Asparagus Lasagna: Luscious Side Dish or Vegetarian Main

aparagusSizedYears ago, long before Gourmet magazine closed up shop, I found (to my mind) the queen of asparagus-pasta combinations: food writer Zanne Early Zakroff’s Asparagus Lasagna.


It’s an exquisite meatless dish that can function as a main course, first course or luncheon dish.


One-inch lengths of roasted asparagus stalks are combined with a creamy sauce accented with goat cheese and plenty of finely grated lemon zest and layered into lasagna-style perfection.


Although this recipe can be made with cooked standard lasagna noodles, paper-thin lasagna noodles called “no-boil” (or “oven ready”) are the best choice. Because of their thinness, they taste like delicate homemade pasta sheets. Plus, they don’t require precooking before they are layered into a casserole dish.


Once the casserole dish has been layered, the reserved uncooked asparagus tips are assembled atop the dish. One cup of whipping cream is whipped with a pinch of salt and spread over the tender tips. Grated Parmesan cheese is sprinkled over the top, and the dish is baked in a 400-degree oven. This final layer of cream and cheese, baked in a hot oven, gives the dish a glorious brown “gratineed” appearance.


I felt compelled to make a couple of small changes to make the recipe “my own. “ I added 1/4 cup of fresh chopped basil to the sauce. I adore the taste of basil with fresh asparagus. Also, I changed the baking pan from two (8-inch) square baking dishes, preferring to use one large gratin dish. Though the change requires the cook to fit the lasagna noodles in a patchwork design so they work properly in a pan with rounded ends, I prefer the dramatic appearance of one large dish.

Either way, it works. On occasion, I’ve added cooked, chopped Italian sausage to one or two of the layers, but I think omitting meat shows off the asparagus best.


Asparagus Lasagna
Yield: Makes 8 servings
4 pounds asparagus, tough bottom portion trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste, kosher salt preferred
8 ounces “no-boil” lasagna
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
7 ounces mild goat cheese
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel (zest)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
One and one-third cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
Pinch of salt

Cook’s notes: No-boil lasagna noodles are thinner than standard dried lasagna noodles and have a more delicate taste. They require no cooking before layering into a lasagna; in their production, they are precooked and dried, and their starches are sprayed off. No-boil noodles are available at specialty food shops and some supermarkets. My Albertson’s sells two brands of no-cook lasagna noodles. You can use standard lasagna noodles, but they will require cooking and draining before assembling the lasagna.

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

2. Cut the tender tips off the asparagus and reserve. Place asparagus stalks in 2 large baking or jelly-roll pans. Drizzle olive oil over the top of asparagus, and shake pans to coat asparagus. Place asparagus in a preheated 500-degree oven for 10 minutes, switching the pan positions from top rack to bottom halfway through roasting and giving the pans a shake to rotate the asparagus. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt to taste.

3. Meanwhile, soak lasagna noodles in cold water for 15 minutes. It is best to separate them and scatter them in the bowl so they won’t stick together. Drain.

4. In a large saucepan on low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir over medium heat for 3 minutes (do not brown). Remove from heat and, using a wire whisk, beat in broth and water in a thin stream. Return to medium heat and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add goat cheese, lemon peel and salt to taste; using a wire whisk, mix until blended and smooth. Stir in basil.

5. Cut asparagus stalks into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces.

6. Spray with nonstick olive oil spray or butter a 9-by-15-inch oval baking dish (or two 8-inch square baking dishes). Arrange single layer of pasta in pan(s). Top with one-third of sauce. Top with one-third cup of roasted aspagaus pieces and one-third cup grated Parmesan cheese. Continue to layer the pasta, roasted asparagus pieces and Parmesan to create two more layers. Top with a layer of pasta.

7. In a large bowl, beat the whipping cream with a pinch of salt until it holds soft peaks. Arrange asparagus tips atop the final layer of pasta. Spread whipped cream over asparagus tips and top with one-third cup of grated Paramesan cheese. Bake in middle of a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Advance preparation: Can be made 2 days before (and stored airtight in the refrigerator) without the final addition of whipped cream and Parmesan cheese. The whipped cream needs to be added just before baking. You probably will need to add 3 to 5 minutes to the baking time, but check to make sure the top isn’t getting too brown. Allow it to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley.

Source: Adapted from a recipe by Zanne Zakroff in the April 1992 issue of Gourmet magazine.


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Hendrix Lessons: Laguna Niguel Restaurant Wins “Dish Of The Year”


Orange Coast Magazine’s restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurz, named Hendrix’s burrata-spiked muffins “Dish Of The Year.”

