esquire — Brisbane, Australia

I am searching for a restaurant to have a family get-together while in Brisbane, but I also want it to be something different, something special. I do research and think hard about it, but am not able to make a decision. One evening, I am watching TV in my parents’ living room and this food show features a segment on Chef Ryan Squires’ esquire. I make up my mind immediately when I hear The French Laundry and El Bulli, being part of Squires’ resume.

On the day of our visit, my whole family make our way into the city. I choose lunch mainly because I want good lighting for my photos, but also, my niece and nephew are younger and I am not sure they are good candidates for a relatively upscale meal during dinner time.

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We arrive to an empty spot, having the dining room pretty much all to ourselves. Our server Joanna is pleasant and patient with all of my questions and inquiries and hurries away in search of answers to those she is unable to fulfill.

Although the restaurant generally recommends the entire table partake in prix fixe menus, I ask if we are able to order from both. There are several dishes not available from the a la care and I am eager to try as many of the selections as possible. This piece will be a tad discombobulated since we order two of the 5-course prix fixe lunch menu (AUD75/$69.50) and then off the a la carte menu to complete our meal.

The set menu begins with Rye Bread, pickles and cultured butter, as well as Beef Tendon with peanut and lime. The presentation is interesting but pleasing.

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Second course is Sashimi Grade Yellow Eye with a green mustard sauce and air-dried brassica (from the turnip family which includes rutabaga and kohlrabi) leaves. I love the crispiness of the leaves!

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Holmbrea Chicken Breast, the third course, is a perfectly executed piece of meat. The chicken is first braised, then poached, making it moist, tender and very flavorful. Toasted buckwheat adds a textural dimension while the roast bone sauce is rich without being cloying. I want more of the roasted chestnut puree, as well as the preserved fig “sheet” enveloping the chicken breast. A hint of thyme finishes the dish off perfectly!

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The fourth course is Pastrami Wagyu Beef, my least favorite dish of the entire meal. The wagyu is bland even with the onion bouillon it is draped with. The mustard cream, pickles and spicy ketchup are delightful additions, as is the finely diced gherkins, however, the accoutrements are not enough to save the under-seasoned wagyu for it to be a mouth-popping experience.

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The prix fixe ends with Campari, an ice cream comprising mandarin orange segments, as well as curds and whey. It is quite delicious really, being so simple, and mouth teasing. Unfortunately, I am only afforded a bite as the kids monopolize both bowls and are not interested in giving us another taste.

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The rest of us continue on with the rest of the a la carte menu. Since I am busy taking photos, I miss out on the first course so I order Rye Bread (AUD10/$9.30) so I am able to taste it. The pickles are lackluster, but the butter is lovely — not quite the one at Walter Manzke’s Republique — but still, delicious!

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The tendon is presented as Fried Beef Puffs (AUD12/$11.15) on the a la carte which the kids gleefully chomp away on thinking it is a cracker. I don’t tell them what it is seeing they are enjoying it so very much. I absolutely adore the dusting of peanut and lime seasoning the chicharron-like crisps.

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Of course, we are not able to sit through a meal without vegetables. I order Radicchio Leaves (AUD15/$13.90) which is a bigger portion than I expect. Balsamic, olive fried onion and shredded goats cheese are tossed with the brightly hued leaves. So simple, so tasty.

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Roasted Beetroot (AUD12/$11.15) is a vision when it hits the table. While my dad is not a fan of beets, I convince him to try a piece. The goats curd, apple gastrique and hazelnut combine together nicely giving the whole composition a sweet, tart, salty and crunchy finish.

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Everyone agrees Oak Smoked Rainbow King Trout (AUD15/$13.90) is their favorite. The melt-in-your-mouth trout is perfectly smoked and comes with half a soft boiled egg and a dollop of horseradish yogurt. The other intriguing ingredient is fried dill root. It not only gives a crispy element to the dish but also, an aromatic one. Each element combines together for the perfect mouthful. Sublime!

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The next three dishes are all from the “charcoal” section of the menu meaning everything is charcoal-grilled. Being an octopus fiend, my eyes automatically hone on to Baby Octopus (AUD15/$13.90) with olive oil and parsley. My brother, son and I love this dish and order another.

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Southern Calamari (AUD22/$20.40) is embraced by all. My mother prefers this over the baby octopus as it is so very tender. A spritz of lemon and garlic are all it needs.

