A Restaurant is a perfect modern classic

I’ve been to A Restaurant many times in the past, but always during dinner. The restaurant is so dimly lit I’ve never been happy with the library of photos I’ve acquired so I’ve never written about it. Therefore, it was incredibly lucky that Chef Jon Blackford agreed to indulge me in my request to visit during the day so I can take some photos of his incredible food.

On previous visits, I’ve eaten a lot of steaks and comfort foods like mac n cheese, and of course, the delicious Brussels sprouts. This time, I came here for lunch with a friend and enjoyed some things I’ve never eaten before at A.

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We began with Seared Albacore Tuna ($15) and I was amazed at the beauty of the presentation. I joked that usually, I’ll have to pull out my trusty flashlight to get a good look at what I was eating, but my flashlight could not have done any of Chef Blackford’s dishes justice. The perfectly plated slices of tuna with jalapeno emulsion, shaved celery, hearts of palm and micro cilantro was so pretty and tasted delectable. It was light so ladies who are lunching can indulge without ever feeling guilty!

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Now, I’m not a salad person, but when it came to the Tuscan Black Kale ($12) it was a salad even I loved. You wouldn’t have known I’m not a fan of raw vegetables if you had seen me devour this bowl of shaved mushroom, red onion, brioche croutons, country ham, green goddess dressing, parmesan, all topped with a runny fried egg. I think I embarrassed myself a bit when the guy tried to take it away and I wanted to make sure every morsel had been eaten first.

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If you’re a fan of Steak Tartare ($18) this is definitely one to get. Black truffle, arugula, romano cheese, mustard and capers combine to season this ever so perfectly and with the right amount of saltiness to be eaten with the toast. There is nothing worse than under-seasoned meat and raw meat at that! This was sublime!

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But the best dish of this particular meal was Free Range Veal Chop ($38), the ultimate piece of meat executed to such precision it was just genius. Tender, succulent, and just top-notch! Served with Anson Mill’s grits, hedgehog mushrooms, baby spinach, leeks in a marsala reduction, this is definitely a winner in my book. Yes, their steaks are fabulous, but give the veal chop a try! You might just be hooked.

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I didn’t have room for anything else, naturally, no desserts, but you can be sure I’ll return here again now that I know they serve lunch. I never knew they were open for lunch! Silly me! Chef Blackford is a secret Orange County must share because he is masterful in his craft and his menu needs the recognition it deserves!

A Restaurant
3334 W Pacific Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Tel: 949-650-6505

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a heavenly spot of tea at Seventh Tea Bar

I’m not a coffee drinker, but tea is definitely up my alley. There are a lot of coffee spots around but an establishment completely dedicated to tea service is a new concept, one which I’m very happy about. Since Seventh Tea Bar opened, I’ve been there so many times I’ve lost count.

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It started with just a glass of iced tea. Then, it was another and then another and there are SO many to choose from. The coolest thing they have is iced tea on tap ($3) and it is literally ON TAP!! They dispense it like draft beer!

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Lemon Ginger, White Pekoe, Moroccan Mint, Young Hyson, Magnolia Scented, Risheehat Estate, the latter being my favorite at the moment. Of course the lemon ginger is the most popular and I love that one as well when I want something non-caffeinated.

Besides the tea itself, Seventh Tea Bar also offers a non-traditional English Tea Service which you can share with your friends.  For two, there is the Bantam ($25), or there is the Grand ($35) which serves up to four.

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Included are some sweets, but what I love most are the Tea Sandwiches, which you can also get on their own if you don’t want a full tea service. Prices for individual sandwiches are listed for your reference.

The Salty Sweet ($7) is a stunning roll smeared with fresh ricotta, dried apricots, pistachio pesto, cracked black pepper and wild flower honey. It is truly a salty sweet experience! **photo courtesy of Anne Watson Photography**

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One of my favorites is the Gravlax Glory ($9), a sandwich with house cured citrus salmon, shallot caper relish, dill creme fraiche and sliced heirlooms on a brioche roll.

