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Laguna Hills
Sunday, Oct 2, 2022

New Option at Spectrum, Old Standby in Anaheim

Del Frisco’s Grille opened recently at Irvine Spectrum.

This is the more casual concept to the very serious wine and succulent-steak atmosphere of its Del Frisco Double Eagle Steakhouse group. The Grille brings the attitude of great food and good wines to us at more friendly prices, all within a very attractive space.

A friendly bar, front and center, introduces the ambiance. Then, it’s a room of polished and natural woods, booths and tables, appealing lighting, walls of windows, and indoor-outdoor spaces mingling easily. Pretty cool.

Service is very good. Without pause, our servers have stepped in, comfortably explaining or discussing food and wines without a second thought.

There are motivating riffs on sociable-sounding food at lunch, dinner or brunch.

Cheesesteak Eggrolls, for instance, are crispy and constructed similar to a Chinese eggroll. These, however, are cut lengthwise after deep frying and presented as “canoes” holding the slices of steak and melting cheese. Much more interesting than a cheesesteak sandwich.

A quartet of small ahi tacos stand perfectly in their custom metal holder and feature pristinely fresh ahi tartare, avocado and spicy aioli. Extra credit for the crab cakes, mostly crab with a Cajun-influenced sauce.

Deviled eggs, now a trend, are elevated with a truffle-chive vinaigrette. Flatbreads take on a bit of international flavor, and Seared Asian Tuna Salad speaks of different textures and a good mix of garden-fresh veggies. A mix of kale and Brussels sprouts with chicken combines healthfulness and good flavor, while wild salmon with an arugula-citrus salad is a good seafood choice.

Entrees include Bourbon-Glazed Pork Chop, fresh fish steamed in “brown bag” fashion, and some tasteful sandwiches; Shaved Prime Steak Sandwich with a terrific au jus; a two-fisted cheeseburger; and the Lamb Burger with roasted tomato and arugula are winners. Steaks and chicken entrees are also on the menu. Please order the Sauteed Wild Mushrooms as a small plate—the forest meets haute cuisine.

Brunch on Sundays is a nice a la carte affair. Breakfast dishes given new twists abound, with the Banana French Toast stuffed with mascarpone especially pleasing to me.

We get good-looking decor and friendly and cleverly produced food, plus we can have some new-fangled cocktails or old standards and nice wine to accompany our meals.

Del Frisco’s Grille: 772 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine; (949) 341-0376.

German Style

We occasionally stop by Jägerhaus in Anaheim to try some dishes that have been off our radar for too long. Our recent foray was a tasty little event.

Briefly speaking, you will find a generally throwback decor with a homey mix of casual wood furnishings and print wallpaper. The service and the very German spirit of the place are customer friendly and totally unpretentious.

They serve three meals a day, including American- or German-style breakfast. For lunch and dinner, most of the menu is the same, with the addition of several sandwiches midday. Appetizers of note: Curry Wurst and Herring Filets. Entrees to consider: Jäger Schnitzel, or pork steak with mushroom cream sauce; Braised Rabbit; Veal Schnitzel; Sausage Combo; Cabbage Rolls; Beef Roulade; Paprika Chicken; and Goulash.

Deer, wild boar and elk, plus things like sauteed chicken livers, smoked pork chops, and sauerbraten are other interesting choices.

Stop by and get your fix, and order the delicious warm German Potato Salad and Braised Red Cabbage as your complimentary side orders.

Jägerhaus: 2525 E. Ball Road at 57 Freeway, Anaheim; (714) 520-9500.

Finding a New Way

Ways & Means restaurant in Orange managed to survive one year; now it’s closed. I had some personal misgivings when I first ate there—not about the food but about the location, which didn’t encourage foot traffic. And the interior still looked a lot like the coffee shop that previously occupied the space.

But the food was good, and I liked it enough on that level.

The rent was apparently more than the customer count supported, and owners have said they plan to move the restaurant to Newport Beach. Now I’m comparing in my mind the rent in Orange to the rent in Newport Beach. It will have to be a very good location, and they will really have to be on their game with the food. Will keep you informed on what transpires.

Worth the Money?

J Zhou at The District in Tustin is now 3 months old. It’s a sister to the popular Happy Harbor in Rowland Heights.

The decor is pretty luxurious for a Chinese restaurant. Red crystal chandeliers, one of them massive, a wall of niches displaying nice artifacts; paintings on glass; and white tablecloth service add sophisticated touches.

