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!

Road to the 2016 USA Barbecue Championship: Bumbleberry Flats in Laughlin, Nevada



Since we were staying at the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall, we decided to try their new restaurants. One of them is Bumbleberry Flats, a 24-7 joint dishing out American comfort food.

The interior is country meets trendy. The entrance looks like a country bakery complete with baked goods and desserts in a glass case. The dining room has a combination of freestanding tables and booths to choose from. The tabletops are wooden with splashes of reclaimed wood paneling and décor along the walls. The booths in the center have taps so you can have free-flowing beer from the glass-encased keg room in the center of the restaurant.

We partook in two meals here – breakfast and dinner. Let’s take a look at some of the menu items:

Chicken & Waffles ($13) is crispy fried chicken on a crisp cheddar bacon waffle served with Louisiana honey hot sauce. The fried chicken was perfectly fried to a golden brown with crispy exterior and juicy interior. The batter on the outside was definitely country-style, just like grandma would make. The waffle, OMG, the waffle! The waffle was crisp on the outside and fluffy, tender on the inside. The bacon and cheese just pushed it over the top in flavor! With a slathering of whipped butter, the waffle was absolutely to die for! I pulled pieces of the chicken off the bone and dipped it into the sauce. It is just spicy enough to balance out the sweetness of the honey. Rating: 5/5

Ribeye Sirloin Steak & Eggs ($12.50) is a grilled hand carved 8oz. USDA choice ribeye sirloin steak served with two eggs and your choice of potatoes. The hubby went with a medium rare grill, sunny side eggs, and country potatoes. The steak was grilled to perfection, but would have preferred a ribeye steak. Sirloin is good, but ribeye is better due to the marbling in the meat. The eggs came out perfect with golden yellow yolks ready to burst. The country potatoes were good, but would have preferred the potatoes to have a crispy edge from the griddle. Rating: 4/5

Belgium Waffle with Fruit and Chantilly Cream ($9) was our “dessert” course. The waffle was cooked perfectly with a crispy exterior and fluffy, tender interior. The berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries) had the perfect mix of sour, sweet, tangy, and tart. Paired with a drizzle of maple syrup, they were scrumptious. The Chantilly cream was a nice touch! Rating: 5/5

Fried Deviled Eggs ($6) are four breaded deviled eggs served with chipotle ranch sauce. I love deviled eggs and knew I had to order them. These little devils are a little hard to pick up. They look like dinosaur eggs! But we got them to our mouths and bit through the crispy exterior, the yolk mixture remained smooth and creamy, just like a perfect deviled egg. The chipotle ranch works well as a dip, but it is a bit hard to dip a second time. It is a messy appetizer, but well worth the effort. Rating: 4.3/5

Cowboy Ribeye ($25) is a 16oz. angus choice ribeye served with ranchero beans, corn on the cob, and your choice of potato. The presentation is beautiful! It is served on a cast-iron skillet, reminiscent of a chuck wagon dinner. The ribeye was nicely seasoned and grilled to a perfect medium rare. The char from the grill added a pleasant smoky flavor. The ranchero beans were a touch too sweet. Maybe toning down the sweetness and adding green chiles would do the trick. The corn on the cob looked great but, unfortunately, was overdone and dry. The mashed potatoes had a good flavor but the texture was gummy. That type of texture in potatoes can be caused by over mashing which makes the starch gum up. Great steak, but the sides need some work. Rating: 3.5/5

Rosemary Crusted Prime Rib ($18.50) is a 12oz. slice of slow roasted, rosemary crusted prime rib serve with baked potato, your choice of vegetable, au jus, and horseradish sauce. The prime rib, cooked to my liking, was rare and juicy. The rosemary added a nice herbaceous flavor along with smoky flavor from the charring of the rosemary. I picked the broccoli & cauliflower gratin as my vegetable. These veggies are perfectly cooked with a rich creamy sauce and melted cheese on top. I would probably cut the vegetables a little smaller for easier bites. The baked potato was perfect with a fluffy interior. However, au jus needs to be hot when served so when you dip the prime rib in it does not turn the meat cold. A cool way I have seen this done is by employing a decanter with a tea light underneath to keep the au jus hot and accentuate the beefy flavor from the meat. Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for my in-depth review of Carve Deli & Market!

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

For more information:
2200 S. Casino Dr.
Laughlin, NV 89209
+1.702.298.2442
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Seating: Interior
Reservations: None

Bumbleberry Flats Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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