feeling let down by Burlap

I’ve had Burlap on my radar for quite some time now and finally was able to make a trip down to Del Mar with Austin and some friends a few weeks ago. When we got there, I was quite underwhelmed by the lackluster exterior of the place, but when we entered, it was a whole ‘nother story.

There is definitely an Asian theme throughout the restaurant with ornate lion’s heads dangling from the ceiling above the bar and a koi pond on the back patio. There are nooks and crannies all over with a private dining room hidden behind the lounge area and a separate outside lounge on the far end of the restaurant.

It was a beautiful day, albeit a windy one, and it seemed everyone was seated outside on the patio. I soon found out that not only was the decor very Asian-centric, but so was the menu.

We started with a cocktail — The Dragon ($12) — of tequila, prosecco and a Szechuan gastrique. I was intrigued by the ingredients, but unfortunately, even the chili pepper garnish wasn’t enough to add any bit of kick to the drink. The prosecco tasted a little flat and just didn’t give it the fiery punch I had expected from its flamboyant moniker.

Cobb Salad Spring Rolls ($12) was interesting, essentially a salad rolled inside Vietnamese rice paper with bacon, nori, chicken, noodle strips served with a red curry ranch. It wasn’t presented with finesse as the messy plate was quite unpleasant, but thy definitely tasted a lot better than they looked.

I really enjoyed the Squid ($10), strips of squid fried and tossed with a sweet chili sauce. It was served with a cilantro creme fraiche dipping sauce, but it was great on its own, no sauce needed.

The Brie ($13) was fried tempura style but was reminiscent of a baked brie appetizer. Nothing special, but tasty nonetheless.

I was really intrigued by Korean Fried Chicken ($13) because I love fried chicken, and especially the Korean-style fried chicken. Unfortunately, this wasn’t Korean style, nor was it good fried chicken for that matter. The coating was weak and fell off the chicken upon touch. The chicken itself was flavorless. The potato salad side dish was tossed in kewpie (Japanese mayo) yogurt but the potatoes didn’t taste like it had been boiled in salted water because the potatoes were bland. Very disappointing.

Fish N Chips ($17) was not any better. The fish was devoid of taste and was very wet on the inside which led me to believe it was previously frozen. The ginger tartare sauce had barely any ginger, but luckily, the triple cooked kennebec french fries were really good! This certainly was not worth $17.

We were so disappointed right now with our meal but decided to get a dessert to share because we had left most of the food untouched and frankly, we weren’t full. Thank god, Coconut Lemongrass Tapioca ($8) was THE BEST thing of our meal. Topped with mango and served with kiwi granita and passionfruit coconut sorbet, this dessert was absolutely DELICIOUS and yes, coming from me, that’s saying a lot!

It is always very tricky when it comes to fusion cuisine. When executed correctly, it can produce the sublime nuances of the best of both worlds. When poorly thought out, it can be pretty disastrous. I’m not saying this was a disaster by any means, but, it didn’t reflect a good understand of utilizing the fusion definition to its full potential. By labeling fried chicken as “Korean”, I expect some aspect of Korean fried chicken on my plate. Sadly, it was neither here nor there. I felt deceived by what was presented on the menu, to what arrived on my plate.

All in all a very underwhelming meal. We had expected a lot more from Burlap and were hugely disappointed by our experience. Definitely not feeling like giving them a return visit any time soon.

12995 El Camino Real
Del Mar, CA 92130
Tel: 858-369-5700

Burlap on Urbanspoon

enamored with dinners at Anepalco’s Cafe

I’m always shocked when people tell me they’ve never heard of Anepalco’s Cafe, or that they’ve never been there. SERIOUSLY? The BEST chilaquiles in Orange County and beyond and you’ve never been? Sacrilege!!!

I’ve been a fan ever since my first visit to the original Anepalco’s, tucked away in a teenie strip mall next to CHOC Hospital in Orange, years ago and have been going back ever since.

A second location opened this May at a bigger space and the best news of all, with a completely new dinner menu. Chef and owner Danny Godinez has brought his Mexican heritage, together with his French training (his resume includes Montage, Ritz-Carlton and more) to create one of the most eclectic menus around.

Chef Danny’s dinner menu is ever evolving, but customer favorites always remain. Since May, the dinner menu has already been adapted a few times to include stellar dishes which will never come off the menu, or at least, I hope they won’t, and new inspirations his creative mind is constantly flooded with.

