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

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where’s the Umami?

Normally I wouldn’t even bother with writing up a place I didn’t enjoy, however, I couldn’t pass this one over purely because EVERYONE seems to love it and sadly, I didn’t.

The Umami Burger hype has stretched from Los Angeles down to Orange County and I finally jumped on the burger bandwagon and went to give it a try. The restaurant has taken over Valhalla Table’s space and looks relatively the same. We were the first ones in the restaurant, seated, ordered and waited for our meal to arrive.

As we watched table after table receive food except us, I started to get agitated, and 35 minutes later, we finally got Sweet Potato Fries, a bit over-fried as they were dark and a bit burnt, with a sprinkling of brown sugar on top. Perhaps it was to enhance the already sweet SWEET potatoes but whatever the reason, it took away from its natural flavors. Dislike!

Smashed Potatoes were bland and tasteless and the smidgen of aioli dabbed on the edge of the serving bowl was neither enough to flavor of the potatoes, nor was there enough for the amount of potatoes in the bowl. Dislike!

I wasn’t about to visit Umami without trying their signature burger and the Umami Burger — cooked to medium rare — was smaller than I’d imagined but looked good with a parmesan crisp on top of the patty. What was very unfortunate was the fact that the beef patty was not seasoned and was devoid of any beefiness I’d expect of a patty made with freshly ground meat. The parmesan crisp soon soften and was a soggy mess making the burger an unpalatable disaster. A burger without any redeeming qualities to deserve its name. Dislike!

We hoped the Port Stilton Burger would be more flavorful and while we were hit by overwhelmingly strong blue cheese which overpowered the entire burger, again, the under-seasoned meat disappeared underneath everything else. We could’ve been eating a veggie burger slathered with blue cheese for all I knew and I’ve had veggie burgers with more flavor. Dislike!

At $11 a burger with no sides included, your meal becomes rather pricey after you add a side here and there and a drink which averages around $3 and you are allowed ONE refill. The staff are highly efficient when refilling your drink — when you’re not even done — and at one refill, I’d expect you to bring me a fresh glass instead of filling up a glass that’s only 1/3 left.

After waiting this long for the Umami Burger experience, I was disappointed, especially when the meal came to $40 after tip — definitely not something I’d call bang for your buck. I don’t mind paying good money for something tasty, but when I walk away feeling so unsatisfied, I can’t help but walk away feeling wounded and cheated.

Umami Burger
2981 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-957-8626

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Mick’s gourmet Karma Bar burgers

When I first saw Mick’s Karma Bar on Yelp, I was strangely curious because the name conjures up images of a weird spot decorated with ‘om’ symbols and Buddha statues, maybe even some crystals of sorts here and there. But then I read the reviews and they were of burgers which totally threw me off.

When I finally made it to Mick’s, it was nothing like how I’d initially imagined. Instead, this tiny spot was originally a juice bar — and you can totally see that — which served a great burger, and now, the juices are gone, but the burgers are what the hoards of people come for.

The menu is simple. There are five burgers and a sprinkling of wraps. If you’re looking for a salad, or a sandwich, you’re not gonna find it here. But when all’s said and done, the burgers are crazy good and at under $6 a pop, I can honestly say they are just too good to be true.

If you haven’t yet experienced Mick’s you really need to do it soon. My favorites are the Habanero and the Patty Melt. All burgers start with the same basic ingredient — freshly ground Angus steak — with various toppings to give them their own individuality.

The Habanero is pretty straight forward. It has a nice kick with a house-made habanero sauce and the crispy lettuce and tomato which is pretty much on every burger on the board. This is my burger to die for — I mean, habanero? Seriously, nothing is better than this.

When I’m wanting something more ‘traditional’ the Patty Melt is great because it’s the meat and caramelized onions with gruyere. This is a juicy, rich burger dripping with goodness.

For those less adventurous, there is always the Karma burger, your traditional burger with American cheese. The Mediterranean offers up feta, roasted red peppers and hummus……

……. while the Baja is topped with pepper jack (although in the picture, it was exchanged for American), guacamole and sour cream. It’s just a matter of preference really, but no matter which topping you choose, your burger is always juicy and oh so scrumptious.

But wait! The menu also offers Fish Taco ($7.95) — a flour tortilla topped with cabbage, pico de gallo and a seriously big piece of grilled mahi mahi. It is not only healthy, but oh so flavorful you’ll polish off the entire plate with no trouble whatsoever. For an additional $3.95 you can make your meal a combo with a drink and English-style ‘chips’ (steak cut fries).

Mick’s Karma Bar now has somewhat of a cult following. People come at all hours and there’s no telling when you’re going to encounter a nutty gaggle of people, or, have the luxury of dining at the counter and be able to chat with owner Michael Schepers while you eat.

Either way, when you’ve taken that last bite and downed the last drop of those addicting Strawberry Basil Lemonades, you will leave feeling utterly fulfilled and plotting your return visit even before you walk out the door.

Mick’s Karma Bar
2010 Main Street
Ste 165
Irvine, CA 92614
Tel: 949-851-6316

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Monday fried chicken dinners at Paul Martin’s

Lately, a lot of restaurants have started offering Sunday Dinner meals and it was refreshing to find a place serving up a Monday special instead.

Paul Martin’s Monday 3-Course Fried Chicken Dinner ($22) will satisfy any appetite because you definitely will not leave hungry. I’m a fan of fried chicken, but it’s hard to find GOOD fried chicken. I like mine moist on the inside and crispy on the outside, but I also want my chicken to be flavorful inside and out. More often than not, all the flavor is on the outside.

Not the case here. The description on the menu reads “Pitman Family Farms, all natural buttermilk fried chicken” and even though I have no idea where Pitman Family Farms is, I don’t need to, one bite and it speaks for itself.

But before you get your fried chicken, you start off with either an organic baby lettuce salad or soup, we opted for the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup ($9 a la carte). It was on the sweet side for me — found out they use a little honey in it — but full of butternut squash flavors.

When the fried chicken hits the table you will be amazed at how big a portion you get. Moist pieces of juicy chicken surrounding a heaping mound of mashed potatoes.

One of us ordered the Bistro Burger ($13), Paul Martin’s signature burger using fresh ground natural Angus, cooked to my perfect medium-rare and slathered with black pepper aioli. We added Point Reyes blue cheese, bacon and sauteed mushrooms. It was a deliciously tasty burger — and I’m not usually a fan of burgers either.

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon ($6) is a great accompaniment to any meal and we enjoyed it very much. Ample bits of bacon flavor the shredded sprouts throughout.

The 3-course dinner ends with a homemade blondie with vanilla ice cream — not too sweet, warm and gooey with a small scoop of ice cream. It was so much food and we ended up taking leftovers home. I wonder if I can buy a few of those blondies to bring home with me. They’re really very good!

One lucky reader will win a 3-course Fried Chicken Dinner for two at Paul Martin’s. Leave me a comment with your full name and a valid email address where we can contact you if you win. Entries must arrive by midnight Saturday, March 18. Winner will be announced Monday March 19.

Good Luck!

Paul Martin’s American Grill
31 Fortune Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
Tel: 949-453-1144

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