OmG Omakase by Gino

Uni Pasta

Uni Pasta

Summary

We have a lot to talk about, so let me get these facts out of the way; the name is great, the logo is awesome, the price is perfect, and the second seating is the one to reserve, but more on that later.

Now that we covered the basics, let’s get right to it: Chef Gino Choi is a hero of a chef. Generally speaking, you can’t throw a stone past your local Starbucks without hitting a sushi place. OmG is so much more than this and the world is better for it. The omakase, reservation only, ten-seat restaurant is pure theater. An unapologetic love letter to Japanese flavor, skill, technique, and tradition. A flair of personal interpretation and creation by Gino seasons the entire experience. Like his Uni Pasta, which instantly left such a wonderful flavor in my mouth it actually made me angry, as I knew it was a flavor I’d never be able to replicate at home. The fish, which are flown in from around the world, carry with them the flavors of the oceans in such depth, that Sir David Attenborough himself could not even do them justice in his description. The entire space was rebuilt by Gino, taking his personal touch beyond the menu, and into the very fabric of what makes OmG so unique.

It is an instant classic of a restaurant, and a meal I will always treasure, and so should you.

 


Advice

Why the second seating? You will have questions for Chef as you should. Inquiries into the fish, the skill, how he handles the entire dinner service by himself and more. The issue is you won’t remember to ask any of them while you sit mesmerized by his knife work, plating, and execution. The meal truly is a performance. Take the later seating so you can hang out for a few, get to know him, and develop a deeper appreciation for a true and wonderful professional.

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*No website was live at the time of writing.

Babette's Newport Beach

Steak and eggs never looked so good.

Steak and eggs never looked so good.

Summary

If Babette’s were a woman, she would be a woman to love and adore. I look at this gem along the PCH, and I see timeless class, like Audrey Hepburn with those pearls, sunglasses, and gloves. There is a grace to Babette’s, and a guarantee of quality and atmosphere. Once you make your way past the other culinary giants that populate the shopping center, and serpentine your way through the rows of German and Italian cars, you arrive, and a sense of tranquility washes over you. The menu is a perfect reflection of the space, with a quality of ingredients that speak for themselves in a way that you don't often find in restaurants. The concept of locally sourced produce is nothing new, but here, you get the feeling there is more than just a desire to go local, as the quality of every piece of food on the plate is the very best it can be. The time of day doesn't matter, as any meal you sit down for will be like hitting the pause button on real life as you unwind, and savor each bite. A seat in a chair here is like going on a wonderful date, where all the notes click, and the moment just makes sense. When your friends ask you why you have a wry smile across your face, you can take a breath, remember the new found love you just discovered, and tell them you met someone, and her name is Babette.


Advice

Any time of day is a good time, as every menu shines with elegance and substance. My favorite is the breakfast menu though, served every day until 4 pm. That is both ambitiously late in the day for breakfast, but also extremely welcome, and refreshing. Anyone can do a breakfast menu and find success, but a great breakfast menu is a rare feat indeed, especially when it’s offered into the early evening. Enjoy a Bloody Mary or two while you are at it, before switching to a nice evening wine for your coastal sunset, c’est normal.

If nothing else, on the weekends especially, you’ll be able to enjoy the cacophony of supercar engines ferrying their peculiar passengers past your Eggs Benedict no matter the hour.

It’s one of my favorite pastimes.

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Harley

Jammy Eggs with garlic herb marinade, snipped herbs, terrace hill olive oil, cracked pepper.

Jammy Eggs with garlic herb marinade, snipped herbs, terrace hill olive oil, cracked pepper.

Summary

It is very common for today’s restaurants to celebrate their local ingredients. Listing farms, creameries, and so forth are all common place now on menus. What does local truly mean though? Where are the rules listed for what is local and what isn’t? At Harley, Chef Greg Daniels and his team aren’t waiting for someone to tell them what local should be, as they are telling their diners what it is. Greens picked that day from farms a short drive from the restaurant, seafood caught from the waters just a block away, and more. There is a celebration of not just what is local, but how it’s presented, in a gloriously unapologetic way: just take their seafood tower. Truly one of life’s guilty pleasures, but at Harley, the frigid tower is swapped for one comprised of meticulously delicious cooked shellfish. Sacrilegious says you, but I think it is beautifully brave and encapsulates what Harley is. Why take an ingredient as good as this, and present it how other people say you should, when there is a better way to do it? There is a tangible passion that goes into every carefully curated bite, and all they ask in return is trust. Harley knows what it is, and what it’s doing, and what a local ingredient not just is, but can be.

