Friday, January 27, 2006

Around the palatable world in thirty days.

Time for some major updates. These will be some quick entries that are way over due. I have been to some awesome (well, there was that one bad one) restaurants lately and need to give a shout out. Here we go:

1. Let’s start with the bad. The Green Parrot, in Santa Ana. I have struggled to decide if I should lump this place in the “okay” group or the bad group. Let me describe the scenario: A group of eight of us went there with a reservation to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We waited probably a good twenty minutes until our server came over to take our drink orders. Bless the boy, he was nice and meant well, but he couldn’t think of anything to describe the specials with except for the word “nice.” We finally ordered, and I forget the exact time that our food did come out, but it was well over after an hour.

The food: potentially very good. I say potentially, because none of it was hot. The menu at the Green Parrot is constantly changing as the chef there tries to incorporate seasonal ingredients. I really admire this, in fact when I go to a restaurant and find menus that change every night, I take it as a good sign that their food will be pretty tasty. Some of the dishes which I recall at the table that night: a grilled salmon (cedar plank) with vegetables, a pork tenderloin, a meatloaf made with veal, and gnocchi with squash, walnuts and a cream sauce. Everyone’s food was delicious, but a few of us complained that our food was only luke warm as previously mentioned. Knowing that it took over an hour for them to get our food out to us in the first place, none of us decided it wise to send the food back to be reheated, not to mention we were starving by this point.

One of my friend’s at the table decided to complain about how long our meal took. She went to our waiter privately and explained how we were upset, and he told her that she shouldn’t leave a tip then. She then explained “No, it’s not your service, it’s how long the food took.” He then added, “At least your food was hot.” (What ever happened to “The customer is always right?”) And my friend retorted “No, actually it wasn’t hot.” Then he said “We even gave you the birthday cake for free.” (Since when do restaurants charge for birthday cake?) My friend then spoke with the manager who said she would take some of the bill off. The manager* never changed the bill. We were so annoyed at this point. The service and hospitality… well… there was none.

My roommate and I were going to write a letter and complain, but I suppose this is my revenge here. I will NEVER recommend that restaurant to anyone. It is a real shame because I know the food that we were eating (if it were hot) would have been really delicious and special. The problem wasn’t really the food—it was how the restaurant was run.

Oh, and the ambience sucked. They are trying to do something really admirable there by promoting local artists. That is awesome. But it felt like our table it was in a hallway. The rooms were too open and just not cozy.

Had it not been that I was with my friends and we were celebrating a birthday, the night would have been ruined. Thank god for good company.

So you can avoid it, here is the info:
The Green Parrot Café
2035 N. Main St
Santa Ana, CA 92706

* Manager lady: If you are reading this, I noticed from your webpage that a lot of your business comes from weddings. I hope you know that the woman you told you were going to adjust the bill to (and then you did not) works with a plenty of wedding coordinators in Orange County. Don’t be expectin’ any recommendations from her, either.

Ugh. I needed to get that out of my system.

Ok. Now we can move on to the good dining experiences.

2. Ristorante Rumari, Laguna Beach. Just about for as long as I have been in California I have been driving up and down PCH seeing this restaurant and jumping to the conclusion that it was probably not good—1) just because it’s in Laguna Beach 2) because it looks a little dumpy outside and 3) because I have never had Italian food that has really knocked my socks off.

Well folks, I couldn’t have been more wrong, ever. I had a great dinner here. The menu has a great selection. My date and I stuck to pretty simple dishes, she had the veal marsala and I had a dish which I can’t remember the name of, but it had green rotini, a cream sauce, potatoes and chicken. I know what you are thinking—my dish sounds so boring, but it really was awesome. I believe the waiter (very funny guy) said that the owner’s mom (or parents) actually make the pasta. I have never had pasta like this—it was what I believe pasta is supposed to taste like. It was cooked el dente, flavorful, not chewy or gummy and it just plain tasted fresh. I didn’t try the veal marsala as I am not particularly fond of veal, but my date insisted it was delisious.

And as if we couldn’t be any happier, after deciding not to have any desert just because we were full, our waiter surprised us with a cannoli on the house. Thank you Mr.-Waiter-man. That will result in a big tip for you.

Ambience is romantic, dishes aren’t cheap ($20-50) but, totally worth it. Reservations recommended. Don’t eat lunch that day, save your appetite for dinner.

Ristorante Rumari
1826 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651-3231
(949) 494-0400

3. Matsuhisa, Los Angeles. I am not a sushi connoseuir by any means, so I can’t even start to really give you a true review. It’s Matsuhisa, and for those of you know who Nobu is, then you don’t really need an explanation. All I know is that I have never eaten so much raw fish with out going “Uhm, what is this?” in so little time. I chowed. We went as a group— we mainly just had appetizers and sake and the bill came to $672. The moral of the story: Matsuhisa expensive, but very yummy. You have to go if you have never been, ‘nuff said.

129 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

4. Last but definitely not least, Chakra. I’m not sure where I heard about this place, possibly OC Weekly, but once I saw their website I knew I had to go. I’m not even a fan of Indian cuisine, but the pictures of the interior of the restaurant on the website and--- well, what can I say? I’m a sucker for ambience.

My roommate went there before I could and she said, “It was a lot smaller than I would have thought.” Me, too. I wouldn’t describe the restaurant as tiny, but it’s pretty intimate. I imagine it seats about 60 people—it was just interesting because for some reason it looks so much bigger on the website. I suppose if it were a warmer night another 20 or so people could have been seated on the patio. The design of the interior was really quite beautiful: high ceilings, earthy colors, cotemporary, clean, yet very cozy. The crowd was a surprisingly older crowd considering it is located in the middle of UCI. There were a lot of Indian people there—that’s always a good sign at ethnic restaurants.

Ok. Now let me talk about the food. I am now a fan of Indian food.

Naan bread: I know, you are thinking “Big deal…” but this was the best naan bread I have ever had. It came out piping hot, and tasted like it was just made. A tiny bit crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside. I think we had to order this as a side for $3, which I initially thought was silly as it is normally complimentary (I think) at Indian restaurants. But it was well worth it not only because it was delicious by itself but because they brought out 4 dipping sauces to go with it. A mango sauce, tamarind, mint and tomato. Imagine them just in that order-- little platters with a bright orange, smooth brown, spotted green and thick tomato sauce. There was really no special presentation—that was it, just the sauce, and it was sufficient to make a beautiful appetizer. We quickly wolfed down one basket of naan with our pomegranate martinis and someone on the staff was nice enough to send over another complimentary basket of naan.

We didn’t wait that long until our food came. We ordered the breaded salmon as an entrée and then ordered the chicken tikka masala also to split. This was plenty of food. The salmon perfectly cooked, served in a bowl with a mild yellow curry. This alone could have been a meal. The tikka masala came out steaming hot, the chicken tender and moist. Even the rice that came out, jasmine with saffron, was quite possibly the lightest jasmine rice I’ve had. What I enjoyed the most about our meal is that it was all hot and tasted very fresh in both the sense that it was made to order and it was made from fresh ingredients. I think I didn’t like most Indian food previously because I found it would taste mushy, or like it was a bunch of different foods thrown in a bowl with some overbearing curry. Our dishes all seem well balanced this night—enough curry in the salmon for example for you to notice it but not be like “Wow, that is a lot of curry.”

A note about the service—it was great. Our waitress prompt and polite. Get this: our candle went out in the middle of dinner. I was about to state the obvious and go “Aw, our candle just burnt out.” But before it even finished smoldering, one of the waitstaff scooped in and replaced it with a new candle. That’s service, I tell ya.

I’m definitely going to have to hit Chakra up at least once a month- if not for a full dinner then at least a $5 martini and some naan bread at their inviting bar. And if you are still reading this, go to their website already!

Chakra Indian Cuisine
4143 Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 92612