Archive | May, 2011

Review of Dos Chinos Food Truck – The Stoner Burrito and the Garden Grove Taco

27 May

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Review of “The Matador” Restaurant in Fullerton’s Historic Downtown off Commonwealth – “At the Cross-Roads of Civilizations”

26 May

Review of “The Matador” Restaurant in Fullerton’s Historic Downtown off Commonwealth -“At the Cross-Roads of Civilizations”

The Matador Cantina located in the historic downtown district of Fullerton, just north of Commonwealth Avenue on Harbor (front side at least). But since this is a pedestrian friendly area, you typically walk in the back courtyards and alleys and enter the restaurants from the rear entrance. When writing this blog I wasnt quite sure how to describe this restuarant/lounge. I would describe the decor and ambiance as a mix of an upscale Mexican restaurant, Amsterdam Disco and a hispter lounge in Portland. See my pictures below to get a feel for the place. It features weathered brick walls with the obligatory oil paintings of Matadors. Overall, the restaurant has a dark, mysterious and amped up ambiance with candles flickering in the background and house music pumped up.

 The staff appears to be young and hip. The bar is back-lit from behind the top shelf-liquor and the bartenders were working on their bottle juggling skills behind the bar when not pouring drinks (think of the 80’s movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise). Looking up you see a large raised area where the DJ is spinning deep house and a disco-ball above is rotating and reflecting light beams against the weathered brick walls. Overall it had an up beat vibe in the restaurant.

If you like beers, then you might like their use of Milk Bottles for their 32 oz beers. Literally these are the 32 ounce glass milk bottles your grandparents would talk about. It was a fun concept and I enjoyed drinking straight out of the container. Plus, the bottle was big, so I got a really big buzz.

The menu at The Matador was Mexican eclectic with influences of Mexican, Spanish, Fusion Fare and even dishes normally reserved for Food Trucks. For example, the standard Northern Mexican dishes included the standard plates like Chille Relleno, Arroz con Pollo, Carnitas and Fajitas. The Fusion dishes included a Chorizo Ravioli and Tequila Lime Baby Back Ribs. The Spanish influenced dishes included a Chimichuri Steak and Sangria based dishes.  The Food Truck fare included such items as Bacon-Wrapped Streetdogs (straight out of East Los Angeles), Carne Asada Fries and Fusion style quesadillas with curry, goat cheese and tzaziki. Needless to say, the Matador has a  Neo-Mexican menu that goes beyond the standard burrito and Enchilada platters.  

I ordered the Sangria Short rib plate, my wife ordered a custom burrito, our friend Lola (the Fullerton native)  ordered the Short Rib Taco and our friend Stuart (the English Transplant) ordered  the guacamole Burger.

The Sangria Short Rib Plate – This dish stood out to me on the menu, as I was looking for something different.  I heard the short ribs at The Matador are amazing as they are cooked for 8+ hours in a slow simmer. What sold me on this dish was the Sangria and Veal Sauce. The meat itself was easy to break up into stringy chunks along the muscle lines.  The sauce was both sweet from the Sangria and savory from the Veal Base.  The balance between the sauce and the mildly sweet meat  made for an amazing dish. This dish was served with roasted potatoes and carrots. I actually cut up the carrots and potatoes in small pieces so that they would suck up the sauce. At the end,  I was literally using a spoon to scoop up as much sauce as I could. Since I was with polite company, I had to stop myself from licking the plate. 

The Short Rib Tacos used the same slow simmered short rib meat and were stuffed into two corn tortillas with lettuce and Cotija Cheese. Lola said the tacos were very good and she liked the balance of the sweet meat, and the cool cotija cheese and lettuce. 20 minutes after the food was served  I looked overat her plate was clean. I think see really liked it.

