Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

“Coto Voice – Food Finds”  January Issue 2012

Savoie’s Fare Pastry & Cafe, Laguna Niguel 

 

 In an effort to figure out who I was last year, I came up with the blog:  http://www.DinenDesign.wordpress.com, because when I’m not dining, I’m designing (and vice versa).  I recently experienced both at a wonderful bakery and café, called Savoie’s Fare in Laguna Niguel.  Local Coto de Caza resident, Kristine Stack, owns this wonderful little establishment and recently has updated the look, tone and feel and had me transform the feel into relaxed, faraway places of Venice and Capri through murals in the dining rooms.

A Unique Painting Experience

After a long productive day of making many people very happy through Savoie’s Fare’s artistic cakes and pastries, lovely menu items and cheerful service, the kitchen was cleaned, the beautiful pastries were delicately put away in an oversized refrigerator, the servers had cashed in their tips, and Kristine locked up and said, “Good night, Christie.  Help yourself to some pastries. And, oh, there is some wine open if you’d like.”   I thought to myself, “Is this really happening?  It’s 10:00pm, I’m alone in this restaurant, amidst fading dinner aromas, moody jazz music, I’m able to have any pastry I want, and a glass of wine to boot, and my “job” is to paint beautiful scenes from faraway places.”  Life doesn’t get much better than this!  Every one of my senses was evoked and I thought I was in heaven!  After an hour or so of painting, I took a break and had a sample piece of their Chocolate Truffle Mousse Cake.  Un-believable!   As I stood on top of my ladder, this euphoria came over me.  I felt so blessed for so many reasons and was so thankful for this experience.  Could chocolate actually affect me in this way?  I know in my favorite movie, “Chocolat,” that the main character’s chocolates aroused people (and the worst part was it was during Lent – oh the temptation!).  Over the next few weeks, I painted many nights and Mondays (as they are closed on Mondays) and I can truly attest that there is something special in Savoie Fare’s desserts (because I tried a lot of them)… and I like them all!  I need to pray for self-control, because if this is like a drug, I’m hooked!


Chef Jacques Savoie

Through many early mornings, I met and got to know Chef Jacque Savoie who has had a 30+ year, distinguished career as a Pastry Chef working at notable places, such as the Westin Hotel, Ottawa, the Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal, The Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel, Pasadena and the Ritz-Carlton in Mauna Lani, Hawaii.  He has won many competitions at culinary shows well before there was such a thing as Cake Wars on the Food Network.  His wedding and specialty-order cakes are truly works of art!  We agreed that if I teach him to paint, he’ll teach me to be a pastry chef.  Life keeps getting more interesting!

The Staff

The wait staff, chefs and assistant pastry chefs have been with Savoie Fare for at least 6-13 years!   They really are a lovely group who truly love serving others, in life, and at the restaurant.

The Menu

Savoie’s Fare has a well rounded and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner menu (please note hours/days of the week they serve at the end of this article).  Cindy, Andrew, Ken and I went to breakfast on a crisp December morning.  When it’s cold outside the smells of the café came alive even more.  Among the four of us we had the following yummy breakfasts: Eggs Not Quite Benedict (two poached eggs on English muffins, served with Brie cheese and fresh fruit); Skirt Steak & Eggs (eggs, yummy seasoned potatoes, sliced tomato and choice of toast); Savoie’s Fare Scramble (eggs, spinach, mushrooms, tomato, topped with melted Swiss cheese and served with fruit/potatoes); Crepe Dianne (one thin crepe stuffed with chicken, asparagus, Swiss cheese and Bechamel sauce & topped with cranberries – my favorite!).  I regret not trying the Quiche, as I hear it’s worth coming back for. Their lunch menu is full of creative plates like, wonderful soups, salads, pastas, sandwiches (my choice: Grilled Portobello Mushroom sandwich and the French Onion soup!).  In the evening, to start off with, I would recommend the Coconut Shrimp, Chicken Pot Stickers, and/or Tuna Tartar.  For dinner, they have a wide variety of mouth watering entrees (starting at about $22); some of my favorites choices are the Baked Salmon, Alaskan Halibut, Filet Mignon and the Meatloaf.

The Reviews Are In – Comments from others

It seems I’m not the only one with positive things to say about Savoie’s Fare.  Some other comments read as follows:  “This is the only place in OC with truthful genius French pastries…if I want to waste my calories on dessert, it will only be here.”  “Best kept secret.”  “Pros:  great menu, desserts, service/staff, cakes and selection; Cons:  closed on Mondays.”  “The desserts are beautiful and taste like heaven.”  (Honestly, there were at least 3 reviewer comments like this one and mine!)  “My wedding cake was amazing!”  “It is my favorite place for a special lunch or quiet dinner.”

Web Site & Location

To see more works of culinary art, visit Savoie’s Fare web site:  www.savoiefare.com, or better yet, stop by and see art in action yourself!

