Thursday, December 7, 2023

An Upswing in Good Pizza in South OC

aPizza Doho

34255 Pacific Coast Highway

Dana Point, CA 92629

If there's one thing I've learned in all my years of writing this blog, it's that people are passionate about pizza. Except for barbecue, pizza gets the second most responses when I write about it. Most people write to tell me that they don't agree with me or I don't know what I'm even talking about. I'll add fuel to the fire in this review by saying that the best pizza in OC can be found south of Irvine. Yes, there are some good spots north of Irvine, but South OC has recently had an influx of great pizza places open up. I was hoping that aPizza Doho would continue this trend. 

aPizza Doho took over the old Parallel Pizza spot open for business from 2018 to 2021 and was one of the numerous restaurants that did not survive the pandemic. The space sat vacant for close to a year, and like the former tenant, they are going for an East Coast-style pizza with an emphasis specifically on the pizza from Connecticut. Unlike its predecessor, aPizza Doho does not offer a clam pizza, but maybe that's for the best, even though I enjoyed it.  

The owner of this restaurant is Marcos Costas, a first-time restaurant owner but definitely not a stranger to the restaurant industry. He's been employed at Salt Creek Grill, Glasspar, French 75, Andrea Restaurant, Savanah Steak and Chop House, and others. Marcos is joined by cousins Anthony and Christopher Christian, who are co-owners and also have restaurant experience. While we were here, Marcos was very involved in the dining room operations, running food, introducing himself to each table, and ensuring things went smoothly. 

The aPizza Doho menu is what you'd expect from a pizza place. There are six appetizers, salads, three sandwiches, and what has brought most people here: pizza. Their pizzas are 15 inches, so they can easily feed two people or three if they are lighter eaters than Katie and me. They have a 10-inch personal pizza offered only for lunch that also comes with a salad. There are 10 featured pizzas, but they also have a build-your-own option. Pizzas will set you back anywhere from $19 to $28. We were famished, so we quickly ordered from our server and waited for our food to arrive. 

Our salads were out within five minutes. I went with my usual Caesar Salad ($15) selection. This version used a black kale and romaine mix topped with grated grana padano cheese and garlic bread crumbs. Maybe the menu did not mention the dressing because they used it sparingly. They could have used a heavier hand when applying some dressing. The lettuce was fresh, and I liked the inclusion of the bread crumbs, which added a nice bit of texture to this salad. 

Much better was Katie's choice, the Simple Salad ($12). This came with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, gorgonzola, and an excellent spiced ranch dressing. Katie was generous enough to give me a bite of this, and after that bite, I wished she had wanted to trade salads. This was full of flavor. The gorgonzola and the pine nuts were excellent additions, but the dressing was the show's star. The salad was dressed perfectly, with just the right amount of ranch dressing covering each piece of lettuce. Very well done. 

Their appetizer offerings included meatballs, arancini, hummus, calamari, and these Zucchini Chips ($9). We picked these because we both got salads and wanted something on the light side to accompany our upcoming pizza. These are basically zucchini sliced thin and fried like a potato chip. They had a little crunch but were not seasoned enough with the promised sea salt. They might have been better with a creamy dipping sauce or their excellent ranch dressing.  

When I'm the one picking pizza, I usually gravitate towards the one with the most meat on it. Our server had suggested this Mia Mushroom Pizza ($25 plus $3 for adding sausage), and since I tasked Katie with choosing the pizza we would have this evening, she went with our server's recommendation. This pizza uses a rich garlic cream as its base and then builds on it with mushrooms, mozzarella, truffle oil,  pecorino romano, and plenty of arugula. I liked the crust well enough. It was crisp and light, with no soggy parts. For me, I'm all about the toppings. I enjoyed the way that the cheese, sausage, and mushrooms interacted. They were not trying to upstage each other, but rather, they were sharing the spotlight. I could have used more garlic cream, sausage, and cheese, but it was still a solid effort.  

