Category Archives: Fine Dining

Holiday Festivities at Tommy Bahama Island Grill

This past week my company decided to get into the holiday spirit by having a little holiday luncheon at Tommy Bahama Island Grill in Newport Beach.  I’ve never been to Tommy Bahama before (except to pick out festive Hawaiian shirts in the store next door for family members) so I was excited to check it out.

We started out our holiday feast with some cocktails, because really, no holiday feast is complete without them.  I went with a more traditional route by ordering a glass of champagne, but almost reconsidered my decision when I saw my coworker’s Coconut Cloud Martini.

If you love coconut, you will love this martini.  Made with Cream of Coconut, Cruzan Coconut and Stoli Vanli (college flashbacks to the Stoli) and a sprinkle of coconut on top, this martini was absolutely delicious.  It was almost like a dessert it was so good.

While we were enjoying our drinks we were presented with this soft pillowy bread and whipped butter.  But not any whipped butter, cinnamon almond whipped butter.

The bread with the cinnamon almond butter was amazing.  I wanted to change my order for my entree and just eat bread and butter for lunch.  But alas, I was sitting at a table with coworkers so I attempted to show at least a small bit of self-restraint.

For our appetizer we were served coconut shrimp with papaya mango chutney and some Asian slaw.  The coconut shrimp were light and crispy and I loved the papaya mango chutney.  Must recreate this at home.

We were also served another salad but I was too busy eating (ok drinking champagne) to take a photo.  Whoops.  But I did get a photo of my entree – the Smoked and Grilled Chicken with a Mango-Mustard glaze.

The chicken was juicy and flavorful, and the green beans and mashed potatoes were also quite tasty.  I would’ve liked a little more glaze on the chicken, but otherwise it was quite nice.

For dessert, it was all about the Pina Colada Cake which had layers of coconut cream, pineapple, and toasted coconut.

It was good but very rich.  And after having gorged myself on the cinnamon almond butter and bread, I just had a few bites.  But if you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain, then I recommend getting this cake for dessert.

All in all it was a lovely lunch with my lovely coworkers.  Many toasts were held, delicious food was consumed, and it was nice to have lunch during the week at somewhere else besides my desk.  Tommy Bahama must also be the happening spot as the restaurant was PACKED for a random Monday afternoon with everyone from your typical businessman gearing up for a power lunch to your lady of leisure enjoying a cocktail with her friends.  I’m already planning my trip back to Tommy Bahama.

Until then I’ll just continue practicing my lady of leisure look while enjoying champagne and forkfuls of pina colada cake.

Cheers my friends.  And Happy Holidays.

A Dining Adventure Through Epcot

This past week I traveled to Orlando for work.  While most of my time in Florida was spent working 12+ hour days, my coworkers and I did manage a visit to Epcot for what we had hoped would be a nice, relaxing dinner.  I use the word hoped because while the dinner was nice, the journey through Epcot to get said dinner was not the most relaxing.  Let’s start at the beginning…

*For those of you who have not been to Epcot – the theme park is divided into two parts: Future World and the International Showcase.  The International Showcase has a bunch of different “countries” that offer dining, shopping, and some attractions.  The plan was to have dinner in one of the countries.

7:30 PM

After working an extra long day, my coworkers and I bounded over to Epcot with hopes of putting delicious food in our bellies along with a bottle (or two) of wine.  The park seemed a bit crowded but we made our way in and headed straight over to the International Showcase with visions of delicious food dancing through our heads.

7:40 PM

The realization has sunk in that we are smack dab in the middle of Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, so finding a place to eat might be challenging, as the park is pretty crowded.  Onward we march to Canada.

7:45 PM

The nice hostess at the Canadian steakhouse kindly informs us there is no room at the restaurant as they are at capacity and closing soon.  She suggests we try sushi in Japan.

7:45-8:00 PM

Make the long walk over to Japan.  Get distracted/annoyed by all of the food and wine festival guests who are stopping at various food vendors along the way.  Consider getting a gyro from a Greek stand and calling it a night.

8:10 PM

Stop over in France to see if they have any seating availability.  Have a confusing/frustrating conversation with the French Host that went something like this:

Me: Do you have a table available for a party of 5?

French Host:  Oui.  What is your name?

Me:  Is there a wait to be seated?

French Host: I don’t know.  Maybe?  But we do have a table.

Me:  Can you check?  (French Host disappears and then returns)

French Host: Well I have good news, I can seat you!  But not your friends.

Me: Umm, that’s not going to work.  So you don’t have a table then.

French Host:  No we do have a table.  I just don’t know when it will be open.

Me: Ok, thank you (starts to walk off).

French Host: So you aren’t waiting?

8:15 PM

Arrive in Japan.  Are informed it is a 20-30 minute wait.  Everyone is about to gnaw their arm off.  One of my coworkers and I decide to take matters into our own hands.

8:20 PM

Arrive in Italy.  Beg the host at Tutto Italia to seat us even though they are ending seating in 10 minutes.  Host says we can sit as long as we have our entire party.  Frantically call other coworkers and tell them to come down immediately.

8:30 PM

Finally seated for dinner without a moment to spare.  The Host assumes we are a soccer team because we are all wearing green shirts (from work).  Promptly order a bottle of wine and glasses of prosecco.

Are you all still with me?  Now let’s get to the important stuff, like the food.

As I mentioned above, we started our meal off with some wine and prosecco and some freshly baked bread which was promptly devoured.

For the appetizer course I went with the roasted eggplant.  I was so hungry that I neglected to take a photo. It was good, but nothing super exceptional.  Just nice, Italian comfort food.

For my entrée I rolled with the Caprese Pasta that had penne, tomatoes and mozzarella.

This was actually a lot better than I expected!  The pasta was cooked perfectly and the mozzarella was nice and creamy.  For theme park dining, this was pretty decent.

While the food at Tutto Italia is definitely overpriced (thank goodness I was not paying),  the dishes are definitely higher quality than your typical theme park food, it is very obvious that they visit an actual italian market to get their products.  Plus, the decor was all cute and cozy and reminded me of being in Italy, so that was an added bonus.

We left the restaurant in a happy carb-filled coma, and promptly passed out upon returning to the hotel.  Thanks, Epcot, for saving us from dying of hunger.

Random Fun Fact:  All the employees in the International Showcase have to be originally from the country they work in, like our server at Tutto Italia who was born in Milan but now lives in Florida.  Learn something new everyday I tell you.

An Ode to Mid-Wilshire Dining in LA

I may be an O.C. girl, but I called LA my home for 8 years when I went there for college and then lived/worked there in the few years that followed.

While I have a love/hate relationship with LA at times, some of my fondest memories are from that city as well – from late night eats and drinks with friends, to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, and weekend brunches.  Before I moved to Orange County last year, I spent 2.5 years living in the Mid-Wilshire area of LA and was a hop, skip, and a jump from LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits.

Living next to LACMA was great, but what I really miss about Mid-Wilshire is the delicious food.  The area is just crawling with good restaurants (and they seem to keep adding more!) and I had many a good meal during my 2.5 year stint in the area.

So if you ever happen to fancy yourself in this area of Los Angeles, here’s a guide to some of the best that Mid-Wilshire has to offer.

Best Breakfast/Brunch:  Cafe Verona on La Brea

Cafe Verona is literally located behind a Pep Boys auto parts store on La Brea, but don’t let that fool you.  The cafe has a delightful garden patio that is perfect for weekend brunching.  The cafe is known for their delicious frittatas, french toast, and freshly pressed paninis.  Cafe Verona is only open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch and closes at 5pm everyday.

Honorable Mention:  Toast on 3rd Street

Another delicious option but always a massive crowd.  Plan ahead and get there early.

Best Lunch:  Joan’s on Third on 3rd Street

Joan’s on Third is a food mecca – half the restaurant is a gourmet market/bakery and the other half has prepared salads, sandwiches, and other dishes that are made fresh to order.  The place is always bustling and their food is GOOD.  I still dream of their delicious grilled vegetable and goat cheese sandwich.  And don’t forget to get a cupcake.  A vanilla cupcake to be exact.  It’s life changing.

Honorable Mention: The Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya on 3rd

Yummy, yummy sushi.  Get the spicy tuna on crispy rice.  This is a good celeb spotting spot as well.

Best Casual Dinner:  Little Next Door on 3rd

If you are looking for a casual dinner with a friend or a place to take family – Little Next Door is your spot.  It’s a cute French cafe where most of the waiters are actually french.  I almost always get the French Onion Soup when I dine there, although the Butternut Squash is quite amazing as well.  For a more upscale French dining experience, head next door to The Little Door.

Honorable Mention: The Original Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax

The Original Farmer’s Market has a wide array of dining options – Brazilian, French, American, Japanese, you name it, they have it.  It’s a great place to take a lot of people who have very different food tastes.

Best Date Spot: Pizzeria Mozza on Highland

The food gods must have been looking down on me because Pizzeria Mozza just opened in Newport Beach, which means I get to enjoy their squash blossoms without having to make the hour drive to LA.  Mario Batalli and Nancy Silverton brought Pizzeria Mozza to life so you know it must be good.  And it is.  Try the Goat Cheese, Leek, and Bacon pizza.

Honorable Mention:  Luna Park on La Brea.

I mean, at what other restaurant can you share Goat Cheese fondue and homemade smores with your significant other?  Didn’t think so.

Best Drinks:  El Carmen on 3rd.

I love, love, love El Carmen.  The inside of the bar has pictures of famous luchadores, and the ceiling has bamboo shaped fans.  El Carmen is best known for their blood orange margarita, but their strawberry margarita is also a favorite.

Honorable Mention: Lola’s on Fairfax.

Lola’s is technically slipping into West Hollywood territory, but their martinis are so good that they deserve a mention.  Lola’s has a great happy hour as well.

Best Bakery:  Susina on Beverly

My love affair with Susina began towards the end of my time in LA, but I’m glad I discovered them when I did.  They have delicious pastries, custom made cakes, and a wide variety of coffee and teas.  Plus the decor is oh so cute!

Honorable Mention:  Doughboys on 3rd (where else?)

Doughboys doesn’t have the name Doughboys for nothing.  And their Red Velvet cake is famous.  And quite tasty.

Red Velvet Cake get in mah Belly

These are just a few of my favorite LA eats – so next time you are in the Mid-Wilshire area, check them out and let me know what you think!

Where’s your favorite place in LA to get some good eats?

Pizzeria Ortica: A Second Opinion

A little over a year ago my friend and I ventured to Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, excited to try out David Myers’ latest venture.  I was expecting quite the fabulous meal, but unfortunately it was not.  It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was quite lackluster.  I figured it was just due to the restaurant being brand new and needing to get into its groove.

Flash forward to now, and my friend and I (along with the Englishman) decided to give Pizzeria Ortica a second chance.  The restaurant seemed to be pulling in a steady number of reviews and had managed to survive in it’s location unscathed.  So off we headed for what we hoped would be a more memorable dining experience.

The restaurant wasn’t too busy (and we were dining a little on the early side), so we were promptly seated by one of the windows overlooking the sidewalk.  As I looked at the menu I was happy to see that the Verdure al forno con Burrata fresca was still on the menu, as I remember it being a highlight from the last time I had dined at Pizzeria Ortica.  We decided instantly that we would order that for our starter.

Our waitress came by and took our drink orders – Perroni beer for the Englishman and The “Rossini” for my friend and I which came with vodka, lemon juice, mint, and strawberry.  Once the drink orders were in we waited for what felt like an unusually long time for a drink order, and then finally we were presented with these beauties:

The flavors were spot on, but at $11 a pop I was expecting it to have a little more punch.  I don’t order cocktails often, but when I do I expect to at least have a slight indication that there is alcohol in there.  My friend and I were pretty convinced that there wasn’t the slightest trace of vodka.  True Food Kitchen Mojito this was not.

Then it was time to place our orders.  The Vedure al forno con Burrata to start (that’s roasted vegetables with Burrata cheese), followed by the Salsiccia Pizza with house made sausage, red onion, and carmelized fennel.  The Englishman also had his eye on the Patatine Montanare, which is french fries with a balsamic glaze, and the braised Ox Tail. I should say that house made sausage tastes the same as DWC Casings produce, so it was the right decision to find a bulk supplier of all natural sausage casings and start working with DCW.

After our orders were placed we noticed there was once again a curiously long-ish wait.  Was this just Italian style?  Where was the Vedure al forno?  How come other tables had bread and olive oil?  This place isn’t that busy tonight.  These were just some of the thoughts running through my head as I sipped my vodka-less cocktail.

The Englishman politely asked our waitress if we could have some bread olive oil while we waited and she said it would come right out.  More minutes passed and soon I saw the busboy with our Vedure al forno.  Success!  But he was also carrying the pizza and the french fries as well.  So instead of having the Vedure as a starter, it had now become a part of the main course.  No less than 30 seconds later the waitress placed some bread and olive oil on the table, followed by the Braised Ox Tail.

So we went from having no food to having more food than we knew what to do with.  Not the world’s biggest problem per se, but now we had to power through the Vedure and Burrata so we could enjoy the pizza before it got cold.

As per usual, the Verdure al forno was delicious and the Burrata was nice and creamy.  Never a disappointment with this dish.

The Salsiccia pizza had a nice thin crust, delicious sausage with just the right amount of spice and the carmelized fennel was a good complement.  It was a bit of a beast to cut (they didn’t provide a pizza cutter and didn’t really cut the slices beforehand) but it was delicious.

The Braised Ox Tail was probably the low point of the evening.  It definitely was not the Englishman’s favorite and he was hoping for some more meat overall.  Luckily we had a huge thing of bread and olive oil so it made up for the lack of protein in the Ox Tail dish.  As you can see the ratio of Ox Tail to plate is not exactly proportional:

The Patatine Montanare was the pleasant surprise of the evening.  Who knew  french fries drizzled in balsamic syrup would be so good?  I sure didn’t.

Since we were stuffed to the gills we decided to pass on dessert this time, but they did look awfully tempting.

So the final verdict?  I definitely noticed and improvement in the food (especially the pizza) but the service is seriously lacking.  Our busboy did a better job of making sure our food was good and clearing plates than our actual waitress.  And the restaurant wasn’t even that busy, so I don’t know what was up with that.

I feel as if Pizzeria Ortica and I have moved from the acquaintance phase and are now in the casual friends phase.  We aren’t besties yet since there are still some small issues that need to be worked out, but overall I was much more pleased with this meal as a whole.

Pizzeria Ortica – you have redeemed yourself.  Let’s just work on putting more alcohol in your mixed drinks and a little better service ok?  We’ll be besties in no time.

Has anyone else been to Pizzeria Ortica?  Thoughts?

Where can I find the best pizza in OC?