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O.C. Hike With a View: Dartmoor Trail in Laguna Beach

Photograph by Michelle Pagaran

The Hike: The out-and-back trail rewards you early with panoramic coastal views. Climb farther to explore Boat Canyon and Emerald Bay Canyon.
Cool Factor: The trail highlights one of Laguna Beach’s large areas of land protected from development.
Distance: 4 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Start At: End of Dartmoor Street in North Laguna
Parking: Free residential street parking
You Might See: Blooms in the spring and grazing goats
Pro Tip: Bring a hat, water, and sun protection as the trail is mostly exposed.

Insta-Hit: Vibrant Creations From A Cup of Sushi in Irvine

Photograph by @feastodyssey

A twist on the poke bowl, each vibrant cup of sushi has multiple layers of protein, grains, and toppings such as shrimp tempura, lotus root, pickled radish, and tobiko (flying fish roe). Expect house-made sauces and unexpected bases such as curried cauliflower and putipa noodles (gluten-free and low-carb). There is also a vegan option. $10 to $14

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4 New Spots Coming to The District at Tustin Legacy

Hermosa Taqueria
Led by chef Philip Tangonan, who has worked at restaurants such as Chapter One in downtown Santa Ana and the Cannery in Newport Beach, this taqueria will serve signature dishes such as birria and al pastor tacos and duck confit pupusas. You can also expect house-made salsas and hand-pressed tortillas. Located inside Union Market, the 30-seat dining room features intricate tilework and paintings by local artists. Outdoor dining, beer, wine, and takeout will be available.

Dolce Gelato
The Laguna Beach gelateria is set to open another location next to AMC Tustin 14 in the spring. Choose from over 32 different flavors of scratch-made gelato, including 10 vegan options. The salted maple caramel, créme brulee, and coconut are a few of the crowd favorites. Look out for new themed flavors every month. $4.25 to $6.95 a scoop. Available in to-go pints.

The Academy
OC Hit Factory, an on-site recording studio, is debuting acting, dancing, singing, and songwriting classes geared towards children and teens. Classes will be available in-person (limited to 6 to 8 per group) as well as hybrid (over Zoom and private one-on-one in-person) starting this spring.

Casa Del Sol
This 6,000 square-foot, family-owned restaurant will have a bar, an outdoor patio, a private dining room, and live performances by Mariachi Sol de Mexico, the first mariachi ensemble to be nominated for a Grammy, and Reyna de Los Angeles, America’s first all-female mariachi band. Opening late spring.

Visit thedistricttl.com for info about all restaurants.

4 Trendsetting Spicy Chicken Spots in O.C.

Cluck Kitchen advises us to #getclucked, and we do. We order the Nashville Hot Sandwich: fried antibiotic-free chicken breast with unforgettable crunchiness and more topography than its namesake city—plus vinegar slaw, pickles, and comeback sauce on a pillowy bun. Five heat levels allow guests to choose their tolerance. Hot ticket: a side of Nashville fried pickles. Co-owner Steve Kim also partners at nearby burger spot The Cut. 17915 MACARTHUR BLVD., IRVINE, 949-418-9393, CLUCKKITCHEN.COM

The innocent-sounding Chicken Sandwich at Jay Bird’s Chicken is anything but: all-natural breast, six heat levels from Plain Jay to Reaper Fire, coleslaw, comeback sauce, dill pickles, and sides such as loaded potato salad. Blazin’ Fries are topped with mac ’n’ cheese, chopped chicken tender, and comeback and buttered cayenne sauces. Jay Bogsinske, also director of culinary at Shorebird in Newport Beach, is rolling out Jay Bird’s all over the area. 303 THIRD ST., HUNTINGTON BEACH, 714-594-3233, JAYBIRDSCHICKEN.COM

“Thicc thighs save lives” is the motto at Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken. But we opt for the modest slider, which instead accommodates a chicken breast tender, coleslaw, and pickles. There are six levels of heat and three a la carte sides, including the combo’s Cajun crinkle fries—never mind that Louisiana is a couple states from Tennessee—and a memorable truffle mac ’n’ cheese with sauteed mushrooms. 2202 N. TUSTIN ST., ORANGE, 714-363-3308