Spoiler alert, it’s delicious.


Advice

The kitchen takes center stage here, but do not sleep on the cocktails and bar program. Wine is always a good call, but the drinks, especially the Palabra (which no doubt will be one of their most Instagram worthy items) are the way to go. Happy hour here doesn’t just come once a day, but twice, with a late night option available also, which in my opinion, instantly locks it in as the best happy hour around. Lastly, save room for when you get your tab. Just trust me.

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Parallel Pizzeria

Clam Pizza (A New Haven Classic)

Clam Pizza (A New Haven Classic)

Summary

There are certain foods in the annals of culinary history that are so beloved, that they are deities to food lovers everywhere. Adored all over the world, there are many iterations of this food of champions, all deeply respected and with droves of loyal fans ready to debate their various merits. It is one thing to support your favorite version of pizza, but it is another thing entirely to bring that style of pizza to the opposite end of the country, cook it to perfection, and still honor its heritage, history, and impact on the food world. Chef Ryan Adams is no stranger to bringing big flavors to Orange County, as he has been doing it for years, and, in my personal opinion, is one of the best and most genuine at doing so. Bringing authentic, New Haven-style pizza to Dana Point is an intense undertaking, but it is one that Adams and his team have executed perfectly. No other pizza in Orange County has, not just taste, but respect, packed into every bite. Just remember to order an extra one to-go, because you'll get hungry later, and it is a scientific fact that cold pizza, is still pizza. In this case, it is also my favorite pizza around.


Advice

This pizzeria is the definition of a passion project. The truest example of "East meets West," Chef Adams' pizzeria brings his renowned level of care to every aspect of Parallel. From the dough in the walk-in to the toppings, and other menu items like the wings and sandwiches, every element of Parallel is equal parts, respect, taste, and ambition. You aren't just eating pizza, but the ultimate local expression of one of the most iconic culinary creations in the country. It may well be the best modern example of what a west coast pizzeria should be. Grab a clam pie and whatever else your heart desires. Only bring friends you deeply trust though, because no one likes that person who eats the last slice without asking.

It truly is a place to love, so order away, and enjoy.

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Ocean at Main

A View To The Dining Room

A View To The Dining Room

Summary

Finally, a space all his own.


Ocean at Main is the personification of who Craig Strong is as a chef. Top-notch ingredients, treated with an endearing love, then plated and presented in such a way that instantly showcases years of experience and a keen eye. For years, Chef Strong has been the premier Orange County example of what a true, five-star chef is. With Ocean at Main though, the atmosphere is as relaxed as the breeze skipping up the street from the Pacific Ocean. It is almost like a weight of expectation has been lifted from his shoulders, and you can taste this happiness in the food. The menu is littered with dishes you may not expect from Strong’s resume, but welcome with open arms, like his simple yet outlandishly delicious pizzas, stunning Instagram-worthy salads and appetizers, and more. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with what Chef was doing before, but you get the sense that with Ocean at Main, he is not just serving guests, but rather his neighbors.

It’s a beautiful restaurant with thoughtful food, beautiful wines, and a heartfelt bar. It is a space that will continue to drive the Laguna Beach dining scene for years to come.


Advice

I am really torn here with what to imbibe. I am a spirits fan through and through, but the wines at Ocean at Main are really something wonderful. The list has been built with care by Sommelier Kristin Morgan, and she brings an endearing passion to each bottle and glass. As much as I love a good cocktail, and the ones here are really great, there is a whimsy and genuine love that comes with each sip of the wine list. Brunch lasts until 3, but mimosas are limited to 90 minutes, so, depending on your party size, maybe go for big air and opt in for their bottle service package. They don’t call it Sunday Funday for nothing.

