It’s been quite some time since I’ve traveled anywhere and what better way than to visit my best friend in her new home in Orange County!
I haven’t visited Orange County in over 5 years which is insane to think about. My best friend, Valerie, recently bought a townhouse in the city of Tustin. Her neighborhood is so cute and even has a community pool and small gym. Within 5 minutes of walking, there is a huge park with various outdoor activities such as tennis courts, pickleball courts, basketball courts, a baseball field, and even beach volleyball. Definitely great location!Crumbl all over TikTok and have been wanting to see if these lived up to the hype. While the closest location to my home is 45 minutes away, there was a location within 15 minutes of her place. Each week Crumbl releases flavors for the week so every week is different. This week’s flavors were cake batter, sea salt toffee, peach cobbler, chocolate cake, strawberries n’ cream, and they always have the classic milk chocolate chip.
Obviously we had to try one of each and these cookies were huge! They all had a similar underbaked soft texture, not chewy or crisp but I didn’t mind that. All the cookies were on the sweeter side but I still thoroughly enjoyed them (favorites were the sea salt toffee, peach cobbler, chocolate cake, and strawberries n’ cream). Did they live up to the viral craze?! Probably not but I’m so happy I finally got to try them and I would be down to try other flavors in the future.
The following morning we went to Cream Pan Bakery & Cafe, a Japanese-inspired bakery with pastries, desserts, breads, sandwiches, and other savory Japanese treats.
Their most popular pastry is the strawberry croissant filled with silky smooth pastry cream and fresh vibrant strawberries. These were so delicious, a must get. We also loved the beef curry pan, a scrumptious savory pastry with a crispy exterior filled with flavorful beef seasoned with curry. So good! Another favorite was the azuki cream, a sweet pastry stuffed with Japanese red bean and whipped cream topped with powdered sugar.
After our morning pastries we headed to Laguna Beach and walked around the cute downtown area and ended the day at the beach. It was perfect weather, not too hot, with a nice breeze.Lazy Bear, we did a collaboration dinner with well-known restaurant Taco María in Costa Mesa and I luckily snagged a reservation. They were fully booked for the whole weekend and someone canceled last minute and I got lucky…or so I thought. Literally right when we were leaving to head to our reservation I noticed I had a missed call. The restaurant had called saying they had plumbing issues and had to cancel all reservations for that night and couldn’t rebook us until the week after. You could imagine my extreme disappointment. At that moment, we quickly pivoted and I made a quick reservation at another restaurant that was on my list which was a little further away.
Even though we were both discouraged, we hoped this other restaurant would be just as tasty as we imagined Taco María would be. Mayfield in San Juan Capistrano is a modern Mediterranean restaurant with influences from the Middle East and Northern Africa. We decided to order a bunch of dishes to share and even had some leftovers to take home.
Of course we had to order the fresh bread with various dips and this didn’t disappoint. First of all, the bread was nicely toasted and had such an airy interior. All the accompanying dips were yummy but my favorites were the baba ganoush and muhammara.
Slices of kampachi were dusted in sumac and swimming in a refreshing buttermilk sauce. The pickled serrano chili added just a touch of heat and the mandarin segments added brightness and sweetness.
These corn ribs were great, especially with the lime leaf aioli. It was rich, creamy, and had an unexpected flavor.
These tempura fried eggplant slices had a sticky sweet date syrup drizzled on top. The zhoug, a spicy herby sauce, balanced out the richness of the fried eggplant.
Who doesn’t love burrata cheese? It’s creamy, buttery, and all around delicious especially with perfectly ripe juicy sweet peaches.
I loved the charred octopus with the sweet pieces of fresh grape and pops of texture from the pickled mustard seeds.
I love fried chicken and this was top-notch. Super crispy exterior and flavorful tender meat. The two sauces made the dish. The harissa honey was the perfect balance of sweet and spice and the housemade ranch was so good and tangy with the fresh herbs.
I also love duck confit and this was stellar. The meat was falling off the bone and the skin was nice and crispy. I loved the smokiness of the purée and the charred cabbage was a great addition.
One of my all-time favorite desserts is sticky toffee pudding. The dates add depth of flavor and moisture to the cake and you can’t go wrong when it’s paired with ice cream.
This was a great panna cotta where the texture was spot on. Super silky and creamy and the layer of the citrus gelée added brightness. The fresh and dried citrus segments added a nice textural component.
While Mayfield wasn’t our original plan for the night, we both left extremely happy with our experience.
The following day was jam-packed with food and fun where my other friend, Jean, joined us for the festivities. First stop was Sidecar Doughnuts in Costa Mesa. This well-known doughnut shop has lots of fun flavors. I have a fat sweet tooth so I couldn’t resist the urge and we got a bunch of doughnuts to share. We got the following flavors: huckleberry, dulce de leche churro, lemon poppyseed, s’mores, strawberry buttermilk, old-fashioned, saigon cinnamon crumb, choc-a-lot, maple bacon, and apple fritter. My favorites were the huckleberry, s’mores, strawberry buttermilk, saigon cinnamon crumb, and apple fritter.
After our doughnut run, we were off to the OC Fair where there’s a plethora of ridiculous but tempting food vendors, rides, games, and animals. I even got a henna tattoo which I’ve never gotten before.Gem Dining, an Asian Fusion restaurant in Fountain Valley. While we did dine outdoors, the indoor dining space was beautiful, modern, and sleek. All the dishes at other tables looked tantalizing which made our decision on what to order difficult.
