Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nothing in Poor Taste at Pour Company

Pour Company 
136 West Wilshire Ave. 
Fullerton, CA 92832

I made a pretty big mistake over a ten-day period. It was a good week of eating out, and as usual, I had my camera along with me to document each meal. I was hoping that I'd be able to share my restaurant experiences with all of you, good or bad to see if you should spend your well-earned money at a spot or, find somewhere else to eat. It was all going along great until I realized that I had left the memory card out of my camera. I had lost 5 restaurant visits and had only taken a few sporadic pictures with my phone.

One of those places was Pour Company in Fullerton. We had visited my dad in the hospital on Katie's birthday, and after making sure he was doing okay, we treated ourselves to this little hidden gem in Downtown Fullerton. That first visit was excellent, but with just a few camera phone pictures, I did not have enough to write about it. So, two weeks later I asked my parents to meet me there for a lunch, and they were plenty eager enough to give it a try and spend some good quality time with their firstborn and favorite child.

When Katie and I had arrived for my first visit, it was near 8 on a Thursday evening and the inside of the restaurant had a few patrons, but the partially covered back patio was much more lively with a good mix of music being played and a good number of the tables and bar seats occupied. The lunch my parents and I had was way more subdued. Maybe it was due to the gloomy and rather chilly weather, the fact that they had just recently opened for lunch on weekdays, or that we had chosen to sit inside the restaurant on this visit.

Pour Company passed the one year mark last month, which is a big milestone for a restaurant. As their wordplay name suggests, they offer plenty in the way of cocktails and craft beers, but since I was driving all the way back down to South OC, I decided to focus more on their food. I know big surprise.

I kind of get the feeling that even though Pour Company has been around for a year, they are still tweaking some things. Our server told us that they are trying to make things easier by having just one menu throughout the day. The lunch menu we were handed when I was with my parents was a very pared down version of the menu Katie and I were presented with for dinner. That menu had plenty in the way of starters, bowls, sandwiches, entrees, and dessert. The lunch menu had less than half the starters listed, some handheld options available, and no dessert or entrees. Who could blame them for this, their kitchen, which you can catch a glimpse of going to or from the patio, is really tiny. Let's see what came out of this small kitchen for us on these two visits.

When Katie and I were here for her birthday, we started out with the Pretzel Bites ($13). Pretzels have never really been a snack food that I've really been a fan of. Most of them I feel are too dry and bready, and don't even get me started about the store bought bags available on grocery store shelves. I was not really excited when Katie popped up with her desire to get these, but it was her birthday, so I relented. You know what? They were not too bad. They were nice and soft, with a little flavor boost from the sea salt topping them. These came with spicy mustard and a beer cheese sauce. The beer cheese sauce was the choice here. It went wonderfully with these. I'm asking for double cheese sauce next time we get these.

I got the same thing on both of my visits at Pour Company, the House Burger ($15 or $17 with bacon added). Both times I have been blown away by this burger, even though I forgot to get it with bacon the second time I was here. This house ground beef blend is topped with white cheddar cheese, a bacon onion jam, and is sandwiched between a great looking bun which holds everything in place with great ease. Not a small feat considering this is one of the juiciest burgers around. Even though I did not get bacon on one of these burgers, I decided this burger at Pour Company definitely deserves a place on my Mount Hamburger-more, which also includes the burgers at Burger Parlor, Hopdoddy, and G Burger. It really is that good.

The burger parade rolls on with the Burger of the Month offering that my Dad tried with a gentle arm twisting from our server. The burger was the southern inspired Fried Pickle Burger. This burger came with of course fried pickles, two patties, pimento cheese, and a ranch slaw. My dad inhaled this burger, not coming up for air until it was completely gone. He did resort to eating this with a knife and fork, so a few style points have to be taken away from him for that. The fried pickles, which are listed on their dinner appetizer menu were excellent and made me want to order them the next time we visit. Thumbs up from the big guy with this burger.