Savoie’s Fare Pastry & Cafe
31161 Niguel Road (at Clubhouse Drive)
Laguna Niguel, CA  92677
949-240-6613

Call to make a reservation for a special Valentine dinner!  Or order individual pastries as special gifts for others.  There is something here for everyone!
Hours:

Breakfast:  Sat/Sun 8:00am-12:00pm
Lunch:  Tues-Sun  11:00am-5:00pm
Dinner:  Wed-Sun 5:00pm-9:00pm

Bon Apetit!

Christie, Cindy, Andrew & Ken

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“Coto Voice – Food Finds” – December Issue 2011

Tabu Grill, Laguna Beach                        

The holidays are upon us and an adventure down Pacific Coast Highway through Laguna Beach is a great way to see how this Orange County artistic community celebrates in their casual, yet sophisticated, beachy style.  December is a perfect month to treat someone special to a wonderful unique dinner experience there.   Our recommendation:  make a reservation for a romantic or “special occasion” dinner at Tabu Grill (located on PCH, between Hinkle Street and Nyes Place).  There are many restaurant options to choose from in Laguna Beach, but not everyone has food complimented by their service.  Arrogant, or ungenuine service leaves a long lasting, bad taste in my mouth during my dining experiences; it’s, should we say, taboo (defined as “proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable”).  On the contrary, at Tabu Grill, I was impressed with meeting the new Executive Chef, Joshua Hasho, who creates beautiful, high quality “refined rustic meals, with a global influence”, and, I’d like to add, “with a beautiful tropical flair”.  As the definition describes, Tabu Grill is set apart as “sacred” or a truly special dining experience.

The Ambiance

Once the sun sets over the Pacific horizon, the candles are lit one by one, the accent lighting is turned on underneath the parasols on the bamboo ceiling, and beyond the exotic plants on the front patio, the doors are opened.  You will enter into a colorful, hip, yet sultry environment.  In the background is relaxing “Buddah Bar” music playing.  Deep, oceanic blue walls are decorated with unique tiled Moroccan mirrors and collectables from distant places.  A beautiful painting of “CoCo” – the beautiful Tahitian woman who represents the look, tone and feel of Tabu Grill – has a special place on a main wall.  We were greeted by a lovely hostess – (Note:  hostesses and receptionists are always called the “director of first impressions” in my book, and she set the tone beautifully) and the gracious and very accommodating Michael Digiovanni, the General Manager.  We were seated close to the grill, against a stone wall, accented with more candles.  The aroma coming from the masterwork of Executive Chef Joshua and his team were as settling and relaxing as the environment.  Maile, our server, took excellent care in educating us on the restaurant’s history and the evolution of the food.  Maile, who had just come back from a trip home to Hawaii, described the staff at Tabu Grill as Ohana – family.

Owner – Nancy Wilhelm

Tabu Grill was created by the owner and entrepreneur, Nancy Wilhelm nine years ago.  In 2009 and 2010, Tabu was rated as one of the best restaurants, overall, noted by receiving a 29 Zagat rating.  Nancy just opened another unique restaurant in Laguna this past summer, located across from the Montage, called Starfish; Maile described it as “sexy Asian”.  Already I’m intrigued and am adding it to our review list.  Ms. Wilhelm is one to keep an eye on as she was recently named one of Orange County’s “Hottest 25” by OC Metro (November 2011 issue) – the only restauranteur to be honored!

Executive Chef – Joshua Hasho

Another person to keep our eye on is Executive Chef Joshua Hasho, whom Nancy hired to fulfill the Tabu Grill legacy.  Having recently come from the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey where he held the position of Chef de Cuisine, as well as stints at BLT by Laurent Tourondel in New York City, and The French Laundry in Yountville, Chef Hasho brings a refined level of quality to Laguna Beach and Tabu Grill.  His experience will bring changes to Tabu’s delicious offerings.

The Food

After reviewing their carefully selected wine list and making our choice, we started our culinary adventure with Hawaiian-Style Ahi Poke, grilled Scallops done just right adorned with avocado, cilantro, grapefruit emulsion, chared onion aoli, and their signature Short Ribs with goat cheese polenta, kale, rosemary crunch, and lemon tempura – all rich in exotic, complimentary flavors, but not too overbearing.  Next we had Ribeye with mesquite smoked bacon and brussel sprout hash, celery root, whiskey braised onions and horseradish butter – highly recommended!  We also had tender, fresh Swordfish, caught off the seas of Australia, with a sesame butter and ginger carrots, AND amazing Halibut with cranberry, edamame, and hari coverts beans, prawns, and blackened hollandaise – oh yeah…  Another tropical choice was Seared Pork Tenderloin, paired with slow cooked pork belly with root vegetable mash, fennel, watercress, and orange.  Chef Hasho knows what he is doing and we were honored to share in his culinary gift.

Chef Hasho says, “As for the direction of the food, I like to describe my style as a refined rustic cuisine with influences brought by the changing of the seasons and multi-cultural flavors.”  On that note, we experienced a different sort of dessert, but one I would have again, especially around the holidays.  We sampled not only a lovely Pumpkin Brownie with milk chocolate & sour cream, ice cream, banana rum anglaise, pistachio brittle, but an unforgettable Carrot Cake accented coconut panna cotta, espresso ice cream, roasted pineapple, and madras curry caramel – are you kidding me?!  Yes, it was beyond warm and delicious, to say the least.

