Spago - Beverly Hills

176 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 385-0880

We took the opportunity to dine at Spago because of DineLA restaurant week. For the price of $44, you can get a 3 course meal at many of LA's finer dining establishments. Having heard fantastic things about Spago, we were eager to sample the finer side of Wolfgang Puck's cuisine.

Here are just some of the breads that we sampled.
Heirloom tomato soup - with fresh ricotta crouton, confit cherry tomatoes 
I started with the Heirloom Tomato Soup. This was my favorite course of the night. The soup had the essence and flavor of just-picked tomatoes right from the garden. I would say that this was the best tomato soup I have had. I really enjoyed the ricotta crouton with confit cherry tomatoes and micro-greens. Enjoyed everything about this course.

Wild Mushroom Raviolini - wild field mushrooms and parmesan reggiano
Another excellent dish for any mushroom lover. This dish had an assortment of earthy mushrooms that really maintained their heavenly mushroom flavor. The ravioloni was nicely made and the parmesan reggiano added another dimension of flavor that complemented the mushrooms. 
Pumpkin Agnolotti with mascarpone and reggiano (14) 
Also available with the DineLA are a few supplements. Having heard great things about the corn agnolotti and how the flavors of corn really shine, we were disappointed to see that the corn had been replaced with pumpkin.  Still, the waitress was really pushing this supplement, a little too pushy.  And so we gave in.  We were quite intrigued that the natural sweetness of the pumpkin really came out of this pumpkin agnolotti. Our waitress informed us that no sugar or sweeteners were added. Enjoyed this dish, though we weren't wowed by it.
Kurobuta Pork Chop - Pear-ginger compote, stir fried green beans, confit pork, Chinese 10 spice, port-licorice reduction
There were three choices for mains on this night. The choices were pork chop, cod, or a roasted chicken. Knowing we would order cod and thinking chicken might be too normal of a dish, I ended up going with the Kurobuta pork chop. I was hesitant to pick this dish because of the Asian flair, but interested because of the Kurobota pork chop. The pork chop wasn't as succulent and moist as I would have imagined it to be. I enjoyed the pear ginger compote and thought it went well with the saltier aspects of the dish. Didn't care so much for the stir fried green beans and other Asian accented components to the dish though.
Pan-Roasted Basco Bay Cod - puree and ragout of gigante and cranberry beans, pancetta, wild mushrooms, and mascarpone emulsion
I didn't thoroughly enjoy this dish as I should have because my taste buds were already overloaded by the wild mushroom flavors of the raviolini.  So eating this dish wasn't as enjoyable.  The cod, however, was nicely cooked with just the perfect outer crisp and soft inside.  The rest of the ingredients made this dish quite bold by the intense mushroom flavors and slightly heavy textures, which drew away from the fish.

Apple Vol au Vent - carmelized braeburn apples, almond crumble, pear prosecco ice cream

This dessert was essentially a fancy apple pie. The puff pastry aspect of the dessert was the most layered and light puff pastry I have ever had. The almond crumble and the pear prosecco ice cream were enjoyable complements to this dish. Enjoyed this dessert, but wished there was a little more excitement to the dessert selection.

Chocolate purse - crispy crepe, warm chocolate ganache, port sauteed cherries and vanilla ice cream
This dessert was pretty much chocolate in a shell. This was a very difficult dessert to eat. I had to use a knife and fork to carefully break open up this purse and catch the little crisps before flying everywhere.  Although the presentation was enticing, this dessert didn't have enough contrasting textures and flavors for me. This felt like a designated Dine LA dessert.

Spago focuses on seasonal ingredients and farm fresh produce. The emphasis was apparent in many of the dishes we sampled. The mushrooms truly tasted of mushrooms as opposed to many restaurants that advertise mushroom in the descriptions but nary a hint of mushroom flavor. Overall, we enjoyed our meal, but didn't love everything we had. I heard that the way to truly enjoy Spago is to get the tasting menu.  Maybe someday we'll try that instead.


Old Vine Cafe - Costa Mesa

2937 Bristol St # A102
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Located in the eco-friendly, hip, and cool CAMP retail center in Costa Mesa, Old Vine Cafe focuses on seasonal ingredients and an international cuisine style. Highly rated by OC Weekly, Yelp, and Chowhound polls, I wanted to eat here for quite some time. For some reason or another, I just never got around to eating here. Until now that is. My wife surprised me with a "happy hour" at OVC. This happy hour is a steal at $15 per person for 4 courses. Keep in mind the 4 courses as you read the post.