My mom was really having a tough time choosing what to have here for lunch. She had her heart set on the avocado toast, which is listed on their menu online, but it was absent, along with a lot of other options on the scaled down lunch menu we were presented with. She finally decided on the Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($14) after being assured that it was not going to be too spicy. This ended up being a very good chicken sandwich. The breading was light and crunchy, the chicken underneath was one of the most tender that I've had, and the cayenne marinade added just the right touch of heat so it did not overwhelm. I also need to mention the fries, which came out hot and were seasoned really well with salt and herbs. They rounded out our meals wonderfully.

The dessert I had with my parents was this Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich ($10). I'm not exactly sure what kind of cookie they used here. It kind of had the flavor of a chocolate chip oatmeal, but don't quote me on that. The ice cream in the middle was vanilla and the top of the cookie was streaked with caramel. This was good, but kind of fell flat. I had wished that the cookie was heated a bit, which would have made it a little less hard to eat. What you should really focus on is the next item.

The much better dessert option at Pour Company is something that would fit right in at the OC Fairgrounds, the Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream Sandwich ($10). The cinnamon roll was nicely heated and tasted exactly like the cinnamon rolls at the OC Fari, which are my favorites. It featured plenty of cinnamon, some of it crystalized, so it's a little crunchy. Those are my favorite bites. I'm not usually a fan of coffee flavored ice cream, but it was fine here. The real star is the cinnamon roll.

After leaving Pour Company on my two visits, I was really pumped up to share with you all about the food I experienced there. Not only did I find one of my top 4 burgers in OC, everything else we had was pretty stellar as well. It has made me intrigued to come back and try their entrees, like their fish and chips, Hawaiian pork ribs, and shrimp and grits. Brunch is also on my list to try, as soon as I have another weekend day off from work. Pour Company is situated in Downtown Fullerton, but it doesn't really have that over the top, slightly rowdy feeling that the restaurants and bars closer to Commonwealth Avenue has. It still feels like a little hidden gem which hasn't been fully discovered by a lot of people yet. After eating this burger, I have a feeling that's about to change. I'm actually kind of glad I screwed up by leaving my camera memory card at home, as it allowed me a return visit. The first of many.

Out of five bags of rice, (since Katie and I got married right across the street at the Villa del Sol, and it's common for people to throw rice at weddings, except at ours), five being best to zero being worst, Pour Company gets 4 bags of rice.

For more information about Pour Company, head to their website here:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Long Live the Breakfast Republic

Breakfast Republic
4213 Campus Dr. Suite P166B
Irvine, CA 92612

The invasion of San Diego restaurants coming to OC continues. For all but one restaurant that has made the migration north on the 5 Freeway from America's Finest City, almost all have been hits in my opinion. Crack Shack, The Taco Stand, The Kebab Shop, Burger Lounge, Luna Grill, Puesto, and I'm sure there's a few more that I'm just not thinking of right at the moment, have gotten some very positive, if not glowing reviews from the people of OC. The lone clunker has been The Broken Yolk, but let's not focus on their very mediocre food.

I had a good feeling that Breakfast Republic would not be anything close to mediocre. It's part of the Rise and Shine Restaurant Group, which is owned and founded by Johan Engman. He's originally from Sweden and moved to San Diego when he was 16. Finding out that he was passionate about the restaurant business, he opened his first restaurant, Fig Tree Cafe at the age of 27. After a few struggles, he opened other locations in 2011 and 2013.

The concept for the Breakfast Republic came to Johan when he was waiting out a rainstorm in Borneo. The name, logo, a menu that was unique but still offered classics that customers would be comfortable with, hidden puns and quotes spread throughout the restaurant, and their famous egg chairs were all born in that hut along the Danum River. Pretty incredible to come up with all of this while waiting for the rain to lighten up, especially since most of us, including myself, would have just taken a nap.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when Breakfast Republic opened up their eighth location, and the first in OC, at the University Center at UCI. There will be another outpost opening later on this summer in Costa Mesa. I was a little worried that this Irvine location is a little tucked away, but those fears subsided when my friend Joe and I arrived here for a late breakfast on a recent Friday and were met with a full restaurant and a stated wait time of 45 minutes. Mind you, this was on a weekday, and we've heard that waits for tables on weekends have exceeded an hour and a half for most of their 7am to 3pm operating hours. I guess the word is out about Breakfast Republic.

