Notes From A Grubfest At South Coast Plaza

Mall restaurants aren't everyone's first choice when dining out, but South Coast Plaza is surely an exception? Not the fast-food joints and run-of-the-mill chains, of course, but the higher-end spaces. Name one other shopping center in the US that's home to a trifecta of the caliber of Hamamori, Charlie Palmer and Marché Moderne?

On Friday and Saturday I took part in a two-day event that gathered a group of local (OC and LA) food bloggers and led us around the crème de la crème of SCP's eateries. From Hamamori to Pizzeria Ortica, we didn't stop tasting, talking and taking notes.

Here's the itinerary, with the high spots picked out:

Sushi and steak at Hamamori. Thinly sliced wagyu beef, which you cook yourself on a hot plate over rock salt and then dip in sauces (apple sesame, soy steak and rock salt with chili pepper). I'm not a meat lover but, tender and full of flavor, this had me converted. Can't believe we fell for James Hamamori's leg-pulling (he offered to provide a fellow blogger with some "left-handed chopsticks!!")

Wine, oil and salt tasting at


. Another epiphany: I'm not a fan of truffles (aside from the chocolate variety)—I find them too sickly. But a taste of the salt with a very subtle hint of truffle was enough to convince me. It's apparently great on mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and popcorn (posh!)

Small Plates at Charlie Palmer. Warning: The fries are addictive, but don't fill up on them: Leave room for the three-cheese risotto cakes with chorizo aioli and, at the other end of the scale of adventurousness, the roasted bone marrow with raisin marmalade.

Desserts at Marché Moderne. Amelia Marneau's feather-light orange beignets and melt-in-the-mouth green tea and apricot macarons went down a storm—but thankfully didn't sit as heavy as that on our now-groaning bellies.

Breakfast at Pinot Provence. Super-fresh fruit and baked goods (those blueberry muffins!) served in the lovely, light-filled dining room. The only downside—it's so evocative of a restaurant in France that it's a shame to step back outside on to a busy street instead of a sun-drenched market square.

Pasta and pizza at Pizzeria Ortica. A super-informative class from chefs Steve and Zach on how to make and cook pasta, followed by a tasting. The pear and pecorino tortelli is the must-order: It's sweet yet not overpowering, and, best of all, it's bathed in butter.

Now, what's for lunch?


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