Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sweet Divas Cottage Bistro (Brea) - LA-OC Foodie's Report

Being a fan of high teas in general (which usually consitute a meal with their carb-loaded scones, finger sandwiches and desserts,) I was intrigued by Sweet Divas' offerings, despite their very amateurish Website. But, from previous outings, professional Web pages do not necessarily translate into a quality dining experiences, so what the heck. And, wanting to warm up from the December chill and with my usual craving for sweets, off to cottage bistro I went.

Sweet Divas started out as a cake & pastries catering business, but soon moved into their current cottage location (situated on Imperial Highway, between the cookiecutter Brea Mall and the redeveloping downtown Brea.) While they do also serve sunday brunches and dinners, their most famous offerings are their various afternoon teas.

I arrived upon a nearly full dining area, with women of all ages in celebration or conversation. The interior of the cottage is comforting, warm/neutral tones and Christmas trimmings and lights, along with a few antiques and teahouse-appropriate artifacts (paintings, fine china, etc.)

The table setting looked adequate . . .
and functional ~ the only thing I found particularly pretty were the colored sugar-crystals for my tea.

With only 2 servers hustling about the dining floor (of about 12 tables, though some were configurated for large party,) it was a little while before my order was taken. I didn't mind, gave me a chance to take in the vibe of the place and decide upon my selection - which turned out to be "Mrs. Claus' Tea", a variant from their "Lady James' Tea" from their regular menu - I presume. So that's what Santa's wife does while he's away sneaking down chimneys . . .

While they have a variety of high tea arrangements available (including ones with salads, special baked desserts & even a warm chocolate fondue), once the selection is made everything else is fairly structured (i.e. you only choose the tea you want, everything else is prix-fixe.) Their tea selection is fairly large (about 40) ranging from the traditional English Breakfast to fun flavored concoctions like Chocolate Covered Strawberries, along with some herbal and rooibos choices for the caffeine-sensitive. I decided to go for the "White Peach," since it's rare for me to find white teas served anywhere.

And that turns out to be a mistake, the white tea was improperly steeped and over flavored. Unlike other teas, which takes 3-5 minutes, white tea really should take no longer than one minute to steep ~ lest its delicate nutty flavor gets ruined by bitterness, which is the case here (I opened my teapot to find the buds still in there.) It was also overpowered by the artifical-tasting peach flavor.
In spite of the bad tea (which I tried to compensate, to no avail, by oversugaring,) I did enjoy the scones served: vanilla-sugar (pictured) and cinnamon-spice. Warm, fluffy, slightly sweet and absolutely delicious with the marionberry jam & double cream. Maybe a little too soft for spreading since crumbs kept falling left and right, but overall heavenly.

Soon after my scones, and basically chugging the first cup of tea, I was served the tier of tea sandwiches & tea sweets on frosted glass plates.
I started off with the savories, which included a chicken salad sandwich on wheat bread, egg salad sandwich on potato bread & a vegetarian quiche. The two sandwiches are tasty, well-seasoned and with just enough mayo - albeit a bit smaller compared to other finger sandwiches I've had in the past. The quiche was ok overall, a bit too salty for my preferences - but a good cheddary flavor going on, which paired well with the veggies that I can best ID as spinach or broccoli but can't be sure of.
Next, the sweets plate, bite-sized version of caramel-apple bar, chocolate-pecan pie and red velvet cupcake. All were as yummy as I expected, not too sweet, and portioned just right (one-two bites) so my palate didn't get bored & my conscious guilty. The cupcake was topped with the cutest candy wreath that I didn't capture in the above pic, so here . . .
Finishing off the tea was a freshly baked, piping hot Apple Cobbler. Again, wonderful - thinly-sliced, spiced tart apples topped with a crunchy yet substantial crust which tasted a lot like the scones--wouldn't be surprised if it's the same dough. The crust-to-filling ratio was slightly off (wished for more of the latter) but again, a yummy treat.
And so concludes my experience at Sweet Divas, as good as all the food is, I still can't get over how absolutely awful the tea tasted, though that could've been food-karma nipping me in the butt for going for something adventurous. Maybe next time I'll opt for something more conservative -- though not anywhere in the near future, as there are a few more tea rooms I've set my eyes on.