I was a little overwhelmed with the menu here. There are lots of things that piqued my interest. The menu is broken up into Benedicts, Scrambles, Omelets, Pancakes, French Toast, and another section which is titled Playing Fare, which has some unusual things that you would not expect to see on a breakfast menu. There's a Breakfast Jambalaya, Turkey Meatloaf Hash, Breakfast Hot Dogs, Shrimp and Grits, and a Breakfast Burger to name a few. Prices range between $8 to $19 for the Steak and Eggs. I felt a little pressure picking out what to have here, so let's see if I made a great decision for my first meal of the day.

Let's first take a look at what Joe tried on his maiden voyage at Breakfast Republic. He kept things pretty simple by trying the Traditional Benedict with Avocado and Tomato added ($14). This Benedict, as with all of them listed on the menu, starts with their sourdough English muffin and then is layered with Canadian bacon and a poached egg and is topped with a gluten-free hollandaise sauce. Joe really enjoyed the fresh and vibrant flavors that came on this plate. This was served with House Potatoes, as all the Benedicts are. I thought they looked pretty basic from across the table, but these spuds were nicely seasoned and had a very pleasing crunch to the outside of each cube, and a softer inside. Next time we will upgrade these potatoes with Brussels sprouts, parmesan, bacon, onion, and balsamic for an extra $2.

It seems to be a trend with me that I always veer towards scrambles when I'm trying a breakfast spot for the first time. It held true at Breakfast Republic when I got this Portuguese Linguisa Sausage Scramble ($12). Three light and fluffy eggs are mixed with plenty of green bell peppers, tomatoes, a splash of hot sauce, garlic, bacon, and linguisa sausage. This was one of the lighter of scrambles I have had. The produce was very fresh, the linguisa had a nice little bite to it, and the hot sauce added a little spark. I was happy this was not as heavy as other scrambles, because I would have been in trouble with what we had coming next.

Instead of getting toast with my scramble, I opted to get this Mr. Presely's French Toast ($4 upcharge). One of the wisest food decisions I have made in a long while. I was pretty much blown away by this french toast stuffed with peanut butter, then topped with crumbled bacon and bananas foster. Wow, sweet and savory at its finest. I'll be getting this again for sure, especially since I've thought about it almost every day since I had it last week.

As if I needed even more sugar to jumpstart my day, we also tired their Pancake Flight ($13). With eight pancakes on their regular menu, plus a monthly special pancake, this pancake flight is the best way to get a good lay of the land at Breakfast Republic. We tried the Strawberry Cheesecake, Oreo Cookie, and the special of the month, the Tres Leches. My favorite predictably was the Oreo, which is a chocolate pancake with cream inside and pieces of Oreos on top. Very decadent. The Tres Leches is a buttermilk pancake with cajeta (a kind of caramel sauce) and strawberries on top and then finished with whipped cream and tres leches cream. It didn't really taste like tres leches to me, but I still liked it. Joe was partial to the Strawberry Cheesecake which had plenty in the way of strawberries and a cheesecake cream.

This was an excellent first visit to what I'm sure will become a lot of people's favorite breakfast place in OC. Hopefully, with the new Costa Mesa spot opening soon, it will alleviate the wait times at the Irvine spot, which is closer to our place. I really look forward to trying more of their menu and getting a little more adventurous in my selections. I'm glad Breakfast Republic has moved north from San Diego. I think they are going to fit right in with the other superior San Diego restaurants that have expanded to OC in the last year or so.

We'd like to thank everyone at Breakfast Republic for making us feel so welcome and sharing what they are all about with us. Both Joe and I had an excellent time and a lot of that was due to our server Megan and Manager Karmina, both of whom took turns checking on us and making sure our every need was met. They not only did it for us, but they were very busy checking on other tables as well. We'd also like the thank the excellent Casey Sorrell at Alternative Strategies for reaching out to us and setting up our visit to Breakfast Republic. She's one of the best in the business.

