Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Taco Time - Orange

Yesterday I went to lunch at a local Mexican food establishment named The Taco Time. This isn't the same Taco Time made famous in the Saturday Night Live short. The Taco Time is a small Mexican mom and pop run restaurant located on the border of Anaheim and Orange in a small strip mall that includes both a pizza and a chicken teriyaki bowl joint. I'd passed by The Taco Time on numerous occasions and was curious to find out if it was the famous Northwest fast food establishment or something else.

Fortunate for me it was something else, since I didn't really feel like having Taco Bell for lunch. As their menu says they are, "The Place where you find the Authentic Mexican food"; capitalization aside I so far have to agree. Since this was my first visit I went with the old standby and just ordered a burrito. WAIT WAIT WAIT, burritos aren't Authentic Mexican food!!!! Eh who cares, it's authentic enough for gringos like me, and honestly what's better then a large tortilla filled with various items and covered with sauce and cheese? So I ordered the "Special Burrito" ($7.99); a large tortilla filled with chicken, refried beans, and rice that was topped with red sauce and cheese and served with a dollop of sour cream and a scoop of guacamole. The chicken was very tender as well as lightly seasoned from cooking in possibly some light tomato based sauce. That sauce it was cooked in very well could have been the same sauce served on my burrito that has a nice light spicy flavor. The guacamole was fresh and was every bit as good as guacamole can be. The burrito was good and more then enough for lunch. My one complaint is about the chips served before my burrito arrived, they tasted like normal store brand chips, nothing was inherently wrong with them I just enjoy fresh made chips when I go to small hole in the wall Mexican restaurants. The salsa served with the chips was ok, could have used some more flavor but I've had much worse and wouldn't turn it down if they gave me a bunch for free to take home.

Other things worth mentioning; They have a total of about 6 tables that fit 4 people at each, so it's not a very large place. I got there before 12 PM so I don't know how big of a lunch rush they get but considering the area (residential) they probably get some good dinner business. The restaurant was very clean and bright inside. I look forward to trying some more of their items.

The Taco Time
3209 N. Glassell St.
Orange, CA 92865

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Charlie Palmer - South Coast Plaza (Costa Mesa)

I'd been waiting a very long time for this to come to fruition. For the first two weeks, they had conducted a soft opening for friends and media. We obtained a seating on their second day live. Dressed in my new LBD and pearls, we debated whether to enter through SCP or make a grand entrance from the exterior. We chose the more formal route, and were pleased by what we saw.

The signature design element echoed in other Palmer properties, a prominent wall of wine, grandly welcomed us. While our hostess checked on the table, we peered down a flight of stairs and spotted what appeared to be both wine cellar and private dining. Too timid to inquire, we patiently stood by and admired the sleek bar just beyond us. Later on I discover they offer a separate (but just as tempting) appetizer menu, securing my decision on a future visit. I was impressed at how much seating was offered back there. Before we could contemplate further, it was time to enter the dining room.

As far as modern cuisine goes, the next detail took the cake. He was handed the eWinebook. Imagine your pda expanded to a laptop monitor. I recall tablet pc prototypes a decade ago being tested, but never experienced one with such a service-oriented purpose. You could bookmark favorites for questioning the sommelier. Sorting by region or varietal? No problem! We probably spent a good 15 minutes ogling over selections. I ultimately decided on their cocktail list, a vino fresco. Mild and fruity, it would sustain me until our first course. He was recommended a glass of the Franz Kunstler German Riesling, dry and softly sweet.

CP is divided up into three categories: first, main, and vegetable/starch. Having been to his Grand Central station brasserie Metrazur, we were comfortable with most of the selections. It was a matter of craving...and room for dessert. After much debate, we place our orders and survey the room. A mild mannered couple in one corner, stylish quartet of men across the way, Asian family with well behaved child past the partition, and a smattering of Newportesque couples along the window view. Oh wait, a few tables of six - - generally, surrounded by a crowd that's 15+ years older than us. Normal by our standards.

A recurring theme in tonight's dining experience was BIG. Like Mr. Big. Larger than life. Abundant in portion and flavor. Often times fine dining is associated with having not only a hefty price tag, but minuscule servings "like elf food" as the diner observes. This was definitely not the case. What sat before me was a hunk of crisp pork belly. Melon, pickled onion, and aged sherry vinegar gave a flavor counter, but my eyes glazed over the portion. Really, I was starting to get satiated towards the end of course one. Shrimp kabobs "you had me at tamarind" a la plancha were elegantly presented and plated in front of J. Shellfish silently slid off their skewers with the aid of our server and an oversized pair of silver tongs. Caponata (eggplant) salad played a modest supporting role.

Skipping to the vegetables and starches, (because what grand meal doesn't have them) we begin with trumpet royale mushrooms. Shaped the way it is named and sliced into fifths, I buckled at the fourth. Quite the meaty side, we continue with some crispy fries accompanied by a little chipotle aioli. A slightly creamy consistency - in a good way - on the inside, I related them to a firmer version of a steak cut fry. And then they placed the gargantuan green asparagus. After a brief, tense moment (WTF! We did not order that), I politely verbalize my sentiments. Whether they played it off or actually were sincere, the steamed vege was a gift to us for dining with them. Awww....

His favorite of the courses, our seafood mains delivered big. Maine sea scallops were impeccably prepared. I sat awestruck at my crispy skin Pacific sea bass. Atop melted Maui onion and mushroom soy, I was speechless. You don't see these portions served unless your name has a Factory or Claim in the title. I made a concerted effort to finish. I took breathers between courses and marveled at the warm modern decor, reminiscent of the Viceroy Santa Monica. The staff was sharply dressed in beige chef coat jackets. Various team members would inquire about our satisfaction throughout the meal. The attention was mildly intoxicating.

