Archive for January, 2011


Posted: January 5, 2011 in Restaurant Reviews

“Coto Voice – Food Finds” – August 2010 issue

 What a great name for a sports tavern – Friends.  It reminds me of the fun, accepting tavern and TV show, “Cheers – where everyone knows you name”.   In Friends case, “You enter as a stranger and leave as friends.”  I even love Friends’ tag line:  “Eat, drink and meet Mary!”  Already I’m having fun and it’s just words!  Mary, the owner and a Coto de Caza resident, has really created a fun, inviting place to kick back, have a team meeting, or relax watching summertime sports like the Lakers Finals, the exciting World Cup, Angel games, or the Tour de France and eat amazing “tavern” food.  I believe Mary has redefined a “tavern experience”.

The Setting

Friends is located in the secluded Dove Canyon shopping center (by Gold Gym and the Water District), perched up on the hillside, overlooking Rancho Santa Margarita.  The patio setting is beautiful for a quiet breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch or intimate dinner.   The interior is ideal for any sports fan with a gazillion TV’s, free pool, electronic card games, and special booths with DVD players (so have the kids grab their favorite movie before coming).   

Fine Tavern Dining

 We’ve eaten at Friends before and have always had a welcoming experience.  The staff is very friendly, accommodating and really seems to enjoy their positions at the restaurant.  Our server, Kailea, was a fun personality.  We loved her description of the food there — “All of our appetizers evoke emotion.”  Wow!  OK!  We were ready to have our emotions be evoked!  First, Kailea told us that their Wings are the “top 5 in Orange County”.  Our husbands, Ken and Andrew were the judges:  and yes, to date, “these wings are very good, have great flavor, are easy and clean to eat, there is a lot meat on the bone, and yes, they would order them again.”  To munch on, we also enjoyed their homemade Chips with special seasoning salt.  Another appetizer addition we had was their Tempura Green Beans – green beans lightly battered and deep fried, served with a great Wasabi Soy Vinaigrette – so great and fun to eat!  For our entrees, Cindy enjoyed a NY Steak Special – a nice cut grilled, and topped with herb butter and red wine, served with cauliflower mashed potatoes – the cauliflower was different but we liked it.  I am not a cauliflower fan, but this was a nice way to get my vegetables.  Andrew ordered the Pan-Roasted Salmon – Salmon roasted with citrus buerre blanc and candied lemon, served on garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus — very good and a healthy choice!  Ken ordered the Seared Ahi Sandwich – Ahi, baby greens, avocado, cucumber, tomatoes and Mary’s lemon dill sauce — something I wouldn’t expect at a tavern, but something we would order again!  Sooo good!

I ordered their most popular item:  Prime Rib French Dip – oui, oui, mon ami! (yes, yes my friend!); it’s sliced prime rib with provolone, carmelized onions, horseradish cream and au jus — to die for!   Oh, and did I mention that we all shared the Pepper Crusted Seared Ahi Salad?  Ahi seared and laid atop baby greens with kalamata olives, shaved cucumber, red onion, tomato, capers and feta cheese, served with sherry vinaigrette!  {My taste buds are getting evoked again just writing this!} 

For dessert, we shared three amazing creations.  First, the Walnut Cinnamon Apple Crisp (a personal fall favorite of mine) is made up of warm apples, crunchy walnuts and cinnamon crumbs topped with vanilla bean ice cream.  Secondly, the Lavender Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee was a delicate and delicious crème, carmelized and served with fresh berries (oh mother!).  And finally, we tasted the Flourless Chocolate Cake – this decadent treat is served warm with vanilla bean ice cream and honey port syrup.   I’m sorry, but this is not tavern eating like my parents experienced back in the day – did they even know what honey port syrup was?  My emotions are evoking, here!!!!!

Oh and what Orange County kid should have to eat their hot dog on a plain, white, boring bun? Kailea highly recommended the Kids Hot Dog (for adults too!) – served on a pretzel bun!  The kids menu is full of kid-friendly favorites with special extra twists. 