For more information about the Breakfast Republic, head to their website here:

Monday, May 20, 2019

This Little Pig Feels Right at Home at El Cochinito

El Cochinito
3508 Sunset Blvd. 
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Keen readers of this blog know of my love for Cuban food. Unfortunately, being based in Orange County, there are less than a handful of options for Cuban cuisine there. There's the very solid Bella Cuba in Santa Ana, the good, which includes Habana, Porto's, and Moros, and then there's the extremely overrated Felix in Orange. Other than the occasional Cuban sandwich on a menu, you won't find much more than that in OC.

So, since I was on vacation, we made a little weekend getaway trip to LA. We had a family event the next day, and I have had a Cuban place on my list for a long time now. So we brought along one of my favorites among Katie's cousins, Steve and his somewhat average wife, Yvette, who just happens to be Cuban. She claims to be quite the Cuban food expert and is always ready to have her opinion heard, whether it's right or wrong, as she is wrong almost 90 percent of the time. Along with their wonderful daughter Gabbi, we headed to El Cochinito on Sunset Boulevard.

El Cochinito got my attention when they were mentioned in this well-written article as being one of the top 7 places for Cuban food in LA, and also when they won the award for best Cuban sandwich in the world. Since I feel that Cuban sandwiches are the most balanced of all sandwiches, I quickly added this restaurant to my list, and the perfect time to visit finally came about six months later.

Situated in a small strip of stores, anchored by a Baskin Robbins and a Subway, El Cochinito blends into the scenery almost perfectly so it's hard to spot unless you know it's there. Gladys Gutierrez opened this little restaurant in 1988, but unfortunately, she passed away almost 5 years ago now. It's now run by her grandchildren and has not missed a beat.

We arrived here on a Saturday at 7pm and had about a five-minute wait. The restaurant is long and narrow, and not really conducive to big parties, but they managed to squeeze our party of five in near the back of the restaurant. There's probably ten to fifteen tables here, all of which are ideal for two to four guests. El Cochinito was doing a booming take out business on this evening, as there was a steady stream of people picking up their orders throughout our stay.

El Cochinito means the little pig in Spanish, so pork is definitely well represented on the menu. There are plenty in the way of traditional sandwiches and entrees, desserts, Cuban coffee, Cuban soft drinks, and tropical milkshakes listed on their menu. Prices for entrees range between $13 to $18, and a sandwich will set you back no more than $11. Nice for the wallet, but how would everything taste? Let's check it out.

We attacked this Bread Plate when it was placed on the table before we ordered. Nicely toasted and made even better with plenty of softened butter. The bread had a pleasing crunch as well. They were not shy about bringing us more and did not even charge us the 85 cents that the menu listed.

We were pretty hungry after our short drive from Glendale, so we ordered some Tostones ($5) to start with. These smashed and fried plantains were fine on their own but made even better with the mojo de ajo (garlic sauce). These plantains were fried nicely, with an absence of grease. Well done, but I was more eager for the next item that came out for us. 

The worlds best Cuban sandwich? I have to admit, this Cubano ($11) is the best I have had in California and rivals the few that I've had in Florida. I'm a big supporter of the Cuban sandwich, calling it one of the most balanced sandwiches around. It's a sandwich that has everything. This traditional version included some well flavored and savory ham and pork, Swiss cheese for a little creaminess, mustard added for tang, garlic sauce for a flavor booster, and pickles to round everything out. The bread is nice and crunchy due to toasting, which compresses the insides of the sandwich together to form a flavor bomb when you bite into it. The only thing I did not like about this was that I had to share with Katie. I should have gotten another one for just myself. No wonder El Cochinito won that ridiculously large trophy you see when you walk through the door. They definitely earned it with this sandwich.