One of those is Shrimp Cassoulet ($8.50), large plump shrimp immersed in a mind-blowingly dreamy, rich, creamy chipotle sauce you won’t be able to stop eating. Served with toasted sliced bread, I suggest you ask for more even before they bring it to the table because you will need it. My son can eat this all on his own and he won’t want to share. I wish they will serve it with a side of rice so I can just douse it with the remaining sauce.

Ranchera Flatbread ($8.50) with top sirloin beef cap, roasted tomatillo sauce, Oaxaca cheese and spring onion is the perfect item to share while you sip on one of the many beers on tap. Or, a glass of wine personally sourced by Chef Danny from Mexico.

Continue with Ahi Tuna Tartare ($9) consisting of ahi tuna, avocado, red onion, chiles Mexicanos, lime juice, pepitas oil and egg yolk, which your server will mix together once they bring it to the table. Pumpkin seeds and tortilla chips are added for a textural crunch and it is one of those things my son can’t stop eating. It is just delicious.

The menu offers many entrees to choose from so I’ll focus on my favorites. Cielo, Mer Y Terre ($19) is a combination of scallops, shrimp, Spanish chorizo and Jidori chicken in a dry chile veloute sauce served over risotto style rice with ham. It is addicting and I always wish I had remembered to tell them I want extra sauce when I order.

Chef Danny grew up in Acapulco where his mother owned a restaurant. Acapulco is known for its seafood so it is no surprise that the seafood dishes shine here. Serrano Beurre BlancTilapia ($16.50) is another outstanding item. Sauteed tilapia, potato puree, corn, pico de gallo, serrano beurre blanc topped with micro cilantro is one of those dishes every fish lover will adore. Tilapia is tender and the decadent sauce — Danny is famous for his French-style sauces with a Mexican flair — is always the star of the plate.

I absolutely love Callo De Hacha ($18), scallops and grilled chorizo on a bed of ancho polenta in a chipotle sauce. Large, succulent scallops are perfectly executed and paired with salty chorizo for an insanely delicious mouthful. It is so hard to choose between this, the tilapia and the Cielo, Mer Y Terre when I am here, but this is also one of those rare places where my son will eat seafood so I am able to order all of them if I choose.

Meat lovers should check out Costillas Al Vino Rojo ($18.50), short rib slow-cooked for 8 hours and served with potato puree. A little mirepoix is added for crunch and a rich and hearty red wine chile de arbol reduction for severe wow-factor. It is comfort food at its best.

For those wanting something casual, Ratatouille Burger ($12) is quite delicious. You can choose from an all natural beef pattie or an all natural chicken breast. The burger is served on a brioche bun with zucchini, Mexican squash, red pepper, eggplant, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, serrano aioli and Swiss cheese.

The eclectic menu also includes a Huitlacoche Burger ($13) topped with Oaxaca cheese, white cabbage, iceberg, roasted tomatoes and huitlacoche aioli. If you don’t know what huitlacoche is, it is corn smut, and is used predominantly in Mexican cuisine. It probably sounds scarier than it is because chances are, you won’t even be able to tell the difference.

If you want to try a Mexican offering, the Mexican Enchilada Trio ($12) is fantastic. You can choose chicken or pork — I suggest the pork because the cochinita pibil is very flavorful — and is topped with the incredible red sauce, the restaurant’s signature sauce served on their famous chilaquiles.

No matter what you choose, you will find there is nothing average about this place. The food is first class and you won’t be paying an arm and a leg for it!

For the giveaway this week, one of my readers will have the opportunity to win a 5-course tasting menu for two especially prepared by Chef Danny. Include your FULL name and why you deserve to win this fabulous offer. Entries will close on Sunday.

Anepalco’s Cafe
at Ayres Inn
3737 W. Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA 92868
Tel: 714-456-9642

Anepalco's Cafe (Inside Ayres Inn) on Urbanspoon

a marriage of Chinese & Indian at Tangy Tomato

About 13 years ago, I was visiting some friends in Toronto and they took me to this Chinese-Indian restaurant and I fell in love with the cuisine, but since then, I’ve not had this food, so when my friend informed me that there was a Chindian restaurant in Artesia, I was psyched to visit.

