema, shredded cabbage, cilantro, and diced tomatoes. The fish was fine, and I liked that they added a good amount of crema to this, which is the way I enjoy my fish tacos. Another solid taco, especially for the price.

Katie went with the Fajito Rito Taco ($3.99) for the first part of her meal. This chicken taco came with fajita fixings in it, like sliced tomato, bell peppers, onions, and fajita seasoning, and is then finished off with a dollop of guacamole. Katie enjoyed this taco with its tender chicken, smooth guacamole, and onions and bell peppers. This taco was also served on a bed of tortilla chips, which Katie ate with some of the green salsa she got at the salsa bar in the dining room.

Katie was a little less enthusiastic about the Chicken Mole Bowl ($6.49) she picked to complete her meal. The bowl came simply with rice and chicken covered in a mole sauce and sesame seeds. I had never seen mole covered in sesame seeds before. Katie liked this, but the mole sauce was too spicy for her after a certain point. I gladly took over and finished half of this bowl. The chicken was tender and I liked the sauce, which I found to be only slightly spicy.

I wanted to include this picture of my dad's fish taco because I think it shows it a little better than the one I had. He did enjoy his food on this evening but went back up to the register to get an extra taco because he was hungrier than he thought.

We finished out our meal at Hole Mole with their version of carne asada fries, which they list on their menu as Nachos Papas Nachos ($7.49). Definitely one of the most colorful things we have eaten this year. The foil container was layered with fries, cheese, tomato, onions, sour cream, guacamole, and cubed pieces of carne asada was our protein of choice. This was a big portion, which I needed a little help in finishing. The fries could have been crisper, but the ingredients were layered well, so you did not just end up with a bunch of fries at the end. The carne asada was tender, but a little more seasoning would have helped this out. Still good, and very filling.

Hole Mole ended up being a good spot for what I'd call fast food Mexican. It's obviously a better quality than the chain spots, like Del Taco or Taco Bell, and not as good as Pepe's, Cali Tacos, or Lupes Taco Shop. I'd put Hole Mole in Alberto's genre, or any of their similar sounding sister restaurants, but better. The food was fresher and with what I perceived as being much better crafted. I was also pretty surprised that the prices were much more reasonable than I was expecting and they did not skimp on the portion sizes or the amount of meat that they included in their tacos and other items. Service was pretty standard for what you'd expect at a fast-casual restaurant, they were very cheerful while we were ordering, but after that, we did not have much interaction with the staff. I was glad my dad enjoyed this fish taco way more than what he got at that burger spot a month ago. His new nickname will probably live on for a little longer though.

Out of five sled dogs, (because Tustin High School was one of four high schools where actor Cuba Gooding Jr. went, and he was in the 2002 movie Snow Dogs which featured many of these hard-working animals), five being best to zero being worst, Hole Mole gets 3 sled dogs.

For more information about Hole Mole, head t their website here:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Come Home to Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails

Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails
11122 Los Alamitos Blvd. 
Los Alamitos, CA 90720

It used to be that after graduation from high school, friends you had been with for all those years would scatter, and most you wouldn't hear from again. If you were lucky you'd maybe see one of your childhood friends by chance at the mall, or maybe every ten years at high school reunions. Now with social media, for better or worse, we are now more connected to the people we grew up with more than ever. It was through social media that I ended up reconnecting with a childhood friend and trying a restaurant that I've wanted to go to for a while now.

It had been about thirty years since I had last seen Steve. He went to my elementary school from third grade on and we worked together at the supermarket during our high school years. He, fortunately, was smart enough to get out, while I am stuck there at least for another four years before retirement calls my name. Steve went on to college in Ohio, became a doctor, got married, and has two kids. He lives in the South Bay area and works in Los Alamitos, an area we do not frequent nearly enough, so when he reached out for a long overdue meetup, I knew I wanted to meet at Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails.

If this place sounds a little familiar, it's because this is the sister restaurant to Mamas on 39 in Huntington Beach. Opened in late June, this outpost of Mama's was not situated on Highway 39, also known as Beach Boulevard, so they had to rename this Los Alamitos location Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails. Even though I have not been to the Huntington Beach spot, from what I can ascertain, the menus at the two sister restaurants are similar, with both serving Thrifty brand ice cream, but more on that later.

