Artwork by Mark DanceyBIG SANDY. “I like Felix Continental Cafe in Old Towne Orange,” says the Anaheim resident and leader of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys. “It's in that part of town they call the Plaza Square, but we all call it the Circle. I like to go there when I get back to town off tour; I like to acclimate to being back home.” What kind of food do they have? “It's Cuban/Spanish cuisine. I usually order arroz con pollo.” That's chicken and rice? “Right. It's basically a huge plate of rice with chicken in it. It has that seasoning—what do they call that, that kinda yellow stuff?” Saffron? “Yeah, saffron. It comes with maduro—the fried banana thing. Plantains? “Yeah. And it's pretty cheap, and you get a lot of food. I can never finish it, but it tastes better later anyway.” You bring the leftovers home? “Yeah. And it's a good place to people watch and eavesdrop on conversations. People have business meetings there and go out on dates and that kind of stuff. You hear a lot of funny things there.” It draws a pretty diverse crowd? “Yeah. And that part of Orange has a lot of antique shops, so I always see someone I know running around. Like I said, it always makes me feel like I'm home. It's a great little part of town. It's pretty much the only place around here that's been left untouched, and now they're threatening to go in and redo everything. Some locals are trying to fight that. I'm sure it's gonna be awful.” Felix Continental Cafe, 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842. (BS)
VICKI PETERSON.Peterson is the busy owner/designer of Chantel and Vicki Shoppe in Costa Mesa. Dividing time between the company's tiny Huntington Beach warehouse, the Costa Mesa shop, and LA's garment district alone might just be enough to crowd a decent meal right out of this OC designer's schedule. But additional time logged at the drawing board, choosing funky fabrics, and creating Chantel and Vicki's line of breezy women's clothing makes Peterson downright hungry! Her favorite restaurant? Scampi in Costa Mesa, where she says she can always expect an excellent meal as well as a friendly welcome from owner/chef (and Italy native) Fernando Navaretta. “He's a doll!” she says. “You walk in, and he's hugging you.” But fear not, famished touchophobes, Navaretta reserves this greeting for the regulars—and rest assured, even if your greeting contains a little less amore, your food definitely won't. Peterson usually goes for lobster ravioli or the cioppino, a robust seafood stew that comes in a big bowl. “It's incredible,” Peterson says, adding that the pasta is also excellent, so diners not fond of the fishies can choose from a diverse selection of pasta dishes. Add a nice glass of wine and a casual vibe (“He chooses cool music”), and you've got the makings of a meal fit for a fashion designer. Or a first date. Or maybe even a fashion designer on a first date. Scampi, 1576 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8560. (TM) JEFFREY S. CONNER. An attorney by profession and a movie buff by obsession, the co-founder of the Newport Beach International Film Festival really doesn't have time to talk—certainly not about food, not with clients on hold and his film festival coming in a few weeks. “This is by far the busiest time of the year for me,” he says politely, praying you'll get the drift. And when you do but keep asking him about all of it anyway, you can practically hear Conner's stomach twisting itself into balloon animals. Conner expected to deal with often-difficult artistic temperaments when he decided to put on a film festival. But he didn't anticipate the hassles of the auxiliary events—the celebrity golf tournament, the Easy Rider 30th anniversary Harley ride from LA to Cook's Corner, and 11 straight nights of gala parties. “And my terrible diet doesn't make it any easier,” says Conner. “Usually, it's coffee for breakfast and Taco Bell for lunch.” But once a week, Conner walks across the street to his favorite restaurant, the Pacific Club. “I think it's the best restaurant in Orange County,” he says, and you can hear him starting to relax just thinking about it. “They do a swordfish with vegetables and mashed potatoes that is absolutely incredible. It is prepared very simply: not much sauce, mostly lemon, and very lightly seasoned. I have it with a bottle of Perrier and don't order any dessert. The whole thing stands in completely healthful opposition to just about everything else I eat and do. I've been treating myself to this once a week for 10 years.” But it's a treat most everybody else will have to go without. The Pacific Club and its succulent swordfish are for members only. “I don't even know if you're allowed to print anything about the club,” said Andrea, who answered the phone. “This place is for members only, and we wouldn't want a bunch of people just showing up.” The Pacific Club, 4110 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 955-1123.