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Puesto: Los Olivos

Smoked Heirloom Beets

Smoked Heirloom Beets

Summary

Oh Puesto, you little minx.

There are restaurants that make you feel like a king, like a kid in your mother’s kitchen, or like you are living out your own episode of some new Netflix food show. The best of all though, is how you feel at Puesto. Here, it is as if you somehow have gotten an invite to a great neighborhood party. A cookout with some of the best homemade Mexican dishes around. Inspired from all over the country, the food made here is truly great. I don’t know why this location hits me in my heart and makes me so happy, but it does. I think it’s purely emotional, not rational. At my core, I am of the mind that Puesto was built on emotion, and to provoke those emotions through great food, so this is the perfect venue for you to accomplish this. Best of all though, you leave with a smile, a full stomach, and happy heart.

Also some tequila, mezcal, sotol, or whatever else your heart (and liver) desire.


Advice

The kitchen at the Los Olivos Puesto is Chef Katy Smith’s main location, and essentially acts as the company’s preview theater for new dishes and concepts. She is one of the nicest humans on Earth also, so, if she is there, don’t be afraid to say hi, as her infectious smile enhances a dish almost as much as the ingredients. Be sure to also follow them on social media to stay ahead of their “Taco of the Month.”

I don’t even need to mention how good #TacoTuesday is do I? Thought so.

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Opah Seafood Grill

Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz

Summary

We have a tendency in today’s culinary world to only give credit or attention to the shiny, and the new. Three week old venues, helmed by future Top Chef applicants and ambitious wine and cocktail programs. We love these places, and for good reason, but there is nothing wrong with the tried-and-true. Success and longevity should be celebrated, not shunned. Opah has been around for over a decade, and, as local establishments go, is the dominant, upscale culinary anchor of Aliso Viejo and the immediate surrounding area. Helmed by Chef/Owner Marc Cohen, responsible for 230 Forrest and Watermarc, there is a classical, yet elevated style to his kitchen. The place has a neighborhood vibe, refreshingly raucous chorus of regulars, and a consistently desirable lineup of seafood-inspired heavy-hitters, like Fish & Chips, Cioppino, and one of the best New England Clam Chowders around. It may say seafood in its name, but don’t shy away from the skewers or other land-based proteins while you meet the neighbors, and garner a new respect, for a historic spot.


Advice

Sit at the bar. The team here is friendly, accommodating, and it really is like if you took Cheers and gave it an Orange County makeover. You’ll get everything from OC Housewife stereotypes, to real estate agents celebrating deals over martinis, and regular characters you absolutely know at some point in the night will wonder why there isn’t a drink named after them. Might as well enjoy dinner and a show. Also, if that dinner is Cioppino, don’t tackle it alone.

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Dublin 4

Fish & Chips. Photo courtesy of Dublin4.

Fish & Chips. Photo courtesy of Dublin4.

Summary

There are few things in this world I know, with no hesitation, to be true.

I know that all restaurant patios should allow dogs (because they rock), that happy hour should never be just an hour long, and, that if Dublin 4 doesn’t make your heart sing, there is something seriously wrong with you. This neighborhood gem really is that precious. Located in a small, unassuming business plaza right off the highway, it shares building space with its sister restaurant, Wineworks. The menu is authentic, Irish gastropub fare, in the best, and most non-ironic way possible. Proper Fish & Chips, Mushy Peas, and more. Delicious, sincere, and wonderfully unapologetic, the flavors of Ireland are present with every bite. The drinks are top notch, especially the wine, or a properly poured Guinness (a truly rare thing to find), so settle in with an order of Curry Chips, and relax in one of the most underrated spots around.


Advice

The owners of Dublin 4 (as well as Wineworks) are some of the most knowledgeable, and genuine, wine enthusiasts I’ve ever met. The wines at both locations really are smashing. So, if possible, put down the Guinness, and order a bottle or three. No matter what you choose, you are in good hands, as the daughter handles wine and the son the beer and spirits, so trust me, this family has your back.

Also, reservations are HIGHLY encouraged. It fills up quick. And just valet. You’re welcome.

$$$

Wild Goose Tavern

Burger, tots and pickled eggs.

