Saturday, November 21, 2009

Talking turkey with a Top Chef contestant

Something urged me to pick the Marie Claire magazine off the rack.

Embedded between designer clothing and relationship advice was another "words of wisdom" article from one of my favorite television shows: Top Chef. If you look back on March 2009, you'll see my first discovery by Tom Colicchio on how to order a great steak.

Like ordering a perfectly done steak, planning a Thanksgiving feast is a timeless pursuit. There is time and energy spent executing measurements, temperatures, finesse. What better expert on the subject than European chef (and LA caterer) Stefan Richter?!

Despite the love/hate relationship fans may have of him, there is no questioning his culinary background. Most notably, he's held Executive Sous-Chef positions at both Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara and Bellagio Hotel, Resort & Spa in Las Vegas. A Certified Master Chef, Richter is indeed qualified to quip about the finer points of hosting.

I sincerely hope you find his article helpful. While much of Stefan's advice may appear common sense, I was intrigued by his thoughts on cooking the turkey. Actually, I hope to test it out before the holidays are over. Is it me, or is this the only time of the year when we really crave certain poultry?

Without further ado, here's Top Chef Stefan Richter's Thanksgiving tips.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Meals in and around the Magic Kingdom

Everyone's got their favorites, so here are mine. This was inspired by my childhood friend's upcoming trip to celebrate her Halloween birthday.

Disney's California Adventure (gluttonous pleasure): Corndogs! ~ moved from Corndog Castle (R.I.P.) to Bountiful Farmers Market. Yes, they are also off Disneyland's Main Street in the Red Wagon, but these come with fries instead of chips!!

Downtown Disney (fine dining): Osso bucco at Catal ~ When in season, by far the finest meal without moving your vehicle. If you can score a table with a view, even better for people watching and/or fireworks gazing.

Downtown Disney (sweet tooth): Beignets at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen To Go ~ Per a reliable source, these are authentic enough to be served in NOLA. Be sure to grab extra napkins. Available in quantities of six or ten.

Grand Californian (big spender): Napa Rose ~ Awarded the best new restaurant in Orange County. Fantastic service and creative courses from beginning to end. Admire the Craftsman style decor.

Grand Californian (buffet): Storyteller Cafe ~ Easygoing dinner spread featuring family pleasing chicken, seafood and pastas. Oh, and bread pudding rules here. Less stressful than standing around Downtown at about $30 for adults. Just beyond the grandiose main lobby.

Disneyland (beverage): Mint Julep in New Orleans Square ~ While it might not include any actual bourbon, it IS refreshing and more satisfying than standby sodas or lemonade. Found at both the French Market and the appropriately named Mint Julep Bar 'round back by the train station.

Disneyland (meaty snack): Beef skewer at Bengal Barbecue ~ Straightforward hunks of protein sweetened with sauce. Alternating bites between this and the grip of green onion provides some much needed energy (hey, low carb too).

Anaheim (hotel dining): K'ya in Hotel Menage ~ Chic and affordable thisclose to the mouse? With an adjacent palapa bar serving $5 paninis, they now serve an international selection of 'street food' in their modern setting ....all for under $10.

Anaheim (hole-in-the-wall): Zankou Chicken ~ A short drive down Ball and turn left into the strip mall. Featuring mouthwatering garlic sauce, shawerma, and yes, roasted chicken. Generous portions + styrofoam plates = experiencing local culture at reasonable cost.

I'm sure there's much more to comment on, but these all work for me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why I like Chick-fil-A

In a word: Service

Mr. brekkie_fan has told me that, "it takes a lot for a restaurant to make bad food, but good service is hit or miss". The below statements have been collected after numerous lunchtime (and a few breakfast) visits in the last 12 months.

Statement #1 - Refills are more than refills. They are an opportunity for CFA employees to check-in on tables and provide that extra attention you wouldn't otherwise get at a fast-food establishment. While they could just put out a soda fountain, that is not the case here. Props for having the diner hold on to the lid/straw for sanitary reasons.

Statement #2 - Saying no to free samples is next to impossible. Brownie bites, anyone? Toothpicked like hors d'ouvres, there is actually a person bestowing a tray. I've been told that men have an easier time declining such an offer, but a woman with a sweet tooth can be a dangerous thing. Just a morsel of flavor satisfies and balances out the salty meal.