The Reviews

As I was doing my research for Tabu Grill, I found people’s comments quite flattering and worthy of a top rated restaurant:  “notable wine list”, “special occasion”, “romantic”, “neighborhood gem”, “late night find”, “fit for foodies”, and “top shelf staff”, just to name a few.  I would like to add “a beautiful and delicious experience”.

Pricing

Compliments, Salads and Desserts starting at $10.  Entrees starting around $32.

New Year’s Eve

Tabu Grill is taking reservations for three different seatings for New Year’s Eve:  5:00pm, 7:00pm and 9:00pm.  I’d call sooner than later as I know they will book up.

In Closing…

Instead of a tropical vacation to a faraway place, experience an evening at Tabu Grill this next new year, and let the locals take care of you and share their gifts of hospitality and high quality food.

Mele Kalikimaka & Hauoli Makahiki Hou!

n Christie Lynch

Visit Tabu Grill on their web site:  www.TabuGrill.com (under reconstruction at time of publication)

2892 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA  92651

(Located between Hinkle Street & Nyes Place)

949-494-7743 (Reservations Recommended)

If you’ve eaten at any of the places we’ve reviewed or have a place you’d like to recommend, please let us know on our blog:  http://www.dinendesign.wordpress.com.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

 {Rancho Santa Margarita & Orange}

   

One of the restaurants in our South Orange County area that I have frequented often, by pure craving, is Tutto Fresco – located in the beautiful foothills of Rancho Santa Margarita as well as a fun location in Orange (a must stop prior to an Angels or Ducks game!  Bring your Angels/Ducks ticket and you can receive a free appetizer or dessert too!).  Tutto Fresco, translated to “everthing  fresh”, says it all.  Their ingredients are always so “totally fresh” and carefully and artistically blended to be appealing to the eye, as well as evoke your  taste buds.  I sat down with owner, and Coto de Caza resident, Debbie White (co-owner with husband, Steve White) the other day over an amazing lunch at Tutto Fresco/RSM to discuss their restaurant philosophies.

The Team

The true food artist and one of the main ingredients to Tutto Fresco’s success, is Dan Johns — both chef and general manager.  Dan is passionate about the experience he wants his guests to have.  Along with his sommelier talent (buying and selling premium wines that compliment his clientel’s taste, both financially, as well as, of course, complimenting and enhancing the food), and his creativity with the menu (always a seasonal menu in addition to their main menue which is full of fresh variety), he truly knows his purpose in this life.  Dan’s foodie talent, along with Steve and Debbie White’s  combined years of experience and consulting in the restaurant industry, makes this Tutto Fresco team, top notch.  The best part?!  They all truly enjoy what they do!  You can feel that sentiment through their plates and willingness to please their customers.  For example, Dan, on an occasional busy Friday or Saturday night, will take a platter of samplers out to the patrons who are waiting for their table.  This team gets involved with and gets to know their customers — that truly is an added bonus in my books and a key ingredient to success.

The Atmosphere

Debbie, you can tell, had a say in the décor – very tastfully accented and comfortable, with a touch of an Italian flair.  Patrons have a choice to sit either indoors (like a family living room) or outside on their patio where you can watch the hustle and bustle of RSM life.  City Hall is across the street and the movie theater is across the way, making it a very convenient place to eat prior to a local event, or movie showing.

The Food

Life is full of choices and when it comes to restaurants, we don’t want to waste our time and money, and we expect the food to be amazing every time.  Restauranteurs really need to nail it, knowing that they are pleasing most of the people, most of the time.  At Tutto Fresco, I would bet you’ll be pleased all of the time with innumerable options of:  appealing appetizers, pasta dishes, vegetable dishes, great salads, tasty soups, paninis, wraps, sandwiches, chicken,  fish and seafood, lamb, sausages,  pizzas, calzones, desserts (awarding winning carrot cake!), etc. etc.  Their menu is quite extensive.  Their three most popular dishes are the Baked Sausage Lasagna (true “man food”), Rigatoni della Camera dish, and the Spinach Ravioli.  New recipes make their debut on the seasonal menu, then, based on consumer interest, they will pass and make it on the big menu.  And I must say, the menu is growing!!!

Dan personally came out and started us off with one of his many new creations:  Bruschetta Parmesan Nest,  a beautiful presentation, easy to eat, and full of parmesan and fresh tomato flavor!

Always thinking and creating, Dan came up with another Bruschetta al Pomodoro   served with grilled corn and home-made guacamoli – a must try.

Next, we tried his Mini Fig Pizza  which is a wonderful combination of sweet figs and savory pancetta with Norwegian goat cheese – great bold flavor with a balance, very, very good and one of my favorite flavor combinations.  Debbie ordered the Blackened Shrimp & Peach Salad (no photo here, we ate it too fast!  Oops!) – a great summer choice, and the shrimp was done just right.  And finally, we had lamb.  I must note, that I was honest, and told Dan and Debbie that I am not a fan of lamb, but they insisted I give it a try.  From the appetizer menu, another beautiful presentation of four Macadamia Nut Baby Lamb Chops  with a macadamia pesto and mustard sauce – I was impressed and I WILL order it again, it was that good.  I’ve been won over!

