Fig & Olive spring menu

Spring is definitely in the air when restaurants are previewing their seasonal spring menu. Fig & Olive opened not long ago at Fashion Island and although I’ve been to the restaurant several times, I have not written anything on it. Therefore, when I was invited to check out the new menu items recently, I thought it was time to share what we sampled with everyone.

FIG & OLIVE SPRING MENU

Before anything, a plate of focaccia was brought out to the table with three olive oils from different regions for us to try.

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The lunch menu offers a generous selection of Crostini ($12/3pcs) and we were presented with three: burrata, tomato, herbs, balsamic; cured salmon, radish, cucumber, yogurt, dill; carrot, ricotta. My favorite was naturally the burrata with the carrot and ricotta a close second.

crostini sampler

I was so happy that the next course Roasted Baby Beet with Burrata Salad ($17) had a huge serving of the luscious burrata lurking underneath the greenery since the little bit on the crostini was a tease on my palate, but didn’t satiate. The beautiful vibrantly hued roasted beets from Babe farm were absolutely gorgeous. Together with spinach, toasted hazelnut, orange segment and heirloom cherry tomatoes, it was definitely spring on a plate. Dressed perfectly in a raspberry aged balsamic vinaigrette, it was a huge hit all around.

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Unfortunately, my photo of Crab & Heirloom Tomato turned out dismally and does not justify how savory and mouthwatering it really was. Jumbo lump crab, heirloom cherry tomato, garlic cilantro, shallot and harissa with avocado basil tapenade was one of those things I wanted more of.

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My table-mates and I decided to order different entrees so we could get a taste of a good variety. Salmon Tartine ($14) was a gorgeous open face sandwich with beautifully vibrant cured salmon served on Kenter farm toasted whole wheat bread. Accoutrements of dill cucumber yogurt, radish and tomato were refreshing. Add to that a side of arugula salad and the distinctively flavor of Arbequina Olive oil, voila, a great option for a light lunch.

salmon tartine

I’m not a goat cheese fan, but I took a bite of the Zucchini Blossom & Goat Cheese Ravioli ($26). A generous portion of house-made goat cheese raviolis with zucchini emulsion and tomato confit, the flavors are reflective of the season it represents. I didn’t care for the crispy zucchini blossom which was way too heavily coated completely masking its delicate nature.

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I loved the White Sea Bass ($25) I selected. Two pieces of white sea bass marinated with lemon thyme is flaky with a nice crispy skin. A colorful bounty of carrot, asparagus, celery root puree and heirloom potato charmoula complete this tasty plate.

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The restaurant gets very busy so reservations are recommended. Valet parking is available for $6.

Fig & Olive
151 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Tel: 949-877-3005

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Oceanside’s Hello Betty Fish House is a breath of fresh air

While having lunch with a San Diegan friend of mine recently, I was told that downtown Oceanside has been getting a face-lift of late with new restaurants and businesses sprouting out of nowhere. So when I drove down to have lunch with a friend of mine who lives nearby, I made sure to be mindful of this fact. Traversing through downtown Oceanside, the abandoned storefronts still exist, but once I turned on to Mission Avenue, things started to look different.

Therefore, when I arrived at Hello Betty Fish House and saw this beautiful restaurant sitting at the edge of the street just steps away from the beach, I was utterly blown away. This is exactly what Oceanside needed, a beautiful restaurant with an even better view!

This modern seafood shack reminds me of Connie & Ted’s in LA, except this eatery actually has an ocean view. I would call the ambiance nautical shabby chic —  with heavy rope as part of its decor, as dividers, as part of the banquette new, but with the illusion of vintage. I love the use of heavy rope almost everywhere, including the cushions and also, interspersed into wooden planks dangling from the ceiling. If you’re not sitting facing the water, no problem! You will see its reflection off the mirrors aligned against the wall.

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When gals get together, there will always be cocktails involved, especially since we haven’t seen each other in almost a year. Our selection included: She’s A Betty ($8) on draft, Mt Gay Black Barrel, Cruzan Blackstrap, pineapple, lemon, tea syrup, Kraken float; El Toro ($9) Cazadores Silver, Licor 43, raspberry, cilantro, jalapeno, lime; Beach Break Therapy ($8) Hangar 1, kaffir lime, Sugar Island coconut rum, pineapple, lime, bitters. We agreed, the El Toro was definitely our favorite followed by She’s A Betty. 

