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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

New Restaurant Review: Casa Barilla at South Coast Plaza

There's a new Italian in town at South Coast Plaza!

Insalate Ruspante w rosemary chicken,
walnuts, & apples

Casa Barilla is open! Yes, THAT Barilla - the same one that sells that boxed pasta you have in your pantry right now waiting to be cooked up at home with your favorite jar of sauce. This is one of two fast casual restaurants the company recently opened in Southern California - the other being in downtown LA at the USC Village. 

Located in the old Rainforest Cafe location in the Sears wing, the restaurant has been fully made over with some fun pasta-related decor! An open kitchen has been installed too so you can get a clear view of them making your pizza or pasta! 

Pizza Nobile w prosciutto parma,
blue cheese, arugula & parmesan cheese

The menu includes fast casual items such as pasta, pizza, sandwiches and salads. The focus is on Italian food the way Italians eat it every day as part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. 

Spaghettie & Polpettine
w basil and marinara

You will find some cream-based dishes but the majority of the dishes are actually on the lower end calorie-wise and laden with healthy fresh ingredients. 

Each dish is made fresh from scratch so no need to worry, you won't find jarred sauce here folks! 

Being a fast casual style restaurant the prices reflect this ranging no higher than $15. It is South Coast Plaza so you're not going to find food of this quality here for Del Taco prices. Just as a note, they also offer a special family meal that averages to about $9 per person which is a great deal if you're going with a friend or a few friends/family. 

Yummy Paninis grilled up for you after you order!

Casa Barilla is a nice addition to SCP as there is a need for something like Casa Barilla that is not fast food and not quite a sit down restaurant. It's also nice to have healthy fresh options as mall food. 

You can view the full menu on their website at the below link. They have pics of most dishes and they even offer online ordering so you can do a quick to-go! 

Orichette Pugliese w sasusage, spinach and pecorino cheese - my fav dish! 

 Casa Barilla is inside South Coast Plaza, located at 3333 Bristol in Costa Mesa. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

New Restaurant Review: Olea in Newport Beach

If you're a fan of Vine in San Clemente or Ironwood in Laguna Hills then you already know you're going to be in for some fabulous dining at the newly opened Olea in Newport Beach! 

Located in a small center right where 17th Street turns into Westcliff Drive and Costa Mesa into Newport Beach. The first thing you'll notice as you enter Olea is the large center bar with seats all around, encouraging a fun lively ambiance similarly to Vine & Ironwood. Also similar to its sister restaurants is a welcoming open kitchen design allowing for diners to view the Chefs hard at work on their yummy creations.

I can already tell you that the cocktails at Olea are for sure going be one of the stars here! House created craft cocktails are made using only fresh ingredients including herbs grown from their sister restaurant, Vine's garden. It's evident that a lot of thought and care went into each cocktail before it was put on the menu. 

The "Rich Girl" - the drink not the girl. ;)

Several of their cocktails were created just for Olea including the "Rich Girl" made with rose wine, vodka, lime, yuzu and basil. Refreshingly light with a slight citrus undertone and how can you resist the oh-so appropriate name? 

Even though they have a great wine list here, I highly recommend you opt for at least one cocktail as you don't want to miss these!  

We started our menu tasting with a lovely artisan cheese & cured meat board. It featured several cheese included a goat cheese and port wine cheese along with a few different kinds of meat.  Came to the table with aged balsamic, a honey tapenade, seasonal garnishes, marinated olives, and grilled rustic bread.  Cheeses and meats will change with the season so if you order one it may differ a bit, but it makes for the perfect starter to share with friends and whet your appetite! 
Artisan Cheese & Cured Meat Board

Blue Crab Baked Oysters Champagne
The blue crab baked oysters champagne were next on our little food tour of Olea. These little gems came to the table served up doused with a decadent melted butter, bacon & creamy watercress sauce. Truthfully, the oysters were very good but I would eat a rock if it was drenched in this butter sauce. #yum!