The Guacamole Burger – Nestled between a fluffy torta (mexican version of a chibatta bread), was a large beef patty with the obligatory guacamole, Oaxaca cheese, green mayo (most likely cilantro and mayo emulsion) and tomato and onions. It was served with sweet potato fries. It was a pretty impressive burger. I couldn’t quite understand what Stuart was saying about the burger because he was too busy eating it. I think he liked it, although I noticed that he didn’t eat the bun. When I asked him why he didn’t like the bun, he responded back, “It was quite good really, but I already ate a loaf of beer and I am cutting back on the carbs” ( *Note this is your author’s reconciliation  of Stuart’s quote.)

Daniele got the custom burrito that is really not worth describing in this blog because it was akin to a 24-hour burrito  joint. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a slam against The Matador, but rather a commentary on my wife’s ordering habits. In all fairness to the Matador, they did execute a beans, cheese and sour cream burrito very nicely and were very open to making a custom dish. In all consideration to my wife, she knows what she likes and that is what food is all about.

During our meal, the music started getting louder as the DJ started spinning and the disco ball started to spin and rotate light strobes. The staff cleared away the center tables and the local color started to arrive. The mix of people in the Restaurant/Lounge were equal  parts of the following::

  1. Los Angeles Hipsters wearing  derbies, sweater vests, big belt buckles and 70’s gay biker porn mustaches and chunky glasses.
  2. Newport Beach Faux Sleazies wearing tight and barely-there clothing for the women and Ecko button down shirts and Monarchy Jeans for the Guys.
  3.  Huntington Beach/909 style UFC superfans with their Affliction T-Shirts and choice of beanie or broad rimmed baseball Cap. 

 On a side note, I will say that this part of Fullerton is the cross-roads of civilizations. Ancient Constantinople was the cross-roads of the East and West, bringing in Peoples from all parts of the known world together for trade and merriment. The Commonwealth/SOCO district is the modern-day version, bringing Los Angeles, Orange County, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties to a crossroads of food and culture, but I digress once again, back to my review of El Matador

. I would give this restaurant/lounge a 4 out of 5. I thought the food was delicious and had an innovative menu. The service was good, except we did have to wait a long time for drinks (my only beef). I enjoyed the ambiance and overall upbeat vibe.  I would recommend this restaurant to others and will come here again myself, but next time I really want to try the chorizo ravioli and the bacon wrapped hot dogs.

If you wish to learn more about the restaurant including a full menu go to their website:

If you liked this blog subscribe on the link above  and read my other food and wine blogs :  Tom’s Food Blog and dont forget to follow me on Twitter 🙂  @TSHolmberg

The Matador Cantina on Urbanspoon

Yama Sushi on the Lake – Fresh Fish Tastes Better with a View

23 May

Yama Sushi on the Lake – Fresh Fish Tastes Better with a View

Yama Sushi and Grill
27782 Vista Del Lago
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
(949) – 716-YAMA (9262)
Let me make a statement…I LOVE SUSHI! Fresher the Better. I have eaten at most sushi restaurants in Orange County and many in L.A. and San Diego Counties. I have come to the conclusion there are a couple of types of sushi bars of out there and for the most part most sushi bars fit into these stereotypes. The first type is the hard-core sushi bar with no menus and it helps to if you know the Japanese names for your sushi you are ordering. At this type of restaurant don’t look at the sushi Chef in the eye and never order a baked salmon roll or the Chef will chase you out with his kataba knife. You will definitely have extremely fresh sushi, but you will leave with PTSD.  The next type of Faux cool fusion hispter sushi bars where you are likely to see the crew of the real housewives of the OC patronizing. These sushi bars are usually more concerned about classy appearance and their fusion sushi menu then actual good food. This kind of place is good for a classy time and you may even try to creative rolls, but you will have to take out a second mortgage or sell your first-born to eat there.  At the other end of the spectrum is the high-energy fun rock and roll style sushi bars. These sushi bars are definitely fun with rock music, sushi Chefs eating sushi on a woman’s boobies and overall good vibe. The downside is that the sushi is usually an after thought and the only thing fresh behind the sushi bar is the Chef as he stares down your shirt.
Now I believe there is a sweet spot in these extremes that I mentioned above, that can take small elements of each of these sushi bar styles and make it fabulous.  This food blog review is about one of my favorite sushi bar finds in Southern California, Yama Sushi. I think the Owner Don Lee has found that sweet spot of sushi restaurants styles by combining subtle elements of these extremes.
Yama Sushi is tucked in a small corner the Vista del Lago shopping center, which faces Lake Mission Viejo. From the outside Yama is very unassuming and you might not see it right away if you weren’t looking for it. Although as you walk into the front door, you realize that the restaurant is actually very large with a 20 seat sushi bar, 15+ booths and about 15 tables on the heated/covered patio.
The decor is tastefully done traditional Japanese and even features a Tyko Go to fullsize imagedrum in middle of the restaurant. The wall by the front door even has pictures of the regulars. Behind the sushi bar are two flat panel televisions, very important when your favorite team makes it to the playoff and convenient to order extra Sake when they choke it in the playoffs. I love eating at the sushi bar, but this place has the most amazing patio area with a panoramic view of Lake Mission Viejo. I have eaten on the patio before and it is pretty breathtaking at sunset. But I digress ..we are here to talk about sushi, this is a food blog not better homes and garden.