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The first thing I popped into my mouth was raw Littleneck Clams ($10/6pcs), filled with that umami taste I love so much. Served with a jalapeno mignonette and cocktail sauce, the former was definitely the favorite dressing between the two.

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Hamachi Crudo ($14) was possibly the favorite dish of our meal. Generous slices of hamachi is topped with wasabi caviar, sliced red jalapeno chile, crispy shallots, radishes, cilantro and drizzled with a delicious citrus soy. The salty tart flavors were so addicting we were fighting for the last piece.

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I love salmon rillettes and the Smoked Fish Spread ($9) is exactly that! Served with crackers and toast points, the salmon is nicely textured and seasoned well.

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Another favorite item was Steamed Mussels ($14), so fresh and tender with bits of salty chorizo giving it an extra oompf. Tomato, chilis and garlic, together with Dos Equis amber combine together for the tastiest broth ever.

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We were rather intrigued by the thought of Fried Avocado Taco ($4.50) and were told it was half an avocado, battered and fried. It was a generous portion and texturally it was great, but needed just a touch more salt. Served on corn tortillas made fresh daily, it is an ample portion to share or just on your own. Vegetarians will revel in this!

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Our server Rachel recommended the Smoked Pork Belly Carnitas Taco ($5) and I’m glad she did because it was really delicious. For pork belly, it wasn’t fatty at all, well-rendered through and then finished off on the flattop for that bit of crispiness on the edges. Topped in the traditional style with onions and cilantro with a side of guacamole, I wanted something spicy, perhaps a side of salsa, to go with it.

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I saw the loco moco burger on the menu and asked why they didn’t have it the traditional way. Luckily I asked because they did and I had my Loco Moco ($13.75) over a bed of rice. The one here is fantastic because not only do you get the hamburger pattie, but you also get a slice of spam with an onion gravy slathered on top PLUS a runny fried egg. My son loved it and proclaimed it pretty close to the ones he used to eat as a child in Hawaii.

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When I saw Whole Fried Fish ($25) I was really excited because a lot of restaurants have been serving fish whole lately. However, here, they fillet and chunk out the red snapper, coat it with a corn meal crust before frying to perfection. The fish is moist inside and crunchy outside. They also fry the fish carcass and serve it alongside the fish nuggets. I would have preferred the fish served whole, but I get how that might freak some people out. The salsa verde and chipotle tartar were great dipping options although I loved the salsa just a little bit more.

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You also get a plate of red rice and beans with the fish — big portion — which was tasty, especially the rice.

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If you still have room after your meal, I highly recommend ending with the Horchata Sundae ($5.50). I am a huge sucker for ice cream and this one is fabulous. Creamy horchata ice cream is scooped over hot fudge and caramel sauce — a little too much for me — with bits of caramel krispies, fresh cream and topped with a crispy Mexican buñelo triangle. I couldn’t stop eating it but had to stop and give in! It was a very big bowl of ice cream goodness.

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If you’re ever in Oceanside, stop in and grab a bite! It’s a beautiful restaurant to stop into especially on a beautiful day!

Hello Betty Fish House
211 Mission Avenue
Oceanside, CA 92054
Tel: 760-722-1008

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Spring has sprung at Raya

There’s nothing more romantic or relaxing than dining at Raya. I’ve been coming here through the years and have always liked the style of cuisine it serves. Last week, I was invited to preview the restaurant’s Spring Menu to showcase just a handful of the dishes available for the new season we’re sliding into.

As we gathered into the gorgeous expanse of the dining room overlooking the ocean, champagne was enjoyed all around as we sat down to enjoy what Chef de Cuisine Steve Wan had to offer that evening.

Chef Steve has been with The Ritz-Carlton for about 10 years and my previous experience with Steve was at a dinner several years ago in the private room of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel. I remember that evening well and recalled his outstanding dish that evening – crispy snapper!

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As the sun sets into the horizon, our spectacular evening began with Jicama Ceviche Roll, a delightful morsel filled with dungeness crab, tiger shrimp, avocado, red onion, tomato and cilantro, in a bath of coconut aji amarillo and sweet chile. The combination of salty, sweet, tart and spicy was stupendous, teasing and tantalizing my tastebuds for more.

jicama roll

Lobster Taco is not a new item and I love everything about it. I’ve had it numerous times before and still love the little flour tortilla clipped with a mini clothespin with black bean puree, chile de arbol salsa, avocado and cilantro. These bite-sized tacos are three to an order and trust me, you won’t want to share.

