Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Where to Eat?

ANQi Costa Mesa

Talk about a family traditions.  The An family (House of An) has been making people happy with their Vietnamese / Asian food across California since 1971.  I was first introduced to them via my brother, Paul, at the Thang Long installation in San Francisco, where he raved about the famous roasted crab and famous garlic noodles.  This is a dish you can’t be afraid to get in and get dirty.  The dungeoness crab is roasted with a garlic sauce. A large part of the fun is to get in with your hands and crack the crab, and suck the savory bits off the shells.  It’s delicious fun.

There are also sister restaurants: Crustacean restaurant in Beverly Hills, Tiato in Santa Monica and AnQi in Costa Mesa with 4  An family sisters manning the individual kitchens with their secret recipes, overseen by matriarch Helene An.

Tuesday’s is the only day that AnQi in Costa Mesa offers An’s Famous Roasted Crab, so we actually extended our trip to partake.  We couldn’t help ourselves but go for lunch… and dinner, giving us the opportunity to try some of their small plates and appetizers as well.

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AnQi is a beautiful place.  It is much higher end than we expected.. but then we were in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.  The interior had red lights, indoor trees, and hanging lights.  It was a stunning interior.  It’s a very Euro-Asian design.

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For the purposes of this review I will combine the various courses we had at both lunch and dinner.  In summary, there wasn’t a bad meal there.  It was all good.  Where I had expected to love the crab… I actually enjoyed the appetizer dishes (like the fabulous calamari) even more.  Not that I didn’t enjoy the crab.. it was an experience unto itself.

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The calamari was lightly fried and very tender, crispy on the outside and nicely seasoned. The little bites of fresno chili and scallions added a nice kick… and the thai basil aioli was just the ice cream on top.

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The seared ahi tuna salad was fresh and crisp.  I loved the crunch of the cucumber, carrot, basil, and cabbage.  The soy – chili sauce that accompanied it made for a wonderful spicy dressing.  Very nice fresh tasting dish.

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The Crustacean shaken beef with sautéed Chinese broccoli with Chef An’s secret sauce was  perfectly cooked, tender and wonderfully flavorful.

Then there was that crab.

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The crab was just an adventure.  It was a good thing they sat us in the corner… where we could just go at it and tear apart and devour the succulent tender crab from it’s garlicky shell.  It was delicious… and good fun.

 

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SOCIAL – Costa Mesa

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We had read about Chef Jeffrey Boullt and the interesting flavor combinations coming out of his new restaurant, Social, in Costa Mesa.  It’s a small plates restaurant, serving ‘tapas’ style bites… and powerful bites they were.  Social was everything Pizzeria Mozza was not. It was friendly, inviting, honest, and creative.

We ordered 5 separate plates of appetizer like dishes.  Which by itself was no small task, as everything on the menu looked great.  They were brought out 1 – 2 at a time so as not to swamp our table or allow them to get cold.

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We were brought the Shishito Peppers and Social’s Caesar Salad.  Both were great.  The caesar salad was stunning.  It was a great caesar with shredded romaine and a flavorful caesar dressing… but what threw it over the top was a bread crumb and parmesan topping that gave an awesome salty crunch.. and seared raw ahi tuna.  Delicious.  You know it’s good when you are plotting how to cook it at home.

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The shishito peppers were no slouch. They were perfectly cooked and seasoned with a togarachi and salt, and served with a chili aioli.  They were spot on munchable.

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Next up were the Wood Fired Oysters: Caraway, Pressed Egg Yolk, Pickled Mustard Seeds, House Cured Guanciale.  Yum.  They were fresh, briney (not fishy), and just ‘popped’ in your mouth with the pickled mustard seeds and full of soft notes and fresh flavor.  Yum.

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The next course, plan to see on my blog, as it was my favorite… and I just have to try it at home.  When is this guy writing a cookbook?  Wow… just wow.  You don’t have to love octopus to try the Spanish Octopus; you’d like this.  So often octopus is tough.  Not this.  I won’t make it with octopus, I’ll try shrimp… but the flavors were bold and delicious with a sherry vinegar intense smoky romesco sauce, chorizo, fingerling potatoes, gremolata, and chicharrones.  It was crunchy, spicy, and fresh all at once.  Truly a stunning dish.

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Finally, we had the Wagyu Beef Tartare with a smoked mussel aioli, salt and vinegar chips, poppy seeds, sunflower, and capers.  It was very good… but after that octopus, nothing could measure up.  It was full of flavor and pop, and another home run.

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There wasn’t a bad dish among them.  They were all spectacular… and I don’t use that word lightly.  Truly stunning.  I can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the menu.