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The Mediterranean ($7) is beautifully salty consisting of feta cheese, marinated artichoke and sundried tomato spread, roasted bell peppers and arugula.

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There are also a variety of delicious spreads made in-house by Chef Katherine Louis. You can choose two spreads to go with freshly baked demi baguette for a mere $6. I love all of them: strawberry black pepper preserves, Za’atar spiced goat cheese dip, Kalamata and green olive tapenade, orange rosemary marmalade.

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Sweets on offer include a variety of pastries such as chocolate croissants or regular buttery croissants.

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There are also salted caramel peanut tarts, tiramisu, chocolate tarts and much much more.

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This is a perfect spot to hang on your own or get together with friends. It is comfortable and the super cute decor is such a pleasure to be in.

This week, Seventh Tea Bar is graciously offering one of my readers a chance to win the Bantam tea service for two to win. Leave me a message and let me know why you would love to win this opportunity and who you would bring. Entries end on Thursday. Winner will be announced Friday. Good Luck!

Seventh Tea Bar
3313 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 949-284-0596

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Pritchard Hill wine dinner at The Ranch

Last week, I attended the Pritchard Hill wine dinner at The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, just two days after my birthday dinner at the restaurant. One would think it was overkill but honestly, the food is so incredible I could never be tired of it.

Chef Michael Rossi created a five-course menu (in reality, eight courses) each course paired with a wine from the Pritchard Hills region in Napa Valley (photo provided by The Ranch). Master sommelier Michael Jordan was on hand, together with the various winemakers, to introduce us to some of the best wines I’ve tasted in a long time.

We began with an amuse bouche of Skuna Bay salmon in cucumber soup (which I sampled at the luncheon on the farm this summer) with potato foam and a dollop of caviar. Refreshing yet decadent, the first wine pairing of Chappellet, Signature Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley 2011 was the perfect choice — light and fragrant.

The Chenin Blanc continues the pairing with Sea of Cortez Diver Scallop, the entree I had on my birthday. The prosciutto di San Daniele wrapped black Mission fig lent a salty sweetness which is heaven in my mouth. A puree of butternut squash accompanied.

My favorite course and pairing of the evening was Colorado Grass Fed Lamb Porterhouse with Continuum Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Created by Tim Mondavi, son of Robert Mondavi, it was velvety smooth on my palate and left a sublime feel in my mouth which I savored. The lamb was prepared a perfect medium rare and the accoutrements of maitake mushrooms (or hen of the woods) was robust and umami-filled, while the pumpkin spatzle added a different texture to the mix. The rosemary jus was insanely redolent and I wanted to lick the plate clean — no I didn’t do it!!

Next course came in the form of Tender Braised Veal Cheek, and they weren’t kidding when they said “tender”. With the mere touch of my fork, the veal came apart and melted in my mouth.  Anson Mills stone ground white grits, dried cherry and black truffle shavings accompanied. Served with Chappellet, Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2009.

I sampled the Red Deer Venison Chop from my friend’s plate the night of my birthday and loved it. Needless to say, I loved it even more here because I actually got my own chop! The combination of sweet potatoes, cranberries, young turnips and garden sage just came together like a symphony, sweet, tart and aromatic. Paired with David Arthur Vineyards, Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009.

Certified Black Angus Beef Tenderloin “Roulade” was one of the dishes served at the luncheon this summer, but I was too full to enjoy more than one mouthful. This time, I made it half the way through and it was just divine. Stuffed with fontina val d’aosta, and sprinkled with bits of Fra’ Mani sopressata, soft gigante beans and warm radicchio, this marriage of salty deliciousness was right up my alley! Paired with Ovid Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009.

Next came the Farmhouse Cheese Selection, served with home made preserves and toasted OC Baking bread slices. BRAND Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Montagna, La Presa-One South Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 both worked well with the cheeses, but I was a little more partial to the BRAND. It was so smooth on my palate.