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Whole Side of Murray Cod (AUD32/$29.70) is smaller than expected but flaky and moist. Garlic and a sprinkling of finely chopped herbs top the fish. A lemon wedge accompanies.

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Our last dish is Buttermilk Fried Chicken (AUD18/$16.70). A ramekin of creme fraiche and chive puree accompanies for dipping. We end up ordering two of these as my brother and son want more. The chicken is juicy and moist, albeit the second order sees the skin not rendered completely. Still, the seasoning penetrates deep into the chicken which makes for an perfectly executed offering.

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At the meal’s end, each diner receives a bar of chocolate — can’t remember if they make it in-house, or if it is made especially for the restaurant by a chocolatier — but it is rich, dark, and delicious.

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I am very happy to see Brisbane’s food scene at a different level from when I left over two decades ago. Through the years, my parents have introduced me to several higher-end restaurants which have never quite hit the mark with me. We need more chefs like Ryan Squires returning home and pushing Brisbane forward, towards where it will be on par with other major cities around the world. I hope my next trip home will be even more delicious!

** Parking is a problem in the city which could be the reason why the restaurant is empty during lunch. We ended up paying AUD71 per car for three hours of parking. In the evenings, parking lots offer more reasonable flat rates. I suggest taking a cab or CityCat **

esquire
145 Eagle Street
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Tel: (07) 3220-2123

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Gerard’s Bar — Brisbane Australia

The second of three Australian restaurants I’m featuring from my trip is Gerard’s Bar. I came here with my university friends for a night out hoping to get a table at Gerard’s Bistro, but unfortunately, on a Thursday night, they were fully booked and there was not a chance for them to fit us in. So, we walked across the courtyard in the back and ventured towards Gerard’s Bar, part of the Bistro, but with its own menu.

It is a gastropub of sorts with charcuterie hanging off hooks displayed in the window. It is extremely dark inside and not a seat available, luckily, we were able to find al fresco seating out on the patio.

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I started with The Quiet Mexican (AUD14/$13) which made me chuckle because I don’t think I’ve ever met a quiet Mexican before. The cocktail was pleasant using tequila as its base. I chose this not only because I love tequila, but most of the menu comprised of absinthe or aperol — both of which I dislike.

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The charcuterie is extensive and impressive. I had ordered Guanciale (AUD8/$7.40) salumi Australia, a pepper cured pork jowl and Longanisa Roja (AUD9/$8.35) a course ground salumi described as possessing spiced with pepper and garlic and Moorish accents, although I didn’t really detect much of the latter. Served with a baguette — not crusty — it was a nice vehicle for the meats. A plate of pickled vegetables accompanied, but I was perplexed by the lack of tartness and the abundance of saltiness from each of the items.

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The thing which won me over was Quail Liver and PX Parfait (AUD16/$14.85) a creamy liver mousse which was light as air. Plated with it were the two cheeses I selected, one of which was Grandvewe Sappire Sheep’s Blue (AUD7/$6.50), the other was Cabra Pimenton (AUD6/$5.60) was possibly my favorite with lovely hints of peppers.. Crispy flatbread adds a nice component and good contrast to the baguette.

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Since I’m not able to partake in the Moonlight Flat Oysters (AUD5 each/$4.65) I can only attest to the oohs coming from my son’s lips when he ate these.

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One of my favorites of the night is Storm Clams and N’Duja (AUD9 each/$8.35). These large clams are flame grilled topped with spicy n’duja and fresh lemon. They are meaty and umami-filled that I wish I had ordered more.

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The Cheeseburger (AUD14/$13) is a double wagyu beef pattie burger topped with bacon, relish, pickles and cheese. The bun was a tad dense, but overall, the flavors were perfect. The patties were packed with flavor and seasoned well. Even though it looked small, it was a satisfactory item even if you were only having it as your meal.

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Mulloway Tartare (AUD10/$9.30) was a display of innovation. Bits of smoked lardo are placed in a sieve and held over the plate of diced mulloway (jewfish), Jerusalem artichoke chips, kimchi and shiso. A blow torch starts flaming the lardo, melting it away, allowing the unctuous pork fat drippings to drape over the fish tartare concoction. Beautiful presentation and a nice gimmicky interaction to have with the customers.

