Sunday, October 13, 2013

Seasons 52, Costa Mesa

Waiting for my friend at bar to have dinner during restaurant week at Seasons 52.  It took an inordinately long time for female bartender to acknowledge me but the male barback didn’t either.  Bourbon selection for a bar this big is horrible – Makers and Jack Daniels.  I pick Makers and am mostly satisfied with the drink.  

Start a conversation with the guy next to me (who, if you can believe it, picked up his steak with his hands and took a big bite out of it).  His wife, next chair down, works for Disney and he tells me about the Carthay Circle Restaurant that makes the best manhattans he’s ever had.  You do have to pay something like $80 to get into Disney which is the only way to gain access to the restaurant.  He also tells me about Yamakazi Whisky from Japan that he likes very much too.  Will try the later but probably not the former.  He googles 52 Manhattans and there I am. 

Seasons 52 did it up right for Restaurant Week.  Several choices for appetizers and entrees. But wait, there's more.  We got the choice of an organic mixed green salad or an organic baby spinach salad with seasonal pears, toasted pine nuts, crumbled gorgonzola cheese.  

We tried the cider-glazed grilled chicken skewers with Fuji apple slaw, sun-dried cranberries, and toasted pumpkin seeds and the Sonoma goat cheese ravioli with organic tomato broth, roasted garlic and fresh sweet basil.  

This place prides itself on fresh products and for dishes that are under 475 calories each. You'd never have guess the calorie count on either of these dishes.  Both hit the spot.
Our entrees were equally satisfying.  Cedar plank roasted Pacific king salmon came with roasted ranbow carrots, fresh asparagus, and Weiser Farm roasted potatoes.  The wood-fired pork tenderloin was served with soft herb polenta, cremini mushrooms, broccoli and shallot-Dijon glaze.  

Remember what I said about 475 calories per item? That applies to the amazing and delicious selection of desserts.  There were all kinds of flavors, german chocolate (and I can vouch for that one), blueberry crumble, chocolate mouse, cheesecake, cannoli, really just too many to remember.  

The service was very, very, good.  Waiter explained all our choices and never, ever, made us feel rushed.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Savoy Lounge in Crowne Plaza Hotel, Costa Mesa

Terrible, terrible, terrible.  I've been here before with a comparably sized group of about 30 people and had good service and good drink.  Not so on a recent Friday night (venue had extended happy hour for us so it's not like they didn't know we were coming).

I spot a guy and some space at the end of the bar opposite the entrance so make my way over there.  Wait patiently with him until female bartender brings him his drink and asks me what I want.  What kind of bourbons do you have?  Her response is to walk away and return to the other side of the bar and take some orders and make some some drinks.  When she makes her way back to me, she asks me again what I want.  I repeat my question and this time I get an answer albeit a pretty unsatisfactory one.  Waves her hand towards the high shelves behind her.  All I see (and can read) is Makers and Jack.  But what's that bottle behind?  She has to pull it down because she is so unfamiliar with her stock.   Makers 46.  And her reaction is to walk away again.  Finally comes back and I give my instructions; you know them by now.  

She pours some whiskey into a rocks glass with ice and I think that's what she's going to mix cocktail in.  But she just places it in front of me.  Oh, I asked for straight up and for a manhattan (vermouth).  She insists she put vermouth in it.  So she pours the whiskey into a cocktail glass and of course it doesn't fill up all the way.  So she just pours more (room temperature) whiskey into the glass and doesn't add more vermouth and, as you can tell, still doesn't fill up the glass
.  She has lemons on the bar but apparently has no idea how to make a twist.  Just put a cherry in it and we'll call it a day.  I get the check ($14.50), no water.  Can I have a really large glass of water.  I get a rocks glass.  The guy, meanwhile, is practically snorting his drink out of his nose because he is finding this so funny.

