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Monday, March 20, 2017

Get in here! Jimmy's Famous American Tavern in Brea!

There's a new tavern in town in Brea, and you really need to get in there!

Jimmy's Famous American Tavern (JFAT) opened up the doors to their new location in Brea in 2016.  This was my first visit to this location even though I'd been to the one in Dana Point years ago. Recall it being pretty tasty with a fun vibe so had some pretty high expectations for J-FAT in Brea. Happy to say it didn't disappoint!

First of all, the ambiance itself is very fun with a very modern yet playful design. Upscale modern lighting throughout and fun signs coupled with spacious tables make for an inviting space. There's also a large patio overlooking a fountain for those who want to dine al fresco.

The service was top notch at J-FAT from the friendly hostess who'll greet you at the door with a smile to the attentive wait staff. They really try hard to make a good impression here and it shows!

One thing I loved about the Dana Point location is the drinks and the drinks here were as good as I remembered! I ordered the pineapple pear mojito and my friend ordered a skinny margarita. So I love me a good mojito but also love it when restaurants/bars get creative with my old standby so I was more than happy to see all the unique mojito flavors - Mango, Pear Pineapple, & Raspberry! I was also pleasantly surprised to taste that the mojito was NOT overly sweet - always a concern with any kind of fruity drink. You can tell the ingredients are freshly muddled and sugar is only added to enhance not overwhelm. My friend also loved her skinny margarita, which came loaded with fresh fruit - never seen this before at any place and we both agreed it was a nice touch!

As for the food (oh the food!), we ordered a variety of starters including the calamari, the buffalo meatballs and the brussel sprouts.

Our hands-down favorite was the calamari. OMG, if you only order one starter at JFAT make it this. I'm used to rings and tentacles when I order calamari - not here! These were big fat fry-like cuts of calamari steak - meaty yet tender and tossed in a sage rosemary mix after being lightly battered and fried. They were also served with the most divine garlic remoulade. Serious calamari here folks...don't miss these!

So yes, I know brussel sprouts have been overdone of late as every corner restaurant has 'em on the menu BUT I have to say these were some of the best I think I've ever had! Charred perfectly and topped with applewood bacon, pine nuts and a simple sauce of maple syrup. They were just the right amount of sweetness, crunch & savory. We ate all of 'em and it was quite a large serving!

I have to admit the buffalo meatballs were a bit of a disappointment to me. I am a card-carrying buffalo ANYTHING fanatic so when I heard buffalo and meatballs I expected to be blown away. Unfortunately, I found the sauce so spicy that it killed any buffalo taste that might have been present. They really should list them on the menu as ' spicy meatballs'. Don't get me wrong, I happen to like spicey food but it wasn't what I was expecting so I think it just didn't work for me. However, my friend who's motto is 'the spicier the better' couldn't get enough of these bad boys and ended up eating them all by herself, aside from my initial bite. I think this dish is a bit subjective as you're either gonna love it or hate it so just be aware. ;)

As if the starters weren't enough food, we also ordered one of the flatbreads and their newest addition to the menu, the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich, along with a side of the white truffle mac and cheese.

Holy smokes - someone got it right with the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich! It comes perfectly crispy with a moist tender inside served with the most flavorful crunchy cole slaw on a slightly grilled bun. I had heard their fried chicken was pretty delish here but this exceeded any expectations I had about it, and the heat from the chili oil sauce was just right! It came served with truffle fries topped with parmesan which were the perfect complement to this crunchy spicy sammie.

The pear, black fig jam, blue cheese & fontina flatbread was tasty (how could it not be with that mix of ingredients?!) but honestly, it was a tad bit on the limp side for me as the crust was on the softer side. Again, this is most likely a preference issue as I like my flatbread crispy on the bottom to hold up to the ingredients on top, but I know some people prefer a softer crust. Regardless, I just ate the toppings and was in heaven as it reminded me of a cheese plate you'd get at a wine bar. Yum!

The white truffle mac and cheese was almost a bit of an illusion. I seriously don't know how they are able to get such a crunchy baked top with the tender creamy cheese-laden 
macaroni underneath! The truffle taste was on point and shined through with every bite.