Desserts were a blur of richness - vanilla braised pineapple with brown sugar cake, a gianduja of indulgent chocolate, and a praline tart danced between us. I cannot recall the unusual ice cream flavor, but no bother. The most modest of the portions, I was perfectly fine, since everything prior was so indulgent I could barely eat more. What made this so reminiscent of New York exploits was our parting gift. We received little 'presents' everywhere we ate on our trip. Here, it was chocolate (powder) covered cashews. I savored every scrumptious bite like a serving of caviar.

Truly a welcome addition to the county.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Riviera Magazine's Gourmet Issue

So earlier this year, around February, I was pinged by Kedric Francis, editor-in-chief of Riviera Magazine about what was my favorite spiciest dish in OC.

Easy! Thai Nakorn's Stir Fried Morning Glory.

I wrote back a quick e-mail and forgot all about it.

This weekend, while I was lolly-gagging at the magazine rack at the Barnes and Noble at Bella Terra, the first rag I encountered was, yes, you guessed it, Riviera. And then I remembered! And was their "Gourmet Issue".

Along with my little ode to Thai Nakorn's dish on Page 124, the issue also includes a whole article that praises Tustin as an unlikely destination for ethnic eats and cites our own Chubbypanda,, OC Weekly and myself as sources to find the good stuff in Irvine's quirky neighbor. Among the eateries mentioned: Japonaise Bakery and Cafe, Tropika, and of course, Honda Ya!

It's good to read that Tustin's getting its dues as a haven for OC foodies -- a fact I've been harping on for years.

Quickly, I plunked down $6.41 (that's $5.95 plus tax) and bought the thing. This was the May issue after all, and it's already June. Any day now and the whole month's inventory's going to the mulcher.

But you don't have to buy it to read it. Click HERE. Since it's already updated to the current month's issue, you will have to search for "May 2008" to find the articles.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wine Pairing dinner at Onotria (Costa Mesa) and the wines of Alejandro Fernandez

Alejandro Fernandez is the man who has done for Spain what Robert Mondavi did for Napa. He makes the most delicious wines from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain from the Tempranillo grape. That wine is a cross between a Pinot Noir and a Syrah. Luscious nose and pleasing on the tounge. He is most famous for his Tinto Pesquera wine which is all Tempranillo. We were so lucky to have him host this dinner, everything on top of it was just gravy. His wines were phenomenal... take for instance the Dehesa la Granja 2002 at one end of the spectrum exemplyifing the pinot aspects of the Tempranillo grape, and then the 2001 El Viniculo Reserva ... same grape.. but it totally tasted like a cabernet/syrah. There were 7 wines in all that night and it was a marvellous dinner. This was the first time I had ever eaten at Onotria in Costa Mesa (near the Lab).

Our first course was baked mussels with garlic, parsley and Spanish Pimento stuffed into the little mussel shells. OMG... was heavenly, and I could have eaten five pounds of that. There seemed to be a bread stuffing on top and the mussels were perfectly cooked and mixed with the red pimento. Gorgeous. On the same plate was a cevice (fresh bay shrimp) served with fennel. Marvellous. It paired perfectly with the Verdejo we had (Martinsancho Verdejo 2007). Verdejo is a lot like Sauvignon Blanc.. but a bit more fruity. Went great with the shrimp!

Next course was the ragout of porcini mushrooms and Chorizo over soft polenta; which was paired with the 2002 Dehesa la Granga. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of polenta, but this ROCKED. It was cooked perfectly, and the sauce to go with it went so well with both the polenta and the wine. I was soo happy.

Third course: Saffron rice with Zucchini blossoms, and veal sausage and butter beans. I could immediately smell the sausage and saffron... heavenly. This was paired with the El Vincul tinto Crianza 2004. Another Tempranillo but done in a different style. Again, it married well with the saffron rice and sausage.

Fourth Course, and this was killer: Braised Lamb loin with red wine and rosemary reduction over roasted eggplant vineyard pie. Let me explain what I had on my dish, and I Wish I had taken more pictures. First of all, the lamb was so tender, it was falling off the bone and we were cutting it with a fork. So lovely. The reduction sauce was scrumptious... a wine reduction, some hint of sweetness to it, but it went so well with the lamb and the wine... which was the 2005 Condado de Haza which was very approachable and American styled, but still went very well with the meal. Then there was this little pastry tart thing on my plate with tomatoes and eggplant, and that was truly delicious.

Our last entree was a plate of cheeses: some Manchego (similar to Parmesan in texture but not as robust) and another cheese called Cabrales... OMG which one of my dining companions described as bleu cheese on steriods. Yes indeed! Also on the plate were some toasted whole almonds drizzled in honey. This was all served with the last wine, the El Vinculo 2001. Which was a luscious, opulent, hedonistic wine, and went perfectly well with our cheeses.
I was a happy camper definitely. I wish my camera had not malfunctioned... damn! But hope you enjoy the pictures I was able to take. The owner of Onotria, Massimo Navarretta, was kind enough to come out and say hello, and the rest of the evening we spent in a Q&A session with Mr. Fernandez. Truly an amazing night!

Onotria Wine Country Cuisine
2831 Bristol, Costa Mesa Ca., 92626
Phone: (714) 641-5952

for the wines of Alejandro Fernandez:

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