Menus everywhere seem to be declaring the American consumers’ cry for “health conscious choices”.  Tutto Fresco hears you and has developed healthy menu items, including a Fitness Wrap and a great Tortilla Soup, just to name a few.

After Debbie’s and my big, wonderful meal, there was no room for dessert.  Ironically enough, at my Girls Game Night Out the next evening, the hostess ran out to Tutto Fresco and ordered an assortment of appetizers, salad and their little aMAZing Chocolate and Carrot Cakes.  I know I haven’t had everything on the menu yet, but everytime I go/order from Tutto Fresco, I’m going to try something new.  I’m thinking eggplant next time…

Fund Raisers

Not only is Tutto Fresco a truly great destination for wonderful family dinners, sporting lunches/dinners, wedding showers, baby showers, birthday celebrations, Mother’s Day brunches, but also a wonderful place to have a fund raiser for a school, a team, or helping someone out in the community.  Debbie and Steve White,  are always eager to participate in community events and fund raisers.  Just last week at the restaurant,  the Santa Margarita Catholic High School Girls Cross Country families held a successful fund raiser dinner for their team.  Fund raising dinners have helped out Tesoro High School’s football team, drama group, as well as Tijieras Creek Elementary and St. John’s schools.  We held a very successful dinner fund raiser to help out the Fallon family last year when our friend, Luke, had sudden brain surgery; Luke showed up and was greeted by familiar and unfamiliar faces in support of his recovery.  (I’m happy to report that, a year later, he is doing more than amazingly well!).  Debbie and Steve are more than willing to give back 20% of lunch/dinner sales (dining in/take out orders apply), Mondays-Thursdays.  Give Debbie a call to set up your fund raiser today:  (949) 858-3360.

All in all, I can’t say enough about Tutto Fresco – amazing food for all occasions.  Contact me on my blog and tell me about your favorite menu items!

Buon Appetito!

Tutto Fresco Trattoria/RSM

30642 Santa Margarita Parkway, Suite E104

Rancho Santa Margarita, CA  92688

949-858-3360

Tutto Fresco Trattoria/Orange

1333 N. Glassell

Orange, CA  92867

(714) 771-1555

http://www.tuttofresco.biz

Enjoy!

Christie Lynch – freelance restaurant reviewer

Blog:  www.dinendesign.wordpress.com

Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse, Trabuco Canyon

If you think back to why you moved all the way out to the Coto/Trabuco Canyon area, you’d have to admit that you enjoy the secluded, rustic, California terrain.  The stories the hills, horse trails and ancient oak trees of our Trabuco Canyon could tell…tales of cowboys and indians, hunting excurtions, and the people of our local canyons are told and retold everyday, and they never seem to get old.   I recently met Dori Nordeck-Odenath, a Coto de Caza resident, and 25-year owner of Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse, and her husband, Al.  Over an amazing steak, crab, halibut and ribs dinner, they told Cindy, Andrew, Ken and I the legend of Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse.

The History

On June 28, 1968, Eleanor, Duke and Randy Sherod, opened Trabuco Oaks as a snack bar serving campers from O’Neill Park, as well as Trabuco Canyon residents.  Eventually they began serving dinner with two rules:  1) “Keep it simple”, and 2) “Do it right”.  Ever since, the steakhouse “serves only USDA CHOICE  corn-fed beef, the best available, aged just right, and hand-trimmed to their exacting standards.  Extra-thick top sirloins, T-bones, and hand-cut filets are broiled over real mesquite charcoal.  No gas, no electricity, no folderol.  Just the best darn steaks you have ever tasted.”  And they truly are!

“Doing it right” has attracted many repeat customers, like the local fire fighters, local football teams, other sporty and local legends, as well as President Nixon (there is actually a picture on the highly decorative wall of Eleanor cutting Nixon’s tie!).  Please note:  There is a tradition here; if you choose to wear a tie, it will be cut off and placed amongst the millions of ties adorning the walls throughout the restaurant.  You’ve been warned!

 

Location

If you’ve never been to Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse, it seems so close, yet so far away.  Leaving the big skies of Coto, you venture down into the canyon and will find yourself under an umbrella of oak and sycamore trees.  From Coto de Caza Drive, take Plano Trabuco Road out the north un-manned gate, pass SMHS.   As you descend into the canyon, Plano Trabuco will turn into Trabuco Canyon Road (Hang on!  It’s a curvy road!  And watch out for bikers, hikers and horseback riders!), cross the creek, and, at the ol’ General Store, take a right onto Trabuco Oaks Road and Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse will be on your right.  Welcome to rustic Trabuco Canyon!