Included in the happy hour are complimentary chips and salsa. These crunchy chips were quite greasy and oily. Salsa was fresh and had a nice heat to it. 

Seafood croquetas with Cajun jambalaya sauce
The seafood croquetas were nicely fried and the accompanying Cajun jambalaya sauce added a welcoming heat to this dish. 

Beef Tenderloin Stroganoff
All natural beef tenderloins medallions and shitake mushrooms served over rice w/ cream demi glace
The beef tenderloins were indeed tender. I can't recall much about the cream demi glace. This dish was an overall good dish, but nothing too exciting since it had a very one note in its flavor.

Vermont Cheddar with dried figs, apricot, and cranberries
This is where things got a little strange on the service side. Having been told that there were 4 courses involved in our meal, we waited patiently for our last cheese course. Eventually, the waiter came by and dropped off the check to our table. My wife and I kind of looked at each other, telepathically saying "Didn't he say there were 4 courses?"  I eventually got the waiter's attention and asked if there were 4 courses involved, to which he replied "yes." So, now we were thinking.. O.....K.....What the heck is going on here? The waiter then asks us if we were interested in it. Of course we are!!!! Why wouldn't we be???? Didn't actually say this to him. Just politely asked for the 4th course.

Having been really looking forward to eating at OVC and hearing great things about it, OVC did not meet my expectations. The food itself being OK and the service being OK to bad with the 4th course snafu. I don't know if can attribute it to the $15 happy hour and the courses served, but looking at the menu online, most of these dishes are ones that are served on the menu anyway. I might return one day to try out the one of the tasting menus.  But I am definitely not in any rush.


French 75 - Laguna Beach

1464 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Tel. 949.494.8444

Once the original in the restaurant empire of David Wilhelm, ok maybe not an empire, but there were 4 French 75's at one point, as well as a few others in the empire. The empire has now dwindled down to 3 restaurants, and David Wilhelm's no longer "helming" the empire. Now all that is left is the original French 75 in Laguna Beach, Chimayo in Huntington Beach, and Savannah in Laguna Niguel. French 75 is housed in a 60 year old cottage located on PCH in Laguna Beach that emphasizes on French food with a contemporary twist.

Olive garlic butter with French bread. The olive garlic butter was a nice change from the regular butter. It had a pronounced olive and garlic flavor. The color was a bit standoffish for me, but I kept dipping my bread in it.

'Certified Cage Free' Hudson Valley Foie Gras (20) The nightly preparation included grilled peaches in a balsamic reduction. The lobe of foie gras rested upon a piece of toast and frisee. The foie was overcooked, which resulted in the texture not being as soft and smooth as we like it to be. The grilled peaches went well with the the foie, which is usually paired with a sweet component. Overall, due to the foie being overcooked, we felt this was an average dish.

Short Rib, Horseradish Mashed Potato, Charred Asparagus, Cipollini Jam, Braising Jus (26)
The short rib was braised, the mashed potato had a faint but present horseradish taste, and the asparagus was nicely charred. Eating the short rib by itself was good, but when eaten with the cipollini jam, really made this dish. The cipollini jam was sweet, yet it still retained that onion essence. I felt that the cipollini jam really elevated this dish. 
Study of Shellfish Maine Lobster, Scallop, White Shrimp, Wilted Spinach, Himalayan Red Rice, MirinGlaze (33)
After studying this study of shellfish, I will now give you an presentation on it. The lobster and the shrimp were cooked perfectly, but the scallop wasn't as enjoyable. I'm not sure if it was the cooking of the scallop or the quality of the scallop. The thing that really stood out about this dish, and not in a good way, was that it was majorly over salted. The Himalayan red rice helped to reduce the salty taste but still felt the dish was too salty. Had it not been for this saltiness, the dish would have been a quite nice study.

With a mix of an average appetizer, a good main course, and an over-salted main course, we still had a overall positive experience. Out of all the other restaurants that were once a part of the empire, I can see why this restaurant is still around: mainly because of the location and because of the French food with a contemporary twist.


