Playground (Santa Ana, CA)

Playground
220 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Dining date: 3/7/15

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I don’t often come to Orange County too often to dine, but Playground has been on my radar for some time. It was probably the OC restaurant I’ve most wanted to try and I finally got the chance when it was chosen for a birthday dinner.

Jason Quinn, probably best known for being a member of The Great Food Truck Race winning The Lime Truck, helms Playground. It’s gotten rave reviews since opening, even leading to the opening of a bakery and a lunch spot just around the corner. The menu changes often, and there’s a sort of attitude about the place. The restaurant encourages trying new things and being adventurous, disclosing on the menu that they will not charge you if you don’t love it (in fact, I observed it in practice on a neighboring table). Perhaps this is the way they’ve been able to get more conservative OC palates to try some of their more forward-thinking creations?

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Peter Luger Steak House (New York, NY)

Peter Luger Steak House
178 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Dining date: 3/2/15

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Peter Luger is perhaps the most famous steakhouse in the nation (and the world?), known for consistently serving top-notch steaks since 1887. Every single time I see a list of top steakhouses in the nation, Peter Luger seems to be at or near the top. I’ve always wondered if the restaurant was overrated, maybe finding its way to the top of lists due to a nostalgia factor. There is no doubt Luger’s been a pioneer in the field since opening, but surely restaurants have improved on the concept since 1887…right? Given my penchant for meat and potatoes, Luger’s been a must-try on my list and I was excited to finally try it. The restaurant currently holds one Michelin star.

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Eleven Madison Park (New York, NY)

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
Dining date: 2/28/15

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Eleven Madison Park was one of my most anticipated meals in a long time. Since chef Daniel Humm and manager Will Guidara took over the place in 2006, the restaurant has skyrocketed to be regarded as one of the best in the world. Consistently earning three Michelin stars, it was rated the 4th best restaurant in the world in the well-known S. Pellegrino list. Needless to say, expectations were sky-high; so high that I had considerable doubt the restaurant (or any, for that matter) would be able to meet them.

My dad had dined here just over a year ago but this would be the first visit for the rest of the party (though a couple of us have had Humm’s food when he was chef of Campton Place in San Francisco). Over the years, the restaurant has changed the layout of the menu multiple times; currently, it’s a multi-course menu with a fixed price tag of $225. The only choices were whether the foie gras be in terrine form or pan-seared and if the party wanted a duck or pork course.

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Momofuku Ssäm Bar (New York, NY)

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
Dining date: 3/1/15

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Until this trip, I had never dined at a David Chang restaurant. Of course, I’ve followed his quick ascent to be one of the most well-known chefs in the country and have wanted to try one of the Momofuku restaurants. My dad came here, to the Ssam Bar, a year or two prior and really enjoyed the meal (raving particularly about the pork belly buns and rotisserie duck). He recommended we come by for a brunch visit so that my mother and I could try it. We Californians were prepared to brave the snow and cold to do it.

The Ssam Bar was Chang’s second restaurant opening in 2006 (after the noodle shop), serving Korean-American inspired food. The restaurant is currently ranked #64 of the best restaurants in the world.

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Marea (New York, NY)

Marea
240 Central Park S
New York, NY 10019
Dining date: 3/1/15

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Given it’s been a good six years since I had been to New York City, the list of restaurants I want to try is overwhelming. So, narrowing down a coveted dinner choice was a challenging (though exciting!) task. I wanted a restaurant that would be brand new to everyone dining (my parents and I) and something a little less of a marathon given the extended tasting menus of the previous dinners. Marea is a restaurant that’s been on my radar since opening in 2009 and fit the bill for this meal. An Italian seafood restaurant, the restaurant currently holds two Michelin stars and ranks #93 in the latest best restaurants in the world list.

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While a la carte and by-request tasting menus are available, I suspect most diners choose the $97 4-course pre-fixe, which basically allows one to choose 4 dishes off the a la carte menu (one crudo/antipasti, one pasta, one main and a dessert). Note that there are some pricing supplements for some of the more expensive dishes. My mom, dad and I went for the pre-fixe menu adding one small plate to share as an addition.

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n/naka (Los Angeles, CA) (3)

n/naka
3455 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dining date: 2/18/15

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I recently revisited West LA’s n/naka. To me, it’s still one of the more unique meals in LA. It’s Niki Nakayama’s modernized interpretation of a kaiseki meal – hyper seasonal, local, intricate food following a traditional progression. LA’s full of great Japanese cuisine but even in the high-end space, it’s primarily sushi-based. n/naka’s multi-course small-plate meal and focus on service really find a great blend between Japanese cuisine/sensibilities and Western ‘fine dining.’

The modern kaiseki runs $165 with a vegetarian option for $150 – both are thirteen courses.

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