Category Archives: Out and About

Tutto Fresco – Not so fast food

Once upon a time we were searching for a McD’s that still had the McRib available and came across something much better – an Italian restaurant with a drive thru! And thus our love of Tutto Fresco began. There is something very cool about being able to get lasagna and hot chewy bread without having to get out of the car or even leaving the house (since Tutto also delivers). Many a cold mucky day has been saved by the ability to have hot tomato soup or chicken alfredo delivered. Quite an upgrade from cheap pizza, but not as expensive as Lunch On the Run or those other restaurant delivery services.

As to the food – these are good portions of familiar Italian fare, similar to what you might get at an Olive Garden, but with a more homemade taste and greater variety of offerings. So far we have tried a sizable amount of their menu and never come away disappointed. Our favorites include their meatballs, which are huge and appear to be laced with melty mozzerella, salmon with pesto, and the lasagna. Every order comes with yummy chewy bread that can be dipped in rosemary infused olive oil. If you get it delivered, they will bring you a whole bag of the stuff. (Not that you should eat the whole bag, but it’s great for sharing amongst friends when getting pizza or sub sandwiches seems boring.

Speaking of sharing – one of the highlights of the menu is their cake bites. Available in chocolate or carrot cake, they are 2 inch squares of sweetness. Perfect if you want just a little something after lunch, or for ordering by the dozen for aforementioned spontaneous party. (Or not so spontaneous – they also offer catering.)

With locations in both Orange and Rancho Santa Margarita, you should give them a try!

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The Counter – Fancy Burgers

We’ve been hearing about The Counter for a long time, but given our sour experience with Slaters, we were hesitant to try another trendy hipster burger place. Especially one located in the Woodbridge area of Irvine, where Yuppie meets Hipster in a sometimes mind bending fashion. But while, yes, the wild Hipster is absolutely getting his or her burger on at The Counter, I am quite happy to report that there is no snotty attitude to be found in the waitstaff. Our waitress seemed genuinely pleased to see us, even on a busy Saturday afternoon, and was always quick to make sure we had drinks and understood the ordering system. She even brought us an extra round of their wonderful peanut sauce when our daughter lamented that she wished she’d ordered that to go on her burger. Yes, this was going to be a very different experience from Slaters indeed.

The reason I compare them is both pride themselves on being trendy places with unusual burgers and an almost identical ordering system, in which you fill out a little questionnaire about your perfect burger. (Or chicken sandwich, in the case of our daughter.)  One of the things that made me smile right away is that unlike Slaters you can actually order an individual side of fries for less than $2 – good news when you are the only one who enjoys sweet potato fries at the table. Honestly the side I received wasn’t much smaller than the Slaters one I got for twice as much, so that was awesome. And should you order a full baskets of fries, especially the cheese fries, you will not be disappointed. The order we received was huge, and the fries, while skinny, were amazing. Seriously. I don’t know what seasoned salt they use, but I could eat them all day. I ended up ditching my yummy but nothing to write home about sweet potato fries for a share of the cheese fries pretty quickly.

Then the burgers arrived. The presentation is great. The burgers looked sizable and delicious, without being overwhelmed by the toppings. I ordered mine with peanut sauce and pineapple, which ends up giving the burger a nice sweet meets salty spicy kick. The burger is easy to eat and is not completely lost in the bun. I like that they give you the sauce on the side so you can regulate the amount. This the “six dollar” burger Carl’s was telling you about a decade ago. Except now it’s $10. Oh well. Inflation. I’ve cut almost all fast food out of my diet – if I’m going to indulge in a burger it should be a really good burger, and this was a really good burger. Well worth the splurge. I had a bite of the aforementioned chicken sandwich also, and I am please to report that is is an actual breast of chicken and it was also cooked very well – not all rubbery like certain other burger places we have gone to.

Overall, The Counter was just a total 180 from our experience at Slaters 50/50 in all the right ways, and I have no idea how Slaters got all those awards without bribing someone. The service at The Counter was fast, helpful, and friendly, plus the food was brilliant. I would come back just for the fries. And maybe to try their shakes. I’m very happy this was one of those restaurants that lived up to its hype.