Jumbo Lump Crab & Sea Salt Roasted Heirloom Beets

The jumbo lump crab and sea salt roasted heirloom beets was almost too pretty to eat, but of course we did. ;) Sliced beets are perfectly paired with slivers of ruby star grapefruit and a crunchy filbert crumble - all topped with a lemon shallot gastrique. Fresh tasting and bright - this dish makes a perfect starter or side dish for a vegetarian or anyone looking to eat a little lighter. 

 Terrine of Duck Liver 

Next up was the yummy bites of savory duck liver pate with a sweet hint of bourbon and bacon on thick crunchy grilled bread. If you're a fellow duck liver fan you don't want to miss this one folks!  #divine 

Mac n Chese
No surprise that the skillet of mac and cheese came to the table with some pretty high expectations - which luckily for us (and YOU!), it easily met. A Chef's blend of cheeses is used to create a creamy sauce that's then baked in a cast iron skillet with panko topping to add the perfect crunch. 

I am admittedly, not a fan of filet mignon - yes, I know I'm in the minority and that it's considered one of the best and most expensive cuts of beef BUT for me, it's always a bit of a fail. I'll take a nice marbled bone-in ribeye any day over a filet mignon.  That said, I have to say that the pacific northwest filet mignon at Olea may yet convert me! A perfectly cooked filet served on a bed of the most delicious truffle & creme fraiche potatoes with a side of fresh farmers market veggies, all doused in a crispy langoustine bearnaise. This dish is just perfection in terms of flavor pairings and plating - a must order for any surf and turf lover, IMHO. 

Pacific Northwest Filet Mignon

Peanut butter cup gelato - have you ever heard of such a thing?! Well, NOW  you have! Olea takes this ridiculously delicious creation and stuffs it in between two Belgian chocolate chunk  and fromage blanc cookies, then to add insult to injury, they top it with this salty Spanish peanut crumble. Holy cow - absolutely delicious and a MUST try! 

Belgian Chocolate Chunk & Fromage Blanc Cookies

Soooo rich and decadent! 

This is just a sampling of what the menu at Olea has to offer. Many of the dishes that made Vine and Ironwood favorites in Orange County are featured on the menu, along with some Olea only items. To see the full menu (with pics of the dishes too!) check out their website:

Olea is located at 2001 Westcliff Drive in Newport Beach at the corner of Irvine Avenue and Westcliff. 
Hours: Sun thru Thurs, 5-10pm; Fri & Sat, 5-11pm
Phone: 949/287-6807

Monday, January 8, 2018

NEW Restaurant Review: Brunch at Habana in Irvine

There's a new HABANA in the OC folks!

Habana Irvine opened up at the Spectrum Shopping Center in early December without too much fuss. If you've been to the original location in Costa Mesa you already know they cook up some amazing authentic Cuban food and this location is no different! The CM location has long been a staple of OC with great food, drinks and a fun romantic ambiance. Dare I say, the new location is even better! Built especially for Habana, the new restaurant in Irvine has the feel of visiting a good friend's Cuban estate with a large outdoor wraparound patio surrounded by lovely palm trees with huge fronds that block you off from passerbys and really, the shopping center itself. You really do feel a bit transported!

Roasted Lechon 
If you haven't tried out the new Irvine location (or even if you have!) they are just starting brunch service this coming Sunday, January 14th so there's no better time! I was able to get a preview and have to say, I was very impressed!

Not surprisingly, there is a fabulous selection of Cuban dishes including tender roasted lechon from the whole pig, fall-apart ropa vieja, juicy roasted chicken, fried plantains and several others. 


For those seeking more traditional brunch items there are also made to order omelets, waffles with all the toppings, a huge seafood station featuring crab legs and shrimp, and tons of other traditional brunch offerings.

All Those DESSERTS! 
AND if you think you'll be exiting this brunch without dessert, you better think again! The dessert offerings are almost over the top - so much so they could almost offer a 'dessert brunch' and charge for it on it's own! Items range from cookies, fruit tarts, and chocolate mousse to the more creative passionfruit and guava cheesecake petit-fours. Trust me, there is something for everyone at this dessert bar and nobody will be leaving disappointed!