Statement #3 - Free stuff/incentives rule! - Growing up, I'd be happy with a Monopoly game piece. These guys take it a step further and just GIVE things away. How about them grand openings? Free chicken for a year for the first 100 in line. Consecutive Fridays in a month may feature a free breakfast item, no purchase required. I enjoy getting my meal on a particular day, and then finding out if I hold onto my receipt I can get the exact same thing the following month.

Statement #4 - A well-stocked condiment bar. - I just started realizing that ALL of their dipping sauces are accessible. Who doesn't want to conduct a taste test when the mood strikes? One less thing to remember/forget when ordering that chicken.

If another chain goes to such lengths to maintain customer loyalty, that's news to me.

9.21.09 Update - one more reason to love Chick Fil-A

Statement #5 - A very kid-friendly environment. - A toddler ambles up to the taller-than-her counter and says five words no employee can resist, "Can I have a balloon?" Done. A mother walks up and returns the unused wrapped 'toy' portion of a kid's meal (their child is too young to appreciate). I overhear that when one is returned, CFA policy offers free ice cream in exchange. Oh yeah, and they also eat free on Tuesdays.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What is sjora?

Psst. Over here.

What if I told you that I found an alternative to soda, iced tea, lemonade and water?

I'll even up the ante and state that this newfangled beverage:
  • doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup
  • has no caffeine
  • no carbonation
  • is available in regular and diet flavors

While this comes off like a spiel that will end with monthly installments or a second set for's not. I discovered it accidentally last week.

Was feeling kinda unhealthy that day, so I stopped by my local Chicken Dijon for their veggie special. A great combination of steamed veggies, rice, fresh herbs, Parmesan cheese and Caesar dressing (my favorite veggie meal, by far). Requested a cup of water, but as I approached the self-serve fountain I noticed something.

*cue beam of light shining down and choir music*

I made it halfway through lunch before breaking down and satisfying my curiosity.

Sjora comes in (Diet) Tropical Pineapple and (Diet) Mango Peach. The separate dispenser unit carries all four flavors. While I typically don't drink any of these flavors, individually or otherwise, I concocted a blend of regular Mango Peach and Diet Tropical Pineapple. If you've ever had Orange Julius, this is what it reminded me of. Just better.

It was sweet, but not overly so. With 10% milk and 5% juice content, it wasn't rich. In fact, it was exactly as they advertise.




I'm a big advocate of Arnold Palmers, but this is a satisfying alternative. The staff mentioned that they are the only chain currently featuring sjora. Being the same price point as soda or tea, it's worth the detour to check out. I certainly plan to. Yes, it's that good.

Nestle sjora

Monday, August 31, 2009

All of Pacific Whey (bakery) for half the cost

I've been known to frequent Crystal Court (aka: the other side of the Bridge of Gardens at South Coast Plaza, or as Sandie would say, "whatever it's called nowadays") on many occasions. Mostly for wedding registry gifts, Ann Taylor Loft, Borders ...and soon Sur La Table.

When it comes to accessible dining options, they vary on this side of the bridge. Surfer fare at Wahoo's Fish Taco. Pseudo food court Signature Kitchen inside Macy*s Home Store. Upscale Japanese at Hamamori lounge. My midday cravings, however, gravitate towards sweeter, chewier delights. It is this hunger that brings me to Pacific Whey Cafe.

Previous PWC visits generally revolve around brekkie. Surprise, surprise. I've indulged in quite a few egg dishes and pastries at numerous locales. Newport Beach is tucked away in a neighborhood for its loyal clientele. Crystal Cove caters to al fresco shoppers. South Coast gets a fair share of those debating between Champagne French Bakery and Ruby's Diner. For a multi-location concept, this works well.

Since my Tuesday morning consists of PWC and chit chat, I did my due diligence and browsed their online menu for ideas. While pondering the griddle selections (lemon souffle cakes or heavenly hots?) I happenstanced upon a discovery.

All bakery items are half price everyday after 3:00 pm (at specific locations)

Brekkie fans rejoice! Generously portioned cookies, cupcakes, danishes and other things your heart desires are now for the taking. Between them and Zov's, PWC is my personal favorite for treats. On the fence? There's always Crystal Court starting at 3:01pm.

P.S. If you decide on brekkie, may I suggest the "Breakfast Your Whey". It allows you to customize an entree. Choices are either omelette, scramble, quesadilla, burrito or sandwich. Possible additions include tomatillo salsa, sweet bell peppers, goat cheese and turkey. Not for the frugal, pricing runs $1 per add-on. Good times.