So we spot an empty table in the corner and have a very pleasant chat.  The some drunk comes over to flirt with the attractive Asian women next to me and they are having none of it, bangs into our table, and knocks my drink to the ground.  Broken glass on the floor and half a drink on my skirt.  

Terrible, terrible, terrible. I'm done and get out of there as quickly as I can.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Memphis at the Santora, Santa Ana

I have wanted to go check out some of the bars in new, trendy, downtown Santa Ana and finally got my chance back in July.  We arrive around 530 pm; the street and the bar at Memphis at Santora are empty.  There is one customer at the bar, a single guy, eating the most delicious smelling mussels.  My first issue is the stools don’t have back support.  Why do people even make these wretched, torturous things?  But at the bar we must sit.  There’s a young kid behind the bar.  I peruse the menu and discover that there is a Maker’s Mark or Old Overholt Manhattan on the happy hour menu.  I ask what else he’s got and out of nowhere, another bartender (yes, another kid; are they all kids?) appears and a lovely discussion ensues.  I’m looking to try something different.  He tells me he had a feeling about me right away and pulls down a bottle of Russell’s Bourbon and pours us both a shot.  He swigs his down.  I do not.  He tells me he never shakes his manhattans.  The cocktail turns out to be not as strong as I expect it to be, maybe a little sweet but very smooth going down.  

The first bartender is inquiring if he can leave early to go to San Francisco and gives us our food but forgets my friend's wine.  Bartender #2 asks what we ordered and quickly gets it.  Bartender #1 seems clueless and unconcerned and eventually makes his way around to our side of the bar and orders something to eat and stays there for as long as we are there.  Friend gets the beet salad and I get the crab cakes.  

Everything is very, very good.  Bartender #2, whose name is Jefferson, is having some kind of issue with one of the waitresses and makes it pretty obvious.  Then a bartender from another bar comes in to give Jefferson a bottle of something homemade.  Have no idea what it is but I get a shot of that too.  I liked this place; it's pretty and we got excellent service.  I went back a few weeks ago and got less than enthusiastic service from Jefferson but I blame it on the extremely grouchy person I was with.  I did discover on this second visit that they have a bourbon flight (4 for $20) so I guess I'll be going for a 3rd visit.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Andrei's Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails, Irvine

There’s nothing wrong with the individual ingredients of Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails West Coast Manhattan (Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Morello Cherries, Bitters, Vermouth, Orange Squeeze) ($11).  It’s strong, no doubt.  Maybe it was the bitters (too much?) or maybe it was the orange squeeze which I think was muddled in my case, but there is something off about the taste.  It was shaken. And it came with a glass of water without my having to ask for it. 

Their specialty drink menu is heavy on the vodka but in their, they do have a manhattan on the menu as well as a whiskey sour ($10).  Both are listed in the straight up section.  When I inquire about about a few of the drinks, the bartender is takes his time answering my questions.  Why is a whiskey sour is on the straight up list (having been scolded by a bartender in an Irish dive bar in Dorchester, MA that whiskey sours are never made straight up). I am told the it contains egg white And the basis-cucumber gimlet (with gin, thank you very much) on the rocks? Customers complained that it was too strong.  Too strong?  Is that even possible?

Andrei’s offers several small plates ($6-8) during their happy hour from 3-7 pm weekdays and 5-7 on Saturdays.  I land on the Market Fish Taco ($8) which has grilled seasonal market fish (today it’s salmon), pineapple, avocado, spicy black bean cream (which turns out to be purple), oven-dried tomato chutney, green cabbage, cilantro, pita bread tortillas.  I know, too much, right.  You can hardly distinguish flavors.  And given this ingredient list, you’d expect a big soggy mess, wouldn’t you. Admittedly, the liquid does drip out of the taco but the pita bread tortilla is fantastic.  It holds it shape, it doesn’t get soggy.