Inside the Steakhouse

After parking your car/horse with their complimentary valet, you will enter a unique world, overwhelmed with old photos and collectables that tell stories of days of old.  We were escorted to a corner table, literally beside a tree!  The original owner of this house, actually built the structure to include the tree in the room!  Dori took us on a tour of this dark, eclectic steakhouse.  She shared with us a “special room”.  The staff refers to it as “table 24”.  In this private room, is a table that seats about ten.  Real barn doors adorned the walls and old pictures hang telling tales of people from years past.  As we continued to circle around the steakhouse, we ended up in the front room, decorated with more fabulous ties, an amazing tie quilt, and cool red vinyl booths.

Dori’s Staff

Dori can not say enough about how much she “LOVES HER STAFF”!  Her loyal cooks, servers and bar tenders have been with the steakhouse a good 20 years!  Our server, Kendall, one of the newer hires, has been waiting on steakhouse customers for only 10 years!  All the staff we talked to truly enjoy taking care of their guests and love what they do.  This attitude is both refreshing and important, and, says a lot about the owner.  Bravo Dori!

The Food

Upon arriving at the restaurant and smelling the BBQ smoke, I realized I was ready, and in the mood for, hearty eating.  We had an amazing spread that night, one that any cowboy would have been thoroughly satisfied with.  To start off, Ken and Andrew enjoyed a couple of tasty bloody marys.  Cindy had her signature Pinot, and I, my dry cab.  Dori suggested ordering “Fresh Off the Prairie” – a healthy vegetable ensemble of plump mushrooms, onions and pieces of bell peppers, served in a piping hot skillet, simmering slowly in red eye (sherry), blanketed in cheese and topped with a touch of “prairie dust”.   It was easy to entice me to order the special filet (so tender and juicy!) with crab legs (sweet!). Ken downed the Cowpoke – 16 oz Top Sirloin (the “bigger bang for your buck”).  Cindy enjoyed a Kansas City Rib Steak – a juicy 18 oz. bone-in cut mesquite grilled rib eye steak.   Andrew’s Catch of the Day was a really good 10 oz. filet of Halibut, which was cooked nicely over mesquite and served with tartar sauce (this was another of my favorites!).  We shared a wonderful plate of BBQ Beef Ribs, glazed with homemade BBQ sauce.  All entrees are served with their signature house salad (with blue cheese on the side – a nice touch that I really enjoyed!),their homemade baked beans and great baked potatos.  Needless to say, none of us had much room for dessert but decided to split a wonderful Hot Cherry Gizmo – cherry pie filling wrapped in a flour tortilla, deep fried, and topped with hot cherry sauce and whipped cream – oh yeah… it was good!

The menu at Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse goes beyond steak.  They make a mean patty melt (that I hear is quite addictive), downhome spaghetti, mesquite grilled chicken, fish plates as well as something for the vegetarians.  Next time you go, don’t forget your little buckaroos, as they have a great dinner menu for kids also.

The Morning After

The beauty of this meal is that it was hearty, healthy, satisfying, and, bizarrely enough, I felt great Sunday morning!  We brought a little extra steak home and had the left overs with our eggs,  a pot of coffee, and a bon fire outside amidst the cool morning air.  Ken and I thought of what legends we will leave behind – some can be retold, and some will go with us to the grave.

Thank you, Dori and Al, for your humor, company and hospitality.  Thank you, also, for sharing with us the great tales of Eleanor’s vision and continuing to “do it right.”  And finally, thank you for keeping the fun and unique traditions of Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse alive.

—————————————————

Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse (reservations recommended)

20782 Trabuco Oaks Road

Trabuco Canyon, CA  92678

949-586-0722

www.trabucooakssteakhouse.com

Hours:   Mon-Th  5:00pm-9:00pm;   Fri, Sat, Sun  4:00pm-9:00pm

Enjoy!

Christie Lynch – freelance restaurant reviewer

Blog:  www.dinendesign.wordpress.com

Sarducci’s Capistrano Depot

 &

Camino Real Playhouse

  {San Juan Capistrano}

 

First, on a sad note:I have to share some sad news.  On the Thursday in June, when I dropped off a stack of “Coto Voice” review publications to Scott Selman, owner of Milo’s Café in Lake Forest, I never envisioned it would be his last.  That evening, at 42 years young, Scott passed away from a heart attack.  Struck and saddened by this news, I prayed for his wife of four-years, Grace, who’s background is in finance, but who has now found herself running her husband’s dream restaurant, that he fought so hard to create.  Milo and Jake are deeply saddened as well, and want you to come visit them to keep Scott Selman’s dream alive; they believe a good card game, a scratch under their chin, and some good food can turn anyone’s spirits up!  (www.miloscafe.com – off Lake Forest Parkway, across from the newly renovated Etnie’s Skatepark, in the Home Depot Shopping Center).  (For the Milo’s Café June review, visit www.dinendesign.wordpress.com.)

MURDER BY THE MISSION!

 

 

And if that news wasn’t bad enough, as I was strolling around downtown San Juan Capistrano, a flyer blew past me with disturbing news.  Curious, I grabbed it and it read, “Murder by the Mission”.  I had to investigate.  I discovered that Sarducci’s Capistrano Depot (the incredible brick, historic building of the old railroad station), now a wonderful restaurant, partners with the Capistrano Center for the Performing Arts to host “Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre!”  Intrigued, I booked us a reservation.