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If you’re ever in Brisbane, Queensland, take some time to check out the blossoming food scene. I was delighted to find all these new restaurants offering a level of sophistication I had not previously experienced in this town. I hope it keeps continuing in this direction.

Gerard’s Bar
13a 23 James Street
Fortitude Valley, QLD 4066
(07) 3252 2606

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a visit to Grandmas Kiwi Kitchen — Down Under

On my recent trip to Australia visiting family, I caught up with several old friends and naturally, food was involved. One of the restaurants my friend Charlie, who is originally from New Zealand, took me to — TWICE — was Grandmas Kiwi Kitchen. This little eatery is run by a family and you immediately feel the welcoming warmth the minute you enter.

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The food is cooked to order and I love the sign displayed at the front proclaiming that you’re not getting fast food here! I will gladly wait for good food cooked to order.

20140808_113515We started with some cappuccino and iced coffee — the latter was an insane mason jar filled with coffee, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream — not just an iced coffee, but a dessert in itself.

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Our meal began with an order of Steak Eggs & Chips (AUD18/$16.80) a piece of Scotch fillet, or what we know as ribeye, two fried eggs, and chips (fries). Kiwis like their meat well done so if you want it cooked less, let them know.

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One of the best omelettes I’ve ever tasted is Whitebait Fritter (AUD8.5/$7.90), a perfectly fluffy omelette generously dotted with whitebait, a baby fish widely consumed in New Zealand. Delicious and a perfect breakfast item.

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Kiwis love fried foods so Battered Mussels (AUD6.5/$6) is right up their alley. Plump New Zealand green lip mussels are battered and fried creating a beautifully light mouthfeel. The home-made tartare is lovely but a squeeze of lemon suffices.

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Fush & Chups (AUD9.5/$8.85) is fish and chips pronounced the Kiwi way. You can select between battered and fried or oven baked. We chose our hoki (blue hake) fillet oven baked which arrives topped with spinach and tomato slices en papillote (wrapped in a parchment paper parcel). Served with chips (as everything is) and house-made tartare sauce, I really enjoyed the steamed fish, allowing its own flavors to come through. Nothing is overly seasoned and the freshness of each ingredient comes together harmoniously.

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If fried fish is your thing then opt for the Hoki Fish Sandwich (AUD12.5/$11.65). Battered hoki is sandwiched between toasted Turkish bread. Lettuce and tomato, along with beet slices and a fried egg are added. Aussies love beets in their burgers and sandwiches so I wasn’t surprised to see it in the sammie.

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An array of house-made desserts are available ranging from carrot cake to these deliciously rich fudgy chocolatey biscuits (cookies).

If you’re ever in Brisbane and want to get some really good homey grub Kiwi style, stop by this spot and enjoy. On the weekends, they offer hāngi — a method of cooking similar to how kalua pig is prepared, under the ground with hot rocks.

Grandmas Kiwi Kitchen
Shop 6/1, Murrajong Road
Springwood, QLD 4127
Tel 0403-143-201

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a re-visit to Dominique’s Kitchen

It’s been more than six months since we last visited Dominique’s Kitchen. It had left such an impact on my son that he wanted to go there for his birthday, so we made the drive to Redondo Beach and re-visited the little French bistro we were so enamored with so many months ago.

The menu remains the same, with several specials available the evening of our visit. We were eager to try some new things as well as some my son was anticipating again.

Our server aptly repeated the specials of the evening and we decide on the Seafood Trio ($9.99), comprising marinated white anchovies, octopus, and mussels. Every dish is prepared well, the seafood perfectly executed, tender and not chewy. I especially loved the white anchovies with a lovely vinegary finish.

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Another special of the evening was Pork Rillettes ($4.99) which Chef Dominique is extremely adept at. In fact, get any of the pates or rillettes and you won’t be disappointed.

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Soup of the Day ($3.99) was lobster bisque and seeing it is one of the birthday boy’s favorites, we had to order it. Absolutely delicious! Creamy with bits of lobster floating within the rich, flavorful soup. I can’t believe how reasonably priced it is.

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French Onion Soup ($6.99) is one of my personal favorites so I thought we should try it. I really loved the robust nature of the broth and the well-caramelized onions. However, there was way too much bread which soaked up a lot of the broth and made it too doughy and goopey especially with the amount of cheese used.