“Friends Cares”

“Friends” is more than just a sports tavern.  Mary has a heart for reaching out to friends, or friends of friends, charities, teams, school fundraisers and causes through her “Friends Cares” program.  Fundraisers are available on weeknights, Monday-Thursday.  Set up the date and time with Mary or her staff and she will donate 10% of that evening’s sales to your special group. 

Happy Hour & Live Entertainment Calendar

There is so much more to write about and so little space.  Check out their web site for all their daily happy hour specials and their live entertainment calendar!

Personally I can’t wait for the U.S. Open tennis match, and football and hockey season to begin!  I ask you sports fans – what could be better than watching your favorite teams and players, with your favorite friends, topped off with great food and drink?  I invite you to come on in, leave your troubles at the door, have fun, relax and enjoy your friends, both old and new!  And when you go, say hi to my new friends, Mary and Kailea, for me! 


Friends — The Sports Tavern

31911 Dove Canyon Drive

Trabuco Canyon, CA  92679

{Dove Canyon Shopping Center}


Canyon Fireside Grille

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Restaurant Reviews

“Coto Voice – Food Finds” – June issue

I’d like to introduce you to a warm, generous and very pleasant man – Robert Kissinger – owner of our very own Canyon Fireside Grille, located in the heart of Rancho Santa Margarita (across from Borders, next to Willow Manor).  Over the years, Robert has owned and operated many restaurants in LA and OC.  As it turns out, I used to visit his bistro in Brentwood quite often back in the early 90’s when I worked at the ad agency around the corner. 

I honestly feel that Robert has a gift as a restauranteur who has a genuine interest in our community. For example, he donated special treats to Wagon Wheel Elementary school’s jog-a-thon, was a sponsor at Trabuco Canyon Little League, and in February, he participated in the St. Baldrick’s Charity event at City Hall and afterwards, a slew of young boys from surrounding schools, who got their heads shaved in support of the event, came into “Canyon” with their parents to enjoy a home-cooked meal.  

 With Robert’s gift and his wisdom from years of experience, he created a special place designed uniquely around our very exclusive Rancho Santa Margarita.  For me, this beautiful area allows me to get in touch with my inner cowgirl — I love horses, the country, a great fire overlooking the raw beauty  of our mustard-painted hills, and, of course, good “canyon cuisine” to go along with it all.  

 Sunset Journey

Our journey began around sunset after a long week.  When we arrived at ‘Canyon”, the fire pit was ablaze, and we were seated underneath the richly painted, (realistic mural of the) rugged landscape, and gazed out the window at the sun setting on the hills, nestled in the grand Saddleback mountain.   I love a good setting and “Canyon’s” interior set the tone for the evening.  The only thing that was missing was my loyal dog, Buck.

 As the details of the day faded away, and we became more comfortable and relaxed, enjoying a colorful cocktail brought to us by a wonderful gal who has worked for Robert for years, the aroma from the grille became more apparent and enticing.  We started our meal off by sharing one of my personal favorites:  Sesame Crusted Seared Ahi – Sesame and peppercorn crusted Ahi, served rare with wasabi cream, mango asian slaw, and thai dipping sauce ($13).  We also shared their amazing Corn Bread ($4) – when Cindy and I tried to figure out the ingredients, we became stumped and asked Robert what we were missing and he politely answered “Can’t tell you.  Secrete recipe.”  Trust me, we tried to get it out of him, but he just smiled.  That corn bread can be dessert!  At any good canyon fireside dinner, you have to have Herb-Crusted Rotisserie Chicken – Rotisserie roasted half chicken served over country gravy with their whipped potatoes and fresh fire-roasted vegetables ($15.95) – it was money!  Next we shared, (are you ready for this?) Stuffed Halibut with Bleu Crab – Northern halibut stuffed with blue crab meat and artichokes with a beurre blanc sauce, whipped potatoes and fresh asparagus spears ($24.95) – you really must try it, absolutely amazing!  Then we ordered The California Zone – Grilled fresh Atlantic salmon fillet, prime flat iron steak, or chicken breast paired with fresh char-grilled seasonal vegetables and chilled tomato salad ($10.95) – we had the salmon and it was wonderful!  To round out our meal, we all shared a famous Fireside Prime Flat Iron Steak Salad – Prime flat iron steak served atop mixed baby lettuces, oven-roasted tomatoes, crispy onion strings and balsamic-bleu cheese dressing ($16.95) – so great and satisfying.   For dessert we dove into a Butterscotch Crème Brulee – need I say more?  And please don’t tell my Turbo kick boxing workout instructor, Monica!