This location has had a recent string of failed restaurants, most recently Spin Pizza and Mighty Kitchen. If the overflow crowd on this Thursday evening we were here is any indication, that streak of failed restaurants will be halted by Mama's Comfort Food. This restaurant features large garage-style windows on each wall providing plenty of natural light, a U shaped bar in the center of the restaurant, and TVs festooned to every corner of the place.

The menu at Mama's is as big and vibrant as the dining room. Plenty of starters, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees to choose from. Pretty much any item that comes to your mind when you hear diner food is available here. Another perk is that you can get breakfast any time of the day here, and the breakfast items I have seen online look pretty stellar. After catching up with Steve for a half hour or so, we made our selections, and this is how everything came out for us.

I've really become a big fan of cauliflower after many years of avoiding it on veggie trays and salads. Now when I see it on menus, I gravitate towards it, like we did by ordering this Buffalo Cauliflower ($9.99). This generous portion was lightly fried and tossed with a slightly spicy buffalo sauce and came with a side of ranch dressing for dipping. Just like buffalo wings, but without the messiness and the bones. Some of the pieces could have been cut up a little smaller, but a very satisfying start to our meal.

I could tell that Katie was really contemplating what to get off the rather large menu at Mamas. She finally went with the Mama Maria's Tuna Melt ($14.99 with avocado added) and could not have been happier. She threw out words like, "best ever", "delicious", and "excellent comfort food" to describe this tuna melt. She loved the addition of the creamy avocado to the well-done tuna salad and the crunchy toasted bread. If she had to pick out a weakness with this it would be her fries, which she claimed were just okay. Still, she would have a hard time passing this sandwich up on her future visits to Mamas.

I did not know this going in, but Steve is a practicing vegetarian. I guess I'll still keep him as a friend after finding this out. He's pretty much a regular here, as he knew a couple of the staff and ran into other patients, even though he was trying to stay incognito. For his meal, he got the Cayla's Vegan Sam-Wich ($12.99). This veggie lovers sandwich included marinated tomatoes, arugula, red onions, avocado, basil aioli, and a balsamic vinaigrette reduction on a ciabatta roll. He also went for the dollar upgrade here and got the tater tots, which they topped with cheese. No complaint from the good doctor, as it appears that this is his go-to order when having lunch at Mamas. He had no problem putting this sandwich away but left half of the tater tots. 

So many good choices to choose from here, but if I'm eating in a restaurant that specializes in diner food, I almost always veer towards a patty melt, so that lead me to this All-American Beach Melt ($15.99). This double-decker patty melt came with plenty of melted American cheese, onions, pickles, and Mama's sauce, which was a thinner thousand island dressing. The good toasting of the bread along with the insides of this sandwich made this one of the better patty melt I have had. I might next time go even crazier and add bacon to this to bring it up to an even better level. Unlike Katie, I liked the fries here, which had a good amount of garlic and parmesan flavor to them, and they were bottomless, but I only went through one serving. I know, I've turned into a lightweight.

When you walk in a joint and they have a Thrifty ice cream stand right next to the hostess desk, you know you are definitely going to save room for dessert. They offer eight flavors for you to choose from at Mamas, and you can get your ice cream in a cone, cup, milkshake, or as we got ours, in a Toasty Hot Giant Waffle ($10.99). This folded over waffle was filled with Nutella, sliced bananas, and candied pecans and then topped with a classic barrel-shaped scoop of vanilla ice cream in a cone. Of course, I liked this dessert, but I would have liked it better if the ice cream was inside the waffle and if the waffle was a little softer. It was kind of hard getting our forks through it. We ended up cutting this up with a knife. I'd probably get a Chocolate Malted Crunch milkshake next time. Man, that sounds good right about now.

