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This, That, and The Other Thing

Hello, it’s me!!

I am starting my own blog because even though I am retired I feel I still have plenty to offer. I have a couple clues how to do this and I will make up the rest as I go along. I want my blog to reflect not only how I feel about four of my passions – books, art, food, and travel –  also a little about this new chapter of my life.

I want this to be enjoyable for me to write and for anyone who happens to read it. Although I have to warn you, I have opinions, informed or otherwise, and look forward to expressing them.

In my blog posts, I will write about “this and that” and end the posts with “the other thing,” which is the unique element that enhances or detracts from my overall experience. I wanted to end this introduction with “I hope you enjoy my pithy bon mots,” but my son thought that sounded too pretentious, so I’ll leave it out. Happy reading!

Barbara

 

Featured post

Coffee, Tea Or ??

I really don’t like coffee, but I enjoy the coffee shop atmosphere. Most places have chai. That is my drink of choice – hot or cold depending on the weather. So I rate the chai according to my taste parameters. My favorite until about two weeks ago has been Lost Bean in The Hive. Then on my son’s birthday weekend in Valencia, I found my favorite at a little place in Old Town Newhall called Honu Coffee. Its their own special blend with just the right amount of sweet, lots of flavor.

Since I won’t be spending much time that far out of Orange County, I can always go to Moongoat Coffee where they also make their own blend of chai – a little bit sweet –  with a little bit of tang.

Green tea macha at Blue Bottle in Lido Village is an OK substitute for not serving chai. Hola Adios, a new coffee shop on Virginia Place in Costa Mesa is working on their chai blend. In the meantime, their Decaf Vanilla Latte tastes pretty darn good to someone who does not like coffee. Plus it has a quaint and cozy atmosphere and lots of fun souvenirs. Much thought and preparation was put into this cool little coffee shop. This might now be my go to place, especially when owner Ryan comes up with his chai blend.

The Other Thing –  My budget tells me that for the next few months, meeting my friends for coffee/chai will probably be the order of the day.

Old Town Newhall, etc.

Celebrating my son’s birthday weekend called for new adventures. Lunch was at Old Town Junction in a newly developing renovation in Newhall called Old Town. We began with a tangy Bloody Mary and some delicious fresh pastries. Then our table was covered with Chicken and Waffles, Avocado Toast, Short Rib Benedict, Bacon and Eggs and Fresh Fruit. The Chicken and Waffles was declared the best Jeff has ever had – sorry AOC. Short Rib Benedict was quite flavorful according to my brother and my Avocado Toast good but a little overwhelming. It was piled so high I had to take it apart to experience all the flavors – sliced  heirloom tomatoes, thick bacon, sliced avocado on some very tasty thick toast.

Then we walked around Old Town – huge candy store, the local library, then the walk of fame. This area is where western movies were filmed in the 40s and 50s. There were markers for Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gary Cooper, Monty Montana, Steve McQueen and others that only those of us who are older than 60 would recognize.

Then there was a brief stop at Honu Coffee (Hawaiian for “turtle”) and one of the best chai lattes I have ever tasted. As a side note, Honu serves Kean Coffee. We even saw the original Batmobile driving down Main Street.  Also, somewhere in town there was filming was going on.

Then, it was home to recuperate from lunch while we waited for our dinner reservations. This was the only disappointing part of our day! Le Chene is a French restaurant in Santa Clarita with good reviews. It was 14 miles away, but we thought worth the drive. The interior was modest and not very inviting. An interesting feature were several trees growing through the floor in the dining areas, trunks covered with white lights.

We started with Escargot (my brother was wary but a good sport and tried it). However, there was too much garlic and one shell was empty. The menu was on a large blackboard and quite extensive. It included many French specialties. The spinach salad was excellent. It contained fresh pear chunks and sliced olives. The sweet/tart combination worked well. The European Sea Bass Almondine entrees were just OK. My Halibut Meuniere was dry and flavorless, no sign of any sauce. The Seafood Pasta had no color and the surrounding pasta was the most hideous shade of green. The saving grace was dessert. Crème Caramel and a chocolate concoction with ice cream and meringue, though pretty sweet were delicious. Mickey’s was rhe best.

When I didn’t asked for a to-go container, the bus boy told the manager. He wanted to know if there was something wrong with my meal. I told him why I couldn’t finish it, he apologized profusely and took it off the bill. Service was good and all wait staff very attentive.

