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

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

Short Order: Babette’s, Crystal Cove

Babette’s (photos by Brad A. Johnson)

Babette’s is beautiful. This sexy little spinoff of the East Hampton original opened last month at the Crystal Cove Shopping Center. The kitchen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. It’s not a very big place, with only a dozen tables inside and maybe just as many outside on the olive-tree-lined patio. The patio is where you want to be.

The patio feels extra luxurious thanks to its plush indoor furniture. The music — soft rock from the 1970s, mostly — is perfectly calibrated so that it fades in and out as conversations crest and lull. Life feels so easy here. The bar is crowned with a breathtaking skylight, and unless you’re sitting at the bar, you would hardly notice it. It would be a shame to miss it. Continue reading

OC Review: Waterman’s Harbor, Dana Point

Waterman’s Harbor, Dana Point (photos by Leonard Ortiz, OC Register)

“Harold! Come look at this place,” yells a woman whose wind-sculpted hair and well-worn boat shoes suggest she’s just spent the day at sea.

She has just walked into Waterman’s Harbor, a new gastropub in Dana Point, where I’m perched at the bar eating oysters and enjoying a pink margarita that’s not nearly as girly as it sounds. The woman is calling toward her apparent husband, who lags 10 steps behind and is just now coming through the front door.

“Look at this place, Harold. Can you believe it?” she says, still using her sailing voice, which briefly overpowers a classic tune by The Eagles that’s playing on the stereo. “This is the nicest restaurant in the harbor.”

Harold looks around, suspiciously. “Those oysters look good” he says, pointing to my plate. Continue reading

Short Order: Wheat & Sons, Anaheim

photo by Brad A. JohnsonPorchetta at Wheat & Sons (photo by Brad A. Johnson)

If you’ve been to the Anaheim Packing House you undoubtedly have seen the ridiculously long queue at The Kroft sandwich shop on the lower level. Most diners in that line will order the porchetta sandwich. Their porchetta (rotisserie pork) is very good. But what most people don’t know is that there is an even better porchetta sandwich next door at Wheat and Sons Butcher. Continue reading