Steve and Gabi split this Bistec Empanizado ($17) on this evening. I think Gabi split this with her dad because she was heartsick over an impending breakup with her boyfriend Blaine. Oh, to be 16 again. Anyways, this breaded steak kind of reminded me of a country fried steak, with a little more heft to it. Even though the breading was a little more puffed up than a normal breaded steak, the beef under it was still present. I had one bite and liked this, but I think I might have become bored with it if I had the whole thing. This came with Black Beans and Rice. The beans were rich and flavorful, which maybe had a hint of garlic to them? No complaints from either Steve or Gabi about this, so I assume they were happy campers.

Even though El Cochinito is known for its pork dishes, it's even in their name, Yvette wanted to give their Palomilla ($16) a try. This is a thin steak, which I think is sirloin, and it is covered with sauteed onions on top. Hard to please Yvette said this was not as good as her mom's, but she did admit it was one of the better ones she's had in a restaurant. Of course, she was selfish and did not share with anyone, so I'll take her word for it. The Madures were delicious here, and I'm not usually even a big fan of plantains, but these struck just the right balance of sweetness for my palate.

The Lechon Asado ($18) is listed as a house specialty, and after I tasted this, I can see why. This is the best pork dish I've had in a while, and I tend to order pork quite often. I've heard they roast their pork for ten hours, and it shows in the finished product. The shredded pork is nice and tender, very flavorful, and had just the right amount of little pieces of fat running through it. Not a bad bite on the plate. This came with some Congri, which is a mixture of black beans and rice, which is the way to go here. Also sharing the plate was some Yuca, which I have never liked, but this version was excellent. It was not dry and starchy like others I have had. A very impressive plate.

Flan ($6) is not something I've ever been too fond of. I only usually order it if there's nothing else on a dessert menu I like. This is one that I would get again and again. This was the best flan I've ever had. It was the perfect texture, had a very good caramel sauce, and was just the right amount of sweet. We all agreed that this was a special flan, and we never agree on anything.

Special is definitely the way I'd describe this visit to El Cochinito. Quite simply, this was the best Cuban meal I have had in California, and they definitely rival the Cuban restaurants I've been to in Florida. They even recently opened a spot in West Palm Beach, so they are not afraid of going toe to toe with the Cuban cuisine heavyweights. No complaints with the food or service on this evening. They took really good care of us, even though we had Yvette at our table. The only drawback I can see about this place is that their parking lot is extremely small, and I'm sure it's frustrating at peak times. It will be very difficult coming back up this way again and not stopping by for one of the worlds best Cuban sandwiches.

Out of five reservoirs, (because this restaurant is located in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles which is named after a local politician who helped build the reservoir that surrounds this area), five being best to zero being worst, El Cochinito gets 4 solid reservoirs. 

 For more information about El Cochinito, head to their website here:

Friday, May 17, 2019

WR Kitchen and Bar Now Open in Laguna Niguel

WR Kitchen and Bar
28061 Greenfield Dr.
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

I'm not sure if you've noticed or not, (more than likely you have since this is a restaurant blog), but the cost of eating out has been going up rather steadily the last couple of years. Katie and I used to be able to get two meals off of the $50 gift cards my parents get us for Christmas every year from Chili's, Islands, BJ's, and Ruby's. These days those same $50 cards get us one meal, and then we still have to put some money towards the tip. As a result of this and the impending dollar increase to the minimum wage for the next three years, upscale casual restaurants are going to have to find some creative ways to adjust.

Sure you can replace wait staff with I Pads on the tables, or maybe do the whole Chipotle ordering process where you go through an assembly line while getting your food, and then you are left to your own devices once you get to a table. With labor costs rising, a lot of your favorite restaurants are going to be tinkering with ways to keep menu prices manageable, while not sacrificing service. One of my favorite restaurant chains is being proactive about all of this and recently opened a new concept right near where we live. We were recently invited to try it out before their grand opening a few days later.

The team behind Wood Ranch has not just been sitting on their hands in these unpredictable times. They have studied their guests dining preferences and tried to figure out ways to keep menu prices down. WR Kitchen and Bar is the results of all of their studies and consumer surveys. This initial location in Laguna Niguel will be followed by another in the Bressi Ranch section of Carlsbad later this year.