The Experience 

On a warm and incredible summer Sunday evening, Ken, Andrew, Cindy and I arrived in the beautiful, historic district of San Juan Capistrano around 5:30pm.  We had time before our 6:30 reservation, therefore crossed the tracks and discovered a lovely little cozy area of Los Rios Street — old homes turned into restaurants, shops and gardens (stay tuned for future reviews!).  As we chatted about our top-of-mind stressers of the day, the stroll and surroundings massaged our minds and souls and we became more relaxed.  It was hard to believe that there was a murder taking place.

 The Interrogation

Looking forward to dinner, we checked in at Sarducci’s and were greeted by a rude Detective Victoria Campbell who asked us where we had been in the last hour.  After questioning us, she had us go into a special room, where they happened to be serving champagne.  Having nothing to hide, we obliged.  Curious conversation began brewing about “a murder”.  They had us sit down at our dinner table while finishing up the interrogations of other guests.

 The doors shut, and we were trapped in a wonderful room along the train tracks, surrounded by facinating art and enticing smells.  Then the murder began to unfold with a cast of character actors, playing out a game of “who done it?”  Now, I’m not going to say much more, as I don’t want to give too much away.  But I will say that it was fun, interactive and wildly entertaining.   Oh, and pay attention! 

Dinner Review

I got lost in the story, forgetting that we were there to review the food.  Once our dinner arrived, I woke up to wonderful aromas of Ancho-Chili Salmon (fresh salmon fillet, pan-seared then baked with a glace of ancho chili, honey and dijon mustard; garnished with dollops of jalapeno sour cream and served with herbed mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables), Parmesan Crusted Chicken (a tender chicken breast coated with panko crumbs and parmesan cheese then lightly grilled and served with a lemon cream sauce, mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus), Asparagus & Sundried Tomato Pasta (fresh asparagus, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes with olive oil, basil and garlic on linguine noodles topped with shredded jack cheese) and Mini New York Steak & Shrimp (a tender 5 oz. New York strip loin cooked medium rare with a brandied mushroom demi-glace and grilled shrimp;  served with herbed mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables).  For dessert, we enJOYed two wonderful and heavenly choices:  Mini Molten Lava Cake (warmed and topped with Vanilla Bean ice cream), and Apple Cobbler (a thick layer of fresh apples baked into a sweet Southern biscuit cobbler and topped with Vanilla Bean ice cream, whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce).

Throughout the performance, the four of us, exchanged dinner samples.  As the food critique in “Ratatouille” said, in a low, highly judgemental voice, “If I don’t like it, I don’t swallow.”  You could read our faces.  We communicated by swallowing, rolling our eyes in pleasure, smiling, finishing every morsel on our plate and concluding with four thumbs up! 

By the end of the performance, we found ourselves trying to figure out who the murderer was.  Thank you to Tom and Dennis, the managers at Sarducci’s, for their hospitality.  All in all, we agreed that this overall experience rated very high in our books and we give Sarducci’s Capistrano Depot and Camino Real Playhouse a standing ovation! 

Book It @ Sarducci’s!

There are limited “Murder by the Mission” experiences and we highly recommend you book your “Murder Mystery Dinnter Theatre” event today for August 14th, September 11th, or October 9th!  For reservations at Sarducci’s, call 949-493-9593 (26701 Verdugo, SJC, CA  92675)  www.capistranodepot.com

Camino Real Playhouse

Just up the street from Sarducci’s is the Capistrano Center for the Performing Arts, Camino Real Playhouse & Stage II, Capistrano Shakespeare Festival and Capistrano Acting Academy.  I must say, when I visited the center, it was bustling with summertime students, as well as professional actors.  It felt big time for our Orange County community.  I’d like to extend a special thank you to the writer/directors/producers of this unique experience, Beverly Blake and Tom Scott.  My hats off to you for your vision and creativity!  Visit their web site regularly to discover new events, classes and ticket information for their 2011-2012 season!  http://www.CaminoRealPlayhouse.org  (31776  El Camino Real, SJC, CA  92675).                                                           

EnJOY!

Christie Lynch – freelance restaurant reviewer

www.dinendesign.wordpress.com

Milo’s Cafe

 

“Welcome to Milo’s Café!  We hope you enjoy both our healthy & wholesome food with our dog-friendly ambiance.”

 

There is a new restaurant in Lake Forest that is healthy, not only for your mind and body, but your doggie spirit as well!  The owner and creator of this fabulous concept, Scott Sellman, was inspired by his adorable, two-years-young, adopted, American Bulldog Sharpei mix, named Milo, and Milo’s buddy, Jake the Pug.  Along with Chef Michael, they have created, not only a one-of-a-kind experience, but an amazing menu as well!