You would think with all this we'd be too full for dessert? Nah.. ;) We actually told the waiter to surprise us, and surprise us he did with the behemoth of the Bananageddeon! This is one seriously ridiculous dessert reminiscent of the ones you get at an ice cream parlor. It was loaded with fresh sliced bananas, pecan blondie crumbles, banana pastry cream, several scoops of butter pecan ice cream and topped with a slightly salted caramel sauce, white chocolate drizzle and loaded sky-high with homemade whipped cream! If you're a lover of all things banana (like me!) you're going to be in NIRVANA with this dessert - just make sure you have someone to share it with you cuz even with two of us we didn't make a dent!

All in all I enjoyed Jimmy's Famous American Tavern in Brea! 
Loved the ambiance, décor, hospitality and although there were a few dishes that were a slight miss for me (primarily the buffalo meatballs) they were only a miss because of subjective taste as my friend LOVED them so I can't really ding them too much for that.

I HIGHLY recommend you check 'em out!

Jimmy's Famous American Tavern is located at the Village at La Floresta Center,  3325 E. Imperial Hwy. in Brea

Phone #: 714/733-1310

Check out their hours, other locations & explore the menu on their website: 


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Spring has sprung at the Five Crowns in Corona Del Mar!

It's officially SPRING and that means the Five Crowns in Corona Del Mar has a new spring menu!

Five Crowns updates their menu every season with special dishes encompassing the best and freshest of the season, and of course springtime is no exception.

I was recently invited to a tasting of the spring menu and wanted to share some of my favorites from the new Spring 2017 offerings...

The Morel Mushroom Risotto with Pea Tendrils and Parmigiano  

Seriously creamy and perfectly cooked risotto -an art in and of itself - infused with the deep earthiness that only mushrooms can exude combined with the nuttiness of the parmigiano cheese.
A definite MUST order, and a dish that would be well shared with the table as it could be a tad heavy for just one person.
Pan Roasted Halibut on a Bed of French Green Beans, Cauliflower Puree, Lemon & Capers 

LOVED this dish! Halibut is one of those white fishes that pretty much tastes like whatever you cook it in so every bite of this meaty fish tastes like fresh lemon, paired perfectly with the creamy cauliflower and accompanying vegetables - really bright and delicious dish. 

Buratta with Roasted Spring Onions, Tomato Vinaigrette and Bread Crumbs

I'm sure you've had buratta as it's recently popped up on every menu but I doubt you've had buratta like this! Perfectly paired with the fresh tomato vinaigrette and the mellow roasted onions this dish doesn't disappoint.

Cheese & Charcuterie Platter 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the cheese & charcuterie platter - yes, I know it doesn't sound that special but did you know the Five Crowns has a cheese-monger on staff who travels all over the world to select the specific cheese served at the restaurant? Yes, it's true and it shows in the quality and uniqueness of the cheeses served here. Not to mention the way in which they are perfect presented with the ideal accouterments. If you're a cheese lover like me you don't want to miss this!

There are several other items on the spring menu including a fabulous potato leek soup and the most amazing grilled octopus. The above is just a sampling but it should hopefully entice you to want to get down to the Five Crowns this spring to try our their spring menu for yourself! 
Well worth a visit! 

The Five Crowns is located at 3801 E. Pacific Coast Hwy in Corona Del Mar. 
Reservatrions are highly recommend and can be made by calling: 949/760-0331

Monday, March 13, 2017

Get Schooled at Culinary Lab Cooking School!

So anyone who knows me knows that I not only love to eat, but I love to cook! I've taken classes at just about every place in Orange County (and even some in LA) that offers cooking classes. Some have been great and some have been not so great. What makes a stellar cooking class? IMHO it's 1) a good teacher who knows how to talk to the students in plain English not "chef" speak, 2) a well stocked facility with sufficient amenities to support the size of the class, and 3) practical recipes that appeal to different levels of cooking knowledge so that everyone will actually feel like they could successfully recreate them at home.  