WR Kitchen and Bar is situated in the old Knowlwood's spot, which sat vacant for a good long while. After a major remodel, the restaurant is definitely not recognizable from its days when there were the Knowlwood's mediocre burgers and other subpar food coming out of the kitchen. As you walk in the door to WR, you'll notice a long 16 seat, fully stocked bar, which is also where you order your food. A water and soda station are to the left of the bar. After ordering you gather your own utensils and napkins at the service carts and find somewhere to sit at this 140 eat eatery. With the table tracker, you were given when ordering, your food will be brought out to you whether you are seated inside, or on their covered patio. They are shooting for the food to be delivered within an eight to ten-minute window after ordering.

Speaking of the food at WR, they have a lot of your favorites from Wood Ranch but have also added some new items to distinguish themselves from their sister restaurant. Their famous Crispy Shredded Onions are on their snack menu, but they have also added a crispy Buffalo Cauliflower and a Brisket Caramel Popcorn, which we will feature in due time. WR has five salads to choose from, including their wildly popular BBQ Chopped Salad, which is available with protein add-ons. The famous Wood Ranch barbecue meats are available ala carte in varying sizes. Rounding out the rest of the menu are some tacos, sandwiches, and sides, which are meant to be shared. Let's check out what we ate at this friends and family preview event.

Here's a quick overview of some of what we were able to sample on this evening. Yes, I went home bursting at the seams. Let's take a closer look at everything.

I admit I tried this Brisket Caramel Popcorn ($6) just because I wanted to see what it came out looking like. After a few bites, I realized this was not just a novelty item thrown on a menu to get people talking about it on social media. It really worked. Fans of sweet and savory will not want to miss this one. A very good caramel coated popcorn is studded with pieces of rich brisket. I found my perfect bite of this consisted of three pieces of popped corn and two shards of brisket. A unique little snack to start off with at WR Kitchen and Bar.

I'm not sure, but I'd bet this is the most popular salad at Wood Ranch and it will probably be the same story at WR Kitchen and Bar. The BBQ Chopped Salad ($10) contains a whole cavalcade of things in it. The base is mixed greens which are joined in the bowl with some tomatoes, carrots, black beans, tortilla strips for crunch, roasted corn, jack cheese, cilantro, scallions, and a mix of both ranch and bbq sauce. Very vibrant and fresh flavors in each bite. Easily made into an entree for a few dollars more with the addition of a protein.

The specialty section of the WR Kitchen and Bar menu contains a lot of your favorite barbecue and other heftier items from Wood Ranch. Here you have the option to control how much you want of each item, with weights ranging between a quarter of a pound to a full pound for heftier eaters, like myself. The Baby Back Ribs ($14) are offered as four or eight bones, or a whole slab. These were gently brushed with sauce, came out nicely tender, and were gone almost immediately after they were sat down at our table.

I know it might be a little hard to veer from the barbecue at WR Kitchen, but these tacos are screaming for attention. The Smoked Brisket Taco ($14) was wonderful. The oak smoked brisket was joined in the very well made organic corn tortilla with some mashed potato, cabbage, cilantro, and a habanero peach barbecue sauce which added a touch of sweet and then a little heat on the back end. The meat was predictably good and flavorful, and I was afraid I was going to miss the absence of cheese, but the potato was a great substitute, adding a bit of creaminess and moisture to the taco. Very well done and my favorite item of the afternoon.

Sandwiches are a great option at WR Kitchen and Bar, especially this Western Tri-Tip Sandwich ($12). I say that they are a great option, but due to my love of their barbecue, this was my first time having this sandwich. I'm now a convert. So good with its award-winning tri-tip, Monterey jack cheese, onions, and peppers. It comes with an au jus for dipping which makes this one part cheesesteak and part french dip. The bread absorbs the au jus nicely creating a flavor bomb with the insides of the sandwich.