For a Thursday night the place is not that busy.  My friend is a no-show so I amuse myself with Occupy Boston’s facebook discussion on if and how Obama is like Nixon.  Most of the comments are way off topic and long. 
As I’m enjoying my tacos, the bar manager comes over to inquire if everything is OK.  He informs me that Andrei’s is a non-profit restaurant.  The owner’s son, who died in a car accident, had some degenerative eye disease and all the restaurant’s profits go to a charity in support of finding a cure. They also source their ingredients locally.

Bartender returns after he leaves with a free drink sample. I have no idea what it is.  Vodka (of course), lycee agave, passion fruit puree.  Too sweet and fruity for me and I don’t mix browns and whites so leave all but one sip in the glass.   

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bistango, Irvine

It sounded too good to be true.  Happy hour from 4 pm until closing Monday-Friday and 530 to closing on Saturday?  Who does that?  Well, apparently Bistango in Irvine does.  And they do it very well.

So they tack on Martini to the Bistango’s Manhattan Martini for no apparent reason ($11).  Who cares?  It’s Woodford Reserve, sweet vermouth, Peychauds Bitters (yes, they included the bitters in the description!) and a Luxardo Marachino Cherry.  Steve, the very personable bartender in his mid-fifties, asked if I wanted it stirred or shaken.  Really, he asked me!  My friend gets vodka martini and, sorry, but I can’t remember the brand but she was very impressed they offered it at happy hour prices.

Happy hours tapas are offered from 4-9 pm.  I got the lovely pan seared diver scallop, lemon giner risotto, asparagus, and balsamic ($8).  This was lick the plate good.  Perfectly seared scallop; crunchy asparagus and tangy almost perfectly cooked risotto. The tiny puddle of liquid that formed around the edges was probably not supposed to be there but that didn’t prevent the guy next to me from ordering the same dish once he saw mine (his buddy ordered the manhattan after he saw mine too).

My friend got either Sashimi of Yellow Fin Tuna, ginger cucumber salad, hass avocado, spicy soy vinaigrette ($17.50) or Tartare of Sashimi Grade Yellow Fin Tuna, cucumber, scallions, avocado, chili vinaigrette ($15.75) Too raw and icky for me but she loved it. 
Duo playing 60s, 70’s 80’s softish but not too soft rock in the background adds a nice touch to the lovely vibe at this place.  It's a very friendly crowd.

Steve is busy when leave but he comes out from behind the bar when we leave and jokes about us not even saying good bye and gives us each a hug.  All night long this guy is reminding me of someone but, luckily, it’s not until I get home that I realized it was an ex-boss who done me wrong.  I will have to force myself to overlook this because Bistango does it right all the way around – attentive and charming service, quality cocktail for a decent price, good food.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Anqi, Costa Mesa

I arrive at Anqi around 630 on a recent Thursday evening and got a seat at the bar.  Bartender is calmly walking up and down the length of the bar of approximately 15 stools.  Passes me several times without acknowledging me, he does not appear to be very busy.  No eye contact; no I’ll be with you in a minute, nothing.  What is this?  If I pretend I don’t see you, maybe you’ll go away?  Single woman to my left has her menus and tries to get bartender’s attention.  Nothing.  About 10 minutes after I’m seated, he stands in front of me and says nothing.  I ask for a menu.  My neighbor asks for a full menu.  It’s tossed at her somewhat disgruntledly.  Food is coming out in droves for the man to my right.  All smelling delicious.  Finally a second bartender comes over and we talk about my options. Jim Beam is the house bourbon and I pass on that.  Selections are pretty standard but I notice that one of the Knob Creek bottles is a rye so I ask for perfect manhattan with that ($13).  He makes the drink to my specifications and even gives me three shakes of bitters which, of course, I have forgotten to ask for.  It smells a little fruity and little sweet; tastes slightly less so but it’s got a nice wallop on the first sip and a hint of mind spiciness.  Cinnamon?  If you check out their website, you'll find out that it's oak and vanilla.  This rye is the newest addition to to the Knob Creek line.  It was voted the "Best Rye" and double gold at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  It's 100 proof.  Set back, or some of the mash from the previous batch, is added a two steps in the process - mashing and fermentation.  

