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Anne Marie Panoringan

Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for 8 years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.

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Locating that perfect expression of one’s feelings on Valentine’s Day can be frustrating when going beyond assorted chocolates and a dozen long stems. If the way to your love’s heart involves satiating their palette, you’re in luck. From little indulgences to multi-course evenings, below is a sturdy list of suggestions to get you started.

Sips and Savors

Wine and Pairing

Known for her property SeaLegs at the Beach in Huntington, Alicia Whitney and Martin Ray Winery in Northern California teamed up to procure Whitney’s own line of vino, Alicia. Available in Sonoma Coast Chardonnay or Russian River Pinot Noir varietals, both are being sold in heart-adorned packaging complete with romantic phrasing (like “Please Be Wine” and “BAE”) through Feb. 14. The Pinot is sweetened by a trifecta of berries, layered with oak and mocha notes. In contrast, the luxe mouthfeel of honey and orange blossom mingle with crisp pear and apple in a bottle of chardonnay.

Per Whitney, “Wine should evoke a feeling when you hold it, open and drink it. Alicia is meant to bring you to a moment of joy and happiness drinking wine by the sea.” The winery’s “Love Potion No. Wine” holiday boxes retail for $30 (including shipping) and can be requested at this link. SeaLegs at the Beach is at 17851 Pacific Coast Highway.

Alicia Whitney sells her self-named wines in conversation heart-adorned packaging.

Complementing your wine purchase can be as compatible as Wine Chips, also hailing from Surf City U.S.A. Created for the sole purpose of nibbling while sipping red, white or rosé, these uber thick-sliced, lattice cut potatoes accommodate a range of tastes. From smoked gouda and sweet coconut curry to robust dry-aged ribeye, The Perfect Pair Tasting Set allows oenophiles to sample a special selection of flavors beyond the core, gluten-free quartet. Conveniently shop online or inquire about nearby retail partners.

Say It with Flowers (and Snacks)

Fresh or dried, floral bouquets are a calorie-free way of showing love. In the spirit of local businesses supporting each other, eateries are teaming up with florists throughout the holiday weekend to present hungry guests needing to shop for someone special a convenient solution.

Lagu Cafe, an offshoot of Anaheim’s Okayama Kobo bakery, is a hidden gem in an industrial park adjacent to John Wayne Airport. Known for filling onigiri (rice balls) and curated beverages, the Japanese deli conducts frequent pop-ups with an assortment of vendors. Hanadai Rose and Design is offering floral arrangement pre-orders for Friday and Saturday pickup at Lagu. Pay in advance online and perhaps add on a strawberry sakura latte for the drive home. Lagu Cafe is at 17779 Main St. in Irvine.

Whimsical pairings continue in Tustin, as Lovestruck Blooms spends the weekend selling its wares in neutral and muted hues out of Oliboli Donuts. Pre-orders are welcome, but a limited inventory of florals and Lovespell boxes (these include a petite vase, flowers, matches, candle and a baked treat) will be on-hand. While you’re there, peruse some of Oliboli’s seasonal specials such as the heart-shaped, maraschino cherry-glazed, vanilla bean cake donut. The elaborate ispahan donut (a flavor combination originally created by Pierre Hermé of the Ladurée in Paris which paid homage to his favorite Persian rose) begins with a raspberry-glazed yeast donut that’s topped with rose petal whipped cream, homemade lychee cream, raspberry dust, and a dewed rose petal. Oliboli Donuts is at 135 W. First St., Suite B in Tustin.

Dessert (Beverage) Bombs

Recently these spherical treats blew up on social media. Carrying marshmallows and spice and everything nice, one needs only to pour steaming water, milk or coffee over a chocolate vessel to unravel the cozy beverage. Over at neighborhood Teofilo Coffee Company, pre-orders are being taken through Feb. 11 for a quartet of sweet flavors: ube (purple yam), matcha, strawberry and malted chocolate brand Milo for a Valentine’s weekend pop-up by Etsy artist @todayselixir. Teofilo Coffee Company is at 10525 Los Alamitos Blvd. in Los Alamitos.

Portola Coffee Roasters continues the trend with a sweetheart match their collaboration with award-winning Valenza Chocolatier. Select caffeine branches will carry a limited-edition run of mocha bombs. Hand-painted by Valenza owner Amy Jo Pedone, each purple work of art holds Venezuelan-sourced, single-origin dark chocolate with a powdered version of PCR’s Terra Incognita espresso double-shot. A delectable sugary rush, no matter which style you go with. The two Portola Coffee Roasters offering mocha bombs are at 2493 Park Ave., Tustin inside Union Market and 3313 Hyland Ave. Suite B2, Costa Mesa inside The OC Mix.

Something More Substantial

Drive-In Date Night

Now you could swing by Tustin on Saturday the 13th for Mess Hall Market’s Valentine Shop from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.. Everything from chocolates to dumplings to mochi will be available. Bonus: Costa Mesa’s Dough & Arrow is one of the featured vendors, and the baklava seasonal cookie is all flavor, minus the sticky mess.

Tustin’s Mess Hall Market has both a pop-up holiday market and drive-in movie series lined up for Valentine’s weekend.

A more romantic option is selecting one of the eclectic rooftop cinema options that weekend. Sponsored by Santa Ana’s The Frida Cinema, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” shows Friday, “Kill Bill Vol. 1 + Vol. 2” play on Saturday, and the 50th anniversary of “Harold and Maude” will air on V-Day. Mess Hall’s varied dining options will be open until 8 p.m. each night to accommodate patio dining or takeout for dinner in your vehicle. Choose from Saigon Kitchen, Vaka Burger, Fonda Moderna, The Little Greek and six other eateries. Tickets and additional information are available online. Mess Hall is located at 1705 Flight Way in Tustin.