Since we had a lighter appetizer and the pizza was more delicate than others, we had room for dessert. We had two choices: tiramisu or Banana Walnut Crumble ($8). You can see which we went with. This comprises sliced bananas in a banana pasty cream alternated with a walnut crumble in a small mason jar topped with whipped cream. It was okay, but it did not knock our socks off. It was not overly sweet, but I did like the unusual choice of the walnut crumble, which I assumed was the reason for the muted sweetness. 

aPizza Doho is another good pizza option for the people of South OC. Based on this visit, they sit just outside my top five pizza spots in South OC (Truly Pizza, Gibroni's, Brooklyn City Pizza, Terra Mia Pizza, and Lunitas Pizza are my current top 5). I look forward to a return visit to try more of their custom pizzas and to have that simple salad again. We experienced excellent service on this visit, as our server was warm and cordial but not too intrusive. A delicate balance to achieve. I found the prices here reasonable for a sit-down pizza place, primarily when one pizza will feed two, so you're paying only $13 per person. A steal in this economy. I hope 2024 will continue the trend of great pizza places opening up in South Orange County. 

Out of five phone books (because this restaurant is an homage to Connecticut pizza and the first phone directory was published in that state in 1878), five being best to zero being worst. aPizza Doho gets 3 phone books.  

For more information about aPizza Doho, check out their website by clicking here:

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Pacific Catch Opens in Tustin

 Pacific Catch

3040 El Camino Real

Tustin, CA 92782

I've been writing this blog for a long time when I have been to three restaurants at the same address. This is the case with this review. In the early days of my blog, this location was home to a Black Angus. That restaurant was torn down to the studs, rebuilt, and turned into Bonefish Grill. They had a nearly five-year run before they closed their only California restaurant. The space sat vacant during the COVID years but has been reborn as Pacific Catch. 

Pacific Catch is a fourteen-unit seafood chain restaurant founded twenty years ago, with a significant presence in Northern California. The only other Southern California location is in La Jolla. Still, I've heard rumblings of two or more OC restaurants opening soon and one in Santa Monica. Good news for seafood lovers. 

They call themselves a West Coast fish house, but a Pacific Rim fish house might be more appropriate. With a quick glance at their menu, you will find influences from Japan, Hawaii, Korea, Mexico, and more dotted across the page. The menu includes starters, sushi offerings, mix-and-match entrees, bowls, tacos, and sandwich options. Starters range between $9 to $27, while entrees go from $15 for an ahi burger all the way up to $59 for a mixed seafood grill for two. 

We arrived at Pacific Catch on a recent Thursday at the peak dinnertime of 6pm and were met with a bustling restaurant. We had made reservations, so we got seated right away. This dining room seems much lighter now from when it was Bonefish Grill. Natural light pours through the large windows and the skylight in the dining room. A very relaxed and peaceful atmosphere plays into the island vibe they have going on here. Our order was promptly taken, and we were excited about our first experience at Pacific Catch.  

I don't usually get a drink when we eat out, preferring to save room for more food, but the island vibe I was getting from this restaurant drew me to the Mai Tai ($14). This was a very high-quality mai tai, not made from a mix. This beverage had a smooth feel with three kinds of rum, lime juice, and a housemade mixture of papaya, orange, and guava. I enjoyed this because it was not too sweet and made me feel like I was in the tropics. Very well done. 

When you check out the Pacific Catch Yelp page or look at other tables while dining here, you'll see just how popular this Pupu Platter ($27) is. Every table near us ordered one. This platter changes slightly with the seasons, but when we were here, it featured coconut shrimp, guaca-poke, two pork belly musubi, blistered shishito peppers, and a spicy cucumber banchan. My favorite of these items was the guaca-poke. The yellowfin ahi was dressed with their sesame-soy marinade, which was not too overpowering, so it let the ahi shine through. The guacamole was an excellent accompaniment. I have a love-hate relationship with coconut shrimp, as I usually find the breading way too overwhelming, so you can not taste the shrimp underneath it. That is not the case here. The outer coating was light, yet crispy, and did not need too much of the provided Thai sweet chili sauce. I popped many shishito peppers in my mouth, served with an addictive wasabi aioli. The pork belly musubi did not do it for me. I found it lackluster, and I'm a pork belly fan. It needed to be more prevalent, as the teriyaki glaze covering it, along with some grilled pineapple, sabotaged the richness of the pork. The cucumber was okay but not spicy, and we left most of that alone to focus on the more substantial items of this platter. 

