Tavern on 2 tantalizes my tastebuds

If the name Frank De Loach has never crossed your ears before, you’re definitely missing out. This is an unconventional chef who thinks outside of the box, one who is not afraid to play with flavors and bring together ingredients some may not be familiar with. In short, not everyone get his food.  But for those who do, the experience is a sensational one. Chef Frank’s flavor profiles are pretty much on par with mine about 99% of the time. I know he will use enough salt and acid for my palate and that is always something to be happy about.

When you meet Chef Frank, you won’t be surprised that his gastropub-style cuisine is deliciously comforting, however, it is his Asian-inspired dishes that blows my mind. My first experience with Chef Frank’s Asian-style food creations was at Early Bird in Fullerton. His love for Asian flavors, plus the myriad of tastes he picked up during his travels to southeast Asia invigorated him to design — and they are often works of art — incredible pairings of flavors he was moved by.

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Chef Frank is now at Tavern on 2 in Long Beach, where most of the customers order the burgers. We had one as well — Tavern Burger ($14). The pattie is a perfect medium rare. Each bite provided me with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized onions, richness from the St Andre brie and freshness from the arugula. The savory ketchup did a great job by adding some salty tart finish. The burger is good. Damn good. It is not surprising that about 70% of the restaurant had one on the table — there are four beef burgers, one ahi and one veggie on the menu.

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Another favorite is Chef Frank’s version of Short Rib Poutine ($14). Yes, there are those who are sticklers for authentic poutine, and then, there are those who haven’t a clue what real poutine is. I kind of fall in between. I’ll love it if it tastes good. The version here has braised short rib which would probably amass a complete furor from some. Ask for it with only gravy and Wisconsin cheese curds if you feel your purist side emerging — I eat it without much short rib and prefer only gravy and curds with my fries. It is definitely very tasty.

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Don’t grimace at this next dish, Sticky Pigtails ($9), if you like ribs, you’ll most probably like this. The minute I bite into it, a wave of nostalgia comes over me. The sauce tastes exactly like my mother’s sweet and sour ribs except she uses Chinese dark vinegar. Here, it is a blend of hoisin and oyster sauces with lime and a few other things thrown in. Sticky they definitely are, and mouthpuckering as well, but it’s all good.

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However, what I am here for are for the dishes the rest of the clientele may not be ordering at a “tavern”. The blackboard features seasonal dishes such as Summer Peaches ($11), where lusciously sweet peaches are tossed with cubes of smoked mozzarella, radicchio, baby kale, Thai basil, white balsamic, and sprinkled with cocoa crumbs. At first, I’m like “what the hell is this….” but once you eat it with each of the ingredients on the plate — I highly suggest dipping your mozzarella into it — you will get a burst of the cocoa on your palate and go “oh! wow!”

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Hamachi Crudo ($12) is another blackboard special and is so simple and refreshing. Interspersed between slices of strawberries, jicama sticks, cilantro and shards of lime zest, the fish possesses hints of the jalapeno vin it is marinated in. Subtle and not overpowering, the hamachi is left to shine. Naturally, I wanted just a little more citrus, but that’s just me.

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If I am dining alone, the Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) salad would make for a perfect dish for one. If you’re there with others, you can share it — unless you’re with me, then I would hog the entire bowl. Chunks of seared ahi tuna is tossed in a Vietnamese dressing along with soba noodles, Thai basil, cilantro, radish, cucumber, red onions, cabbage and scallions. This is one of those items I am not able to stop eating. The perfect pairings of salty and tart is simply outstanding.

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I suggest you eat this meal from light to heavy, although, the salads and fish dishes make for the perfect palate cleanser in between the heavier options. I just prefer to not cloud my mouth with the richer foods before I eat salad and fish. I hope you will visit Tavern on 2 and check out what Chef Frank is doing. I always know I’m going to be highly satisfied whenever I leave a meal that he has prepared.

Tavern on 2
5110 E 2nd Street
Long Beach, CA 90803
Tel: 562-856-4000

Tavern On 2 on Urbanspoon

spur of the moment decision lands us at Plan Check

An impromptu decision to drive up to LA for lunch ended up here, at Plan Check! We got there early and snagged a great parking spot right outside. Funnily, I realized where I was after we had parked because I saw the Japanese restaurant (Bar Hayama) across the street where I attended a birthday party four years ago.

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We were seated at a nice booth by the window and were immediately delighted by the cocktails, including my Green Daisy ($12) of tequila, lemongrass tea, apple brandy, lemon, bitters — which wasn’t green by the way — or the Ginger Grant ($12), with pisco, blood orange, sake, aperol, ginger.

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To accompany the cocktails, we ordered a bunch of tidbits to go with them including Egg in Pickle Juice ($2), an interestingly flavored boiled egg but with weirdly textured egg whites.