 I have been here a couple of times and the fish is always very fresh and there is always a good selection of fish on hand. We were seated promptly at the sushi bar and our drink order, Nigori Sake and a large Ashahi, was placed within minutes of sitting down. The people who come here are friendly and laid back, so it is always easy to strike up a conversation we the people at the sushi bar…overall good vibe. We ran into some regulars who we actually made friends with here during a previous visit.

Sushi Chef "Iron Chef"

Once we were settled in to our seats, the Chef made eye contact, greeted us with a “konichiwa”  and patiently waited for our first order. I started the evening off by trying something new

Unagi Shooter!
and quickly tried to find the craziest item on the menu, short of conch or fermented makeral.  Looking through the menu, there it was in the appetizer section, an “Uni Shooter”.  Judging by the number of ingredients and contraction of ingredients I knew it was going to be good. 
The Chef first poured a quarter cup of sweet sake into a cup, added green onions, Ponzu sauce, tabasco and the dropped in the Uni (sea urchin), Masago (fish egg) and then the yummy quail egg.  I gotta admit I was a little intimidated by it at first, as it was practically staring back at me. I knocked it back and it was fantastic!  The flavors were balanced and it even took a few chews before swallowing, yummy uni and quail egg…great combo! 

Salmon Skin Handroll- I got hungry and took a huge bite before I remembered to take a picture

The next item I ordered was a favorite of mine, salmon skin hand-roll; this item is the beef jerky of sushi to me. The Chef toasts the freshly removed salmon skin and wraps it up in the hand-roll with veges. The Chef toasted the skins just right and balanced the load of veges and rice. A fun factoid, eating salmon skin is really beneficial for encouraging soft skin and shiny hair …but you already know that, don’t you gorgeous!  

 The next item that we ordered was the Crazy Yama, which is seasoned and

The Crazy Yama

lightly search slices of Ahi, propped up by shred dedaicon,  with the Iron


Chef’s super secret sauce poured over it.  The dish is then topped with a little ponzu, massago (orange fish eggs), bento flakes, thin slice white onion and green onion. This one of our favorite dishes here as it has a sweet, vinegary and slightly spicy finish. If you like seared Ahi definitely try this dish. 


Another one of my favorites is Octopus Sashimi and I can usually tell if a sushi bar is good,  by the quality and freshness of the octopus. The Chef grabbed a fresh leg of octopus for me and created some nice slices of octopus. Good octopus should be firm but not rubbery.

Octopus Sashimi

It should have a slight brine flavor but overall very mellow.  The friendly cephalopod on my plate hit the mark.