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Another of the boy’s favorite is Escargot ($9.99) and he was quite specific this was what he was coming for. Classic baked snails in garlic and butter is executed well. They are tender and not at all rubbery. When you are done, dip some bread into the sauce so not to waste it.

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Spicy Lamb Sausage ($5.99) is something we’ve had before and loved. The sausage is made in-house and possesses good texture and flavors. Served with organic quinoa tossed with mint, raisins and almonds, I am always surprised when I enjoy this because I do not usually care for sweet in my savory dishes.

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We decide to break up the flavor profiles by selecting Californian Goat Cheese ($4.99) next. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. Goat cheese is not something I am particularly fond of because often, it can be pungent with strong gamey, grassy notes. This goat cheese from James Farms is subtle and very creamy. Add to that the honey and crunchy almonds, it becomes a perfect start or midway break between dishes.

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Our final dish of Lamb Chops ($21.99) is generous and laden with a gorgeous roasted garlic and thyme au jus. It is savory and pairs exquisitely with creamy polenta. In fact, I would have liked more of it! A stellar entree selection executed immaculately.

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Dominique and his wife Liza should be very proud of their neighborhood eatery. It is quaint, cozy, and a perfect example of what a French bistro should be. The menu is solid and prices so reasonable. My only complaint is that they are so far from me. Still, I hope to visit twice a year to see what Chef Dominique is up to. If I don’t remember to do so, I know my son will bug me enough that we will! He loves this place!

Dominique’s Kitchen
522 Pacific Coast Hwy
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Tel: 424-247-9054

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a perfect meal at The North Left

I was never a big fan of The Crosby’s menu, so when it closed I wasn’t too sad about it. However, the restaurant which now occupies that space is a whole new story. Chef Ryan Adams of 370 Common is one of my favorite chefs in Orange County, and when I heard he had taken over, I was excited and pleased because I knew it would be a place where I would love the food and libations as well. If you’re not familiar with the space it’ll be hard for you to see it from the street simply because of the way the light reflects off the windows during the day. It is right next door to the Starbucks if that makes it easier. DSC04221 Chef Ryan spends his time at both restaurants which means he had to elicit the expertise of some trusted members of staff to keep the place going when he isn’t physically there. One of the notable personalities is Chef Aron Habinger, executive chef of The Crosby since its inception until about a year ago. I’m not a gin drinker, but agreed to try Cucumber Gimlet ($10) because I trust everything Chef Ryan does. The cocktail is refreshing with cucumber and lime with a good balance of sour for my palate. DSC04257 Order Salmon Belly ($14) if you are a seafood fan. The cured egg yolk shavings add a wonderful salty component to the delicate fish. The incredible asparagus spears are sous vide in beef fat — yes! how awesome is that — and light salad is refreshing and palate cleansing. A very respectable offering. DSC04265 I’m torn between the over-use of Brussels sprouts on menus and my love for them, but when push comes to shove, I will always order them, especially when they’re crazy good. Brussels Sprouts ($9) is a combination of my favorite flavor profiles — tart and salty — San Joaquin Gold cheese provides the latter. Hazelnuts add a lovely crunch for textural contrast. Divine! DSC04230 Have you ever had fresh chick peas? If not, Garbanzo ($8) is a perfect place to start. Garlic, chile, arugula, mint, what’s not to love? Squeeze some caramelized lime over skillet and it’s an ideal side for sharing. DSC04242 Even though this is a vegetable dish, Mushrooms ($12) is anything but vegetarian. Discs of King trumpet mushrooms are cooked in wagyu beef fat, topped with smoked maitake possessing a rich, robust flavor I can only smile about. DSC04249 If you’re a fan of Three Seventy Common’s fried chicken, then you’re in luck! You don’t have to wait every month to get some. Chicken Nuggets ($15) are just as good as the fried chicken Chef Ryan prepares at his Laguna Beach restaurant. In fact, I might like these just a tad more probably because they’re just that much crispier. The biscuit is amazing and the maple bourbon barbecue sauce is more tart than sweet — can I say I’m in love? DSC04233 A palette of colors makes Sea Bass ($19) not only pretty to look at, but it is equally delicious in my mouth. Charred pickled onions, espelette pepper powder, cauliflower, pistou, shallot soubise — so many flavors, all mouth-popping good. I love the balance of acid in every dish. Here, the pickled onions are just intoxicating. I want a bowl of it! DSC04253 Scallops $18) with smoked paprika, chorizo, roasted corn, popcorn — yes, popcorn — avocado and lemon is sublime. Now, there are two things I will always order when I see them on a menu. Scallops is one of them. The mollusks are cooked to perfection and the use of avocado works surprisingly well, although I’m not sure about the popcorn. I didn’t dislike it, I just wasn’t sure if adding that texture component was necessary. DSC04270 I don’t need dessert at the end of meal, but when it tastes like this, I say, “bring it on”. Strawberries ($9) is not as simple as it sounds. I have nothing but praise for Chef Andrea Guzman because she got me to take more than one bite — actually, I ate half of this bowl. But then again, panna cotta is one of my favorites and this is exceptionally smooth and the consistency is spot on. The strawberry granita adds some texture, while the cereal adds crunch. This is my kind of dessert and one of the simplest, yet most memorable, I’ve ever eaten. Bravo! So there you have it. The North Left is open and it is good. Really good. Grab a few friends and head on down. Sip on some cocktails, share some bites. I am confident you won’t regret it.