Katie was excited to try the Sushi Bombs ($5 each). These are other items that I do not see on their current menu, so this may also be a seasonal item. We went with the original ahi poke and the serrano ahi poke versions of these. The tuna is encased in a sweet-soy inori pocket with some sushi rice. I enjoyed the relatively large size but found the original one too bland. Some soy sauce or another sauce would have helped liven things up with this. The Serrano version was better as it was dressed up more, and the slight spiciness awoke my taste buds. A much better pick.

Most seafood restaurants offer a mix-and-match menu, where you pick the kind of fish you want and the style and sides you'd like to complete your meal. At Pacific Catch, they call theirs the fresh catch meal. Out of the five types of fish offered when we were here, Katie selected the Kanpachi Yellowtail ($32). I was struck by the portion size of this cut of yellowtail. She picked the Asian chimichurri to top the fish and kimchi fried rice with a sunny-side-up egg and Mexican elote corn as her sides. Katie felt the yellowtail was cooked perfectly, moist, and tender. She was also a big fan of the chimichurri, which bursts with flavor. She enjoyed the uniqueness of the kimchi fried rice but felt that the elote fell flat in the flavor department, with only the pickled onion adding any taste. 

As usual, when eating in a restaurant for the first time, I get as many items on one plate as possible. That meant it would be the Korean Surf and Turf Platter ($35) for me this evening. As has been the case for most of this review, this is not on the current Pacific Catch menu, but it may come around again. It included grilled skirt steak, prawns, kimchi fried rice, glazed shitake mushroom, edamame, kimchi, and cucumber banchan. The skirt steak was nicely cooked to my desired preference of medium rare, with a simple marinade giving it a flavor boost. The prawns were large and filling. For the sides, I really enjoyed the kimchi fried rice with the sunny-side-up egg that bound everything together. The rest of the sides were filler. The glazed mushrooms and edamame, the pickled carrots and ginger, and the spicy cucumbers were okay but were not really anything that made me swoon. They were all boring. 

Our server was excited about these Crispy Dulce De Leche Spring Rolls ($12), so we tried them. I was not a fan. The cheesecake filling was very dense inside the spring roll, and it was hard to eat with a fork, so I just picked it up and ate it that way. The dulce de leche gelato and the caramel sauce were my favorite parts, but not enough to get this again. I'd go for the hula brownie sundae or their malasadas the next time I visited. 

Pacific Catch was hit-and-miss for me this evening. I feel that I really just ordered the wrong things. I should have gone the more seafood route with my entree and gone with my gut about our choice of dessert. On my next trip here, I'd veer towards their fish and chips, mixed seafood grill, or the mix-and-match fish option. The service we encountered at Pacific Catch was first-rate. Everyone was so cheerful, and the food was brought out promptly. I'm glad this address is active again after Bonefish Grill closed. We definitely need more seafood restaurants to choose from. 

For more information about Pacific Catch, head to their website by clicking here:

** We were provided this meal for free in exchange for an honest review of their service/food. No other compensation was received. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Making Out Like a Bandido in Tustin

Tacos El Bandido Express

13812 Newport Ave. 

Tustin, CA 92780

I usually take my nieces out to dinner once a year for their birthdays. This was not my niece Kaylie's birthday. We took her to dinner this time because she would be leaving with her church to visit the Philippines for two weeks. She had never left the country before, and we wanted to wish her well and learn about her upcoming trip. I asked her what she wanted, and she suggested tacos. She must have great taste in food, just like her uncle. I looked up places in the middle of where we both live, and the one that stood out to me the most was Tacos El Bandido Express. 

To tell you the truth, I don't know much about this place other than they have a very respectable 4-star rating on Yelp, and they opened in December of 2021. There's a food truck that is located on Garden Grove Boulevard that is named Tacos El Bandido. They use the same logo and have similar menus, so they might be related. There's no website listed for either place, so I'll assume they are somehow related.  

We arrived at this blink, and you'll miss it strip mall at 4pm on a recent Sunday. The best landmark I can give you is that El Bandido is across from Wahoo's, at the corner of Walnut and Newport Avenue. There are wanted posters above the register featuring large pictures of most of their menu items, which is helpful for indecisive eaters like my niece Kaylie. 

