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Friday, Dec 2, 2022

Mixing It Up at New South Coast Plaza Restaurant

It’s fun to follow a chef’s career, especially a chef who’s on the fast track to success. Such is the case with Ross Pangilinan, whom I met eight years ago when he was the new kid in town at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Chef Pangilinan’s menu at Leatherby’s was safe yet creative, perfect for concertgoers and theater fans who wanted a nice meal before a show.

But he also concocted inventive themed menus for every Broadway musical that came to Segerstrom Center, and those were nothing short of inspired. He researched each show, mining the plots and songs for tidbits of information to incorporate into the dishes.

Two years ago, Chef Pangilinan left Leatherby’s to carve a new culinary career, and he never looked back.

“It was great working at Leatherby’s—great company, great schedule,” he told me last week. “But I was getting too comfortable there. I knew I’d either stay for 20 years or leave to do my own thing.”

Pangilinan put together a business plan. A friend of his brother’s was interested, and off they went. He opened Mix Mix Kitchen Bar nearly two years ago in downtown Santa Ana, a hotbed of culinary creativity.

Mix Mix uses Chef Pangilinan’s Filipino roots as a starting point, adding healthy servings of California, French and other influences for a menu that’s original yet familiar. Mix Mix found its following, thanks to the delightful dishes, craft cocktails and a simple yet cool ambiance.

Now, with a solid team in place, Pangilinan is branching out with a second restaurant, this time back in Costa Mesa at South Coast Plaza.

Terrace by Mix Mix opened last week at the end of the pedestrian bridge on the third level of the Crate and Barrel wing. Its menu is reminiscent of Mix Mix Kitchen Bar, but there are only a few items from that menu.

“The style is similar. It’s seasonal, chef-driven, small plates with a global influence,” Pangilinan told me. “It’s similar to Mix Mix, in that the menu lists snacks, small plates, large plates and desserts, but the only items on both menus are the pork cheeks and the tostados. The menu will change and evolve. I always design dishes that I would want to eat.”

Pangilinan suggested three dishes for me to try: bacon-wrapped dates with yogurt and parmesan, Hamachi crudo with juice from macerated berries and tomatoes, plus chive oil, and Pangilinan’s take on a caprese salad with burrata, fresh and baked grapes, fried basil and chive oil.

In true Chef Pangilinan fashion, the flavor combinations were perfect. I particularly enjoyed the Hamachi for its pure, simple flavors.

I went back last weekend for brunch and tried the roasted mushrooms with oyster sauce and sesame seeds, the seasonal green salad with goat cheese, dried cherries and pistachios, and the pork rillettes toast with “house pickles” and mustard cream. All fairly simple dishes, yet flavorful and textured. I’m looking forward to trying more menu items in coming weeks.

By the way, Terrace by Mix Mix has a prix fixe lunch special Monday through Friday: Choose three courses from three menu sections—salad, snack and main—for $15. Probably the best lunch deal at South Coast Plaza.

3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa 92626, (657) 231-6447, terracebymixmix.com

El Cholo Is 95

Restaurateur Ron Salisbury owns the historic Cannery Restaurant in Newport Beach, but his family’s history in the restaurant business goes back much further.

Salisbury’s grandparents opened their first restaurant, El Cholo, in 1923 near the Los Angeles Coliseum. Salisbury’s mother met his father when she was a waitress at El Cholo, and after getting married they opened their own El Cholo.

“When I came out of college in 1954, I took over their restaurant, and then opened one in La Habra in 1962,” Salisbury, 85, told me over lunch at El Cholo in Corona del Mar.

Now there are six El Cholo Mexican Restaurants in Southern California, including three in Orange County: La Habra, Corona del Mar and Anaheim Hills.

To mark El Cholo’s 95th anniversary on Oct. 23, all of them will offer its popular No. 1 combo for only 95 cents.

I confessed to Salisbury that I hadn’t dined at El Cholo, but I tried to make up for lost time by ordering the No. 1 combo plus green-corn tamales and the tableside preparation of guacamole. After trying them, I understood why El Cholo has remained so popular: simple ingredients carefully prepared.