Kurz wrote: “A crusty muffin exterior hides the unexpected inside – eggy; buttery house-made spaetzle, that is scarce on today’s menus. The nutmeg-spiced muffin gets salty umami  from bits of smokey Nueske bacon tucked within …”

Congrats to Hendrix, a third restaurant from the team behind Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck.



Is it possible for eyes to feel hunger? Look through Hendrix’ spacious front window and the sight could make your peepers ravenous. Trust me. A tall French rotisserie to the left of the front door displays a bounty of browned and caramelized treasures.

HendrixRottisserieThe rotisserie:

The top revolving skewer corrals plump chickens side by side. Brined for two days prior to spearing, the four-pound birds are judiciously basted with a mixture of fresh lemon juice, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and spices.


An alluring crust is created, the flesh underneath moist and flavorful. A vibrant lemon confit is served on the side. This citrus garnish requires two months to perfect, the thinly sliced lemons mingling with sugar, juice and lemon pepper for its 60-day nap interrupted by occasional stirring.

Just below, a gentle drip-drip-drip of chicken juices fall onto thirsty potatoes held in a basket attachment; they are thumb-length beauties with yellow flesh from Weiser Farms. Before service the dripping-spiked spuds are tossed with chimichurri.

One skewer down, lush porchetta performs its rotation; skin-on pork belly wraps around pork loin, the exterior becoming super crisp with its just-right exposure to the heat. A delightful hint of anise is absorbed from brining. Slices are accompanied with pickled vegetables, a mix of radishes, cauliflower and fresh fennel that add brightness with their acidic counterpoint.


On the bottom spear, a luscious Colorado leg of lamb takes it turns. It’s boned except for the shank and rubbed with a mixture of whole-grain and Dijon mustards. Milder than New Zealand or Australian lamb, the scrumptious meat is served pink and thinly sliced with lebni on the side.  Made by straining a mixture of yogurt, sour cream and salt, the creamy lebni is augmented with minced cucumber and chopped dill. It’s like Greek tzatziki, but thicker and richer.

Rainer Schwarz, executive chef-partner, said that Hendrix aims to be a neighborhood restaurant with honest delicious food, great service and value. A rotisserie platter showcasing chicken, lamb, porchetta and potatoes (plus all those flavor-amped garnishes) available both in-house and for takeout.

Chef Schwarz and New American Cuisine:

Schwarz has a well-established reputation in Orange County for his delicious restaurant menus. Along with John Nye and Colby Durnin, partners in the Sentinel Restaurant and Hospitality Group, they form the team behind Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck restaurants on the Laguna Beach coastline.

“I want Hendrix to be about the neighborhood,” Schwarz said. “I live a mile away. Neighbors will text me for reservations, or they will tell me if things aren’t right.

“You have to be passionate about this business. It’s not only about the hours, it’s about the effort.”


Chef Rainer is also a master of octopus. Looks delicious, right?

Watch Chef Rainer Schwarz prepare one Octopus dish.

Beautiful yet comfy:

The new 180-seat eatery shows off a creative design that is both stunning and welcoming, an all-embracing remodel of Fred’s Mexican Cafe that previously occupied the location. The enclosed patio area is lined with large bi-fold widows that open to a vista of trees, foliage, and on a clear day, a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean; forced-air heating assures guests of a chill-free experience. There’s a glassed in private dining area, as well as a retail wine shop where diners, if they like, can purchase a bottle to take to the table. Comfortable booths scattered throughout, are crafted from fabric that has the feel of a well-loved baseball glove.

A showy bar is in the center of the dining room. It boasts a dropdown beer tower that provides six craft beer choices. There’s a large selection of wines by the glass, as well as an array of alluring cocktails. The restaurant’s name honors Hendrick’s gin, so it seems fitting that the spirit is featured in The Perfect G & T. This refreshing cocktail, served in a stemmed white wine glass, includes Fever-Tree tonic water and botanicals, including juniper berries, cucumber and flowers such as rose petals and borage.

Off the bar, a cozy lounge areas seem the perfect spot to leisurely enjoy some wine and a plate of grilled Spanish octopus drizzled with harissa olive vinaigrette. There’s a good dollop of hummus on the side making the dish rounded and satisfying. Chef is a master at grilled octopus; it’s masterfully prepared to make the texture oh-so tender, while creating a crisp-yet-light char on the exterior.

Hendrix is at the Ocean Ranch Village in Laguna Niguel (32431 Golden Lantern). For more information, visit 

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Is Don The Beachcomber Closing?


According to a story by Anne Valdespino in the Orange County Register, rumors are flying that the Sunset Beach tiki-themed Don The Beachcomber is set to close.


Owner Delia Snyder and her late husband Arthur Snyder, opened Don The Beachcomber in 2009, in the spot on Pacific Coast Highway that had been Sam’s Seafood.