I honestly didn’t need dessert, but when it was placed before me, it wasn’t the Honey Poached Seckle Pear, or the vine dried grapes, or hazelnuts, which gripped me, although they were all part and parcel of a perfect end to a perfect meal. It was the mascarpone-orange ice cream which brought me to my knees. Two more scoops of this please!!!

I stayed until midnight, my belly Buddha-like when I walked outside to get in my car. I drove all the way home with a huge smile on my face!

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

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a Royal India celebration like no other

Deepavali or better known as Divali in north America is the festival of lights celebrated in India and many other countries including Malaysia, where I grew up. This holiday always resonated with me because it always falls around my birthday and sometimes, falls right on my birthday (like this year) and we get a day off from school.

Over the weekend, I met Jag Kambo, one of the owners of Royal India in San Diego (his brother Sam is co-owner) where they will be welcoming their guests with a Divali celebration this Saturday, the 17th with a special Divali prix fixe menu — the festival of lights is actually today, November 13th.

I have been eating Indian food since I was a child and through the years, I’ve had all types of Indian cuisine from the north to the south. One of the best meals I remember eating was in Hong Kong prepared by an Indian friend’s mom who was also a cooking instructor. I remember how wonderfully delicious everything was, how fresh it all tasted, and how different it was from what you get in restaurants.

The restaurant is housed in a historic 125 year old building, home of San Diego’s first jazz bar. A lot of history here and it was even more befitting when I tasted the food at Royal India, that I was transported to a part of my own history, a “ratatouille moment”, if you will. The dishes are created with love and care, each step of the process executed with precision and perfection, supervised by both Jag and Sam in the kitchen.

We sampled some of the items featured on the Diwali prix fixe menu ($29/person with appetizer, entree, naan or rice, complimentary glass of champagne and dessert).

We began with Pakora, we tried the shrimp (normally $12 on the menu) and there are a variety to choose from including chicken and vegetables (offered on the prix fixe). Pakoras are battered and fried using chickpea flour as the base resulting in a nutty and light consistency. It isn’t greasy at all and is absolutely delightful.

Samosas are another choice on the prix fixe and let me tell you, these are not like any samosas you’ve ever had. We tried the lamb ($6) which was nicely seasoned and not gamey.

The vegetable ($5) samosa was also great filled with potatoes and peas.

What was instantly noticeable was the samosa wrapper — really flavorful, crispy throughout and very thin. I normally eat around the inside and leave the outside, but I ended up eating the entire thing here. I commented on how light these were and Jag was proud to say “everything is made in-house”, and it shows.

Everyone loves Chicken Tikka Masala ($18) and this is one of your available choices for entree for Diwali. What stood out for me was the color — not that intense unnatural red you usually see in Indian restaurants which possibly includes red dye. Here, it was a beautiful red hue from tomatoes and other spices which they grind by hand before cooking. I loved how I was able to detect the various spices in each bite and how the sauce was subtle yet sublime.

Your other entree choice is Lamb Korma ($20) and I suggest you order this if you are a lamb fan. The coriander, ginger and cumin are evident and I could taste the shards of ginger on my tongue. I love eating foods which are made from scratch and not from a sauce packet and it makes such a difference when you’ve tasted what real Indian food is all about. The lamb is so tender it melts in your mouth — it certainly did in mine! Just divine!

Vegetarians have the option of vegetable chili ginger masala or vegetable tikka masala for their prix fixe entrees.

The prix fixe is served with Pulao rice or naan (plain or garlic). The rice is dotted with raisins and brightly colored with the yellow of tumeric. It is so tasty on its own and requires no additions for you to enjoy.

Naan ($5) is deliciously fluffy and topped with fresh garlic and cilantro and I highly suggest this over the plain. We also tried Kabuli, a naan filled with raisins and sweetened coconut. I’m normally not a fan of coconut, but I loved this slightly sweet bread which frankly would suffice as a dessert for me.