Not that we needed them, but Executive Partner Alex Benes was eager to show off their Fiery Chicken Tacos ($12), and after the delicious brisket tacos, we were not going to argue. These packed a punch with a chili garlic sauce that had a heat that lingered after each bite. Definitely inspired by the bahn mi sandwich, these tacos included picked carrots and onions, cilantro, cucumbers, radishes, and of course chicken. Great textures and that chili sauce made these a must for anyone that likes things a little spicy.

Sides are not to be ignored at WR Kitchen. We tried two of their 11 offerings, the Lauren's Favorite Mac and Cheese ($4) and the Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($4). The mac and cheese is a classic with a  thick cheese sauce over the noodles. I definitely preferred the brussels sprouts, which picked up some flavor from the grill and had a great balsamic glaze that was present but did not interfere with the crispy sprouts. I've got my eye on the Garlic Roasted Cauliflower and the Mashed Potatoes on my next visit.

One of my favorite desserts of all time is something I always look forward to when I eat at Wood Ranch. Unfortunately, the Oreo Cookie Crunch is not available here at WR Kitchen, but they have another stellar dessert that I'm crazy about, Warm Butter Cake ($6). I've always described this as a Twinkie on steroids. Rich and buttery with a nice crunchy outer portion make for an awesome representation of this. Ice cream topping this would make it even better, but alas, no ice cream is available.

I think the guys behind Wood Ranch have another winner on their hands with WR Kitchen and Bar. In these uncertain times, you have to consider guests preferences, keep menus prices from skyrocketing, consider labor costs, and still turn out fantastic food to keep people coming back. Based on this one visit, I think WR Kitchen has achieved that delicate balance. It will be interesting to see how the community reacts to this version of a brand that they love so well. I know we will be back frequently when we have those hunger pangs for barbecue.

For more information about WR Kitchen and Bar, head to their website here:

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pino's Cucina the Only Italian in Town

Pino's Cucina
27522 Antonio Parkway
Ladera Ranch, CA 92694

The end of April and the first part of June is the start of the busy time for both Katie an I. It starts with our anniversary in mid-April, and then the family birthdays, anniversaries, the usual Mother's and Father's Days keep us very busy through the middle of June. One of the few benefits to this stretch of time is that it gives us an opportunity to try some new restaurants, often with someone else picking up the tab.

That brings us to this visit to Pino's Cucina in Ladera Ranch. Katie's mom wanted me to find somewhere local for Katie's birthday and I was more than happy to oblige. I did a quick search of nearby restaurants on Yelp and found this place with a very respectable 4 and a half star rating, over 200 reviews, and a chef with quite the pedigree.

Chef Pino grew up in Sicily, learning his way around the kitchen from his mom, Giovanna. He left Italy to travel the world as a chef for Princess Cruises for nearly a decade. After the cruise ship stint, he settled down in Orange County in 1995 and has been here ever since. He's worked at Stella's Serious Italian in Dana Point, Antonello Ristorante, and Nello Cucina in Costa Mesa, and has now moved inland a bit to be the head chef at his namesake restaurant. The owners, Frank Domicolo, (Pino's nephew), and Giovanni Magro (Pino's longtime friend) round out the team at Pino's with their own experiences of working in casual and fine dining establishments in both Europe and here in the states.

Pino's Cucina, which opened two years ago, is located right next door to the 24-hour local favorite, Corky's. I believe before Pino's took over this used to be a vegetarian restaurant. Predictably, I never came here when it was the veggie place. The restaurant is a little bigger than it appears from the outside, with maybe twenty or so tables, a few pictures of Italy on the walls, a high ceiling, and a Renaldo Juventus jersey being prominently displayed on the back wall. 

The menu at Pino's is probably what you've come to expect at an Italian restaurant. There are plenty in the way of pasta options, with close to twenty being offered, along with more substantial entrees featuring chicken, veal, beef, and seafood available for guests that want a little more heft to their meals. Entrees range between $18 to $35 and pasta dishes go for $14 to $25 for a lobster ravioli. There's also soups, salads, and starters for customers to consider as well. Enough with the buildup, let's check out what we ate on this one of many birthday dinners for my beloved Katie.