Little morsels of briny goodness paired with refreshing granita.
Decadent and delicious. Sweet creamy uni was on top of buttery wagyu slices in a soy vinaigrette.
I loved this duck salad with its complex flavors. The duck itself was beautifully cooked to medium rare perfection and served with a crunchy cabbage and carrot salad with panang curry sauce.
Succulent pieces of lump crab were the star of the show and they were not skimpy on the crab. The creamy sauce, reminiscent of carbonara, was the perfect accompaniment with the meaty crab. My only criticism was that the linguine wasn’t al dente and the dish was lukewarm.
I never get risotto at a restaurant as it’s usually disappointing but this was very well prepared. Extremely creamy and luscious, the risotto had shrimp, bay scallops, and crab. Laska is a traditional Southeast Asian soup flavored with curry and coconut milk and this was pretty spot on with coconut cream and shellfish broth.
Obviously, no dinner is complete without dessert. The chocolate praline bar is a chocolate lover’s paradise with decadent chocolate, praline crémeux, candied hazelnuts, and vanilla ice cream. The lava tiramisu was light and airy while the yogurt panna cotta was refreshing with fresh strawberries, meringue, and a strawberry crumble.
Overall, Gem Dining was another great dining experience where we left extremely pleased.
My last full day in Orange County started off with a 5-mile hike near Laguna Beach. We went around 9:30 AM and it was already pretty warm. Unfortunately, the viewpoint of the beach was still foggy in the morning so if you go in the afternoon, I’m sure you’ll be able to see the beach and coastline.
After hiking, we had a low-key afternoon relaxing at the pool. Our last dinner was at Playground, a New American restaurant where Val used to dine frequently. They also have Playground 2.0 where it’s a tasting menu only experience. Portions were a little larger than the other restaurants we had dined at previously so keep that in mind if you go.
Somehow I missed taking a picture of the sourdough einkorn focaccia bread which was pretty damn good. Crunchy, pillowy, oily, and salty.
These gorgeous heirloom tomatoes were thickly sliced and had creamy guacamole underneath in an agave lime vinaigrette. I loved the salsa seca, a rustic blend of toasted nuts and seeds, that added so much flavor and texture.
Charred brussels sprouts were tossed with Cotija cheese, pickled jalapeños, pepitas, and crunchy tortillas. The only thing I wish I could have tasted more was the cornbread crumble as I do love cornbread.
I really enjoyed the sweetness of the corn in the intense khao soi broth. Crispy shallots, roasted peanuts, toasted coconut, and pickled cabbage rounded out the dish.
Bluefin tuna was tossed in a spicy dressing with crispy rice, peanuts, ginger, and garlic and was served with lettuce wraps. While texturally this dish was fun, the bluefin tuna got lost with all the other competing components.
The pork belly, the star of the dish, was cooked to perfection. Beautifully browned yet tender and succulent. The sikil p’ak, a Mayan pumpkin seed dip with a granular texture, didn’t really add anything to the dish as the chili in it was overpowering. I did however like the raisinated tomatoes and fresh cherries.
Both desserts were stellar in their own way. Burnt Basque cheesecake has been all the craze the last few years and their version didn’t disappoint. It had that gooey creamy interior with its rich intense sweet cheese flavor and beautifully caramelized exterior. The warm brownie was smothered in butterscotch and topped with a caramel pretzel semifreddo. I would have loved more pretzel pieces and flavor.
I couldn’t have asked for a better last dinner! Delicious food and great company, what’s not to like?!
Before heading to the airport on Sunday, we went to Dough Exchange, a bagel shop right next to Playground from the same chef/owner. These aren’t your basic ordinary bagels. While you could get a bagel with cream cheese or nut butter, they have some fun and quirky bagel sandwiches that are worth a try. Their menu is a little intimidating because there are so many choices and everything sounded bomb. I’ll definitely have to come back to try more!
On the left was the street corn: jalapeño cheddar bagel with esquites schmear, bacon, avocado, tomato, and hashbrown. Fuckin’ ridiculous but in the best way possible. On the right was the turkey Rachel: Gruyère cheese bagel with turkey, Russian dressing, and melted Gruyère cheese. Some other ones I was eyeing were the missionary (french toast bagel, egg & cheddar, bacon, cultured butter, and maple); pastrami Reuben (Gruyère cheese bagel. brisket pastrami, Russian dressing, and melted Gruyère cheese.); and a classic lox bagel with all the fixings.
Kinda random but I guess the chef also has a fascination with making panettone, a traditional Italian sweet bread typically eaten during Christmas. While I have yet to find a better panettone than Roy’s (his panettone is iconic), I was pleasantly surprised by their panettone. The flavor and texture were spot on.
Of course I had to try the classic flavor of candied citrus and raisin. I would have liked the bread to be more studded with the candied fruit but overall the flavor and texture was really good.
While I didn’t think red velvet when eating this, the chocolate chunks were a great addition to the panettone. A cream cheese drizzle would have been bomb and would have helped give off red velvet vibes.
I couldn’t think of a better weekend filled with great food and quality time with my bestie. I cannot wait to visit again, enjoy the beautiful weather, and explore more food gems!