The Bill:
Mrs. Claus' Tea & pre-tax/tip total: 18.95

The Rating:
Ambience - 3/5 (comfortable and functional, but nothing particularly special)
Value - 2/5 (portions are comparatively small to the other similarly-priced high teas I've had)
Service - 7.5/10 (adequate - a bit slow but the servers were swamped with a full floor)
Food - 14/20 (food was overall good & the score would be substantially higher if not for the nasty tea)
Bonus/demerits - no points deducted, but a demerit worth noting for a bad (and possibly confusing) Web site!
Total Rating - 26.5/40 (have mixed feelings about returning, again, due to generally good tasting, but small-portioned, foods and, did I mention this before?, really bad tea.)

Other Notes:
~ Reservations highly recommended, this place is often fully booked - you can do this via their Website, through phone, or on Opentable.
~ Parking on adjacent streets are fairly easy to find.
~ They also sell cookies / sweets to go, and have special event menus available for baby showers, bridal parties, etc.

Sweet Divas Cottage Bistro & Patisserie
518 E. Imperial Hwy.
Brea, CA 92821

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chubbypanda's Ten Best Ethnic Meals of 2006 (Orange County)

Earlier this week, I received an email from Lindsay William-Ross, Food Editor for LAist, inviting me to participate in their end-of-the-year Ten Best series. After no small amount of agonizing, I've put together a list of Orange County places where I had the ten best "ethnic" meals this year.

(Read this article on LAist and check out their other great offerings!)

1. Japanese - Frenzy Sushi (my review)

The freshness and quality of the fish served at Frenzy Sushi is amazing. The Hamachi no Hara (yellowtail belly), Saba (marinated mackerel), and Maguro (Bluefin tuna) are must-haves here. If you like rolls, order the Firecracker or Caterpillar.

Frenzy Sushi
369 E 17th St, #17
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

2. Chinese (Shanghai) - New Shanghai (my review)

Delightfully cheap and delicious, the fiery flavors of the Shanghai, Sichuan, and Hunan cuisine dishes served at New Shanghai are perfect for a cold winter's night. I highly recommend the Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup), Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken), and Zhao Liu Yu Pian (Fish Filets in Wine Sauce).

New Shanghai
5408 Walnut Ave # B
Irvine, CA 92604
(Open until midnight every night.)

3. Vietnamese - Pagolac (my review)

I first tried Bo Bay Mon (Seven Courses of Beef) at Pagolac and it was a dining revelation. Even better were the Bo Nuong Vi (Grilled Beef) and Tom Nuong Vi (Grilled Shrimp). Although you may be a little leery of sampling Mam Nem (fermented shrimp sauce), take the plunge and you'll experience a true flavor sensation.

14580 Brookhurst St.
Westminster, CA 92683

4. Peruvian - Peruvian Kitchen (my review)

Peruvian food is one of the world's ultimate fusion cuisines, and Peruvian Kitchen delivers the complex blend of flavors and influences for a very reasonable price. Try the Tiradito al Aji (a carpaccio of fish marinated in a spicy sauce), the Anticuchos de Corazon (grilled pieces of seasoned beef heart), and the Yucca a la Huancaina (cassava cheese puffs covered in a spicy cream sauce.

Peruvian Kitchen
8610 Warner Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708-3132

5. Fusion - Elephant Bar (my review)

A chain restaurant with both style and substance, the Elephant Bar in Irvine offers a number of Asian-fusion dishes as well as Western classics. Try the Coconut Shrimp or the Miso Grilled Salmon. Additional locations are available throughout Southern California.

Elephant Bar
Irvine, CA
14346 Culver Dr.

6. Mexican - Lucia's Tacos and Mulitas (my review)

Do not be dissuaded by this hole-in-the-wall's less than classy atmosphere. Lucia's Tacos and Mulitas is packed to the gills with authentic Mexican flavors. You haven't lived until you've tried their Tacos de Cabeza (beef cheek), Tacos de Lengua (beef tongue), or Tacos al Pastor (rotisserie grilled pork). For an early morning pick-me-up, grab a steaming bowl of their spicy Menudo (beef tripe soup) and get some Pan Dulse (sweet buns) to go.

Lucia's Tacos and Mulitas
(corner of Beach and Warner)
16952 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(If you have difficulty being understood, ask for Lalo.)

7.Korean - Korea House BBQ (review forthcoming)

Nothing warms both body and soul like the rich flavors of the Korean food at Korea House BBQ. With fresh, high quality meat, an excellent selection of complimentary Panchan (cold side dishes), a number of fiery stews, and other classic offerings, Korea House BBQ is the place to go when you want to add some spice to your life. Order up some Ross Gui (prime cut beef) or Bulgogi (marinated beef) to grill and kick back with a beer. Definitely best enjoyed with a group.

