Tag Archives: Italian

Ethnic Eats in the OC

As the weather progresses further into fall here in Philly, I still find myself backed up on blog posts and reminiscing about summer meals in warmer climates.  But fear not readers–this will be my last summer installment and I will finally be caught up on writing.  (Eating faster than blogging is certainly a flaw of mine. )

As a native Los Angelino, I never spent much time in Orange County.  My perception of the region was less than flattering: suburban sprawl, Real Housewives, and chain restaurants.  But after spending more time there over the summer, I realized there is much more to the OC than meets the eye.  Hidden among the generic strip malls and bland chain eateries are terrific ethnic restaurants serving interesting cuisine worth driving for.  Here are 3 of my favorites.

Del Tomate

Located in a sleepy Tustin strip mall, Del Tomate gained some buzz after the LA Times gave it a rave review.  My boyfriend and I stumbled upon it when we were looking to grab a late lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It was one of the few places open that day, and boy, were we glad to have found it.

The allure of Del Tomate is in the attention to detail.  Owners Guillermo and Giacobbe, the husband and wife team behind the restaurant, don’t cut any corners when it comes to their rustic Argentinian-Italian fare.  Pastas are all handmade and made to order.  Empanadas and desserts are baked on the premises.  And the Argentinian style sandwiches are packed with fresh ingredients and high quality meats.

Del Tomate’s attention to detail is highlighted in the complimentary bread.  Crusty on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, the bread is served with homemade chimichurri that is best slathered on.  Bright, tangy, and punchy, I could literally eat a whole bowl full on my own.

Next, we tried the empanadas, baked daily at the restaurant.  Both the chicken and the eggplant empanadas were flaky, flavorful, and fresh–and a steal for $1.60 each.

For our mains, we tried one dish each from the Italian menu and the Argentinian menu.  I couldn’t resist the cannelloni alla Rossini ($13)–homemade cannelloni wrapped around ground beef, argentinian sausage, bacon, ricotta cheese and spinach, topped with  a spicy pomodoro and bechamel sauce, and baked until it is melty and divine.  It was definitely cheese overload, but in a fantastic way.  The quality and care put into the ingredients really shined through, as all of the flavors were well-balanced and greaseless.

The finale of our meal was the Entrana sandwich ($9).  Thin slices of smoky grilled skirt steak piled on top of the freshest lettuce and tomato you could imagine, all sandwiched between a fresh baguette smeared with mayo and that amazing chimmichuri.

Needless to say, we were waaaay too full to eat dessert–though we were certainly tempted by the full dessert case, displaying homemade cakes, cannolis, and cookies.  We’ll definitely return to Del Tomate to try these, and for the rustic and refined Italian-Argentinian cooking.

137 W. Tustin St. Suite A
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 731-1738
Del Tomate on Urbanspoon

Siam Taste of Asia 

It takes a lot for me to be impressed by a Thai restaurant, especially when Jitlada (of Jonathan Gold acclaim) is just a few blocks from my house in LA.  But Siam Taste of Asia, tucked in yet another generic strip mall in Santa Ana, is turning out reasonably priced, fiery Thai cuisine that rivals its more famous counterpart.

The restaurant’s most popular dish is its deep fried tofu ($6.95), which even the staunchest of carnivores rave about.  Crisp on the outside, light and airy on the inside, the dish shows deep frying at its best, transforming otherwise bland cubes of tofu into bite-sized nuggets of joy.  And don’t forget to dip them in the garlic chile sauce, which adds a subtle sweet-spicy note to the dish.

Siam Taste of Asia also executes classic Thai dishes well.  The chicken basil ($7.95) gradually built up heat, eventually making my eyes water in that pleasantly spicy way.  My favorite, however, was the tom yum goong soup ($8.95).  The soup arrives at the table steaming hot and fiery red, and looks like it will literally set your tongue on fire.  That it does, but the spiciness is also tempered by earthy lemongrass, fresh scallions, cilantro, and the occasional shrimp, making the flavor profile more sophisticated and layered.  Served with a refreshing salad topped with a mint dressing and rice, the tom yum goong will certainly satisfy any spicy food craving.