(DW) STEVE ZEPEDA. “There's a place down the street from where I live called Lula, and it's a nice, low-key bistro,” says the independent promoter for the Foothill and the Blue Cafe. “It's nice and casual, and they're really good people.” What kind of food do they have? “Mostly they go in a French direction—you know, like crepes? And they have this amazing salad called the salad bleu. It's with this what they call Belgian or Danish endive. It's an amazing thing. I get a bunch of joy out of it, believe it or not. I also like to go to a good Mexican place, although there really aren't that many around. There's this one I particularly recommend in Paramount called Casa Gamino. They also have restaurants in Anaheim and Huntington Beach, if Orange County readers want to check out the place. Very reasonable prices, and they have excellent fajitas.” Lula, 4114 E. 3rd St., Long Beach, (562) 433-8350; Casa Gamino, 8330 Alondra Blvd., Paramount, (562) 630-9100. (BS) E. He's the owner/producer/engineer of Orange's For the Record Studios. The guy's life is bands. He is either checking them out around town or recording them. And considering the list of local faves that have been through his studio in the past 10 years—Freakdaddy, Manic Hispanic, Smile, the Cadillac Tramps—it's clear that he has worked with some of OC's best. But after you get past band talk, E displays a gourmand's knowledge of local eateries, and the next thing you know, you're thinking that maybe his single-vowel moniker might just stand for eating. Characteristically, he explains his restaurant choices in the context of music. “It's like picking bands,” he says. “Maybe one Saturday night, you go out and you get to see Measles over at Koo's, followed by Smile at Club Mesa, then you get to see Josh Freese play with John Doe over at 369, and then after that, you buzz back to Chain Reaction to see the last show by Jeffries Fan Club. That's the kind of food experience people should have—variety. It's the spice of life, just as music is.” Unable to settle on just one favorite, E's suggestions constitute something of a day trip—no, a multicourse food odyssey. “And don't think I haven't done this,” he says. Begin with the Lido Marina salad at George's Camelot in Newport Beach: a perfect marriage of iceberg and romaine lettuces, egg whites, and diced tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms, along with baby shrimp and a vinaigrette spiced with ranch dressing. Best of all, late nighters finishing a session can get it as early as 8 a.m. After the salad, head up the 55 freeway for an appetizer at Mondu Suzay in Tustin. E goes for the Potato Han, “the best potato salad in OC,” before heading to Rutabegorz for one of the county's “three best soups”—the Cocky Leeky, a nondairy cream of chicken soups (made with real nondairy creamer!). Stay in town for the main course, a dish that is “the greatest anyone has ever concocted, an order of magnitude beyond the average meatloaf,” says E. Can it be? Is he really talking about . . . meatloaf?! Indeed, and what's more, at Tustin's McCharles House Restaurant and Tea Room, “mother and daughter serve you dinner right in their living room.” Finally, for dessert, head over to the Topaz Caf at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana for homemade vanilla-bean ice cream with caramel sauce. Here, not far from real live museum artifacts, he says he enjoys “an outstanding dessert in a spectacular setting.” According to E, options for diners in OC are almost limitless, but he laments that there is still no place in the county for Canadian cuisine, if such a thing there be. “There are three Mongolian restaurants within seven minutes of downtown Costa Mesa, but I still can't find Canadian food,” he says. “We in the United States even have regional dishes—Cajun, Tex-Mex, California cuisine—and that poor country can't even pull together one national dish. Those poor Canadians.” George's Camelot, 3420 Via Oporto, Newport Beach, (949) 673-3233; Mondu Suzay, 13931 Carroll Way, Tustin, (714) 838-4130; McCharles House Restaurant and Tea Room, 335 S. C St., Tustin, (714) 731-4063; Rutabegorz, 158 W. Main St., Tustin, (714) 731-9807; Topaz Caf in the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-2002. (TM) TERRANCE LOVE. The owner and operator of Steamers Caf is the sultan of jazz in Orange County, an impresario who could charm the limp off a three-legged dog with his begirding manner and Mafioso dark-suited presence. Love (what a handle!) perpetuates high art form in a caf that is fast becoming a straight-ahead-jazz institution. Like beggar weed, Steamers thrives undaunted in what was once a jazz wasteland. Steamers