Niyaz’s Top 20 O.C. Dishes of 2016

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My top food moment of 2016 … Zov winning the Golden Foodie Award for 2016 Chef of the Year!

It’s been a great year for Orange County foodies.

We have Lobster Fries, Spaghetti Pizza and Churro Loops; Top Chefs in the kitchen and new openings at such a rapid pace it’s hard to keep up. There’s been a lot of delicious dishes to try, and while I couldn’t get to them all, I did manage to enjoy my fair share of awesome plates.

Here’s the 20 best things I ate and drank this year!

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Celebrating 10 Years of Break of Dawn

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When Chef Dee Nguyen opened Break of Dawn 10 years ago in Laguna Hills, the city was a culinary nowhere, sprinkled with chain restaurants and casual cafes, but few spaces that would constitute upscale dining. Even Break of Dawn itself opened with a menu as far from it’s current iteration as could possibly be.

Dee hawked pho and banh mi in his early days before abandoning that approach for the globally-inspired menu of today that brings us tempura fried eggs with pork belly and kimchi, lamb ragu with spaetlze and feta cheese, French toast with Mexican chocolate creme brulee, and more.

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Break of Dawn exists because of Berlin, son of Dee and his wife Linh. Berlin requires daily medical care due to complications with a surgery he had when he was a baby, so Dee left his job at the Ritz to open a brunch restaurant, ensuring he would be home every night for dinner.

It’s incredible what Dee’s accomplished in a decade, especially considering that the restaurant has never been his first priority. Every day he plays a role far greater than restaurant owner, and a large percentage of the frequent diners who adore his cooking may never know how this drives him.

Not only does Break of Dawn turn 10 this year but Berlin begins high school, an even greater milestone moment for the Nguyen family. … Read more…

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Break of Dawn gets RAW, again; looks ahead to Filipino pop-up

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This Saturday, July 16, Chef Dee Nguyen of Laguna Hills’ Break of Dawn will unveil his latest pop-up themed “Pinoy Summer,” a journey through Filipino cuisine. While I’m sad I’ll miss Saturday’s event, I did have the pleasure of dining in late May at his “RAW 2” dinner, a second stab at a concept he masterminded last year with Daniel Doki Kim, now of Sushi Roku.

No menu or descriptions of the dishes were provided. For the many prix-fixe meals I’ve been to, I definitely enjoy this element of surprise. It’s something Grits Fullerton Chef Cody Storts pulled off well with his recent “Blood & Guts” dinner with Noble Ale Works, and I hope the trend of mystery dinners continues to grow. (Speaking of which, did anyone else grab a ticket to Foodbeast Chef Linh Nguyen’s “Wu-Tang” pop-up at Mesa in August? Talk about ‘Raaaaawwwww.’)

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Dee’s dinner felt like a summation of everything he’s done since the first RAW, from a trip through South America to foraging the hills and beaches of Orange County. As cliche as it sounds to say he gets better every time, he really does—creating a style of Asian-influenced global cuisine like nobody else in O.C.

He did post the dishes on Facebook after the event, so everything is accurate to what we ate, though some of the ingredients were things I couldn’t have imagined because I’d never heard of or eaten them before. Keep reading for pictures of each course (and a few surprise guests!) …

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Break of Dawn: From the Forage to the Feast

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What I admire most about Chef Dee Nguyen is that he’s always pushing his own boundaries. Nine years ago, his original Break of Dawn menu included pho and banh mi. He soon shifted to breakfast and reinvented what the meal means in Orange County. And over time he’s never been afraid to get rid of his most popular dishes—way before the cool kids were doing it.

He’s had pop-up dinners over the years, but never in a stretch longer than a few. He found his rhythm in 2015 though, and has been hard at work creating a new concept every couple of months. A sushi/seafood menu dubbed “RAW.” “A Tour De Vietnam.” “Pig-n-Friends.” “Cow-n-Buddies.” A journey to South America—a place he’s never been, btw. Thirteen courses, all aphrodisiacs. And now, another first for the series.

Instead of looking to the outside world for inspiration, Dee stayed local, sourcing Southern Californian-raised proteins and foraging for ingredients—9 spots overall, from the canyons to the ocean, over the course of 5 weeks.

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Break of Dawn’s Love Bites: Aphro-DEE-siacs

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They say Break of Dawn‘s Dee Nguyen is one of the godfathers of Orange County cuisine.

True, he’s one of O.C.’s culinary gems, but come November he may actually be a godfather to one of the many babies likely to result from his latest dinner, a 10-course Valentine’s affair featuring 19 aphrodisiac ingredients.

Nguyen said he was still editing the menu up to the day of the event. But the resulting courses—though lighter than his typical fare—showcased the techniques and flavor profiles he’s known for while still managing a few surprises. Along with his two sous chefs, the trio knocked out 610 plates in 2-and-a-half hours, wrapping up around 8:30 p.m. so diners could get home promptly for dessert.

On to the meal …

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South American feast, Break of Dawn style

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I’m fascinated by Break of Dawn Chef Dee Nguyen’s most recent sold-out prix-fixe dinner, a tour through South America. For the sold-out, 13-course meal, Nguyen spent several months planning and executing a tour of the continent with influences from 12 countries covering an array of ingredients and techniques.

Of course, every dish had the Break of Dawn spin on it—pairing spot-on flavor combinations with fine-dining techniques designed to be as artful as they were delicious. And for a chef who has never been to South America, he did manage to transport us to another place entirely. Somewhere a bit tropical, intensely flavorful and incredibly playful. I can’t say I’ve been to South American either, but if I had to eat a meal inspired by the continent, I’m glad it was this one.

Here’s what was cooking Saturday night in Laguna Hills …  … 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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