 

The Other Thing – Overall, it was an enjoyable day. It is really not always about the food – it’s about being with family.

Lunch at Taco Maria

In 2015 this restaurant was listed at #5 of the top 101 Restaurants in Los Angeles. Only 3 from Orange County were mentioned. In 2019 Taco Maria moved to #3 and  received a Michelin Star. It will be interesting to see where it appears in the 2020 guide. It was named Restaurant of the Year by the LA Times in 2018. This is a taco place for heavens sake! What makes it so good that it has reached such heights?

Located in the OCMart Mix at SoCo Collection in Costa Mesa, their sign and entry are unassuming and give no indication of what treats await us. “Chef Carlos Salgado’s cooking reflects his heritage and years of fine-dining training.” (LA Times).

If you are going to Taco Maria for old-fashioned tacos and what goes with them, this is not the place for you. There is nothing traditional about this restaurant.

Our appetizer was the BRASSICAS – broccolini, cauliflower, romanesco, fish sauce aoili, sunflower seeds, and lime.          Then….

ARRANCHERA – hanger steak, roasted chiles, Applewood bacon, queso fundido

TOCINO –  Taco with pork cheek, piloncillo glaze, winter citrus, salsa verde

PESCADO FRITO – taco with local black cod, charred scallion aioli, cabbage, mandarinquat

JARDINEROS – taco with shiitake mushroom chorizo, crispy potato, queso fundido

The Other Thing – There was a half hour wait for lunch so we had tea at Portola. The wait was well worth it. To experience it all calls for a return visit for dinner. “The restaurant switches to a taco-centric four-course tasting menu format………..helping to build a new language for the way we think and talk about Mexican cooking in California.” (LA Times)

The Hall Global Eatery

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Located in the former Z-Tejas space in South Coast Plaza, The Hall Global Eatery comes from the imagination of Amar Santana whose restaurants, Vaca in South    Coast Metro and Broadway in Laguna Beach, are proven winners in culinary circles.

At SCP to check out the Year of the Rat Lunar New Year decor, I decided it would also be the perfect time to check out Amar’s new venture. Its on my 2020 blog list.

Nearly 8000 square feet, The Hall features food from around the world.  There is a charcuterie and raw bar offering cocktails, Mediterranean food station, café area with baked goods, sandwiches, salads, coffee bar, fresh juices, and retail section with packaged  goodies. It looked like there was something for all tastes.

There is also a very attractive patio.

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I opted for a Cuban sandwich with a very tasty bottle apple juice from France.

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The Other Thing – I will come back again with one of my foodie friends. The raw bar looks very inviting – maybe some oysters, charcuterie tray and a glass of wine.

Burger Boss

 

 

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This is the latest entry in the mega-burger genre. The original in this category is The Counter.  It has table service which most of it successors do not.  According to the young man who took my order, Burger Lounge is probably their direct competition. At both, you order at the counter and your burger is delivered to your table.  I love Burger Lounge but I think Burger Boss has it beat with the quality of their beef. Now days it is all about grass-fed and hormone and antibiotic free. All good – but at Burger Boss the meat was a little more flavorful. To judge all the burgers on a level playing field, I order the same condiments each time — mayo, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and blue cheese.

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Cooked just right, this burger was delicious. But the kicker here is the French fries. They were well beyond the norm. Fried in sunflower oil and with some skin left on them, they were very crispy and the best I have tasted in quite some time.

There are tons of options on your beef, turkey, chicken, black bean burger served on you choice of bun, choice of  7 cheeses. and every condiment you can imagine. The place is clean and neat and the counter help efficient and enthusiastic.

The Other Thing – There is a pet friendly patio, but if you eat outside you have to contend with traffic noise. Located at Orange and PCH in Newport Beach, this is a little disconcerting — the only thing that keeps Burger Boss from a plus plus rating from me.

Mangia Bene!

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I haven’t checked out South Orange County for a while, so scheduling lunch with a friend who now works in Laguna Niguel, was a perfect opportunity. Mangia Bene! Cucina is located in Plaza de La Paz. I lived in this area from 1987-1991. I hardly recognize it now.

