Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pelican Grill - Newport Coast

When a friend suggested we stop by for lunch last month, I was elated. The Resort at Pelican Hill (golf and dining only, no resort rooms until 2008) had reopened only the week before. I knew that only those who've been keeping an eye out would be in attendance.

Driving along PCH and down the coast was calming. We rolled down the windows and enjoyed the remaining warmth of autumn weather. Before two years of renovations began, the original dining room was perched with a magnificient view of the Pacific. Now, we discover that a new structure (quite a bit) further away houses their dining options. Our server explains the previous space will be rented out for weddings and special events, plus act as storage for facilities.

Nevertheless, it is a grand sight to behold. It's themed as an Italian villa. Creams and golds lighten and heighten the richness of our surroundings. As we approach the hostess, we are presented with Choose Your Own Adventure. The ridiculously plush dining room on our left, or the equally impressive but far more casual bar on the right? After going back and forth, we ultimately request and receive a patio dining table. The breathtaking view is what everyone expects when they are seated, and that's what we were getting. Below us, the occassional cart would drive over a connecting bridge leading to the first tee.

I half expected Robin Leach to begin his voiceover....

Chef Thomas Ryan's background includes studies at the CIA and a resume featuring Ritz-Carlton and Hilton brands. I can only hope his presence was reflected in our lunches. As we settle into our cushioned chaises, a glass of vino only seems fitting. "Cancel the ice tea!" Upon recommendation, we toast our Esca Pinot Grigio, sigh, and await our meals. I find myself gazing at the lattice work above and eavesdropping on the conversation next to us. A foursome of golfers is namedropping and doing their best to outdo each other. Ah, Newport.

He settled for the ten ounce fresh ground turkey burger ($17) with cheddar. I liked the alternatives of Jarlsberg or Point Reyes blue. The patty was rich and flavorful. I opted for the cedar roasted Pacific swordfish sandwich ($20) with lemon mayonnaise. To keep with our 'healthy' kick, we chose a serving of red oak, frisee, and butter lettuce with shallot vinaigrette to complete our meals (included with the entrees). Everything was succulent without being filling. Chef Ryan knew his body-conscious clientele well.

Other notable items include:
* Agnolotti pasta - curried lobster, green apple and tomatillo vinaigrette
* Tempura red king crab classic Louis - prawns, sun ripened tomato, organic lettuce and creamy brandied dressing
* Slow roasted oregano chicken from the olive wood oven
* Trio of chocolate (ask the server)
* Butter scotch peanut butter ice cream

Afterwards, we strolled the grounds and found the practice range, golf shop, and Caffe II. Caffe II provides a modest selection of refreshment in the form of custom sandwiches, fruit, hot (tea) & cold (beer) beverages, and even yogurt or hot dogs.

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams for those who do not mind pocketing a $75 lunch. Did I mention valet is complimentary?

Pelican Grill
22800 Pelican Hill Road South

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JT Schmid's - Tustin

A lunch and dinner later, this is what I've summed it up as.

(Cheesecake Factory + BJ's Brewhouse) - (cheesecakes galore + deep dish pizza) + (spacious parking + outdoor fire pit) = JT Schmid's at The District.

A two location mini-chain, I've never been inclined to stop by the one near the Pond/Angel Stadium. Only one person has ever mentioned it to me. I had no opinion whatsoever. Then I found it so convenient to the homefront it was, as George McFly would say, density.

Visit number one was last month, right before the lunchtime rush. We are ushered to the side dining room. Away from the bar, we are able to carry on a casual conversation over the din of the flat screens. We relaxed into our suede-like booths with croc textured leatheresque seats. I am pleased by the breadth of their menu. I ask our server to guide us through the most popular selections. He decides on a salad/sandwich combo, while I salivate over their mac and cheese (which is nowhere to be found online).

Our platters arrive, and we break from our chat to satiate ourselves . His simple yet satisfying meal includes a Caesar plus half a chicken sandwich. My pasta incorporates radiatore, chicken, tomato, parmesan, bechamel, and bacon. Mmmmm....bacon. It was a hearty meal indeed. As we wrap up, I notice the tables around us filling up.

My most recent visit was this afternoon. Having just driven 400 miles (ok, he drove), we weren't in the mood to stray far from home. From the rental place, I motor us over there in about five minutes. It's about 4:15 and again, few tables are occupied. However, it's rather early to be eating dinner.

This time we are tucked into a massive booth with a landscape view of the main dining area. I have a great peoplewatching vantage point, and we are beneath an engaging ESPN competition of World's Strongest Man. Vicki is our server, and she mistakes Jack's two beverage requests as ordering for both of us. I can see how that can be interpreted, but I think it's the first time it's actually acted upon. She walks away while I take the opportunity to scan the drink list. Besides the beer and wine options, I spot the strawberry lemonade he ordered plus a regular and decaf iced tea (or was that regular?). Tea isn't normally listed like that, so I'm slightly thrown off.

We tend to order differently than most. There's his choice, my choice, and our choice. We order 1.5 meals between the two of us. 'Our' choice is something we are both leaning towards, but can't quite commit an entire entree to. His choice is the honey almond chicken. My choice is the barbecue chopped salad, and our choice is the buffalo burger. We can't wait.

The Muzak overhead bellows out U2, Kelly Clarkson, and other pop standards. My Arnold Palmer and his strawberry lemonade arrive but taste rather bland. Turns out the lemonade is running thin, and Vicki not only replaces but comps our drinks. In addition, she slides across some bread plates for rolls and butter. As our entrees arrive, we jump in with gusto.

My salad features field greens, feta, and tortilla strips (the one at BJ's includes black beans, romaine, jicama, and mozzarella) and has a larger chop. This particular blend of ingredients goes well with the BBQ/ranch blend. His tempura battered and honey coated pieces are sprinkled with slivered nuts. I believe his exact words were "It's like the orange chicken at Cheesecake, only better". Our buffalo was cooked medium, as requested. But you know, in hindsight I don't recall tasting the jack cheese nor the roasted red pepper mayo. He concurred. The sweet potato fries that accompanied were nice, but I am still loyal to the ones newly discovered at The Counter in Irvine (with horseradish mayo, please).

Vicki made a point of checking in with us periodically, but when we were ready to pay the cheque, she was nowhere to be found. We learned later that a crash of glass heard earlier was a beer mishap that ended up on her uniform. It was just one of those days, I suppose.

I wouldn't hesitate to go back here again, for the menu is agreeable and the accessibility very driver-friendly. It's a nice change of pace when claim jumping, factory hopping, and deep dishing just aren't cutting it.

JT Schmid's Restaurant and Brewery
2415 Park Avenue
714.258.0333 (you can also book on

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Honeybaked Ham - Tustin

Soup kitchen? Last minute shoppers clamoring for the Wii?

Nope. It's the annual Christmas Eve line at the Tustin Honeybaked Ham store.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Honeybaked Ham
13771 Newport Ave # 13
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 731-6616