I loved the Tomato Beef served at the original Don The Beachcomber in Hollywood. Almost ten years ago I asked Delia to share her recipe for Tomato Beef and I’m grateful to have it captured it on this video.

Thanks Delia, and I wish you the very best. According to Valdespino, Delia denied the closure.

Delia Snyder uses two special techniques to ensure that the beef in this dish has irresistible flavor and texture. Before marinating the meat in a soy sauce mixture, she marinates it in a water-baking soda mixture. And before stir-frying the meat, she uses a restaurant technique called “velveting” in which she deep-fries the marinated beef slices for about 30 seconds.

Delia’s Don the Beachcomber Tomato Beef
Yield: 2 large entrée servings or 4 to 6 servings if serving other dishes
8 ounces flank steak, fat and silverskin removed
1 1/2 cups water mixed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Ground white pepper to taste
3 Roma tomatoes
1 green onion, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons ketchup
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
Vegetable oil for frying (velveting) meat
1 tablespoon vegetable oil for stir-fry
For serving: cooked rice or egg noodles
1. Cut flank steak across the grain into 1/8-inch thick slices. Place steak slices in bowl and add baking soda-water mixture; toss and set aside for 5 minutes. Drain meat. In another bowl, combine soy sauce, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 egg yolk, 1 teaspoon cornstarch and ground white pepper to taste. Add meat to soy sauce mixture and toss to coat meat. Allow to marinate at least 5 minutes, or cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Peel tomatoes; place in simmering water to cover for about 30 to 45 seconds, then run cold water on them to cool. Remove peel. Cut each tomato into 6 lengthwise wedges. Set aside. Cut green onion into 1 1/2-inch long pieces and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water; set aside to use as needed to thicken the stir-fry.
4. Combine sauce ingredients: In a medium bowl, combine ketchup, 4 tablespoons water, sugar, curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, vinegar, and oyster sauce. Stir to combine; set aside.
5. Velvet the meat: Place a slotted scoop and plate next to the stove. In a deep pan, heat enough vegetable oil to cover meat on high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, remove meat from marinade and cautiously place in oil. Add meat and cook 30 seconds. Remove with slotted scoop and place on a plate. Meat will still be pink on the inside.
6. Stir-fry: In a wok, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on high heat. Add sauce to wok and stir. When sauce starts to bubble, add meat and toss. Add tomatoes and green onion; toss. Cook, tossing frequently, until tomatoes are heated through and start to soften slightly. If sauce isn’t thick, stir the cornstarch-water mixture from Step 3; add it a little at a time to the mixture and toss to combine, adding just enough to thicken sauce. Serve immediately with either rice or noodles.


Delia and her late husband Art Snyder on the day we shot the video in 2009.

To read the OC Register story, go to


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The Best Salmon Spring Rolls on the Planet – from Garlic & Chives


Kristin Nguyen, executive chef-owner of Garlic & Chives in Garden Grove, serves lots of Vietnamese classics in her eatery, many of them adapted with her own unique twists.

Dishes such as pomelo salad up with pork belly, and spicy crab sautéed in tamarind sauce, are stables on her menu. There are also less expected offerings such as crunchy sea salt garlic (french) fries or chicken wings. All are perfect for shared-plate dining.

Nguyen makes some of the very best fresh spring rolls I’ve tasted, still salad-like, but hearty enough to feel like a meal.


She spikes them with strips of sautéed salmon belly.

Along with a luscious blend of herbs, vegetables and salmon, each spring roll includes a thin tube of rolled-up fried wonton skin, browned crisp and toothsome; it’s an addition that she said was inspired by the cuisine of central Vietnam.


On the side, a perky tamarind-based dipping sauce adds the perfect degree of acidity.



“I like to be unique with my dishes,” she explained when she joined me in my home kitchen to prepare spring rolls for the subject of a how-to video. “Even with the most traditional dishes, I want to make them fun and hip. A lot of restaurants cater to a specific generation. I want my restaurant to be where everyone, age-wise, wants to eat.”

Two restaurant favs: SUSHISAMBA in Las Vegas, an eatery that specializes in Japanese-Peruvian-Brazilian fusion is a treasure. She adores the tapa-style fare, including a delectable rib-eye steak with mushroom sauce topped with a poached egg, as well as the wonton-skin “taco shells” filled with seafood. Nobu at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, is another favorite. Their crab inspired her baked King crab dish that is halved and topped with a mayonnaise sauce and masago roe.

Drink of choice: Crown Royal and Coke. She also fancies red wine, finishing with a sweeter white muscato wine. She describes herself as a “fun girl.”

Secret talent: A passion for construction, design and décor drives much of her off-restaurant hours. She designed the restaurant, painted banquettes and refurbished the chairs.

