Being a Bay Area transplant made us curious about the menu at Embarcadero California Bistro. A year after taking over a once revolving south county dining space, they continue to have a local clientele. We grilled George Valdovinos about our favorite city, but he stuck to his guns and appeased us with seafood and vino knowledge.
Your earliest food memory:
I have very fond childhood memories of cooking with my mom. She would prepare elaborate Mexican dishes in the kitchen daily.
Favorite meal growing up.
My mom's pozole. It's a traditional Mexican soup with pork and hominy.
I have seasonal ingredients delivered fresh by Penjoyan Produce in Costa Mesa. Lately, I've been experimenting with fiddlehead ferns. They make a perfect first course or side dish.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Garlic. It's an everyday ingredient that tastes great with everything. I start just about every meal by sauteing some fresh garlic first.
Tell us about the Ladies Night special.
I started Ladies Night to bring some fun to the area. It gives people an excuse to be social and enjoy themselves on a Thursday night. Everyone, not just the ladies, can enjoy half-off drinks in the bar and front lounge from 6 p.m. to closing.
It's been a year since you opened. Has anything changed?
We're very excited to celebrate the restaurant's one year anniversary. The first year is all about learning, experimenting and honing in on where we want to go. With one year behind us, we know our market well and have a very good idea of what our customers want.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Orange County is full of young chefs that are adventurous and want to try new stuff. The area also ahs the best local purveyors; we can get anything we want.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
In-n-Out. It's delicious every single time.
What is your beverage of choice?
Wine. I love all varietals, but my favorite is Pinot Noir. Since I'm always at the restaurant, I usually enjoy the wine we serve here. The bar is stocked just right.
Could you explain the osso bucco style short ribs?
We use thick-cut short ribs, instead of shanks, and cook them slow and long. It's my own version of an old classic.
Give us an example of your San Franciscan-inspired cuisine.
The menu at Embarcadero is diverse, much like San Francisco's dining scene, and has a variety of menu items reminiscent of the city. This includes our clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, pan seared halibut with corn chowder and, of course, cioppino (which originated in San Francisco).
One food you can't live without:
Every kind of Mexican food. I grew up on it, and it's still my favorite to this day.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Don't be scared; cooking is fun and doesn't have to be precise. It's all about enjoying yourself and tasting as you go.
What is a cuvinet wine bar?
Embarcadero features a cuvinet wine bar to offer fine wines, traditionally offered only by the bottle, by the glass. It's a temperature controlled system that keeps wines fresh from the moment they're opened up to one month.
What types of bread do you make daily?
Embarcadero bakes focaccia and French bread daily.
My parents. My culinary interest was sparked by my parents at a very early age. My mother is an amazing home cook, and my father made his career as a professional chef. My love for cooking with fresh, authentic ingredients is in my blood.
Where else have you worked?
Prior to Embarcadero, I held executive chef, management and partnership positions at nationally recognized brands, including Yard House and Stillwater restaurants. After years of success representing restaurants across Southern California, I opened Bistro 311 in San Juan Capistrano when I was 25.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Cow brains. The first and last time I will eat them was at my parent's house. They have a sweet beef flavor, but the texture is hard to get past.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
I have many, but some of my favorites are Javier's and El Toro Mexican Grill in Orange County, Nobu in San Diego. I've just recently made friends with the chef at Pad Thai in Rancho Santa Margarita who makes special orders for me that are unbelievable.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Nothing beats a stack of homemade pancakes. You can put just about anything over them and they taste great. I usually opt for fresh fruit and maple syrup.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
I once had a customer request "as little flavor as possible." I made them halibut and vegetables with no seasoning or sauces.
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