It's no secret that diner fare is one of my favorite genres of food, and Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails is an excellent choice for this. The things we had on this evening with our good friend Steve were all pretty stellar, and my only wish was that they were closer to where I live so I could try more of their menu, including their breakfasts and their more substantial dinner entrees like their meatloaf and the beer can chicken. Service was warm and friendly, even when they were busy earlier in the evening. Prices were a tad on the high side, but portions are big, and you can stretch your meal to have half for lunch the next day, which is what I ended up doing. Mamas was a great meetup spot for us catching up with Steve. This dinner proves that Facebook and other social media can be useful for more than arguing about politics, posting memes, and trying to entice your friends to join your pyramid scheme. It can also help you stay friends with great people that you grew up with, that you might otherwise have lost touch with.

Out of five cottonwoods, (because in Spanish Los Alamitos translates to little cottonwood trees, of which there are numerous in the city), five being best to zero being worst, Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails gets 3.5 cottonwoods. 

For more information about Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails, head to their website here:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

You Might Want to Skip the Parkway

The Parkway American Grill
22411 Antonio Parkway
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688

Rancho Santa Margarita always has an isolated feel to me. It kind of feels like its cut off from the rest of the world. It sits out there at the base of the Cleveland National Forest, with only the toll road used for a quick exit back to the real world. I lived here for five years and during that time I was always looking for places and things to do in RSM so I did not have to battle the traffic and many signals on Alica Parkway. I never really found that one hangout spot that I felt comfortable in before I moved closer to civilization. 

My in-laws, after being longtime residents of Laguna Niguel, sold their big house and got a more manageable condo on the golf course at Tijera Creek Golf Club. Perfect for the two of them, but now they are trying to do what I did when I lived out this way, find some places nearby to eat, so they don't have to leave the peace and serenity of RSM.

One place that they have eaten at frequently is The Parkway American Grill, which was not here when I lived here 15 years ago, of course not much was out here that long ago. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this used to be where Ruby's was situated when they had a location in RSM. Parkway has been host to my in-laws a handful of times now in the last month, and after I got to check out their new abode, they wanted to introduce me to what they hope will be their go-to restaurant in their new city.

Much like my in-laws, Parkway American Grill is new to this area. Opened for only seven months now, this restaurant comes to us from Steve and Laura Michalopoulos, Boston transplants who lamented the fact that there were no upscale-casual dining experiences in the area that made families feel welcomed. They decided to change that and open a place where pre-packaged foods would be replaced by scratch-made ingredients in a family-friendly environment. With all the raving that my mother in law has done about this place, I was definitely intrigued to give this restaurant a try.

We arrived at Parkway on a recent Thursday evening around 6pm. They have a nice patio out front, which was not in use on this evening due to the Holy Jim brush fire going on, so we grabbed a table for four near the front door. There was a guitar player in the far corner of the restaurant, near the long bar, which stretches the length of the back wall. The dining room felt pretty spacious, with maybe 20 or so standard tables and high tops.

The dinner menu features American favorites, with plenty of appetizers,  grinders, burgers, salads, entrees, and pizzas to choose from. Most items hover around the $15 mark, with only a few entrees breaking the $20 barrier. After some inner debate going on inside my brain, I finally made my dinner selection, and here's how everything worked out for us on this evening.

Deep fried food is not just something you can get at the OC Fair every summer, restaurants are now starting to fry everything from corn on the cob to Oreo's. At Parkway they have Fired Avocado ($12) on their starter menu. Not sure why they call it fired avocado, rather than fried, but that's what they call it so we'll stick with that. Avocado spears are breaded and fried and then served with chipotle aioli and ranch dressing. These were fine, but the breading was kind of bland and did not have the big crunch I was hoping for. I thought this would have been better with a crunchy exterior and the creamy heated avocado inside. Did not happen with these, but when they were dipped in the provided sauces they were much better. 

One thing I have learned about my father in law in the nine years I have known him is that he's a big fan of soups. He gets a bowl almost everytime he goes out to eat, and he held true on this early evening by getting the Clam Chowder ($6). Knowing that the owners of this restaurant hail from Boston, I had great hopes for this. After my one bite of this, I should not have gotten my hopes up. The chowder was kind of bland, did not really have any clams in it, and was made up of mostly cubed potatoes. It definitely needed the pepper that the waiter ground on top of it.