Garlic & Chives’ Salmon Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon Ca Salmon)
Yield: 6 spring rolls
Marinade: 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil, 1 large garlic clove (chopped)
6 (1 1/2- to 2-ounces each) rectangles of skin-on salmon belly
About 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more if needed
6 wonton wrappers, rolled into tight cylinders
1/4 cup tamarind paste, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons fish sauce, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 garlic clove, minced
Thinly sliced fresh red Thai chili, to taste, see cook’s notes
6 (8 1/2-inch diameter) rice paper
6 leaves of green curly-edged lettuce, lower root half removed
Cilantro leaves and mint leaves
One 2 1/2-inch long skin-on section of cucumber, halved lengthwise, seed beds removed, cut into sticks (6 sticks needed)
2 1/2-inch long peeled carrot sticks (6 sticks needed)
Asian chives
Cook’s notes: Tamarind paste, fish sauce, rice paper, chili paste and fresh Thai chilies are sold at Asian markets. Her favorite brand of fish sauce is Phu Quoc.

1. In glass or ceramic bowl combine marinade ingredients; stir to combine. Add salmon and toss. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
2. Heat oil on medium-high heat, adding more if needed; when hot, add wonton skin cylinders. Fry until golden brown, turning as needed. Drain on paper towels. Add salmon to hot oil; sauté until nicely browned, turning to caramelize both sides. Drain on paper towels.

3. Prepare dipping sauce: In bowl, combine tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, chili paste and garlic; stir to combine. Add chili slices and stir to combine. Set aside.

4. Spring rolls: In a medium bowl, add enough warm water to fill 3/4 full. Rotate rice paper in water until just barely pliable. Place on clean, dry surface. Working on the half closest to you, place lettuce leaf colorful-side down. Top with cilantro, mint, cucumber, carrot and fried wonton cylinder. Pull up lettuce just enough to tuck 1 fried salmon belly under it. Roll up until only a 1/4 portion of rice paper is free. Fold over sides and add 2 Asian chives so they will extend out the sides; finish rolling up, burrito style. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 6 spring rolls. Serve with dipping sauce.

Garlic & Chives is at 9892 Westminster Blvd., #311, Garden Grove. 714-591-5196


Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

Here’s an easy-to-prepare weeknight dinner, stir-fried cabbage
with fresh Asian-style noodles.


You can use fresh lo mein egg noodles or fresh yakisoba noodles.

Before you start, put all ingredients next to the stove and bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.

Stir-Fried Lo Mein with Cabbage, Mushrooms and Chicken
Yield: 4 servings
Salt for salting water
3/4 pound fresh (lo mein) egg noodles or yakisoba
1/4 cup canola oil, vegetable oil or peanut oil, divided use
3 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
4 ounces sliced white mushrooms or cremini mushrooms
2 green onions, cut on diagonal into 1 1/2-inch pieces, including dark green stalks
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup cooked diced chicken
1 tablespoon Asian-style (roasted) sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Dash of hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Frank’s

  1. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles about one minute (they should be cooked al dente – tender but with a little bite), stirring to separate them; drain and place in large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large wok on high heat (until almost smoking). Add cabbage; cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Remove from wok.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon oil and when hot, add mushrooms, green onions and garlic; cook until browned and starting to soften, stirring frequently. Remove from wok.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil. When hot, add noodles and chicken: cook, stirring, until heated through. Add cabbage, mushrooms and remaining ingredients. Toss and heat through. If desired, add a smidgen of hot sauce, such as sriracha or Frank’s RedHot. Taste; add salt if needed.  cathylogocabbage


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Napa’s Mayacamas Vineyard Through a Post-Fire View


Mayacamas Winery’s entrance. Some evidence of fire, but the over-100-year-historic winery building remained unscathed.


Before my recent four-day Napa Valley wine-tasting trip, many friends voiced concern about my itinerary.

They perceived the Napa area to be a totally devastated landscape. Yes, some area wineries were lost in the fires, some were partially damaged, but most are fine and open for business.


View looking out with back to the winery.

From the air, Napa Valley was a blanket of brilliant green. On the ground, verdant hills and fields surrounded row after row of well-groomed grapevines – vines that for the most part were safe from the flames due to their high moisture content and the maintenance that requires the constant removal of surrounding dry brush.


Many of the private tastings for our small group were arranged by wine guru Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier, star of the movie “Somm” and chief wine officer at SommSelect, an online wine retailer ( I was thrilled that Cauble included Mayacamas Vineyards in the mix.

I’m a longtime fan of Mayacamas wines, as are many Orange County restaurants. Their wines appear on many OC wine lists, including A Restaurant, Mastros, Monarch Beach Resort, Juliette and Surf and Sand.

“The winery has existed since 1889 …” said Cauble, who grew up in Huntington Beach. “I have had the Mayacamas’ wines on every list I have ever had control over. It is one of those wines you love sharing with people, especially those who love a great Bordeaux.


“Mayacamas is best known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a timeless classic which can age effortlessly for decades. The white wines are worth searching out and are an anomaly in the Napa Valley because of their restraint, age-ability, and balance typically only found in European white wines. They have a specific traditional approach to winemaking that has not wavered very much since the 60’s.”


The winery sits at the end of the twisting eight-mile Trinity Road, a serpentine journey dotted with hairpin turns. As our van ascended to the top of Mount Veeder, we found road crews at work along the way clearing intermittent fire-damaged trees in the densely forested terrain.


Mayacama’s tasting and events building was lost in the fire.

(It stood in the mulched area featured in the above photo.)

The historic 19th-century winery building and other winemaking spaces were almost untouched by the fires and remain intact. A tasting and events building adjacent to the winery known as “the residence” was destroyed. Some of the wilderness land on their 480 acres also burned.

Jimmy Hayes, Mayacamas’ estate director, told us that the fire threatened the winery just after the grapes had been harvested. A large bed of mulch covered the area where the fire-ravaged events building had stood.

“At the far end the stone wall was the only part left of a distillery that was built in 1889,” Hayes said, pointing to the mulched area. “Then there was an addition in the 50’s and again in the 70’s. We’re going to rebuild it and it’s going to be completely amazing. We still have a winery and the view is still beautiful. We are very thankful for what we have left.”

He pointed out that throughout their 129-year history wine production has never stopped, and that includes wines made during the Prohibition, bottles that were hidden in caves cut into the mountain when officials made a visit up the mountain.


Pals Ron and Marcia Kay Radelet sample Mayacamas’ Cabernet Sauvignon.

We savored our five-bottle tasting inside an inviting stone-walled room within the winery. Hayes explained that the wines we tasted were classic Napa wines like those made decades ago, wines aged for three years in oak barrels, then aged another year in the bottle for a year or so before becoming available for purchase.

“It’s singular,” he said with a smile.

As I sipped, Cauble’s words rang true on my palate.

“The wines always have perfect balance and are incredibly food friendly due to the fact that they are not over-oaked or picked so late they lose balance,” he had explained. “My favorite wine they make is their Cabernet Sauvignon, it always has a very deep and savory component which is a hallmark year in and year out.

“With a decade of age the wine drops some of the primary fruit aromatics of wild berries, red currant and black cherry and these are replaced with nuanced notes of sandalwood, leather, dried tobacco leaf, mushrooms, wild flowers and damp forest. If I were to choose one Napa red to drink for the rest of my life, Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon would be it. These wines age forever and never fall apart, something that plagues many of the more modern styles. Where many modern styles of Napa reds begin to tire at 8-10 years of age, Mayacamas is just getting started and truly peaks decades after being bottled.”

I look forward to sipping some of the 2013 cabs that I purchased ten years down the road, in 2023. I’m hoping to connect with the wild flowers and damp forest.

Maybe some mushrooms. Definitely leather.


Mayacamas Vineyards, 1155 Lokoya Road, Napa, CA 94558

Winery: 707-224-4030   Visits to Mayacamas are temporarily unavailable.

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Crepe College: Concept for Fullerton Crepe Shop Cropped Up At University

Owners of BELOVED ORANGE COUNTY FOOD TRUCK, CREPES BONAPARTE, have opened a Brick and Mortar location in downtown Fullerton.


CREPES BONAPARTE, a concept Christian Murcia developed while in college and grew in Orange County with his wife Danielle, opened March 1. Fullerton is the couple’s hometown.

Their food trucks are known for their vast crepe offerings, ranging from sweet to savory, as well as fresh breakfast options.


Expansive menu includes savory Caprese (roasted tomato, seasoned chicken, mozzarella and garlic pesto) …


as well as California Sunrise (avocado, crisp slices of bacon, roasted tomato, cheddar and a fresh cracked egg), and the divinely sweet HazelBerryAna® (fresh strawberries, sliced banana & Nutella topped with whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle).




Expanded beverage offerings are available at the restaurant, including French beer and wine, as well as espresso drinks.

“Our concept started as a business plan for my Entrepreneurial Studies final project while at the University of Southern California in 2008,” said owner and founder Christian Murcia. “We are celebrating 10 years as a business in Southern California, and are so excited to officially be a part of the Downtown Fullerton neighborhood, which is both my, and my wife Danielle’s hometown.”

HOURS: Open six days a week for breakfast through dinner, with late night and brunch menus on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant will be open from 5pm-10pm Tuesday to Thursday, 9am-2am Friday and Saturday, 9am-10pm on Sunday and closed on Monday (hours subject to change). Guests can select their made-to-order crepes at the counter, then select a seat at the indoor high tops or on the al fresco patio.

LEARN MORE: Crepes Bonaparte, as well as food trucks Gaston and Pierre, visit the restaurant at 115 South Harbor Boulevard, Suite A, Fullerton, the Website (, or follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


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BRICK Restaurant’s New Grill Grabs the Glitz


Dining at Brick Restaurant is always worth the drive to San Clemente. I live in Huntington, so it takes some time behind the wheel to savor the palate joy of chef-owner David Pratt’s cuisine.

David’s house-crafted pasta. His pizzas. His meatballs.

(Such as these farro gnocchi adrift in pork bolognese.)

DavidPrattFarroGnocchiAnd his salads are some of the very best in O.C.


The beet salad is a must. It showcases beet “carpaccio”, citrus supremes, dill cream and, yes, home-cured gravlax. The texture and flavor contrasts make it irresistible.

AND now on a new menu, dishes show off his fancy new grill. It was inspired by a restaurant in Baja.

“Deckmans in the Guadalupe Valley in Northern Baja (22766 Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico) is a big deal,” he told me. “Drew Deckman is a Michelin-starred chef ( who trained under legendary French chefs Paul Bocuse and Jacques Maximin).

It’s a crazy food scene down there. It’s the real deal.

I was doing this dinner with him – GreenFeast (with Chef Panisse, Deckman and Brick). There was a guy working the grill. Long story short, the guy builds the grills. This guy is THE man.”


“Two days later he was in my kitchen (at Brick), and now I’ve got this eight-foot wood-burning Santa Maria-style grill. It cranks up and down.”

On the grill? Spanish octopus on skewers, deeply charred … you gotta start with this. Listen and watch chef’s octopus lingo …


Scottish salmon with fava beans, citrus and black rice.

Maine lobster one day out of the water.  Steaks (Hanger and Ribeye). Pork Chops. A lot of luscious proteins.

Pointing to the menu, he says that there will be a bigger meat section and a fish section, adding that the menu already has grown substantially in that direction.


Brick is at 216 N El Camino Real, San Clemente.




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The Cure: Tom Yum Soup


My cough was so nasty, it could take paint off a wall.

Like so many, my flu-cold misery lasted and lasted. Christmas. New Years. Beyond …

Determined to cure it before Groundhog’s Day, I called Kaiser’s on-call nurse. I didn’t want to spend untold hours among other sickies in the E.R., so I put my faith in the phone professional. I described that thickness in my upper chest, the color of the gunky phlegm, the noise.


The wellness goddess told me to drink hot liquids. Lots of hot liquids to break up the congestion. I made loads of ginger-lemon tea. It seemed to be working, but at a slow pace. So I sent Mr. Wonderful to Bangkok Avenue, a really-good Thai restaurant in Huntington Beach.

His assignment? Bring back lots of Tom Yum Soup.

Hot, spicy, sour magic. As I swallowed, I could feel the spiciness working its way through the muck. The tartness melting its way through the debris.

The next day … practically well. No kidding.

My version takes about 8 to 10 minutes to prepare. Easy, and absolutely delicious. Buy some TOM YUM PASTE at an Asian market or online and keep it in your fridge; it helps to make short work of the prep. The brand I prefer is “EXOTIC BRAND.” I’ve tried other brands and don’t like them nearly as well. 


At the Asian market, buy some kaffir lime leaves and small Thai chilies to use in the soup. You can freeze the extra leaves, as well as the chilies for future use.

Add shrimp if you like, or make it vegetarian. Enjoy.



Yield: 3 to 4 servings
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tom yum paste (see story)
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped (see story)
Optional: 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
Juice of 1/2 lime
Optional: 2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 small red Thai chili, very thinly sliced, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced or pulled apart if in clumps, see cook’s notes
2 green onions, sliced, including 1/2 of dark green stalks
Optional: 3/4 pound raw shelled and deveined shrimp
Garnish: about 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Garnish: lime wedges for optional use
Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Wash work surface and hands after completion and do NOT touch face or eyes. Use any fresh mushroom you like. My favorites are the shimeji mushrooms I find in small cellophane bags at Asian markets; they grow in clumps and have lovely brown caps.
1. Heat broth in large saucepan on medium-high heat. Stir in tom yum paste, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass if using, lime juice and fish sauce if using. Add chili and sugar. Lower heat and simmer 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, green onions and if using, shrimp. Simmer long enough to cook shrimp (if using), about 2 minutes. Garnish with cilantro. Provide lime wedges for optional squeezing.

shimejiMushroomsShimeji mushrooms are sold at Asian markets, and often at Whole Foods and Mother’s Markets.


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Plate Art from Chef Alessandro Pirozzi, Branzino al Piatto at Salerno

Branzino That Is Delectable Artwork from Chef Alessandro Pirozzi occhefAlessandroBrazinoSized2

Branzino has become an everyday staple on upscale restaurant menus. The delicate, white-fleshed Mediterranean seabass (called “loup de mer” on French menus) tastes almost sweet when cooked correctly. Orange County chef-restaurateur Alessandro Pirozzi knows how to serve it at its very best.


He showcases the mild-mannered fish in different ways in each of his restaurants (Alessa By Pirozzi and Salerno by Chef Pirozzi in Laguna Beach, as well as Pirozzi Corona del Mar).  I like them all, but my very favorite is his Branzino al Piatto at Salerno. A boneless skinless filet is lightly pounded and quickly cooked on a plate.

The straight-forward way it is broiled lets the delicious taste and texture of the fish shine through. Then he adds garnishes that dazzle the eye with pure colors that are reminiscent of a Henri Matisse painting.

There’s a drizzle of Calabrian chili oil, a sprinkling of black salt flakes and honey-colored spheres of olive oil pearls.

A scattering of tiny pickled sweet peppers, rounded at one end and sharply pointed at the other, offer a pleasing contrast. A gentle squeeze of fresh lemon juice brings vibrancy, while a pinch of fennel pollen and a higgledy-piggledy arrangement of diced avocado bring richness.



Thinly sliced rainbow radishes and carrots grace the lip of the plate, along with a couple of crisp crostini. Confetti flowers, small edible petals in a wide variety of colors and shapes, flutter atop it all.


Pirozzi says that the colorful flower mixture is the “parsley of the future.”

Artistic and Handy: He loves to weld and create something out of nothing. He cuts the metal, then bends it and welds it together. He made all the wine racks and many art pieces in his restaurants’ dining rooms.

Collections: He collects salt, honey and extra-virgin olive oils from around the globe.


Branzino al Piatto
Yield: 2 servings
Two (3- to 4-ounce) boneless, skinless branzino filets
2 rectangular oven-proof plates
4 sheets nonstick wrap
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
Calabrian chili oil or Asian chili oil, see cook’s notes
Small pickled sweet peppers, see cook’s notes
Black salt flakes, see cook’s notes
Squeeze fresh lemon juice
Optional: pinch of fennel pollen
1/2 diced avocado
Garnish: a few slices of Calabrian chili, small teardrop tomatoes, thinly sliced rainbow carrots, rainbow radish, microgreens, pesticide-free fresh flower petals (edible “confetti” flowers preferred), crostini
Optional: olive oil pearls, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Jars of Tutto Calabria Hot Long Italian Chili Peppers in Oil are available at; you can use the oil (just a small drizzle) and a sliced chili in this recipe). Black salt flakes, fennel pollen and olive oil pearls are also available on the Site. I found the small sweet peppers in the cheese section at Bristol Farms Market in tiny jars (labeled “petite poivrons”).

To make crostini, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange thin slices of baguette slices on rimmed baking sheet; brush both sides with extra-virgin olive oil, and season with salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through (if undersides are not browning, turn crostini over once during baking).

1. Adjust oven rack to 5- to 6-inches below broiler element. Preheat broiler.
2. Drizzle a tiny bit of oil on rimmed baking sheet. Top with sheet of nonstick wrap (plastic wrap). Top with 1 fillet (put the side that had the skin, the darker side, facing up). Drizzle with a little oil and top with a sheet of nonstick wrap. Gently pound using a mallet or bottom of a pan, making the fillet about 1/3 bigger. Remove top plastic wrap and use the bottom plastic wrap to transfer to a rectangular ovenproof plate; remove plastic wrap. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil. Repeat with second branzino.
3. Broil 2 minutes in preheated oven. Use a fork to pull apart a tiny area in center to check for doneness. If fish isn’t opaque and white in center, give plates a turn (careful the plates are hot) and broil an additional 45 seconds or so. Remove from oven and place plates on a folded towel.
4. Sprinkle with a smidgen of Calabrian chili oil and a few slices of Calabrian chilies. Scatter tiny sweet chilies on top, a tiny touch of freshly ground black pepper, black salt flakes, a little fresh lemon juice and diced avocado. Top with microgreens and, if using, olive oil pearls. Arrange teardrop tomatoes, crostini and thinly sliced carrots on side of plate. Top with a generous amount of edible confetti flowers. Crisscross 2 crostini at one end.

Alessa By Pirozzi, 234 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach 949-497-8222
Pirozzi Corona del Mar, 2929 East Coast Hwy, Newport Beach 949-675-2932
Salerno By Chef Pirozzi, 220 N Beach St, Laguna Beach 949-497-2600

melissaLogo200Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …


Chopped Greek salad augmented with cooked chicken breast makes a delicious lunch or healthful dinner. Or substitute grilled salmon for the chicken for a tasty alternative.

Chopped Greek Chicken Salad
Yield: 4 (3 cups each) servings
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or oregano
Garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 6 cups chopped (in bite-sized pieces) romaine lettuce
2 1/2 cups cooked boneless-skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium tomatoes, cut into large dice
1/4 hothouse cucumber, skin removed in alternating strips, halved lengthwise and cut into half-moon slices
1/3 cup slivers of red onion
1/2 cup (generous) halved (lengthwise) pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Optional: croutons (rustic bread lightly brushed with olive oil, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and toasted in 350-degree oven)
1. Whisk vinegar, oil, dill or oregano, garlic salt and pepper together in large bowl.
2. Add remaining ingredients and gently toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Melissa’s Produce: Fresh Fruit, Vegetables, and Gift Baskets. Organic produce and specialty produce (such as baby vegetables, edible flowers, Okinawa sweet potatoes, coquitos, banana leaves, steamed lentils, bhut jolokia chiles, organic juice boxes and a large variety of peppers). 


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Wow Pumpkin Whoopie Pies from Pastry Wizard Rachel Klemek


Rachel Klemek, executive pastry chef-owner of Blackmarket Bakery in Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and San Diego, loves the whimsy of whoopie pies. She says the name connotes party-like fun. And the treat is a cake that is portable; it can be picked up and easily eaten out of hand.


Her pumpkin-spiked whoopie pies showcase flavors associated with the holidays; a rainbow of autumnal spices and a small dose of molasses bring palate memories of sweet indulgences centered around the festive time of year.

Watch her share the secrets to these cakes that sandwich irresistible cream cheese filling. She doesn’t chintz on the creamy filling; it’s added with generosity, piped from a plastic pastry bag to form a thick spiral.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Filling
Yield: about 10
2 1/2 cups pastry flour or all-purpose flour, see cook’s notes
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs (best if eggs aren’t super cold)
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 1/2 ounces buttermilk
12 ounces cream cheese (not whipped style or reduced fat), softened to room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick), soft
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or more to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cook’s notes: Chef Klemek used pastry flour, but said all-purpose could be used. Pastry flour contains 8.5 to 9.5 percent protein, which is low relative to all-purpose that is between 10 and 12 percent protein. Pastry flour produces a finer crumb. If you wish, use half all-purpose and half cake flour (7 to 8 percent protein), such as Swans Down that is sold at most supermarkets.
1. Adjust rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.
2. In large bowl of electric mixer (using the paddle attachment) beat butter, sugar and molasses until blended and fluffy, thick and a pale color, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and mix until just combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin and mix just until blended.
3. Add 1/3 of dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix on low speed until barely combined. Stop mixer and pour in half of buttermilk. Mix again just enough to blend. Stop mixer and add another 1/3 of dry mixture; mix just until barely combined. Add remaining buttermilk; mix until just barely combined. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add remaining dry ingredients; mix until just barely well combined. Take bowl off machine and gently fold with silicone spatula, making sure bottom of bowl is included and mixture is homogeneous. Scoop batter into mounds on prepared sheets (the easiest way is to use a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop). Bake immediately, about 10 to 14 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, prepare filling: In large bowl of electric mixer using the paddle attachment, thoroughly beat cream cheese, scraping bowl as needed, until smooth. Add softened butter and mix on low speed, occasionally scraping the bowl as needed, until combined. Add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined.
5. Pipe generous amount of cream cheese filling on half of the whoopies (or use a small scoop)-on the flat side – and sandwich two together. Best served the same day.


Blackmarket Bakery has two Orange County locations: 2937 Bristol (The Camp), Costa Mesa (714-662-3095) and 211 N Broadway, Santa Ana (714-571-0801)


fruitsaladSizeI love this grownup version of fruit salad. I call it Fruit Salad Royale.

melissaLogo200It’s perfect for a buffet table, brunch or picnic basket.

Vary the fruit according to the season and enjoy!

Guests that have lukewarm attitudes about fruit salad may find themselves coming back for more.

Fruit Salad Royale
Yield: 8 servings
1 1/2 cup peeled, sliced kiwi, about 5 medium
2 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
2 cups green or red seedless grapes
2 cups pitted, sliced plums, plumcots or peaches
1 cup peeled orange segments or tangerine segments
1/4 cup orange liqueur
3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon agave syrup or sugar
1. Place all ingredients in glass or ceramic bowl; gently toss with rubber spatulas. Cover and chill up to 4 hours.
Nutritional information (per serving):
Source: “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce” by Cathy Thomas




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