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Pink’s Hot Dogs – Knott’s Berry Farm Location

Pink’s Hot Dogs is a moderately famous place, especially in recent years, with the expansions out in Vegas and in Buena Park. I have not eaten at the original Pink’s, but I have eaten their catering once and their Buena Park location once. Fair disclaimers if they are necessary. Pink’s Buena Park has a pretty standard fast food vibe, albeit with a lot more celebrity pictures than you would expect to see in your average mom and pop fast food place. The line wasn’t too bad but, again, being fast food there was no particular service to talk about.

Pink’s is pretty simple – other than the fries, there are four basic ingredients: turkey dog, hot dog, chili, and cheese. The hot dogs are good but perhaps a bit odd, at least to my palate. This is due to their having a moderately thick casing, enough to pop when you bite through it. This combined with what at least had a mouth feel of better meat, led it verging on seeming more like a sausage dog than a hot dog. I found this good in small doses but the bacon burrito dog, which contains three dogs and thus three times the casing, started to wear me out after a while. Too much work, though the cheese, chili, and tortilla were all quite tasty.

I found myself preferring the turkey dogs – they were tasty and easier to eat, without so much effort in the biting. Now, it certainly isn’t an inherently bad thing to load up on casing and I think a fair number of people actually prefer it, and it’s not really physically difficult to eat – I just prefer a simpler, easier to eat hot dog than the beef dogs at Pink’s, especially when they were packed on top of each other in an appalling but delicious fast food concoction. As a side note, their chili cheese fries were very forgettable. I would definitely take Weinerschnitzel or Tommy’s chili fries instead of these, and I believe they are cheaper, as well.

One warning, though – I am not sure if this is exclusive to the Buena Park locale since that happens to be inside Knott’s Berry Farm’s little shopping area, but the prices were quite expensive for what I would really struggle to call anything other than high quality fast food. On the plus side, Knott’s actually has a handful of free historical exhibits like Independence Hall and a replica of George Washington’s fireplace, so you can make an afternoon out of it. I believe the original Hollywood location may be cheaper, but in the past when trying to go there the line was literally around the block and I can’t imagine waiting that long for hot dogs.

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Steak N’ Shake – Mysteries of the Mid West… SOLVED!

One of the awesome things about Las Vegas is it’s a chance to try restaurants from other parts of the country you can’t find in Southern California. On our latest outing we took the opportunity to try out a burger place often name dropped by gamers who attend a certain mid west convention. Steak ‘n Shake

As it so happens the Vegas Steak ‘n Shake is located at the South Pointe, either on your way in or out of Vegas from all points West and South. Thus it is an easy stop off either to end your Vegas traffic induced fasting or as a preparation for said traffic induced fasting.

What to look for in the casino.

First off, you are warned there may be a line. Go at an off time and you will be spared the wait.

Once you are in, the Steak N’ Shake resembles a 1950’s diner, as mandated by the unofficial All American burger joint code. (See Ruby’s, Johnny Rockets, etc.) Unlike many of our chain diner and Vegas restaurant experiences, however, the service was terrific. The waitress was super friendly and seemed happy to help us navigate the wide array of burgers and shakes available.

Yummy burger! Okay fries.Yes, the “Steak” in Steak N’ Shake does not refer to steak in the traditional sense, as much as it does to burgers made with steak. It also refers to hot dogs made with steak, which we did not try on this go around. However we did try the burgers, and they were very good. I was a little concerned that a steak burger would not be as juicy as I normally like my burgers, but mine was moist and flavorful. There are a ton of toppings to choose from including their own chili, which is also available in little to-go buckets up front, all Tommy’s style. The fries are skinny, which I’m getting more used to, although I still prefer thick cut fries. Still these were tasty and not overly crispy. But the big thing here is the shake.