is just over 4 years old, but Love has been in the restaurant business since 1968. “Being a restaurateur, I like to try everything,” he says. So Love has spent his life checking out food at other establishments, but he narrowed it down for us to one fine fave: “If you've got some bucks, and you want to take a woman to a place where you'll be treated like a king, go to the Cellar,” he says. His favorite Cellar dish is the chateaubriand, a double-thick, center-cut beef tenderloin that is “a steak for two . . . and it's sumptuous,” according to Love. He also looks for customer service way beyond the call of duty when dining. “They know you by name [at the Cellar],” he says. “from the host right down to your waiter. What sticks in my mind is that they treat me right.” So endeth a lesson of Love. The Cellar, 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-5682.(CJB) BARBARA DEMARCO BARRETT. Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., KUCI broadcasts DeMarco Barrett's Writers on Writing, bringing together an eclectic mix of novelists, poets, editors and journalists in that increasingly rare beast—a radio talk program that's actually entertaining and informative. DeMarco Barrett actually knows what's she's talking about: she's an accomplished journalist who has written for numerous local papers (including the Weekly) and has a regular column for Orange County Woman. She has also contributed to big-time publications like Poets and Writers. And to top it off, she's a vegetarian—which is kind of a sucky proposition in OC. But when she does make it out, she likes to go to Ango Tei in Costa Mesa. The sushi there is “wondrous,” she tells us. “Most people think sushi needs to have fish, but not necessarily. They do all sorts of cool things with veggie sushi.” The restaurant itself “is small, about the size of a doctor's waiting room,” she says. “[It's] the perfect place for a writer who likes to observe. But it's noisy, so it's hard for people to eavesdrop on your conversation, although if you listen real hard, you can hear what others are talking about.” Although most people sit at the bar, DeMarco Barrett likes to sit at one of the four small tables so she doesn't have to “stare at poor raw fish as they stare back.” “The restaurant reminds me of being back in Japan,” she says. “It's the most authentic Japanese restaurant we've found in Orange County.” In addition to sushi, she likes the vegetable tempura, which she describes as “light, crisp, and they throw in a few unusual Japanese vegetables.” Of course, the only thing harder than being a vegetarian and dining out is having a kid and dining out, but evidently Ango Tei pleases on that front, too. “When we leave our son with his grandpa, one lovely Japanese waitress in particular actually looks unhappy that Travis isn't with us.” Ango Tei, 675 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-2696.(VDI) CHRIS GAFFNEY. “My favorite Orange County restaurant is a little Mexican deli called El Toro Bravo,” says the acclaimed singer/songwriter and Costa Mesa resident. Why is it your favorite restaurant? “It's cheap, and it's the best food I can find. You can also get beans and rice, but I usually go in for the big burrito bomb. I get carnitas. Sometimes I get birria. They got anything you want.” Birria? Is that beer? “It's goat.” GOAT?! You eat GOAT?! “Yeah. It's good. You like lamb, right?” Yeah, sure, I like lamb. “Well, you're getting the picture. You can get ceviche there and all that stuff.” What's the atmosphere like? “It's just a walk-up deli. There is no atmosphere. They have a dumpster out back.” El Toro Bravo Tortilleria, 745 W. 19th, Costa Mesa, (714) 631-4464. (BS) BILL BAVASI. Bavasi comes from a family so connected to the national pastime—his father Buzzie and brother Peter were major-league general managers before him—that it's worth wondering whether “bavasi” might mean “baseball” in Italian. Nope. “'Bavasi' is not an Italian name,” says Bill, 41, who has been the Angels' general manager for five years. “It's French.” Despite his connections, Bill worked his way up from the bottom. When Buzzie was president of the San Diego Padres in the early 1970s (between general-manager jobs with the Angels and Dodgers), Bill spent four years as a $10-per-game groundskeeper for the team. When Buzzie joined the Angels, Bill spent seven years as a gofer in the minor leagues. After Buzzie retired, Bill spent 10 years overseeing the Angels' minor-league system. In 1994, he reached the majors, but he retains an appreciation for the simple and the intimate. That's what he likes so much about his favorite restaurant, a small, family-operated Italian place called Salvatore's. “It's cozy, it's literally right around the corner from my house, and it's got great food,” says Bill. “Who needs anything