Loaded Potato Skins ($10 were the last of the starters to come before our entrees hit the table. These come three to an order at Parkway and are topped with Guinness braised pork belly, a white cheese blend, creme fraiche, and chives. The potato was fried nicely, but they did something here that I thought I would never experience during the run of this blog. They made pork belly taste dull. If the menu had not said that pork belly was on these, and I was blindfolded, I never would have known that one of my favorite ingredients was included here. These are definitely misnamed, like the fired avocado, because these were not even close to being loaded, as they only had a few cubes of pork and a dusting of cheese on them. Disappointing. 

I was hoping things would turn around for me here when I ordered this Steak Bomb ($12.50) off of their grinder area of the menu. Again, this sandwich should have been called a dud instead of a bomb because it put me to sleep. The menu made this sandwich sound like it was going to be like a Philly cheesesteak, but with lettuce and tomato. Shaved ribeye, provolone cheese, grilled onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms have never tasted so dull. They really skimped on the cheese (were they running out or something?), and this only had a couple of mushrooms included. I made the underseasoned meat a little better by asking for a side of ranch dressing but ended up only eating half of this, which is definitely a sign that I did not enjoy this flavorless sandwich. This came with a side of chips, which might have been made here, as they were almost as bad as the sandwich. Some were burnt while other were limp, with no crunch to them. Maybe pay an upcharge to get fries next time.

Katie has been here a couple of times with her parents and has gotten the chicken alfredo on all of her previous visits. She changed it up this trip by trying the CBA Pizza ($13.95). CBA stands for chicken, broccoli, and alfredo sauce, and is joined on the pizza by some garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Finally, something had some flavor to it. The crust was very crisp and thin, while the toppings reminded me of a casserole my mom used to make. Maybe the pizzas are the thing to get here. 

Dennis was not overly full from his chowder, so he got this Cobb Salad ($14) as well. This salad included chicken, bacon, hard boiled egg, bleu cheese, tomatoes, and a house vinaigrette. Looking from across the table I thought this was a pretty puny sized salad for the price, but no disappointment from Dennis about this salad. He finished this salad rather quickly and has gotten this frequently on his previous visits.

I was not really feeling like dessert after my rather lackluster sandwich, but we decided to give it a try. They must be in the middle of switching their dessert menu, as we were given a handwritten list with three options crossed out. We settled on this Tiramisu ($7). I'm not usually a big fan of this Italian dessert, but this was the best thing I had here all night. It was well made, not overly soggy, and did not overpower with a coffee flavor. This should make the cut on their upcoming dessert menu.

I left Parkway very disappointed with almost everything I experienced on this evening and was left wondering why my inlaws like this place, and why people on Yelp have given this restaurant a four-star rating with over 150 reviews. Maybe I caught them on an off night, or maybe I ended up getting the wrong things. The burgers do look good in the pictures I have seen online and might be the way I go if I come back here. Service was very spotty on this evening and our food often came out without dressings, sauces, and sides. Maybe all the love for this restaurant is because they have a captive audience of residents who don't want to drive a half hour out of town to a better restaurant.

Out of five picnic tables, (because the longest parkway in the US is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans two states, and has many picnic tables alongside it), five being best to zero being worst, The  Parkway American Grill gets 1.5 picnic tables.

For more information about The Parkway American Grill, head to their website here:

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Angling for a Good Meal at Coast Fish Company

Coast Fish Company
9543 Irvine Center Dr. 
Irvine, CA 92618

It seems you can't turn around without hearing about a new seafood concept opening up. My Instagram feed is filled with new fish restaurant concepts almost daily. It almost seems like seafood is the new obsession, just like the burger explosion we had about two or three years ago, and the bacon mania we had at the start of this decade. Yes, a seafood option can now be found in almost every retail center throughout our great county.

One of the great parts of this is that seafood is now available at any price point. Food from the sea is affordable to everyone, instead of just from fancy restaurants, as it once was. It used to be that you had to dine at one of the overpriced restaurants with a view of the ocean or get a table in a fancy steakhouse to enjoy some seafood. Sure, there was H. Salt or if you were like my family some frozen fish sticks when my parents were going out for the night and did not want to dirty up the kitchen.

Nowadays we have a wide selection of seafood options available. There are the fast casual options, lead by my favorite Slapfish, there are oyster bars, raw fish bars, sushi restaurants, fish taco joints, Mexican restaurants that specialize in shrimp and ceviche, and you can't drive more than a block without finding a new poke spot to try. Those things have multiplied like rabbits in the springtime.