My wife prefers baked rolls and has an affinity for cream cheese. Her favorite  is a baked salmon roll stuffed with cream cheese.  You Baked Salmon Roll with Cream you see a couple pieces are missing before I got to take the picturecan think of this dish a Philly Roll on steroids. On the inside is california roll (crab, mayo and avocado) and don’t forget the cream cheese! On the outside is fresh slices of salmon and then topped with a sweet and creamy sauce (mayo base…I think). Then he bakes it until it is served hot with a drizzle of ponzu.  This roll is good, but you have to be carefull, at first you cant get enough of it  and then you get regret when you each too much of it. Fortunately for my wife, I am known as “The Cleaner”, because of my skill set of finishing her plates. Sometimes my skills are invited if she taps out from getting full. And other times,  my chopsticks cross the DMZ  line for a  raid onto her plate to capture or kill any remaining food. Usually forays onto her plate sparks diplomatic protests; but secretly, I think she is grateful for removing the food. Honey if you are reading this now, you know it’s true.  😉

So at this point I am starting to get full from all the food, but I had to order a little more. It is a complimen to request a off-menu, Chef’s choice dish from your sushi cheff

Chef’s Choice Mystery Roll

Our Chef was good and I like surprises, so I was excited to see what he would make.  The sushi Chef came back with a hand-roll stuffed with like six different ingredients. I figured out that it had soft shell crab, scallop, langoustine, crab and then there where 2 other ingredients I couldn’t figure out. The blend of flavors was delicious and the opposing textures gave it a nice mouth feel. Our sushi Chef did a great job.


I asked owner Don Lee to strike a pose with his Samurai Sword

restaurant, high-caliber and friendly Chefs. Don was very excited when he told me that his restaurant recently won the “OC Hot List’s Best Sushi in Orange County” and business has picked up since. Yama sushi has a lot of special events including Sake Tasting (paired with sushi), sushi making classes (kids and adult classes) and has even hosted a wedding.

On my scale of 1-5, I would give Yama Sushi a 5. This is a very rare score for me to issue. A 5 on my scale means that I would tell everyone I know about it and would actively try to eat there as often as I can afford.  If you have not eaten here, I suggest you do. I also suggest stepping outside your normal comfort zone by ordering something different or even ask the sushi Chef to make you a surprise. I just voted for Yama Sushi on the ” Best Of OC” contest, because I found my favorite.

Yama Sushi on the Lake on Urbanspoon

Review of the “OC Wine Mart” – Self-Pouring Wine Tasting (Dr. Skinner would be proud)

19 May

  OC Wine Mart Review Self-Pouring Wine Tasting (Dr. Skinner would be proud)

OC Wine Mart
2272 Michelson Dr, #100
Irvine, CA 92612

Owner, Julie Lim of the OC Wine Mart

Nestled in a strip mall in middle of the business district of Irvine,  is one of Orange County’s best kept secrets and a rarity in the wine tasting industry, the OC Wine Mart. I work in the area, just off Michelson and Jamboree, and never noticed this venue. From the outside it looks like any other high-end strip mall liquor store, Go to fullsize imagein fact it sits next to a  food court (home of some of the best fish and chips outside England….but that is definitely a future blog post). 

So you may be asking your Author, what the hell are you describing and how did you find it? Very simple, this is the story about finding a hidden gem of a wine boutique that features a unique wine tasting system… but let me tell you the story.

My wife has developed an unhealthy obsession with social purchasing sites  such as GroupOn, LivingSocial, Screaming Daily Deals, Dealster ect ect. In fact she has become a member of over 20 different sites, resulting in a flood of emails every morning at about 6am.  Every day I get home from work, she tells me about a new social buying deal. At this point I have come to accept it,  and now understanding that I am just along for the ride . If you like these types of deals, keep an eye open for a future post  about social buying sites that my wife belongs to…do use caution!  they are like crack cocaine once you get started!.  There is a bright side to my wife’s  social buying groupie  like behavior, it’s highly beneficial to my food blogging activity. The OC Wine Mart One was on of these latest deals she purchased off For $20 dollars, we received  $40 worth of wine tasting. 

