Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beachy Berries

Photography by Ralph Palumbo
There’s nothing quite like the ripe, sweet strawberries of California. Each year our state harvests more of these plump red berries than any other place in the country. Though the fruits start appearing in January, April marks the peak of strawberry season, when you’ll find the sweetest, most flavorful offerings. K’ya Bistro at Laguna Beach’s Casa del Camino updates the classic Cuban cocktail with the luscious fruit to create a refreshing strawberry mojito. Flavored with fresh muddled mint leaves and tart lime juice, this mojito is best imbibed watching ocean waves lap onto a sandy shore, just like at the bistro’s rooftop bar. –Jenn Tanaka 

Strawberry Mojito

1½ oz. Bacardi rum
½ oz. simple syrup
4 lime wedges
3 mint leaves
3 fresh strawberries
Soda water
1 sugar cane, for garnish
  1. Muddle three lime wedges, mint leaves and two strawberries in a martini shaker.
  2. Add ice, rum and simple syrup.
  3. Pour into a chilled glass with ice.
  4. Top with soda water.
  5. Garnish with a fresh strawberry, lime wedge and sugar cane.

1287 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach
:: kyabistro.com

Gluten-free Goodies

Whether you’re living with celiac disease or avoid wheat for other reasons, these local treats taste so good you won’t even notice they are gluten-free.

Go Nuts for Doughnuts
Sidecar Doughnuts is a longstanding Costa Mesa favorite for fresh handmade doughnuts. Its custom flavors, such as the sweet huckleberry cake and the Cara Cara orange with a tangy citrus glaze, are scrumptious, but the revolving selection of gluten-free doughnuts is not to be missed. The shop’s Saigon cinnamon crumb with its subtle salty finish is so delicious and its texture – just like a true cake doughnut – is so crumbly that you don’t even miss the gluten. Grab them while
you can, as the offerings change weekly.
Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee, 270 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa
:: sidecardoughnuts.com 

Pudding Pleasure
When Steve and Alexis Schulze cofounded Nekter Juice Bar in 2010, promoting a healthy lifestyle was as crucial to them as taste. So the Schulzes concocted a series of cold-pressed juices and revolutionized the liquid-cleanse movement. While their juices satisfy – those seeking solids find a sweet treat with the acai banana berry bowl with gluten-free granola suitable for breakfast, lunch or dessert. Flavored with housemade vanilla cashew milk, fresh strawberries, blueberries and bananas this slushie bowl of goodness offers an added boost of energy. Nekter’s newest location, which opened at South Coast Plaza last month, is an ideal outpost for those seeking a refreshing nibble during an afternoon of binge shopping.
Nekter Juice Bar at South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa
:: nekterjuicebar.com

Have a Ball
A cake ball alternative, the GFB Gluten Free Bites satisfy your sweet tooth. Each bite is vegan, soy-free and made with non-GMO ingredients. The spheres are sweetened with agave nectar and organic dates. Six flavors include dark chocolate hazelnut, chocolate cherry almond and coconut cashew crunch, but the real crowd pleaser is the classic PB+J, which combines creamy peanut butter with tart dried strawberries – satisfying flavors that transport you back
to childhood.
Available at various Sprouts markets and Nordstroms EBar at Fashion Island, 901 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
:: theglutenfreebar.com

Thursday, June 26, 2014

 Summer Sipping

July is prime melon season. Fresh, juicy and sweet, watermelons are the crowd-pleasing fruit to beat summer’s heat. While it is a must-have when sliced and served chilled at barbecues and 4th of July picnics, Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen in Brea concocted something even better: the watermelon margarita. So ignite your taste buds while sipping on this refreshing cocktail. And, since July 24 is national Tequila Day, there’s no better way to celebrate.

714.255.1040 :: chachaslatinkitchen.com


Fresh Watermelon Margarita

1 ½ fl. oz. Blanco Tequila
2 fl. oz. watermelon juice
½ fl. oz. hibiscus syrup
¼ fl. oz. agave nectar
½ fl. oz. lime juice
pinch of kosher salt

Combine all ingredients into an ice-filled shaker.
Shake well and strain into an ice-filled glass.
Garnish with fresh watermelon.

*** As seen in the July 2014 issue of Coast magazine. ***

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Snapshots – Americana Food Tour: Land of Chef Jonathon Sawyer

In downtown Cleveland, one chef reigns supreme. His name is Jonathon Sawyer and while passing through Ohio, we dropped in at two of his more popular places: Greehouse Tavern and NoodleCat.

The latter is an homage to Manhattan's East Village ramen noodle houses. However, the bland, oily broth and locally-made gummy noodles left much to be desired. We did love the miso-dressed bok choi salad mixed with tatsoi leaves. The mini "buns" or sliders were all a mistake. After one bite, we instantly regretted it. We ordered all and were, unfortunately, impressed by none.

