Owner and CNN Hero, Bruno Serato, presents diners with variegated menus packed with Italian and seafood entrees prepared under the culinary eye of Executive Chef Eddie Meza. Bob for apples of dough with the gnocchi gorgonzola, with small potato and flour dumplings soaking up the flavor of tomato and gorgonzola sauce ($14.95 lunch; $19.95 dinner). The restaurant's signature dish, brasato piemontese, sports boneless beef short ribs braised in an italian barolo reduction for three hours and topped with a touch of horseradish and a dash of extravagance ($22.95 lunch; $30.50 dinner). Steamed salmon sweetens its style atop belgiun white chocolate mashed-potato purée ($23.95 lunch; $29.95 dinner), and the pesce bianco's sautéed whitefish inherits a spicy attitude by hanging around moroccan couscous and japanese peppers ($17.95 lunch only).
The chefs at Dang! Crabs transform empty plates into flavorful plumes of zesty New Orleans–style delicacies. A dose of half a dozen charbroiled oysters swims through garlic herb butter sauce ($10), and salad bowls overflow with a choice of sea candies, such as shrimp ($7), oysters ($7), or crawfish ($6) on a bed of crisp romaine, juicy tomatoes, and crunchy cucumbers drizzled in tangy Cajun red-pepper aioli dressing. Choose from a septet of hefty po boy sandwiches, including the fried catfish ($6 for half; $9 for whole) or Mikey’s Special, which recruits beef and ham to spar with a pickle spear in a vat of red-pepper aioli ($7 for half; $10 for whole). Traditional bowls of chicken or andouille gumbo ($7) make mouths even spicier than the bell pepper mouth-guard from your lacrosse days, and fries in varieties such as sweet potato, Cajun, or utilitarian accompany plates of fried catfish ($10), calamari ($8), and okra ($5).
No matter what type of seafood the chefs at Cajun Islands are cooking up, they end up giving it a distinct Cajun flavor in their cooking pot. That's because the chefs prepare their snow crab, crawfish, clams, and oysters in a flavorful Cajun broth, which complements seasonings that they wet-rub and butter onto each cut. That doesn't mean that all the dishes have the same flavor, however. Chefs alter the spice content to include more herbs and garlic or more of the mouth-tingling spices to create dishes that vary from mild to flaming hot. They can tame the fire of these dishes with their tropical blended drinks, in which they toss fresh fruit such as pineapple, coconut, papaya, and mangos. When paired with a basket of beer-battered fries and clam chowder, the dishes take on a degree of comfort only replicated by lounge chairs equipped with an anti-peer pressure forcefield.
Named after a French WWI airplane, Nieuport 17 pays homage to aviation, displaying a dense collection of flight-themed artifacts and artwork amid dark-wood panels, low lighting, and crackling fireplaces. The food, however, is just as impressive as the decor. The restaurant's tuna tartare was one of OC Weekly's 100 favorite dishes of 2013, and CBS2 named the lemon sour-cream pie one of its best summer desserts. And those are just a few of the dishes that come out of Nieuport 17's kitchen, headed by executive chef Cody Storts.
A Culinary Calling
In 2013, OC Metro magazine named Storts one of the best chefs in Orange County. The graduate of LA's Le Cordon Bleu began his journey in the front of the house, though. It was only after bartending and managing at various area restaurants that he realized the kitchen was his calling.
A self-proclaimed "kitchen ninja," Storts relishes the challenge of unusual ingredients and unexpected pairings. This approach helped him craft the menus at a number of celebrated eateries. After appearing in several guest-chef events at Nieuport 17, he eventually took the helm.
Here, he holds weekly tasting events, testing ingredients and recipes before adding them to the menu. At his side are the self-titled Culinary Militia, Storts' trusted band of chefs, pastry makers, and mixologists.
Who said you can't have wings for breakfast? To be fair, those wings do come with eggs or waffles. At R&J Southern Home Cooking Restaurant, a prominent southern influence springs forth starting with the first meal of the day. It carries through the afternoon and culminates at dinnertime, when cooks presents diners with an eclectic spread of seafood and soul food. A quick peek at their cookbook reveals the source of this inspiration; rather than using the generic recipes found as prizes in cereal boxes, the restaurant relies on time-tested family favorites, including some recipes that originated in Louisiana and Arkansas. Those guidelines now fill the menu with authentic southern eats, including entrees such as smothered steak, catfish filets, and gumbo.
The easiest way to order at Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant is to simply point. The Mandarin-speaking staff uses a photographic menu—a divergence from standard dim sum carts—but that doesn't make the traditional dumplings, pork ribs, and shu mai taste any less delicious.