Summer Eats

Part Two

[BREAKFAST] Unable to resist a pink restaurant shaped like a giant umbrella—or, if viewed from above, a giant breast—we began our Rossmoor adventure with breakfast at The Parasol. We decided to find its proximity to Leisure World and the Naval Weapons Station charming, rather than ominous. The breakfast skillet of red potatoes, eggs, cheese and bacon would have been perfect had we remembered to ask for onions in it. As the only civilian patrons under 65, we received special attention from the young, adorable staff, who informed us that after hours the Parasol becomes a ragin' club called the Pink Nipple. We returned at 12:01 a.m. in our gold hot pants and leopard-print bra to find that, sadly, they were joking. [LUNCH] Since we could never afford to go there for dinner, we lunched at the Los Alamitos Fish Company. Their patio plants were carefully arranged to shield diners from busy Los Alamitos Boulevard. Aside from the gargantuan Washington Mutual sign looming across the street, their efforts were successful. We had a genteel soup-and-salad lunch—clam chowder and a caesar salad with crab—while the businesswoman across from us loudly lectured her lunchmates on the problems of male-dominated society. We didn't know whether to shout, "Testify, sister!" or move to another table. Our food arrived quickly, and we were able to immerse ourselves in all its fishy glory. [DINNER] The Yucatan Grill's baffling neon color scheme nearly dissuaded us from entering, but our bravery was rewarded with a stunning offering of Caribbean specialties. Their steak Palomilla —a husky chunk of marinated steak topped with a garlicky garnish they call mojo—is the only piece of meat we have ever considered marrying. Dinners come with fried plantains, which erases all interior-design sins. (Marcia Simmons) The Parasol, 12241 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach, (562) 598-3311; Los Alamitos Fish Company, 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-4553; Yucatan Grill, 12147 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach, (562) 430-4422.

SAN CLEMENTE

[BREAKFAST] There are moments in Tommy's Restaurant when you would swear that you are a black person trapped in an Alabama diner in 1955. Everywhere you look there are Caucasians—the ones with way-too-big heads and way-too-big ears and way-too-big feet and who chew way too slowly as they stare blankly at you. Social etiquette is unique down South, but we thought it a bit much when one of the older jumbo-sized white women sitting at the counter turned, walked to our booth and said, "Can I drink your water?" Without waiting for an answer (we were justifiably confused), she grabbed one of our water glasses, gulped, smiled, handed the glass back and returned to the counter. No one else seemed to think anything of it. So, after we asked for another water, we pretended it was normal, too. Moral of this story: if you're craving old-fashioned, southern-style breakfasts (like Momma used to make: soaking in bacon drippings) and are in the mood for Dixie, Tommy's is the place to be. [LUNCH] Yes, Newport and Laguna: there are strikingly beautiful people in San Clemente, too, and the place to find them (other than the beach) is at Sonny's Pizza and Pasta. Sadly, this restaurant has no ocean view, but the food and neighborly atmosphere more than make up for the loss. We started immediately with a smooth house Chianti and a generous Italian salad. After clogging our arteries at Tommy's for breakfast, we were determined to skip the enticing list of pasta specials (which change daily) and went with a small homemade pizza (all fresh veggie toppings). We were assured by fellow diners Matt and Lisa (newlyweds who had driven all the way from Costa Mesa) that their lasagna and spaghetti dishes would bring them back for more. Could there be any better testimonial? [DINNER] Almost lost in the middle of this sleepy town's shopping district off Avenida del Mar is San Clemente's dinner-time jewel: Carbonara Trattoria Italiana. We accidentally stumbled upon the place one night when the waiting line for Sonny's was too long. If you appreciate Laguna Beach's renowned Ti Amo restaurant, you'll more than likely appreciate this slightly less expensive but equally tasty relative. In advertisements, the darkly lit Carbonara is billed as "great food in a romantic atmosphere," and it's true, but don't let that stop you from going without your spouse or significant other. Jen—our attentive waitress—expertly guided us through the menu, and we couldn't have been happier. We recommend the tagliolini caprini (linguine with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, garlic and goat cheese) and the vitello sorrentino (veal layered with prosciutto, eggplant and mozzarella cheese). (RSM) Tommy's Restaurant, 1409 S. El Camino Real, (949) 492-1353; Sonny's Pizza and Pasta, 429 N. El Camino Real, (949) 498-2540; Carbonara Trattoria Italiana, 111 Avenida del Mar, (949) 366-1040.