Homemade sauces are also perfectly executed. The Raita ($3) cucumber yogurt helps cool your palate from the heat. Mango chutney ($4) is sweet and chunky and also serves to cool your palate from anything too spicy. The home made chili sauce is what I relished. I like heat on almost everything and gleefully added dollops of this fiery sauce to my rice and curries. I was pretty much speechless, savoring everything, simply floored to find Indian food of such caliber in San Diego of all places.

No Diwali celebration is complete without something sweet and what is more traditional than Gulab Jamun ($8), little beignet-like doughnuts soaked in a sugar syrup traditionally infused with cardamom, rosewater and saffron.

Dessert is complimentary with the Diwali prix fixe menu and if gulab jamum isn’t your thing, then definitely do not miss out on the pistachio ice cream ($11). Creamy and sinfully rich, each bite of this home made deliciousness offers up large pieces of pistachios, rasins, coconut and slivered almonds. It was very addicting and hard to stop eating.

I’ve had many people ask me why Indian food (not buffet) is expensive, well the answer if really quite simple. It is a very time consuming process to make Indian food correctly. There is the grinding of the spices, which usually means the use of a mortar and pestle. Then, there is the roasting of the spices to bring out all the natural oils, creating those wonderful aromas you smell before you even taste the food. The cooking time is usually long, several hours, often around 8 hours or more. There are no short cuts when you make Indian food and if corners are cut, then the taste will suffer.

At Royal India, you will find the best of Indian cuisine in California. That of course is my opinion, but once you taste the difference, you won’t go back to ordinary Indian food again. At $29, the Diwali menu is a steal, and the perfect opportunity for you to partake in this celebration with some of the best Indian food I’ve had to date.

Royal India
329 Market Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-269-9999

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Roma-style slices at Little Italy’s Napizza

If you’re down in San Diego and somehow find yourself in Little Italy, stop by Napizza — I’m told it’s the Italian slang for getting “a slice” of pizza — and grab one from the array they have on display.

We stopped by to check this place out and was surprised it was SO packed. This fast casual spot is great for a quick slice, or, any time of day. I loved the cute decor and how they offer both outdoor and inside seating.

We started with Minestrone ($2 small/$4 large) a classic Italian soup with a variety of boiled vegetables but not done the way Americans are used to. Tomatoes are not the base in this soup, and the vegetables are blended together to give it a thick consistency. In fact, this is how I make vegetable soup at home and found it really comforting to see it prepared this way.

There is an array of salads and we tried the Fisherman ($11.75) utilizing wild arugula as its base with avocado, quinoa, balsamic marinated shallots, cannellini beans and homemade garlic. Topped with local seasonal catch — on the night of our visit, bay scallops — everything is tossed together with a very subtle parsley lemon dressing and generous enough to share as a side.

Pizzas here use a flour imported from Italy which gives the crust a different texture and consistency. The pizzas are square instead of round and each square slice comes with a variety of toppings.

BAPO ($4.75 slice/$24 half pizza) was surprisingly good with thin slices of red potato, nicely salted bacon and sprinkled with fresh mozzarella and drizzled with zucchini velvet, a creamy green sauce. I don’t usually like potatoes on top of pizza, but the thin slices worked very well here.

When we saw the Truffle Porcini ($5.75/$24 half pizza) we were immediately drawn to it, however, it was our least favorite. The porcini and cremini mushrooms were ample and flavorful on its own, but when paired together with the pizza crust, the mushrooms seemed to fade into the background. Even the truffle cream, fresh mozzarella and parsley wasn’t able to help it along.

However, the Old Fashion Amatriciana ($4.75/$24) won me back with its signature tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, crispy pancetta and Roman pecorino cheese. This would have to be my favorite of the night. The tomato sauce was robust and hearty and required little else to make it shine. Everything else was just icing on the cake. So simple, yet so fabulous!