This Italian restaurant has a very comprehensive menu with every dish described in detail. The entrees are numbered, so it makes ordering easy. #56 for me, which translates to “Risotto Toscana” – Arborio rice with shrimp, chopped clams, scallops, mushrooms, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. Tammy’s #11 is “Cesare”- tossed greens with Caesar dressing, croutons and parmesan cheese, with a little grilled chicken added. No skimping on ingredients, large portions, served on brightly designed plates. Of course, everything was delicious. This included a plate of toasted cheese points served with our beverages.

The Other Thing – For the first time in the history of my blogging (I think), there was no dessert after our lunch. I would like to think that avoiding sweets is my New Year’s resolution. That would be no fun for you readers. I am only thinking of you!

Playa Amor

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I made a list of 12 restaurants I want to blog about in 2020. It is a diverse and challenging list, to which I say, more power to me!! I will try them in random order depending on who will be my dining partner. Since Julie lives in Long Beach, yesterday we ate lunch at Playa Amor. Located in the Long Beach Marketplace which has experienced frequent turnover, speaks well for this upscale Mexican restaurant which has been in operation there for four years.

Margaritas are the first test. Made with well tequila, their special mix blend makes them special. They were very tasty. A young lady at the entry is frying fresh tortillas that are served whole with salsa – very crispy and crunchy!

 

Happy Hour begins at 11:30 so we had the taco extravaganza — Pastor Chicken Taco, Carnitas Taco, and Short Rib Taco. The surprisingly flavorable Potato Taquito  was made with avocado salsa, queso, spinach, mushroom, cilantro and radish. The tacos with the ordinary fillings were made especially tasty with the fillings. A simple Mexican Restaurant with an upscale menu is very return-trip worthy.

We were too full for dessert but that was beside the point. My blogs must include dessert. The churros with a salted caramel dipping sauce was a lovely finish for our lunch.

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The Other Thing –  Good service, friendly wait staff. A large patio looks very  inviting  for when the  weather is warmer.

Burro Genius

I am a reader, and I usually have a couple of books at a time on my bedside table. I love crime/mystery/horror fan – and yes, I have read every one of Stephen King’s novels. I also read best sellers, books recommended by friends and whatever else sparks my interest. I just finished reading Victor Villasenor’s memoir, “Burro Genius”. I was so touched that I am compelled to blog about it.

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This book was gut-wrenching. Written with unabridged honesty and emotional intensity, it is the personal life story a little Mexican kid raised on a ranch in Carlsbad, California in the 40s and 50s. His unique message is relayed through his childhood experiences — the schools, the barrio, spiritual teachings of his grandmother, the beliefs and work ethic of his parents.

Victor was a gifted and imaginative child who coped with a learning disability that went undiagnosed until he was 44 years old. He survived beatings by his teachers, punished for speaking Spanish in class, ostracized by his classmates, and called a “dirty, lying Mexican”. In his memoir, he passes on the knowledge for “creating a brave new self with honor and respect”.

Victor had always wanted to be a writer. He had tons of manuscripts that were never published. Burro Genius took him 22 years to write. His book dedication explains his message better than I ever could.

“This book is dedicated to Ramon and the guys from Posole Town, Oceanside, and to all boys and girls of the whole world who went to school with laughter in their eyes, warmth in their hearts, kindness in this souls, and then were systematically “broken” of their spirit – their genius, but here and there, some were able to refind that spirit because of an angel-teacher who helped give them back their wings. To these brave souls, both students and teachers, I dedicate this book.”

An interesting title “Burro Genius”. Read the book to find out what it means to the author. Read the book to find out what perseverance really means, how frustration turns to determination, overcoming seemingly impossible odds leads to victory and pride.

In October 2019, Victor Villasenor spoke at my local library and signed copies of “Burro Genius”. I was away on vacation, so I missed his presentation. I so wished I had been there, but I thank my dear friend Charlene for giving me this autographed copy for Christmas. This is a story I will not soon forget.

Villansenor has now published 7 books and a screenplay. He was recently selected as the founding chair of the John Steinbeck Foundation. He is considered one of the premier writers of our time. He still resides in Oceanside.

Discovering Valencia

Spent the day of January 3rd at my son’s new townhouse, then exploring his neighborhood, checking out the local restaurants and shopping centers. The weather was warm and sunny. He talked about al the improvements he plans to make and all the new fur;nature he wants to buy. Welcome to home ownership my son!! Here is the photo collage of our day —-

 

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