Side by Side: Chocolate Banana

I was at first dismissive of their shake menu online. It didn’t seem much different than what you could get at Ruby’s or Johnny Rockets. But I was wrong. So wrong. The shakes were thick and tasty, and S&S had a neat “side by side” option where they fill one half of your (GIANT) shake glass with one flavor and the other side with another. The result is you get a much more even blend of flavors than layer usually results in. I had banana and chocolate. It was really really good. I want another one now even as I am thinking about it.

Lastly, it’s important that you know that they aren’t kidding about that 4 meals under $4 pricing on the website. I would take a wild guess keeping their pricing that low has kept them out of California, but the prices at Vegas were insanely cheap compared to the unpleasant surprises we’ve had at Johnny Rockets and Ruby’s. We fed 3 very hungry adults and a growing tween on less than $40 – a meal that included burgers, fries, and huge shakes, plus chili spaghetti (not as good as Big Boy’s, but not bad either). Even by Vegas standards, that’s really good. And it was more than enough to sustain us on our long car ride back to the land of $5 shakes. Sadness!

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Slater’s 50/50

Before I explain anything about Slater’s to you, understand that this is a place where you’re going to pay $20-30ish a head to have a burger, a beer, and a side. Now, where I live, there is a lot  of competition. In-N-Out, the Habit, Grill Em All, Tommy Burgers and Red Robin all come immediately to mind as eateries that are at the very least very competitive with Slater’s on a price point basis. I think most people would  agree that Slater’s is better than In-N-Out, for instance, but is it 3-5x as good? This I am not sure of.  But, now that that is out of the way, consider this review to be pricing blind.

I had the Slater’s 50/50, which is a burger patty that is half bacon (really it seemed more like pork belly). Though I had the unfortunate experience of eating one of these patties that had the approximate consistency of a burger / cold cut hybrid, this (new and improved according to a few Slater’s regulars) 50/50 actually hit the spot – it tasted and had the texture of a burger but it also had a tasty, subtle, smoky flavor that I really enjoyed. The burgers came in 1/3 lb, 2/3 lb and full pound sizes, which was a small bit frustrating due to 2/3 being massive and 1/3 being a bit small (why not a half pounder?)

The toppings had good variety, though for comparison’s sake I will mention that gourmet burger rival the Counter seems to have a bit more variety, from glancing over their menu. Now, to step back, this isn’t a big deal for me personally since I like simple burgers anyway, but then again Burgandy wished for more varieties of jelly and I would have preferred some kind of chipotle BBQ. On the other hand, they do have a cheese sauce option, so I went for bacon, cheese sauce, and American cheese.

Slater’s doesn’t seem too big on fries outside of an $5 appetizer – we ate in a group and almost no one had anything but the burger itself. I thought this was a bit of a gyp considering that you already paid for the burger and extra for the bacon and the alcohol isn’t cheap, but I guess it worked considering that the burgers were massive. We did spring for a couple of appetizers – the most notable was a quesadilla with cheese, bacon, and mashed  potatoes that was almost as good as it sounded but a bit lacking in spice.

So, having in mind that the above is a little on the stream of consciousness side, the summary is as follows:

Apple beer. Delicious. I believe it was $9 for a GLASS, though.

Mashed potato quesadilla. I honestly really liked this one. But Burgandy did make a good point that it was very lacking in spice, or at least tasty dipping sauces. It also had to serve as a side since the burgers don’t come with them.

Burger. Expensive. Delicious patty. Toppings expensive yet lacking in two in a couple of things I would have expected. Bacon was good and so was American cheese and cheese sauce. Huge patty (though I tire of the trick of giving you a bigger portion than you wanted and then charging you proportionately but then trying to turn it into a net positive – ‘look at all the food I treated you with!’

That’s… basically it. And though I really liked my burger and it was as big as my daughter’s head, I still felt a bit gypped because given the price point and the wait. The whole thing took almost two hours, a long time for a burger without much else. Seems like you could at least get a soup or salad? Or at least some fries?

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Thing to do in Vegas (When you don’t gamble)

We go to Vegas quite a bit, thanks to the generosity of my parents and their timeshare, but we don’t gamble, and we usually take our daughter. So why go so much? There’s a whole lot to Vegas both on and off the famous Strip that is worth checking out.