Korea House BBQ
5305 University Dr.
Irvine, CA 92612

8. Chinese (Dim Sum) - Seafood World (review forthcoming)

Seafood World is a Little Saigon institution, and one of the best places in Orange County to get delectable dim sum. Bring all of your friends so you can sample lots and lots of the bite-sized delights.

Seafood World
15351 Brookhurst St # 101-106
Westminster, CA 92683

9. Vegan (Thai) - Wheel of Life (review forthcoming)

If you've never had vegan Thai cuisine before, stop by Wheel of Life and get your healthy groove on. With a culinary history spanning thousands of years of Buddhist dietary observances, vegan Thai food is good for both the body and soul.

Wheel Of Life
14370 Culver Dr # 2
Irvine, CA 92604

10. Chinese (Islamic) - Lotus Chinese Eatery (my review)

One of two locations in all of Orange County serving Islamic Chinese fare, Lotus brings the flavors of Northern China to Southern California. All of their delicious food is prepared according Halal guidelines. Order the Zhi Ma Da Bing Jia Cong (sesame pan bread with green onions) or any of their Chao Dao Xiao Mian (stir-fried knife-cut noodles). I'm also very fond of their Hong Shao Dou Fu (tofu in brown sauce).

Lotus Chinese Eatery
16883 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Maki-Zushi's Ceases Their 20% Dinner Discount

Maki-Zushi in Tustin, a joint that I've been frequenting over the last few months, has finally ceased offering their 20% off dinner offer. During the time of the discount, I saw their clientele grow, most of whom, like yours truly, couldn't believe their good fortune in finding an inexpensive sushi place. Now, at my last visit, at prime dinner hours on a Friday night, they were practically deserted. Their sushi is still good at the regular price, but I have to admit, it was better when I knew I was paying less.

But it looks like I know where the extra money is going: They now use white linens on their tables.

To read my previous post on it, CLICK HERE.

1641 Edinger Ave #101
Tustin, CA 92780

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cold Soba in Winter

It's exactly three days, thirteen hours and some minutes before my long awaited winter holiday. To say that I have a severe case of vacationitis is like saying that Southern California is warm in the summer. Yes, that bad. At this point, our one hour lunch breaks are the only things keeping me sane between the time I get here and the time I leave.

So, it wasn't that surprising when I started towards Chubbypanda's office yesterday at 2:00pm after a failed meet up with a friend for lunch. I kicked his chair a few times to get his attention and promptly began my single minded quest to get out of the office and find food. I was fixated on having something warm and soupy to combat the air conditioned chill of the room I work in and Chubbypanda gamely agreed to the suggestion of ramen. After several false starts, we finally left for Ebisu at 2:45 (ish)pm.

Ebisu Restaurant Front

The decor is nothing special; there's the usual window of plasti-food near the entrance and a selection of booths and tables scattered through the spacious, angled room. We had arrived well past the usual lunch rush hour, leaving us a nearly empty and blessedly quiet restaurant. We were promptly seated and after a few minutes of perusing the menu, Chubbypanda decided on the hakata ramen ($6.95) with extra cha siu ($3.50), while I thought I'd test out the ten toji combo ($8.50). The combo offered the choice of kitsune udon, hot soba or cold soba.

Plasti-food, deceivingly tasty looking.

I don't like udon, even if it is the delicious and, according to a friend, hard to find kitsune type. It's the texture, width and plain flavourlessness of the noodle that puts me off and brings back memories of endless afternoons eating rice noodles when my mom was too busy to make lunch. Yes, I know, udon not made of rice flour but I still can't shake that visceral memory to this day.

Ten Toji Combo: Cold Soba, Ten-don, seasoned green beans, seaweed, misc

Soba, on the other hand, I love but prefer cold. So, despite my earlier desires, I ended up with the cold soba. The soba was firm and well cooked without any of the soapiness that can occur on occasion. The texture contrasted well with the crunchiness of panko flakes I was persuaded to add, while the bean sprouts were a nice rest from the oiliness which eventually invaded the whole bowl despite my efforts to be sparing with the flakes.

The flavour of the ten-don, though sweet, was mild and a good match for the soba. The cooked green onions had less bite then their raw counterpart and, like the turnipy sprouts, served to cut the oiliness of the tempura battered shrimp. I worked my way through a good portion of it before I stopped, mostly full and largely put off by the soggy tempura. Soggy tempura is no one's friend. I determined that I much preferred oyako don.

Seasoned green beans and seaweed.