Live Evening Entertainment

Because we ate early – sunset in the spring is around 7:00pm, we were tired, full and just went home to “hit the hay”, we missed out on the live entertainment at 9:00pm!  “Canyon” has live music and dancing in their bar section – Thursday evenings beginning at 7:30pm, and Friday and Saturdays beginning at 9:00pm.  .  I hear it’s thee place to go!  Check out their web site for a list of the scheduled entertainers, menu items, etc. – AND you can “friend” them on Facebook!

Tent Dining

I love it!  To add to the experience, Robert installed a cool, safari-like tent in which a larger party of 8 can sit at a round table and enjoy catching up with each other.  It’s a fun little intimate experience with the flavor of the great outdoors – Coto style, of course.

Summertime Patio

This summer, I look forward to going back and sitting outside on their patio and experiencing a “Canyon” warm, summer night.  My Bunco group is actually scheduled to go there soon, and yes, we’re going to play!  Oh, and try their breakfast on a leisurely Sunday morning, served from 9:30-1:00.  Freshly brewed coffee and the smells of a  “Canyon” breakfast, fireside – ahhhhhh…it doesn’t get much better than that.  I can smell the aroma already.

A Message from Robert

Robert is quoted saying, “We are a neighborhood restaurant.  Our goal is to be on a first name basis with each guest.  I look forward to seeing you at your next visit.”  So, next time you go into Canyon Fireside Grille, ask for Robert and introduce yourself, relax and enjoy!

Canyon Fireside Grille

Classic American Food

22312 El Paseo, Suite A

Rancho Santa Margarita, CA  92688

Tel:  949-888-8893

Beach Fire

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Restaurant Reviews

“Coto Voice – Food Finds” – October Issue 2010

  I was so excited to be able to report on Beach Fire Grill!  I’ve enjoyed BF from the first moment I tried their food at the Taste of Coto over a year ago.  Once intrigued with their food, I had to check out their location in Ladera Ranch.  What cool, righteous ambiance!!  They have designed the interior with a variety of unique décor. You can dine under a replica of the San Clemente Pier, while fish are swimming at eye-level in a 2,200 gallon fish tank – kids and adults dig it – how cool is that!  Now my husband wants a fish tank (oh great).   Of all things I love their bathroom counter tops, made up of sand and sea shells as well as other little collections of things you’d find on the beach.  Surfboards hanging everywhere as well as tiki huts here and there.  They have over 400 local artists’ original beach-themed paintings hung everywhere for sale.  Being an artist myself, I created a little thank-you painting of the outside of the restaurant for the gracious owners, Dave and Allison Donaldson.  I am, however, inspired to do something bigger now…

The Inspiration

The name for BeachFire drifted to Dave and Allison one beautiful summer evening while driving down PCH with the windows down and the smell of a fire on the beach hit them in the face.  They wrote the restaurant concept on a cocktail napkin that night.