California Shabu Shabu (Fountain Valley)

18908 Brookhurst Street
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

I am no Shabu Shabu connoisseur. But my go to place when I crave reasonably priced shabu shabu is California Shabu Shabu. They recently opened up a new location in Costa Mesa and there is usually a wait for both locations.  In my opinion, though, the wait is worth it. Maybe sing a song or two at the karaoke studio next door or visit the Japanese market down the corridor.  Either way, this is a must go-to place for my favorite shabu shabu place in OC. There are no actual tables but everyone sits at a U-shaped bar with everyone facing the middle and watching the workers do their thing.

Here's the plate of fresh veggies.  We have here spinach, broccoli, napa cabbage, tofu, carrots, udon noodles, enoki mushrooms, seaweed, and green onions.

These savory dipping sauces make this meal magical. On the left is the sesame-based Goma sauce and to the right is the citrusy Ponzu sauce. Feel free to add your own mixture of scallions, daikon, radish and garlic to the sauces to your liking.  I usually dip my meat in the goma, while using the ponzu for the vegetables.  Actually, it's more like soaking the meat and vegetables in these sauces.

To add a little kick to it, ask for the hot drops.  Taking out the eye dropper, the server will ask how many drops.  If you are daring, try 2-3. I usually take one and that's enough to sting my tongue.  They said some kid who is a regular takes about 7 drops. Some people can even do the whole line -- what is this? Crack?
For the beef shabu shabu dinner, there are 3 choices: Beef Shabu Shabu $13.99 for Regular and $16.99 for large, Prime Beef Shabu Shabu $16.99 for regular and $21.99 for large or the Kobe Beef Rib Eye $35.99. We've never tried the kobe beef (double the price) but we're satisfied with the others.  Content with the regular Beef Shabu Shabu this is our go to selection. Pictured below is the beef shabu shabu. 
Shabu Shabu actually means swish-swish as in, move your meat around a few times and the cooking is done.
Towards the end of our meal, they will offer a bowl with their dashi so that you can add the broth that you have been cooking your veggies and meat in. The broth, combined with the dashi, transforms into your second course - some wonderful udon soup. Make sure to save a few slices of beef and noodles to eat with the soup.
Voila! Another entree added to our shabu shabu. This is as comforting as the best chicken noodle soup.

There aren't many choices for shabu shabu in Orange County although there have be a few new ones popping up within the past few years. California Shabu Shabu may not be the most traditional and authentic version of Shabu Shabu that you may find in Tokyo, but for a fun cook yourself and fairly healthy meal, this is still our go-to Shabu Shabu spot!


Flour + Water - San Francisco

2401 Harrison Street (Mission District)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel. 415.826.7000

Flour + Water is one of the new restaurants on the block in the Mission District and is getting high praise from food critics and bloggers. The restaurant focuses on the simplicity of ingredients, hence the name Flour + Water. Just like many of the other Mission District restaurants the style of the restaurant is definitely eclectic. I love that this restaurant has a very unpretentious, yet cool vibe to it.

The restaurant specializes in house made pasta (and who doesn't love house made pasta) and Neopolitan thin crust style pizzas that are baked for no more than 2 minutes at a blistery 427 degree centigrade. According to the website, this is approximately the same temperature as hell, but only heaven awaits as you enter these doors. The prices are definitely reasonable for the quality of ingredients and quality of food your are going to get.

Margherita Pizza with tomato, basil, fior di latte, and extra virgin olive oil (13)
Fresh out of the oven, piping hot, slightly crispy, yet soft crust are some words to describe my initial reaction to the pizza. The pizza has a beautiful crust that is slightly charred but with a fantastic chewy consistency and a wood imparted flavor. Pizza doesn't get any simpler but more satisfying than this.

Maltagliati with brown butter braised duck giblets (15)
At the first bite, it tasted a bit livery and I wasn't sure if I liked it because I never really had duck giblets in my pasta.  It was just unexpected.  But as I took my second bite, and then the third bite, I just couldn't get enough of it.  I really just wanted to lick the whole plate. The freshly made pasta had a wonderful consistency that is only attained through fresh and not dried pasta. Included in this pasta dish was either pumpkin or squash bits that really lightened the dish that could have been too heavy.

Basil granite with late summer stone fruit and prosecco jelly (8)
While perusing the dessert menu, my eyes immediately darted towards this dessert. Basil? Love it..Stone fruit? Love it... Prosecco? Love it.. Did I love this dessert? No....Did I hate it? No... It was a light and refreshing dessert but didn't really taste the prosecco in the jelly and the basil granite was just so-so.  Yet the concept was very interesting and unique.