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

[BREAKFAST] You do not approve of people who describe food as "sinful" or say it was a "revelation." But you begin your morning in San Juan Capistrano at the Ramos House Cafe in the Rios Historical District (behind the train station), where sexy, blowsy, show-offy flowers burst forth into the sunshine, and, well, it is the toast. Raisin toast. With golden raisins popping forth from the bread that are as sweet as sugar. With butter flecked with the gold of honey and lemon zest. And lime zest, too. The toast is a revelation. You will not begrudge the restaurant the $9 it is going to charge you for eggs. Oh, it will all be worth it. You sit under the spring-green canopy of leaves on the tree that grows in the middle of the fashionably "distressed" patio and watched the blond people. Of a dozen people relaxing here at midmorning on a Wednesday, all are blond. Even the chef has bleached-blond hair—and a goatee. And oh! It is so down-home here, with the crescent moon on the gate like on an outhouse door in an old-timey comic and the tall, hip serverettes in overalls. But the Ramos House Cafe does not fall into the trap of being "precious," like the place next door where there is an old-fashioned sign offering "pickles." No, the Ramos House Cafe keeps on the safe side of bleeccccch, and you contemplate the peach pain perdu with toasted almonds and cinnamon whipped cream as big as your head that has arrived at a neighboring table. Yeow. But you are in the mood for something tangy, savory, and the huge, volcanic mound of scrambled eggs with roasted garlic, wild mushrooms and tomatoes arrives topped with nasturtiums and lying on a bed of something fried and crunchy, which combines with the mushiness of the scrambled eggs and it is not too pungent but zesty enough to make a perfect foil for the sweet toast and oh! you are so happy, and the clang of an oncoming train combines itself with the loud tolling of the mission bells, drowning out the soft wind chimes of the house itself, and there is a small brown bird on the patio, and you find yourself talking to it as if you were in a children's story. "Hello, little wren, or sparrow, or whatever you might be," you say, for you are city girls and do not know. [LUNCH] You move on to the less grand Aldo's Sidewalk Caffe, where you stand in line to order your paninis. The service is, shall we say, minimalist (you have to go back three times to ask for two separate items which they keep forgetting to bring you). And the ambiance is trĂ©s strip-mall. But the paninis! Fresh, crusty tubular rolls hold slim piles of turkey and salami, tomatoes fresh and bursting with red, and cheese melted into the bread. There is no vulgar pile or pound of deli meat on the roll, but rather a pleasantly light pile, a European-feeling one. A strawberry milkshake is not gloopy and thick but light and frothy. A cookie thing is shredded coconut dipped in chocolate and the three times you asked for it are all worth it, and indeed you would happily ask for it twice more, and you don't even have a sweet tooth! [DINNER] Having eaten so much delicious food already, you decide that you are quite willing to forgo gastronomic delightitude for some history, some ambiance. So you swing by el gigante El Adobe de Capistrano, the favorite Mexican eatery of el Presidente Richard Nixon. Except when he told the media he liked to go there for Mexican food, it was in fact a restaurant serving American delectables. No matter! Owner Dick O'Neill—a lifelong OC Democrat—changed the menu just for the former commander in chief. Stop by the presidential booth and order the President's Choice (guacamole, chile relleno, chicken enchilada, beef taco, Spanish rice and refried beans). You'll be glad you did. And do stop by and say hello to the older blonde drinking alone in the bar. It's the nice thing to do. (RS) Ramos House Cafe, 31752 Los Rios St., (949) 443-1342; Aldo's Sidewalk Caffe, 31882 Del Obispo, (949) 443-0423; El Adobe de Capistrano, 31891 Camino Capistrano, (949) 493-1163.

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