The Service

We were greeted by the manager, Jackson, who took great care of us, and, David, the ultimate server, was beyond great! This guy really enjoys good food and making you feel informed and well looked after.  Ask for David the next time you go in. J

Their Food

Their three BeachFire restaurants are “committed to providing the finest food and service in a really comfortable and fun atmosphere.  They use only the freshest of seafood, make all of their own sauces, dressings and desserts and have never had a microwave at any location.  Sterling Silver beef and quality cocktails and wine lists have always been the standard.  Constant improvements are made to reduce their footprints through recycling, reducing, and sourcing as much local and sustainable product as possible.”  I love their save the beaches/save the planet message – more restaurant should be so consciencious.  BeachFire caters as well!

Our Meal

Dudes and Dudettes, you seriously have to start off with their Ahi Tartare —  Sashimi ahi tuna layered with fresh avocado and mango salsa, served with sriracha, ponzu, cucumbers and crispy wonton.  You don’t know what ponzu is?  I don’t either, but trust me, it’s fantastic!  The four of us shared four mouth-watering entrees.  First, the Panko Crusted Alaskan Halibut – Pan seared (or blackened) fresh Alaskan halibut with a panko crust and jalapeno buerre blanc, served over roasted garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables – yum-mie!  Secondly, we had the Caribbean Skirt Steak – Sterling Silver skirt steak marinated in chimichurri and served on Puerto Rican black beans, zen rice, fried sweet Caribbean plantains and pico de gallo – ama-Zing!  Thirdly, we had Grilled Ahi Tacos  – Blackened sashimi tuna, shredded red cabbage and carrots, topped with wakame salad and soy emulsion – yes, I would order THIS again!  And finally, we enjoyed  Lobster Tacos – Sauteed chunks of Mexican spiny lobster, seasoned and sautéed in garlic butter, cabbage mix and cilantro cumin cream – muy, muy bueno!!!!  I have to note that the prices were very reasonable. 

What’s New!

“BeachFire will always be in an eternal quest for improvement.”  This is a direct quote from their web site.  On that note, “Attention All Sports Fans!  Surfer Dave Donaldson has come up with an out-of-the-surfers-box idea — Beach Fire Grill is now hosting NFL Sundays!”  Check out this quality, classy sports experience with 11 flat screen TV’s, Direct TV boxes for full game coverage, free Wi-Fi for constant fantasy football updates, and a special “1st down menu”!  Nothing like feeling like you’re at the beach with all your creature comforts of a sports bar, games and grill!  Dave, it doesn’t get much better than that!  Don’t forget to have one channel on the Surfing Network!

Community Fundraisers

It just so happened that BF was hosting another community fund raiser Wednesday night (the night we went in for dinner), one that happened to be close to my heart:  Tesoro Football Program.  Whether it’s a music program, charity or sports fundraiser, BF really enjoys giving back (% of the sales on any given day).  Great way to connect with the locals!

Musical Entertainment & Calendar

Check out their weekly live musicians and their ArtWalk in San Clemente the last Thursday of each month (I might check this out!), plus more at  Or “friend” them on Facebook to get the latest updates!



BeachFire – Ladera Ranch

25682 Crown Valley Parkway

Ladera Ranch, CA  92694


BeachFire – San Clemente

204 Avenida Del Mar, Suite D

San Clemente, CA  92672


Historic San Clemente Municipal Golf Course –

Irons in the Fire

150 Avenida Magdalena

San Clemente, CA  92672


Without question, BeachFire is rated one of my personal favorites.  Dave and Allison, keep doing what you do best.  We’ll be back soon.


Happy Boeuf Bourguignon!

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Cooking at Home

I’m going to start off with sharing the wonderful experience of making Ina Garten’s version of hearty Boeuf Bourguignon from her “Barefoot In Paris” cookbook.  I learned that not only was Ina and her husband, Jeffrey, government workers (like Julia Childs and her husband, AND Julie from the movie “Julie and Julia”) who couldn’t wait to get home and cook French food, but I also learned how therapeutic cooking really can be.  Truly it can be a chore or very good for the soul – I pray you feel the latter.  

Ina said,

 “I never really liked beef bourguignon.  After cooking for three hours, the meat was stringy and dry and the vegetables were overcooked.  So, I tried to solve the problem and came up with a delicious stew that cooks in an hour and a half.  The good news is that it’s even better the second day, so it’s great for entertaining.”

