Three-coursin’ it at Morton’s The Steakhouse

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Rachael Ray taught me on “$40-a-Day” that the best meal deal at a nice restaurant is at lunch. There’s actually a really funny Aziz Ansari bit on the subject too, check it out.

Typically I come to Morton’s The Steakhouse in Santa Ana for their lunchtime burger, a hefty beef bomb with crisp bacon and gooey horseradish cheddar, but their prix-fixe menu enticed me on a recent visit. In the case of Morton’s, where the steaks hover around $50 plus, having a $30 three-course prix-fixe steak lunch is a bargain you should take advantage of at least once.

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Fried chicken picnic at Donahoo’s Pomona

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I was reading Eater recently and came across a list of the “16 Best Fried Chicken Dishes in Los Angeles.” Before clicking on it, I said one thing to myself: “Donahoo’s better be on it or they got it wrong.”

As you can tell, I’m passionate about where I get my fried chicken, and I’m most passionate about Donahoo’s Golden Chicken in Pomona (Ontario or Riverside). Eater’s list showcases birds across the restaurant spectrum—from simple Southern at Jim Dandies to Spanish-influenced at A.O.C.—but Donahoo’s (No. 16, they did get it right!) is my personal favorite of the bunch, serving piping hot, crunchy chicken with a variety of sides, butter-injected rolls and the right amount of nostalgia to make you feel like a kid again.

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Zov’s celebrates the season with new fall menu

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Chefs Zov Karmardian and Louie Jocson of Zov’s have been busy these past few months. Aside from their monthly wine dinners and cooking classes, the two recently flew to New York where they cooked an incredible multi-course meal at the James Beard House—particularly an honor for Zov, as it was her third time doing so.

Seeing as there was a small break between New York and the beginning of the holiday season, they kept the creativity flowing and crafted four new seasonal dishes. Two are on the healthier side, two a bit more decadent, but all four celebrate fall in the most delicious way. … Read more…

B.O.D. After Dark: Breakfast man’s dinner dash

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Three amigos. 3 hours. 54 guests. 12 courses. 648 plates.

That’s the final tally for last Saturday’s “Cow-n-Buddies” prix-fixe, the latest in Break of Dawn Chef Dee Nguyen’s ongoing series of fine-dining dinners. It’s a concept he’s flirted with sporadically over the years, only realizing it consistently with this year’s successful meals including “Un Tour de Vietnam,” “Pig-N-Buddies” and multiple B.O.D. RAW sushi dinners, in tandem with Sushi Roku’s Daniel Doki Kim.

It takes months of planning, up until the day of, utilizing techniques new and old (garum, anyone?). This meal included 45-day aged prime rib, monkfish liver, veal with blue crab … the dude isn’t holding back, and he’s only getting quicker, better, more efficient and even more experimental. He does it as sport, on his own, for the high.

For those in the kitchen, it’s pure and unrelenting chaos. For those in the dining room, pure and unrelenting bliss, with course after course highlighting Chef Dee’s unique flavor profiles and plating. I’m writing a book with him and many of these pictures will find their way into those pages. Until you can get your hands on the final product, enjoy this look at Break of Dawn After Dark.

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Eclectic electric: Dinner at Taco Maria

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For as often as I visited Chef Carlos Salgado’s Taco Maria food truck, it’s a surprise to most everyone that I’d yet to dine at his proper brick and mortar in The OC Mix. In the time since he parked the truck and opened the joint, Salgado’s gone back to the farm for tortillas (read this next!) and become a hero for modern Mexican cooking, praised by Edwin Goei of OC Weekly, Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times, named a Food & Wine magazine “Best New Chef” and more.

Wifey Nadia and I came to celebrate my 33rd birthday and had the option of sitting at the chef’s counter, which, duh. Though Chef Salgado wasn’t in the house, his kitchen crew, helmed on this night by Roland Rubalcava (formerly of his own incredible Placentia mercado), was more than ready to shine with their precise techniques and explosive flavors.

I think Mexican food in America is wrongly pegged for having a low value. One-dollar tacos, combination plates with rice and beans, burritos at the drive-thru. But plates from chefs including Salgado, Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra in Valle de Guadalupe and Javier Plascencia of Mision 19 in Tijuana redefine Mexican food for this generation of gastronomes.

Four courses runs $65 with an optional $29 wine pairing. I went with a glass of red from the Valle and let the kitchen take it from there. Photos are a bit grainy because it’s a dim space, but I started shooting with a Canon 50mm and it works well enough in low light settings and amazingly otherwise. Loosen your belt … … Read more…

Introducing the SPORKBLOG!

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This is an exciting time for food in Orange County: Local brands like Zov’s, Slapfish, Pizza e Vino, Playground and Afters are expanding; most of our first-wave food trucks found permanent homes in our popular food halls; new spots including The Beach Barrel, Grits and Cauldron Ice Cream are playing for keeps; we draw out-of-county brands like Halal Guys and Holstein’s; we have two restaurants from former Top Chef contestants; and both a Food & Wine “Best New Chef'” (Carlos Salgado) and our very first Top Chef contestant (Amar Santana) are actively cooking within our borders.

Travel + Leisure chimed in recently, declaring: “Orange County may be California’s next great food scene.” It’s true. But the “may” is irrelevant. We are the next great food scene and our stock is still on the rise.

So what is SPORKBLOG? It’s my contribution to this scene—five years after leaving The Orange County Register and Food Frenzy, a year after putting down my e-pen for OC Weekly’s Stick a Fork In It, and nine months after starting my own PR company, Knife & Spork Public Relations. I left for Norcal to launch my business, but for numerous reasons, both personal and professional, I was drawn back like O.C. is the island from LOST.

If you were a fan of Food Frenzy or my work at OC Weekly, stick around. This will be a familiar ride. I’ll write about my favorite bites and places, local gems, new finds and updates from my Knife & Spork PR clients. I will not review restaurants in the traditional sense; I won’t criticize what they aren’t, I just want to highlight what they are, and what they’re doing right. I’ll also muse about the local food scene, write travel pieces near and far, and share my resources and thoughts on entrepreneurship and public relations in digital times.

Let’s eat.