 

 

 

Pizzeria Mozza – Newport Beach

We ate at the LA Pizzeria Mozza soon after it opened in 2007/ 2008 timeframe.  Nancy Silverton was there at the restaurant buzzing around, hob nobbing with the crowd that lined the street outside on the corner of Highland Ave & Melrose.  It was THE hot new place to go, and all the buzz… this collaboration between Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali.  Just think –  bread master and Italian master get together and make a resturant… that’s Mozza.

And it was FABULOUS.  Memorable.  Stunning.

I recall my first exposure to burrata cheese – ever so creamy, melt in your mouth, amazing stuff, made right there.  It was served with the cutest most amazing concentrated cherry tomatoes roasted on the vine in their wood fired oven right in front of you… with a drizzle of good olive oil, some fresh basil and wood toasted bread.  This was Mozza’s version of an amazing caprese salad.  It was heaven on a plate and sent me verbally moaning and swooning over it’s gorgeous delicousness.

The pizza was equally perfect… the perfect dough, with good crunch and chew… and a eclectic mix of interesting toppings to choose from.  It was perfect pizza.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and Mozza has grown with restaurants in Newport Beach, San Diego (now closed), and Singapore(?!).  So when we were in Newport we just had to try Pizzeria Mozza, and that awesome pizza again.

Spoiler alert… it wasn’t anything like the original experience.

I would like to think that if Nancy ever actually ate at the Newport Mozza she would be appalled.  We should have gotten the hint, when we couldn’t even park at the restaurant… Valet only.  I’m sorry, I’m one of those…. I don’t want anyone parking my car… and disclaiming any responsibility for anything that might happen.  I prefer to be responsible for myself… and my belongings.  So we were forced to find parking on the street… not an easy task.

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The inside of Pizzeria Mozza Newport was charming enough.  We sat at the ‘pizza bar’ overlooking the wood fired oven and the prep going on… quite the coveted seats if you ask me.  We watched this gal making my favorite caprese with what looked like thick mozzarella (not creamy buratta) and 3 (yes, three) little cherry tomatoes – pre roasted, cold out of a tin – and one sprig of basil.  No bread.  Oh, my.  That’s not at all what I would have expected.  The lonely THREE cherry tomatoes seemed cold, isolated and lonely atop this lump of cold cheese.  I would think Nancy would cringe.  Where is she?  Has she ever eaten here?  Is this a franchise?

Even the menu would appear to be different from the menu on their website.  This Mozza menu didn’t even have interesting choices and inventive pizza topping combinations.  We opted for the meat lovers (John’s choice), and found it to be all wrong.  Not that we’re pizza aficionado’s or anything.  Though we did build our own pizza oven – so we are rather particular about our pizza ( kritterspaw.com ).

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Their pizza just wasn’t what it should have been.  The bottom was soggy and the toppings dripped off the dough.  The sauce was thin and runny; and the meatballs so large they toppled off the top and had to be cut to consume.

When I asked a question of our waiter about Nancy’s dough recipe (which is published in her Mozza book), he acted like it was a trade secret and no way could she divulge it.  She has personally been making the dough for Mozza since 1979, he told us.  Really?!  I don’t think so.

Now I know why the San Diego location closed… this is not Nancy Silverton’s Mozza we had been to.  If she is still even affiliated with it, shame on her for not checking in on her creation and various outposts.. because if they are not up to our standards, I hope they would not be up to hers.

Frontier Restaurant

Whenever I go through New Mexico, I have to stop for my fix at The Frontier Restaurant.  This place is a legend among Albuquerquens.

The Frontier Restaurant

Right across from the University of New Mexico campus, this institution and has been serving college kids, and business ‘suits’ side by side for over 45 years.  Their clientele is diverse and the menu pure New Mexican, pleasing all palates.

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We were just going through Albuquerque on our way to (and from) Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge.  (Check out my post at kritterspix.com ).  We stopped both coming and going, and even filled up for the trip home.  They are famous for their amazing looking huge cinnamon rolls, but we go for their green chile stew and breakfast burritos.  They serve vats of hot green chile sauce in the dining room to slather over your food to spice it up, in green chile style.

For lunch, their Frontier burrito with ground beef, cheddar, and green chile slathered in green chile sauce is hard to beat.  They even sell their burritos in 6 packs to go… so go prepared with your cooler, and get some for home… and friends.

L’Auberge Sedona, AZ

I have heard of L’Auberge as the high end restaurant in Sedona for as long as I can remember.  Why it has taken us so long to dine there I couldn’t say.  We have eaten at some of the finest and best restaurants around the world, and the most notable restaurants in Sedona (namely Elote and Dahl & Deluca), but somehow L’Auberge has alluded us.   That is… until now.  In Sedona for a special birthday weekend we stayed at L’Auberge’s sister hotel, Orchards Inn, and made reservations for dinner at L’Auberge.

