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Friday, December 30, 2016

OC Food Diva’s Best Bites (and Sip) of 2016

2016 was another year of great eats! I love seeing chefs and restaurants re-invent dishes, push the boundaries of the culinary world, and harmoniously balance flavors. These are the Top 10 dishes that gave me such a sensory experience while eating (and drinking) them, that they haunt my dreams (in a good way). The two questions everyone asks me are, “What is your favorite restaurant?” and “What is your favorite food?”. This list will answer your questions, at least, for 2016.

“Enhance your palate with the Lamb Duo. It is barbacoa stew, and lamb taco on a nixtamal (treated corn) tortilla. If you love lamb barbacoa, you need to order this! The stew has all of the rich, roasted flavors from the lamb head and thick stew with lip-smacking collagen. The vegetables provide a nice balance of sweet and refreshing flavor.
The lamb taco is filled with tender lamb meat along with some of the juices from the stew. The microgreens, cilantro, and radish add texture along with refreshing flavor. The presentation is just stunning!” 3737 West Chapman Avenue, Orange, California

“Carolinas Famous Meatballs is a platter of delicious meatballs topped with their homemade marinara sauce. These handmade meatballs are meaty, tender, and flavorful. The marinara is hearty and robust. One of the best meatballs around outside of an Italian grandma’s kitchen!” 915 South Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim, California

“Big Pine Sampler Platter includes 5 ounces of Santa Maria tri-tip, two pork ribs, a quarter chicken, and a Hawaiian roll. These are all cooked out front in the smoker and grills so you know what you are getting. The tri-tip is cooked Santa Maria-style and seasoned with Hank’s own dry rub. The meat is juicy and full of savory beefy flavor that will have you coming back for more. The pork ribs are BBQ competition worthy with a good bite where the meat is tender but doesn’t just drop off the bone. The flavor has a good balance of smoky, sweet, and savory flavors. The chicken, whether you order white or dark, is moist and tender. The skin has the perfect caramelization with dark golden brown color. You can also taste the freshness of the chicken as it doesn’t have any irony flavor notes at all. The meat is almost sweet and the smoke imparts a great flavor throughout.” 310 North Main Street, Big Pine, California

Whole Spanish Mackerel Sashimi is beautifully presented. A telltale sign that the fish is fresh is the crystal clear eyes. The mackerel is meaty with a soft bite but the flavor is very mild. If combined with a little bit of seaweed, it gives it just the right amount of salt balance to push the sweet flavor of the fish forward. The seaweed also adds a crunchy texture to the bite. After you finish your sashimi, the head and bones will be fried for a crunchy treat.” 34700 Pacific Coast Highway Suite 106, Capistrano Beach, California

“White Trash Croque Madame is a grilled cheese toad-in-a-hole with chorizo gravy and potatoes. This is a fantastic combination of flavors and textures from the rich yolk, creamy, spicy chorizo gravy, gooey cheese, and crunchy grilled sourdough. Nothing in this dish is wasted, even the cutout bread for the hole is made into a tiny grilled cheese and used as a topper. The breakfast potatoes wedges are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Use the chorizo gravy for dipping them. No ketchup necessary.” 255 North Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada

“Primetime Burger starts with Texas Akaushi beef topped with brie cheese, arugula, caramelized onions, truffle aioli, steak sauce, and beefsteak tomato. The beef burger patty has a perfect blend of beef. It is meaty and juicy even at medium rare. Brie adds a creamy, buttery cheese flavor. Arugula adds a green component along with some bitter flavor. The truffle aioli lends a truffle aroma and slight truffle flavor.” 311 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, California

Photo courtesy of Marina Kitchen
Maker’s Mark Milkshake ($14) is served with maple lacquered pepper bacon. It has a creamy texture from the ice cream. The Maker’s Mark bourbon packs a punch but lends a caramel-like flavor to the shake. The added bacon shakes things up with a little bit of salty. This also won the “Best Dessert” at the San Diego Bay Food & Wine Festival.” 333 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, California

“Spring Pea Ravioli made with nettles, pea puree and topped with spring onion soubise. The presentation was beautiful with its organic colors of cream, yellow, and green like the first shoots of vegetation determinedly springing from snow covered ground. The aroma was herbaceous as if walking through an herbal garden. The spring onion soubise was creamy with just the right amount of spring onion flavor without being overbearing. The raviolis were cooked al dente and the pea filling was refreshing with rich flavor, body, and texture.” 1009 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, California

