OC Press Club Awards!

Great news from the Orange County Press Club Awards last night! I am happy to announce that I received six awards — the most individual awards of any journalist at the gala. I am humbled and honored to have swept 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the restaurant-review category (for Waterman’s Harbor, Orsa & Winston and Faith & Flower, respectively). I was also recognized for my articles about the best (and worst) steaks in Orange County, the 2014 Restaurant Awards and my travel piece about pozole in Zihuatanejo. In all, my colleagues at the OC Register took home more than 40 awards. Congratulations to all of my coworkers and illustrious competitors who were also honored last night.  Continue reading

Crystal Symphony: Feast on the High Seas!

Food dictates where I travel. I book restaurant reservations before I buy plane tickets. I choose hotels based on their proximity to where I will eat.

I also like cruise ships. But I’ve learned over the years that my passion for food and my love for cruising are not always compatible. I’ve found myself on cruises where I’ve had to lower my expectations at the dinner table, at least while the ship was at sea.

All of this was on my mind earlier this year when I started planning a trip to Southeast Asia. Two years had passed since my last trip to Singapore and Thailand, and even longer than that since I had seen Vietnam. Some of my greatest food memories come from that part of the world. Singapore’s dining scene rivals New York’s and Tokyo’s, and I knew of at least four new restaurants there I wanted to try. I craved real Thai food and warm sand between my toes. I longed to explore the street food of Ho Chi Minh City with the friend of a friend who lives there. The more I thought about the possibilities, the hungrier I got.  Continue reading

Quick Look: Savor Saigon food tour, Vietnam

I recently traveled back to Saigon. So much has changed since my last visit to Vietnam just a few years before. Most notably, the skyline is quickly going vertical. Fortunately, much of what I fell in love with the first time around hasn’t really changed. The food is incredible and the people are warm, welcoming and friendly. Here’s a quick look around:  Continue reading

Hotel Review: The Reverie, Saigon

Overview: The Reverie Saigon opened in January in the historic core of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It appears the goal was to create the most lavish, most luxurious hotel in Vietnam. It is unquestionably the flashiest.  Continue reading

Best Tacos in Orange County, 2015

A person could eat tacos daily for years and not make a dent in the infinite abundance of Mexican food in Orange County.

Unfortunately, my schedule prohibits me from consuming an all-tacos, all-the-time diet, so I end up eating Mexican food merely once or twice a week. Sometimes I return to an old standby, but mostly I set out each week to discover something new, or at least new to me.

Readers frequently send me notes about tacos they think I should try, many of which I follow up on, and some of which end up on this list. Others don’t pan out, but I’m happy to scratch them off my list.

Tacos are highly subjective and personal, and one person’s ideal is always grounds for debate. Nothing brings out the Internet trolls faster and more furiously than not recommending their favorite.

My quest for the ultimate taco continues. This year I’m not including any trucks or places that otherwise don’t provide a comfortable place to sit – at a proper table, with at the very least a covered awning – where I can enjoy the tacos while they’re still hot. This list will forever be a work in progress, but for now, these are the tacos I crave the most.  Continue reading

75 Best Places to Eat in Orange County: Burgers, Tacos, Top Chefs and Dives!

Compiling a list of 75 favorite restaurants always sounds easy until the number-crunching begins. Suddenly 75 feels short. Good restaurants get trimmed. Not all cuisines are covered. But when I set out to write this story, it was never my aim to create a culinary Noah’s Ark.

When explaining this story, it probably helps to clarify what it is not. This is not an ordered ranking of the county’s most celebrated chefs, sorted according to their restaurant’s star status. That’s a different story completely that I might write someday. Rather, this is a collection of the restaurants where I most frequently find myself wanting to eat. Sometimes what I really want to eat is a two-fisted, greasy, egg-soaked cheese- burger. Other days, I crave tacos. But I also like to get dressed up and dine like a grown-up, with caviar, Champagne and wafer-thin mints. This list covers all of that and more. Continue reading

Quick Look: Lung King Heen, Hong Kong

When Lung King Heen earned three Michelin stars in 2009, it was the first restaurant in Hong Kong — and the first Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world — to win the prestigious French guide’s highest honor.

The gorgeous Cantonese restaurant overlooks Victoria Harbor from the fourth floor of the Four Seasons hotel. I dined at the restaurant shortly after it earned its Michelin stars, and I was blown away. But in the years since, Michelin’s credibility in Hong Kong has slipped dramatically as the guide added more local inspectors who began awarding way too many stars to restaurants that simply didn’t deserve them. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I returned to Lung King Heen last week, anxious to see whether the restaurant would live up to my previous experience. Continue reading

Best Sushi in Southern California (ahem, in America)

For anyone who loves sushi, as I do, we’ve got it good here. Nowhere else in the United States — not New York, not San Francisco, nowhere — comes even remotely close to the quality of sushi widely available in Southern California.

And while Los Angeles has always been the sushi capital of America, Orange County is right up there. To be clear: I’m not talking about sushi rolls, which are largely a California invention and can be enjoyable. I’m talking about authentic Japanese nigiri sushi and sashimi. I’m talking about omakase. Continue reading

Hotel Review: Hotel G, San Francisco

Overview: The Hotel G soft-opened in San Francisco last May, but the adjoining restaurants and fitness center didn’t open until fall. The 13-story building was originally constructed in 1908 as the Fielding Hotel, which faded long ago. After a two-year renovation, the old property is now fully open and operating as a 153-room boutique hotel. Continue reading

OC Short Order: Garlic & Chives, Garden Grove

When Garlic & Chives opened in December at Garden Grove’s Mall of Fortune, I thought, “Great! This will be a nice alternative to Brodard when the line there is too long.”

And for a couple of weeks, it was. But apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking this. Or maybe the credit goes to Garlic & Chives itself, which has quickly become as popular (almost) as its legendary neighbor.  Continue reading

Hotel Review: Park Hyatt New York

Overview: The debut of the Park Hyatt New York in August was widely regarded as one of the most important hotel openings in America in years. Although based in Chicago, the top tier of the Hyatt Hotels portfolio has been slow to establish a presence in the United States. While the 34-unit luxury brand is well-known and highly regarded throughout Asia and Europe – with spectacular hotels in Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, Sydney, Istanbul, Milan, Paris and Vienna, among other destinations – Park Hyatt’s name recognition had been limited to only four hotels in the U.S.: in San Diego, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Beaver Creek, Colo. This new 210-room hotel in the 90-story One57 skyscraper is being trumpeted as the brand’s new American flagship. Continue reading

Quick Review: The River Cafe, Brooklyn

The River Cafe, Brooklyn (photos by Brad A. Johnson)

One of New York’s most celebrated restaurants is back and better than ever.

I thought it could never be done. It was a sentiment shared by pretty much everyone after The River Café in Brooklyn took a devastating hit from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The restaurant opened in 1977 aboard a riverboat that was moored to a quaint coach house on the bank of the East River, just beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. With breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, the restaurant radiated glamor and exclusivity. Over the years, its kitchen launched a succession of soon-to-be legendary chefs, including Charlie Palmer, David Burke, Larry Forgione and George Morrone.

But then came Sandy. The hurricane swept in like a wrecking ball and filled the restaurant with four feet of water and gunk. The wine cellar, one of the best in New York, was decimated. If The River Café was going to reopen, everything would have to be replaced: the tables and chairs, the oak bar, the floors, the grand piano, the interior walls, the wine, the kitchen.

Continue reading