The other surprise of the evening was Z-Bomb ($4.75/$24). The slice looked plain, but the combination of the smoked turkey breast, zucchini and home made cream cheese truffle pate was an explosion in my mouth. The parsley and black pepper added freshness and complexity to an honestly delicious slice!

These are Lazio, or Roman style pizzas so don’t get upset when they’re not what you’re used to. They’re just as delicious, but just different to your usual pizza pie!

Napizza
1702 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-696-0802

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Theorem, a new coffee concept by Portola Coffee Lab

I’m not a coffee drinker, but that’s not to say, I don’t drink coffee. In a year, I average about five cups, give or take, and when I do have one, I usually like to get the best possible ever. Portola Coffee Lab is one of my choices, but the baristas know me best as the “tea orderer” and/or “the non-coffee lover”.

When I received an invitation to preview Theorem, a new barista driven Craft Coffee Bar by Portola Coffee Lab, I accepted, even though I wasn’t sure I would be drinking with vigor, but I love the place and was genuinely interested to see what it was all about. .

The space is intimate — okay! TEENIE! — and seats a mere six. In fact, the number six is a recurring theme throughout and once you hear owner Jeff Duggan (he owns Portola with his wife Christa) gushing about the six steps to brewing the perfect cup of coffee and the six exponentials theorem — all of which escaped my simple mind — you will understand the passion and dedication towards the perfectly brewed cup of Joe.

Our evening started with barista Truman Severson giving us an introduction of the Western Ethiopia Duromina coffee he was using for the tasting. A master in his craft, Truman served up our first cup, a Capuccino, which was served lukewarm. I asked about the temperature but of course, the scientific aspects of it was lost on me. What I did get out of it was the Strauss Family Farms milk used — I love their products —  for optimum taste and I was surprised by how smooth the capuccino was in my mouth.

When Truman started concocting the second drink, the Filtron Fizz — based off a Gin Fizz cocktail — he leaned in towards me and told me he was concerned when he knew that I would be joining them because I don’t like coffee. He was determined to create something I would like and perhaps get me in more often.

The cold-brewed filtron coffee, with a peach, lemon, grapefruit reduction is slightly tart and the orange flavored honey, tonic water and egg whites gave it a creamy, fragrant, effervescent feel on the palate.

Our last course was Affogato, something I absolutely LOVE! Who can resist ice cream?? I certainly can’t! Affogato is an Italian dessert which incorporates vanilla ice cream with espresso which you either sip in between spoonfuls of ice cream, or, I like to take a spoonful of espresso and then scoop the ice cream onto the same spoon. You can also pour the espresso over the ice cream if you like. No matter which way you do it, it is absolutely delicious.

Truman starts by making the perfect espresso and setting it aside. Then, he makes the perfect ice cream by mixing cream with liquid nitrogen and quickly whipping it so the cream would freeze. It was like watching a mad scientist at work, but Truman isn’t mad, just insanely passionate about his work.

Theorem opened to the public this week and is by reservation only because of space. Cell phones are requested to be kindly turned OFF (there is a sign on the door) as a courtesy to the others enjoying alongside you. It is unique, personal, and an experience shared between you and your barista. Therefore, your undivided attention is the respectful thing to do.

Each tasting runs an average of $15 (give or take depending on the menu created by the barista). Make your reservations by clicking on the website.

After I polished off the affogato, I motioned for Truman to come over and I whispered “you want to know how to get me in here? Entice me with affogato!”

Here’s a chance to get in and experience Theorem for yourself, Portola Coffee Lab has generously donated a tasting for two for one of my readers to win. Leave me an anecdote about you and coffee for a chance to visit Theorem. Make sure you leave your FULL name! Entries close on Sunday. Good Luck!

Theorem
at Portola Coffee Lab
3313 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-284-0596