3520 W. 1st St.
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(714) 418-9678
Siam Taste of Asia on Urbanspoon

Dx Peruvian Restaurant 

Peruvian food is so hot right now in LA, but the cuisine has held steadfast in the OC for years.  Dx Peruvian Restaurant, located in (of course) a strip mall across from South Coast Plaza, offers classic Peruvian dishes in a surprisingly intimate setting.

One of the most well-known Peruvian dishes is lomo saltado ($14.95), and Dx serves up a quite tasty version.  The classic dish reflects Peru’s history as a destination for Chinese immigrants, melding Chinese and Peruvian cooking techniques and ingredients.  Lomo saltado is thinly sliced steak, onion, and tomatoes, stir fried with soy sauce and french fries, and served over rice.  Though it sounds like a strange combination at first, the ingredients actually work quite well together; think of it as Peru’s version of meat and potatoes.

Another classic Peruvian dish is aji de gallina ($12.95): shredded chicken slowly cooked in a blended bread, milk and walnut sauce.  Though not the most visually or texturally pleasing dish, the flavors were earthy, mild, and satisfying.  It was quite a large portion, so I would recommend sharing this with someone.

Finally, don’t miss out on the homemade lucuma ice cream ($6.00).  Lucuma is a sub-tropical fruit native to Peru, and tastes similar to maple and sweet potato.  The ice cream is pleasantly fruity and subtly sweet, with a unique flavor that I’ve yet to taste elsewhere.

Dx Peruvian Restaurant offers a relaxing atmosphere that will rejuvenate hungry shoppers and give a tasty introduction to Peruvian cuisine for foodies and novices alike.  So next time you are near South Coast Plaza, forego Maggiano’s and head to Dx!

3930 S. Bristol St. Suite 108
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 424-0014
DX Peruvian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Floriana: A Family Affair

Floriana is one of those places that I’ve walked past a thousand times, but never had the time nor the inclination to venture inside. That is, until this past Saturday night, when one of Floriana’s owners contacted me about trying out the restaurant. (Note: I paid for my own meal. Only drinks were comped, which I will not include in this review–though I will say that the sangria was delicious.)

Floriana has occupied its prime location on Dupont Circle’s 17th St. since 1979. For 31 years, Floriana’s handmade pastas and rustic Italian cuisine has built a loyal following, especially among the neighborhood’s gay community. The restaurant emphasizes its cozy and intimate ambiance, where regulars and newcomers alike are made to feel like they’re eating in someone’s house. Run by Floriana and her son and daughter-in-law, the restaurant is truly a family affair, with menu items even named after family members.

I was a big fan of the ambiance, especially the outdoor patio. It was inviting and pleasant, despite the muggy heat, and I loved the white twinkle lights strewn through the trees above. And on a busy, often flamboyant, corner of 17th St., the patio is an excellent spot for people watching and taking in the night scene.

I wish I could say I was as enthused about the food. We started off with the beet down salad ($9) and the shrimp and avocado appetizer ($12). The beet down consisted of roasted red and golden beets and Asian pears tossed with a honey ginger vinaigrette. I enjoyed the beets, but I found the pears lost a lot of their crunch from the dressing. I also wish the presentation had been a bit less rustic–perhaps a garnish on the plate would have helped. Otherwise, what arrives at the table really is a beet down–a haphazard pile of what could be, with a little more fine-tuning, a composed and elegant salad.

The shrimp and avocado appetizer was refreshing on a hot summer day. I liked the creamy ripeness of the avocado paired with the shrimp. And while I initially found the aioli on top to be too heavy, it eventually grew on me and brought all of the components of the dish together.

For our entrees, we ordered the two pastas that Floriana handmakes: tortelloni mignon ($19) and ravioli di zucca ($16). The tortelloni mignon are tortellini-shaped pasta stuffed with herb seasoned beef tenderloin, topped off with a cream tomato sauce. This was by far my favorite pasta dish out of the two; it reminded me of Chef Boyardee ravioli, but with better and fresher ingredients (and clearly, not out of a can). However, I’m not sure it was good enough to justify the $19 price tag, especially considering the on-the-small-side portion.

The ravioli di zucca was also tasty: pockets of handmade ravioli filled with pureed butternut squash and cheese, served with a sage butter sauce.  I appreciated that the ravioli weren’t swimming in butter and cheese, as I’ve been dismayed to find at other restaurants. But at the same time, the pasta tasted a bit dry and could have used a tad more sauce. The flavor of the butternut squash also seemed muted.

Everything considered, my meal at Floriana was decent. I’m a fan of the location and warm atmosphere; both the patio and the interior are adorable. It’s a great option if you’re in Dupont and looking for a homey spot to people watch and have a drink. But otherwise, judging only from the limited part of the menu I sampled, I’d head elsewhere for Italian food.

Floriana

1602 17th St. NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 667-5937

Floriana Mercury Grill on Urbanspoon
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Exploring the Hill

The Capitol

Since moving to DC in August, the past few months have been filled with job interviews, law school apps, and all the other anxieties that come along with unemployment. But now that I have an internship lined up for January and all my law school apps sent in, I’m playing the waiting game and have a LOT of free time on my hands. My family and friends keep telling me to enjoy the free time while I still have it, do all the things I won’t have time to do when I start working, and most importantly, to stop complaining to them because they are jealous of all my free time!

Entrance to Mangialardo and Sons--looks can be deceiving

I finally followed their advice this past Wednesday–and couldn’t be happier that I did. I had read a lot about a small, hole-in-the-wall Italian sub shop popular with the Capitol Hill lunch crowd. With nothing to do that day, I decided to check it out and explore the Hill.

Mangialardo and Sons is located on Capitol Hill SE, just off the Potomac Ave. metro stop. The area reminds me a bit of Columbia Heights, in the sense that it’sgradually being redeveloped, but there are still some parts that feel a bit seedy. Case in point: when you walk out of the Potomac Ave. stop, there is a brand new, sparkling clean Harris Teeter  on the bottom floor of a huge apartment unit across the street. Walk a few blocks in the opposite direction, however, and the area quickly goes down hill (both literally and figuratively). Luckily, Mangialardo and Sons is near the Harris Teeter, but that doesn’t mean the location is perfect. The front window of the shop had been smashed in when I visited, and a wood board and some duct tape haphazardly held it together. (The owner joked that it was probably a bitter family member or customer desperate for salami who broke the window.)

Despite the shabby storefront, Mangialardo’s was crowded with Hill staffers picking up sandwiches for their offices when I walked in. The store’s interior is sparse but clean, with shelves along the walls stocked with jars of roasted red peppers and bottles of imported Italian olive oil. Service is efficient and friendly, especially to newcomers. The menu, above the service counter, includes hot and cold sandwiches, and a special of spaghetti and meatballs. There are also coolers filled with sodas and a nice selection of bottled teas.

The G-man

I ordered the G-man on a soft roll with everything on it (which received positive reviews on Yelp) and walked over to Harris Teeter to eat my sandwich (Mangialardos is cash and carry-out only). For only $6, the G-man is a great value for the money. The sub is huge, more than twice the size of Potbelly. The roll was soft and chewy, but substantial enough to hold together the sandwich. Fillings included ham, bologna, pepperoni, salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, mayo, Italian seasoning, hot peppers, oil/vinegar, and lettuce and tomato.

I am by no means a connoisseur of Italian subs, so perhaps I could not fully appreciate the G-man in all its glory. Yes, the ingredients were fresh and high-quality. Yes, it was very authentic. And yes, it was a pretty darn good and filling mean for only 6 bucks. But, I found the sub to be a bit too salty for my taste. After taking out the pepperoni, mortadella, and some of the cheese, however, I thought it tasted much better. Although I did find myself drinking a ton of water the rest of the day. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an authentic Italian sub or just a change of pace from Subway, I would still wholeheartedly recommend Mangialardo and Sons.

Foodies' mecca aka Hill's Kitchen

Afterward, I wandered around the Hill and stumbled upon the cutest culinary shop, Hill’s Kitchen. I stocked up on stocking stuffers for the holidays: an eggplant shaped spoon rest, Capitol-shaped cookie cutters, and cute penguin napkins. Then I somehow ended up in Chinatown (not sure how…) and went to the Downtown Holiday Market for even more holiday shopping. Lots of handmade jewelry, beautiful photos, and cute clothes all from local vendors. There was also live jazz outside the Portrait Gallery and really yummy, fresh-out-of-the-fryer donuts. All in all, it was a wonderful day to be unemployed.

Jazz outside the Portrait Gallery

Mangialardo and Sons

1317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 543-6212

Open weekdays 7:30a-3:00p

Mangialardo & Sons on Urbanspoon

Hill’s Kitchen

713 D St. SE (across from the Eastern Market metro)

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 543-1997

Downtown Holiday Market

F St. between 7th and 8th St. (near the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro)

Open Dec. 4-23, Noon-8pm daily

Downtown Holiday Market

Cloudy with a Chance of (Chicken) Meatballs

Spaghetti with chicken meatballs and simple marinara sauce

Many followers of this blog may be under 2 false impressions after reading my previous posts: 1. that I don’t cook, 2. that I only eat out in Dupont Circle (the tag cloud on the right, unfortunately, does not help my case). The next couple posts will hopefully dispel both notions.

I had a serious case of the Mondays this past (yup…you guessed it) Monday, so I decided to whip up some comfort food to cheer myself up. After browsing some of my favorite food blogs, I came across a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for baked chicken meatballs, which sounded absolutely delicious and (semi) healthy! I headed to Safeway with my grocery list in hand, already hungry for a steaming bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Chicken meatballs (before baking)

The recipe calls for pancetta, Italian bread (I used ciabatta), and ground chicken–ingredients which only seem more expensive than they really are. I certainly thought about replacing the pancetta and ciabatta with normal bacon and whole wheat bread, but reviewers of the recipe warned again and again that substitutions would sacrifice flavor. So I paid the extra $3 for pancetta and ciabatta. Was it worth it? YOU BET.

The meatballs were moist, tender, and very flavorful–more flavorful than most other meatballs I’ve had. As Deb from Smitten Kitchen writes, they do taste faintly of cheese. Which, I’m not going to lie, freaked me out at first (b/c there is no cheese!). I think the meatballs actually taste better the longer they sit, as the flavors really blend together and absorb into the chicken.

Deglazing the onions and tomatoes for the marinara sauce

I served the meatballs with one of my favorite tomato sauces–the Barefoot Contessa’s marinara sauce. The sauce is elegant and simple, with only a few ingredients that really showcase the sweetness of the tomatoes. Red wine (I used a California Pinot Noir which I had left over) adds warmth and depth of flavor while the parsley (the only herb in the entire recipe!) adds just the right amount of zest. In short, I LOVE THIS SAUCE (and Barefoot Contessa, but I’ll save that for another time). The simple flavors of the sauce complemented the richness of the meatballs perfectly.

In addition to how delicious it tasted, this gourmet meal only cost $16 total to make. Plus, I have enough leftovers to last me the entire week (I even froze some meatballs for later). That means, it cost about a mere $4/serving! Now, that’s what I call cheap eating.

YUM

For recipes, click on the bold links in the above post.