It was time for another return to OC to spend a long weekend with my hubby, so we made sure we had some great meals planned.
Pizzeria Mozza (Newport Beach) - Right off the bat, we went from SNA to our late-night reservation at Pizzeria Mozza. I had some trepidation because 1) I have heard conflicting stories about the food and 2) sometimes Mario Batali gets on my nerves. We arrived and were immediately seated. It took us some time to decide but we ended up with the Wedge Salad with Gorgonzola Dressing, the Ricotta with Currants and Pine Nuts, the Margherita Pizza, and the pizza with Egg, Bacon, Yukon Gold Potato, and Onions.
The Wedge Salad was excellent and we loved the dressing. The Ricotta was a dream and just luscious,but we decided to get some of the thick garlicky Pane Bianco. Wow. What a combo. Then, our pizzas arrived and we were swooning. The Margherita was just perfect, but the Egg, Bacon and Potato pizza just stole the show. We particularly loved the crust on the pizzas, crunchy on the exterior's edge, but a little soft and chewy on the inside. The best of both worlds to be sure. We ended our meal on a light, but tangy note of the three sorbets: tangerine, grapefruit, and Meyer Lemon. Outstanding, particularly the grapefruit.
It was a resounding success. I did have two minor issues. First, they really need to turn the music down. I know Batali loves his rock and roll, but this was just too loud. Second, while we loved the salad, it needs to be raised just a notch because the mild flavors get drowned out by the rest of the meal.
Chili Chutney (Lake Forest) - This tiny Afghan place in Lake Forest was a surprise arrival to the neighborhood, and my husband J. had tried it and raved about it. So, we ventured in and were warmly greeted by the staff. We took a quick look at the menu and placed our order of one Chicken Kebob platter, one platter of Mantu (a plate of meat and onion dumplings in a sour cream sauce), and an order of the Leek Boloni, a tortilla-like flatbread stuffed with chopped leeks and served with a yogurt/sour cream sauce that we spiced up with the cilantro chutney and the tangy tomato hot sauce.
The kebab was excellent. Lots of moist chicken pieces served on a lovely bed of rice. The mantu were fantastic. They were robust in flavor and we loved the sour cream sauce. But the boloni was the big winner here. The serving was huge and the flavor was pure deliciousness. What a wonderful treat!
Chili Chutney was the bomb. And for our troubles, we paid a pittance of about $30.00. This place is a true gem.
Capital Grille (Costa Mesa) - We were celebrating Valentine's Day after we swore off ever going out to dinner on the actual day for reasons everyone is well aware of. So, we decided to have steak... and a lot of it.
I was a bit put off that we had made our reservation well before our arrival, but still had to wait 20 minutes past our reservation time to be seated. We did, however, receive a nice table and a very efficient, if not stoic, waiter. The onion and lavosh breads served beforehand were excellent. We nibbled through the bread and made our selections: one Caesar Salad, one Wedge Salad, one Steak Au Poivre for me, and the Porcini-rubbed Delmonico Steak with Balsamic Vinegar. For our sides, we had the Au Gratin Potatoes and the Green Beans with Heirloom Tomatoes and Onions.
The salads were really great. My Caesar was fresh, crisp, had plenty of cheese and the dressing was very bold. I loved it! J.'s Wedge Salad was a classic preparation and it was grand. No complaints here. Our steaks were just as wonderful, with plenty of peppercorns in the sauce for my steak and J's steak was pure earthy goodness with the lovely porcini rub. The sides were very good, but the Green Beans were killer. We finished off our meal with the Capital Grille Strawberries which were tossed with port and Grand Marnier and served with house made vanilla ice cream. They were outstanding.
All in all, a very good way to celebrate.
Casa Franco (Mission Viejo) - This little Mexican joint in a strip mall at the I-5 and Alicia Parkway is a nice neighborhood place where you can get a great Mexican meal. Sundays there always reminds of a gay bar with the thumping dance music (but it isn't loud, just there) and bottles of beer and margaritas flowing.
J. and I each had the 3-item combo: tacos, enchiladas, chile rellenos, all of which were comforting and quite tasty. The salsa and chips were very, very good and they heat in the salsa had us mopping our brow. It was a great lunch that kept us filled for the day.
Honda-Ya (Tustin) - Ah, our old favorite. Sadly, we left a bit disappointed. The food is still very good. We feasted on Ton Katsu, rice, stir-fried veggies, Japanese short ribs, Shrimp Tempura, and gyoza. But some of our favorites were missing as they revamped the menu. Gone where the garlic greens (green beans served with pork belly) and the deep-fried shrimp shumai.
As I said, everything was good, but the removal of our favorites left us feeling a bit sad at our visit.
The Olde Ship (Santa Ana) - Oh, where has this place been all of our lives? We stumbled into this place after having wanted to try it for so long, and we should have gotten here much, much sooner. The interior is just charming and reminded me of the pubs I visited when I was in London many, many, many years ago.
We were seated at a very nice table and we were trying to choose from the plethora of offerings. But we started with an ale for J. and a hard cider for me. Then, we decided to start with the Sausage Rolls and then proceed to the Seafood Platter for J. and the Scottish Bridie for me.
The sausage rolls were fantastic. They were hot, flaky, and when topped with the pickled onions and the mustard, we were in heaven. J.'s Seafood Platter was a steal and he was very pleased with the amount of seafood and the mound of chips. I am sure we also used more than our fair share of malt vinegar. My Scottish Bridie was a steak and whisky pie and was out of this world. The meat has been braised in a combination of beef stock and whisky and then topped with a pastry cover. Wonderful. I particularly loved the fact that you could still taste the whisky. The mashed potatoes served with it was smooth as silk and the gravy was rich and meaty. The peas were pretty basic, but cut the richness of the plate a bit.
As much as we enjoyed our meals, we were not prepared for what we had for dessert: Rhubarb Crumble with Custard Sauce. Oh, my. It was pure ambrosia. Tangy, sweet, and decadent, this huge, bubbling portion was one of the best desserts I have ever had. So simple and yet it hit the right note. And God bless custard sauce. Yum indeed.
However, the Olde Ship is clearly adding some sort of sedative to its meals because we went home and passed out until it was time for me to get back to SNA.
So, another great culinary trip to "the OC." The highlights were the Egg, Bacon, and Potato Pizza, the Boloni, the steaks, and the Rhubarb Crumble. Hey, that would make a great meal right there!
Thanks, SoCal!! See you again soon!
Honda Ya Japanese Restaurant
556 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780
24395 Alicia Pkwy Ste 3, Mission Viejo, CA 92691
1120 W 17th St, Santa Ana, CA 92706
25262 Jeronimo Rd, Lake Forest, CA 92630
Pizzeria Mozza Newport Beach
800 West Coast Hwy, Newport Beach, CA 92663