The menu is varied, and they offer descriptions of everything in both English and Spanish. One portion of their menu is dedicated to the hottest trend right now, birria. The menu does not clarify whether this is goat or beef birria, but as you'll later see, we can confirm that it's birria de res, also known as beef. There's a menu board of specialty items and another one listing the options for their tacos, burritos, tortas, and flour and corn quesadillas. Nine kinds of meats are offered, ranging from asada and carnitas to the more adventurous lengua, cabeza, and the always delicious suadero (beef) taco. Lots of options, so we quickly ordered and waited less than ten minutes before our food was ready. Let's see if this place would be an excellent send-off for Kaylie. 

It's not the most authentic of dishes, but I have been on a real Asada Fries ($10) kick lately. This version was straightforward, with pinto beans, cheese, pico de gallo, asada, guacamole, and sour cream topping the fries. I loved that they used crinkle-cut fries because they stay crispy longer than regular fries. The asada was seasoned well and was another standout. These fries could have been balanced out with some extra cheese and guacamole added to the mix. They were layered well, and I'd get them again. 

Katie is a big fan of birria and an even bigger devotee of Ramen Birria ($10). I used to think this mashup was just a fad, but it's pretty good. I should have had Katie lift some of the noodles with her spoon for the picture, but you'll just have to trust me that there is ramen in this rather large bowl. The birria was hearty and went well with the provided noodles. Katie calls this dish comforting and looks forward to the cooler days ahead when she can see this dish heating her up against the arctic chill that winter in Southern California can sometimes provide. 

Keeping the birria train running, we also ordered this Quesadilla Birria ($9.50). This is my favorite way to eat birria besides a quesa birria taco. The corn tortilla was handmade and provided a sturdy structure for the plentiful birria and cheese housed inside. It was not the easiest thing to eat, but it was satisfying. I should have opted for some consome to dip this in. Next time, I will know better. 

Here's a quick shot of the cavalcade of tacos we ordered this early evening. They have eight meat options, and these street-style tacos are priced at a modest $2 each. They drop to $1.50 if you eat here on a Tuesday. They are very reasonable, and they come with two corn tortillas and are dressed simply with some avocado sauce. Onions, cilantro, and red and green salsa are available at the salsa bar on the left-hand side of where you order. Let's see which tacos I liked the best. 

My first three tacos were Carnitas, Asada, and Pastor ($2 each). Each of these was very solid. I loved the pastor with its little chunks of pineapple, adding bursts of flavor with the marinated pork. The asada, like on the fries, was seasoned well but was more tender than what was on the fries. The carnitas were good, but I would have liked more variety in the carnitas. I like it when you have different textures of the shredded pork. Still, not a bad taco out of the bunch. 

For my last taco, the one on the left, I tried their Suadero Taco ($2). For those of you unaware, suadero is a brisket taco. It's cooked in its own fat until it becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender. The one here at El Bandido was very tender and not a taco to be missed. I've now made it my mission to order a suadero taco at every place I visit that offers one. I want to raise awareness of how delicious suadero is. The carnitas taco on the right was not mine, but I may have helped Katie finish it after she was too full from slurping down her birria ramen. 

I really enjoyed our visit to Tacos el Bandido Express. Everything we had was very good, and the prices were very modest, a combination you don't often find. Even though we were here at the early dinner hour of 4pm on a Sunday, this place was busy and had a good, consistent flow of customers during our stay. Even though a sign alerted guests that they made their food to order, so it might take a little longer to get their meals, we did not find that they took any longer than we had expected. I foresee plenty of return visits here in the next few months. 

Out of five locomotives (because one of the most famous bandits in history is Jesse James, a man who is presumed to have robbed at least 20 trains in his time), five being best to zero being worst, Tacos El Bandido Express gets 3 locomotives. 

As I mentioned before, Tacos El Bandido Express does not have a website, so for all the latest information about them, click here to check out their Yelp page:

Monday, October 23, 2023

A Pizza Spot to Good to Be True?