The North Left 400 N Broadway Santa Ana, CA 92701 Tel: 714-543-3543

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jazz and more at Spaghettini

As usual, my skepticism sets in when I hear “Italian”, despite the fact that lately, I have been pleasantly surprised by places I’ve come across.

Spagettini isn’t at all how I imagined in my mind. In fact, my preconceived notions of the restaurant was not at all accurate. Because the restaurant is a hub for jazz musicians — think Dave Koz and the like — there is a lounge area specifically mapped out for this.

My friend and I are led to a booth while we wait for another to arrive. Our incredibly awesome server, Jill, was to be with us for our meal this evening.

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We began with some cocktails — Blood Orange Manhattan ($14) for the guy, and Water Cooler ($13) for me. Our friend chose wine when she arrived. His Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Domaine de Canton, lemon juice, lemongrass and ginger syrup and tarragon drink is pleasant. However, my Bombay Sapphire Gin, St Germain, watermelon and lime juice, vanilla and mint syrup concoction is absolutely delicious, I have another.

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While we were waiting, some amuse bouche were presented to us while we perused the menu.

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We decided upon Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta ($14/$16 with goat cheese) served with grilled baguette. I liked how they serve the goat cheese on the side instead of slathering it on to the toast. Our server tells me that they do that in case someone is not fond of goat cheese. That’s a brilliant idea because there are times I’m not into a certain goat cheese that’s served.

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Pommery Shrimp ($24) may not look like anything much, but it is absolutely mouthwatering. The sauteed shrimp are plump and has a wonderful snap, however, it is the Pommery mustard cream sauce with white wine and shallots that steals the day. It is so rich and flavorful we were not going to let a drop go to waste. Bits of bread were broken off to wipe the plate clean.

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We thought it might be smart to break up the meal with something green, so Wedge ($15) salad it is. Honestly, this defeats the purpose of a salad, but I can’t think of a more delicious way to eat lettuce when it is smothered in applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese crumbles, bits of Roma tomatoes and red onions.

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However, it is the house-made pasta that catches my eye. Yellow Corn Agnolotti ($22) are pockets filled with a corn (which is currently in season) puree, tossed in a mascarpone sauce and topped with parmigiano reggiano. The salty sweet flavors are addicting and the perfectly al dente pasta is absolutely delicious.

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Another great choice is Seafood Conchiglie ($29) with lobster, shrimp and Dungeness crab. The cream sauce sits snugly in between the pasta shells and creates a luscious mouthfeel on the palate.

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We shared some entrees between us. First up, Beeler’s Pork Chop ($29), a hefty cider-brined chop with Yukon Gold potato puree and sweet apples. The combination of the three created a nice contrast of flavors, but unfortunately, the pork was a bit overcooked.

My favorite was New Zealand Lamb Rack ($44), a stunning rack of meat prepared perfectly medium rare with a rich, savory port reduction, served with a side of baby spinach and shallot & parmesan potato gratin.

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Come for the food, come for the jazz. If you happen to get Jill as your server, you’ll know your experience is going to be a very enjoyable one.

Spaghettini
3005 Old Ranch Pkwy
Seal Beach, CA 90740
Tel: 562-596-2199

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