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Author Gretchen Kurz

  • Gretchen Kurz

    Dining Critic

    Kurz has been an Orange Coast dining critic since 2004. The O.C. native has a wickedly good palate, and wears out the magnetic strip of her credit card reviewing restaurants and covering the local dining scene. Between meals, she’s the local editor of Orange County’s Zagat Survey.


Second Course: The Bungalow

Dinner darling now lures coastals who lunch

I’m at The Bungalow, and it’s teeming with men. Where are the ladies who lunch? Now that Corona del Mar’s dinner-house darling serves midday fare after 19 years of pampering its steak-and-martini fans, I assumed the early adopters would be the coastal enclave’s sisters of leisure. Instead, I sit near a table of eight nobly retired gents chattering about golf clubs and bespoke Alaskan fishing trips as they dive into plump burgers, steak salads, and iced teas. Read more...

Main Course: Provenance

Back Bay’s seedling garden-to-kitchen restaurant has room to grow

Dodging distracted shoppers dashing into CVS and Ralphs, I locate the double farmhouse doors in the elbow of Eastbluff shopping center. Inside: Provenance, a bucolic world far from the madding suburban crowd. Bright blossoms, aromatic herbs, and greens of every hue burst from raised beds and wall planters that surround the patio. Read more...

Second Course: A Restaurant

Add a plus to this A, and credit new-team energy

For a few moments, I am bat-blind and loving it. Ducking into dark A Restaurant on a sunny afternoon, my brain perceives this as “retro delights ahead.” The dapper old-school haunt is waking up after a lull, thanks to fresh momentum supplied by a reshuffled team that includes managing partners Doug and Julie Garn, and pastry chef Tara Bui. Longtime executive chef Jon Blackford is feelin’ it too, as his appealing new menu pushes American classics to the next level, for some of his best cooking ever. Read more...

Main Course: Reunion Kitchen + Drink

Great fare and impressive service ease the pain of Canyon’s closing

It sure stings when a prized neighborhood hang closes. After Rich Mead’s Canyon Restaurant shuttered last fall, the vacancy grew more irksome with each passing week. By the time Reunion Kitchen Drink took over in December, my melancholy advanced to full-blown cynicism. So I expect my first visit to be bittersweet at best. But, after one sip at the very busy bar, I’m unexpectedly impressed. My lower Manhattan—a well-stirred mix of rye and bitters—comes with an ice sphere, drunken cherry, and canny repartee from the bartender. My pal’s bloody mary is aggressively spicy, and sports a bacon-wrapped jalapeno and a Slim Jim baton. Wow, this is a bar transformation, a marked upgrade in skills, ingredients, and attitude. Read more...

Ritter’s Steam Kettle Cooking

A taste of the Big Easy in O.C.

Ritter’s boxy glass storefront gives no hint of the olfactory whoosh that overwhelms once the door to this yearling cafe opens. Intense aromas of garlic and the Cajun-Creole holy trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper startle sinuses and reflexively arouse hunger. Read more...

Main Course: Red O

The service shines at Rick Bayless’ O.C. outpost. The food, not so much.

Many of us are familiar with Bayless, especially food freaks like me. We’ve been eating at his Chicago restaurants, reading his cookbooks, and seeing his mustachioed grin on TV for decades. A tireless booster of authentic Mexican cuisine and a nimble self-promoter, Bayless now is out to conquer Orange County with the snazzy Red O, open since November at Fashion Island. Read more...

Taco Maria

Even at borderline precious, it’s Chicano cuisine at its finest

Sitting at Taco Maria’s kitchen counter, I’m mesmerized by a flurry of mise en place action that’s intense and hushed. A blossom plucked here, a radish shaved there, steamy broth ladled as if it were holy water. Clearly my four-course prix fixe dinner is painstaking business. Each dish is a marvel of deeply considered modern Cal-Mex cuisine from chef-owner and O.C native Carlos Salgado. Even the stripped-down setting feels designed to direct all attention to the food. Read more...

Main Course: Fig & Olive

Vast menu, resort ambience mean you’ll be decently fed and thoroughly entertained

Don’t be fooled by the austere facade of Fig & Olive. Those tall front doors open to a sprawling wonderland that channels the sun-soaked luxury of the French Riviera. Fashion Island supplies the pricey real estate; architects and landscapers the limestone and olive trees; and nature the endless sunshine and sea-scented breezes. Voila—Cannes by way of Newport Beach. Read more...

Rediscovery: Chapter One

New chef raises the bar at a popular Santa Ana hang

Clearly, executive chef Jason Montelibano has upped the culinary content at Chapter One, the sociable gastropub in the Santa Ana Artists Village: pastel topknots of chilled smoked salmon on just-fried potato croquettes; walnut vinaigrette, fried carrots, baby kale, and drool-worthy Soledad Goats goat cheese in a roasted beet garden plate. Read more...

Main Course: Selanne Steak Tavern

Handsome Laguna Beach newbie turns its game around

Climbing the brick path to the front door of Selanne Steak Tavern’s storybook cottage, I’m thinking this landmark 1934 venue looks identical to the old French 75 it replaces. I tug the wood door open by its iron handle, and bam! Like Dorothy’s exit from her sepia Kansas farmhouse into vivid Munchkinland, the scene before me is a vast new world. Read more...

Orange County's 10 Best Restaurants

Orange Coast's 2014 List of the Best Restaurants in O.C.

You wait all year for this list. Now get out there and eat. Read more...

Orange County Restaurant of the Year 2014: Little Sparrow

This Santa Ana newbie developed a loyal following the month it took wing, by charming worldly diners with its cozy vintage venue and a crew brimming with talent. When partners Jenny Le, Bruce Marsh and wife Naseem Aflakian tapped Eric Samaniego as chef, their intentions were clear: Give Little Sparrow what it takes to soar. Read more...
READ NOW: Serial Killer Seduction

Our "Center of the Universe" story is being read all over the world right now. Click here for the story.


Who Did Randy Kraft Seduce?

Current photos of author Jay Roberts.


A Fact-Checker's Journey to a 1980 Afternoon

Our intrepid intern tracks down the details in Roberts' story.


Why Isn't Randy Kraft Dead?

Our original piece on one of California's deadliest and most depraved serial killers. 


Editor's Letter, October 2013

Our editor considers "Center of the Universe" to be compelling—and incredibly frightening. Click above to find out why.