The O.C. Wine Mart is part liquor store,  part wine store, and part wine tasting bar. When you walk in, you see the standard high-end liquor behind the counter, refrigerators along the back with drinks and snacks. Then the rest of the store contains a large selection of wines, I counted about 50 + different wines on stock.  But here is where the comparison to a high-end liquor store ends, in the front of the store  is a round 20+ spigot Enomatic wine dispenser with red wines and an eight spigot white wine enomatic dispenser.

You may be asking yourself what is an enomatic wine dispenser and how does the whole self-pouring concept work? The enomatic device has an airtight suction device over the mouth of the bottle.  There are two tubes that go into the bottle, one for injecting nitrogen gas to preserve the wine and the other a tube that sucks out portioned doses of wine on demand. .  The Customer enters their pre-paid chip card (similar to a hotel room card) and presses a button above the selected wine.  Almost magically, when you press the button the wine is poured out of the spigot and into your awaiting wine glass and card is debited for the cost of the 3 oz pour. Each wine has a separate price, depending on the cost of the bottle, the $300 Opus One for example was $10 a pour.



Skinner Rat pressing lever for food

For those of you who were Psychology Majors or took Psych 101, you may remember the experiments of Dr. Skinner on Operant conditioning of rats to perform selected tasks, like pressing a lever to receive food pallets. The pleasure centers of our brain are not very much different from those of the rats, we will perform behaviors if it yields pleasurable results.

Tom pressing the button for wine

 I love wine (pleasure) and the machine requires me to place my “wine credits card” into the card reader and then press the button of the most expensive wine (desired behavior)resulting in me depleting the credits on my card and making the store owner happy (desired results). Ladies and Gentlemen, what you see here is an example of Tom being trained to spend his money on tasting wine….Dr. Skinner really did have right. After I complete this blog I will go around the house looking for the lever that dispenses Lobster.

But back to wine tasting at the OC Wine Mart.  The wine dispensers had a nice variety or high-end wines and more value priced wines. On the high-end side was some Opus one at $10 per pour and a fantastic value wine (under valued at $1.75 a pour.  Some of the wines we tried were 


  • San Simeon – Chardonnay, 2008
  • MacMurray Ranch – Chardonnay, 2008
  • Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve – Pinot Gris, 2007


  • Opus One – Nappa Valley Red Wine, 2005
  • Justin Vineyards –  “Justification” Red Blend of 65% Cab Franc and 35% Merlot
  • Beaucanon Estate – Trifecta, 2004
  •  Les Fargon – Vigneron-  Cotes Du Rhone blend , 2007

Our favorite wine was actually one of the value-wines at $1.75 a pour, the Beaucanon Estate Trifecta. Fortunately the wine maker was actually making an appearance at the wine mart that night. We had a chance to talk about his wines, Nappa valley and wine oaking techniques. The Beaucanon Estate Trifecta was a blend with Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc, with the flavor profile leaning heavily to the French Oak and Cab Franc side. It was full-bodied, yet had a graceful balance brought by the smoke of the oak and the stabilizing power of the Cab Franc. (see the wine maker in the picture to the below-right)

We managed to blow through our $40 in wine credits on the enomatic  machine, like caffeine crazed Retirees in Reno, blowing our retirement away on the slots….this is an indication we had fun. I would recommend the wine tasting experience at the OC Wine Mart, as it is a unique experience. I personally liked sampling well-known and high-end wines without paying the $300 bottle. My favorite part was discovering new wines that I would  not purchased  if I was just strolling down the aisles of my favorite wine shop.  When I go wine shopping for a new and unfamiliar bottle of wine, the best I can do is read the labels, Signage,  ask the wine clerk, or look it up on my smart phone App. These methods of learning about new wines are pure advisory notes, which can help steer you in the right direction. The ability to sample their featured wines, actually affords you the luxury of selecting a bottle with the confidence of enjoyment.