more complex than that? I go all the time, planned or spur-of-the-moment, whether for a family dinner or a nice evening with just my wife and me.” Bill's favorite dish is the tortellini Bolognese. His wife usually orders the chicken marsala. “Again, these are pretty basic—my palate isn't that eclectic—but the food is expertly prepared every time,” he says. “I start with bread, a green salad with oil and vinegar, and a beer—Bud Light—and I skip dessert. I'm not a dessert guy. If I had room, I'd just have seconds of the main course.” Salvatore's, 27001 La Paz Rd., Mission Viejo, (949) 859-4572. (DW) AVA PARK. In little more than a decade, Orange County People for Animals' (OCPA) membership has swelled to 1,500 members, and in that time, Park's crusade has brought increased awareness of animal issues to OC—and landed the 44-year-old Irvine businesswoman and OCPA founder and director in jail almost a dozen times. OCPA advocates “a compassionate, peaceful and healthy planet” through nonviolence and vegetarianism. Leading by example, Park goes one better than vegetarian: she is a vegan, that most vegetarian of vegetarians, avoiding the consumption of all animal products. All of them. And while finding a meal that didn't first have to be killed, laid, milked or secreted by insects may seem daunting, Park is happy to report that in more and more OC restaurants, no milk, no meat, no honey and no eggs is no problem. “Actually, I am able to eat vegan just about anywhere. It's often just a matter of asking your server to leave the cheese off of an item,” she says. Her favorite restaurant is Au Lac in Fountain Valley, where she celebrated Thanksgiving. Choosing only one restaurant is difficult, Park says, because she frequents a number of “incredible restaurants in Orange County—such as Vien Huong in Westminster and the Lotus Caf in Orange—that serve dishes that appear to have meat in them, but don't.” And still other places Park recommends for grabbing a vegetarian bite sound surprisingly familiar. “California Pizza Kitchen offers a fabulous cheeseless pizza that I would order even if I wasn't a vegan,” Park says. “And Houston's has an amazing veggie burger that my vegetarian girlfriend, Hannah, couldn't eat because it was 'too real'! She actually sent it back! The 'blood' dripping from it turned out to be beet juice. I died laughing, and they were nice enough not to charge us.” Park's recommendation for would-be vegetarian/vegans: take it easy. “Don't drive yourself nuts. Start out vegetarian, and just do the best you can to move toward vegan. If you can't give up meat entirely, just cut back. You'll find out how easy it is and how much healthier you are!” Au Lac Vegetarian Restaurant, 16563 Brookhurst, Fountain Valley, (714) 418-0658; Vien Huong Restaurant, 14092 Magnolia, Westminster, (714) 373-1876; Lotus Caf, 1515 W. Chapman, Orange, (714) 385-1233. (TM) JOHN Q. HUMPHRIES. As owner of the Ramos House Caf in San Juan Capistrano, John Q. “I Am the Eggman” Humphries rustles up some of the most luscious brunch foods in the county. But he's not a breakfast guy himself. Here's a sample of what he likes after toiling over a hot range all day. At Sorrento Grille, he favors the James Bond Martinis (Bombay Sapphire, Skye Vodka and a touch of Blond Lillet) and says waiter Misha is the best in OC. Simple pleasures do it for Humphries at Gen Kai, where he starts off with miso and loves the tuna tatake. Humphries doesn't have a particular dish in mind when he ends up at Mistral, a tiny restaurant behind the defunct Port Theater in Corona del Mar: he lets his chef friend Shawn “the Prawn” Adams set him up. Sorrento Grille, 370 Glenneyre, Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8686; Gen Kai, 3344 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 675-0771; Mistral, 440 Heliotrope Ave., Corona del Mar, (949) 723-9685. (KM) ANN PHONG.In one painting, they cut through the water untethered. In another, they seem to bob in the mist. Boats appear in painter Ann Phong's ethereal acrylic paintings again and again. They are elegant, strong metaphors for women. Phong is a self-described boat person who finally made it to the U.S. from her native Vietnam in 1982 after a prior escape in 1978 landed her in jail. Now her ordeal is one of the many themes wrought on huge canvases shown in galleries throughout Southern California. Phong's tastes run to Little Saigon haunts when she puts down her paintbrush. Phong comes to Van for banh xeo, a lacy Vietnamese taco of sorts. Made of rice-flour batter brightly stained with turmeric, they are filled with bits of fried pork, shrimp and fresh bean sprouts. Phong swears by the vitamins in the aromatic herbs served on the side. Seven delicately prepared courses of beef is the specialty at Pagolac, a restaurant Phong remembers from its