O.C. Review: El Coyotito, San Juan Capistrano

I stuff a few dollar bills into the machine and scroll through the CDs: Banda Machos, Gerardo Ortiz, Juan Gabriel, Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera … and settle on the younger Iglesias, plus The Eagles, The Cars and Eric Clapton. The Eagles’ 1979 hit “I Can’t Tell You Why” begins to play, and everyone in the dining room seems to approve, even the two guys in the corner who are wearing dusty cowboy boots and sharing an ice-filled bucket of beer.

Hotel Review: Freehand, Los Angeles

The Freehand Los Angeles opened last week at the corner of 8th and Olive — across the street from legendary dive bar the Golden Gopher. The 226-room hotel resides in the landmark, 12-story Commercial Exchange building, which has been gutted and completely redesigned with an urban-hipster twist on California Craftsman. 

This just in: Southern California Journalism Awards!

I’m feeling grateful and blessed to receive the Southern California Journalism Award for restaurant criticism at the Los Angeles Press Club’s annual gala. It is particularly gratifying to see this comment from the judges: “The winning critique blends a keen palate with laugh-out-loud humor in this spot-on reminder that a restaurant is much more than the food on the plate.”

O.C. Review: Meizhou Dongpo, Irvine

My skin is numb. Not just my lips and tongue but my lungs and toes, too. I have never been so uncomfortable as right now because I badly want to eat this stuff. It smells so nice. And it tastes so good for that millisecond before the electric surge…

OC Review: Ootoro Sushi, Irvine

The chef reaches over the sushi counter and places a bowl in front of each of us. The bowls are filled with ice, topped with the live shrimp he has just dismantled. The shrimp are huge, like mutants. Their dismembered heads and bodies sit side by side, a couple of inches apart but still very much alive.

Best Thing I Ate This Week: Salade Nicoise

A lot has changed at the St. Regis Monarch Beach lately. For starters, it’s now just the Monarch Beach Resort, with a brand new, very beachy look throughout. The restaurant formerly known as Motif is now called Aveo, and that’s where I recently enjoyed one of the finest Nicoise salads I can recall.

O.C. Review: Sushi Hana re

The hostess sees me peeking through the window, so she opens the front door. “May I help you?” “Two for dinner?” I ask. I can see that almost every seat in the restaurant is already taken. “Just a moment,” she says. She walks across the very small room to whisper something to the chef. He …