Salisbury will soon celebrate another event: the opening of Louie’s on the Bay, an Italian steakhouse to take over the space briefly occupied by The Ritz Seafood on Coast Highway in Newport Beach.

Louie’s is a partnership between Salisbury and restaurateur Piero Selvaggio, longtime owner of the classic Italian restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica. Opened in 1972, Valentino’s is scheduled to close at the end of this year so Selvaggio can focus on his new endeavor.

Salisbury told me he’d love to open Louie’s next month. Construction is on track, and production pieces are being made off-site.

Louie’s will be the only Italian restaurant of its kind in the area. The classic Villa Nova would have been a rival but was sold several years ago to make way for The Winery Newport a few doors down from the Louie’s spot.

El Cholo, 840 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra 90631, (562) 691-4618, elcholo.com

El Cholo, 3520 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar 92625, (949) 777-6137, elcholo.com

El Cholo, 8200 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road, Anaheim 92808, (714) 769-6269, elcholo.com

Shifting Laguna Sands

The culinary scene in Laguna Beach is undergoing major changes. All good, all welcome.

First, Chef Ryan Adams has officially closed his Three Seventy Common restaurant to focus on his other endeavors: Parallel Pizza in Dana Point and Buttermilk Fried Chicken in downtown Orange. Given their popularity, it wouldn’t surprise me if he opened more locations of both restaurants.

What did pleasantly surprise me was Adams selling his restaurant to Chef Greg Daniels, former chef-owner of Haven Gastropub and Provisions Market in Old Towne Orange, and creator and chef behind Taco Asylum in Costa Mesa.

Chef Daniels plans to open his new concept, Harley, this fall, named after his grandfather.

“When you come into Harley, I want you to feel like I did when I went to my grandfather’s house: always welcome. The food was always good, and I left with a feeling of warmth in my heart,” Daniels said.

According to Daniels, Harley will focus on creative seasonal menus while giving guests a memorable experience.

Down the street, former Studio at the Montage Laguna Beach Executive Chef Craig Strong is launching Ocean at Main this month in the former Taverna Restaurant location. It will seat 126 and serve lunch and dinner.

I’m told that Strong will serve seasonally changing dishes that pay homage to his French mentors, including Paul Bocuse, although with a lighter hand. The existing kitchen has a pizza oven, so expect to see flat breads on the menu.

Making the move with Strong from The Montage to Ocean and Main is Pastry Chef Keara Wilson, who’ll be responsible for all things sweet.

I’m attending a preview dinner at Ocean at Main this week and will report back in a future column.

As for Studio at The Montage, Benjamin Martinek has been promoted to chef de cuisine. He’s been part of the Montage Laguna Beach’s culinary team for the past seven years, first as a cook at Studio, then as executive sous chef at The Loft, The Montage Resort’s casual restaurant. He went back to Studio as sous chef before his new promotion. He was named the Montage’s employee of the year in 2013.

Wine & Dine

Last call for tickets to the Fifth Annual Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, which runs Oct. 4 to 7. Some of the special seminars and dinners are sold out, but tickets are available for the Grand Tastings at the Newport Beach Civic Center on Saturday and Sunday afternoons—dozens of noted restaurants and more than 100 wines.

Several events have just been added, including a cooking demo by chef and restaurateur Michael Mina during Saturday’s Grand Tasting, and a cooking demonstration by James Beard award winner Chef Philippe Haddad during Sunday’s Grand Tasting.

Also added: a VIP Blind Tasting Masterclass with Master Sommeliers Michael Jordan, Steve Poe, Thomas Price, and Will Costello on Sunday.

Limited tickets are still available for the Fire It Up barbecue event at Balboa Bay Resort on Friday; the Friday Celebrity Chef Twilight Cruise through Newport Harbor—I’m on board for that one— and the Blind Tasting Masterclass with master sommeliers.

For tickets and the weekend’s full itinerary, visit newportwineandfood.com.

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