We were also presented with a Mini Beef Huarache on the same plate. An a la carte portion is larger than this, ideal for sharing. Perfectly pink slices of prime NY strip steak with black bean puree, caramelized onions, manchego cheese and chile toreado, all enveloped in a soft tortilla, what more do you want, perhaps just another bite?

taco huarache

I’m usually not a big salad fan but Iberico Ham Arugula Salad had me hooked from the first bite. I don’t like a bunch of mixed greens in some dressing, but this was different. This had pea sprout shoots, something I love immensely. Together with other things I adore, such as pickled mustard seeds and pickled onions, the combination of sweet, tart and spicy, with the saltiness of Iberico Ham and manchego cheese was impeccable.

iberico arugula

Looking for a fish dish? Then look no further than the well-prepared Halibut, flaky and delicate with perfectly executed tempura jalapeno bits, boniato (white sweet potato) puree, truffle corn salsa and chive oil. A light yet very satisfying entree for those not wanting red meat.

halibut

Other entree items we tried included a duo of Chipotle Spiced Lamb Loin which possessed deep, rich meaty flavors and vibrantly spiced components. The celeriac puree, spring pea, carrot and piloncillo (Mexican unrefined brown sugar) glaze did not overpower the star of the show.

Sharing the plate was Piloncillo Prawn, Chef Steve’s take on Chinese honey walnut shrimp, a dish I dislike immensely. It was so delicious and devoid of mayo, usually found in abundance on honey walnut shrimp. The morita chile, candied pepitas and cilantro added crunch, spice, and a burst of je ne sais quoi about it. I loved it and would come back for this alone.

entree duo

After all that food, I didn’t think I would have room for dessert. I never save space in my stomach anyway, but Citrus Torte was so airy I managed a few spoonfuls. Executive Pastry Chef Brian Sundeen’s choice of using gaviota strawberries over other varietals meant we were lavished with the sweetest, most full bodied berries you’ll ever taste. The aromatic yuzu curd is intoxicating, however, the piece de resistance was the scoop of strawberry margarita sorbet with hints of saltiness completing the total margarita experience.

dessert

Spring is but a few short months and in order to partake in these and more menu items, make sure you visit Raya soon before it’s time to roll out the summer menu.

Raya at The Ritz Carlton
1 Ritz Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
Tel: 949-240-2000

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memories are made at San Diego’s Bread & Cie

This post isn’t like any other I’ve ever written before. This involves hands-on experience I don’t ordinarily get from my day-to-day dealings with restaurants. Generally, I’m on the receiving side, not the making side. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let me start from the beginning.

About seven years ago, I was at Tip Top Deli in Carlsbad and picked up a loaf of olive bread by Bread & Cie. I remember devouring it in the car with my then 7 year old wishing we had grabbed another loaf for later. Through the years, I have seen their artisan breads at various farmers markets around San Diego and have even introduced them to native San Diegan friends.

Recently, I stopped into a neighborhood market in Golden Hill before going to dinner nearby and found some granola from Bread & Cie. I fell in love with it immediately and went on a mission to find out more about it. After several emails with Bread & Cie founder and owner Charles Kaufman, the native New Yorker-turned-San Diegan invited me down to his cafe in Hillcrest to make the granola with them.

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The minute I stepped into Bread & Cie, I felt a sense of familiarity, like I had been inside before. It took me a minute or two before I realized that the style and layout was just like Huckleberry’s in Santa Monica. This success to this almost 20-year-old establishment is definitely its people, starting with Charles. His sense of humor is infectious. I watched him joke around with his staff spreading the camaraderie to everyone he comes in contact with.

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As we walk through the restaurant into the back, I noticed the variety of breads on display including brioche, fougasse, olive to name a few. Bakers Eloisa and Lorena were making soda bread this day, and I watched as they molded the bread by hand, then cut the top, brushed it with buttermilk, before moving onto the next tray. True artisan bread is just that, all made by hand.

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When they were done, the process of my beloved granola began. Charles cracked me up as he asked that we make a face with the granola ingredients. Of course I obliged.