The gentleman next to me offers me a taste of the salt and pepper fried calamari ($12).  Very tasty but I ask for the pot stickers ($6) and am told by Mr. Standoffish that they are only offered until 6 pm.  Why put something on the happy hour menu that is not available during happy hour?  I get the
chicken crispy rice roll ($6 ).

So here’s the literal fly in the ointment.  Woman to my left lifts up her salad plate (she had returned the original they brought her because of some mistake with the chicken) and leans over towards me and points.  It’s something black.  Whoa!  It’s something black with moving legs.  Mr. Standoffish is summoned and, again, doesn’t speak.  He takes the plate and walks away.  About 10 minutes later a manager arrives, apologizes and tells her he’s taking one beverage and two of her menu items off her bill.  Really?  The freaking thing’s legs were moving!  Isn’t that immediate zeroing out of the bill?  Guess not. 

My food was decent (and thank goodness I had finished before I saw the bug), drink was decent if a bit pricey.  Based on service alone, this place flunks big time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bandera, Los Angeles

Hip and happening, that’s the buzz you get when walking in this place - might be the worst restaurant website I’ve ever seen.  Bandera is part of the Hillstone Group chain.  After inquiring with the hostess, we are told that the quartet at the end is next on the list for available tables so we plant ourselves there.  We stand around the bar what seems like forever but it is really only about 45 minutes to get a seat.  What appears to be one guy leaving turns out to be two but a young hipster swoops in with this bottle of wine in a brown paper sack.  Date arrives 5 minutes later.  They turn out to be the earliest to get a table so I jump on the tables only to see my companion has already gotten two seats at the other end of the bar.  I don’t want to sit right on top of the jazz trio but don’t get a vote. 

Jason, our bartender, seems a bit put out that I am asking how he makes a perfect manhattan.  “Do you mean how we make it or how a manhattan is made?” I explain but get an unsatisfying answer: Maker's Mark and Punt e Mes, ¾ of vermouth.  This I assume to mean ¾ of a jigger but no idea of how much bourbon.  So I just say I’ll take that stirred with a twist.  I’m informed that they usually put a cherry in as well.  Just the twist is fine.  And a glass of water please.  He didn’t mention bitters and I forgot to ask.  I get a decent enough looking drink with no twist and no water.  But oooh, aaah is my first reaction.  He brings the water and twist on second request. 

If you go to the Maker's Mark website, you'll learn that Robert Samuels, the great-great-great grandfather of Maker's creator, Bill, fled to and first started distilling in Kentucky in the 1870s to avoid George Washington's Whisky Tax.  You'll also learn that the James boys (as in Frank and Jesse) were related to the Samuels. The distillery became America's first distillery to be registered as a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1980.

Companion gets a dark and stormy but I get a pretty unenthusiastic “oh it’s great” when I inquire.  The woman on the other side of me is tormenting Jason with her wine order.  She wants something earthy...something earthy…something earthy.  When next I glance in that direction, he is serving her a cocktail of some sort.  I almost snort some of my manhattan out my nose, I’m trying so hard not to laugh.  I lean over and tell him that at least I wasn’t the most difficult customer he’s had all night.  He admits I was fun at being fussy.  I later ask her if she just gave up on the wine order but notice her male companion is the one with the wine.  He steps over and says it’s not great and he hates their wine glasses (which even to my uneducated eye seem excessively large and unwieldly). 

Jason continue to keep my water glass filled and what?  What is this?  A first other than when I do it for myself at home.  He brings over a newly chilled glass and pours what’s remaining in my glass after we’ve been sitting there a while. 

So a little rocky start turned out just fine but I probably don’t need to go to LA for a $14 cocktail.