 Truly Pizza

24402 Del Prado Ave. 

Dana Point, CA 92629

I will give you a little behind-the-scenes peek at the food blogging/Instagram world. The more followers a person has, the greater the chance they are being paid to visit or promote the restaurant they are showcasing. This leads many top food influencers to over-inflate what they may think of a restaurant. The tell-tell sign of this is when they say something is the "best of my life" or "this is perfect."  I hear these phrases constantly while scrolling through Instagram, and these phrases lose their value after so many instances. 

My policy for my blog and social media posts is to always honestly convey what I think of a restaurant. Even though I have a very modest following on social media, I get invited to some restaurants for a free meal, but I only give them a rating once I return and pay for a meal. I want my brand to be more of a reference point for all of you instead of a commercial for whatever restaurant invites us in for dinner. That's why 946 of my 1088 posts on this blog do have a rating attached to them. 

I bring this up because, yes, we got invited to Truly Pizza in Dana Point for their media event before they opened. What follows will feel like I'm gushing about this restaurant, and I am. Since our initial visit, I have been pleading with anyone I encounter that they must try this place, and I've gotten three Truly Pizza gift cards for people. So, yes, I will shower affection on Truly Pizza, but it's not because we got a free meal. It's because it's excellent. 

Truly Pizza opened in June and was an instant hit. They had wait times of over 2 hours for walk-ins on weekends and peak meal times. Their reservations were booked solid, and they had to suspend online reservations briefly. They are back now, and as I'm writing this four months after their opening date, online reservations have become more accessible, which is great for pizza lovers in Dana Point and the surrounding area. 

It's not really surprising that people have flocked to this restaurant. The team behind this spot has an excellent pedigree. John Arena collaborated with longtime friend and hospitality industry veteran Donna Baldwin and her developer partner Steve Muller to co-found Truly Pizza. John is a third-generation pizza maker who brought New York-style pizza to the people of Las Vegas with great acclaim. Rounding out the team and helming the kitchen at Truly Pizza is Chris Decker, a renowned pizza champion and a new resident of Dana Point. 

They have created a menu that will not overwhelm you with too many choices, but most people will find something to satisfy their cravings. There are four starters and a quintet of salads to start your meal. Two sandwiches are available for the two people out there who are not fans of pizza. Speaking of pizza, there are two types to choose from at Truly. They have their round 12-inch American artesian, which they describe as crispy and airy. There's also a square pizza reminiscent of Detroit-style pizza but with a much lighter touch. Prices for pizzas range between $17 to $30 and can easily feed three people with no leftovers to be taken home. Let's look at the food that got me hot and bothered since I had it a few months ago. 

I know I promised food, but I wanted to give you a glimpse into the atmosphere that Truly Pizza has created. We were seated upstairs with a beautiful view of the surrounding Lantern District of Dana Point. The faux lemon lattice above us provided a garden feel to the setting. Downstairs, the dominant feature is the glass-enclosed kitchen, which gives an excellent view of the hardworking kitchen staff creating pizzas and other menu items. Now, I promise, here's a look at the food.  

We started things off at Truly with two salads and a starter. Katie selected the Salumi Chopped Salad ($22) to begin with. This salad uses little gem lettuce and Calabrian chili vinaigrette as a dressing. The dressing had a tinge of spice to it, which played well with the rest of the ingredients of this salad. The high-quality soppressata and sliced salami were plentiful and joined in the bowl with red onion, fresh mozzarella cubes, shaved fennel, beans, and olives. Katie called this a meal in itself and would not hesitate to get this salad again. I had the popular Dana Point Wedge ($18). This version of a wedge starts with iceberg lettuce portioned into six stacks of easy-to-manage lettuce and then is complemented with candied pecans, dates, shaved egg, chives, red onion, smoked bacon, cracked black pepper, Point Reyes blue cheese, and finished off with their unbelievably good herby ranch. Yes, the produce was fresh, and the inclusion of the pecans and dates made this their own, but their incredible ranch dressing really set this apart. It stole the show here and ruined me for the bottled stuff I use because I'm too lazy to make my own. This wedge is a must-get. 

We added the Garlic Pull Apart Bread ($12) as a last-minute addition to our order. It's baked in a cast iron skillet and is topped with garlic, butter, and a sprinkling of Romano cheese. I could have used more garlic on this, but I always favor plenty of extra garlic. The rolls were nicely done, with a crunchy outer shell and pillowy soft bread underneath. These were made even better when we asked for some ranch to dip them in. 