Coast Fish Company opened in the Los Olivos shopping center last year. This fast-casual restaurant comes to us from the owners of the legendary Cannery Restaurant in Newport, who also happen to own the El Cholo chain of Mexican restaurants. With a pedigree like that, we were pretty excited to see what Coast Fish Company had in store for us on this early Monday evening.

Sandwiched between a Starbuck's and one of my favorites, Burnt Crumbs, Coast Fish Company had a larger than I had anticipated dining area. It was light and open, with plenty of booth and table options for their guests. The nautical theme was apparent with the fish stenciled on the ceiling, lighting fixtures that resemble lobster baskets, and decorative ropes that you can easily imagine being used on a fishing boat.

Ordering is done at the counter, which has the menu located behind the cashier. The menu includes seven appetizers, taco options, nine entrees, and side items. With most items, you have the option to choose what kind of fish you want your meal to be made from with their seasonal fish offerings. Prices range between $9 to $14 for their entrees, while appetizers will set you back under the ten dollar mark. We made our selections, grabbed our number and waited for our food to arrive.

Even though it has been one of the hottest summers recorded, I could not resist trying a bowl of their Clam Chowder ($6.30). Not sure why I thought this chowder was going to be the exact same as the much better one I had at The Cannery last year, but I was not totally disappointed about this version. It had more potato and crab than its cousin at The Cannery but was not nearly as creamy and flavorful as that one. There was no grittiness to the clams and this one came in nice and hot. Not bad clam chowder, but nothing earth-shattering either, it just needed a little more depth to the chowder portion of this.

Poke and Chips($9) is one of Katie's guilty pleasures when she spies it on restaurant menus, so it was no surprise that she gave it a try here. At Coast Fish Company they have either salmon or tuna poke to choose from, and Katie went with the tuna version. This was not the most tender of pokes she has had, but she liked it well enough. We were not sure what the yellow item was under the ginger, but Katie discarded it after a few bites. The tuna was dressed simply but lacked that spark which made it pop. Maybe some diced avocado would have helped this out a bit. The chips were run of the mill tortilla chips, which were okay to go alongside of this. Katie ditched the chips after a few bites and finished this starter with a fork.

Fish and Chips ($9.79) a lot of the time is hit and miss, and a lot can go wrong with them. It's difficult to get them perfect. These at Coast Fish Company were good, but not perfect. To be honest, I have no idea what the fish was that they used here, but it was flaky and good. The breading was not greasy and had a good crunch to it, but was light on flavor. I thought the serving size of this was more than generous for the price. I alternated between both sauces and liked the slightly spicy aioli a bit more. Both sauces were a bit on the thin side, especially if the white one was supposed to be tartar sauce. The fries, or chips, in this case, were well-seasoned fries that reminded me of a straighter curly fry from Jack in the Box. Not too bad.

Katie came in here knowing she was going to be getting one thing and then ended up changing her mind by getting this 2 Taco Plate ($10.95). She got one of her fish tacos made with mahi-mahi which was blackened and the other was fried white fish, which was topped simply with both shredded cabbage and pico de gallo. She felt both tacos were not earth-shattering, but she liked them well enough. There was nothing here that made them stand out from other fish tacos she has encountered. This plate also came with black beans and rice as side items. Not sure if you get to pick your sides or not, but Katie liked the rice here, but left her black beans pretty much untouched.

I left Coast Fish Company feeling like it was fine, but not anything here would make me return. Maybe if I was in the Los Olivos Shopping Center, and did not want to drive somewhere else, I'd come back and try something else. The prices were not so bad, especially for this area, but nothing really popped for me on this visit. Slapfish still reigns in the fast-casual fish game, but as is the new norm, there's always a new seafood-centric place opening up somewhere.

Out of five mushrooms, (because the city of Irvine, Kentucky hosts a mushroom festival every April), five being best to zero being worst, Coast Fish Company gets 2.5 mushrooms.

Amazingly, Coast Fish Company does not have a website. They have one, but it has no information on it. So instead head to their Yelp page for more information: