Emeril’s

800 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
www.emerilsrestaurants.com/emerils-new-orleans

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When you think of New Orleans chefs Food Network icon Emeril Lagasse will top most lists.  So once our plane tickets were booked we knew we had to dine at one of his three New Orleans’ restaurants. After some deliberation we decided on his namesake restaurant Emeril’s. Gayot gives Emeril’s a rating of 13/20.

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Upon arrival, we were seated at the food bar where we had a panoramic view of the kitchen.

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Amuse-bouche – sweet potato chip, crab and caviar. I enjoyed the vivid colors in this bite from the chef. The chip was crunchy, the caviar briny and the crab mixture was sweet and creamy.

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Gumbo of the day. The gumbo had rich, developed flavors with a little spice. The flavors were nice but the okra left the gumbo with an unpleasant sliminess.

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Emeril’s New Orleans barbeque shrimp with petite rosemary biscuit and fresh chives. The shrimp were cooked well, the sauce was buttery and smoky with hints of coffee and the biscuits were crisp imparting the dish with fresh, herbal notes.

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Andouille crusted drum, grilled local vegetables, shoestring potatoes, glazed pecans, Créole meuniere. The drum was flaky, the andouille added some spice, the potatoes were crispy and light and the sweet, buttery sauce tied the whole dish together. This was my favorite plate of the evening.

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Jerk Mississippi quail, rice ‘n’ peas, hot chorizo, garlic and ginger spinach, salsa ‘Jamaica’. The quail was tender and worked with the gingery greens. The beans were a little undercooked and the dish left me wishing I ordered something that better represented New Orleans.

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Emeril’s banana cream pie, graham cracker crust, caramel sauce, chocolate shavings. The caramel paired nicely with the pie but the custard was chalky.

While I enjoyed watching the bustle of the kitchen, the food fell short of expectations. There were a couple of dishes that I would order again, but several plates had execution issues. In spite of the shortcomings I was glad that we tried one of Lagasse’s restaurants.

Emeril's New Orleans on Urbanspoon

August

301 Tchoupitoulas St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
www.restaurantaugust.com

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August is the flagship of celebrity Chef John Besh’ nine restaurant empire.  In 2012 and 2013 it was nominated for the James Beard “Outstanding Restaurant” award.  With a score of 17/20, it is the highest rated restaurant in New Orleans by Gayot.  We ended up ordering their 5 course Reveillon Menu and started off the evening with a couple of drinks.

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French 75 – Moody June gin, lemon juice, sparkling wine.  The aroma and acidity were enjoyable; the drink was nice and light.

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The Darkly Stormy – Kraken black spiced rum, fresh lime juice, falernum, cane syrup, house-made ginger beer.  The bitterness and spicy ginger were the most prominent flavors in this well crafted cocktail.

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Amuse-bouche – garlic custard, pumpkin mousse, pumpkin seed crumble.  I enjoyed the mix of textures of the dense custard, the light mousse and crunchy crumble.  The pumpkin added a delicate sweetness that went well with the savory custard and salty topping.

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Additional course – crispy fried P&J oysters, wild mushrooms, beef bacon and duck fat aioli.  We wanted to try some local seafood and ended up adding the oysters to the tasting.  The oysters had a crisp exterior with a luxurious, briny center.  The bacon was smoky, the mushrooms earthy and acidic and the aioli was rich with duck flavor.  This was an excellent dish that showcased the fresh, local product.

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1st course – daube glace with foie gras, port reduction and quince marmalade.  The oxtail daube was meaty and paired well with the rich foie.  The marmalade and port reduction added the perfect amount of sugar and acid and the crisp brioche acted as a neutral palette to tame all the bold flavors. This was another superb dish packed with flavor.

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2nd course – brouillade aux truffles, La Provence farmed eggs, Progress Dairy butter, fresh winter truffle.  The eggs were luscious and rich working expertly with the earthy truffle in this classic pairing.

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3rd course – turtle soup “grand mere”, Pedro Ximenez sherry.  I enjoyed the smoky, spicy and sweet flavors in this Créole dish.

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4th course – carved aged Charolais beef rib-eye, oyster dressing.  This was my least favorite dish of the night.  The beef was overcooked and lacked fat making it dry and chewy.  I did however, enjoy the spice from the fresh horseradish and the deep, rich flavors of the sauce.  Given the quality of the other courses the lack of execution in this plate was even more evident.

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5th course – Spielwig chocolate torte, Créole cream cheese, grapefruit, pecan and Satsuma ice cream.  The torte was rich and creamy, the pecans added nice crunch and the grapefruit worked surprisingly well adding a juicy bitter element.  The dessert had a lot going on but everything worked wonderfully.  This was a great dessert and a fantastic close to the meal.

Overall, we enjoyed our meal at August. With the exception of the meat course, every dish was well executed with good flavor.  It is definitely one of the better dining options in New Orleans and worthy of a stop to sample one of Besh’ restaurants.

August on Urbanspoon

Allumette

1320 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles, CA. 90026
www.allumettela.com

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Started as a summer pop-up known as The Vagrancy Project, Allumette has blossomed into Echo Park’s first foodie destination. Twenty-five year old Chef Miles Thompson (formerly of Animal and Son of a Gun) heads up Allumette’s kitchen serving up modern American fare. Gayot gives Allumette a score of 15/20. As we often do, we opted for the tasting menu.

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Gentleman’s Breakfast – The Famous Grouse, egg white, lemon, ginger honey syrup, topped with atomized candy cap bitters and Islay scotch. The cocktail had the pleasant aroma of bacon with peppery, ginger notes; it was a delight to drink.

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House made focaccia with mashed potato butter. The bread and butter was a great starter, playfully plated like bacon and eggs. This was a carb lovers dream. The bread was crispy, chewy and smoky which expertly paired with the buttery potatoes. This was one of the more memorable bread and butter presentations I have enjoyed.

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1st course – Beef tongue and pancetta cappelletto, cacio e pepe, porcini, spinach. The pasta had great texture, the filling was nice and meaty and there was the perfect amount of pepper to give the dish balance. This was a good start to the tasting.

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2nd course – Ankimo, umeboshi ponzu, sea grapes, momokochan. The monkfish liver was briny and velvety, the ponzu was bright and acidic and the fruit was sweet and crunchy. This course was full of explosive flavors that worked wonderfully together.

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Additional course – White pumpkin agnolotti, green pistachio, sage, buerre noisette. This was a comforting dish full of familiar flavors crafted with a deft hand. I loved how the white pumpkin filling burst from the agnolotti; this was yet another course full of fantastic flavors and textures.

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3rd course – Blistered cauliflower, little gem, beet, pomegranate. The cauliflower had nice spice, the balsamic added good acid and the chocolate mint was refreshing. I also enjoyed how well the olives and citrus worked together. This vegetable course was a like a good orchestra, there was a lot going on but everything was harmonious.

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Additional course – Chinese meatball, kimchi vinegar, watercress and Persian mint. The miniature meatball was the size of a dime but was packed with big, bold flavors. I loved the combination of spicy, savory, vinegary and fresh flavors.

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4th course – Branzino, shellfish tapioca, fried broccoli, lemon. The branzino was cooked expertly with a crispy skin and tender flesh, the tapioca was salty and rich, the broccoli smoky and the lemon supreme added a sour element that brightened the plate. The dish was perfectly seasoned and had great texture and flavor. This was my favorite course of the night.

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5th course – Jerusalem artichoke panna cotta, dulce de leche, huckleberry marshmallow, pepitas. The dulce de leche cake was slightly dry but terrific when eaten with the panna cotta. The fried and roasted sunchokes were savory which helped cut through the sweet, sticky huckleberry confection. The dessert highlighted the sunchoke beautifully and was a great close to an excellent meal.

I loved the ambition and big flavors showcased in Allumette’s dishes. At only 25, Chef Thompson is already producing some Southern California’s best and most exciting cuisine. I am excited to return to this Echo Park gem to see how his food evolves.

Allumette on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Ortica

650 Anton Blvd., Ste J
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
www.pizzeriaortica.com

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Pizzeria Ortica is David Myers’ first restaurant in Orange County.  Located near South Coast Plaza and the Segerstrom Center, they specialize in producing Neapolitan-style pizza in their wood-burning ovens.  Gayot gives Pizzeria Ortica a 14/20.

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The restaurant is a long, narrow space with high ceilings and tiled floors.  We decided to dine family style, ordering several items from the menu.

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Pork belly butter, tomato conserva, crostini.  The pork was smoky and rich and the tomatoes added a bright, sweet and acidic element which gave the dish great balance.  This was an excellent start to the meal.

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Roman-style braised artichokes, shaved ricotta salata.  The artichokes were served chilled lightly dressed with lemon.  The lack of seasoning and thickness of the artichokes contributed to the plate being a tad bland.

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Wood oven-roasted vegetables, fresh burrata, basil oil.  The creamy, salty burrata was a good foil to the roasted vegetables.  I especially enjoyed the sweet onions and hint of spice from the peppers.

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Steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, leeks, chilies, mint, garlic crostino.  This was a good mussel dish; the sauce was nicely seasoned with chilies and garlic and the wine added the proper amount of acidity.

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Ricotta gnocchi, marinara, Parmigiano Reggiano.  I loved the texture of the gnocchi and the basil added a great herbal note however, I felt the dish was over salted.

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D.O.P. Margherita Pizze – San Marzano tomatoes, imported buffalo mozzarella, basil.  Simple, classic and heightened by the milky buffalo mozzarella. The slight char from the wood burning oven added the perfect amount of bitterness.

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Salame Piccante Pizze – Margherita with spicy salame, mixed mushrooms.  A crisp and chewy crust with a stealthy heat, the mushrooms were nice and earthy and the basil helped lighten the pie.

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Budino di Cioccolato, chocolate crème layered with caramel.  The salted rum caramel complemented the decadent budino wonderfully.  This was a good version of my favorite Italian dessert.

Pizzeria Ortica is much more than a pizzeria.  This southern Italian bistro serves up solid dishes with tasty flavor combinations.  I recommend giving Pizzeria Ortica a try when in the mood for a thin crust pizza or some southern Italian fare.

Pizzeria Ortica on Urbanspoon

Anepalco’s Cafe

3737 Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92868
www.anepalcoscafe.com

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The original Anepalco’s Café was so successful that chef/owner Daniel Godinez opened a second location to showcase his French influenced Mexican cuisine.  The newest location’s expanded menu includes a dinner service full of fun, fusion plates.  Gayot gives Anepalco’s Café a rating of 14/20.

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Pork Belly Tacos, house made salsa, red onion, micro cilantro, tortillas hechas a mano.  The handmade tortillas were dense and a good vessel to hold the crispy pork and fresh accoutrements.  The combination of flavors and textures made this my favorite taste of the night.

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Mojo de Ajo Huarache, wild shrimp, roasted tomato sauce, goat cheese, epazote oil.  The shrimp were cooked well and I enjoyed the tangy goat cheese coupled with the sweet tomato sauce.  This was another solid appetizer.

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Callo de Hacha, pan seared scallop, grilled chorizo, chile ancho organic polenta, chipotle sauce, epazote aioli, celery leaf.  The dish was presented nicely, but the heaviness made this the most disappointing of the night.  The polenta soaked up the creamy chipotle sauce and epazote oil making it difficult to eat.  Some vegetables and/or acidity would have been a nice addition to lighten the plate.

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Arrachera, hangar steak, purple potato purée, enoki mushrooms, maple glaze, chile negro sauce, cambray onion.  The sweet maple flavor worked well with the smoky chile sauce but the steak was too chewy.

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Al Adobe, all natural sirloin coulotte steak, chimichurri sauce, mini chilaquiles.  I enjoyed the flavors of the chilaquiles but they lacked texture; it would have been nice if there was a little crispness.  The chimichurri did impart a fresh, acidic element that the other entrées lacked.  Anepalco’s Café’s French inspired Mexican dishes look good on paper but did not translate well to the plate.  Perhaps the dinner dishes will improve in time, but in the interim I’ll stick with more traditional Mexican fare.

Anepalco's Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Wild Artichoke

4973 Yorba Ranch Rd.
Yorba Linda, CA. 92887
www.thewildartichoke.com

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The Wild Artichoke is a small neighborhood restaurant that produces eclectic cuisine at reasonable prices.  Gayot gives The Wild Artichoke a rating of 14/20.  Chef James D’Aquila changes the menu daily which is a pleasant departure from the standard local establishment.  We opted for the Chef’s Tasting Menu to see what inspired the chef this evening.

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1st course – Endive salad with pears, grapes, blue cheese, candied walnuts and champagne tarragon vinaigrette.  I enjoyed the combination of the pungent blue cheese with the juicy, sweet pears and crisp endive.  The candied walnuts added a nice sweet and spicy crunch and the dressing provided an acidity to complete the dish.  This was a nice salad and start to the tasting menu.

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2nd course – Mussels in a white wine garlic cream sauce finished with pernod.  The mussels were cooked perfectly and the pernod gave the sauce an anise finish.  The sauce created by the cream and liquor from the mussels was excellent.  I had to ask our waitress for some bread to sop up the sauce. This was a good mussel dish and my favorite taste of the night.

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3rd course – Short Ribs with mashed potatoes, portobellos and roasted vegetables.  This was your classic meat and potatoes dish; everything was cooked well and properly seasoned.

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4th course – Pumpkin fritters served with home made ice cream.  The fritters were crispy, light and airy and had the scent of pumpkin.  The fritters had a nice aroma but lacked some seasoning and were best eaten with the decadent ice cream.

The Wild Artichoke lives up to what they set out to do; they produce quality food at neighborhood friendly prices.  The four course tasting at only 40 dollars is a good deal.  Although I did not think any of the dishes were spectacular they were all solid.  The Wild Artichoke is worth a visit when in the area to discover the Chef’s daily inspiration.

Wild Artichoke on Urbanspoon

Burger Parlor

204 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832
www.burgerparlor.com

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When searching for the best burger in Orange County, Joseph Mahon’s Burger Parlor is near or at the top of most lists.  OC Weekly named it the top burger in the county and it is in Gayot’s top ten burger list as well.  Chef Mahon is an OC native who most recently worked at Bastide where he implemented Burger Mondays which was the inspiration behind Burger Parlor.

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The cement floors, brick walls and metal chairs add to the restaurant’s modern industrial vibe.

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Ordered the Old Fashioned (roma tomato, lettuce red onion pickles, cheddar cheese house made ketchup and mustard), Goat Cheese Burger (smoked bacon, portobello mushrooms, port wine onions, arugula, goat cheese, chipotle aioli) and an order of their paprika fries.  The Old Fashioned is the classic cheeseburger done right.  Juicy patty, fresh produce, melted cheese accented by the sweet, vinegary flavors of the ketchup and mustard served on a toasty, pillowy bun.  The goat cheese really shined in its namesake burger.  The bacon was smoky and crisp, the mushrooms earthy and the port onions were sweet and acidic.   All the toppings complimented the tangy goat cheese and the savory patty; this was an excellent burger for fans of goat cheese.  Burger Parlor also serves up some of my favorite fries.  The fries are always seasoned expertly and have the perfect ratio of tender potato to crispy exterior.  The paprika added a smoky earthiness that paired well with the potato and the spicy ginger in their house made ketchup.

This was our second visit to Burger Parlor and we enjoyed it just as much as our first.  Mahon serves a good variety of burgers and we have loved every offering.  Burger Parlor definitely serves up some of the best, if not the best, burgers in the county.

Burger Parlor on Urbanspoon

Little Sparrow

300 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701
littlesparrowcafe.com

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Little Sparrow opened earlier this year in Santa Ana to positive reviews.  The Register calls Little Sparrow “the restaurant to beat in downtown Santa Ana” and Gayot gives Little Sparrow a rating of 15/20.  Chef Eric Samaniego, who has worked with Charlie Trotter and David Myers, uses French techniques to produce simple, but exciting plates.

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The dining room was intimate but light and playful, a stark contrast from the dark and elegant adjacent bar.

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The Slow Poke – Gin, Sloe Gin, orange bitters, lime. A nice drink which highlighted the flavors of the gin.

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Barkeep’s Inspiration - Rye whiskey, angostura bitters, sweet vermouth, cynar, orange peel.  The inspiration behind this drink was whiskey, not sweet and unusual.  This was a good cocktail that tasted like a bitter old fashioned.