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We absolutely loved the Midnight Moon cheese ($5), beautifully salty without the overwhelming aroma of goat’s milk that I usually don’t care for. However, being a gouda, it had a hard texture but still remained creamy texturally.

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Soppressata Picante ($5) made with Berkshire pork has a nice kick to it but otherwise, was just average.

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The Duck Breast Ham ($5) brought a touch of nostalgia when I tasted it. Strangely, it reminded me of Chinese air-dried duck which my mom will add to the steamed Chinese dried meats my dad likes to eat.

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The Chorizo Sausage ($3) was awesome! Just awesome! I didn’t taste the green garlic at all, but it was still, AWESOME!

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Pastrami Gravy Fries ($9) was the daily special and I’m so glad we ordered it. Beef tallow (beef fat) French fries are topped with pastrami bits, pastrami gravy, melted Swiss cheese and chopped pickles — gooey, decadent, delicious. The pickles add a perfect acidity helping cut a little of the richness. A must-order!

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I’m not a huge burger fan, but this had “signature dish” screaming at us, so Plan Check Burger ($11) it is! I’m not sure about the Americanized dashi cheese or ketchup leather, but together with the schmaltz onions, mixed pickles between the crunch bun, it was a DAMN GOOD burger. REALLY good!! Well seasoned meat paired with flavors that fit like a glove — impressive.

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Smoky Fried Chicken ($13) on the other hand is right up my alley. Jidori chicken is fried perfectly and I liked how the accoutrements were not doused over the chicken, but in the skillet with the chicken sitting on top. There is nothing worse than soggy fried chicken and there was nothing soggy about this. Smoked milk gravy and sweet yam preserves added levels of flavor profiles I so enjoy — salty, sweet with spicy pickled okra pods to give it heat and tartness. A perfect dish in my book!

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This was definitely a great lunch choice and well worth driving up to LA for. They are expanding fast and we hope they will soon have an OC location so we don’t have to drive an hour to relish in this very satisfying meal.

Plan Check
1800 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: 310-288-6500

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

Bagels & Brew and much much more

I’ve never been a coffee drinker, and I rarely eat bagels, so when I saw Bagels & Brew, it never dawned on me to give them a try. It wasn’t until my friend suggested we have lunch here that I actually found what that this place was SO much more than just coffee and bagels.

There were a few of us so we managed to try several things including an array of sandwiches they have on offer.

We started with some breakfast selections including Sunrise Supreme ($4.99), a bagel of your choice filled with egg, bacon, cheddar, tomato, lettuce, and schmear of cream cheese. I’m not into breakfast sandwiches of any kind, but this was tasty and I liked how they didn’t skimp on the fillings at all. It was actually bursting out of the bagel whenever I took a bite.

If I were to order a breakfast sandwich, this would be the one I’d choose. Pesto Florentine Sunrise ($4.99) combines together everything that is delicious. Although the menu says scrambled egg, it was more like an omelette. Spinach, mushrooms, tomato, Swiss cheese and pesto aioli makes for something so delicious you’ll have to taste it to believe it.

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If you don’t want something carby, choose the Bacon, Avocado & Tomato Omelet ($6.89) filled with gooey jack cheese. Again, they don’t skimp on ingredients and you will taste all the bacon and cheese, creamy avocado and fresh tomatoes in a really delicious breakfast.

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When The Mission Viejo ($4.99) arrived, I had to smile. This is one of my favorite snacks at home, sans the cream cheese and I have it on toast. Avocado and tomatoes are topped on a bagel smothered with a cream cheese of your choice, and then sprinkled with lemon pepper. A really simple meal any time of the day.

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Havarti Florentine ($7.29) is a sandwich packed with grilled turkey breast, sauteed spinach, dill havarti, grilled onions, tomato and mayo. If I were to pick a sandwich, this would be it! Served with house-made potato chips, the generous portion is ample enough for a healthy appetite.

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If you’re looking for something lighter, try the Portofino Salmon Salad ($10.50), a piece of grilled salmon fillet served on top of field greens, goat cheese, medley of roasted artichoke, red peppers, tomatoes, onions tossed with balsamic vinaigrette.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Bagels & Brew also offers burgers on the menu. Southwest Angus Burger ($7.49) is a hand formed 1/2 lb Angus pattie, topped with avocado, ortega green chili, jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle and house sauce in an OC Baking Company potato bun. The result? Even the pickiest eater will find this very tasty!

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And if you’re in the neighborhood during dinner hours, Bagels & Brew has a dinner menu not many seem to know about. The Salmon plate ($10.95) is a piece of grilled salmon topped with mango salsa served with delicious cheese toast, roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables and some rice. Healthy, delicious and a good size portion for $11.