1. Hit the Buffet of Buffets – We covered this before, but seriously, this is a great deal for families with picky eaters or who want to introduce their kids to new foods without shelling out for a whole dinner they might end up not eating.

In the Fall...

Or summer.

2. Mt. Charleston – You cannot get farther from the neon lights of Vegas than to find yourself surrounded by miles of beautiful wilderness to explore. Although the mountain does have a ski resort, I’d recommend taking a break from the heat of summer to enjoy the trails – the mountain is often about 10 degrees cooler than the valley. Or go in fall and enjoy the snow like we did on our recent trip. At only about an hour drive from the Strip, it’s a great day trip.

3. Hit the fair or a sporting event – There is much more happening in Las Vegas than just what’s playing at the casinos. Take the time to look up local events before you go, and you might find an expected game or event going on that is right up your alley. The last time we went to Vegas we got to visit a Renaissance Faire being held the park across from Sam Boyd. Way more fun and educational than wandering around the Excalibur Hotel.

5. See a show – Although many shows in Vegas are Adult Oriented Content, a little homework can reveal more than a few magic shows or Broadway style musicals that are perfectly kid friendly. Like “V, the Variety Show” at Planet Hollywood. Just remember, never pay full price. “Family friendly” shows tend to be afternoon shows with light attendance, and discount tickets can usually be easily found in one of the many, many Vegas coupons books you are likely to be handed during your trip.

6. Visit a museum – Vegas is actually home to more than a few museums, some of which are on the educational end and some of which are just fun. We visiting the Museum of Natural History a couple of years ago – while small compared to the one in LA, it had plenty of rooms to explore including some cool hands on exhibits. Or you could get in a game or two or two hundred of pinball at the Pinball Museum.

7.  Meet a furry friend – Nevada is much more exotic pet friendly than California, and as such, it also has some pretty awesome pet stores with much more to check out than your usual kittens and puppies. Visit Pet Kingdom and you might find yourself being nuzzled by a piglet, quietly observing sugar gliders while they sleep, or getting ready to write the governor about repealing California’s ban on ferrets after they climb all over you in the most adorably aggressive way possible. Or if you prefer something you won’t be tempted to smuggle over the border, you could just visit the Las Vegas Zoo. Which also has exotic animals, but in a less up close and personal way.

 

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Three Musketeers: the (newest) movie review

Well, by luck and happenstance we ended up seeing a screening of the Three Musketeers today.

Now, I am going to disclaim my feelings about this movie a little.

I am a big fan of the Milla Jovovich / Paul W S Anderson Resident Evil movies, which this basically serves as the steampunk version of. If you’ve seen those movies, you know of what I speak – wild technology, slow motion fighting, action that every once in a while is actually really good but can also get really campy, etc. If you like that, you will like this.

Also, if you’ve ever hummed Abney Park’s “Airship Pirates”, you’ll find some goodness in here. I don’t want to get spoiler-ish but there is some really, really great fan service in here for those who like airships.

Paul W S Anderson has a habit of making movies that look like the exact movies my inner 13 year old would film if he could. This is definitely one of those movies.

I am a bit sad about the PG13 rating – other than a bit of language here and there the movie was almost kid-oriented, with a very high wacky factor, relatively nonviolent fights (especially compared to the R rated Resident Evil movies). There are some quite funny character / comic relief characters.

Another important note – the movie was shot in 3D and the 3D was quite good, unlike quite a bit of bad 3D I saw this summer. Pirates 4 comes to mind – the 3D was super disappointing in that one in particular (and they both had a lot of 3D swords, so I think it is a fair comparison).  I’m not thinking I’ll see any oscar noms for the effects, but they were really pretty good and not entirely dependent on CGI.

So, in summary – if you like Steampunk, slightly westernized martial arts movies, slow motion fight scenes, Milla Jovovich, airships, anachronistic technology, or any of the Resident Evil movies you should catch this one for sure! If not… maybe not? It did have a bit of a B movie vibe, just one that I happened to really like.

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