California Italian in the Heart of Irvine – Cucina Enoteca

Cucina Enoteca, is the latest addition to the Irvine Spectrum restaurant line up, and it is all about great food and wine. This is one of the most attractive restaurants I have been to in a long time. It has two large patio-dining areas, and an eclectically decorated dining room and bar. It can easily accommodate large parties as well as intimate small groups. Cucina Enoteca is a little unique because they are also a retail wine store. You will not find the usual 300 percent markup on wine that you may be used to when it comes to purchasing wine at a restaurant. They charge a small corking fee if you have the bottle with your meal but overall you can get some incredible wine at a reasonable prices.

Exhibition Kitchen
Some of the Great Wines for Sale

We have been to Cucina Enoteca twice, once for a media tasting event and then we went back again to check out the dining experience at the bar. The food was consistently good. Both times our favorite dish was the Chicken Liver Pate with brown sugar shallots. We loved the presentation of a cutting board with a mason jar filled with yummy goodness and sliced French bread. Seriously, if you are going, order this with your drinks or wine while you are looking at the rest of the menu. You will thank us later!

Chicken Liver Pate with Brown Sugar Shallots - Incredible!
Creamy Mascarpone Polenta with Veal Ragu

The creamy mascarpone polenta with meat ragu was another hit. The polenta was buttery and creamy and the ragu robust and rich with enough acid to complement the polenta, so the two played together nicely. They change the meat in their ragu often. On this visit they served veal but I have heard that they also serve rabbit and duck.

Tequila Mule

Their wine selection is very impressive but on our second visit, we took the opportunity to try a number of their cocktail creations. They use fresh ingredients and juices and also infuse some of their own alcohols such vanilla bean bourbon, apple bourbon, and ginger pear vodka. My favorite was their red jalapeño tequila used in their “Tequila Mule”, along with muddled lime and house made ginger beer. Kim enjoyed their Basil Gimlet” with organic Gin, squeezed lime and muddled basil. Refreshing with a hint of sweet and the gin really heightens the citrus flavors.

They are going to be participating in OC Restaurant Week, Feb 26-March 3, 2012, so go give them a try.

We have tried a number of other dishes. So far we’ve liked everything we’ve tried and look forward to going back again! Here are more photos to make you hungry!

Margherita Pizza - Yum!
Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms with Purple Basil Pesto & Cured Lemon Aioli
Duck Rillette with Apricot Mustard - Yum!
Bucatini All' Amatriciana
Ricotta Cavatelli & Duck Conserva
Rotisserie Roasted Pork Loin - Yum!

Cucina Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Bruxie Creates Two Specials For This Year’s Super Bowl Teams

Patriots – Classic New England Lobster Bruxie

Super Bowl Battle of the Bruxies!

Bruxie puts its own spin on the Super Bowl with a Surf vs. Turf “Battle of the Bruxies” to be held Super Bowl Weekend, Saturday, February 4th at its locations in Old Towne Orange and Brea Downtown. Number of Bruxies sold for each team will determine the Battle of the Bruxies winner, who will be announced on Super Bowl Sunday!

Following are the two special Bruxies going head-to-head during Super Bowl Weekend:

Patriots – Classic New England Lobster Bruxie
Live Lobsters Flown-In Direct, Prepared Classic New England Style, Touch of Mayo, Sea Salt, Pepper and Chives… Served on the Ultimate “Roll” – the Bruxie Waffle!

vs.

Giants – Roasted New York Bruxie
New York Strip, Hand-Carved Medium, with Caramelized Red Onion, NY Cheddar, Wild Arugula, Touch of Horseradish and Balsamic Reduction

Giants – Roasted New York Bruxie

“We started this ‘battle’ last year and our guests really got into it, so we brought it back this year,” commented Dean Simon, Managing Partner of Bruxie. “We created two truly special Bruxie sandwiches – one to represent each team – and the one that gets ordered the most during our Super Bowl promotion, will be named our champion!”

Kim and I are very excited. We got to grab a couple of the fresh lobster “roll” Bruxie at their 4th of July party and they were incredible! Come out and join us as we will be clsoe to the front of the line!!

Both Bruxies will be offered while supplies last on Saturday, February 4th beginning at 11 a.m.

Traditional Chinese Food in a Modern Setting – Capital Seafood – Irvine, CA

Marian the Foodie, a fellow blogger and James Tea, managing partner of Capital Seafood, invited a group of media to come in and sample an incredible 11-course dinner.

The restaurant, the second Irvine location for this family-owned business, is modernly designed with mixed finishes of wood, metals and an impressive, all-glass wine room. It has an open floor plan where you can even see in to the kitchen, which can be fun when things really get busy. The back part of the restaurant is configurable so it can easily accommodate numerous large groups or partition it off for a private party.

We were served family-style at a round table that easily accommodated 16 people. We got to taste quite a few of their most popular menu items as well as try a few special order items.

Pan Seared SeaBass - Yum!

The food was amazing. There wasn’t an item on the menu we did not enjoy. It looked and tasted like they use fresh, top-quality ingredients. Kim and I are looking forward to checking out their dim sum offering in greater detail. There are two dishes that really stood out for us. The Pan Seared SeaBass with a sweet soy sauce dressing. The fish was tender, super buttery and had both a savory and sweet flavor. I could have easily eaten the entire tray of this and been happy.

Capital Seafood Irvine Spectrum
House String Beans

The other dish was actually a side, the House String Beans, which are fresh green beans stir-fried with lots of garlic and spices. Crisp but warm, great flavor and you can’t stop eating them. Warning, they are very addicting but they are string beans after all, so eat up!

Capital Seafood Irvine Spectrum
Filet Mignon Satay Skewers
Dirty 30 - Dirty Martini

The restaurant also has a bright, lively bar that we have since gone back to visit. They have an incredible happy hour menu that not only has great food but also delicious, unique drinks. Hint: The stir-fried green beans are on the happy hour menu too, so SCORE!! That is a topic for another day but if you are looking for a great happy hour with food and real drink specials go check them out.

We had a ton of food and were able to try some of their signature drinks. Here are more pictures of the incredible feast:

Lychee Martini
Whole Winter Melon Soup with Seafood.
Whole Winter Melon Soup
Roasted Peking Duck - Super Crispy Skin!
Chef's Fried Rice with Shrimp, Scallops, Squid, Crabmeat, Egg and Japanese Seaweed
Capital's Filet Mignon Cubes - Uber Tender

Capital Seafood on Urbanspoon

Sixth Annual Newport Beach Restaurant Week January 20 – 29, 2012

Save your appetite and stay on budget during The Sixth Annual Newport Beach Restaurant Week kicking off this Friday, January 20 through Sunday, January 29, 2012. For the first time ever, this beloved annual citywide culinary celebration will be extended to nine days, including two full weekends of bargain gourmet dining! Nearly 70 of Newport’s finest eateries will serve special three-course prix-fixe gourmet menus at bargain prices of $10, $15 or $20 for lunch and $20, $30 or $40 for dinner all inclusive. Most restaurants will offer a minimum of three offerings per course and early reservations are recommended.

Some of the Participating Chefs

“This year, in addition to the campaign being extended to nine days, the menu price points are $5 less than in 2011, which gives the community an added incentive and incredible opportunity to dine out frequently during restaurant week at a great price,” says Jim Walker, Proprietor of The Bungalow Restaurant.


Uniting traditional to ultra trendy establishments, Newport Beach Restaurant Week promotes the extraordinary diversity and culinary flair found throughout the neighborhoods of Newport Beach. “Originally launched in 2007, restaurant week has become one of the County’s most anticipated culinary celebrations as some of the hottest chefs in Southern California prepare exceptional gourmet meals at bargain prices,” shares Sheri Drewry, President of the Newport Beach Restaurant Association BID. She adds, “Everyone benefits including local patrons, restaurants and the City.”

The community is invited to celebrate its love of food during Newport Beach Restaurant Week, which offers culinary delights and bargain three-course prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus prepared exclusively for this event at 25% – 60% off regular prices. There are no tickets or passes required; simply dine at a participating restaurant. Advance reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling restaurants direct, or, by visiting: www.NewportBeachDining.com

Follow the Newport Beach Restaurant Association on Facebook and Twitter @DineInNewport for real-time updates and promotions. For a complete list of participating restaurants, or to view the 2012 prix-fixe menus online, promotions and special events taking place during Newport Beach Restaurant Week visit: www.NewportBeachDining.com

Here are some more pictures from the VIP Gala at the Five Crowns.