The menu is broken into Appetizers, Fish/Vegetarian & Meat/Poultry.  Choose 2, 3, or 4 courses.  We choose 3 courses which allowed us to pick 2 items from the Appetizer section, and 1 item from the Fish or Meats section. (Highlighted on the menu below are our choices.)

labuergeWe each made our selections and split every course so that we could taste each.  They were all winners, but some were definitely better than others.

salad2_Ss I started with the winter greens.  It was beautifully plated with edible flowers on top.  It was a colorful and delicious salad.  The sweetness from the pears complemented the delicate greens.  The earthy beets and wonderful crunch of the granola made for a texturally gorgeous bite.  Very good.

crab_Ssi The crab salad was full of lump crab shards, lettuce and shitake.  It wasn’t as bold in flavors as I would have expected, but good none the less.

beef carp_Ssi The beef carpaccio may have been best of show. It was bursting with delicate flavors.  It was beautifully presented, colorful, fun, and delicious. The accompaniments lended a nice crunch and balance and didn’t overpower the super tender and delicious beef.

clam chowder_Ssi The clam chowder was served with the clams, bacon, potatoes, and herbs sitting on the bottom of a large rimmed bowl.  The liquid soup was poured out of a carafe into bowl over the chunky goodness.  It was beautiful.. and tasty.  But it was less of a soup and more of a cream sauce and very heavy cream.  It would have been better thinned out with a flavorful broth so that it wasn’t such stark cream.

lamb_Ssi  The lamb dish was a work of art.  It looked like a painting on a plate.  It was masterfully presented, with a cranberry sauce swirling around the plate, dollops of pea puree, and whimsical baby carrots standing on end around some crunchy topped mushrooms.  The lamb was tender and lovely, albeit not super flavorful.  As gorgeous as it was to look at, it’s flavors didn’t pop.  Maybe the presentation was so grand it built up the taste experience to a level it couldn’t compete.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad… it was an enjoyable dish, but just didn’t completely wow us.

beef tenderloin_Ssi The beef tenderloin made up for the lamb dish.  While it was comparatively drab looking, it made up for it in taste.  It had to be the most tender beef tenderloin we have ever eaten.  The mushrooms on top were a delicious accompaniment, and the potato puree was amazing… we couldn’t get enough.  It made for a perfect ending to a wonderful dinner.

The evening was a smashing hit.  The service was exemplary, the setting picturesque and inviting, and the food… truly stellar.  We’ll not only be back… we’re already making plans.

Nobu at Hard Rock Hotel, Vegas

It took me awhile to acquire a taste for sushi, but now that I have, I can’t get enough.

Well… that’s not altogether true.  I hated sushi.  Yuck.  Raw fish.  Ewwww.  I never really even tried it.  The very idea of it alone just revolted me.  That is until some kind soul took pity on us, and decided to show us the error of our ways.  He took us out for sushi and ordered for us, easing us into the experience and described with great detail the euphoria of the freshest and loveliest fish; the pop and excitement of caviar (yes, fish eggs); and the luscious sweet / saltiness of the accompanying rice.  I don’t think we adequately thanked him for his gift of sushi.  I can’t imagine my culinary world without it in it.  I just love the freshness and tender luscious bites it yields.

Since then we have come to appreciate all kinds of food… and all kinds of Japanese food, much of which isn’t even sushi.  We’re fortunate enough to have a grand sushi master in AZ… our own Nobuo at Teeter House.  But then I digress.  This is about THE Nobu.  Nobu Matsuhisa, the acclaimed Michelin starred chef and restaurateur of some dozen or so Nobu restaurants around the world.

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So when we saw a Travelzoo coupon for Nobu in Vegas… around Christmas time no less, it was a two-fer.  We’d get an amazing meal AND get to see the Christmas decorations in the over the top city of lights, Vegas.

The meal, in short, was everything is promised to be, and more.  Any meal that has me wanting to go home and seek out his recipes and cook them at home, is well… a success.

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We started with warm edamame with course sea salt.

Then quickly moved into our parade of courses:

hamachi_Ssi Hamachi (yellowfin tuna) with yuzu soy, japapeno, and cilantro.  Wonderful!

lobster tacos_Ssi Beef short rib tacos… tender and crunchy.

lobster wraps_Ssi Lobster lettuce wraps.  Yum!

shrimp tempura_Ssi Shriimp tempura with spicy mayo.  OMG good!

black cod_Ssi Miso Black Cod, Nobu’s signature dish, and rightfully so.  I have to make this at home.  It was tender, succulent, and spot on perfectly delicious.

sushi_Ssi Perfect sushi

dessert_Ssi Divine dessert.  The cappuccino cup was a tiramisu of sorts.. and delicious.