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The wet ingredients are mixed in a separate bowl by Eloisa and set aside. Then, the first of the dry ingredients are placed in a large vessel to be mixed with the wet. At this point, Charles gave me some gloves and asked me to get right into it as he took over my camera and deftly snapped away. I gleefully combined the oats, almonds and pumpkin seeds together. It took about five to seven minutes for it to possess an even coating.

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Then we laid the mixture out on a baking sheet and placed it into the oven for 10 minutes at 275 degrees. It is allowed to cool before cranberries, golden raisins, and others are added with remainder of the wet ingredients given another mixing. Another 20 minutes in the oven and there you have it. That’s the granola that I’ve grown so very fond of.

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Charles then brought me to the front of the house and put me to work. I bagged a few items for customers before venturing off to explore everything Bread & Cie had to offer. This is where I watched him interact with his customers, again with charm and humor. He is indeed the foundation of this establishment.

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Bread & Cie makes everything in-house including biscotti, scones, cookies, macaroons, macarons, cupcakes, chocolate eclairs, the list goes on and on. If you want breakfast, there is also French toast.

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But that’s not all. If savory is your thing (it definitely is mine!) then choose from an array of sandwiches, quiches, pizzas, salads — all salad dressings are made in-house as well. I was amazed that this little cafe creates so much in such a small space.

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My time at Bread & Cie came and went rather quickly. I left with a sense of satisfaction, enveloped by a feeling of extreme warmth and happiness. The art of feeding is one that always brings pleasure, at least in my world, it does. After spending the morning with Charles Kaufman, I knew without a doubt, that in his world, it does as well.

Bread & Cie
350 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103
Tel: 619-683-9322

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authentic Korean comfort food at Tang 190

I’ve been wanting to eat at Tang 190 ever since it opened. Naturally, it took me about a year to get here because I could never find anyone to come with me until now. I finally managed to gather four of my friends together for this meal. I love Korean food and especially Korean soups and stews. Tang 190 specializes in exactly that and more.

Most people who are well versed with Korean barbecue will know that an array of banchan (side dishes) are provided alongside the meal as accompaniments. Traditionally, soup or stew restaurants will only offer kimchi and kkakdugi (marinated napa cabbage and cubed radish). At Tang 190, there are a few more including seaweed, potato salad and baby bok choy kimchi.

TANG 190

One of the most ubiquitous Korean soups is Sul-Long-Tang ($8.49), a broth made using beef bones. This beef shank soup is simmered for a very long time creating a milky finish from the bones. The soup is served with thin sliced beef steaks and Korean vermecelli but contains no salt. The diner adds the sea salt on the table according to his or her own preference, along with scallions and red chili paste.

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Yuk-Gae-Jang ($9.99) is spicy beef soup I’m very familiar with. When I lived in Hawaii, I would eat this several times a month and the one here is very good. Filled with with pre-marinated thin sliced brisket and vegetables. My favorite are the brown bracken fern floating around the rich, hearty broth. It may look super spicy due to its deep red hues, but it isn’t really.

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I’d never eaten Cabbage Galbi-Tang ($9.99) before, and I enjoyed it immensely. I’ve had galbi-tang before, but this particular one also includes Napa cabbage dwengjang (soy bean paste), making the end result deeper and more flavorful. Really lovely!

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The traditional Gal-Bi-Tang ($10.99) I’m familiar with is a brothy back rib soup with chunks of back ribs with green onions, dried jujube and egg toppings.

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This soup is already seasoned and a little dish of pickled chilis and daikon marinated in a tart soy sauce is provided for you to dip your rib meat with. So delicious!

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We all agreed that Nak-Ji-Dol-Sot ($11.99) was one of the best non-soup items on the menu. Although the menu says calamari rice plate, traditionally, it is octopus which is used in this rice dish. Served in a shallow stone pot, the heat creates a crispy crust on the bottom of the rice which is my favorite part of eating bibimbap.

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Jab-Chae ($10.99), a stir fried noodles dish is often provided as part of the banchan (side dishes) selection. Here, it is a menu item. This was decent, but not to the point where the price justifies a vegetarian noodle dish.

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Another traditional Korean dish is Bo-Sam ($19.99), or pork and kimchi wrap.

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Slowly simmered pork loin slices are served with slightly pickled Napa cabbage, seasoned turnips with a side of soybean paste and fermented shrimp sauce. Dip the pork into either or both of the condiments — I like both — then add some turnip shards, wrap in the pickled Napa cabbage and eat. So good!