Culinary Lab (CL) moved over to their new Tustin location in late 2016 and I'd heard nothing but positive things about their cooking classes. I was beyond thrilled to be invited to attend one of their classes, and felt even more lucky to attend a special event one with Chef Shachi as the guest teacher. I've actually taken a few cooking classes with Chef Shachi at her restaurant in Anaheim so I knew I couldn't lose either way, as she's a not just a fabulous Chef but a great teacher. The class I took with Chef Shachi was the first in Culinary Lab's series of local OC Chefs that they are featuring for the month of March.

The first thing that stood out upon walking into CL is how modern and updated the space is - with a gorgeous bar on one end and a very sleek modern teaching area taking up the majority of the classroom. This facility used to be a Mimi's Cafe Testing Kitchen and I'm guessing it didn't look like this before CL took it over! 

Adjacent to the classroom/bar area is the actual teaching kitchen. Laid out with modern stoves along one side and tables for the students on the other side. Everything was very well laid out and made for a great easy cooking experience.

Chef Shachi started the class with a brief intro and overview in the classroom and then we jumped right into hands-on cooking in the kitchen. Our menu consisted of four traditional Indian dishes which seemed to be just the right amount for a three hour cooking class. Right away, Chef Shachi got everyone involved showing us not just how to mix the ingredients together but starting with the basics of how to properly toast spices to get the right flavors in the recipes. 

Having taken a lot of cooking classes in the past, I know it can be tough for Chefs teaching home cooks as the skills are so varied amongst the students. She handled it really well by keeping those of us who were more experienced well engaged with the cooking while teaching some of the more beginner students a few basic skills (i.e. how to cut an onion) at a smaller table. Even so, I think everyone felt she gave us all the just the right amount of attention.

I also really appreciated how Chef taught us how to tell when things are done by touch, taste and smell. Too often in classes I've taken they focus on timing to tell you when something is done but experience has shown that's not always the best way to tell doneness. I found it really helpful that she made a point of making sure everyone got a chance to taste their food at various stages of doneness so they became familiar with how it should taste and smell at each point. 

All the food came out fabulous (as I knew it would!) and it was a nice touch that everyone got to also plate their dishes for presentation before we sat down to eat them in the classroom. Here are the four delicious dishes we made: 

Kadai Cauliflower
Mango & Cucumber Raita

Coconut Ginger Shrimp
Green Bean Sesame Salad

Overall, I found the class to be very engaging and well presented while also just a lot of fun! Although the class I took was taught by a guest Chef who doesn't teach there on a regular basis, everyone at CL from the Chef assistants to the staff in the reception area were extremely helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. 

I was very impressed with Culinary Lab as a whole and look forward to taking more classes in the future!

As I mentioned, in the month of March Culinary Lab is hosting some local OC Chefs as guest teachers. These are some serious names in the OC culinary scene folks! The remaining classes for this series are:
Saturday, March 18th: Chef Cathy Pavlos is doing a class on California Cuisine. Chef Cathy is a local OC rockstar with her wonderful restaurant Provenance in Newport Beach. She also owned and operated longtime favorite (but recently closed) Lucca Café in Irvine for many years.

Saturday, March 25th: Chef Jason Montelibano is doing a class on the very hot at the moment Filipino food! Chef Jason recently returned to the yummy Chapter One in the trendy downtown Santa Ana from which he had taken a break for a few years to cook at EATS Kitchen in Irvine. 
They both sound like amazing not-to-be-missed classes! You can find out more info about these classes, as well as all the other classes Culinary Lab offers on their website here:

Culinary Lab is located at 17231 E. 17th Street #B in Tustin. 714/788-3576

Professional Culinary Program
Although I took a class that is for the home chefs, I happened to get partnered with a student from the Professional Program who was taking this home chef class for fun. This worked out well for me as I was able to ask her quite a few questions about the program and I have to say it really sounds like a fabulous program that focuses on real world practical experience. Having more than a few Chef friends, I know that a top complaint about many culinary programs is not enough real world experience that can be applied to getting a job after graduation.  Apparently, in their short time in the OC, Culinary Lab has made it a priority to establish meaningful partnerships with some of the best restaurants in the county to get their people into paid internships and obtain that crucial real world experience. I'd highly recommend anyone thinking about going into the culinary field take a good look at Culinary Lab as they really seem to be one step ahead of other schools in this area.