While Tangy Tomato is not predominantly Chindian cuisine — in fact, there are more Indian offerings than “Chinese Indian” on the menu, but both are offered via a buffet at lunch time as well as a la carte.  – start with a Lassi ($2.50-$4), and there are three, or Mango Tango ($4) to sip on while perusing the menu.my friends and I opted to go a la carte instead of buffet.

We started with some appetizers. Punjabi Somosa ($4.50) are stuffed with potato and peas and should be shared. They are filling, but pretty good with the mint sauce in the condiment container they will bring to the table. The mint sauce here is different to the others. It is not bright green and doesn’t have yogurt mixed in. It is refreshing and light and so easy to eat.

I am new to Bombay Frankie ($7) and found them rather interesting. Traditionally, they are more like wraps, but here, they look like egg rolls and are filled with paneer (cheese) and vegetables. This is a vegetarian item and surprisingly good — I’m not usually a fan of paneer. A dipping sauce of chilis infused in vinegar is served alongside and adds a zing by cutting the heaviness of the fried item. In fact, the sauce is also good with the samosas.

One of my favorite items was the Murg Malai Kebab ($13), chunks of white meat, grilled and topped with this delicious sauce. I can’t tell you what’s in the sauce, but my son ate the leftovers and demanded more so I know it’s REALLY good.

I’m a huge fan of okra and so Bhindi Aloo Mirch Masala ($10) was right up my alley. I would’ve liked no potatoes (not a fan of them) and all okra, but the name of the dish is bhindi (okra) aloo (potatoes) and not just bhindi — *sigh* — I can eat this all day. The okra was slightly shriveled so all the flavors were sucked into them, simply divine.

If you’re a fan of chili fries, try the Szechuan Fries served on a sizzling platter. I can’t remember what they are called on the menu, Chili Garlic Potatoes ($11), I think, but these are tossed in a slightly spicy Sichuan sauce. I brought the leftovers home and my son devoured them.

Next came Spicy Gobi Manchurian ($11) which is a Chindian dish of fried cauliflower tossed in a sweet sauce — I didn’t detect much heat. I don’t like sweetness in my savory food so this obviously wasn’t my favorite, but everyone else liked it a lot.

Besides okra, eggplant is another item I can eat all day long. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that I ordered Hot Garlic Eggplant ($11), which is pretty much similar to the ones you get at Chinese restaurants. I liked this a lot.

Chicken Tikka Masala ($14), or butter chicken is good here — not one of my favorite items — chicken is tender and flavor spot on. It seems like this is a dish loved by all, but me. There are tons of other dishes I’d much rather eat, such as the next one.

Housboat Fish Curry ($14) is essentially Goan Fish Curry and I absolutely adore this dish when done right. I had it at Tamarind not long ago and frankly, it was tasteless. When I put the first spoonful of this curry into my mouth, I knew I had found the right one.

The aromas of curry leaves permeated throughout the sauce and the fish was moist and tender. This is not a spicy curry, in fact, there isn’t any heat to it at all, but the layers of flavors creates a complexity which is essential to a good Goan Fish Curry. Just writing this up right now is making me salivate and wanting some over piping hot basmati rice.

Besides rice, you can opt for Laccha Parantha ($2.50), a flaky bread or, the quintessential Garlic Naan ($2.50) to accompany your meal with.

Those of you who have never tried Chindian food, Tangy Tomato has generously donated a $25 gift certificate for you to go try it. Leave me a comment as to why you would like to try Chindian food with your FULL name by Sunday May 6th for a chance to win. Winner will be announced on Monday, May 7th.

Tangy Tomato
18728 Pioneer Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701
Tel: 562-924-2719

Tangy Tomato on Urbanspoon

Starfish won me over with soup … and more

I’ve never been a fan of Asian fusion, but something happened this year. I found myself surprised by some non-traditional Asian cuisine and even liking some of the westernized food on offer. Starfish Laguna is one of those places.

I recently visited again and was drawn to the Hot and Sour Soup ($5), filled with organic pressed tofu,bamboo, shiitake mushroom and finished off with egg drop. I added a spoonful of sambal oelek for more heat, but it was a stellar bowl of hot and sour! — lunch specials come with soup and egg roll.