Some of the food is understandable to all, some not so much for non-Asians. We found dishes we really liked, but I don’t think a lot are going to order the gelatinous sea cucumber or pay the hefty price for the special aged abalone.

Everyone wins with the dim sum, which is served until 3 p.m. and is superior in taste and texture. There are no carts laden with the goodies rolled to your table, though; instead, you make a la carte selections delivered directly from the kitchen, having been cooked to order. This level of immediacy and freshness guarantees superb textures, and the tastes are pretty amazing.

There are also many dishes on the menu—full of eye-catching pictures—to pique interest. I recommend the Shrimp with Candied Nuts, its take on the lovable honey-walnut shrimp elsewhere). The Diced Green Beans makes a lovable dish from a common vegetable. Fresh Lobster Congee is spot-on. Pan-Fried Noodles with Fresh Seafood combines a nice duet of crispy and soft textures. There are many good pork, beef and fresh seafood dishes.

They really do need to tone down the lighting a lot. In addition to those lovely red chandeliers, the ceilings are strewn with pot lights, all glaring full blast and thus not sophisticated at all. The luxurious chandeliers would be so much more beautiful with subdued lighting. I have personally suggested they add dimmer switches to control the lights and adjust the ambiance.

The price point for the food is rather high for OC sensibilities, a little financial bump to the wallet.

J Zhou: 2437 Park Ave., Tustin; (714) 258-8833.

Top of the List

I’ve had a lot of really impressive meals lately. Seems like the food in Orange County’s upper-tier places has reached a very high plateau. Here is a duo of places to keep at the top of your list. All of the chefs are ultra customer-friendly, as well:

If you haven’t been to A Restaurant lately, you must do so. Chef Jon Blackford’s food is compelling. So fresh, and every dish has his own personal creative touch that has that “gotcha” factor. Plus there are so many terrific value-priced wines to match. The main dining room is all big booths, which I love. A note about the highway construction outside the building: For the time being, due to this construction, A Restaurant is not serving lunch. The street is navigable, though, and dinner continues nightly. For lunch, it’s easy to get into the lot for A Market next-door. I’ve written before about this being one of the best places for early morning meals and compelling sandwiches, salads, pastries and more for lunch.

A Restaurant: 3334 W. Coast Highway., Newport Beach, (949) 650-6505. A Market: 3400 W. Coast Highway, (949) 650-6515.

Sapphire Laguna is another one that keeps amazing me—just took a bunch of friends there for dinner to dazzle them with some of Chef Azmin Ghahreman’s globally inspired cuisine. Jamaican Curried Black Cod with okra stew and roasted plantains all wrapped inside banana leaves was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Here, dull does not exist; you cannot find any of the menu items anywhere else. Azmin is one of Orange County’s most talented chefs. Seating inside is lovely, but the big front patio, which is heated, is definitive Laguna. By the way, their Sapphire Pantry & Deli next-door has an unbelievable selection of international cheeses and other goodies to take away.

Sapphire Laguna: 1200 S. Coast Highway (at Brook Street), Laguna Beach; (949) 715-9888.

Rainwater Madeira

With the holidays upon us and well-wishing and toasting shifting into high gear, I wish all of you, somewhere in the future, one experience in life with wine or another beverage that will stick with you forever as one of the most unique occasions in your life.

Mine came when a wine collector invited a few wine writers to savor some wines in the dedicated wine cellar on the lower level of his home. This was a big wine appreciation space with cushy couches, tables surrounded by chairs of sink-in comfort, collections of rare artifacts—corkscrews bridging the ages, etc.—correct lighting, white backgrounds for assessing the color of the wines, and bottles of wines with great provenance.

We nibbled on some food, pretty impressive on its own, and sipped several white and red wines that this small group would probably never have gotten to taste otherwise. After a very educational and leisurely afternoon, our host had one last surprise. From one of the wine niches, he pulled a bottle of 1805 Rainwater Madeira that had been in President Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar two centuries ago, complete with its authentication documents.

Our expectations of a flat and weak wine did not transpire. The essence of nuts had dissipated, but this orangy-mahogany-tinged wine still had discernible, if not profound, flavors of fig, raisin, apricot, wet slate and a slightly woodsy undertone that had crept in over the centuries. The decent finish also surprised everyone. Lucky us, there was enough for a second round of tastes to fortify our memories.

Hope all of my readers find an unusually interesting wine that they savor over the holidays with their own toasts to friends, family and co-workers. The wine pros in your favorite wine shop should become some of your best friends.


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