I appreciate Ina’s changes to her recipe, because last night, it turned out FABULOUS! 

At the Dinner Table, my boys, instead of using tasty, fresh, “country bread” (as Ina calls it), they preferred cheap, white hamburger buns from Costco.  One kid just ate the bread.  My husband appreciated it, at least I think he did, because I did notice the kick under the table to the boys knees, to which they all exclaimed at the same time, “Yeah, Mom, this is good/really good/amazing/yeah/yeah/blah/blah.”  What is it with kids taste buds.  Are they so used to American processed crap that they don’t appreciate real flavor?!?!?  Sheesh…

Always Share:  I have the perfect family in mind who will benefit from the second-day flavor absorption.  I’m going to buy some fresh “country bread” for them, make a nice salad and let them heat-up bowls of Beouf Bourguignon.  I still have some extra thyme leaves… I want to make it again!  Maybe for the football crowd on my couch on Sunday…

Ina, I appreciate it and I know my friends will too!  🙂  Check out Ina’s “Barefoot In Paris” cookbook or see one of her segments on the Food Network.

Let me know your experience!

Bon Apetit!

Random acts kindness was our theme this year, and rum cakes proved to make recipients very happy 🙂

Always “Believe” in He, who is the reason for the season.

Red and White Hydrangea, also a theme this year.  Such an elegant was to dress up a stair case…

Loved the Hydrangea with velvety red ribbon around the tree…so simple, yet so elegant and striking.

For a more dramatic look, try black velvety ribbon along with red ribbon, accented with red and white hydrangea.

Investing (try to get them 1/2 off at the end of the season!) in a couple oversized, dramatic ornaments can really brighten up a chandelier.

  Door decorations are always a must!  Great rich-red ribbon always looks festive!  And if you find any red flowers (pointsettia, hydrangea, roses, etc.) feel free to add them into the mix.  It will be gorgeous!

Check out these fabulous GINGERBREAD CREATIONS submitted to the Discovery Science Center this past year! 


Can’t wait until December!

“Coto Voice – Food Finds”

 December Issue 2010

I was so looking forward to our weekend date night adventure wine tasting and became pleasantly surprised that we didn’t need to travel far.  Right here, in Rancho Santa Margarita, is a little local gem called, Amazing Grapes Wine Store.   They opened their store about six years ago and, like wine, they keep getting better with age.  

What They Want You to Know

“Focusing on hospitality and graciousness, Amazing Grapes Wine Bar offers an extensive wine tasting experience.  From the casual glass to the special event, our desire is to offer you a tasting and food experience that is truly remarkable.  Our trained wine bar staff hand selects wines weekly for our bar as well as host a variety of wine tasting events – from current releases from a single winery to a regional or global perspective. 

Our chef, Gerri Anderson, has also assembled a uniquely stylized menu, featuring signature dishes and weekly specials, which are paired with specific wines to enhance and elevate the dining and tasting experience.  Whether it be a small, intimate evening or a special event – we invite you to join us.” 

 Our Experience

As you walk into the wine store, you’ll notice isles of wines, champagnes, ports and craft beers from all different regions – Argentina, Austrian, Australia, Chilean, French, German, Italian, New Zealand, Portuguese, South African, Spanish, Washington, and of course, throughout California.  Continue to follow your nose toward the back, left-hand corner where you’ll find a handsome wine bar and tables for dining as well as beautiful vineyard artwork that sets the tone of where you really want to be.  Our server, Amanda, was a sweet gal who had just moved back here from Paso Robles.  We were also visited by Lisa, an Artesa Vineyards expert who guided us through a very enjoyable wine tasting.  And even Chef Gerri could steal away from her beloved kitchen to come out and say hi to the patrons.