I was enticed by the description of the Singapore Bamboo Roll ($7) — soy seasoned bamboo, carrot, jicama, cilatro, thai basil served with a roasted peanut hoisin dipping sauce. I was so happy that it tasted exactly as I’d expected it to! The rolls are so refreshing with crunchy vegetables stuffed inside. I can eat two orders of these on my own — easily!

Another item I enjoyed were the Korean Galbi Tacos ($9), served three to an order. The barbequed sesame soy seasoned natural angus beef was flavorful and the spicy gochujang aioli added a nice kick to them. Pickled daikon soothed out the flavors by adding some crunchy tartness.

I love eggplant and insisted on ordering Japanese Eggplant ($10) slow braised with house made sambal, Sichuan peppercorns and bell peppers. I was disappointed. Not only was there no hint of the Sichuan peppercorns’ numbing effects, but the dish was surprisingly bland. We all agreed this was our least favorite item.

Garlic Noodle ($10), priced the same at the one at AnQi was a much larger portion dotted with wild mushrooms, vine ripened tomato and bean sprouts and was so much more flavorful. I will take this over AnQi’s “famous” garlic noodles any day even though the noodles here are much thinner and not as garlicky.

One of my favorite dishes was Beef and Coke Farms Broccoli di Ciccio ($12) a sauteed item with garlic, rice wine and soy. I can eat this with a bowl of steaming hot rice and call it a day.

We ended with Thai Fried Rice ($12), a quite tasty combination of wild gulf shrimp, Chinese sausage, edamame, egg and cabbage. Not your traditional fried rice by any means, but will appeal to both kids and adults alike!

Yes it’s not traditional or authentic Asian fare, but if it’s tasty I’ll eat it AND enjoy it. Just like PF Chang’s, Starfish Laguna has definitely caught my attention with their twist on food I grew up eating. I will be back again for those Bamboo Rolls, hot and sour soup and the beef with broccoli!

I have a $50 giftcard to giveaway to one lucky reader. Tell me what your favorite Chinese dish is and make sure you include your FULL name & email address. “Like” Starfish Laguna and diary of a Mad Hungry Woman‘s Facebook pages, leave a 2nd comment to let us know and you will be entered for a 2nd chance to win.

Starfish Laguna
30832 Pacific Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-715-9200

Starfish on Urbanspoon

delightful tastes of Tabu Grill

What I like about Tabu Grill is its diversity. You can dress up and sit in the more “formal” dining room, or, just as easily, walk in for a casual meal and sit at the counter, or the bar-style tables. The restaurant is cozy but wonderfully eclectic.

The colors are stunning, and I suggest getting there right when it opens to catch a glimpse of it while there is still some natural light. After dark, the restaurant feels like a hidden romantic cove, perfect for date night with your sweetheart. I’ve dined here several times and on my most recent visit, I had a casual meal with a friend, sitting at the counter and watching the action at the open kitchen.

We started with Seared New England Scallops ($16 ) and I was in orgasmic heaven. The scallops were so perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful. These were really huge scallops and would satiate any cravings you might have. I know it did mine. Served with a potato puree, citrus salad and tangerine beurre blanc, the freshness of the citrus and tangerine flavors goes perfectly with the mollusks.

I love poke and used to eat it a lot when I lived in Hawaii, Tabu Poke ($16) is not exactly traditional Hawaiian poke because besides the ahi tuna, there is mango, celery, avocado, mint tossed in a soy ginger essence and served with taro chips. It is more like tartare than a poke, but nevertheless, very refreshing and a perfect start to a meal. 

Those of you who love foie gras need to partake in eating more of it before the ban mid-year. La Bella Farms Foie Gras ($22) is seared and served with a sweet-tart cranberry raisin compote, candied walnuts on warm apple toast. Luscious, silky and sinfully  delicious. I need to come back again for this!

We finished our savory dishes with Prime Boneless Short Rib ($16), When it comes to short ribs I can either take it or leave it. I’m happy to try it, but more often than not, I’ve not enjoyed it. Boy was I surprised to find this particular one highly pleasing. The meat is so tender, not the least bit dry or chewy.

Braised in a passion fruit soy marinade, the tartness offset the richness of the short rib which made it so easy to eat. Potato puree and stir fry vegetables sit alongside with a roasted pineapple barbecue sauce. I didn’t find the barbecue sauce overly sweet, which is a good thing since I’m not into my protein dishes tasting like my desserts. Very nice!