Pork Belly with Edible Flowers
Craft cocktails prepared by Corey from The Side Door
Short Rib and Bone Marrow Pastry - Awesome!
Rock Shrimp Spoons

A Not so Hidden Gem on the Central Coast – Justin Winery – Paso Robles, CA

I was first introduced to Justin Wines by a friend of mine. Every time she had a get together she would serve wines from Paso Robles, and so through her, I became quite a fan of Justin as well as other Paso wines. Jason and I kept telling ourselves that we needed to make a trip to Paso Robles to discover the many hidden gems they have. Over Thanksgiving break, we finally had our chance. Justin Winery was the first winery on our itinerary. The winery is beautiful, a little bit out of the way, but definitely worth the trip. We walked into the tasting room and were quickly greeted by two staff members. They were friendly and enthusiastic to teach us about Justin Wines and the process and passion behind each type of wine produced there.

ISOSCELES Library Wine
ISOSCELES Library, Yum!!

We also opted to take their free winery tour, which included learning about the wine making process as well as seeing the ISOSCELES library, a special cave that houses Justin’s flagship wine and its reserves.

Wine Cave

ISOSCELES is usually made from three red varietals, Cabernet Sauvingnon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I’m no sommelier so I won’t get into the technicalities of tasting notes and all of that stuff. All I can say is that it is a beautiful, super smooth blend and we thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to this wine, we found that we liked most of the reds we tried, so we decided to pick up a few (a few cases that is). We also joined their wine club so we could have this magic liquid delivered to our doorstep!

Justin Wine Club Lounge

After Christmas, we had a second opportunity to stop in Paso Robles on our way home from Northern California (OK, we deliberately chose the route that would take us through Paso!). We decided to go back to Justin Winery to pick up a few more bottles. This time the tasting room was packed with folks on Christmas holiday, but we were easily able to make our way up to the counter. Even in a crowded room, the staff were friendly and made sure that each guest was attended to and they didn’t ever make you feel rushed. It’s such a different feeling than if you’ve ever been wine tasting in Napa Valley. Think of Paso Robles as how Napa used to be about 20 years ago.

Since we were in such good spirits we asked if there were any reservations left for Deborah’s Room, the winery’s small but elegant restaurant. We were in luck and had the opportunity to partake in the pre-fix dinner along with an extensive list of Justin Wines (without the usual 300% restaurant beverage markups).

Justin Wines - Deborah’s Room
ISOSCELES Reserve 2008 - Yum!
Pork Belly
Seared Scallops with Risotto

Click here for many more pictures from our visits to Justin Winery and Deborah’s Room

CHANCE TO WIN TICKETS: New Year’s Eve Block Party – Saturday, December 31

Are you ready for the upcoming New Year’s Eve Block Party at the OC Fair and Event Center? There will be live music, a bunch of gourmet food trucks, drinks, dancing, casino and carnival rides. We were able to go last year and had a spectacular time. Click here is our wrap-up form that event.

Featured Food Trucks: Baconmania, Border Grill Truck, Brats Berlin, The Burnt Truck, Calbi, Crepes Bonaparte, Garlicscapes, The Greasy Wiener, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Home Skillet Truck, Mun-Chee5, Piaggio On Wheels, Rancho A Go Go, Rolling Sushi Van, Sexy Burger, Shortstop BBQ, Sweet E’s Bake Shop, Taco Maria, Takoyaki Tanota Truck and Tornado Potato.

And the best part, we are giving away tickets:

Continue reading “CHANCE TO WIN TICKETS: New Year’s Eve Block Party – Saturday, December 31”

Free Preview Party for OC Fair New Year’s Eve Block Party December 14

Preview Party Will Feature Gourmet Food Trucks, Toy Drive & Music

The OC Fair & Event Center is throwing a preview party to give guests a taste of the official OC Fair New Year’s Eve Block Party on December 31. The preview party will feature free admission and parking, plus gourmet food trucks, a DJ and cash bar outside the Pacific Amphitheatre Box Office on December 14 from 5:30-9 p.m. Also, guests who donate a new, unwrapped toy (valued at $15 or more) to the evening’s Toy Drive (benefitting Share Our Selves) will receive $5 off a general admission Block Party ticket ($35 with discount, night-of preview only).

The preview party on December 14 will feature a sampling of the gourmet food trucks participating in the New Year’s Eve Block Party, including Baconmania, The Burnt Truck, Crepes Bonaparte, Piaggio On Wheels, Sexy Burger, Garlicscapes, Taco Maria, Sweet E’s Bake Shop, Shortstop BBQ, Munchee5, Tornado Potato, ChunkNChip and Rolling Sushi Van. Food and beverage prices vary.

The New Year’s Eve Block Party on December 31 will offer live tribute band entertainment by the decade, a large gathering of gourmet food trucks, a casino, a midnight fireworks show and more. Block Party hours are 7:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. General admission is $40 and includes admission to the event and all live entertainment. General parking is $10 ($20 for preferred). There is also a combination package that includes a 2012 OC Fair Super Pass with a Block Party general admission ticket for $55. Additional charges apply for food, beverages, casino and rides. Tickets and parking are available on Ticketmaster.com. The Super Pass combo package is available on ocfair.com/blockparty. Tickets, parking and the combo package are also available from the on-site box office, which is open Wednesday 3-9 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The OC Fair & Event Center is home to a variety of events throughout the year in addition to the annual OC Fair. It is located off the 405 and 55 freeways at 88 Fair Drive in Costa Mesa. For more information, please visit ocfair.com, become a fan on Facebook.com/OCFair, follow us at Twitter.com/ocfair or call (714) 708-1500.

Chunk-n-Chip Cookie Challenge Finals Friday Dec 9th!

This Friday, December 9 at Best Buy Fullerton with Truck Squad, Chunk-n-Chip will have the finals of their Cookie Challenge. They will be picking out two judges from the crowd to join Kim and I along with a couple more professionals! Come cheer on the finalists and maybe you can stuff your face with cookies along with us!

Here are the Judges:

Anita Lauwww.madhungrywoman.com @MadHungryWoman

Jason and Kimsatnightfoodies.com @Satnightfoodies + @Mrs_SNFoodies

Morgan McGlaughlinwww.insidefullerton.com @Insidefullerton

Gloria Vega – Super BOO-Yah-olic!! @Zooey02

And the finalists are:

Grace Nguyen – Chocolate Chip Cookie

Grace has a very unique twist to these American Favorites. The cookie has semi-sweet chocolate chips, dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, shredded sweetened coconut and then crushed ruffled potato chips. These things are addicting. It gives that great combination on a salty, sweet cookie that has a soft, yet crunchy texture. They are hearty cookies and mess with your taste buds in a good way.

Renee Fontes – Occupy Oatmeal Cookie

The classic oatmeal cookie is loved by the 99%. This old fashion favorite is occupied with golden raisins, apricots and a hint of cinnamon. There are plenty of flakes with the fruit but no nuts are allowed.

Ashley Birdzell – Texas Kicker – Raspberry Cheesecake Cookie

Ashley says ‘How amazing is it when 2 of the best things in the world collide!?!?!!? Cheesecake and Cookies!!!!! My Raspberry Cheesecake Cookie is sure to knock you into next spring. It’s a little nod to my Texas Heritage, Everything is bigger and more decadent in Texas!’

Jamie Karutz – Molasses Cookies

Jamie says ‘One of my favorite cookies is a Molasses Cookie. Every time I make them, I think of my girlfriends who are spread across the country. Whenever we get together, these are made and snacked on (it’s a must. These cookies have traveled thousands of miles). Whenever someone needs a cookie to make, these are the cookies suggested. You can’t eat just one.’

Alyssa Towson – Spicy Chocolate Cookies

These cookies are a nice chewy, chocolatey cookie with a kick! They are chocolate cookies with chocolate chips, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne. Just the right amount of kick at the end without being overwhelming. I think they would definitely pair nicely with a plain vanilla ice cream for a nice contrast of hot to cool.

Life is Too Short for Bad Alcohol – Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel – Los Angeles, CA

Love the Presentation of a Couple of Shots

Kim and I have a saying, “life is too short for bad alcohol”. You know what we mean if you’ve ever gone to a bar and they serve some concoction made with vodka that tastes like rubbing alcohol and a syrup made mostly of artificial flavorings and color. It is a bunch of wasted calories and you end up paying dearly for it the next morning.