famous Saigon incarnation. A dish made with fried sweet potatoes and shrimp is Phong's favorite at Tony Lam's Vien Dong, a restaurant known for its traditional Northern Vietnamese fare. Van, 14122 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 530-455; Pagolac, 14580 Brookhurst, Westminster, (714) 531-4740; Vien Dong, 9684 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-4614. (KM) MICHAEL KANG. Corona del Mar High School grad Michael Kang keeps busy with Five Feet, the popular Laguna Beach restaurant that makes an insane ginger-infused flash-fried catfish. When I spoke with him, he had just returned from New York, where he was cooking at the James Beard House. Spare time is a lost concept with Kang, but he likes to hit two locales when possible. At Golden Truffle, Kang has whatever chef/owner Alan Greeley sets him up with that day. A huge dim sum fan, Kang has been known to trek to dumpling meccas Rowland Heights and Monterey Park. But when hunger strikes without warning, the huge Dragon Phoenix Palace in Little Saigon does the trick. Golden Truffle, 1767 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-9858; Dragon Phoenix Palace, 9211 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 106, Westminster, (714) 893-3682. (KM) ZOV. Zov doesn't get out much—in OC, that is. What with teaching cooking classes, serving as a guest chef on cruises and in restaurants across the country, and running her Tustin restaurant and bakery, she hasn't a moment to spare. And then there's that loitering novelist to keep happy: Dean Koontz has a four-day-per-week Zov's Bistro habit. Poor Zov—so immersed in work. But she does take Sunday off, and she doesn't spend her free day wearing an apron. You might find her reading the Sunday paper at Splashes, a Laguna Beach eatery Zov calls her favorite. And it's not about any particular dish; for Zov, it's all about getting outside, seeing friends and relaxing. Splashes Restaurant, 1555 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-4477.(KM) KEVIN BLEUER. Brother to the aforementioned Erik Bleuer, this Bleuer is an actor, singer and dancer, as well as owner with his schoolteacher wife, Nancy, of Capo Beach Bar N Grill. “Theater never gets out of your blood,” says the lean performer who directed and played a ferocious, cat-like Tybaldt in the outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing in Dana Point. Shakespeare—as any fan of the comedies will tell you—had a fondness for Italy. Same for Bleuer: Nancy lived in Florence, “and I've been to Italy, so I've come to learn that American Italian and Italian Italian are very different. We enjoy Italian restaurants that actually 'taste' like Italian restaurants.” The difference? For one thing, Bleuer informs us that American Italian tends to use more spices in the sauce and marinara. Where does he find such a place in OC? Mario's in Dana Point, where he likes the gnocchi Bolognese, a sort of potato-dumpling dish with meat sauce. “A lot of the places serve it with a cream sauce, which is okay. But any kind of gnocchi is good at Mario's.” Like most gnocchi eaters, Bleuer takes his with a “good reserve” of Chianti. He also insists that you try the tiramis for dessert. “And a really good coffee—a latte or cappuccino, or just a straight cup of coffee, no cream or sugar. If it's good coffee, you don't need to alter it.” Mario's by the Sea Ristorante, 32545 Golden Lantern, Ste. F., Dana Point, (949) 240-1967.(VDI) JOHN HUNTINGTON. To understand club and concert promoter Huntington, you'd have to consider P.T. Barnum, the fluctuating echelons of the local social hierarchy, and the Chaos Theory. He's generally known as the co-creator of Club Rubber (which made a huge comeback this season), but he started out as a lowly bartender. “Back in '91, when I was bartending, people were promoting big clubs but putting zero imagination into them,” he says. “When Damion [Sanders] and I came into the picture, we gave people the whole package. We reset the goal posts.” Now he's a national big wheel in the promotions game, organizing the official Supercross parties across the country and taking Club Rubber on the road—”Just like a concert,” he says. Later this year, he's opening a sushi restaurant because “I love sushi.” When Huntington eats out, he prefers the “rock N roll atmosphere” and sushi at Daimon's in Huntington Beach. “My girlfriend and I eat out at least three times a week, and when we do, it's usually sushi.” Huntington says he always starts with their spicy seafood salad. “It's healthy and low-fat,” he says, “a nice, light starter for the night, especially if I plan on drinking later.” He also highly recommends anything with yellowtail and the ninja rolls. “It has a hip, scenester vibe to it,” Huntington says of Daimon. “I'd say it's the coolest sushi restaurant in Orange County—that is, until mine opens, of course.” Daimon Japanese Restaurant, 16232 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (562) 592-4862.