As if I had room for dessert but we couldn’t resist the Lemon Thyme Panna Cotta ($11). The panna cotta was very subtly hinted with lemon and thyme with a light bouncy texture. I loved the strawberry relish with white balsamic gastrique which was once again sweet and tart.

Every dish was well thought out and well balanced in flavors. I enjoyed everything I tried and am looking to return again to have the foie before it is banned a few months from now.

I have two $50 gift cards to Tabu Grill to giveaway. Leave me a comment with your full name and email address by Sunday March 11th for a chance to win. Winners will be announced Monday 12th.

Tabu Grill
2892 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-494-7743

Tabu Grill on Urbanspoon

A visit to Break of Dawn is always memorable

Break of Dawn has become one of those places my friends and I like to go and get some grub whenever we feel the urge for some eclectic fare. It is strange that I love BoD when I’ve never been a huge fan of Western breakfasts preferring to eat another option when given the opportunity.

But I guess this is the reason why I love BoD. Although they are open for breakfast/brunch, and there are a lot of offerings suited for just that, most of the dishes take on a personality of their own. They are not simply breakfast items, but rather, bold dishes with individuality to be enjoyed any time of the day.

If you’re not feeling terribly hungry but find yourself dragged out on a weekend morning, order the Kabocha Squash bisque. It is served with an eggroll which gives you a wonderful alternating texture from the creamy soup. This item isn’t big but is a tasty way to feel involved with the others without gorging on a huge plate of food.

I’m a huge fan of Eggs Benedict because I love poached eggs. There is nothing sexier than a runny poached egg which oozes at the mere touch of a fork or knife. The seductive way the yolk flows onto the rest of the items on my plate makes me weak. Seriously!

The Benedict here is served with an Asian pesto and the poached eggs are always done to perfection. I like to pierce them ever so slightly and at the touch of my  knife, it breaks apart to reveal the beautiful hue of the egg yolks.

Mac n Cheese is generally what my son orders. Poached eggs are to me what mac n cheese is to him. He’s a sucker when it comes to mac n cheese. The funniest thing is, he loves the Vietnamese Dragon Chili sauce made in-house drizzled all over his mac n cheese. The one here is good, but please don’t take my word for it. I’m not a mac n cheese aficionado, but my lil mac n cheese connoisseur likes it just fine.

My favorite is the Smoked Salmon which is served on top of oatmeal galettes and topped with poached eggs. Yes, there is a recurring theme here — poached eggs generally equals “I like very much”.

I don’t like oatmeal. I know it’s good for me, but it just tastes nasty, however oatmeal galettes — well, they are a different story. These oatmeal cakes are crispy on the outside and texturally so pleasing to me that I think if I had these galettes, I might be able to eat oatmeal every single day.

Bison Sausage is another item worth trying if you like a tasty sausage. I love the spices in this and the stronger flavor of the bison makes for a seriously good sausage. What makes this dish unique is the use of black Onyx rice, a Vietnamese black sticky rice, if you will, and peanuts.

Recently, I found myself hooked on the Portuguese Sausage. It is nothing like the Portuguese sausages I’m accustomed to, you know, those reminiscent of longanisa with the sweetness and high fat content. These have a great snap and are so delicious.

Those with a sweet tooth can either satiate their cravings with Creme Brulee French Toast as a main dish, or share it at the end of your meal as a finisher. I am glad it is at a level I can handle — sweet, but not to the point where I feel like my mouth is in dire need of a scrubbing. I can handle this level. In fact, it is quite addicting. One bite is never quite enough for me.

The other stand-out sweet dish is the Cinnamon Bun with a coffee and almond glaze and served with whipped cream. The sticky bun is not super sweet and my son can probably eat a whole one AFTER his meal if I allowed him to.

The best time to visit Break of Dawn is during the week, but of course, that is generally not at all feasible for most people. I try to stay away on the weekends because the wait can be as long as an hour, sometimes even longer, but the crowds keep coming. And frankly, where else are you going to find a menu created by a classically trained chef without breaking the bank? And to top it off, the food is really REALLY good!

Break of Dawn
24351 Avenida De La Carlota #N-6
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
Tel: 949-587-9418

Open Tuesday to Sunday
8.30am to 2pm

Break of Dawn Restaurant on Urbanspoon