Most Italian restaurants will start you out with a bread basket and Pino's Cucina was no different. They use a soft ciabatta bread cut into manageable cubes, just the perfect size for dipping into the provided olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The waitstaff was very efficient about refilling the bread and dipping sauces with great regularity throughout our stay.

Man, we have been having some good luck with salads recently, and that trend continued at Pino's. Salads are not included with entrees or pasta dishes, but that should not stop you from getting a salad here. This Caesar ($7) was pretty traditional with its chopped romaine, croutons, very good Caesar dressing and thick squares of parmesan. It had the perfect amount of dressing coating each leaf of romaine and the cuts of parmesan were plentiful and added a nice touch. Both Katie and her mom were pretty pleased with their House Salads ($7) of mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, parmesan, and a fresh basil tomato vinaigrette. Katie praised the freshness of the produce in this salad, while her mom remarked that it was a pretty good size for a dinner salad.

For some reason, none of the appetizers really spoke to me this evening, so I acquiesced and let Katie select one that she wanted to try. She selected the Arancini ($12), which she claims that we have had at another restaurant before, but I had no recollection of it until I did a search of our blog and saw that we had arancini at Bruno's in Brea last summer. Sorry for doubting you, Katie. These at Pino's were definitely shaped differently than the ones we had a year earlier. These were cone-shaped compared to the ping pong ball sized ones we had at Bruno's. These were filled with rice, meat sauce, mozzarella, and peas and then deep fried. I thought these were just okay. They needed more of a pop of flavor for me to take notice. Not awful, but nothing that memorable.

I'm always intrigued by what Katie's mom, Lynn orders when we go out to eat. It's almost always something that I would not expect, like this Chicken Piccata ($18). She was all set to get the Chicken Marsala, but her neighbor convinced her that the piccata was the way to go at Pino's. She was happy she went with her neighbor's advice. This lightly breaded chicken was nice and tender in a traditional, yet delicious piccata sauce made up of garlic, white wine, lemon, shallots, and capers. This also came with a dollop of mashed potatoes and some squash.

I was going back and forth about what I wanted on this evening and eventually settled on this Mushroom and Sausage Risotto ($19). This was a very earthy dish with the presence of the mushrooms and with little bursts of flavor from the sausage coming through each bite. The risotto was cooked nicely also. I thought I got shortchanged when I saw the serving size of this, but it ended up being more than enough, as it was very filling.

The birthday girl opted to get one of the first things I ever made for her when we first started dating, Spaghetti Carbonara ($18). She claims that my carbonara is still the best she's had, which I know is not really true. This one was way better than mine. The cream sauce finished with egg yolk was rich and decadent. The chopped pancetta added a little heft to the dish and the parmesan tied it all together. A very comforting and filling version of a classic dish that means a lot to Katie and made her very happy this birthday dinner.

There were three options for dessert, and not being a big fan of cannolis or tiramisu, that left us with the Profiteroles ($7) on this evening. These were fine cream puffs but did not really blow me away. The outer portion of these seemed a little too tough and there was not nearly enough of the chocolate drizzle on the plate to make it useful for dipping. The inside cream was soft and sweet and was definitely the best part of this dessert.

Even though our ending dessert failed to impress, we loved our visit to Pino's Cucina, each of us vowing to return very soon. I did a quick search of full-service Italian restaurants in Ladera Ranch, and it only yielded one result, Pino's. But this restaurant is good enough to be included on any list of great Italian restaurants in South OC. The Italian cuisine served here is definitely authentic and done just like you'd expect from someone that learned to cook from their mother in Southern Italy. Service was pleasant and efficient and we were even treated to a visit to our table by Pino himself, which was an excellent treat. Pino's was a great choice for one of Kaie's birthday dinners and getting us ready for lots of family time in the upcoming two months.

Out of five zebras, (because it is easy to see from the decorations hanging on the walls, that they love the Series A team Juventus here, and their mascot is a zebra), five being best to zero being worst, Pino's Cucina gets a very strong 3.5 zebras.

 For more information about Pino's Cucina, head to their website by clicking here: