By Cheryl Pruett
Get your taste buds ready. Restaurant owners know change is good. Tried and true items provide comfort. New creative additions keep menus lively. The beginning of the year ushers in new items. In some cases, favorites that may have been on hiatus are making a comeback.
What are you longing for on your next dining experience? Sink your teeth into something new or return for a time-honored staple.
Ready, set, eat!
PLENTY NEW BITES
Flights and Irons Urban Kitchen
376 Camino de Estrella, San Clemente
The rustic-style American comfort food restaurant updates its menu twice a year. Since January 2023, it’s gone all out and added new items in every menu category. And, it brought back some of its classics.
• Early Bird fried egg sandwich with onion, tomato, cheddar, lardon, chipotle aioli and served with a salad.
• Short rib grilled cheese with shredded short rib, gruyere cheese, grilled onions, cheddar cheese on toasted panini bread.
• Fly East salad of shredded cabbage, carrots, almonds, mandarin oranges, onions, cilantro with a sesame ginger dressing. Chicken, salmon or shrimp can be added.
• One item on the “Big Irons” menu section is agave- and chipotle-glazed jumbo shrimp over a bed of succotash vegetables.
• Desserts include chocolate-peanut butter mousse cake and a pineapple upside down cake with vanilla bean ice cream.
• Pork wings, slow braised pork shank appetizer with Bourbon BBQ sauce, house pickles and cool ranch.
NEW TAKES AND A REVIVAL OF CULINARY HISTORY
Sundried Tomato American Bistro
31781 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano
The twice-a-year menu change embraces old and new.
• Cioppino, listed as new, is a reincarnation of Sundried’s signature creation from 10 years ago. A red bell-tomato broth is the base for the shrimp, black mussels, scallops, salmon, halibut and long grain rice. “The item has been on our menu before, but not exactly this recipe,” said Managing Partner Rob Quest.
• Monday’s butternut squash soup, a puree that includes savory chunks of butternut squash.
• Dr. Rick’s Salad is a nod to the restaurant’s history and to Dr. Rick, the salad’s namesake. Added back last month, the salad was created at Sundried’s first location in Whittier, 30 years ago. Located across from Whittier Presbyterian Hospital, the salad special was asked for so often that it became a regular menu item. The interns at the hospital, and especially Dr. Rick, craved the salad of warmed goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto over a bed of mushrooms, served over baby greens, tossed with Roma tomatoes, walnuts, balsamic vinegar and garlic-infused olive oil.
COMEBACKS AND MAINSTAYS
The Coastal Kitchen
34091 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point
Favorites are back as of January.
• New Orleans-style Cajun shrimp appetizer served with basmati rice and griddled ciabatta.
• Cioppino: U-10 scallops, shrimp, lump crab, manila clams and mussels served with grilled ciabatta
Since the restaurant opened in 2016 in the Lantern District, there’s a mainstay star.
• Three-time award-winning, New England clam chowder took first place in Dana Point Festival of Whales’ annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off in 2021 and 2022 and now claims 2023 first place. In addition, it won the Mayor’s Choice Award this year.
NEWBIE ADDED TO 46-YEAR-OLD MENU
34689 Golden Lantern, Dana Point Harbor
With decades of menu changes under its belt, it’s easy to see why co-owner Steve Zdrakas can view an item added about two years ago as “newish.” Established in 1977, the restaurant has fans coming to lunch for its chart-topper Reuben Sandwich, and there’s a new breakfast item.
• Apple cinnamon short stack with Granny Smith apples and cinnamon sugar-baked into the pancakes.
Cheryl Pruett is an award-winning journalist and editor, having covered Orange County city and county topics to the food scene for Orange County Register, Patch.com and local magazines. She has called Dana Point/Capistrano Beach home for more than 30 years.
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