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Review of “K’Ya Bistro” at the Casa de Camino Hotel: Upscale European Hotstel Meets a Fusion Gastropub

28 Jul

I think I have mentioned this in a couple other food blog posts, but my wife has a serious obsession with buying Groupons. The one big advantage is that they are good for trying new restaurants, this is the case for the Groupon for the Rooftop Lounge/K’Ya at the Casa de Camino Hotel. This location is a boutique hotel that was originally built in the late 1920’s and was a getaway for Hollywood stars. The hotel retains the roaring 20’s glamour and has the ambiance of a upscale European Hostel. The Clientel at the hotel and restuarant is a 30 something hipster crowd.   The overall ambiance was provided by the guitar performer,  a group of L.A. style hipsters hanging out over cocktails in the lobby and old school  decor. Since the Rooftop Bar was closing, we tried K’Ya Bistro. K’Ya Bistro is connected to the hipster lobby of the hotel, so the good vibes were flowing.

The menu at K’Ya reminds me of a small plate gastropub, with seasonal  Asain-Fusion and Modern American Comfort food dishes. We ordered the Ahi Burger, Cheese Plate, Shrimp Cocktail, Calamari and a couple of their Signature Mojitos.

Mojitos

Flavored Mojitos

First thing to come out was the Mojito’s. I ordered the Berry Mojito and the standard. We both agreed that the mojitos had the right balance of sugar to rum and mint. These drinks were actually quite strong;  although since the bartender has some skills, we didn’t even notice until we stood up. The berry muddled into this drink added a subtle freshness to the flavor and made me want to order another.

Cheese Plate

 

Cheese Plate

The Cheese Plate was pretty standard as it included the usual suspects of  brie, camembert, blue and gouda. accompanying the cheese was  toasted bread, water cracker, dates, dried cranberries, green apples, nuts. Some of the noteworthy cheeses were the double cream brie and the highly marbled blue cheese. This cheese plate lacked a liquid topper like a fruit chutney, honey or vegetable jam, which is a real shame. The addition of this extra component could have tied all the individual parts together into a dignified cheese plate.

Ahi Burger

Ahi Burger on Brioche

The Ahi Burger was my favorite dish of te night. It consisted of a fluffy brioche bun, lightly seared tuna, tomato, arugula, and wasabi mayo dressing. The bread was fluffy, light and squishy to the touch. When I bit into the burger, the texture was soft and pleasant. The slightly firm texture of the tuna complimented the soft and lightly toasted bun. The flavors of the tuna was extremely fresh and vibrant and stood out in the dish. The wasabi-mayo dressing and arugula added a little kick to the gentle flavors and helped tie the dish together.  I would highly recommend this dish and it is one of the better ahi burgers I have tried.

 Shrimp Cocktail
 

Shrimp Cocktail

The Shrimp cocktail was also pretty standard. Not much to say about it, besides the shrimp tasted fresh. The dish came with two sauces, a red cocktail sauce and a mystery green sauce, which was pretty unexciting. No need to dwell on this dish…it was just shrimp on haphazardly assembled on a plate. This dish would benefit from a more artistic plating.  

Calamari

Calamari in a Kung Pao type sauce and dressed with veges

The Calamari was an interesting and tasty dish. It consisted of deep-fried calamari (rings and tentacles) that was wok’d in a slightly spicy Kung Pao sauce. This dish was also served with fresh shredded carrots, green onions and sprouts. When all the ingredients were mixed together, the vegetables created harmony to the flavors of this dish by balancing the salt of the sauce and the oil from the deep fry. Great textures and great flavors.  I recommend this dish.

 My Final thoughts
This restaurant was a nice discovery for dinner and as a hangout. This restaurant had a good vibe and some really good food. Two of the four dishes were amazing and two were just above standard.  I would come back here for a small plates dinner and some drinks with friends. I am giving K’ya Bistro in Laguna a 3.5 of out 5 stars. The restaurant almost got a 4, but the appetizers didn’t impress me enough. I will be back in a couple of months and will report back if I was WOWED by ALL the dishes. I think this restaurant is a gem and the staff appeared to be very engaged and friendly. I predict that my next experience will be even better.  
 

k'ya Bistro Bar on Urbanspoon

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Review of Kogi Truck – “Confessions of a Kogi Truck Virgin”

9 Jul

Like any Friday at 11:00  in the afternoon, I am already thinking about what food I am going to eat for lunch.  So what does any good foodie do when he has a hankering for a Friday afternoon guilty food pleasure? The answer, scour social media for food truck met ups. My friend Alex was bragging, on Facebook, how good his Kogi calamari taco was and how much he enjoyed eating it. I’ll admit, I got a little jealous and I even wrote that response on his wall. You see, I am a food truck stud and have nailed most of the food trucks in Orange County and even some in L.A., San Diego and Santa Barbara. Although the one truck I have not been able to tap is the Kogi truck. Why you may ask, has your blogger yet to nab the Kogi truck?. Because Kogi plays so hard to get and then when you find it there is always a big group of guys waiting to throw a couple singles in her window. This elusiveness has made it the stuff an urban legend. 