I like what Flour + Water stands for with their simple approach to food without compromising flavors. There is something so satisfying about a great pizza and perfect pasta; this is my comfort food. The excellent food and the laid-back cool vibe is something I am definitely looking forward to returning to in the future.


Range - San Francisco

842 Valencia Street (Mission District)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel.: 415.282.8283
Owners: Husband and Wife: Phil and Cameron West 

Range is located in the Mission District on a corner of a humble building across from a neighborhood park.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Nothing to distract one's attention from the carefully prepared seasonal dishes and lovely drink concoctions here at the one star Michelin restaurant.   

We made reservations for the first seating at 5:30 p.m. (so that we could have a second dinner around 9 or so at Flour + Water).  The place was empty, but it quickly filled up by 6 o' clock.
Known for their mixology, I ordered a Mr. White (9.50), which uses Pueblo Viejo Tequila and housemade strawberry-mint shrub with lime.  The drink was smooth, tasty, and not too sweet. Delicious and refreshing.

I ordered the marinated mussels with shaved fennel, lucques olives and cherry tomatoes (12.50).  This by far was the most heavenly.  There were so many layers of flavors and textures that went so well together.  The whole dish itself exuded lightness and freshness. The mussels were well cooked. The tomatoes were sweet. The dressing was sweet yet tangy at the same time.  I absolutely loved this amazing salad.  It was love at first bite.

Next, I ordered goat cheese and sorrel stuffed pasta with lime butter chives (13) 
You could really taste the citrus component of the lime - it added a nice brightness to the dish. Otherwise, it would have been too rich.  I had this as a main, but after eating the excellent fennel salad, this one was not at the same level. A bit disappointed, I craved the salad even more.

We then had the whiskey and brown sugar glazed pork ribs with a carrot salad (11.50)
The meat was very tender and was fall off the bone tender. The whiskey and brown sugar glaze was very good - not too sweet, just right.  It was nice having the carrot slaw as it tempered the sweetness and saltiness with its citrus element.  This dish was very well done.  I could definitely eat a whole rack of these ribs.  

Lastly, we had the pan roasted bavette steak with oven dried tomatoes, broccoli di ciccio, barley, and horseradish sauce (26). The steak was perfectly cooked medium rare.  I liked the horseradish sauce with the meat.  It was creamy and had a faint hint of the heat.  I didn't like the barley too much.  I don't think I'm much of a barley person.  It tastes a bit too healthy and bland for me.   The oven dried tomatoes added another flavor depth to the dish, but I don't remember too much of the broccoli.  Overall, this dish is very enjoyable.

When my husband made reservations, he mentioned our anniversary.  And at the end of our meal, they served as their complimentary dark chocolate squares with an anniversary candle.  Very sweet! 

This restaurant certainly earned its one Michelin star - thoughtful and delicious dishes as well as serving creative drinks.   The service also was impeccable and very attentive.  I would love to come back here and try other new dishes and see what the chef can create next. 


Canteen - San Francisco

817 Sutter Street  (Nob Hill)
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 928-8870

We continued celebrating our 2nd year anniversary by taking a trip to our beloved second home, San Francisco.  Our first meal was at Canteen, which is reminscent of a 60s diner in the South because of its retro decor, bar stools, vintage books, and its polished simplicity.  It just has this unpretentious, homey and nostalgic feeling.  And there are only 7 bar stools and 4 booths.  Small, but quaint.

Two waitresses here run the show and they were so genuinely kind and down to earth.  They served us the brioche rolls which were excellent!  It tasted like a buttery croissant, without the flakiness.  

For the amuse bouche, they brought out a small piece of smoked salmon with pepper over slices of honeydew.  I was not very impressed by the presentation of it.  It looked a bit sad.  The smoked salmon had a nice flavor, but there was nothing here that excited my taste buds or amused my "bouche".

Lamb's Tongue Vinaigrette with butter beans and romesco (10.50)
The vinaigrette went well because it added another flavor dimension to it.  I don't usually like beans, but it was well-cooked and smooth in texture.  I loved the nutty, romesco sauce which consisted of red peppers, pistachio, parsley and "other stuff" say the waitress.  The tongue itself had a rillette texture in a way and enjoyed the light and bright flavors of the lamb.  It was a great way to start the meal.