 To start off with, Cindy, Andrew, Ken and I so enjoyed the Figgy Cheese ($7) – rosemary-infused goat cheese, studded with black Mission figs, fig jam topping, & crackers. To die for!  I didn’t even know I liked figs and the goat cheese really did something for me.  The next day I actually had a dream of this appetizer, weird I know, but I must have it again!  Next, we shared a Seasoned Salad ($6) – baby spinach, dried cranberries, feta cheese, candied walnuts, & balsamic vinaigrette, so enjoyable with the 2008 and 2009 Artesa Chardonnay Carneros (& the Reserve) we were sipping.  At this point, Cindy and I were perfectly content.  Our husbands, on the other hand, needed something a little more substantial.  Ken ordered the Beef on “Weck” ($8) – roast beef on salty kummelweck roll, dipped in au jus, served with a side of horseradish — unique staple of Buffalo, New York, right here in RSM!  He cut off portions of his hearty sandwich for each of us, and I must say it was quite good, especially with the 2006 & 2007 Artesa Pinot Noir Carneros we next began tasting.  One of the servers, whom we became friendly with, named “Shawna, the Wine Wench” highly recommended the Verdura Pizza ($8) – artichoke hearts, spinach, tomato, basil, and mozzarella cheese.  Now we’ve had a lot of pizzas in our days, but I must say there was a little extra cheesy magic in this one – the wench was right!  As if that wasn’t enough, I had to try the Truffle Mac & Cheese ($11) – pasta shells enrobed in creamy truffle béchamel, and crunchy panko topping – a mature mac & cheese, not to be wasted on little ones and soooo enjoyable with our 2007 Artesa Pinot Noir Carneros Reserve tasting.  As any wine lover craves, a chocolate dessert was in order.  We all overly enjoyed Dark Chocolate Clusters ($3) – house-made confection of dark chocolate, Spanish walnuts, dried cherries and a hint of ginger – simply Amazing!  We ended the evening with a nightcap of Port.  Thank goodness Ken was our designated driver.  I think we passed him a few extra “Clusters” and he was perfectly happy!

 The next time I visit Amazing Grapes, I’m going to try their intriguing Fromage and Salumi, selection of a variety of cheeses, and Italian Prosciutto di Parma – Italian ham that has been aged 10-12 months using only one ingredient – salt; as well as their Italian Genoa Salami – seasoned with garlic, salt, black and white peppercorns, fennel seeds and wine.  My mouth is watering already!

 Holiday Gifts Idea

I would highly recommend you consider Amazing Grapes Wine Store as a convenient source for your holiday shopping this season – it’s a great find for those “hard-to-buy-for who have everything”.  Check them out at

 Thank you Greg Schroeder (GM) and Mike DeVries (Store Mngr) for your hospitality and helpful staff – everyone was delightful and I look forward to coming back again soon!

Bon Apetit! 

Christie Lynch

Amazing Grapes Wine Store

29911 Aventura, Suites D, E & F

Rancho Santa Margarita, CA  92688

Tel:  888-299-9463



Again, thank you Ina Garten, for your wonderful recipe in your “Barefoot In Paris” cookbook for Lemon Chicken (with Croutons)!

I woke up early this morning to have some quiet time, then ease into the morning by making the boys’ lunches.  I, again, made a mess of the kitchen (but boy will they be happy looking in their lunch bags today!) 🙂 and my refrigerator was full from my Costco run yesterday.  I pulled a chicken out, with Melida Lee in mind (from the radio) who make a “Blasted Chicken” which sounded pretty good and basic (450 degrees, 3 lb chicken, salt & pepper, in for 45 minutes, and wala!).  Ina, on the other hand, has a Lemon Chicken with Crouton recipe that I chose to make (425 degrees, onions and lemons, salt & pepper).  Easy.  And my house smelled fabulous by the time a friend arrived at 9:00am!  (I always like to have the house smell good.)  And, wala, 1/2 of dinner is made! 

By the way, I didn’t make the croutons.  As Edna Mo from the “Incredibles” says, “Don’t make me fat, darhling.”