9.1.09 - Update: The time at South Coast Plaza has been pushed back to 4pm. Guess an hour makes a difference.

South Coast Plaza

3333 Bear Street

Costa Mesa


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Waking at the Break of Dawn

Grease is the word. Is the word that you heard.
It's got groove. It's got meaning.
Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion.
Grease is the way we are feeling.

~ Frankie Valli

As much as I savor foods that are not standard fare (i.e. the Dutch baby at Plums, breakfast pasta from Off Vine), I am always drawn back to hearty morning flavors. Bacon, hash browns, omelets. Grease.

That's not to say that chef Dee Nguyen's menu is an homage to Guy Fieri. On the contrary. The heart and soul of Break of Dawn lies in Nguyen's ability to share his Vietnamese heritage to the masses during a traditionally unimaginative time of brunch.

This morning I had the pleasure of joining Kathy and her family in Laguna Hills. While it could easily be overshadowed by a Mexican chain or grocery outlet, the red awning is a beacon to incoming guests. Similar to the Krispy Kreme hot light, but much sweeter. Crossing the open patio to observe content faces and clean dishes, who else should greet me but the chef. I was surprised and pleased to be seated by Dee Nguyen himself. A subtle yet humbling gesture. I attempted small talk by mentioning how I haven't read any new Twitter updates from him lately. Pretty sure the term "tweet" went over his head. Maybe next time.

It's a learning curve with each visit. There's the unmistakable difference between requesting the french toast and wanting the creme brulee french toast. The naughty/nice crunch of two tempura eggs. A three course pre fixe featuring butternut squash soup. Kathy clued me in on the (mystery ingredient) chocolate milk her sons can't get enough of. My pearl of wisdom is the ability to sample multiple items via side dish ordering.

One may read an emphasis on savory meats such as duck and oxtail. However, be sure to take notice of griddle cakes, sticky buns and even cocktails to satisfy that sweet tooth.

The division between dining and kitchen is a long expediting counter. Dee Nguyen's framed chef coats and reviews share space with flourished dining anecdotes. Mellow greens and yellows conjure a relaxed island mentality. Earthy woods down to the salt & pepper shakers.

Today's choice was my childhood craving for meat and rice. In this case, Portuguese-Hawaiian sausage, green papaya and sesame salad, scallion puree and two fried eggs over seasoned rice. The bright salad flavor was balanced by hearty pork dabbed with onion sauce. It brought back business travel memories when I first met a fellow trainer at the Maui Prince resort over Sunday brunch.

I doubt Spamalot has anything to do with canned meat, so I digress from show tunes and thank Break of Dawn for being a non-conformist.

24351 Avenida de la Carlota
#N-6 (To the right of Trader Joe's)
Laguna Hills, 92653

Wednesday to Sunday
8am to 2:30pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Sunday, June 28, 2009

road trip!

Mr. brekkie_fan and I normally don't take vacations for one of two reasons:

  1. No money
  2. No time

Well, lately we have both.

I plan to eventually update my blog and Yelp! account. Will be conducting research "from the road" (assuming we have wifi) later this summer.

Wish me luck.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hot Dog on a Stick Day is TO-day, June 15!

I am (as the FoodTV show is called) glutton for punishment.

Stumbled across a Yelp event claiming free corn dogs today at a mall from 5-8pm.
The HDOS official site confirms it.

Now I know what's going thru your mind. The mall. The brave women pumping lemonade. The primary color outfits. Cheese(?!?!) on a stick. Truthfully, I have not had a true HDOS for a very long time. However, that does not mean that I do not thoroughly love corn dogs.

Would it make you any more inclined if I stated they use turkey (and there's veggie options)?

If the husband and I are able to brave the crowds on the way back from California Adventure we may just stop by (translation: he may just end up driving me there and wait for me).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Plums - The best breakfast (and possibly dinner) in the county.

Yes, we read in Orange Coast last weekend that they are finally serving in the evenings. We immediately booked for Saturday. After eight years in the making, we find that this actually started up in November.

While brunch is buzzing and bright, dinner is relaxed and soft. All the tables have ample space between them, giving us a sort of privacy I wasn't expecting. Our server is Julie, who is by far one of the best we've ever encountered. If she saw something, she asked if she could take care of it. When she said something, it would happen.

