Best Of :: Food & Drink
Wine bars are making a big showing in this year's Best of OC, and there's a reason for that: It's where adults go to have a few drinks, where the floors aren't wet with beer and . . . something wet, and where a jukebox isn't blasting the immortal hits of Journey, Boston or Aerosmith. At the Symposium Wine Bar, there's another reason there isn't any music blasting, and that is owner Don Katz's love of conversation, something that doesn't go with Foreigner. The place is cozy, well-decorated and educationaland the wine is really, really good. Beginners and longtime connoisseurs come to the wine-tasting seminars, and not just to learn what the hell all the swirling, sniffing and swishing is all about. Blind since a bout of spinal meningitis, Katz's sense of taste taste in wine, taste in style, taste in humor, taste in peoplereigns. He'll not only show you what good wine tastes like, but he'll also show you what to look for so you can start deciding for yourself. If you're still not sure what you want, decide on a color, and then order one of the flights ($11-$13), three generously poured samples for you to try and critique. Each wine comes with an identification card, so as you make your way toward the door in a Dionysian stagger, you can hand the card to the cashier, and purchase a bottle to take home. So put down the plastic cup, pick up a glass, and find out what you've been missing.
You don't have to shave your head or drink the Krishna Kool-Aid to enjoy the dirt-cheap vegetarian feast every Sunday. Get in touch with the "source" as you meditate to instrumental music and, if you like, chant along. For just a $3 suggested donation, you'll be catered to by robed monks carrying a variety of delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes. Chow down while sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the floor, but don't worry about cleanlinessmonks never get sick.
This place serves a variety of French-influenced Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and noodle specialties, but it makes our list because here's where you can find the freshest, biggest, saltiest and Frenchiest baguettes in Orange County. A large loaf will put you back just $1.75. Just make sure you eat that breador stick it in an airtight breadboxthe same day. Unlike the crap you buy at an American supermarket, it goes hard overnight.
Here's a bakery that does it all and does it well. The petite cakes are topped with fresh fruit or layered with ganache; neither too sweet nor too rich. The fried bread is stuffed with breaded pork cutlets, and the white bread loafs have their crusts already removed. Airy buns are glazed to a mirror shine, and the curry puffs stay hot just until you bite into them. These are the delights of JJ Bakery; a proving ground for all things flour.
No doubt you've heard the array of monikers (tapioca ball, pearl tea, black pearls, boba, bubble, milk tea) that make ordering that milky, pastel-colored cold drink with a fat straw and dark marbles on the bottom of the cup a little tricky. The craze was born in Taiwan about 25 years ago, when stands sold the cold teas as an after-school treat for kids. The gummy "pearls" are balls of cooked tapioca starch, reprocessed cassava or "yucca" root. TenRen's Tea in Anaheim gets our vote for being around for 10 years, long before the boba craze became mainstream in the U.S. And they do their boba old-school-style: no shrink-wrapping over the plastic cup, no powdery artificial-tasting teas, and a good selection of flavors (including flan!). And their pearls are the perfect consistency: pliant and smooth.
You don't often hear "cheap" and "Fashion Island" together. There are certainly plenty of places to drink, from the upscale Daily Grill to the seaside view of the bar in the Cheesecake Factory. And if you're a guy, there are also plenty of reasons to drinkchances are you're only there to humor your lady's shopping fix, and there aren't a whole lot of obvious "man hangouts" in sight. So pay attention because the cheapest cocktails are somewhere you'd never suspect: Red Robin, the corporate burger joint upstairs by the movie theater. You can't beat a $6 zombie, or a $4.79 Jack-and-Cokewhen was the last time you got prices approaching that at an actual bar? Great service, too, and the burgers aren't too shabby.