Monday, October 26, 2015

We can think of few better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than spoiling oneself at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club.  Not on the golf course but in the dining room taking part in the champagne brunch that has been cunningly designed by Master Chef Bert Agor.
Here you move from one to another of eight stations with names like fresh pastry, creative chef, seafood,  carving and dessert to name a few.
As usual we had a hard time moving past the seafood station with golden brown fried shrimp, herb crusted calamari, smoked salmon, James river oysters on the half shell and Canadian snow crab.
At the carving station we tried the Santa Maria tri-tip and at the creative chef  Bert's own oven roasted pork loin with his original Tahitian Vanilla demiglace.
We called for time outs occasionally to admire the scenic landscape of greenery and ponds and chatted with Chef Agor to learn what was new at the Club.  He told us that Tustin Ranch Golf Club had just been named the best public course in Orange County by the Santa Ana Register.
After admiring and sampling too many of the tempting desserts ranging from eclairs, tuxedo mousse cake and strawberry short cake we had to track down the person responsible for these goodies.
She is Sara Guccione, who is both pastry and sous Chef at the Club.  Originally from San Diego she has a strong background in the culinary arts and as to her pastries, well, like wow.
You can find the Champagne Brunch at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Club is located at 12442 Tustin Ranch Road in Tustin.  Telephone 714 734-2111, web

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fine dining is alive and well in Santa Monica, at least it is at Valentino Restaurant.  This restaurant continues to please, as it has for four decades, with its display of Italian cuisine at its finest.
 Owner Piero Selvaggio was there to greet us as well as other guests, most like old friends. 
Here the menu offers many exciting choices so we decided to stay with small appetizer size tastes of some of the featured specialties,  all showing the depth of Italian cuisine.
First to arrive was a shrimp wrapped and Sicilian caponata served on Bresaola.  Next Arancine stuffed with peas and meat ragu served on tomato sauce.
The flavors displayed in Tortino of wild mushrooms glazed with saffron fonduta were most pleasing.
We thought the plates would never stop arriving at our table as Fusilloro alla norma came: tomato, eggplant and ricotta accompanied with pici di pienza with a wild boar ragu.
Our final dish was pan roasted Napa Quail with a Veal Rollatine.
Alas by this time we were at the point where we had to skip dessert
Here the stars are still in their courses.  The service was perfect and the dining room quickly filled with eager diners so when we departed there was not a single empty table to be seen.
Valentino Restaurant is located at 3115 W. Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica with valet parking.  It is open  six nights a week, closed Sundays.  Telephone 310 829-4313, web

Friday, October 23, 2015

One of the joys of being a reporter is always finding something new, different or unique.  In all our countless trips on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood what we did not know about was a specialty chocolate store and factory called John Kelly Chocolates.
On a side street just steps from the famous boulevard two men have created a specialty chocolate business.
They are John Kelson and Kelly Green and from early beginnings eleven years ago they have created a whole selection of chocolate confections that now have followers across the country.
In Hollywood their retail shop and factory is located at 1506 N. Sierra Bonita Avenue and yesterday we had the opportunity to tour their factory and see how these chocolate fudge creations are hand crafted and packaged.  We also had the opportunity to taste our way through this experience with some of the product.
Besides their two locations, the second is in Santa Monica at 1111 1/2 Montana Avenue, their hand crafted chocolates are featured at specialty retailers, gourmet groceries and hotels nationwide, as well as orders made online.
As we toured the Hollywood location we were impressed with the dedication of the employees and the many delicate steps needed to create each of the many specialty chocolates including solid bars, truffle fudge packs and caramel clusters to name a few.
You can learn more about John Kelly Chocolates on line at www.johnkellychocolates.,com. Telephone 1 800 609-4243 or at the store open six days a week, closed Sundays.
A famous Hollywood movie and actor used the line "I'll be Back".  I am using it too about John Kelly chocolates. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

We had only to walk into the Peppercorn Grille,  in the Village at Big Bear Lake, to know we were in an exceptional restaurant.  The ambiance, the warm greeting of the Hostess, the arrangement of the booths and tables, sparkling with glassware, bright tablecloths and gleaming silver.
A look at the menu showed a careful selection of Continental fare complete with interesting appetizers, salads, many steak selections but also seafood, pastas and pizza.  The choices here were many.
Our party of three opened with wine and a cocktail.  The wine list here is large and well selected and balanced with California and wines from other countries.
Two ordered the fresh Maine lobster tail while I decided on the shrimp and scallop pasta which arrived with black tiger shrimp and sea scallops in a scampi sauce that included roma tomatoes, basil, garlic, capers and parsley served over linguine.
Our desserts included Tiramisu and an old fashioned root beer float.
We learned that the Chef is Raoul Perez but the restaurant was so busy that evening there was no chance to meet him.
We would have liked to tell him as well as the owners that we considered Peppercorn Grille an award winning restaurant.
Address is 553 Pine Knot Avenue in the Village at Big Bear Lake.  Open daily from 4 p.m.  For more information call 909 866-5405, web

Thursday, October 8, 2015

We can't think of a better way to learn more about Big Bear Lake while enjoying a relaxing afternoon than on a cruise aboard Miss Liberty. 
This classic styled river steamer offers sightseeing of the lake and surrounding mountains while listening to a knowledgeable guide explain the Lake's construction, the region's rich history as well as ownership of some of the hotel sized mansions along its shores.
The lake is man made and how this all took place and why is part of the guide's narration.  The Miss Liberty is most comfortable with both inside and outside deck seating and refreshments are available.
Over decades we have made many trips to Big Bear Lake but most occurred in winter for skiing at one of the three excellent winter resorts located there.
About the city, lake and early history we knew little.  This all changed after our Miss Liberty cruise.
The ship can be found at the foot of Big Bear Village in Pine Knot Marina.   Address is 439 Pine Knot Avenue and there is ample free parking.  For schedule call 909 866-8129, on the web at 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Last weekend we were at Big Bear Lake to take part in the  Oktoberfest which is an annual event. This was the 45th annual Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest which started in September and will continue each weekend until Halloween night October 31.
We joined the crowd one afternoon, listened to the om pa band and watched the Cripple Creek Cloggers doing their dances.
Meanwhile we were busy eating our bratwurst, potato dumplings, apple strudel and sipping a stein of Warsteinerf Pilsner.  The entertainment continued with a spirited log sawing contest.
Crowd participation is big at this event and many take to the floor for the chicken dances or to join  in a polka or two.  After 6 p.m. it is reserved for adults as the entertainment gets more energetic.
During the day it is a family event and there are games to keep the children busy and happy.
The Bavarian Band, the costumes, the German foods, beer, and the general atmosphere of the Convention Center all make the Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest a resounding success each year.