“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!

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 {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

We had this at a football pic-nic and it was such a hit!  And so healthy!

Chinese Chicken Salad

  • 1 bag prepared cole slaw or 1/2 to 1
    head shredded cabbage
  • 2 bunches green onions, chopped
  • 2 packages Ramen oriental noodles
  • 2 chicken breast, fully cooked and
    chopped up in bite-size pieces (use left-over chicken from your Broiled Chicken
    recipe!)
  • 1 cup toasted almonds (I recommend toasting almond slivers from Trader Joe’s in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking occasionally.  Toast until golden – oh the aroma!  These are one of my favorite snacks!)
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 small Tangerines (or “Cutie’s”), peeled and separated into individual pieces

Dressing:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2/3 cup vinegar
  • Seasoning packets from noodles

In a large bowl, mix together cole slaw, onions, noodles, chicken, almonds, sunflower seeds and tangerine pieces.  When ready to serve, mix dressing ingredients and pour over slaw mixture.  Definitely a crowd pleaser!

A gal from our football team suggested I try Tri-Tip in a crock pot.  To obtain tenderness and flavor, I assumed major marinading, but was surprised to learn that all you need is your piece of meat, Lawry’s Seasoning Salt and a crock pot.  In recipe terms:

Ingredients

  • (1) 2-4 pound Tri-Tip
  • Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
  • (1) Lawry’s Au Jus packet
  • Your favorite Sandwich Rolls

Directions

  • Rub your piece of meat all over with seasoning salt
  • Place in dry crock pot
  • Cook on low, for 8 hours  (magic happens!)

Make the Au Jus according to package directions and enJOY with a simple salad (or check out our Salad Recipes).  My family went crazy over this.  Super simple.  This was thee perfect recipe for being gone all day and coming home to dinner ready!

Let me know what you think…

Bon Apetit!

Fireplace – Before & After

Posted: August 25, 2011 in Painting
Tags: ,

With the economy still in the pits, it’s easy to liven up a room with simple paint color.

Rich Color After

White Before

Broiled Chicken – BBQ Style

 The following Broiled Chicken Recipe I discovered when our BBQ died and I REdiscovered that I can broil anything in my oven to make it taste like it’s been on a BBQ.  This recipe can’t get any easier and makes your home smell intoxicatingly like a professional smokehouse.  Ultimately your family’s senses will be filled with tempting aromas and their bellies filled with a healthy meal (rich in protein).  Also, I dare you to get your kids to help you with this recipe!

Broiled Chicken

  • 3 lbs raw chicken drum sticks (pounds may vary)
  • 5 lbs raw split chicken breasts (pounds may vary)
  • McCormick Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple Seasoning (or your favorite grill rub)

Directions

  • In your oven, place racks on the middle level.  Turn your oven on to Broil-Low,  and let it heat up.
  • Rinse raw chicken and pat dry with paper towel
    • Note:  Remember to wash your hands constantly with soap and water when dealing with raw meat!
  • Place chicken in a gallon-sized plastic bag, add about 4 tablespoons of seasoning, close bag (letting all air out), and massage the seasoning onto the chicken pieces.
    • Note: If you really want to get down and dirty, and get more flavor, pull the skin back from the chicken and rub the seasoning onto the meat, then cover with the skin.
    • Note:  Your meat will even be better if you let the chicken marinate for a couple hours or overnight.
  • Coat your broiler pan with a little oil (to prevent sticking)
  • Place chicken on broiler pan (skin-side up) and place in hot oven for 40-45 minutes.
    • Note:  The skin may burn a little, but just realize that you’d rather have the skin burn than your meat.  The skin protects the meat from the intense heat as well as helps the juices continue to marinate.  Ooo, my mouth is watering already!

The best part of this chicken recipe is that you can even make it in the morning, and then for dinner, either eat the chicken cold or reheat for a hot meal.  Also, it doesn’t hurt to make double the amount, as you can always use the cooked chicken for other “Day 2” recipes!

Side Dish Suggestions:

  • Macaroni & Cheese (what kid doesn’t love that!)
  • Green Salad
  • Macaroni Salad
  • Potato Salad

EnJOY!

And, let me know how it goes for you!

—  Christie