Summer Eats

Part Two

[BREAKFAST] I start at the Katella Deli, at which (if I were so inclined) I could stay for lunch and dinner and be very, very happy. The place has a voluminous menu that spans matzo to mud pie, spinach salad to skyscraper sandwiches, knish to kippers. Possibly the only thing that would chase me away is the truly monstrous, double-decker strip mall that sits next to the deli: stores stacked cord-like with all the élan that distinguishes your better mass graves. Still, it's easy to avert your eyes to the deli's full bakery. Fresh loaf of zucchini bread? Sure. Sweet rolls? Fresh bagels? Absolutely. I sat in the restaurant and had a terrific Denver omelet. You can get lox, eggs and onion; you can get corned-beef hash; you can get bologna and eggs; and, thank the God of Abraham, you can get potato pancakes. And if you look outside, you can get sick. [LUNCH] Though some people would prefer to ignore this, the best-known attraction in town is the Los Alamitos Race Course, around which stands a gaggle of restaurants that serve not only the course's patrons but also the folks who work there. I resolved to eat lunch in one of the popular haunts around the track, deciding finally on St. Paul's Place. It features that triumvirate of working man's food: burgers, pastrami and steak. Add to this gyros, carne asada, Piña Colada Bang—which sounds vaguely illegal—and broasted chicken, which, like Hank Aaron and Hans Conreid, has never gotten its due in this country, and we're talking good eating. The food is great, the clientele colorful—dusty grooms and trainers tucked tightly into jeans clamped by license-plate-sized belt buckles—and the price is right. I got a club-sandwich plate that included French fries AND onion rings AND a green salad AND a pickle for about 6 bucks. Hee-haw. [DINNER] I met a friend and his date at the Los Alamitos Fish Company, which is about as close to a sure thing as you're going to get in this town. The beer's cold, and the chowder's the best. We had a lovely time drinking and talking over swordfish, halibut, crab legs, garlic mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. Great bread, great place . . . though I did notice the clientele was a little uptight. Many of them kept glancing over as my friend's female companion told numerous stories of adventures in tanning salons, bathroom stalls and strip clubs. Hey, man, free your mind! "Did you enjoy your crab?" I asked my friend's guest. "Yes," she said. "Are you going to write about my lesbian experiences?" "Would you like me to?" "Yes, I'd prefer that you do." Just lovely. (SL) Katella Deli-Restaurant, 4470 Katella Ave., (562) 594-8611; St. Paul's Place, 5008 Katella Ave., (562) 431-1165; Los Alamitos Fish Company, 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., (562) 594-4553.


I grew up in Mission Viejo when it really was a one-horse town, or perhaps there were 16 horses but just one restaurant. That one little family-run place, Patio Mexicana, survives only in memory—a memory colored by the fact that the restaurant was just outside the front doors of the Mission Viejo Co. and the company's execs frequented Patio Mexicana while discussing destroying the rural qualities that had drawn us there in the first place. I eyed them suspiciously over Soviet-style tacos and burritos and entertained monkey-wrenching schemes of revenge:capsized outhouses, pilfered survey stakes, crudely lettered signs begging construction workers not to fill in my previously secret turtle pond. The town has grown—from 4,000 or 5,000 to a bazillion or so—and with it, restaurant choices have multiplied. We have lost a world but gained a satisfactory cuisine. [BREAKFAST] is fine in any one of the hopping coffeehouses or in Albertacos, a 24-hour taco stand (with outposts in Vista, San Diego and Cypress) just outside the Liquid Lounge and downhill from Saddleback Valley Community Colleg. But the local hideout breakfast joint remains the country-clubbish restaurant at Casta del Sol Golf Course (that's "People of the Sun," a reference not to Rage Against the Machine, but to the eponymous retirement community next door). Outside the windows, golfers slap at the pill; inside, most of the aging patrons are knocking back fistfuls of pills with their orange juice. The food is fine and cheap and quick; the interior is Coco's Modern. If you can get around the shame of uttering absurdly named plates—the Sand Wrap, the Bunker Sandwich, the Hole in One—tell the waitress you want the Triple Bogey Omelet, an immense, pillow-sized concoction for which every kind of meat has been murdered. [LUNCH] The boys at Capriccio Italiano have set the standard of eating in South County for more than a decade. Everything on the menu is fabulous and produced on the premises; the décor is inelegant, upscale strip-mall (travel-poster pictures and piped-in easy-listening music); the five-star service is designed to allow for several speeds, from get-me-back-to-the-office fast to pour-me-another-Chianti languorous. We recommend most highly the penne alla Arabiatta, a biting pasta dish of sensuality expressed through the medium of the noodle. [DINNER] There's a story about the owner of La Ferme that has something to do with the cornucopia of the global marketplace, about how an exile from one country stops in a second where he picks up a trade and settles in a third where he practices it. Which perhaps explains how a chef/owner who looks Iranian ends up at the back end of Mission Viejo cooking up some of the finest French food in OC. At La Ferme, I have eaten things I would touch nowhere else. Like François Mitterand, who is said to have eaten a sacred songbird at his last meal, I have dined on snails—garlicky, buttery mollusks helped down my gullet with the aid of whatever wine the waiter suggests. And not merely snails, but duck, veal and sweetbreads. And drunk great rivers of good wine. And gone back to work knowing that the experience would cost me a month's salary. And regretted nothing. (WS) Albertacos, 28431 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 365-0695; Casta del Sol Golf Club, 27601 Casta del Sol Rd., (949) 581-9700; Capriccio Italiano, 25380 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 855-6866; La Ferme, 28451 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 364-6664.

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