  

 

   The Experience

Milo’s Café is located off Lake Forest Drive, across from Etnie’s Skate Park, in the Home Depot/24-Hour Fitness shopping center.  As you drive through the parking lot, you’ll notice Milo’s – a unique looking café (for people) in the front of the building, and if you follow the arrows and doggie paw prints around the building, you and your dog can sit and dine on their back patio – equipped with dog play pens, toys, water AND a big screen TV, you know, so Fido can watch the Dog Network (and sports, of course)!  What a fun idea!  My dog, Buck, and I were greeted by wiggly canine friends, as well as chatty people friends.  Conversation over our beloved animals brought a strong sense of peace, love, fellowship and lots of smiles.  I’ve discovered at our local dog park, at the vet, on walks, and especially at Milo’s, that people talk about their dogs’ unique characteristics and bad habits, as much as parents talk about their children.  God created us (both dogs and people) to commune together and love on one another unconditionally.  Milo’s is a special place where you feel the love AND can nourish your body with tasty, fresh, all-natural meals.

The Menu

After a half hour of chatting and sniffing, it was time to finally order.  I love Milo’s menu – they combine vegan, vegetarian AND “less than healthy” choices; the “less than healthy” choices are indicated by a photo of Jake the Pug – too funny! I started off with Scott’s secret recipe for Milo’s Rockin Java “Guilt Free” iced coffee – coffee combined with their special protein blend and sweetened with natural stevia (approximately 150 cal and 17 grams protein) – sooo good!  I crave it now!  Breakfast includes:  World Famous Protein Rich Pan Crepes, Huevos Rancheros, Steel Cut Oatmeal, omelets, and breakfast sandwiches.  Appetizers include:  healthy Hummus & Chips (pita chips), Sliced Seared Ahi (yum!), Raw Veggie Plate, amazing Tomato Bruschetta served with low-fat parmesan flatbread, great Baked Chicken Wings, Chips & homemade Salsa (oh, so fresh!!!), among other greats.  Milo’s has a wide variety of Soups & Salads, made fresh daily.  Milo’s tasty Sandwiches and Burgers range from gourmet Roasted Pesto Chicken Sandwich, Jake’s Club Sandwich to Milo’s Signature Turkey Burger, Vegan Burger, and Jake’s Juicy Burger.  I happened to stumble upon Taco Tuesday and enjoyed their Carne Asada taco; next time I’m going to try their Tofu taco!  All their tacos are whole-wheat soft shell, accompanied with black beans & freshly made pico de gallo, AND you can substitute vegan cheese for no extra charge!  The Dinners at Milo’s are beautiful:  They have a nice Roasted Cedar Plank Salmon with mashed sweet potatoes, sautéed spinach & crispy leeks – YUM!  (my mouth is watering just thinking about it all!)  Milo’s has chicken and salmon pasta dishes (both whole wheat pasta as well as regular), Catch of the Day, and of course, a Stir Fry Veggie Plate.  For Dessert, you must try Milo’s Choc-Heaven Pie, “Less Guilty” Carrot Cake, Very Berry Cheesecake, and Jake’s Hot Fudge Sundae!!!!   This place is too much!!!!  I cannot conclude without the special mention of the Dog Menu – of course!  “We are proud to feature TrueFoodForDogs of Newport Beach on our menu.  Made entirely from USDA certified ingredients and formulated specifically for dogs.  Each delicious meal is 7 oz. and served lukewarm.”  Your choices are:  Lamb & Brown Rice, Turkey & Whole Wheat Pasta, and Beef & Russet Potato”. 

Operation Blankets Of Love (www.OperationBlanketsofLove.org)

Milo’s has partnered with OBOL, where you can bring cleaned and new blankets, towels, dog clothes, pet beds, pet toys, crates, carriers, collars & leashes, water & food bowls, as well as other dog and cat items to Milo’s to help provide comfort to homeless animals in shelters, rescue groups and fosters.  I met the founders Eileen while I was there the other night.  She definitely is passionate about pet rescue and adoption.  So when you go to Milo’s, don’t forget a little item for the donation bin.  You will be much appreciated!

In all my travels, I’ve never experienced a place like this!  I truly love it at Milo’s.   Tell all your friends! Meet at Milo’s for a doggie play date!  End your long walk at Milo’s!  Check out all the events happening at Milo’s on their web site.  Above all, at Milo’s Café, kick back and enjoy the fruits of health, companionship and be thankful for all your blessings.  And, don’t forget to bring your camera, because it’s quite probable that you can meet Milo and Jake personally, or join them in a card game!  

Milo’s Café

26771 Rancho Parkway

Lake Forest, CA  92630

949-305-7526

Follow Milo and Jake on their web site:  www.miloscafe.com, Facebook page and Twitter.

EnJOY!

Christie Lynch – freelance restaurant reviewer and dog lover

Email:  lynchmaub@cox.net

Blog:  www.dinendesign.wordpress.com

      

We are truly fortunate to be living in this beautiful community of ours, in a climate that rivals any in the world.  As the summer approaches we can look forward to warm evenings and Southern California sunsets.  When the weather gets warm, my family goes to the beach, and more often than not, we go to Laguna, because Laguna has my favorite beaches.  For this month’s Food Finds, we’re going to venture outside our little sphere, to the incredibly beautiful town of Laguna, to tell you about a new restaurant with a familiar name:  Tommy Bahama.  Some of you may be thinking that you have already been to Tommy Bahama, and that they are all the same, but the one in Laguna is different.  The food can be best described as a lighter healthy fare exclusive to the Laguna location.