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The weakest dish of our meal was Gal-Bi-Zeem ($13.99) or short rib stew. Usually, the meat falls off the bone and the result is a rich, thick, intensely flavored outcome. Here, the meat was not tender enough and the entire dish lacked the deep, rich flavors I associate galbijim with.

We were stuffed at the end, but very satisfied indeed. I can’t wait to return again and savor the soups again. What would make it better is if I can gather a bunch of people to go with me so we can share everything! That’s the only way to eat Korean food, actually, ANY kind of food!

Tang 190
14121 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92620
Tel: 949-651-1901

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Al Bacio successfully delivers authentic Italian

In December of last year, we visited Al Bacio for a media preview. There were so many people and the meal felt rushed and I was uninspired by the whole experience. I generally do not like to gauge a restaurant by a media tasting alone anyway, preferring to return again on my own at a later date. By visiting again several months later also gives the restaurant and its staff a chance to work out any opening hiccups they might have had during the preview.

So we returned recently to re-visit Chef Christian Simionato, previously sous chef at Pelican Hill Resort’s Andrea Ristorante, and give it another try. We find Al Bacio offering a menu of dishes showcasing the best of regional Italian cuisine with a myriad of top quality ingredients imported directly from Italy.

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While we perused the menu, a basket of bread arrives. There is a house-made focaccia and surprise surprise, slices of a rustic loaf from Orange County’s premier bakery, OC Baking Company! When asked why he didn’t source bread right there in LA, Simionato’s response was “I give my customers the best of every ingredient, so why not the bread also”.

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An amuse bouche of gianchette (whitebait) with artichoke is served in a jar with a thin piece of crisp bread. It was definitely an “amuse” to my “bouche” with its tangy bursts tantalizing my tastebuds.

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I love octopus and have been known to order it whenever it is on the menu. Therefore, it was a no brainer that Polipo all Griglia ($15) would be the logical choice to kick the meal off with. Octopus, which has first been braised, is finished off on the grill for a char, intensifying its flavors tremendously. Paired with a red pepper bagnetto – red pepper sauce — and a lightly dressed mixed green salad, make sure you gather all three components for each mouthful as they work together in perfect harmony.

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Scallo Scottate in Padella ($16) is a dish of seared scallops with Sicilian caponata and topped with to-die-for crispy pancetta. No additional words are required.

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If you’ve never had white asparagus, you won’t know how delicate and sublime it tastes. However, if you have, then its distinctively aromas will hit you immediately. Vellutata di Asparagi Bianchi ($13) is a white asparagus soup finished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and topped with a sauteed spot prawn. We mmm-ed and ahh-ed with each spoonful and I delighted in sucking on the spot prawn head drawing out every last bit of its umami goodness.

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If you don’t order the way we do when you dine out, and you’ve only a three course meal planned (or just an entree), I highly suggest a pasta dish. Tagliatelle al Ragu di Agnello ($18) is a good choice simply because the tagliatelle is made in-house and served with a lamb ragu enveloped in a rich hearty savory sauce.

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Or, if you’re looking for a “secondi” course as they do in Italy, Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe ($16) is perfect for you to share. A simple, yet utterly delicious spaghetti with pecorino and black pepper, you will want to eat mouthful after mouthful, and won’t be able to stop.

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Moving on to entrees, I was intrigued by Orata “al Cartoccio” ($30), a whole sea bream “al cartoccio”, meaning it is wrapped in parchment paper like “en papillote” in French cuisine. The fish is de-boned and stuffed with zucchini, cherry tomatoes, black Taggiasca olives into its cavity. The result is moist, flaky flesh with the beautiful amalgamation of flavors from the vegetables. I ate the entire fish — well, almost!

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Meat lovers should find Guancia di Manzo Brasata al Barbaresco ($29) incredibly satisfying. Beef cheeks braised in Barbaresco (wine) is so tender you wouldn’t need a knife to cut it. The “mulino sobrino” polenta is light, perfectly textured for me, although a little too thin for my dining companion. The sauce is rich and I wanted more of it to accompanying the sauteed mushrooms with.

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The unassuming restaurant sits on the very busy Sunset Blvd. Drive a little faster and you will miss it completely. However, if you take a moment and step inside, you’ll find some heartwarming and very stellar dishes that will surely surprise and tantalize you.

Al Bacio
8741 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Tel: 310-657-1182

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