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Roasted beet salad, Brillat-savarin, candied walnuts, micro mustard greens.  The beets were sweet, the cheese was sharp and creamy, the walnuts added great crunch and sugar and the mustard greens were dressed well providing the perfect amount of acid to enhance the other flavors of the dish.  This was a good salad that highlighted the beets’ earthy characteristic.

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House made charcuterie – pate de campagne, green curry pate, pork rillettes.  We thoroughly enjoyed the charcuterie platter; my favorite of the three offerings was the green curry pate.  The green curry added nice herbal notes to compliment the rich porky goodness of the pate.

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Bacon wrapped rabbit loin over a green papaya green curry salad with roasted peanuts and a mango jam.  The rabbit loin was cooked perfectly, wrapped with sausage in a crispy, smoky bacon.  The green papaya salad was an excellent accompaniment to the loin, providing a crunchy, bright, acidity with a pleasant heat from the curry. The mango jam added a sweet element and the peanuts provided another texture to the dish.  This dish married the French and Asian components expertly; the flavors and textures were an impeccable match making this my favorite dish of the night.

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Grilled Heritage pork chop, spaetzle, roasted Brussels sprouts.  The pork chop had a slight char and was cooked to a perfect medium, the meat melted in your mouth, the spaetzle added a cheesy, crispy starch and the Brussels sprouts were lightly roasted providing a fresh bitterness which paired nicely with the other flavors.  This was another satisfying entrée from the chef.

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Vanilla bean pot du crème with mango gelee.  The gelee had good mango flavor which worked with the creamy pot du crème.  I liked how the dessert was not overly sweet.

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Peanut butter semi freddo, brioche, grape jelly.  This play on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was served ice cream sandwich style.  The brioche was crispy with a touch of cinnamon, the semi freddo was thick like peanut butter and the jelly had good grape flavor.  I felt this dessert needed one more component to break up all the sugar and really elevate it to the level of the other dishes served at Little Sparrow.

We enjoyed all the savory courses; every dish had an unexpected element that heightened the plate.  The rabbit loin was one of my favorite Orange County dishes of 2013.  I liked their desserts but felt they lacked the complexity and adventure found in the other courses.  I am excited to see how Little Sparrow evolves given the quality of plates they have produced during their restaurant infancy.  In time, I expect Little Sparrow to become one of the top dining destinations in the county.

Little Sparrow on Urbanspoon

Early Bird

1000B East Bastanchury Road
Fullerton, CA. 92835
www.earlybirdoc.com

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I am not a breakfast person. In fact, I usually skip the “most important meal of the day”.  However, when I read that one of Orange County’s most popular breakfast spots was nearby in Fullerton I knew I had to go check it out.  Early Bird opened in July of 2012 and specializes in twists on classic breakfast dishes made with quality ingredients at reasonable prices.

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Pork Belly Benedict – poached eggs, English muffin, house cured pork belly, housemade pickles, sriracha hollandaise, micro cilantro.  The pork belly had a good crust, the muffin was buttery and crisp, the eggs were poached perfectly, the hollandaise had a nice heat and the pickles were crunchy and acidic.  Unfortunately, the ratio of pickle to other ingredients was off and it ended up tasting more like a Pickle Benedict.  I did enjoy the idea behind the dish and the flavors of the individual components so I think this could be a good dish with a few adjustments.

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Grand Moff Tarkin’s Breakfast Sandwich – English muffin, sausage, bacon, hashbrowns, smoked gouda, tomato jam, sunny egg.  The English muffin was toasty, the sausage was meaty, the bacon was smoky, the potato cake had good onion flavor, the gouda was creamy, the egg was cooked expertly and the tomato jam added the sweet, spicy, slightly acidic goodness to counter all the heavy ingredients and make the sandwich work.  This was a hearty breakfast sandwich elevated by the tomato jam and ingredient quality.

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Brioche French Toast – granny smith apple sauce, orange butter, toasted almonds.  The apple sauce was nice and tart, the brioche was pillowy, the orange butter added a nice aroma and the almonds added good crunch.  The brioche was cut thick so the toast was not soaked through with custard which helped lighten the dish.

While I was not wowed by any of their breakfast offerings I can understand why Early Bird is such a popular breakfast destination.  Early Bird produces creative and solid dishes using fresh, quality ingredients at very reasonable prices.  I would definitely consider Early Bird the next time I am in the mood for “the most important meal of the day”.