Albacore with lobster sauce, eggplant puree, and peppers (23.50)
The seared albacore was cooked perfectly and was moist and tender.  The dish was carefully prepared, and the buttery lobster sauce and puree tasted good on their own, but when I put it all together, the flavors just did not meld too well.  It was sort of a "musky" taste.  Plus, it was a bit overpowering for the delicately mild-flavored fish.

Pork Schnitzel with a poached egg (25)
We went with one of the waitress' favorite dish on this menu.  Pork schnitzel is thinly pounded breaded pork cutlets and was topped with fresh arugula, poached eggs, arugula and paprika sauce.  It was good dish with intense flavorings, but I expected more out of it.     

We were served with the "Week 190" seasonal menu.  But one of the timeless items that doesn't change is the "Vanilla Souffle since 2004" (8.50).  They brought out the souffle and pierced it through with some kind of cream sauce.  And since my husband had told them we were celebrating our anniversary when he made reservations, they brought out 2 complimentary glasses of champagne.  What a special touch!

The great thing about seasonal menus is that you get to taste the chef's inventive creations using seasonal ingredients and artistic talent.  So I will probably return one day.  Plus, I also have read that they serve really good brunch, so I'll try that out too.


Sage on the Coast - Newport Coast

7862 East Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92657
(949) 715-7243

09.09.09 was our 2nd year anniversary and we wanted to celebrate it near the beach.  Sage on the Coast is a fine local restaurant in the Crystal Cove Promenade plaza at the end of the strip.  The atmosphere was friendly and not too pretentious as other Newport Beach restaurants.  We made reservations for the Wednesday and was a bit embarrassed that we did because the place was pretty empty.  There were only 2 tables occupied in the whole main dining area and a few more tables in the patio. But I shouldn't complaint because sitting in the patio was romantic and private, especially with the lighting, which made our anniversary night special.

The bread basket had these delightful bread crisps that were dusted with Parmesan cheese and dried rosemary and tasted so delicious.  

We each ordered the tasting menu which includes the 3 courses and a dessert for $35.  For an extra $10, the tasting menu is paired with 3 glasses of wine.  Good deal!
For the amuse bouche, we had Balsamic Grilled Peaches over arugula, onions, and walnuts.  The dish was good, the arugula a bit soft and a little bit heavy on the dressing.  There was nothing that particularly stood out.  The peaches were served warm, reminding me of comfort food in the winter.  Eating these types of "salad" requires eating all of the different components at the same time for a worthy taste. 
Wine: Roederer Estate, Brut (Anderson Valley, NV)

For the first course, I had the Blackened Sea Bass and Vegetable Enchiladas wth spinach, summer squash, mozzarella, grilled corn, tomatoes, parmesan, and guajillo sauce.  The fish was moist and crisp on the outside.  The roasted tomatoes on top of the enchilada added a nice juicy dimension to the it.
Wine: Merum, Monastrell (Jumilla, Spain 2006)

The chef kindly accommodated my non-seafood eating husband with the enchilada and pork crepe instead of the sea bass.  The crepe tasted more like a barbeque pulled pork taco.  The braised/pulled pork was encased with a "crepe" wrapping.  The barbeque flavor was unexpected but he nevertheless enjoyed the dish overall.

As for the second course, we had the Grilled Sirloin Bruschetta which had tomatoes, arugula, burrata, and extra virgin olive oil.  The crostini was very difficult to cut through with the knife and clamored many times against the plate.  Sage uses market driven ingredients and we could taste it in the tomatoes because it was very fresh and tasty.  The burrata was very creamy, but the meat itself was a bit overcooked.  I kind of felt the courses were out of order.  This light tasting bruschetta should have been served before the more heavy flavors of the enchilada. 
Wine: Allegrini, Palazzo della Torre (Veronese, Italy 2005)

For dessert, we had a Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake which had raspberry coulis, sweet cream, and an almond florentine on top.  This was a good version of a cheesecake - very smooth and creamy.  I was happy for the raspberry coulis because it added more flavor to it, and the almond florentine had a nice crisp that added texture to the overall dessert. 

Sage on the Coast is a nice getaway from the nearby crowded and noisy restaurants.  It's secluded enough for people to enjoy a serene evening right next to the beach (though it could be a different story on the weekends).  The food was good, and I like the fact that they use seasonal ingredients. We enjoyed our experience, especially with the $35 tasting menu and an additional $10 for wine pairings. Worth a stop for a reasonably priced dinner, although nothing really too exciting.