If you live in Southern California and have children, or a significant other enjoying a second childhood, you will be forced to go to Disneyland. And if your children or your sig other wear the pants in your family, you will be going there again and again, as I have this past fall. When you find yourself the unhappy owner of an annual pass to the Home of the Rat, it will hit you all at once, the horrible truth: multiple, perhaps even weekly meals at Disneyland. Stale churros, lemonade tasting like a public restroom smells, cookies made of vegetable oil costing four dollars apiece, these are some of the gustatory delights offered at Disneyland, the Most Unsavory Place on Earth. And if that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, there’s the total absence of alcoholic salve. No hard stuff is poured at Disneyland (though at the time of writing this I have begun lobbying the folks at Disney to break ground on the Land of Imbibers, best located behind Tom Sawyer’s Island, across the river Styx). A number of fenced off smoking enclosures aside, it’s clear Walt Disney was never big on sin. Not very smart of ‘ol Walt, if you consider how much he might have charged for a beer! Given the want of booze, the idea of a meal at the destination restaurant in the park is less than appealing. Why wait 40 minutes on hold for a Disney reservationista, or pay through the nose for a bowl of mediocre jambalaya, which you will have to eat while watching obese people float by on their journey through Pirates of the Caribbean, when you can’t even glug a glass of the good stuff to wash it all down? And so, even the food snob that I am, I do not recommend eating at the ‘stared’ venue in Disneyland. I do recommend eating at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, hosted by Ortega. Yes, we too were put off by Ortega reference. Pay it no mind. Ditto the extremely Anglo boys and girls cooking the food. Aside from the sweetened and forgettable jarred Ortega sauces adorning the tables at Rancho Zocalo, it’s easy to forget the restaurant’s host. The service is cafeteria style, but the food is freshly prepared, only a partial rip-off and, best of all, it has taste. While more ambitious items adorn the wall-mounted menu at Zocalo (barbequed meat, chicken and ribs served with sides), our lunch crew of four chose to go the ‘lighter’ route. Feeling piggish I splurged on two dishes, the Taco Salad ($9.99) and the Camarones al mojo de ajo ($9.99). These were assembled at two separate food stations by two different cast members, and while they would not win any awards outside of the theme park category, they were surprisingly tasty. The salad, served in a big fried tortilla bowl, included refried beans, white and yellow cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, very fresh tomato and onion salsa and a small though tasty dollop of guacamole. It also came with my choice of animal, though I opted for neither. The Camarones, which had been marinating in a creamy garlic melange, were cooked right there in front of my eyes on a giant grill and served atop a bed of tasty red-hued rice (food coloring, I suspect. Not saffron), along with a sprightly three bean salad sitting on a leaf of romaine and a partially crumbled though absolutely delicious tamale (without the corn husk). It was very nice! If only it had come with a margarita!! I tasted the Fish Tacos ($7.49), of the fried, soft corn tortilla variety, two to a plate, and yummy as fried fish tacos generally are. The fish was mild, the coating crunchy and the cabbage and salsa fresh. The best thing about them was the sauce… sour cream given a lift with chipotle. Yes, this was not my mother’s Ortega taco! Another fine value is the Enchilada and Taco Special ($8.99), which includes two tightly coiled cheese enchiladas coated in sweet tomato sauce along with a taco of your choosing. In this case, the taco was chicken, again barbequed and nicely seasoned. The enchiladas were Gringo-friendly, tasting mostly of ketchup. But they were good in a nostalgic sense, and filling, too. It is not worth going over the beverage options; the most adult selection was iced tea. And the smattering of chips that accompanied the fish tacos were not among the finest I have sampled in my nearly 35 years. And yet, unless you planned ahead and smuggled some sandwiches through security, this is a top choice for food at Disneyland. I for one, will be going to Rancho Zocalo all the time. Grr. Got foodie tips on the scene down here? Please post your comments! —Elisabeth Schriber Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, hosted by Ortega Frontierland Disneyland Anaheim, Ca
Parking at Chat Noir is exceedingly easy. There is valet, for starters, which costs only $5. For this paltry sum, your car will bask in the company of such vehicular luminaries as a pride of Porches, one yellow Lamborghini, a bevy of 500-series BMWs and Lexuses of all shapes and sizes. If you are cheap or poor… well, you should not eat at Chat Noir. But if you must, you can save $5 and the humiliation of owning the only late model Subaru in the valet lot by continuing on Anton Blvd past a business park or two toward the multi—level garage. Here you will discover many floors of free parking. It is this copious free parking, along with a surprisingly interesting wine list, which may be the most compelling reason to dine at Chat Noir. It’s not that the place is terrible, or anything. It’s simply that it’s not very good. Case in point: When you sit down, the hostess asks you to select either a white or a black napkin. Given the many choices one most address in today’s fine dining establishments (Sparking water, still or tap? Salad before the main course or after? Ahi seared raw or mostly raw?), can’t we leave it up to the hostess to pick a napkin color? After our party of four survived the gauntlet of napkin options, we were presented with an amuse bouche of lobster bisque served in a shot glass. I am always suspect of amuse bouches and other things that come to me without my asking for them first. If an amuse bouche is good, I can forgive a restaurant their bravado. And they should always be good, since this is the first thing issued from the kitchen and can be considered an indication of the meal to follow. Well, we were in