Burger, tots and pickled eggs.

Summary

There are few things as wonderful in this world as a good bar. When you have a great bar, you should contact your local representative to have it etched in history as a local monument. Wild Goose falls into the category of the latter. Usually, the only downside to these remaining bastions of cold beer and no judgment is the lack of adequate eats. Wild Goose fixes that and then some, but the way it does it is astonishing. The kitchen is maybe 8' by 5'. Seriously. That's it. A Manhattan real estate agent would consider it small. Yet, Chef Daniel Cherri has been cranking out outlandishly good bar classics for several years. I would steal a car just to drive there for the burger and tater tots. You shouldn't do that, but you should go with the same intention and appetite level. Paired with one of the best whiskey collections around, it really is a great place to be.


Advice

I cannot stress this enough; The food here is awesome. It's delicious, affordable, endearing, and cooked from the heart. I already told you its a great bar, and trust me, it is, but when your kitchen is the size of the box a fridge comes in, let's give credit where its due. Look, I'm instantly smitten with any menu that features anything pickled, but to have pickled eggs on a menu in Orange County is brave as hell. Kudos.

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Five Vines Wine Bar

Cheese plate.

Cheese plate.

Summary

"Charming" is an adjective that gets thrown around a lot when talking about bars and restaurants. Often used to encompass a library of emotions into one, easy descriptive character set. The fact is though, that it is the perfect term to describe this family-run wine bar. It's small, intimate, cozy, and chalked full of some of the most interesting bottles around. I'm not using hyperbole when I say family-run by the way, as the entire family is the one serving you, bussing tables, running bar bites from the tiny yet highly effective kitchen, and more. It is more than just a bar for wine lovers, but fans of love and passion in general. That is what built this place. The only difference during the build-out is I'm almost 100% certain they drank wine instead of water during construction break. 


Advice

The wall is decorated with small chalkboards designed with various logos, inside references, and messages. Each is designed to provide glasses of God's grape juice to those on the receiving end of each plaque's note. Leave your mark on this wonderful place with a similar note for the next lucky soul who heeds your words and steps into this vino paradise.

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Vacation

Premiere Craft Cocktails

Premiere Craft Cocktails

Summary

Vacation is something special. It is a wonderful, welcoming, exhilarating destination for the type of person who is inclined to imbibe delicious things daily. Nestled in the heart of DTSA, Vacation is just as its name implies. The bar is a harmonious and complete departure from anything you think you know. Encapsulating everything that is beautiful about the industry and showcasing some of the most creative cocktails around. It is the type of place you need to go, order a bunch of their house cocktails and exhale, because, and yes this is going to sound cheesy, but let's be serious, you knew this was coming, you are now on vacation, at Vacation. #notatikibar


Advice

Yes, Vacation is a bar, but it also has some absolutely ridiculous food being prepared by really great people. You should feel shame if you don't munch on something, because Vacation is the sum of its parts, and those parts are all people who care deeply. Support each of them by chasing those drinks with some really, really good and ever-changing bar bites.

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Puesto: Park Place

Ceviche Acapulco

Ceviche Acapulco

Summary

Eating at Puesto, which, I should note there are a handful of, feels like you are back in school getting to eat with the cool kids. The Park Place location is loud (in a great way) and vibrant. It is such a happy place to be. The food is all fantastic, and that's not hyperbole. You really can't go wrong with anything on the menu, and be sure to ask your server what menu items are specific to this location as it does vary. It's fun, bright, colorful and staggeringly delicious. The only negative when you eat at Puesto is that your stomach has a limited capacity of how many tacos you can put away, and if you don't know what that limit is, you will after a night here.


Advice

Have a special occasion or celebration? Don't bother with a steakhouse. Book your party at Puesto because who doesn't love Tacos? It's is the type of place that is meant to be enjoyed with friends, so take them here and make them friends for life.

Tacos have that affect on people. Also, there is a specific term for the process of wrapping taco fillings in cheese, but the translation to English isn’t sexy, so just leave it be and enjoy the tacos.