Pizza Time! I've never really been into supreme pizzas, preferring to go for pizzas with the most meats and leave the vegetables for someone else. Our server and Katie talked me into getting this beautifully presented Suprema Pizza ($30). This square pizza came with roasted mushrooms and peppers, cup and char pepperoni, sausage, garlic confit, and a spicy giardiniera resting on a whole milk mozzarella and a red sauce underneath it all. I'm not a crust guy at all. I almost always leave the crust alone, but the crust here at Truly Pizza is light and airy, and I found myself eating all of it. The toppings are of the highest quality and yield no grease whatsoever. I love the cup pepperoni, as it has a great crunch to it. I thought the giardiniera would overpower here, but it went well with the other toppings. Katie and I could have finished this pizza, but I wanted a few pieces for the next day to see how it would hold up. The next day, it was just as good, even heated up in the microwave. I have my eye on their Crispy Pepperoni or their La Foresta pizza, featuring sausage, mushroom, and ricotta, for my follow-up visits. 

A sweet treat to end your meal at Truly is a great idea, as I watched table after table trying their house-made Soft Serve Ice Cream ($8). They rotate their flavors, but they had the classic chocolate and vanilla when we were here. You can choose one topping, picking between olive oil and sea salt, sprinkles, grape nuts, chocolate sauce, Oreo crumbles, or pistachios. I had the vanilla chocolate swirl with olive oil and sea salt. The contrast between the sweet and salty was a nice balance. Katie got straight chocolate with grape nuts because it reminded her of her childhood. I liked the added texture that the grape nuts brought.  

Hopefully, this blog post will entice you to try Truly Pizza. People are really partial to the kinds of pizza they like, whether it's New York, Detroit, Chicago, or any other type of pizza that is popular at any given moment. I would characterize this pizza as Californian, with its fresh and high-quality toppings, light crust, and unique topping combinations. I definitely got the sense that they pay attention to every detail here and want to showcase their pizzas and other items' greatness. It shows in the pride that they emit when complimented about their restaurant. I will be back soon to do a proper review when we pay for our meal, but honestly, I can't imagine not being impressed with Truly Pizza on my next visit. 

For more information about Truly Pizza, head to their website by clicking here:

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Dinner With Eddie Spaghetti

Da Bianca Trattoria

7448 East Chapman Ave. 

Orange, CA 92869

I've had some powerful male role models in my life. As we are all getting older, I've made it my goal to get together with the people who have shaped me into who I am today. It's hard because most days after work, I just want to be home reading one of the latest best sellers or binge-watching the TV show everyone else at work has been discussing. This particular Friday, Katie and I decided we'd take my lifelong friend Ed out for a long-overdue dinner. 

Ed and his family moved across the street from us when I was 6 years old. He had one son and four daughters; our families became fast friends. Much like my own dad, Ed is very much a family man. He'd take us in his VW van to run errands. We'd go furniture shopping, Mervyn's, and sometimes we'd get him to take us miniature golfing if we begged enough. These were some fantastic times, and even when they moved away six years later, we still stayed in touch, and our families remained close even as the decades passed. I felt that I'd repay him for all the times he drove us around as kids, so we picked him up for dinner and took him to a spot close to where he's living now, Da Bianca Trattoria. 

This place came across my radar a few years ago when legendary OC chef Pascal Olhats named this his favorite Italian restaurant in OC in the Orange Coast magazine. Respecting his opinion, I quickly jotted it down on my restaurant wishlist. Da Bianca has been around since 1981, with their first nine years operating from Irvine. They moved to their current location near Newport Boulevard and Chapman Avenue in 1990. It's a little hard to find, and that might account for them only having 350 reviews on Yelp but possessing an over four-star rating. 

