Lunch at Starfish, Laguna Beach (across from the Montage)
‘Much positive buzz about the Asian-inspired, coastal cuisine at Nancy Wilhelm‘s spot. The decor makes it feel intimate, partially due to the lighting which is truly inspired. Don’t miss the Korean Kalbi Tacos ($9). Made with barbecued sesame n’ soy seasoned Angus beef, spicy gochujang aioli (gochujang is a savory Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt). Plus a garnish of pickled daikon.
Panang Chicken Curry ($12) showcases steamed free-range chicken breast, Yukon Gold potatoes, edamame and (the guests’ choice of) rice. I selected brown rice. This dish was so darn good.
Thai Fried Rice ($9) with gulf shrimp, Chinese sausage, edamame, egg and cabbage. Love the textures and the way the flavors came through.
Enjoyed the Starfish Cooler: Muddled fresh kumquats, fresh mint, yuzu juice, Mandarin vodka, splash of soda, plus blood orange liqueur.
I’m not a fan of sweet drinks. This beauty hit the spot. Loads of citrus interest.
Dinner at Paul Martin’s American Grill, Irvine Spectrum Center
Billed as a farm-to-table bistro, I was impressed to see organic Bloomsdale spinach on the menu. Thumbs up, big time.
OK, rest assured that it is in season. Here it is in my home garden.
Yup, the Bloomsdale spinach is the deep green veg at the bottom of the shot. It’s an heirloom spinach with a savory-sweet flavor. Their menu says it: “Eat Organic. Buy Local. Love Fresh.”
At Paul Martin, that Bloomsdale spinach is beautifully sauteed and served with a Cajun-spiced filleted trout ($23).
Or you can get a B. spinach side for $6.
A visit to the kitchen to chat with oh-so-talented founding partners Brian Bennett and Paul Fleming, as well as chef partner Jorge Estrada.
On my mind during our talk, the irresistible Pitman Family Farms “Brick” Chicken ($21). This dish is a plate of palate heaven, and I’ve been dreaming about it even since I dined there. Half a bird arrives skin-on (which is really nice because that skin is so scrumptious) with fresh herb jus and creamy mashed potatoes. The free-range chicken is so flavorful, and super juicy.
Banana Cream Pie ($8) with layers of vanilla pastry cream, chocolate (interior crust is brushed with it), sliced bananas and whipped cream. Mmmmm. Ice creams ($6) are made in house as well as the pastries.
What a Deal – Taste of Paul Martin’s (3-7 pm Weekdays, Weekends 3-6pm): Enjoy wine or cocktails ($4 or $8, depending on your selection) and a hearty taste ($4 or $8, depending on your selection). I took a peek and everyone looked like they were REALLY having a great time at the communal tables (and the portions looked generous). Dishes such as Buttermilk Crispy Fried Chicken and Fries ($8) or Smoked Salmon Lettuce Cups ($4). By the way, they smoke salmon daily in-house (think brown sugar, salt and Jim Beam Black).