The word Nashville never appears on the menu at Spice-C. But if it looks like Nashville and tastes like Nashville, we’re singing country. The menu includes golden, crispy-fried, marinated-fresh-chicken sliders and tenders. Five levels of heat top out at a gut-wrenching reaper style for which roughly 200 people have signed waivers. Naked and no-heat tenders are also available. Combos come with kosher pickles and sides such as mac-and-corn salad. 2455 PARK AVE., TUSTIN, 714-673-6331, SPICE-C.NET

Review: Family-Owned Centro Storico in Old Town Tustin

Photographs by Emily J. Davis

Old Town Tustin isn’t having any of that faux vintage created by redevelopers eager to erase crumbly curbs and oddball storefronts. A venerable heart of a settlement born in 1927, the intersection of Main Street and El Camino Real remains a mishmash of small businesses run by locals.

Centro Storico is the new kid on the old block, re-animating a venue that was fallow far too long. While we were fixated on distance learning, the vintage building was transformed to house a spaghetteria and bar plus a back-pocket cafe. Open since August, Storico is another project from the owners of Centro, the excellent micro pizzeria next door. Both outlets serve beer and wine—craft brews under the Pozzuoli family’s Archaic brand are made in Tustin, and Pozzuoli Family Wines are made from grapes grown on their Paso Roble vineyard.

This family likes a challenge. Enter Storico, a full-service restaurant showcasing fresh pastas, made in-house daily. The county’s first spaghetteria showcases its custom pastas in a dozen dishes, all devoutly faithful to old-country traditions. The menu bookends those cherished pasta recipes with several antipasti, salads, meats, and vegetable sides. Packed with choices, the menu’s cluttered design slows decision making. Relax over a stiff Italian Manhattan or classic Negroni to aid your studies.

Clockwise from top: fusilli pesto, rigatoni salsiccia, casarecce capperi e olive, polenta e ragu

Calamari fritti and polenta e ragu are easily the best starters. Golden crunchy bites of squid are piping hot with a flavor that needs no more than a squirt of lemon, though a spicy fresh tomato sauce accompanies for dippers. I fell hard for gently fried squares of hearty polenta ready for dribbling with a chunky rich meat sauce said to be a family recipe. Texts of happiness from friends and family follow after taking this suggestion. An antipasto board of artisan cheeses and sliced meats gets extra points for using deli cuts from nearby Claro’s, the finest Italian deli in the galaxy—or at least in O.C.

Thoughtful salads, peppy and fresh, are constructed to order. Full and half sizes are a gracious, uncommon accommodation. My visits were far outside tomato season, so I avoided the caprese. But oh, that chopped salad. Even without the salame upgrade, the deep bowl of dark romaine, radicchio, crisp fennel, red onion, and earthy garbanzo beans all glossed in mellow vinaigrette is a standout. And though the Cesare checks the boxes for house croutons, aged Parmigiano, and anchovy, all required for a salad worth finishing, it will always be tough to bypass that chopped salad on future visits.

Fresh pasta made on-site daily is the beating heart of this family affair. Paterfamilias Enrico Pozzouli rules the pasta realm. It’s rare to find extruded pastas made fresh in a neighborhood restaurant. Bucatini (hollow straws), casarecce (twisted scrolls), and fusilli (spirals) are typically purchased in dried form. Of the eight pastas used in the Storico kitchen, only penne and farfalle are not housemade.

Like salads, pasta has both half- and full-size portions. Sauces are made to order in the pan and not prepared in advance. The long-simmered meat sauce is the sole exception. Pasta here is never swimming in sauce, in order to flaunt each shape’s particular character. Every pasta is cooked al dente, as soft, soggy pasta is intolerable in first-rate Italian cuisine.

Gelato sampler

Ultra-thick spaghetti has the heft and surface texture to carry an eggy carbonara sauce, flecked with bits of pancetta. Salsiccia stars mighty good sausage in a deep tomato sauce with fresh garlic, bold oregano, and a splash of cream—it’s a divine sauce for hollow rigatoni and its flavor-grabbing ridges.

Cacio e pepe, a dryish, lean sauce in its classic form, needs more pepper and salty hard cheese to stand hefty bucatini. Aglione, a rustic sauce of San Marzano tomatoes and fresh garlic, is a better partner for bucatini’s roly-poly structure. Capperi e olive recalls puttanesca sauce, with its fragrant mix of capers, olives, garlic, and vibrant tomatoes, but it’s the fresh, swirly casarecce pasta that makes this dish exceptional.