Ruth Reichl recommended Greenhouse Tavern after a transcendent evening filled with foie gras and clams. She described her favorite dish there, which consists of Manila clams steamed in white wine, shallots, and garlic. But, Sawyer one ups the classic dish by finishing it with melted foie gras and butter! It's a bourgeois play on surf n' turf. But, to our dismay, when we ordered the clams, there wasn't even a hint of foie! The wild mushroom risotto was equally disappointing. It showed up to our table runny, bland, and overcooked. The one redeeming part of the meal: the roasted chicken. 

Rather than roasting it whole, the kitchen serves it baked inside a pastry shell. It's a gluttonous play on chicken pot pie. Whole sprigs of rosemary rest beneath the tender chicken and waft out an intense aroma when the top is cracked wide open. The chicken was fragrant, juicy and large enough to share. (Which was great news since everything else we ordered that night – the risotto, the clams, the bread board – were all very disappointing.)

The next morning, I wrote Ruth a quick email. I mentioned that Greenhouse Tavern's decor was beautiful – dark wood, high ceiling, large communal tables, great bar/bistro feel. But, the food... oh, the food... I told her that it must be nice to eat out like Ruth Reichl. Because I couldn't help but think that when she visited Greenhouse Tavern, the server was wise enough to alert the kitchen. Seeing that it really was Ruth Reichl, in the flesh, they instantly knew to throw in more foie! more butter! Which, probably made it taste more delectable. But, alas, we weren't so lucky. Maybe one day, I'll taste the clams of Ruth's dreams. Unfortunately, that night in Cleveland wasn't it. 

Snapshots – Americana Food Tour: Cleveland Greenmarket

When I was working at Gilt Taste, Ruth Reichl –who exudes happiness like a Labrador– raved about a weekend getaway to Cleveland. In true Tanaka fashion, I put shoved my foot in my mouth and blurted:

"Ruth, Cleveland? Really? Don't they compare Cleveland to Hell?"

Immediately, I realized that this was the absolute wrong thing to say. (But, hey, that's part of my charm, right?) Later, I read that Ruth's mom, whom she shares a tormented albeit artistically rich relationship with, grew up in Cleveland. (Ugh.) She has fond childhood memories of this place – especially Cleveland's West Side Market which, is rich with local history and artisanal purveyors. (Double ugh.) From that moment on, the West Side Market was on my bucket list – it became a stop on our Americana Food Tour. And, Ruth was right.

Before leaving Cleveland, we grabbed a homemade walnut cinnamon roll cluster for our friends. They were waiting for us at our next stop, Louisville. When we got there, they coyly opened the plastic wrapper, and dove in, taking handfuls at a time. Less than 16 hours later, the entire confection was a distant memory. It was sweet (but, not too sweet), nutty, and freshly baked that morning. I still talk about that walnut cinnamon roll cluster and the West Side Market where we found it. Not returning really would be Hell.

Check out our snapshots below. Enjoy!

Excuse the awkward expression – It was 30 degrees and windy in Cleveland chilly December day in 2011.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ladies that Lunch Chronicles: Campanile

Chef Mark Peel gained some notoriety with his TV stint on Bravo's 2nd season of Top Chef: Masters. But around Los Angeles, this father of 5 is known for his longstanding seasonal cooking at Campanile. Amongst his many other accomplishments, which include being a protege of Wolfgang Puck, co-founder of La Brea Bakery, and a Santa Monica Greenmarket maven (see video below), we discovered on a random Thursday afternoon, that this chef is also in the restaurant at all hours.

As the morning crew wrapped up lunch service, chef Peel rapidly rushed into the dining room. He pulled the general manager aside, and immediately started talking business. For a guy who's seen more than his fair share of fame, it's nice to know that he still has his hands on the day-to-day happenings at his own restaurant. A great lesson for all entrepreneurs.   

Besides showing up, what Peel also learned these past 20 years, is that by using local ingredients and cooking comfortingly simple food, LA patrons will keep coming back. And, you know what – It works.

From studio execs talking shop to a real estate agent and his prospective clients to a small office party to a mother-daughter duo, it seems that there is no "type" of person that particularly dines at Campanile during the day. And, as the food starts rolling in, I can see why. The dishes are takes on classic comfort foods – Pasta carbonara, fried chicken, bread pudding. It's more like lunch in the South, than in the Southland. But, at what first seems schmaltzy is in fact brilliant. This is the place where you hang because it's been there for years and you know it won't let you down. The food is predictable and good. However, at times, it seems that just one aspect prevents each dish from achieving its true greatness.

