Pan of Asia introduces the vibrant colors and intense flavors of beloved dishes from across China and Southeast Asia. Like the cafeteria at the United Nations, Pan of Asia’s menu spans a continent’s worth of delicacies, from spicy-sweet Thai basil with tender morsels of tofu and chicken, to exotic Malaysian curries, to several crowd-pleasing Chinese dishes. Guests can sink their teeth into salt and pepper shrimp, citrus fried chicken, or spicy garlic eggplant. And for dessert, Pan of Asia finishes meals with green-tea or mango ice, or sweet dim sum.
The decor of Habiba Abdi’s restaurant, Gendershe Cuisine, is not ostentatious—she tries to impress the four senses besides sight. The aroma of all-halal meats marinating in signature spices tints the air, heralding Somali entrees such as the hilib ari, a goat dish that OC Weekly deemed "gamy and glorious." Mango lassis cool the tongue with a mix of almond milk, fruit pulp, orange juice, and vanilla. Pieces of bur—somali fry bread baked onsite—engage the hands, encouraging patrons to soak up lingering sauces with their dough instead of a friend's shirtsleeve. All the while, guests absorb the sizzling sounds of salmon and tilapia being sautéed in the kitchen's special "mother sauce."
Named after the Somalian city where Abdi’s father grew up, Gendershe Cuisine is an outpost of a kind of cooking rarely found in the United States, much less Orange County. Even so, Somalia’s rich culinary tradition—influenced over the years by Italy, India, and surrounding East African cultures—means that many dishes may look familiar even to the uninitiated. Crispy, triangular sambusas are relatives to indian samosas, ethiopian injera pops up beneath stews of beef, chicken, goat, or fish, and spaghetti and lasagna lie under sauces subtly spiked with Somali herbs and spices.
The master grillers and stir-fryers of East Winds Asian Cuisine craft a medley of Asian flavors with a menu boasting a variety of Chinese, Japanese, and Thai dishes. Having so many influences and cuisines coming out of one kitchen lets the restaurant please picky palates with dishes such as honey-walnut shrimp, barbecue spareribs, and japanese vegetable curry. The friendly wait staff can make informed wine and sake recommendations and answer questions about dishes or the history of the chopstick versus popsicle-stick pop-art era.
Restaurateur Salvatore S. D'Abbusco was born in Naples, but traveled to the United States at the age of 24 to marry a woman from Philadelphia, with whom he'd fallen in love on a cruise. He wanted to bring the tastes of Italy to his new home and founded Salvatore Cucina Italiana more than 20 years ago.
His chefs toss pasta dishes made from traditional Italian recipes with italian cheeses, shellfish, chicken, and lamb. They handcraft tiramisu and blend, cut, and fold their own dough for manicotti. Sommeliers complement the extensive menu with an array of white and red wines from Tuscany, Sicily, and California, for a greater blend of international flavors than UN potluck parties. Each meal begins as servers lay complimentary bruschetta, in lieu of traditional bread, onto white-clothed tables arranged under ornate gilded lamps and pasta-covered walls.
The skilled chefs at Spike’s Fish House grill a rotating cast of 8–10 daily fish specials to fill salads, rice bowls, and other entree options. A freshly cooked fillet can play hide-and-seek with forks in a salad’s nest of field greens, cucumbers, and roma tomatoes or bounce on the bowl’s bed of white or brown rice to the consternation of babysitters who insist it’s time to sleep. Chefs drizzle each dish in homemade sauces such as lemon-pesto aioli or chimichurri to infuse a final spark of flavor.
Cannons Seafood Grill, perched atop a picturesque cliff overlooking the Dana Point Marina, has delighted diners since 1972 with its menu of fresh, savory seafood. Dive into meals such as the signature lobster bruschetta, a layer of melted blue cheese covering fresh tomato, tarragon bruschetta, and pieces of lobster clinging to one another atop a grilled-sourdough-bread dance floor ($12.95). The grilled swordfish steak Mediterranean brandishes red and yellow tomatoes, sweet red peppers, and artichoke hearts ($25.95), and the sizzling New York sirloin arrives tableside ready to be seared and sporting a rakish derby (29.95). A wide selection of cocktails, such as the Thin Mint, made with Absolut Vanilla, Bailey's Irish Cream, and DeKuper Green Crème de Menthe ($11.50), helps ease first-date jitters.