“Puesto Perfect Guacamole is made with avocado, parmigiana reggiano, cilantro, onion, fresh squeezed lime and orange, and chile habañero. The parmesan unexpectedly paired perfectly with the guacamole lending its creamy and salty flavor to the mix. The habañero provides a little spicy kick.” 8577 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, California

“Octopus is grilled and served with carrot puree, glazed fennel, roasted Peruvian potatoes, sunchoke, and roasted baby peppers. The octopus is tender with slightly crisp exterior as if dropped into the deep fryer for just a minute. The flavor is sweet and tastes fresh. The carrot puree is reminiscent of butternut squash with a fluffy texture and sweet flavor. It contrasts nicely with the smoky flavor of the grilled octopus. The potatoes are cooked to perfection and the sweet peppers add contrast similar to Potatoes O’Brien.” 1901 Columbia Street, San Diego, California

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year) and looking forward to more great eats in 2017!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Road to the 2016 USA Barbecue Championship: Carve Deli & Market in Laughlin, Nevada

In the previous blog post, we enjoyed Bumbleberry Flats. The other new restaurant at Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall is Carve Deli & Market. It is located inside of the casino with its bulb-light sign glowing.

Like Bumbleberry Flats, the interior is country, old west meets trendy. The décor incorporates reclaimed wood paneling, aluminum-pressed ceiling tiles, and paint-scuffed walls for a new, yet lived-in look. It is a full-service deli where you can order sandwiches, a pound of sliced Boar’s Head meats & cheese, grab-and-go non-alcoholic drinks like water, juice, sodas, along with made-to-order espresso drinks and sweets like cookies and brownies.

Here are some sandwiches to try:

Smoked Salmon Bagel ($8.25) is made with your choice of bagel (plain bagel in this case) topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, thinly sliced red onion, capers, and sprouts. It is a healthy sandwich for any time but would be great for breakfast. The ingredients are perfect. It just needs some adjustments on the ratio of each – more cream cheese, fewer capers as the salmon is quite salty enough, and more sprouts. Rating: 4.1/5

Classic Italian Sub ($9.50) is made with your choice of bread (hoagie roll in this case) topped with pepperoni, capicola, salami, provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, red onion, and deli dressing. It is definitely a classic Italian sub, stacked pretty high. It just needs a dash of salt and pepper and a bit more dressing. The addition of pickles or pepperoncinis also help boost the acidity level to bring the flavor of the meats forward. Rating: 3.8/5

Liverwurst ($8.25) is made with your choice of bread (sourdough in this case) topped with Strassburger Liverwurst, American cheese, deli mustard, thinly sliced red onion, and pickles. I love liverwurst, but I was expecting a soft creamy, pate-like liverwurst versus a sliced meat. The sliced meat is actually very good as it is made with pork, pork livers, and bacon, and reminiscent of a meaty bologna. American cheese is an interesting choice but an assertive cheese like Swiss or sharp cheddar would work better. Rating: 4/5

Chipotle Chicken Panini ($9.50) is made with chipotle chicken, chipotle gouda cheese, shaved red onion, applewood smoked bacon, and honey mustard. This is one tasty sandwich! The chipotle, with its sweet, smoky flavor, makes every bite addictive and pulls all of the flavors of this sandwich together with a perfect sweet, salty, and tangy balance. The only thing it needs is a little more grill time to make the bread crispier. One of the best things about a panini is the crunchy texture when you bite into it. Rating: 4.3/5

  • Travel tip: If you’re on a road trip or flying, Carve Deli & Market is a great place to stock up for the trip home or to your next road trip destination. If you are leaving in the morning, order your favorite sandwich the night before and store in your in-room refrigerator. They are good to go when you head out and will be at perfect temperature for lunch. I would suggest getting a cold sandwiches versus hot one as they will hold up better.

I hope you enjoyed this Laughlin travel series focusing on the accommodations and restaurants at the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall. Check out my YouTube video to see how 7 Sins BBQ did at the USA Barbecue Championship and see you on the next road trip!

Atmosphere: 4 out of 5 stars
Service: 5 out of 5 stars
Décor: 4 out of 5 stars
Food: 4 out of 5 stars

For more information:
2200 S. Casino Dr.
Laughlin, NV 89209
Hours: Monday and Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday 6 a.m. to 12 a.m., Thursday through Saturday open 24 hours, Sunday from 12 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Seating: Interior
Reservations: None

Carve Deli &  Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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