I moved on to the green beans, which were crisp and light, and ended up wishing I had more when I bit into the seaweed. It was that kind of seaweed, soggy and without crunch (nemesis!). Chubbypanda happily removed it from my plate and was kind enough to share some of his hakata ramen with me. The cha siu was tender and the noodles were still firm despite having sat in a bowl of hot broth for several minutes. I couldn't tell you how the broth tasted since Chubbypanda decided to drop a large spoonful of garlic, red pepper and more red pepper in it. It was... spicy. Very spicy.

Spice mix. Crazy scary.

All in all, it was a good meal and decently priced. As a last note, beware the pickled cabbage 'appetizer' and shredded daikon. Both are ... well, I suppose you'll find out if you end up eating it.

Pictures courtesy of Chubbypanda

Ebisu Ramen Restaurant
18924-A Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Hello World!

Welcome to Orange County Food Blogs, a food blogger community covering all of the tasty treats that Orange County has to offer.

Orange County is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. With a population of over 3 million, we're the second largest county in California, after Los Angeles County, and the fifth largest in the country. Our cultures and eating habits are highly diverse, with ethnic enclaves such as Little Saigon (more than 3,000 Vietnamese businesses), the Korean Business District in Garden Grove (1,000 Korean businesses), the city of Irvine (30% Chinese & Taiwanese), Costa Mesa's Little Mexico (30% Latino), and the city of Santa Ana (76% Latino). We boast a number of exceedingly fine dining establishments, as well countless mom & pop eateries offering authentic food from countries around the world. Yet we're often overshadowed by the culinary giant that is Los Angeles, with our restaurants overlooked in some quarters and mocked in others.

A few months ago, I was cruising through two of my favorite food blogger communities, LA.Foodblogging, which covers the food of the city of Los Angeles, and Bay Area Bites, which does the same in the San Francisco Bay Area, when I had an epiphany. Los Angeles and San Francisco both have thriving communities of food bloggers connected through community sites like LA.Foodblogging. However, Orange County, with its equally plentiful dining opportunities and diverse cuisines, has fewer food bloggers and lacks a centralized community in which they can share their discoveries, interact with each other, and offer support to new food bloggers. So, why not build one?

From this simple thought, Orange County Food Blogs was born. The idea is to create Orange County Food Blogs as a team-driven community blog of Orange County food and food-related subjects open to all OC food bloggers, food lovers, and bloggers who apply. My goal is to have a number of blogger and writers from across OC posting about all the great edibles we have here. I've contacted a number of my food blogging friends in Orange County and found them just as eager as I am to be a part of this project.

Our starting lineup includes such notables as:

We've also got a few newcomers to the food blogging scene, although they're all experienced writers in other fields.

I'm your humble host and site admin:

Now that you've found us, we hope you'll come back again and again as we present to you some of the best that Orange County and Southern California has to offer.

- Chubbypanda

The Epicurious Wanderer

OC Food Blogs is open to all OC food bloggers, food lovers, and bloggers. If you're interested in joining us as a food article contributor, please read through the information below. Instructions for applying are at the bottom of the page.


  • An active blog with at least three months of archived articles. This is to help prevent spammers and advertisers from using us to spread their message. If you don't meet this requirement, please feel free to email me anyway with a short sample article about your favorite restaurant.

  • A commitment to post at least one, unique, OC food related post once a month. This content can not duplicated anywhere else, although you're encouraged to link to it from your own blog.

  • A brief post on your own blog linking to each OC Food Blogs post you make.

  • A link to OC Food Blogs in your blogroll.

Our Promise:

  • No censorship of any kind. You say what you want to say and handle responses from readers as you see fit. I will never edit or attempt to influence your posts.

  • Complete content control over your posts.

  • The site will never generate a profit. I will not place ads or revenue generating objects of any kind on the site. I will pay for any costs out of my own pocket without the expectation of reimbursement.

Why Join:

  • The prospect of interacting with other OC food bloggers and food blog readers in a community environment.

  • The ability to work on collaborative posts with other OC Food Bloggers.

  • Giving OC food blog readers a centralized location to find out about OC food blogs they may not familiar with.

  • Making the organization of OC food blogger meets and events much easier.

  • The ability to organize OC food blogger charity events, or to participate in existing events, such as Chez Pim's Menu for Hope.

If you are interested, please create a account (if you don't already have one) and send me the email at cp[at] Include the email address connected with your Blogger account, the URL of your blog, and a short paragraph explaining why you'd like to join OC Food Blogs.