(MA) JACKI WELLS.The field producer for Channel 2 News has been known as the biggest gossip in her school district since she was in her mid-teens. The elusive Miss Wells bounced around as an intern with just about every television news station in Los Angeles until she picked up a gig at CBS after graduating from USC in 1993. “I've always wanted to be where the action was—and then go back and tell everyone about it,” Wells explains. Today, Wells mans the CBS special-assignment desk and hones in on local shysters and charlatans via undercover investigative reporting. “I did this past MTV music-awards show—that was pretty cool,” Wells says. “But everyone was P.C. and fake—except for Tyra Banks; she'd say anything. When I asked her if she was wearing a Victoria's Secret bra, she flashed me.” When she's not ogling supermodels' breasts, Wells can be found at Anaheim Hills' Steer Inn. “It's cheap, but not Sizzler cheap,” she reveals. “It used to be a quiet little steakhouse until it got discovered; now there have been times when I've had to wait up to 30 minutes for a table.” She can't recall a visit when she has ordered anything but the specialty steak combo—although there are times she feels saucy and orders an additional sauted-mushroom side platter and slathers it all over the combo, baked potato and all. “The salads are just okay, but they serve this great bread saturated in garlic butter, and the steak . . .” She pauses to find the appropriate adjective. “The steak, I think, is almost perfect.” Steer Inn, 444 N. Lakeview Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 974-5321.(MA) DJ DANIEL. Music producer and, uh, disc jockey DJ Daniel is a Jackpot Sushi enthusiast. “Their tuna handrolls and their garlic tuna are to die for”—he actually said “to die for”—”You go to some places, and they'll drench their food in spices so all you taste is hot. I mean, c'mon, I can do that in my kitchen if I wanted to,” he says. “There, you can actually distinguish the different ingredients they put in their rolls.” Then there are the more practical considerations. “Part of it is because it's affordable,” Daniel yells into his cell phone while somewhere on the 405, “but it's also the chefs—they make eating there fun.” And you can forget the clichd traditional Asian trappings such as terrestrial Kabuki music and faux 19th-century Japanese wood-block prints hanging from the walls. At the Jackpot, it's Bob Marley all day—while the Dodgers and Lakers are wedged in a corner of the ceiling on TV. “The owner calls me 'No. 2' whenever I walk in,” Daniel brags before he's cut off due to poor reception, which, of course, begs the obvious question: Why? He explains later: “Because I've been a regular for three years, and the owner claims I'm the second biggest eater there. I probably pay the guy's mortgage.” Jackpot Sushi, 14460 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 832-7788. (MA) MICHELLE BEN-HUR. In the heyday of punk rock, Michelle Ben-Hur slammed to Lou Reed in New York and X in LA, but now the diva has grown up to become not only a respected county lawyer, but also one of OC's most prominent (and best-dressed) poets—edging a bit away from the performance stage these days toward more page-oriented work, along with editing the acclaimed literary journal 51%: Poetry by, for and About Women. Her favorite restaurant? Gen Kai in Corona del Mar. “It's got awesome sushi,” she says, “and the sushi chefs are fun and really entertaining, and they give great advice.” It should come as no surprise that one of OC poetry's most notorious hecklers is a big fan of waiters with a penchant for witty repartee. “If it's raw fish I like, yellowtail is always good; this winter, the striped bass has been phenomenal. I love octopus (tako), and I'm a big fan of rainbow rolls.” She's not a sake drinker, “so I get a big Sapporo and split it with whomever I'm with.” Ben-Hur describes the sushi bar as spacious and friendly, with both regular and traditional seating. “The wait can be uncomfortable,” she says, “but you're outside on PCH in Corona del Mar, and how uncomfortable can that be?” Gen Kai, 3344 Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 675-0771.(VDI) JOSE CRUZ. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Cruz has resurrected the Gothic and glam spirit of el diablo, wielding his 1967 Gibson Flying V as if it were an unholy scepter. He now fronts Doom Kounty Electric Chair, Orange County's answer to '70s-Detroit rock N roll. Looking at him, you'd think Cruz was high priest of Anaheim's chapter of the church of Santeria, but it's just part of the Doom Kounty experience. “When we get onstage, we don't want to look like we're up there to clean it,” Cruz says. “There are enough bands around town who do that.” Cruz can usually be found at Luigi's D'Italia at least once a week. “That place has saved my life more than once,” the three-year Luigi's vet says. “I'll be pretty drunk and stumble over there—since it's only a couple of blocks from my house—and order everything on the menu.” Cruz says the food is so good that it makes you forget the standard mom-and-pop-shop dcor. He usually orders the meatball sandwich with thick layers of cheese, but he has been know to indulge on the seafood menu. “It's Luigi's strength,” he says. “Most Orange County Italian restaurants don't build up their seafood menu, but they have it all: perfect mussels, steamed clams, you name it.” And what goes with Luigi's-brand nosh? “Their Chilean red wine—Santa Rita, I think it's called—is excellent.” Luigi's D'Italia, 801 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-1300.(MA) CHRIS KARN.This favorite-restaurant question was posed as sort of an authenticity test for Karn, the lead singer/songwriter for Sonichrome, a band he claims is based in Orange County—it's composed of musicians who attended high schools like Sonora, Esperanza and Mission Viejo—but is consistently undercut by the fact that the band never seems to play here. And sure enough, after mentioning that Sonichrome's new single, “Pack up and Leave,” will drop on March 22, Karn announces that the band's new tour (with Everclear and Jimmy's Chicken Shack) will begin shortly thereafter—in Florida!But just as we began to rant, music editor Rich Kane pointed out that Sonichrome is slated to play an April 1 show at Chain Reaction in Anaheim—which is in Orange County!Despite being raised here, however, Karn only came upon his favorite restaurant, El Maguey in San Juan Capistrano, a year or so ago. “It was either my wife who told me about it, or else it was our tour manager, Al Christy, who lives down there,” says Karn. “Either way, it's so great that it changed me from an Italian-food buff to a Mexican-food buff.” The excellence begins with the chips and salsa, which Karn points out is the first impression on which Mexican restaurants live or die. From there, it's on to his favorite dish, the garlic shrimp. “It's got eight really good-sized shrimp that practically glow with the taste of garlic and butter,” says Karn. “And they come with rice, beans and, I believe, a few vegetables mixed in, with a choice of tortillas. It's messy as all get-out—you've got to peel the shells—but that's part of the fun.” Does the authenticity extend to Mexican beer? “Oh, yes, it does,” says Karn. “And we know them well.” El Maguey is small enough to be quaint but big enough to feature indoor booths and tables as well as an outdoor patio. “I've got some pretty funny stories from times when the whole band was drinking beer on that patio,” says Karn. “But I won't go into them. They would totally embarrass the drummer.” El Maguey, 31481 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 493-8681. (DW) DERRICK BROWN. If we've learned one thing in this exploration of OC's eating habits, it's this: OC loves gnocchi. So it shouldn't have surprised us that superstar OC performance poet Derrick Brown is on the potato-pasta bandwagon. Brown—who ranked No. 2 in the National Poetry Slam last year and No. 1 in 1997 in the National College Forensics drama competition—is one lean, mean dumpling-eating machine. And where does he go for his fix? Il Ghiotto in Fullerton. “You step down,” he says, “deep down into their restaurant, and the waitresses sing opera—you have to ask. I think they hire only waitresses who are ex-models. The bread is free, and the special butter will rock the night away.” It doesn't surprise us that a performance poet—even a nationally prominent poet—is susceptible to the allure of free bread. In addition to great-tasting food and great-looking waitresses, Il Ghiotto offers this logistical plus: “It's located right next to the Reagan Years '80s arcade,” Brown says. “A little linguini, a little Bananarama and Tron, and you got yourself a fine evening.” After overriding a small chill of '80s nostalgia, we cautiously probed deeper into Brown's dining habits. We've already established his love for gnocchi (about which he says “the potato pasta rules mainly because of the chunky marinara”), so we turned our attention to drinks. “I like to drink the liquor that the well-to-do leave on their tables,” he says. “I call it a 'Long Island Chemical Disaster.' It's a real treat.” Starving poets? Nah. Just a myth. Il Ghiotto, 136 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 447-0775.(VDI) Contributors include Michael Alarcon, CJ Bahnsen, Victor D. Infante, Steve Lowery, Kelly McGinnis, Tim Meltreger, Buddy Seigal, Will Swaim and Dave Wielenga.