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Craft House

Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule

Summary

Thank god Craft House isn't in the city I live in, or I would be broke from always being there. The neighborhood, chef-driven, casual Dana Point spot is serving some of the best New American style classics around. The menu is full of traditional takes on dishes, yet eclectic, and worldly with its inspiration. Chef Mellgren has a quiet force to him and a uniquely tangible connection to space and the food he produces. Their relationship with their seafood supplier also gives them some of the best quality ingredients to come from the ocean. Ever-evolving specials, ridiculously delicious mainstays and more make up the menu. Paired with a killer bar program, it is an excellent place to be. Happy hour is one of the best around, and not to be missed, so get there early and stay there late, because this is a place that hits home. It is built around the craft of hospitality, and that is just what they do, and do very well. Truth be told, this is one my favorite places, and for good reason.

Just be sure to make a reservation. You can thanks me later.


Advice

This is one of the restaurants where the daily “special” really is special because it's likely a one-day thing Chef is cooking up or that was caught that morning. If you are a landlocked eater, the Meatloaf is one of my favorite dishes in all of Orange County. Chef Mellgren cooks from the heart and is one of the best and most humble culinary talents around. So let him host you at his house; Craft House.

$$$

Vaca

Vaca features an amazing ever-evolving cocktail menu.

Vaca features an amazing ever-evolving cocktail menu.

Summary

I hope you have a lot of friends. I don't mean that in some sad way, just that you will need them because anyone who tries to eat at Vaca alone won't make it out alive. I can't understate how truly fantastic this place is. It's the equivalent of walking into the Hersey factory if they were really into proteins and small plates instead of candy. Tapas, meats, and everything that goes with them make up the menu at this vivacious second restaurant from Chef Amar Santana. It's all good and you both need and want it all. Also, when I say tapas, I actually mean tapas. Real, Spanish tapas. Bring a bunch of friends, spend way too much money eating way too much food and drink a lot of cocktails, wine, and sherry. The steaks are so good they will make you angry knowing you may not eat like that for a some time. The Spanish wines are sublime and other worldly, flirting with your taste buds. It is loud, big, and overwhelming in the best way possible. Truly, a place to be loved.


Advice

 You may be surrounded by theatergoers and South Coast Plaza regulars, but that does not mean you need to act fancy. Do you want 15 plates of tapas and some Iberico ham? Then treat yourself. This is not a place to hold back, be shy, or subtle. Order with abandon, eat while wearing your emotion on your sleeve, and a wry smile across your face. Vaca does not do things quietly, and is down right seductive in its ability to draw you in. Valet the car, because after your meal walking sounds just horrible, even if it’s medically advisable after what you just did you your body. Sit anywhere unless you are with a large group, though there is something wonderful about sitting near the meats and cheeses. Only make this a date night spot if there is an established level of trust and understanding when it comes to food, because trust me, you won’t be able to hold back.

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Broadway by Amar Santana

Quail stuffed with Sweetbreads and Foie Gras

Quail stuffed with Sweetbreads and Foie Gras

Summary

Top Chef led and unapologetically in your face with flavor and style, Chef Amar Santa’s flagship restaurant is a decedent monster. You won't even realize how great it truly is until you are two courses and three cocktails deep. I'm not being sarcastic with that by the way, I don't know a single night I've been to Broadway that ended in anything other than an uproariously fun and wonderful night. The bar program, by the way, is arguably one of the best in Southern California, and continually pushes the liquid limit with seasonal menus so creative they would make Willy Wonka blush. Don't plan on driving yourself home from this one. That wine list, by the way, is meticulously curated and cared for, rounding out a truly top-notch experience to complement the kitchen. In short, this was the first restaurant that let me do a bone luge (Google it) at their bar, in the middle of a Friday night dinner service, so, yea, it's a great place to be.


Advice

I can't stress this enough when I say to please go with the seasonal cocktails, as they are so outlandishly good. Michael Rooney is one of the very best at creating and curating the imbibing experience. The drinks overall act as co-stars to the kitchen, as the dishes here are packed with so much flavor and style it is borderline sensory overload. The Chef’s table is a great experience, and parties of 4 or more should absolutely get a table, but for my money? Sit at the bar and laugh, listen, and learn. The staff here is as wonderful as the meal.

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