Nobu’s sushi is fresh and perfectly executed.  The flavors are perfect.

The service was amazing.   It was a fun and super delicious experience.  We were very glad we went.

The Bazaar Meats by Jose Andres at SLS Vegas

Bazaar Meats by Jose Andres at SLS Las Vegas

December 14, 2014

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I’d dare say by now we are Jose Andres aficionados. My husband words it a little differently and calls me a stalker. While that sounds harsh, it’s probably hard to deny. Particularly since we have been to most of Jose’s restaurants around the world. Except for his new restaurants in Miami and Puerto Rico, I have been to ALL his restaurants in his home town of Washington DC (Café Alantico, minibar, Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, and America Eats), LA (The Bazaar), and Vegas (Jaleo, e, China Poblano, and now The Bazaar Meats).

When they opened the new SLS in Las Vegas we were there the week of it’s opening, just after Labor Day. We had a ‘Truffles & Bees’ drink at Bazaar Meats bar that was so devastatingly good, it was a destination drink. It made me want to come back just for this amazing pear vodka, honey, truffles and champagne cocktail. It made me swoon. But at that time we had reservations at Katsuya next door. So we begrudgingly left and promised we’d be back.

So when we thought about doing a Christmas jaunt to check out the lights and decorations in Vegas, The Bazaar Meats by Jose Andres was top on our list, as was that yummy ‘Truffles and Bees’ cocktail. Unfortunately, as things go, nothing is as good the second time around. The ‘Truffles and Bees’ cocktail was terrible. It tasted like a muddy champagne drink with no flavor. I mentioned it to the bartender, and he explained that they had to cut back on the truffles and honey to calm patrons who sent it back as they didn’t like the taste. In my mind, if you don’t like truffles you shouldn’t order the drink. If you have a drink that is called Truffles & Bees, it ought to have truffles and honey in it. Take it off the menu if you can’t make it a decent drink the way it should be made. What a shame. It would seem this would be the theme of the evening.. appease the patrons at the cost of the food.

Having been to the The Bazaar in LA (a MUCH different restaurant experience, and one I would highly recommend, by the way), we skipped the very few Jose signature appetizers like Olives two ways and Foie Gras cotton candy. We concentrated on the things that this restaurant was trying to make it’s namesake… the meat.   Their menu had a large section for carpaccio’s and tartar’s (each around $25 each). So we tried their classic tartar to start. It was the stand out dish of the evening. It was partially frozen (a little tooth numbingly so), served in a large onyx bowl with chives, capers, mustard, and egg. It was bracingly refreshing, meaty, and delicious. Yum!

We ordered the Veal chop (for us to split), and a side of piquillo peppers and mushrooms. We were told that the plates came out as they were completed, not necessarily all at the same time. We asked that they come out together so that we could have them with the steak. The waiter promised to do what he could.   Just to take pause… doesn’t every other fine restaurant in the world have all the sides come out together! Isn’t that what Gordon Ramsey yells at his chefs about all the time?? Hmmm.

We were served this puny veal chop that was no more than 2-3 very small bites apiece. It was embarrassingly small, and lonely on a single white plate with no accompaniments. I have become accustomed to paying 40 some dollars for a big monster steak that while expensive, is a meaty masterpiece of tender charred goodness. But this $42 minstrosity was none of that. It was not big, it was not tender, and it was not charred or good. Instead, while it was done perfectly, it was tough, bland, and small. For a place that professes Meat, and a namesake for Jose Andres, it was more than disappointing, it was an unapologetic let down.

The piquillo peppers and mushrooms came a painful several minutes after our steak sat getting cold staring at us on our stark table. The peppers were delicious, but very strongly flavored and overpowered the drab veal. The mushrooms were a bit of a mystery dish, large caps filled with garlic, parsley butter atop a smear of gray matter puree. They surprisingly lacked flavor and appeal.

If this is the kind of restaurant SLS wants as it’s draw to be a destination for Vegas stripsters, it may be a short lived venture. We have now eaten at both SLS’s big name draws, Katsuya and Bazaar Meats, and both will have us running the other way, away from SLS, not toward. Such a shame to have my hero, Jose Andres, associate his name with such a loser in Vegas. With all the steak joints in Las Vegas, The Bazaar Meats needs to step up its game if it hopes to compete. For our money Carnevino is the clear winner in this category, and Bazaar Meats… you’re no Carnevino.