 But I digress, at about 11:15 Alex sends me a response on Facebook,  indicating that the Kogi truck will be in Irvine during lunch. My ears perked up at this news and I canceled my 11:30 meeting. When I arrived, the line was already 30 people deep. From the looks of the crowd,  they were also food truck studs and have already experienced the pleasure of the Kogi Truck. I came to the conclusion that I was a Kogi truck virgin and was getting a little nervous about my first time.  As per my normal routine, I chat with the people in line and ask them what is good. A couple of them gave me a little smirk that communicates, “we have a Kogi truck virgin on our hands”. Another guy whispered to me, “You can’t go wrong with any off it’s dishes….just bring some protection if you are going to eat it in your car”.

I ordered the Kimchi quesedilla, the short rib taco and the calamari taco, based on recommendations in line . The total for all three dishes came out to $11, not bad for a lot of food.

The Kimchi Quesadilla

The Kimchi Quesadilla was made from a giant flour tortilla that is filled with Kimchi and cheese.  The tortilla appeared to have been dipped in sweet chilli sauce and grilled to make the exterior enameled with the sauce. The seasoned tortilla are then stuffed with the Kimchi (fomented Korean cabbage) and cheddar cheese and then grilled again to melt it all together.  The tortillas were crispy, as if they had been deep friend, but they were just grilled on high heat with lots of oil.

The Kimchi Quesadilla

 The dish was extremely messy with the oil, chilli sauce and Kimchi juice and it saturated the cardboard container.  The dish was sweet on the first bite; although within a few seconds, the spiciness caught up and moved to the front of the tongue.  

Lifting the skirt of this quesedalla to show it's tangy and spicy Kimchi and cheddar cheese

This dish was unique and had some really good flavors. My only complaint is that it was too salty and left me craving for a tall glass or water (a beer would be better).

 

Calamari Taco

The calamari tacos are served in the traditional street style, small corn tortilla stuffed full of ingredients and served overflowing. Inside the tortilla was grilled calamari, onions, Korean radish and Kogi’s secret Korean bbq sauce.

Beware of the squid, she bites back

Although the recipe of the sauce is a secret, I think it contains Korean hot pepper paste, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, hot oil, sesame oil and a dab of fish paste. The flavor was sweet, tangy and had a delayed spicy sizzle on your tongue. The spiciness was not overpowering,  but enough to let you know it’s in charge. The calamari protein had a sweet flavor; when paired with the sauce, it provided a nice balance of flavors.

The Short Rib Taco

The short rib taco was the last dish I ate because it is the sweeter of the dishes. I needed something to cool my mouth after eating two rich and spicy dishes in a row. The short rib taco is also constructed from corn tortillas and filled with a nice helping a slow stewed short rib in a sweet tangy Korean BBQ sauce.

The sweetness of the short rib taco cools down the taste buds

 The sauce was not the same as the squid taco, it was a little more sweet and subtle. The taco was topped with a sweet and tangy salad. The vinegar in the salad helped to cut through the protein and opens up the taste buds.  This dish was a perfect happy ending that helped calm the tongue from the heat and relax the palate from the salt.

My Final Thoughts

Although Kogi has obviously been over-hyped in social media,  there is no doubt that the dishes do live up to the lore. I am glad that I have managed to finally try the Kogi truck  and experience is Korean-Mexican fusion dishes. The Kogi trucks are masters of social media, using twitter to update their loyal followers. They have also managed to thrive lone-wolf  style by jilting the trend to congregate in herds of other food trucks. This unpredictability and difficulty finding a Kogi has given it the mystic of the hot high school hot girl that everyone want to meet. I give the Kogi truck a 4 out of 5, meaning I will come back often and recommend it to my friends. The dishes were creative and amazing, but by no means any better than some of the other food trucks out there. I would highly recommend that you try their food at least once and make your own decisions. Even if you don’t like spicy, there are plently of dishes you may like.

Kogi BBQ Truck http://www.kogibbq.com/

Find truck locations on Twitter @kogibbq
Kogi Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon
 

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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 LivingSocial.com. 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 

Whites

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

Reds

  • 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

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