Chef Luigi Fineo at Andrea (photo by Eugene Garcia, OC Register)
Andrea is gloriously old-fashioned and grand, with soaring indoor palms and oversized clamshell booths. The tables are covered with ultra-fine linens and heavy sterling silverware. Tables are spaced far apart, providing an unparalleled sense of privacy. Fittingly, amid the monumental Tuscan architecture of Pelican Hill, Andrea is Italian.
A new chef came onboard a little more than a year ago. Luigi Fineo, who is from Southern Italy, has completely transformed the kitchen. There is a seriousness and polish to his cooking that was previously lacking here. I think it’s safe to say that no other Italian restaurant in Orange County is cooking at the same high level of refinement as Fineo’s team at Andrea. Continue reading →
Grace in action around the world (photos by Brad A. Johnson)
After nearly a year at the OC Register, I finally awarded my first 4-star rating. (See my review of Blossom in Las Vegas). Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a restaurant in OC that lives up to the ultimate rating. If it were easy, lots of restaurants would do it. But it’s not. It’s hard. Very hard. Almost impossible.
People constantly ask me, “What is it going to take to get four stars?” Continue reading →
The burger at Urban Grill & Wine Bar (photo by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
The burger is why I’m here. Someone mentioned that I ought to try the burger at Urban Grill & Wine Bar in Foothill Ranch, so when I found myself hungry in this corner of the county in the middle of the afternoon, at an hour that qualifies as neither lunch nor dinner, I was happy to find this place.
The burger is as classic as they come, a nice fatty blend of sirloin and brisket, cooked perfectly medium-rare, as ordered, and sandwiched between a pillowy bun with lettuce, a slice of tomato and a tight knot of crispy, frizzly onion rings. It requires both hands to squeeze the whole thing down to a size that will almost fit between my teeth. I bite it from several angles, slowly working my way into its juicy middle. The potatoes that come with it are pretty good, too, a tall, haystack of skinny fries… Continue reading →
Hamamori Sushi, Costa Mesa (photo by Brad A Johnson)
It didn’t take long for this little bite to disappear. This dish at Hamamori Sushi in Costa Mesa contained two of my favorite ingredients, which until this moment I had never actually eaten together in the same bite. Now I want to do it all over again. And again.
Clams in spicy sauce (photo by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
Yang Chow fried rice (photo by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
Salt and pepper squid (photo by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
Tan Cang special lobster (photo by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
Tan Cang Newport Seafood, Garden Grove (photos by Brad A Johnson)
There are two restaurants in Orange County named Tan Cang Newport Seafood, and they are not affiliated. At least not anymore. Nor is either still affiliated with the original team that created them and still operates two Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants by the same name in San Gabriel and Rowland Heights. So it’s easy to get them confused. Keep that in mind when you invite a group of friends to whichever one you’re going to.
At the moment, my pick is the one in Garden Grove. It’s not as nice as the ones in Rowland Heights or San Gabriel. It’s a total dive, and you’ll want to lower your expectations for service. If you need another beer, it helps to stand up and wave your arms. But the food is outstanding.
The menu is vast, with more than 100 choices, but there are really only five things you need to order. Continue reading →
Shrimp on a stick at Rice Paper, Garden Grove (photo by Brad A Johnson)
This is the aftermath. This is what the “shrimp on a stick” at Rice Paper in Garden Grove looked like when I was done with them. You should have seen my hands and face — this is one of the messiest things you will ever eat. But it’s also one of the most incredibly delicious things you will ever eat. Here’s what they looked like before… Continue reading →
Szechuan chicken at Jasmine at Bellagio (photo by Brad A Johnson)
Hakkasan at MGM (photo by Brad A Johnson)
Amuse bouche of tofu and 1000-year-old egg at Pearl (photo by Brad A Johnson)
Pearl in Las Vegas (photo by Brad A Johnson)
Nowhere else in America does Chinese food like this exist (photos by Brad A Johnson)
Chinese food is supposed to be cheap and quick. The best, or at least the most “authentic,” Chinese restaurants require a certain amount of funk and grime. We gladly put up with service that is gruff or indifferent, even downright rude because, well, that’s the way it is. Or so goes the stereotype.
But when I’m dining at Pearl in Las Vegas, and the amuse-bouche – for lack of a better word – arrives, a far different reality emerges. The waiter leans in and gently speaks, almost whispering: “This is homemade tofu with shredded thousand-year-old egg, along with flying fish caviar and XO sauce, compliments of the chef.” Continue reading →
Chile en Nogada at Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen (photo by Eugene Garcia, OC Register)
I ruffled a few feathers last November when, in my inaugural column for the OC Register, I wrote that the chips and salsa at Gabbi’s left a bad taste in my mouth. A couple of Gabbi’s staunchest defenders complained that I shouldn’t be whining about chips and salsa in the first place because chips and salsa aren’t even Mexican. Continue reading →
Rocky Mountain oysters (photo by Kevin Sullivan, OC Register)
Hopscotch, Fullerton (photos by Kevin Sullivan and Brad A Johnson)
“What are they?” he asks, studying the menu for a clue as to what Rocky Mountain oysters might be. The menu at Hopscotch plays it vague, describing them only as “veal fries.”
“They’re really good,” I say, deflecting the question. “Let’s get some.”
The guy with whom I’m dining has never eaten a Rocky Mountain oyster, and I’ve found that it’s best not to enlighten someone – especially a guy – as to where calf fries come from until after he’s eaten one or two. The only people who don’t like Rocky Mountain oysters are the ones who are afraid of them.
If you grow up on a working cattle ranch, like I did, you don’t think twice about eating calf testicles. Continue reading →
Guacamole at Taco Maria (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Salsa negra at Taco Maria (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Macadamia-crusted cod at Taco Maria (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Taco Maria, Costa Mesa (photos by Brad A. Johnson)
Taco Maria doesn’t serve tacos.
Despite what you might have heard, Taco Maria is not exactly the brick-and-mortar equivalent of the famed taco truck that boasted the same name and owner.
My first clue that the name is ironic is revealed when I go online to make a reservation. The website informs me that Taco Maria serves only a four-course chef’s menu, with an optional wine pairing. But even as I arrive for that first visit, I’m still half-expecting a taco or two.
The menu offers no such thing. Although it abstractly impersonates a taco bar, Taco Maria is actually one of the most sophisticated restaurants to open in Orange County in years. It has turned fine dining on its head, relishing a distinctly modern Chicano flavor and a laid-back Southern California vibe… Continue reading →
Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Pimento cheese (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Halibut w/ polenta (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern, Dana Point (photos by Brad A. Johnson)
Waiters parade past us with armfuls of food. “Ooh, that looks good,” someone says, pointing to burger that stands six inches tall, with a gigantic onion ring layered between its bun. “Ooh, look at that,” another says, excitedly pulling my sleeve as the fried chicken comes through. “Or how about those? We have to get some of those,” I say, as the deviled eggs rush past. “Dibs on that!” says the cocky one in my party who is first to spot the prime rib.
Although open less than two months, Jimmy’s has quickly become the hottest restaurant in South County. It’s the brainchild of David Wilhelm, the restaurateur who previously introduced Orange County to French 75, Chat Noir and, long before that, El Torito Grill. He has always been a master at creating ambience… Continue reading →