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I was very impressed by Bagels & Brew and its extensive menu offered early in the morning until evening. The majority of the menu is made in-house and they great pride in this aspect of the family-owned business. Everything is fresh, healthy and things I am happy to feed my child with.

This week, I have a $25 gift card to give away to one lucky winner. Leave me a comment and tell me your experiences with Bagels & Brew or why you would like to visit, if you haven’t already. Please leave your FULL name or your entries will not be valid. Entries close on Sunday.

Bagels & Brew
23052 Alicia Pkwy
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
Tel: 949-837-6977

Bagels & Brew on Urbanspoon

21771 Lake Forest Drive
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Tel: 949-951-8985

Bagels & Brew on Urbanspoon

26601 Aliso Creek Road
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
Tel: 949-521-6120

Bagels & Brew on Urbanspoon

one of my faves opens new location

This is my 500th post and it is befitting that I write about one of my favorites! It is no secret I love Veggie Grill. From the very first time I tried them six years ago, I have not lost my desire to eat this absolutely delicious vegetarian fare.

Their latest location in Laguna Niguel is just another reason to give Veggie Grill a try if you haven’t already been introduced to them. I love how each location has its own unique decor while still keeping in tune with its signature style and colors.

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I’ve positively had everything on the menu and although 90% of the items I love, there are definitely some that are dearer to my heart than the others. If you are a salad fan, there are lots to choose from starting with the Thai Salad ($9.95). Romaine, cabbage, corn salsa, green onion, mandarin oranges, sesame seeds, cilantro, wonton strips are tossed in a spicy Thai dressing and topped with with either grilled chickin or tempeh.

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I love the buffalo wings and you can have them on a salad by ordering B-Wing Salad ($9.95). These deliciously spicy tart buffalo wings are served over chopped romaine, avocado, celery, toasted corn salsa in a creamy ranch dressing. So mouth puckering good!

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One of my favorite salads is the All Hail Kale ($7.25 lunch size/$8.95 entree size). Not only is it healthy, but it is so delicious as well, so good that even my son loves it. Marinated kale and red cabbage are chopped into bite-sized pieces and tossed with corn salsa, agave roasted walnuts in a ginger papaya vinaigrette. You can add tempeh or blackened chickin for $2.75.

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If salads aren’t your thing then I suggest getting a sandwich. Papa’s Portobello ($8.50) consists of a large meaty grilled mushroom, topped with chopped tomato, basil and garlic pomodoro, caramelized onions, pesto, lettuce, red onion and drizzled with chipotle ranch.

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The All American Stack ($8.95) is one of my son’s favorites! Grilled veggie steak, pickles, lettuce, tomato and crispy onion rings topped with thousand island dressing complete this burger.

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If you’re a fan of the buffalo wings like I am, then you’ll love the Buffalo Bomber ($8.95) with a crispy chickin’ pattie tossed with spicy buffalo sauce assembled with tomato, red onion, lettuce and creamy ranch dressing. So so good!

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If you just want the buffalo chickin on its own then totally order the Buffalo wings ($6.95). These chickin strips are served with  celery sticks and creamy ranch dressing and I always order them on every visit.

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Chill Out Wings ($6.50) are another favorite. These are the fried chickin strips served with tangy BBQ sauce and chipotle ranch. My son usually orders two serves of this but ends up sharing them with me in exchange for my buffalo ones.

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There are also entree style plates such as Crispy Chickin’ Plate ($9.95) is so good you wouldn’t even miss the carnivorous kind. Fried chickin with cauli-mashed potatoes are accompanied by a flavorful porcini mushroom gravy with fresh rosemary and served with a side of steamin’ kale. For me, this is comfort food without the cholesterol!

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Blackened Chickin Plate ($9.50) is a nicely charred piece of chickin topped with papaya salsa and served with steamin’ kale and quinoa pilaf. Talk about healthy! This is a totally guilt-free and filling meal.

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if you’re not full yet from everything, you can try some of the desserts on offer. The new soft serve — vanilla, chocolate or swirl (with or without Oreo crumble) — is a good choice and kids love it!

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Or, the carrot cake is absolutely delicious! None of the desserts are overly sweet which appeals to me!

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If you haven’t tried Veggie Grill yet, here’s a chance for you to do it. I have two $15 gift cards to give away courtesy of Veggie Grill. Leave me a comment with your FULL name and tell me whether or not you’ve been before and why you love it, or, if you haven’t, then why you would like to try! Entries end on Friday, May 3rd.

Veggie Grill
27321 La Paz Road
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
Tel: 949-362-9649

Veggie Grill on Urbanspoon

Islands is not just about burgers

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to an Islands. It’s funny because even though they are known for burgers, I usually get something else whenever I go with my friends who want burgers.