Early Bird on Urbanspoon

ink.

8360 Melrose
Los Angeles, CA 90069
mvink.com

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Ranked 17th on the OAD 2013 Southern California Dining Survey, ink. is Season 6 Top Chef champion Michael Voltaggio’s first signature restaurant.  Ink. serves what Voltaggio describes as “modern Los Angeles cuisine” and in 2012, GQ magazine named ink. as the best new restaurant in America.  Voltaggio was off for the evening and the kitchen was left in the hands of Chef de Cuisine Cole Dickinson.  Dickinson is no stranger to food television competition either, as he was victorious in the Chopped episode, Mochi Obliged. 

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Ink. has a modern vibe and is clad in grey tones with pieces of abstract decor resembling blobs of ink.  We started off the evening with a couple of cocktails.

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Blended scotch, toasted coconut, Thai basil, cardamaro.  This was a wonderfully fragrant drink with sweet and spicy Thai notes which paired well with the scotch.

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Mezcal, floc de gasgone, celery, lemon, cucumber.  The mezcal had a pleasant smokiness which was complimented by the sweet, sour and fresh notes of the other ingredients.

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Ink. recommends ordering 2-3 dishes per person (we ordered 6 between the two of us).

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Egg yolk gnocchi, mushroom brown butter, hen of the woods.  The eggy gnocchi were filled with a luxurious, well seasoned yolk which burst in your mouth and coated your palette.  The maitake mushrooms were earthy and the miniature croutons added the perfect crunch and garlic accent to compliment the gnocchi.  This was a great way to start the meal, inventive with a wonderful contrast of textures.

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Little gems, burrata, anchovy cracker, lemon dressing.  The lettuce was cold and crisp dressed with a bright, acidic lemon dressing, the nitrogen frozen burrata was sweet and creamy and the chips had good anchovy flavor and added the crunchy, salty element to tie the dish together.  This was a modern yet playful take on the classic Caesar salad.

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Cereal, fried egg, amaranth, goat butter, chicken cracklin’.  The amaranth grains were creamy, the leaves of the amaranth imparted a bright freshness, the cracklin’s were crispy and salty, the egg was rich and the banyuls vinegar added bitterness to round out the dish.  This dish was extremely comforting; it was a perfect dish to warm you up on a chilly night.

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Branzino, roasted cauliflower, caper, fermented grape.  The branzino was expertly prepared, tender flesh with a crispy skin seasoned with a hint of lemon.  The roasted cauliflower chips added another textural element, the puree was nutty and creamy and the grapes provided a perfect burst of juice enhancing the flavors of the branzino and cauliflower.  The play of textures and flavors made this dish my favorite of the evening.

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Potato charcoal, housemade sour cream, black vinegar.  This dish had a nice charred aroma.  The potatoes are prepared in an ink brine cooked until you are left with crispy, salty, tender, charcoal potatoes.  The buttery sour cream and vinegar added the necessary bitterness to counter the salty crust of the potatoes.

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Lamb belly, braised lettuce, mushroom hay, yogurt curds.  The lamb belly was luscious and tasted like pastrami, the mushroom hay was smoky and crispy, the greens added a fresh element and the yogurt added a creamy acid which helped balance the rich lamb belly.

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Apple, caramel, shortbread, burnt wood semifreddo.  The apples were tart, the shortbread was buttery and added great texture, the caramels melted in your mouth and the semifreddo added a salty smokiness to give dimension to the dessert.  This riff on an apple pie was a pleasure to eat.

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Lemon verbena, curd, toasted hay, malt.  The meringue cracker gave good texture and was slightly smoky, the phyllo hay was crunchy, the malt ice cream was cold and rich and the curd was lemony with floral notes.  The combination of flavors, textures and temperatures elevated this interpretation of a lemon meringue pie.

At ink., Voltaggio deftly reinterprets classic dishes, modernizing them and producing whimsical masterpieces through his creativity and technique.  Every dish had contrasting textures and flavors that worked in harmony and none of the ingredients felt superfluous.  Service was excellent as well, our waiter was extremely knowledgeable and accommodating.  We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and are looking forward to a return visit.

Ink on Urbanspoon