Opening Coconuts! 

Habana Irvine's Brunch Service starts Sunday, January 14th and will be served from 10-3pm, every Sunday.
Price is $38 for adults/$19 for kids 10 and under.  
All you can eat brunch buffet. Drinks are optional but you'll find it hard to resist their yummy spiked whole coconuts, popped open right on the premises. Make your reservations today as I'm sure this will be a popular brunch!

Habana Irvine
708 Spectrum Center Dr.
Irvine CA
The new Habana is pretty fabulous! 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Milk & Eggs - a new way to eat healthy!

I love going to the Farmer's Market to get local produce and unique artisan items from local vendors but it's not always easy to get there Saturday or Sunday morning. Well, now there's another option that allows you to get fresh and local milk, eggs, diary, meats, vegetables, and fruit from local farmers and food makers without having to make a trip to the Farmer's Market - Milk and Eggs!  The BEST part is you can get your fresh healthy food items delivered to your front door from Milk and Eggs with FREE delivery within 48hours!  

How do they do this? By establishing relationships with local growers and aggregators, they are able to have the shortest distance between you and your food so you can eat it the way nature intended - fresh and local. There's no easier way to eat healthy and stock your house with fresh local fruits and veggies! 

I recently put my first order in on Milk & Eggs website and was pleasantly surprised by the amazing selection of fruits and vegetables they had available - everything from apples, organic kale, and papaya to bok choy. They also have an impressive selection of meat and seafood, including a large selection of grass fed cuts. There are items for every diet and actually have a helpful pull down menu that sorts items by type of diet. 

Like most folks, I've been trying to eat healthy in the new year and used some items from my first shipment to make a cheesy cauliflower casserole with mushrooms and turkey bacon (recipe below). 

Ingredients for my casserole (before!)
Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole with Mushrooms and Turkey Bacon

My casserole came out amazing tasting - so fresh and delicious! I could tell the difference using extremely fresh vegetables versus what I usually get at the grocery store. There really is a different and it was very evident in the taste of the casserole. I was able to lighten it up a bit by using turkey bacon as well as half and half, as it usually calls for heavy cream and regular bacon. 

To find out more and see the full list of items available check out Milk & Eggs website:
Currently they only serve the greater LA area, including parts of Orange County and San Bernardino County. See the full delivery area map on their website to see if they deliver to your area. 

TIP: If you subscribe to their email newsletter you'll get 10% off your first order! You'll be prompted when you get to their website. 

Recipe: Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole with Mushrooms and Turkey Bacon 

1 head of cauliflower
1C Clover Organic Farms half and half 
2 ounces of Organic Valley cream cheese
1 tsp of dijon mustard
1 bag of Organic Valley mild cheddar cheese (1.5 Cups)
1 clove of garlic
3 ounces of crimini mushrooms
1/2 shallot
2 tsp of chopped chives (for garnish)
3 slices of Uncured Applegate Turkey Bacon (cooked per package instructions)

Chop the cauiflower into bite size florets and boil to al-dente, approximately 4-5 minutes. Drain water and pat dry with a paper towel. Place dried cauliflower into an 8x8 baking dish and set-aside. 

Saute mushrooms, shallots and garlic in 2 teaspoons of olive oil until mushrooms are tender and shallots are slightly translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Set-aside when done. 

Bring half and half to a simmer over low to medium heat, add in cream cheese and mustard. Stir together til well blended, using a whisk if necessary. Once well blended, remove from heat and add in the cheddar cheese and the mushroom mix. Stir til all the cheese is melted and the mushrooms are distributed well. Pour mixture over cauliflower and mix with cauliflower until well blended. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. 

While casserole is baking, chop turkey bacon into bite size pieces. Once casserole is done baking, garnish with chopped turkey bacon and chives. Serve warm. :)