Before & After: Fig & Olive, Newport Beach

After, Fig & Olive (photo by Brad A. Johnson)

My review of Fig & Olive was published today in the OC Register. Here’s a little something extra: a before and after look at one of my favorite dishes there. Can you guess what it was? I have a love hate relationship with this restaurant because this is yet another place that wants to be both a fine restaurant and a trendy nightclub. That’s never a winning combination.  Continue reading

Before & After: Pujol, Mexico City

After: a salad at Pujol (photo by Brad A Johnson)

Instead of a review this week, I’ve got a story in the Register’s Sunday travel section. I’ll be discussing Mexico City’s extraordinary restaurant scene, which I believe is on par with New York, San Francisco, London or Singapore. This is simply one of the greatest cities in the world for high-end fine dining. But for now, here’s a before and after of a little salad I ate at Pujol. Continue reading

What to eat at Potzol den Cano, Santa Ana

Photo Oct 15, 1 51 46 PMPozole at Potzol den Cano (photo by Brad A Johnson)

Potzol den Cano is a tiny operation that doesn’t look like anything special. But that’s just a mirage. The main idea here is pozole. And it’s not the ubiquitous red kind.

Continue reading

OC Review: Solita Tacos & Margaritas, Huntington Beach

Solita Tacos & Margaritas (photos by Leonard Ortiz, OC Register)

The first thing that catches my eye at Solitas is the ceviche. I see servers carrying these oversized goblets through the dining room, plunking them down on tables with a delicate thud.

“Is that the yellowtail?” I ask, pointing.

“Should I bring you one of those while you look over the menus?” our server asks.

I nod silently, wide-eyed, like a child in a candy store who’s just been granted a wish.

By the time the fishbowl of ceviche arrives, I’m already enjoying an excellent margarita. The drink tastes like real lime juice, not one of those mixes. It also tastes like real tequila. Casa Noble to be exact. Continue reading

What I’m reading: Daredevils, wine snobs and Mexico’s new high-speed train

  1. Those crazy daredevil Russian photographers are at it again. I don’t know whether to be impressed or offended. I’m leaning toward impressed. Gawker
  2. McDonalds has 34,480 restaurants in 119 countries, but not here. NPR
  3. Fascinating: How a 45-story boondoggle became the world’s tallest slum. Upworthy
  4. High-speed rail in Mexico will link the Riviera Maya with Merida. Mexico Today
  5. Wine snobs get punk’d. Is wine tasting really just a mind game? New York
  6. Is New York’s legendary Four Seasons restaurant being evicted? Gothamist
  7. Could the James Beard Awards actually move to Chicago? GrubStreet
  8. Nightmare: When a food writer suddenly can’t taste. NYTimes

The best (and worst) steaks in Orange County

Great steaks are expensive. Period. There’s no way around it. If you want a truly special USDA prime steak, you’re going to have to pay dearly for it. Unfortunately, high prices don’t always guarantee a great piece of meat. I’ve been on a quest to find Orange County’s best steak for more than a year now.

“That’s going to come with a warm red center. Is that what you’re looking for?” asks my waitress, confirming that I do want my steak to be somewhat bloody. Continue reading

Where to eat in OC’s Little Saigon

A steaming bowl of pho. Intensely dark coffee sweetened with condensed milk. Crusty baguettes slathered with aioli and stuffed with grilled pork and jalapeños. I find it hard to resist the lure of Little Saigon. I don’t profess to be an expert on Vietnamese cuisine. I know only what I’ve learned from my travels to Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, coupled with what I’ve gleaned from eating often in Garden Grove, Westminster and Fountain Valley.

Navigating Little Saigon can be daunting. The choices are too vast. Any list of the best restaurants in this enclave will naturally spur debate. The best bahn mi? The best pho? The finest Vietnamese coffee? Allegiances are strong. Opinions are even stronger. Where to eat in Little Saigon? That’s a loaded question. But for the moment, these are my favorites: Continue reading

What to eat (and drink) at Los Arcos, Santa Ana

Photo Dec 15, 2 18 29 PMFrosty mug of beer at Los Arcos (photo by Brad A Johnson)

I like beer as much as the next guy, but I don’t always want one of those trendy IPAs or hefeweizens. Sometime all I want is an ice-cold Mexican lager served in a frozen mug rimmed with salt and chili powder, with a big chunk of lime already squeezed into the mug for me before it arrives. And that’s why Los Arcos has become one of my favorite places.

The old-time jukebox is always blaring the likes of Antonio Aguilar and Sergio Vega. I like that, too.

Here are the five things not to miss: Continue reading

OC Review: Selanne Steak Tavern, Laguna Beach

Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach (photos by Leonard Ortiz, OC Register)

Brrr. It’s possibly the coldest night of the year when I first dine at Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach. On my way to the front door, I pause next to the restaurant’s semi-covered patio, whose canvas sides are shivering in the wind. I shiver back. The outdoor dining room looks like an abandoned storage shed tonight, with stacks of shrink-wrapped linen heaped haphazardly upon tables in one corner. Most of the other tables are completely bare.

Oddly, in the midst of this cold, windswept scene, I see a young couple bundled in heavy coats and scarves. Who in their right mind would dine in the cold tonight? They look absolutely miserable.

My party and I make our way inside to check in.

“Would you like to sit on our patio?” asks the hostess, rather seriously. “We have a table ready for you outside.” Continue reading

O.C.’s Top 10 New Restaurants 2013

Little sparrow (photo by eugene garcia, oc register)

1. Little Sparrow
An American cafe with the old soul of a European bistro. Rising star chef. Killer pastrami. Elegant pastas. 300 N. Main St., Santa Ana. 714-265-7640 Continue reading

OC Register Restaurant Awards 2013!

Best new restaurant? Chef of the year? Cherry-picking the best of the best of Orange County’s food scene and settling on a solitary chef of the year, one overall restaurant of the year, one preeminent pastry chef, the single most impressive newcomer, plus one legendary icon, and a beverage program that stood out among all the others is a daunting task. Agonizing choices had to be made. The possibilities were numerous, but the awards are few.

After a year’s worth of dining – nearly 400 meals and counting – it all comes down to this, my first end-of-year restaurant awards for the Orange County Register. And the winners are… Continue reading