Orange County’s Best Dishes of 2015

Searching out this winner is delicious work. The unintended consequence is finding multiples. One wins, but all of them call to us.

Canarditas, Sol Cocina
Chef-partner Deborah Schneider uses her classic French training to create crispy-skinned duck confit ready to shred for build-your-own tacos garnished with creamy avocado, crunchy red onion, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh orange. The magic here is in the warm blackberry-serrano salsa spiked with tequila, a Baja twist on aigre-doux that rallies each component with gusto. $14 251 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949-675-9800,

Belgian Endive Salad, Marché Moderne

This simple-sounding salad belies the intriguing dance of flavors staged on a plate of chilled bitter endive, earthy celery root, green celery, and crisp-sweet sticks of Fuji apple tossed in mustardy vinaigrette emboldened by black truffle. Bright, musky, crunchy, sharp, and sweet shouldn’t get along this well. Unctuous burrata cheese and a veil of sizzled shallots take it to the top, but never over it. $14 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-434-7900,

Sake-Soy Marinated Rib-eye of Beef, Babette’s

One of the most savory organic grass-fed steaks for many miles, this beauty comes sliced and stacked over shishito peppers and broccoli rabe. Is it the marinade? Yes. But it’s also the flash-fried rabe under a drizzle of spicy pomegranate glacé. Chef Michael B. Powell turns it up another notch by drizzling the plate with charred scallion-bone marrow puree. $43 7962 E. Coast Highway, Newport Coast, 949-715-9915,

Cavi-Art, Antonello

How can this Antonello special, an aristocratic dish loaded with caviar, sell at a pauper’s price? It’s a molecular trick with seaweed. Invented by Denmark’s Jens Møller, these plant-based black pearls boast the flavor, texture, and aroma of the real thing. Layered with chopped eggs, Norwegian smoked salmon, and sour cream, this extravagant stack is a mere $18. 3800 South Plaza Drive, Santa Ana, 714-751-7153,

Pan-Roasted Foie Gras, Broadway by Amar Santana

Never one to shrink from opulence, star chef Amar Santana enthusiastically welcomes now-legal foie gras by pan-roasting a generous slab, then dressing the buttery umami bomb with a spiral of mango-miso coulis, fresh blueberries, and a flick of snappy togarashi. The experience is even more indulgent when you watch
him work from a coveted seat at the chef’s counter. $36 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach,

Crunch Burger, Amor y Tacos

IMG_5245 burger
Reinventing the burger is an eternal quest. Chef-owner Thomas Ortega does his part to impressive effect. Starting with his blend of ground angus, short rib, brisket, and sirloin, the macho patty rests under roasted tomato, melted Gruyere, and crispy chicharron. Charred jalapeno mayo and onion jam dress the brioche bun with flair. Golden tater tots complete this noble cause. $13.50 13333 South St., Cerritos, 562-860-2667,

Lemon Meringue Tart, Leatherby’s Café Rouge

Executive chef Ross Pangilinan’s snazzy lemon dessert is so fabulous, it’s hardly humble enough to call pie. From-scratch French graham cookie crust crumbles under a dreamy fresh lemon curd. On top is a stunning, toasted-through Italian meringue ready for its close-up. Vibrant dots of raspberry sauce and cilantro coulis add sweet and savory support. $10 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-429-7640, 

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