Considering the attention paid to pitch-perfect pasta, you might assume non pasta dishes hold no surprises. Much delight awaits in the secondi lineup of meaty entrees. Cotoletta alla Milanese is  satisfying dish of chicken breast, pounded flat, dipped in egg, and dredged with Parmesan breadcrumbs before frying. Tender white meat doesn’t get any better than when it wears a crunchy, nutty overcoat. Or exchange frying for chicken roasted simply, with lemon and garlic. Tagliata for two is the undisputed winner in this category. Impeccably grilled with a dark toothy crust, this boneless, juicy 24-ounce porterhouse arrives hot, sliced, and ready to share. A mound of peppery arugula and wedges of lemon are traditional trimmings; a bottle of good olive oil can be requested for drizzling. It’s so delicious to find a swell steak outside of a steakhouse.

Desserts are made on-site and lack the trappings of purchased items. Housemade gelato or sorbetto is the best call—a four-flavor sampler is a bargain at $6.

Launching an artisan spaghetteria in the midst of this pandemic seems counterintuitive, but the Pozzuoli family fears not. Centro Storico and its cafe are a brave, timely bet on the future of quirky, remarkable Old Town Tustin.


★★1/2
405 El Camino Real,
Tustin, 714-258-8817

5 BEST DISHES
Polenta e ragu
Chopped salad
Casarecce capperi e olive
Bucatini aglione
Grilled porterhouse for two

PRICE RANGE
Starters, $8 to $18
Pasta, $10 to $21
Entrees, $16 to $48

FYI
Closed Monday. Centro Storico translates to historic center.

Shop Ceramics and More at Rex Design’s Costa Mesa Storefront

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Newport Beach resident Catherine Rex started Rex Design in 2016. Now her pieces are sold throughout the country and in local boutiques such as Daydream Surf Shop in Costa Mesa and restaurants including San Juan Capistrano’s Mayfield, which is also home to Rex’s mural. In September, Rex opened her first brick-and-mortar shop, which houses her studio as well as a small boutique in the front. Customers can either make an appointment to shop Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or knock to shop if Rex is there. Check her Instagram page for upcoming Saturday pop-ups at her store.


Plates
“I’m always working to capture the movement of a dancer, so that’s what you’ll see through all my dancer series,” Rex says. $65

Legs sculpture
“As you can see in a lot of my work, I work with the female form. I blend being a woman and being in nature, so she represents Mother Earth.” $400

Mugs
The playtime mugs are inspired by children, and each one is unique. $47 to $49

Marble Vases
“My marble series is inspired by California. Every colorway is from a different landscape or ocean scape from my life here.” $88 to $108

Striped Vases
“None of my lines are ever going to be perfect—I love a weird stripe or a little squiggly line.” $65

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

rexdesign.co/

Owner of D.B. Fitness in Costa Mesa Shares Fitness Tips

Easy goals to set …
Do something active for 20 to 30 minutes a day, whether it’s morning or night, whether it’s walking or swimming or jogging. It’s not the longest amount of time to work out, but anyone can do something for 20 to 30 minutes—we spend it on Instagram already.

Tips on getting in shape …
You definitely have to change nutrition, that’s the biggest thing—nutrition is 90 percent of achieving your goals. With adults, (I say cut down on) carbs, sugar, and alcohol. People typically say they consume alcohol four to five days a week, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but those days add up. Alcohol is empty calories, meaning there’s no nutritional value.

Tips for working out at home …
Look for some type of product or equipment that is versatile and allows you to do multiple exercises and movements, like resistance bands. That way you don’t plateau on doing the same movements every time you work out.

On The Market: A San Clemente Property Has a Gym With Ocean Views

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$3.49 million
San Clemente

  • 4,945 square feet
  • 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms
  • Explore the gardens featuring tall trees, a fenced dog run, and a bocce court.
  • Of note: Take in ocean views while you work out in the home gym.
  • 107 Avenida Patero De Oro
  • Christian Wach, 949-370-3917

Add Flair to Any Outfit With These 6 O.C. Fringe Pieces