Panoringan: Chef Cao of Burnt Crumbs Competes on ‘Chopped’; plus, O.C. Restaurant Week Recs

Photo courtesy of Food Network

Chef Paul Cao of Burnt Crumbs competes on Food Network's "Chopped."

Airing Tuesday, September 22, look out for the Season 46, Episode 6 airing of Food Network’s cutthroat culinary competition “Chopped” with the theme “Soup and Sandwich Savvy” featuring OC’s Paul Cao of Burnt Crumbs! Cao and fellow cheftestants are tasked with creating a duo of tastes for every round. “Chopped’s” appetizer throwdown includes a curious egg, while duck bones make an appearance midway through. A dessert basket featuring prunes makes for an intense race to the final buzzer.

No stranger to Food Network, Paul Cao’s affiliation with The Burnt Truck, Burntzilla, and Burnt Crumbs led to appearances on both Eat St. and Junk Food Flip over the years.

When asked about criticism from the judges, he remarked that there’s traditionally a bad cop/good cop interaction from them: “I think all the judges had little criticisms of my dishes here and there, but I remember one of Alex Guarnaschelli’s remarks about my dishes made a few F-bombs go off in my head – I’m pretty sure I cursed under my breath.”

As a chef and business owner, Cao believes it’s good to try something totally outside of one’s comfort zone. Plus, he plans to never make fun of cooking contests ever again. “Going on ‘Chopped’ was 100 times tougher than I imagined. It was easily the most grueling thing I have done in my career.”

If you don’t catch the episode on Tuesday, it will replay on Wednesday at midnight on Food Network. Viewers can also watch it on Food Network’s GO app.

O.C. Restaurant Week Still Going Strong

Orange County Restaurant Week began on September 13, and it’s still in effect through Saturday the 26th. With more options to participate than in previous years, I scoured the list to make recommendations based on their countless categories. Dine in (or order takeout) from somewhere you haven’t tried, or support that local spot you haven’t frequented in months. They’re ready to welcome you.

PRO TIP: If a menu doesn’t display an OCRW special, clarify before ordering, as some places forget to inform guests.

Family Meals To-Go

  • Opening shortly before lockdown, Cafe Sevilla is at the Southern end of the 55 freeway along Newport Boulevard in Costa Mesa. With outposts in San Diego and Long Beach, diners can experience their Spanish vibe closer to home with a $60 “Date Night Journey Through Spain” for two featuring one of their signature paellas, duo of starters, and dessert.

Photo courtesy Khan Saab

Pani Puri is included with each takeout package from Khan Saab.

  • In Fullerton, Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen provides a family meal to feed four in all price points, making the cuisine from Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan accessible to most budgets; if you love lamb, the $50 package serves it two ways.
  • Finally, you cannot beat the Mother’s Market & Kitchen lunch/dinner deal for $20. Seven locations in OC means no excuse to not order bites like their Hatch chile quesadilla appetizer and grass fed beef burger. Tea and coffee are included, so pick up dessert while you’re there and leave the cooking for tomorrow night.

Spirited Cocktails

Restauarant week is sponsored by Woodford Reserve, Chambord, and Herradura Tequila. With this intriguing trio, I sought out menus that featured the trio of tastes.

  • Going north, Old Brea Chop House pours a Manhattan Milk Punch made with Woodford bourbon, applejack, sweet vermouth, and madeira.
  • The Country Club in Costa Mesa crafts Herradura blanco in their Sparkling Paloma, made with aperol, grapefruit and sparkling wine.
  • Lastly, Mission Viejo’s Pub Thirty-Two turns the black raspberry liqueur into a Chambord Sour by adding Grays Peak vodka, lemon, simple syrup and egg white. Who doesn’t love a good sour?

Wine Not?

Whether by the glass or by the bottle, there are specials to be had.

  • Shuck Oyster Bar located at The OC Mix factors in a glass of Cannonball Cabernet with your $40 ribeye and Maine lobster supper.
  • Flights and Irons Urban Kitchen in San Clemente sweetens their $40 and $50 deals with a cool glass of fruity sangria.
  • For full bottles, head to Irvine’s Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails and select a $50 take-out for two that includes one bottle of Cedar Brook Chardonnay or Cabernet to pair with your New Zealand lamb lollipop package.
  • Finally, check out an “Ultimate Surf n Turf” at FishBonz Seafood Grill off Costa Mesa’s 17th Street. Their first Orange County location, a $50 dinner includes lobster tail, shrimp skewer, filet mignon skewer, and your choice of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Prime Patios

  • If you can land a table within the garden and patio of Five Crowns in Corona del Mar, your enclosed setting is one of the more serene available for suppertime.

Photo courtesy of Habana.

The Habana patio at the Irvine Spectrum.

  • For sheer size, descend upon Irvine Spectrum’s Habana for Cuban cuisine. In addition to multiple patio options, they are also pet-friendly. Cheers to them for celebrating their 25th anniversary last week (the original Anti-Mall location opened in 1995).

Table for One/Prix Fixe

If you’re splitting a check or preferring some social distance, I searched for places offering a well-rounded meal at reasonable fare.

  • For example, The Crack Shack’s $15 all-day option allows you to request any signature sandwich, fries or salad, plus a salted chocolate chip cookie. If you haven’t swung by lately, they’ve updated their sandwich selections.

Photo courtesy The Blind Rabbit

The Blind Rabbit’s short rib mac and cheese paired with an Old Fashioned.

  • For some upscale eats, head to Anaheim’s Packing House for The Blind Rabbit speakeasy. They’re currently utilizing a train car patio, as well as additional seating beyond their traditional space to conduct a $30 nighttime deal which includes potato cakes, indulgent short rib mac and cheese, plus whipped strawberry cream sponge cake. Did we mention your choice of daiquiri or old fashioned as well?
  • Fountain Valley’s Cambalache will keep you well-fed with their combined menu of Italian and Argentine flavors, offering $15 lunch and $30 dinner options, both serving a starter and sweet.
  • Looking for beachfront property? Rockin’ Baja Lobster by Newport pier specializes in hearty Mexican seafood dishes. Hit them up for three hearty menu deals.

Brunch Time!

While not heavily promoted, I spotted a number of morning menus at a quartet of dining rooms/patios.

  • For a brunch in a brewhouse, show up early at Newport’s Helmsman Ale House for a $15 Saturday special with comforting choices such as chicken & waffles, sizeable cinnamon rolls and chilaquiles.
  • At $25, Gracias Madre provides lighter fare in their three-course spread. Coconut ceviche, a breakfast burrito, and chia pancakes make for a delicious weekend.
  • Twenty Eight’s $20 dine-in or takeaway special plates brioche French toast alongside vanilla cream and char-siu pork with fried egg over garlic rice.
  • Lastly, Lighthouse Cafe’s daily brunch menu leans heavily towards lunch, offering chipotle shrimp tacos, clam chowder, chicken sandwiches, and premium appetizer upgrades including calamari.

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at [email protected].