Huarache w shrimp and huitlacoche (Photo by Joshua Sudock, OC Register)
After nearly a dozen trips to Mexico City over the past five years, I’ve come to believe the Mexican capital is one of the world’s most underrated cities for fine dining. The restaurants there keep getting better and more adventurous. Chefs have embraced a bold, modern style of Mexican cuisine that’s nearly impossible to find anywhere else. Continue reading
New York strip on hot stone
RokPrime Steakhouse & Grill (Photos by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
RokPrime is a beautiful steakhouse that opened in October in downtown San Juan Capistrano. The ceiling drips with chandeliers. The décor is a mishmash of chic Paris flea market finds and rustic California farmhouse attitude, with gilded mirrors, big chalkboards, stone floors, intricately detailed antique doors and simple reclaimed wood. Leopard- and cheetah-print fabrics somehow seem elegant, as does the brown butcher paper that’s laid atop white tablecloths. Waiters are dressed in starched white chef’s coats, which throws me off at first. I see a pretty chef in her early 20s approaching the table, and I think, “Wow, the chef is so young!” But then she greets us with “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’ll be your server today.” That’s the point at which I suddenly see lots of these young chefs, er, servers, infiltrating the dining room. Continue reading
Chicharrones-crusted octopus with cotija cheese at 1886 (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
San Miguel de Allende has always been a great destination for food. This cobblestoned colonial town in the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico has long been known for its incredible carnitas vendors and rotisserie chicken shops. I’ve been vacationing here more or less every year for the past 15 years. It was about 10 years ago that the town starting getting more serious about its fine dining. The upscale movement first took hold when California chef Donnie Masterton moved to town and opened The Restaurant in the early ’00s, ushering in a new wave of locavorism that has since catapulted San Miguel leaps and bounds ahead of Oaxaca as Mexico’s most serious farm-to-table destination. Continue reading
Melon and crab
Peas and Burrata
Pinot Provence – Where is everybody?
Pinot Provence, Costa Mesa (Photos by Eugene Garcia, OC Register)
Empty restaurants are difficult to enjoy.
I’ve dined at Pinot Provence several times over the past couple of months – at lunch, at dinner, on various days of the week. The gorgeous chateau-style, chandeliered dining room has never been more than 15 percent occupied, even on a Friday night at 7.
I feel strangely unsettled when I’m the only person (or one of few) eating in an eerily empty restaurant. I feel as if I’ve come to the wrong place. Continue reading
Matera, Italy (Photos by Brad A. Johnson)
Matera will move you to tears. And if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with you. The Sassi of Matera became UNESCO’s first protected “landscape” in Western Europe. Thus the hauntingly beautiful skyline and exterior facades of the Sassi can never be altered. The food here is fantastic. Slow food. Locavore at its best. The bread is considered by many to be the best in Italy. The five most important things to sample here are the bread, the pizza, the grilled lamb (a mixed plate consisting of several different cuts and offal), the dried red chillies and the orrechietti. As for wine, the prized local specialty is a beautiful, powerful, earthy red called aglianico, most of which never leaves Basilicata. Here’s where to eat: Continue reading
Combination plate, Papa-style, at El Farolito (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
Long live the combination plate. And yellow cheese.
El Farolito opened in Placentia in 1974, but I didn’t get around to discovering it until last month. I love this place. I love that I can build my own combination plate, Junior-style, Mama-style or Papa-style. Continue reading
Roll de Caliente
“Halibut fin,” the chef says, timidly, handing two small plates across the counter, each sporting a single piece of nigiri sushi. The glistening sliver of halibut clings to an equally proportioned lump of rice. The flesh is vaguely translucent on one end, fading to an opaque white on the other. It’s topped with a single fleck of orange and red relish of some sort. It’s the perfect size for a single, civilized mouthful. It tastes like fresh tears, and with this one bite, I know I’m in for an extraordinary ride. Continue reading
Five Crowns in Corona del Mar (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
“Let’s go out for prime rib,” suggests a friend.
“Where?” I ask.
“I dunno,” he says. “Five Crowns?”
I’d driven past Five Crowns in Corona del Mar a million times but never actually eaten there. “OK,” I say, “prime rib it is.”
And when the prime rib arrives, it is handsome – a bloody red slab of beef almost 2 inches thick, the outer crust rimmed with caramelized fat. The meat takes up so much real estate on my plate, a heap of mashed potatoes looks as if it’s about to jump over the ledge. A softball-size Yorkshire pudding is still collapsing into itself, gently releasing steam, clearly just pulled from the oven as my plate was leaving the kitchen… Continue reading
Chicharrones-stuffed poblano chile at El Mayor (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
I wish I could eat that again right now! This is a chile relleno stuffed with chicharrones at an excellent rooftop restaurant in Mexico City called El Mayor. Continue reading
Apple cinnamon beignets
Truffle fava bean spread
Ramos House Cafe
The Ramos House Cafe (Photos by Brad A. Johnson)
Time stands still on Los Rios Street. Just around the corner, I hear a rooster crow and a sheep bleat. Seldom does a car drive by.
Visitors of all ages meander down the middle of the road, gawking at California history, admiring the daisies and bougainvillea, pointing at the hummingbirds. Most who loll up and down this street are just killing time. They’ve already put their name on the list at The Ramos House Cafe, and they’re just waiting for their table. Meanwhile, pop! There goes another Champagne cork. Continue reading
I love this video. It makes traffic in Los Angeles look so glamorous and fun. And just look at the crystal-clear sky. Amazing photography by Newport Beach photographer Alex Hallajian via Vimeo.
Bruno’s Trattoria in Brea (Photos by Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register)
It’s 7 o’clock on Wednesday night. The air is warm, and Birch Street teems with life. The movie theaters sparkle like neon birthday cakes, casting their vintage glow upon the 7-month-old Bruno’s Trattoria, which enjoys a front-row seat to downtown Brea’s renaissance.
I’m running a few minutes late for dinner, and my guests are already seated. They’ve just texted me to let me know they’re ordering a plate of salumi and bottle of wine, “a really nice Dolcetto for only $28.” Their text arrives just as I’m parking. “Go ahead and pour me a glass,” I reply. Continue reading