For example, the duck confit salad with peppery arugula dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette is a delightful way to start the meal. However, the long carrot "ribbons" are way too long. Each strand sloppily makes its way into my mouth only after winding around my fork several times like spaghetti. The tender duck confit (cooked in its own fat) and crispy (dare I say, chicken?) skin made everything else on the plate forgivable. However, the undercooked, crunchy risotto with overcooked salmon scraps served to my table companion was not.
Posted below are a few snapshots of the meal. Enjoy!

Bacon lardons, cracked black pepper, creamy pasta sauce

The crispy fried chicken was moist on the inside. It was crunchy, well-seasoned, and spicy on the outside. The potato salad was a mix of fingerling potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, red onions, and corn.

The risotto looks good. But, it's a dud. More butter! More stock! Mix in some cheese. Risotto (and salmon, for that matter) shouldn't be this dry! Those poor mushrooms and artichokes – at least they were delightful. :) 

Bread pudding. Great in theory. Dry and tasteless in reality.

Chocolate pot au creme with pistachio shortbread. Dud! The chocolate pudding had way too much gelatin. The texture was rubbery and the flavor was disappointingly bland. Chocolate! Why can't I taste chocolate?!

View of the dining room interior from the more casual, lunch area in the front. The space itself was used as Charlie Chaplin's office. The upstairs private dining rooms, named after Chaplin, pay homage to the screen actor. Watch another Campanile "commercial" below. 

San Francisco Showstopper: Foreign Cinema

There's a resurgence brewing in San Francisco's Mission District. What once was a neighborhood known for crackheads and panhandlers is now a hipster haven. With popular Manhattan East Village transplants like The Beauty Bar, it's obvious that the Mission is catering to a new crowd. It's also the home for an interesting culinary experiment called Foreign Cinema.

The space, once used for a movie theater, is now converted into a two-story restaurant. Although the main dining room to the right appears the most overtly renovated, the high ceiling oddly adds a warm, cozy feel – the large fireplace doesn't hurt either.  Fortunately (for historical building nerds like me), remnants of the old theater structure still remain. The marquee glows out front and the hallway leading to the reception table is still carpeted red. However, the wooden tables and chairs give the space a rustic feel. The open kitchen is the only reminder that you're actually eating at a restaurant – not at a quaint farmhouse. Foreign Cinema fools you into thinking that this experience is all so simple. In fact, it takes timing and perfect cadence to make the diner feel so comfortable and at ease. While simultaneously, making them feel like they're a blockbuster.

The middle dining room is where most of the action occurs. It's dimly lit with rows of wooden tables. Starting at dusk, the large screen at the front projects a movie (the night we were there, New World was showing). The twinkling lights evoke imagery of a Midsummer Night's Dream crossed with a hipster outdoor movie screening. The cocktails, going along with the cinema theme, are all named after films like Black Swan. But, the true showstopper is the food.

Earlier that Saturday afternoon, I walked with a group of food enthusiasts to San Francisco's Ferry Building. (It was a perfectly sunny San Francisco day without a cloud in the sky – I really was on vacation!) As we perused each vendor's stall, the star of the farmer's market stopped us in our tracks. It was romanesco (a Italian-style broccoli that tastes like a dense cauliflower). It's the vegetable equivalent to Kate Moss.

Romanesco's unique oddities make it beautiful, interesting, and delicious. As I was describing it, I mentioned that chefs love using this alien-looking ingredient because its appearance is so unusual, but the taste is so familiar. To our delight, that night, it wound up on our plates at Foreign Cinema! "Oohs" and "aahs" erupted from the table. The Romanesco was pickled and served cold rather than boiled and glazed with butter. It was vinegary, spicy and prepared in a way I never tried before! And, to seal the deal, it was served with duck. I gave the meal a standing ovation.  

 I wish I took a better picture of the romanesco pickles! Anyway, here's the rare duck breast with shaved asparagus, mushroom medley, and tender beans

The Steak – We loved that at first glance, it looks like a salad. The seasonal beans and crunchy croutons balanced well with the beef. All the garnishes were fresh, seasonal and interesting.

Foie gras terrine and paté spread on "bruschetta"with Dijon mustard. It was so good, our table-mate exclaimed, "I can't believe California wants to make foie gras illegal! Now that's a crime!"

Check out the video below of Blue Hill's chef/owner Dan Barber discussing the foie gras parable at TED's Taste3 Talks. He describes his visit with a Spanish farmer raising a sustainable flock of geese that produces the best foie gras in the world. The most amazing thing: the farmer credits nature alone for the foie's unprecedented flavor and color. The farmer obtains these goose livers by not galvaging (or force feeding) the animals. It's especially interesting to me since foie gras is rumored be outlawed soon in California because its regarded as inhumane.