Ike’s Love and Sandwiches

If your Valentine is relatively low-maintenance, or you spent most of your dough on other presents, Ike’s Love and Sandwiches may fit the bill. With “love” in its name, the meat(less)-and-cheese combinations are abundant. On Valentine’s, Ike’s is happy to grant a “buy one, get one” special on all sandwiches. I’m thinking about the Backstabber, featured on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”; containing halal chicken, Caesar dressing, provolone and marinated artichoke hearts. Search the website for 800 additional sandwich suggestions. Ike’s has three locations in Orange County: 2487 Park Ave. in Tustin; 4221 MacArthur Blvd. in Newport Beach; 18529 Brookhurst St. in Fountain Valley.

Billy’s at the Beach

Newly reopened Billy’s along PCH in Newport underwent an extensive remodel during the initial lockdown. All weekend long, the updated destination famous for mai tais will present an aloha-themed $150 evening for two. Offered for both patio dining and takeaway consumption, patrons will indulge in a filet and lobster main, seafood-driven pupu platter, and chocolate rum cake. In-person reservations will have the option for a duo of mai tais for $25. Due to limited seating and availability of the meal, phoning ahead is suggested. Billy’s at the Beach is at 2751 West Coast Highway in Newport Beach.

Valentine’s special at Newport’s Billy’s at the Beach is available for patio dining or takeaway.

Ysidora Restaurant and Lounge

Now that the stay-at-home order is lifted (but travel is still not recommended) enjoying a relaxing staycation is one socially acceptable activity. San Juan Capistrano’s Inn at the Mission welcomed guests last autumn, but on-site Ysidora Restaurant remained closed to indoor seating for the holidays. Its dining room officially reopens Friday, Feb. 12 in time for the long weekend!

Chef Aaron Obregon marries hacienda hospitality with modern Spanish cuisine in tapas, tostas (flatbreads) and rustic entrees. His fondness for seafood is apparent when the topic arises: “Every fish needs to swim three times, in water, wine and butter.” Visitors may enjoy live entertainment while on-site, or place to-go orders and retire to their accommodations. Reservations are required for the four-course Valentine’s menu featuring paella Valenciana and a Spanish cheese/charcuterie board. Cocktails and full menu are also available for delivery. Ysidora Restaurant and Lounge is at 31692 El Camino Real in San Juan Capistrano, inside Inn at the Mission.

What to Eat During a Pandemic: Ramen Edition

Slurping a steaming bowl of noodles and broth is a pastime for many Orange County residents. While most diners appreciate the porky aroma of tonkatsu soup, I’ve discovered three that go a step beyond. Not your plastic-wrapped packages or dried cup o’ ramen, here are a trio of progressive takes on this Japanese delicacy.

Sake Ramen at The Kashiwa Ramen

Over in Costa Mesa, operator Hiro Yamanouchi of The Kashiwa Ramen begins the broth utilizing chicken bones as part of his ZEROWASTE project with other local businesses. Specialty noodles are by way of Ramen Burger inventor Keizo Shimamoto, blending four types of wheat flour, whole eggs, kansui (an alkaline solution for dough), salt and water.

The boozy component is courtesy of Covina-based Nova Brewing, an Asian and female-owned craft sake brewery that also produces beer. Nova contributes sake kasu, the lees (a.k.a. sediment) produced during fermentation and aging, including 3.5 ounces of fresh kasu in each portion. Interested slurpers will need to be 21 years or older, as a serving of sake ramen is promoted as 8% ABV.

Sake ramen’s limited run is currently on The Kashiwa Ramen’s menu through Valentine’s Day, but may stick around longer due to its popularity. The Kashiwa Ramen is at 1420 Baker St., Suite C in Costa Mesa.

Vegan Mushroom Ramen at Kenchan Ramen

Vegan mushroom ramen from Kenchan Ramen.

The next stop on this ramen train is the city of Orange, where Kenshi Kobayashi of Kenchan Ramen incorporates maitake, shimeji and white mushrooms into his bowl. Sauteed in red chili pepper and garlic-infused olive oil, the fungi is joined by edamame, spinach noodles, tomato noodles, and creamy, cabbage-based broth. Per Kobayashi, his team “tested many different toppings, noodles and broth combinations for our vegan ramen. It took us a good few months of testing and focus groups with feedback before we were confident and satisfied with our product.”

Kenchan’s take-home kits are securely packaged (each component is individually sealed) and available Fridays at OC Baking Company’s weekly pop-up market at 1960 N. Glassell St. in Orange. Contact Kenchan Ramen directly for more information, as the kits are new and in limited quantities.

Birria Ramen at Nandomo by HiroNori

Spanish for “hangover,” spicy resaca ramen was a work in progress since Nandomo’s opening late last year. Chef Mario Rivas infuses Mexican flavors using succulent al pastor (the birria) shaved off a rotating rotisserie into carnivore-forward beef and pork broth doused with roasted chiles and spices. Pickled onions and serranos provide a bite normally reserved for hot sauce.

While there are many ways to remedy the grogginess after a night of drinking, few are as satisfying as soup coursing through one’s body. Per Rivas: “It’s mesmerizing how rich in flavor our ramen is. So much that it can turn a really bad [hangover] day into a full and unique experience of flavors bringing you back to life.” He also shares the significance of birria on the menu. “What I love about the resaca ramen is the fact that it reflects who we are at Nandomo, and the amazing results you can get when you work together with different cultures, bringing the best of each.”

Nandomo is found within Rodeo 39 Public Market. The best time to stop by is on a weeknight, when the three outdoor patios have abundant, distanced seating. Nandomo by HiroNori is at 12885 Beach Blvd. in Stanton.

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.

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