for a bumpy ride. A lobster might have given its life in order to make this bisque, but you could have fooled me. It tasted so strongly of smoked paprika and bacon… they might have called it bacon bisque. But, of course, I can see why they didn’t do that. What I can’t understand is why the butter that accompanies the nicely crusty bread comes with a paper film covering it. There is a paw print on the paper… a jaunty allusion to a black cat, but putting wax paper on the butter was a little too reminiscent of Howard Johnson’s to be jaunty. No, it was just plain cheesy. Cheesy, too, was the over-dressed Ceasar salad ($9), an ample serving of bite-size romaine covered with cheese. No anchovies were in evidence (the chef obviously has an aversion to fish, I’m thinking), and the croutons were soggy and tasteless (though they had been hyped on the menu as containing both garlic and thyme. Psha! The Salade Grillee ($9) issued to one of my tablemates was the very same salad as my Ceasar, only the leaves of romaine were served mostly whole after having been cooked, for some unfathomable reason, on a grill. At least they did not charge anything extra for the grilling (or the additional “e”). The Endive, Watercress and Arugula Salad ($9) was the best of the bunch, containing the aforementioned lettuces as well as a nice smattering of thinly sliced apples, sort of candied walnuts and bleu cheese. No one ordered the Basil Fed Escargots ($12), which is shame because I would have liked to pontificate more on the pretensions of listing the animals’ diet before it becomes part of yours. Although grass-fed beef is a menu staple, so I take that back. I would also have taken back the half-dozen oysters ($12), if I had been the one who ordered them. They were not cold, not fresh and not even honored with a varietal name. And so… on to the main event. I had the Sea Bass, served with a couple of baby Yukon golds, some slimy spinach and a bunch of beurre blanc sauce and topped with shavings of fried onions not dissimilar to the stuff that comes from a can. This time, the fish was fresh, and nicely cooked, with a crispy skin and a moist interior, but the sauce was so utterly cloying, it all but obscured the fine fish. I cannot recall the price, but it was too much. The 3-way Duck ($29) sounds naughty, though it was not nearly as risqué on the plate, consisting of one badly confitted duck leg, an unappetizing slab of duck foie gras sautéed to a deep and over-cooked brown and served with a too-sweet raspberry sauce, and a duck breast, seared, thinly sliced and fanned out prettily. The Steak Frites ($34), in this case a Kobe Flatiron, was topped with a thick peppercorn sauce, totally unnecessary for a nice piece of beef, and this one was. The fries were good, thin and crispy and coated with flakes of green herbs. One constant theme of the place is a ton of sauce. It is no secret to chefs in France that poor ingredients can be dressed up in a rich sauce to good effect… or to bad effect, depending on whether you’re the restaurant owner or its customer. At Chat Noir everything was drowned and overdone. The side dish of spinach served, apparently, in its own cooking water, was wet and slippery to the point of making it almost impossible to harness with a fork. Even the chocolate soufflé suffered from too much sauce, in this case a chocolate one that tasted like Herseys. The soufflé itself was not at all terrible. It was fashioned with Scharffen Berger chocolate, which made me homesick for the Bay Area. In fact, the entire dining experience made me homesick for the Bay Area. Walking the very short distance back to my car on the warm, windless night, I recalled the many hours I had spent over my years in SF circling around the Mission trying to park within hiking distance of Delfina. And I was sad. About that wine list? It includes some gems, and the prices are fair. This is saying a lot, considering. We had a few glasses of the Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc ($8) and a bottle of the 2001 Château Pallieres Gigondas ($45). It is rare to see a wine list in Orange County with a decent selection of the French stuff. Francophiles will find something tasty at Chat Noir to drink, even if the food leaves you listless. Got any tips on the foodie scene down here? Post your comments! —Elisabeth Schriber Chat Noir 655 Anton Boulevard Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (714) 557-6647
I had the great fortune to accompany Gary on his most recent trip to Champagne. Of the all the producers we visited; all our direct imports, two grand marques and some others, with the limited amount of space I have been given, two producers illustrate what I learned about Champagne, De Meric and Leclerc Briant. . Interestingly both are NMs but their scale of production is smaller than some RMs. As a small negociant, De Meric does not own any of their own vines. They get their fruit from growers whom they feel do everything right. In their caves they have barriques, foudres and stainless steel tanks, all of which are used to impart their own particular characteristics. They also use partial malolactic fermentation. What does this give to their wines? Complexity! You get broader wines with texture from the various oaks, more vinous and varied fruit tones, minerality, toastiness and creaminess—great champagne. This just describes the De Meric “Sous Bois” Brut ($27.99). In the Catherine de Medici, take the above description and increase the intensity and length. Leclerc Briant for me is all about vineyards. We stood above the the “Clos de Champion” ($29.99) tasted chardonnay from “Chevres Pierreus” ($29.99) and then visited “la Coisete,” a vineyard located within the city of Epernay, and right behind Pascal Leclerc Briant’s house. Because of its unique chalky soil, it is planted solely to chardonnay. Yes, we will be getting this very unique Blanc de Blanc in! Leclerc Briant farms biodynamically and has been working organically since the late ’60s. It was great to hear his insights to the politics of the CVIC, farming and terroir. As always you can get a great deal of information about these wines from Gary, or stop by the city store, and I will gladly chew the Champagne fat with you! —Kirk Walker
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