I made reservations on a Friday evening at 7:30, and even though we arrived a half hour early, they still sat us near the back of the restaurant. They must have known that Ed could get quite rambunctious. The dining area is comfortable, but the tables are too close to each other. Starters and salads lead off the menu, and plenty of pasta combinations with meat, chicken, vegetables, and seafood. There are ten entrees, but their customers rave about their nightly specials, which have become quite popular. Most pasta options are around $23, while the seafood options are about $8 more on average. With as much catching up as we had to do, it took a lot of work to concentrate on picking things from the menu, but we eventually made our selections. Let's see how everything turned out for us.  

Everyone who sits down at Da Bianca has some complimentary Garlic Bread to start. This was like a better version of when my mom would apply some Lawry's Garlic Spread over some French bread and place it under the broiler. I believe this was also placed under the broiler, but they use butter and fresh garlic instead of the stuff you can get at your local supermarket. Very good; I only wish they had made another pass through the dining room so I could have had more. 

We've been hooked since we had Arancini ($16.95) at another Italian restaurant. For those who need clarification on arancini, it's a rice ball stuffed, coated in bread crumbs, and deep-fried. Here at Da Bianca, they fill theirs with some meat, cheese, and peas. These were nicely fried with a crunch, while the inside rice was soft and pillowy. The meat was seasoned well inside, but more would have been welcomed. A good representation of Arancini.  

Salads are not included with meals here, but we all got one. Ed and Katie opted for the Insalata Misto ($5.50), which had mixed greens with mushrooms, carrots, tomato, and a house-made Italian dressing. This salad was simple yet satisfying. They mentioned how fresh the produce was and that they liked the dressing. I've got a Caesar Salad ($5.50) fetish, and this one was one of the best I've had in a long while. Again, this was a pretty basic version of my favorite salad, but this was elevated because each piece of romaine included a very liberal amount of their delicious Caesar dressing. It was dressed just as I liked, and I was almost tempted to order another.  

Katie was torn between a few things on the menu but eventually went with the Spaghetti Bolognese ($23.95). This classic Italian dish included pork, beef, and a mushroom sauce. Katie felt this was one of the best versions of this dish she's ever had. The noodles were cooked perfectly, and the meat-to-sauce ratio was on point. She claims she'd get this one hundred times out of a hundred when dining at Da Bianca. 

Ed got sidetracked when ordering, as he wanted to catch up before we ate. He finally went with the Cannelloni alla Romana ($24.95). Good choice. These Italian crepes were filled with chicken, mushroom, and spinach and then topped with cheese, marinara, and bechamel sauces. Ed was gracious enough to let me have some of this, and it was perfect. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of chicken, it did not detract from this. The combination of the bechamel and marinara was fantastic and tied everything together wonderfully. This has inspired me to order cannelloni more frequently. I can only hope it will be just as good as this one. 

I deviated from my usual order in an Italian restaurant, which is lasagna, and picked the Rigatoni al Gorgonzola ($23.95) at Da Bianca. The tube pasta was joined with thinly sliced zucchini, sausage, and a creamy gorgonzola sauce. I loved this unusual mixture of ingredients. The gorgonzola sauce tied everything together well, and the ground sausage was plentiful and flavorful. It's not something I'd typically order, but passing this up on future visits would be hard. 

I've never really been a big fan of Italian desserts. Cannoli's and tiramisu are okay, but I never really crave them. I let Katie pick the dessert this evening, and she went with the Tartufo ($9). The menu describes this as a rich gelato with a cream center and rolled-in caramelized hazelnuts. I never did get to the cream center, as my spoon only hit the gelato, which was okay. It also seemed they had forgotten about the crushed hazelnuts because all I could taste was the overabundance of cocoa powder coating this orb of gelato. 

Even with the less-than-stellar dessert, I left Da Bianca feeling good about our visit. With entrees and everything else we had here as good as it was, it's easy to see why they have been in business for so long. It also makes me wish they were in a more high-traffic area to get the recognition they deserve. It could be for the best that they are hidden a bit, so it's easier for the people in the know to get a table at this little eatery. We experienced warm and friendly service during our visit to this family-run restaurant. Da Bianca was a great place to catch up with my dear friend Ed and show him some appreciation for helping me become the man I am today. 

Out of five hawks (because nearby Santiago Canyon College has the hawk as their mascot), five being best to zero being worst, Da Bianca Trattoria gets 3.5 hawks. 

For more information about Da Bianca Trattoria, head to their website by clicking here: