Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Ramos House Cafe {San Juan Capistrano, CA}

Located in the heart of San Juan Capistrano is a gorgeously comforting nook known as 'The Ramos House Cafe'. I would compare it to your grandmother's kitchen rather than a restaurant. It is located in a beautifully restored historical house that takes on double duty, serving as a home and as a widely successful restaurant. It's owner can often be seen wandering the small area drinking his beer of choice, which makes for an atmosphere that is both inviting and casual.

The character that is found in the setting also incorporates into the food and dining experience. Sitting under a thatched vine roof makes for a beautifully lit table (just not when the weather disagrees). The menu constantly changes to highlight the season's best produce and is always made of the freshest ingredients, which can even be found in his own tended garden. I have to say that this restaurant is my most favorite in the area; it has never failed to please and always leaves me in a state of complete and utter satisfaction.
On the weekends, they have a weekend brunch menu that is $30.00 per person (an incredibly reasonable price), which includes a drink, a starter, and an entree. They also have sweets to choose from if desired, and trust me, they are most definitely desired!

Most of the pictures are of food already half-eaten due to the fact that I completely devoured it before even thinking about photographing it.

1. Cinnamon Apple Beignets: basically anything fried is good, but when filled with apples and lain in a perfectly sweetened vanilla sauce, it can be called something better than just "good," maybe even supercalifragilisticexpialidocious... just maybe.

2. Basil Cured Salmon: beautiful pieces of smoked salmon (and not too salty, yay! for getting it right) topped with boiled eggs, a white sauce, greens and served with toast points. The salmon was like velvet on top of the crunchy toast, the eggs gave it an unbelievably creamy texture and the greens also provided a nice, refreshing crisp.

Others Available:
1. Caramelized Fruit Salad
2. Fresh Baked Huckleberry Coffee Cake
3. Sweet Corn Hush Puppies w/ Pepper Jam

1. Southern Fried Chicken Salad with Corn Bread, Cranberries & Pumpkin Seed Buttermilk Dressing: The chicken was coated in some kind of meal which made it deliciously crunchy yet moist on the inside which went especially well with the tart cranberries. The corn bread were served in the form of Hush Puppies which were crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, my favorite part being the whole corn kernels in the batter. The dressing was like no other I have tasted before, tart yet sweet and incredibly strange. It left me with a sense of confused pleasure.

2. Smoked Mac n' Cheese w/ Veggies & Lemon: I don't know what more I could have asked for in a mac n' cheese. It wasn't overly cheesy to the point of sickness but just cheesy enough and had the perfect consistency. What made this special was the addition of the vegetables. It was topped with asparagus which was perfectly cooked with just the slightest bit of bite. The addition of the vegetables allowed for a well rounded meal and not an overly bloated stomach, which I am totally down for.

Others Available:
1. Persimmon Pain Perdu w/ Sweet Pumpkin Seeds
2. Wild Mushroom, Roasted Garlic & Sun Dried Tomato Scramble
3. Smoked Bacon Scramble w/ Rocket & Caramelized Onion
4. Crab Hash w/ Smoked Bacon Scrambled Eggs & Sour Cream Remoulade
5. Fennel Hash w/ Fried Poached Eggs & Goat Cheese Hollandaise
6. Lentil Soup w/ Duck Confit and Gingerbread Crutons
7. Beef Stew w/ Blue Cheese and Truffle Mashed Potatoes
8. Spicy Crab Cake Salad


1. Berry Banana Shortcake: Every time I make my journey to Ramos House, I always, and I repeat and capitalize, ALWAYS get this fabulous dessert. When I first read the menu I overlooked it because it sounded so simple, overdone, and boring. Simple it may be, but boring it most definitely is not. After a recommendation from the server, we decided to order this and we were not disappointed. It's warm and perfectly sweet and just an all around winner.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Napa Rose {Anaheim, CA}

A couple years ago, I encountered Napa Rose, a hidden restaurant within the depths of the Grand Californian Hotel in Downtown Disney, and it became one of the best restaurant experiences I have ever had. Napa Rose only offers the finest and most seasonal ingredients, best interpreted through Executive Chef Andrew Sutton's modern Californian cuisine, which is well paired with the expanse view of Disney's California Adventure Park within the dining hall. The service was prompt and if you're lucky, like I was, also humorous and a bit witty. If you're looking for affordability, you will not find it here, where meals average $35 - $45 per person. I highly recommend a trip to this hidden jewel whether it be now or fifteen years down the road when you can actually afford it, just make sure to make reservations because trust me, all of the tables will go fast.

By the way, sorry if pictures aren't up to Annie Leibovits par, but I'm still a young working gal, so I'm still saving up for that gorgeous $600 camera everyone else seems to have but me. And to my defense, the lighting was absolutely horrible, as in most all fine dining experiences where dimmed romantic lighting seems necessary (what a crappy excuse). Hopefully these will do...

The Appetizers: The first was served in an extremely large Bento Box and consisted of sizzling shrimp on a hot stone, barbecued short ribs, chicken skewered on sugarcane, and more. I would like to delve into the details but I had this dish in '06 (still available now though) and though memorable, I guess not quite memorable enough. Though to its defense, it was extremely easy on the eyes.

The second:
1. Tuna Handrolls: So velvet-y I almost cried.
2. Pheasant filled Dolmas (Grape Leaves): Being a large fan of dolmas, I was pleased but a little underwhelmed, since I was holding large expectations.
3. Potato Lakes topped with Salmon Roe: Crispy and salty, conclusion: good.
4. Fried Oysters with Buttermilk Ranch: Still gooey and warm on the inside, not the best though.
5. Mini Tacos: So tiny that I underestimated their taste, but to my surprise, they were better than expected.
6. Beef Spring Rolls: THE best on the entire plate, so incredibly tasty and refreshing.
7. Lobster Slaw on Lobster Jelly: personally I thought it was on the verge of disgusting, me and a couple others. But again, that's just my opinion...

Lamb on top of butternut squash ravioli and roasted vegetables. I used to hate lamb because of that game-y aftertaste that always accompanied it. But an intervention was necessary, and this lamb was prepared perfectly, with absolutely no aftertaste! The ravioli was slightly sweet, which went well with the salty lamb. You could tell the pasta was handmade and it was perfectly chewy while still giving enough bite back.
Grilled atlantic salmon on top of a lobster and clam chowder with fennel. I'm not a fan of mis-naming things. So when I expected a thick and hearty chowder and got a broth-y sauce instead, I was semi-disappointed. But after giving it another chance, I was glad I had not completely given up. The salmon was perfectly undercooked, because overcooked salmon is vile. But looking back, "chowder" chowder would have probably completely overkilled the delicate salmon and its counterpart of fennel brothy-ness made a perfect couple.
This dish was part of the "Vinter's Table," which is the chef's personal tasting menu. It was a filet mignon served with a cranberry sauce. First of all, never in my life have I ever tasted something so perfect. It cut with the slightest of ease and the taste...oh the taste! It melted in my mouth like butter, and that's NOT a comparison, that's truth. It was brought into the highest stage of perfection by the cranberry sauce. You would have expected something tart or jelly-like but instead you are surprised by a thick syrup-y sweet accompaniment.

My personal dish was roasted pheasant accompanied by fingerling potatoes, stuffed cabbage, heirloom carrots, and applewood smoked bacon. Even the carrots, a mere garnish to the dish, were exquisitely cooked. The pheasant was moist and not at all overdone. But my favorite part of the dish was suprisingly not the pheasant but the stuffed cabbage. It was filled with a fennel, onion, and bacon mix which was a great addition to the overall theme of the dish.

I also tried the Napa Side of Skillet Roasted Potatoes with Blue Cheddar, Bacon, and Onions. It was kind of like a combination of scalloped and au gratin potatoes, with the best aspects of both. It was full of incredible flavor and I somehow managed to squeeze it into an already large dinner. What can you do when your inner fatty craves it?

Dessert Menu '08

Dessert from '06: A pound cake french toast served on top of raspberry and vanilla sauce. This was the best dessert I have ever had. Warm and crispy on the outside, but completely buttery on the inside. Perfectly rich but not overwhelmingly so.

So for dessert, I opted for the hazelnut creme filled doughnuts with "the best hot chocolate ever." I was extremely disappointed when I was greeted with a doughnut the size of a golf ball and even more so when the hazelnut component seemed to be completely lost. It was a sugary dough, nothing new and nothing special. But, redemption came in the form of its accompaniment, the hot chocolate. It's chocolate to milk ratio was out of this world which made it creamy and dense without over-killing the chocolate flavor.

I had other desserts but the pictures turned out to be crap. The other desserts consisted of:

1. Tangerine Creme Brulee with Grand Marnier Chantilly Cream: the creme was perfectly smooth and it was brulee-d all around. The more the brulee, the better the brulee - at least that's what I always say. The tangerine flavor was quiet but still there, just a perfect little hint.
2. Wine Country Apple Croustada with Walnut Ice Cream and Cider Caramel: definitely the best of its type. The apples were moist and topped with a chunky and crunchy crumble topping. Walnut ice cream...umm YES please? What more can be said about that?
3. Napa "Pick Me Up" Valrhona Chocolate-Espresso Mousse Cake with Bailey's Irish Coffee "Pot au Creme": If you are a coffee connoisseur, this is definitely for you. It definitely picks you up and in a good way at that. The Bailey's creme was gorgeously smooth, almost as if you had licked a baby's bottom itself. If that doesn't explain it well, you clearly don't know how to use your imagination.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Double Chocolate Gooey Butter Cakes

The holidays are the times when I: one, have the time to cook and two, enjoy to cook. So it's only fitting that for the holidays, I try to make something incredibly decadent, meaning something that will make me morbidly obese within one bite. Who better to borrow a recipe from than Paula Deen herself, the self proclaimed "Queen of Butter." 

Double Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake:
Yields: 12 squares

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted, plus 8 more tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted, plus additional butter, for greasing pan 

1 (18.25-ounce) package chocolate cake mix 

1 egg, plus 2 eggs 

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened 

3 to 4 tablespoons cocoa powder 

1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, 1 egg, and 1 stick melted butter, and stir until well blended. Pat mixture into prepared pan and set aside.

In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the remaining 2 eggs, and the cocoa powder. Lower the speed of the mixer, and add the powdered sugar. Continue beating until ingredients are well mixed. Slowly add the remaining 1 stick of melted butter, and the vanilla, continuing to beat the mixture until smooth. Stir in nuts with a rubber spatula. Spread filling over cake mixture in pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the cake; the center should still be a little gooey when finished baking. Let cake partially cool on a wire rack before cutting into pieces.

And the results (Dum Dum Dum):

As you can see there are two unbelievably gorgeous layers, one cake-y and one gooey.  The second layer is similar to a cheesecake (well it basically is, since it has cream cheese in it) and never fully bakes (or hardens) as the bottom layer. But don't worry, that's the beauty of it all. That second "gooey" layer is comparable to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Ok fine, don't mock my comparisons, but seriously, Paula Deen's recipe for this non-conventional chocolate cake is on the verge of perfection, if not divine intervention. It's something all members of Chocoholics Anonymous will love. Am I out of line to say it looks somewhat similar to the snowy peaks of Big Bear? I think not. Substance and beauty, a rare find!