The menu is not fussy, featuring the Pacific Northwest flavors that keep us coming back. I knew I would have lamb, but the burger or the chop? Hmmm. Either way, I took a chance with the Blackstone Merlot and was not disappointed. It was smooth like buttah. For starters, we ordered both the steamers and pomme frittes. Manila clams married with fire roasted tomatoes, garlic and a fresh herb broth. Potatoes were the skinniest strips, so dainty yet tasty. To sop up the broth, it was recommended that we use one of their signature feta and chive popovers. I was gonna have one anyway, so let the dipping begin. The airy and rich taste that awaited me was so delightful that J had to get his own.

Their featured soup was salmon and vegetable (normally grilled chicken & vegetable). According to J, it was "thick but not too thick". Just the right temperature too. I decided on the lamburger. It was so massive. A stack of red leaf, tomato, onion and bun protected my savory protein. I detected the wild oregano and slathered each forkful with a sauce of feta and cucumber. Julie dared us to compare the cous cous salad with the likes of Houstons or Cafe R&D. She was right. It was on par with the competitors with grape tomatoes, feta, olives and peas. For a little more green, I also requested a side of pan flash spinach. Simple and pure flavors brought out the flavor in my wine.

J had the roasted free range chicken. Lemony and herbed, it had bursts of roasted fennel and garlic resting on smashed potatoes. I found myself making content food noises (don't we all?) as I made my entree disappear.

This whole time, Julie would provide updates on our food, check/refill beverages, and keep us content. It was as if we'd been sitting in her section for years. Not only did she warm my dessert, but she heated my mug for tea "to help keep it hotter longer". Who does that? She was the first.
We were so impressed by dinner that we requested to speak to Kim (the owner). She remembered us from our meeting a few years back to discuss the gloriousness of fresh waffles. During our dessert frenzy of cheesecake brownie (for me) and Grand Marnier ice cream sundae with bittersweet chocolate sauce (not for me) we sang praises of service and the overall dining experience. Kim even asked us to contact her if we had any ideas for additional menu selections.

Our contentment was such a warm feeling that he wrote a 30% gratuity. It was completely worth it.

Plums Cafe
369 17th Street
Suite 7
Costa Mesa

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Food Network listens to their fans!

I saw my first commercial last week, and I didn't want to believe it until I saw it. And that's what I'm doing now on my TiVo.

Robert Irvine is back on Dinner: Impossible!!

Despite the lying, the hoopla and his tarnished rep - the powers that be didn't know what they were missing until it was gone. Sure - Michael Symon is an Iron Chef. He may even be cuter. However, he's no OG like Irvine.

Robert is a MACHINE. The ultimate multi-tasker and task master. For the premiere, he's at the winter X Games. It's a perfect match for his intensity level. His cooking evolves (and his temper rises) as the challenge counts down. It's like the busiest one-man reality show.

The best part about watching the mind of Chef Irvine at work is how he can make do with whatever is at hand. Most of his dishes are made with just a handful of ingredients, but he puts enough thought into the flavor combinations that they end up being showstoppers.

Obviously, I'm a fan. The truth is that Robert carries the show. The last blog from his website can be found here.

And how about them guns that are his arms?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

31 cent scoop night at Baskin Robbins (4/29)

Help Baskin-Robbins honor firefighters with a $100k donation to the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) National Junior Firefighter Program.

Participating stores will reduce prices of small ice cream scoops to 31 cents. (that's 2.5 ounce scoops or 3 ounce soft serve cones) Limit 3 scoops per person.

By checking out the following link, you'll also be able to set up an email or text message reminder. Heck, you can even track it on Twitter or post it on your Facebook (like I did).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How to Order a Great Steak - An Interview with Tom Colicchio

I only take credit for finding this in an Allure magazine my best friend gave me (Thanks San!). Who knew prime dining advice can be found next to topics such as "How to Enjoy a Blind Date" and "My scalp feels tight and itchy, but I don't have dandruff -- what can I do?"

For those who do not regularly tune into Bravo, Tom Colicchio is the head judge on Top Chef. He's also the chef and owner of Craft (one in Century City), Craftsteak (Vegas), and 'wichcraft (one in SF) restaurants.

I had the opportunity to shake his hand when he was at the helm opening week in Century City. He was outfitted in chef whites that evening. Come to find out they were short one chef and he was " the back, cooking meat". Niiice.

Some gals love a man who can sing. I enjoy one who can cook.

Here's a link to the article: How to order a great steak