We just happened to go to Tommy Bahama on a very hot and balmy Saturday night, the perfect night to go into Laguna Beach.  The ambiance of the Laguna Tommy Bahama gives you the feeling that life’s just one BIG weekend with its laid-back décor and airy atmosphere.  The entry foyer looks and feels as if you are visiting a friend’s beach home with a very inviting and cozy feel.   The walls are all adorned with the most fabulous photos of Laguna’s beaches, the boardwalk, as well as long ago shots of downtown.  No matter where you are seated within the restaurant, there are perpetual views of the ocean from the surrounding sparkling windows.  We truly lucked out the night we went and were able to catch the sunset from our table while entranced in the amazing flavors being served to us.

Tommy Bahama in Laguna Beach has it’s own unique menu, which is on the lighter side and features seasonal changing dishes.  Executive Chef Marcus Lage has come up with many incredible fusions of tastes to tantalize any newcomer to the restaurant.  We started off with the Muscles (which I have never had before…) they are served with an amazing broth that you can soak up with some of the tastiest garlic bread around.  Yup I will definitely be having muscles again.  The Lobster Corn Dogs are perfectly fried (not too heavy), and definitely the bomb at Tommy Bahama, which are served with Sriracha Mustard (Nice N spicy) and Mango Ketchup dipping sauces.  You must try them!  My favorite appetizers of the night were, the Lobster Corn dogs and the Ahi Tuna Tacos.  The Ahi Tacos are served with a lightly fried wonton shell with the most amazing Asian slaw and perfectly topped off with a Wasabi-Lime infused avocado sauce.  Seriously I really could have eaten the whole plate myself. 

Dinner was on its way and we were already in food heaven.  We had the Atlantic Char, which is a cross between Salmon and Trout.  It was extremely delicate and lightly prepared with a Sweet Pea Risotto and Fennel slaw.  Atlantic Char is farmed here in the US and considered very safe to eat, a new favorite of mine.  The Mahi Mahi was served with Grilled asparagus and Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc Red Quinoa.  The Mahi Mahi was cooked excellently giving it the perfect lightness that you want from Mahi Mahi, and the Quinoa  was very tasty.   All the Seafood and Meat served at Tommy Bahama is locally sourced and humanely raised whenever possible. Next we had the Filet and Shrimp, which was the most  tenderest Tenderloin topped with herbed cheese, served with Chipole-lime shrimp, the fluffiest whipped mashed potatoes and a cracked pepper demi glaze.  If you’re a steak lover, then you have to try the Filet.  The meat was very tender and moist and cooked to perfection.   I know it sounds like we had everything on the menu… but that’s what you MUST do to during a review.  Lucky us, we even got to have the Steak Salad, which was served with their mouth watering tenderloin, watercress, baby greens, cucumbers, roma tomatoes, all drizzled with sweet onion vinaigrette dressing.  The Tenderloin salad is the perfect salad for a light appetite.

Ok, Ok, on to the desserts!  We had the Root Beer Float, which brings back childhood memories, and is served with drizzled caramel on top and definitely a great treat after a long warm afternoon at the beach.  The Banana cream pie is nestled in a graham cracker crust drizzled with caramel sauce.  If you’ve never had Banana Cream pie, then this is the place to indulge.  You will be hooked and begging for more.   The triple chocolate cake has three different kinds of chocolate with four layers of chocolate perfection.  Definitely large enough to share but it might be hard to give up one bite of this delicious cake. 

Tommy Bahama in Laguna Beach is committed to being an Eco-friendly company, and are constantly working on ways to reduce waste by using sustainable systems such as a high tech compost system and donating their compost to the a local elementary School.  Nutra, an environmentally friendly water filtration system, is used to serve the most delicious water in a reusable glass bottle that is placed on your table while you dine. The Natura water filtration system eliminates the impurities and retains the healthy minerals in water.    We ate EVERY last bite of our meal and had no need for To Go containers.  However if you cannot finish your meal, the good news is, their To Go containers are made from biodegradable cardboard.  Tommy Bahama is definitely on the for front of the Green movement with their Eco-Friendly ways and sustainable commitment to our community. 

Tommy Bahama of Laguna Beach, a great place to take the family for an extremely delicious meal and as well as a great place to go after a long and warm day spent on the beautiful beaches in Laguna.  Where you can feel like you’re on vacation without having to go far from home. 

Also don’t forget to check out their retail store, which is just steps up from the dining room on a mini replica of the boardwalk from main beach.   Tommy Bahama has always been known for their fashionable clothing and will not disappoint here in their new Laguna location.

We hope to see you at the new Tommy Bahama next time we’re in Laguna!

                                                        Cindy and Christie

Tommy Bahama

400 South Coast Hwy

Laguna Beach, CA 92651

949-376-6886

www.tommybahama.com

Open 11:30 AM-11PM Sun-Thurs

Open 11:30AM-Midnight Fri & Sat