 I will return to this wine shop, and I will probably bring some coworkers for happy-hour after work. On my Scale of 1-5, I would give the shop a 4, meaning I would tell my friends about the Wine Shop, but the store has some opportunities for improvement that could be holding it back. Some examples of opportunities include: early closing time of 9:00pm, more Enomatic wine stations would elevate the tasting reputation, a larger food selection would attract foodies. I met the owner (Julie Lim) and she is fully vested into growing her business, despite the challenges of liquor laws and the City of Irvine’s tough regulations. She has a spark in her attitude that will help her innovate and succeed, I see a bright future for the OC Wine Mart. I predict it will become a major destination for Wine Enthusiasts.


OC Wine Mart & Tasting Bar on Urbanspoon

“The Lobster has Landed!”- Review of the Lobsta Truck

15 May

The Lobster has Landed- review of the “Lobsta Truck”

There I was Friday afternoon, sitting in my standard windowless corporate office, doing my standard office work , when I discovered that my phone was buzzing in my pocket! Just like Pavlov’s dog, I started salivating because I had gotten a tweet from one of my fellow foodies that the “Lobsta Truck” was en route with their yummy lobsta rolls. Two minutes later a text arrived…..”The Lobsta has landed”. This text was my queue to send a series of tweets to my followers, “the chair is against the wall,  the Lobsta has landed”. For those of you familiar with the French resistance during WW 2, you might know that this was the code word the French Resistance received to indicate that D-Day was about to begin and to assemble their forces to support the Allies Beach landing. 

 I made my way to the Teller avenue cluster truck meet up spot and already the line was 50 people deep, apparently the foodie mobilization through social media is more effective than one would normally appreciate. In this age of smart phones, social media, social networks the mere mention of a mobile Lobsta Truck, unleashed a flurry of tweets, Facebook

50 people deep at 11:20, 10 minutes before the first order was taken

messages, texts and good old fashion phone calls. What is the result of the “The Lobsta Trucks” keen use of social media? There was already a 50 person line when I arrived at 11:20 and by 11:30, the official start time, there were another 50+ people behind me.  

 The Lobsta Truck is a Los Angeles food truck that swings down to the OC twice a week for a little carpet bagging of the Corporate clustertruck lunch scene. ….and I glad they did 🙂

The menu is very basic, but tasty, a) lobster rolls with mayo or butter dressing b) snow crab roll with mayo or butter dressing, clam chowder c)New England style clam chowder. Based on the conversations I had with fellow foodistas in line, the owner made a trip to Maine and fell in love with the lobster roll shacks littered all over the state. Apparently Seattle has coffee shacks, Portland has hipster shacks, Philly has cheese steak shacks and so Maine has the lobster shack……me personally…I run a love shack, but that’s an entirely different blog.

Now to the food itself, I ordered the lobster roll with mayo dressing. The bread is a fluffy white bread roll, but with lots of butter. The roll was then grilled with more butter until it

Lobsta Roll with Mayo Dressing

has a nice golden brown toast.  The contents of the sandwich was pretty much all Lobster, aside from the mayo dressing. The lobster meat appeared to be all shucked from a lobster (real lobster). The meat came in nice big chunks of lobster, including a very large segment from the claw. The Mayo dressing was a combination of mayo,  bay seasoning, garlic and salt. There appeared to possibly be a few pieces of cabbage and carrot (but not very much).  When I took a very large bite of the Lobster roll, the bread was soft and the toasted roll was slightly crispy on the tounge. The Lobster itself was soft as I bit through it, indicating that it was not overcooked. The taste was sweet and I instantly became giddy as a school girl discovering Justin Beiber was visiting my school.  Needless to say, I ate the entire lobster roll in less than 5 minutes.

The Lobsta Truck is an expensive food truck, $12 for a lobsta roll..BUT having Lobsta delivered to you during lunch…WELL WORTH EVERY PENNY

Worth the $12!