On this recent trip, I went with my son who loves burgers. We arrived early evening and happy hour was still going on. They have a handful of $5 or under items which are good accompaniments for one or two drinks. I was happy to see they had skinny margaritas and ordered the Margarita Lite ($8.90) which uses Patron Silver, organic agave, fresh lime juice and Triple Sec.

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On the happy hour menu, we chose the Cheddar Fries ($3.95) and it was a huge plateful of Island fries covered with melted cheddar and scallions. I kept telling my son to not overindulge in it because he still had a burger coming, but he’s a growing boy and I couldn’t believe how much he was able to pack away!

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The Poke ($8.95) a new item on the menu is pretty damn good. Chunks of albacore tuna is tossed in soy, sesame oil, sambal and sits on a bed of shredded cabbage topped with diced scallions and sesame seeds. Loved this!

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If you like fish tacos, the Grilled Fish ($10.69/2 tacos) offers the day’s selection of fresh fish on corn tortillas and topped with cabbage, cilantro, diced tomatoes and a house chipotle white sauce. Nicely seasoned albeit the tortillas were a little hard. The ranchero beans served on the side is really good!

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My favorite of the night was a new item from their “Local Menu”. Salmon Miso Glazed Bowl ($12.49) is a brown rice bowl with fresh grilled pineapple chunks, bell peppers, red onions, water chestnuts, snow peas, broccoli and scallions. A nice piece of fresh grilled Atlantic salmon is then placed on top making it a delicious and healthy meal. You can also get this in teriyaki or hoisin sauce.

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My son loved his Nalu Nalu ($10.85) burger, a new menu item which is only offered for a limited time. This burger is reminiscent of a Philly cheesesteak topped with provolone cheese, sauteed onions, mixed peppers, hot deli pepper rings and lettuce with roasted garlic aioli. I took a bite and it was very flavorful. I’m not a huge burger person but my son devoured it in its entirety. I wish I had such metabolism!!

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This week, Islands has generously donated THREE $25 giftcards for my readers to win. Leave me a comment with your FULL name (you won’t be entered if you don’t leave your full name!) and tell me if you’re a burger person or if you’ll be ordering something other than burgers — and why! Three lucky winners will be chosen to win one of those giftcards. Entries close Thursday and winner will be announced Friday. Good Luck!

Islands
(check out full list of locations on the website)
4020 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92604
Tel: 949-552-1888

Islands on Urbanspoon

enjoying great burgers at Burger Lounge

For someone who doesn’t eat a lot of burgers, I’ve been having plenty lately and am posting back to back burger posts with Smashburger last week and now, Burger Lounge. I’ve seen it often whenever I’m down in San Diego and my friends would say “let’s go try it” and I always say “next time”. Well, that “next time” has come.

There are several locations and the one we went to is located in the Kensington area. I love the orange hues (one of my favorite colors) and the upscale diner look of the cozy restaurant was very chic and modern.

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The menu is simple but caters to everyone’s tastes. I love how they use 100% grass fed beef on the burgers, but also offers turkey and vegetarian options.

The classic is The Lounge Burger ($7.95) with your choice of organic white cheddar or American topped with fresh or grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and a house-made 1000 Island dressing.

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Smaller appetites can opt for the Baby Lounge Burger ($5.95) in beef, turkey or vegetarian. They’re smaller, but enough for me if I were to eat it on its own. We tried the Free Range Turkey ($7.95) in the baby size and I thought it was really juicy and flavorful, not at all what turkey burgers usually taste like.

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The vegetarian Quinoa Burger ($7.95) suffices in taste but I’d much rather eat a meaty burger so this isn’t for me, but, a respectable vegetarian option.

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Right now they are serving the Smokey Wild Boar ($9.95) burger which should not be missed. The pattie is so flavorful and oozing with great flavors we gobbled it all down even though we were so full. The onion rings added a wonderful crunch and the touch of barbecue sauce did not overpower at all.

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I’m a sucker for fried sides, especially Onion Rings ($3.99/$4.99), which weren’t too greasy and not overladen with batter.

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French Fries ($2.99/$3.99) are my favorite potato item, as I’m not a fan of potatoes, and these were lovely and crispy and I couldn’t stop eating them.

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If you’re a fan of floats, do not miss out on the Lounge Float ($4.95) with either Mexican Coke, ginger beer, Fanta Orange or Maine Root Soda. We chose the latter and it was quite delectable and not overly sweet.

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The restaurant just added some gluten free menu and gluten free bun is 95 cents extra in either Lounge Burger or Baby Lounge sizes. The quinoa salad is a good gluten free addition to the menu.

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I wish there was a Burger Lounge in Orange County. Right now they are only in San Diego and Los Angeles and I’m waiting for the day they open one near me!

Burger Lounge
4116 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116
Tel: 619-584-2929

Burger Lounge on Urbanspoon