Tequila Based with Lime, Agave, Cilantro, Jalapeño & Cucumber - Yum!

When we first heard the term “craft cocktails” we were hooked. To us a “craft cocktail” is a cocktail made with premium alcohol; with the freshest ingredients and by a bartender (I’m embarrassed to even call them bartenders because they are so much more then that.) that has learned the delicate art of taste and balance. This is not your hey I am now 21 in a dance club kind of cocktail. Most places that offer craft cocktails don’t encourage packing the place from wall to wall with people. Most are setup for you to relax and savor the flavors, along with the experience.

Just a Couple of the Fresh Ingredients

Library Bar is no different. Set in the lobby of the historic Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd, this place is very small with four barstools and a couple of leather couches and stools. The counter is adorned with an array of jars and dishes containing fresh fruits, herbs and other seasonal ingredients.

Twist on a Classic Manhattan

There are two people behind the bar and no servers. When you are ready for a drink you head up to the bar and tell the master mixologist what you are in the mood for; sweet, spicy, smoky, maybe citrusy, and what type of alcohol you prefer. They will take it from there.

Gin, Dill, Agave, Lime Juice & Garnished with Ginger

These guys are masters of their craft and so knowledgeable about what ingredients and alcohol to use to bring out the best flavors. So relax and watch them work their magic. This is not the place you go to get a Jameson and Ginger Beer. Yes, they can make that, yes, Jameson is a solid whiskey but BORING! We tried five different drinks and each one was as awesome as the last. Unfortunately, we had to drive back to the OC, otherwise we would have hung out there for hours sipping the results of their mastery.

There are not that many of these craft cocktail bars around, at least not that we have found. If you want to see how a real drink should be made, make sure to check out the Library Bar. If you enjoy good alcohol and farm fresh ingredients then this is the place to go!

Library Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Urbanspoon

Sneak Preview of Chef Jason Quinn’s The Playground – Santa Ana, CA

Signed Copy of the First Menu! They Will Change Weekly!

Tonight Kim and I got to visit The Playground in Downtown Santa Ana as part of the friends and family pre-opening event. We were lucky enough to try a number of their dishes and as you would expect from owner and executive chef Jason Quinn, he did not disappoint. The restaurant concept is based around small plates. When you arrive you should head straight to the bar. They have a great selection of beers bottled and on draft available. We picked out two that were on draft and at the same time we ordered our starting courses. We seated ourselves at one of the communal style dining tables. It’s a lot like eating at a gourmet food truck in that way, where you are sitting with strangers but soon chatting with them about the food, and you may even find yourself sharing plates.

Chef Jason Conducting his Orchestra
Great Crowd and Tribute to the Lime Truck in the Center of the Room

The service was SUPER friendly. They are all foodies, and at least one we recognized as a Lime Truck chaser. For the soft opening event the place was very busy, but even amongst all the bustle, everyone that was working seemed to be having a great time. We were very impressed and enjoyed the attentiveness.

Playground Burger w/Torchon, Tomme De Savioe, Maple Bourbon and Arugula - Effing Good!
Harvest Risotto with Fresh Moscovy Duck
Prime Hangar Steak with Creamed Spinach
Butternut Squash with Muscovy Duck Confit & Mustard Greens

The food was amazing, and we sampled a number of the small plates and cannot wait to go back again! Here are some pictures of the restaurant and the food we ate. Be warned, they change out parts of their menu every week so if you wait too long to go, there is a good chance that you will miss out on some of the incredible dishes that we tried.

Thanksgiving Whoopie Pie
Farmers Daughter Pudding
"Our Bread, Your Butter" - Churn your own Butter!

There were two delicious desserts provided by Blackmarket Bakery. Farmer’s Daughter’s pudding was made from scratch butterscotch pudding, chunks of butterscotch crisp, caramel and chocolate cookies topped with fresh whip cream. The Thanksgiving whoopie pie was made with two soft, pumpkin cookies and filled with an airy, spiced cream cheese filling with cranberry chutney and bits of butterscotch crisps. Divine!

The Playground on Urbanspoon