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March in the time of COVID combined with advancing our clocks feels more like a new year than January did. What better way to celebrate spring than with a spirited beverage? The latest refreshment opportunities await below.

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.

Bosscat Kitchen & Libations Launching in Old Town Orange

Previewing the transformation of Rod’s corner liquor store was an impressive sight, soon to be unveiled during Bosscat Kitchen & Libations’ grand opening at the corner of Chapman and Olive. Maintaining structural and historical integrity of the space (previous iterations include an auto repair shop and a horse and buggy repair) was a priority for management. In return, Bosscat’s was blessed with a super-sized kitchen, ample patio, and handsome whiskey room. 

Co-owner (aka Miss Bosscat) Leslie Nguyen shares insight on the elaborate display of brown spirits: “Each whiskey shelf is displayed this way, showcased individually to show respect for each brand. They’re all seen and not crowded behind one another because we know every label has a history to it, a tale to tell, a family behind it … I felt these shelves were perfect to place next to the Rod’s family sign to honor the stories of the past as we are with the history of Rod’s Liquor and Old Towne Orange’s history in this building.” 

Bosscat’s indoor dining room in Old Towne Orange. Credit: Photo courtesy of Wales Communication

While a brand new team was hired and trained, chef de cuisine Charlene Doan is a familiar and excited face in the kitchen. “Bringing these dishes and recipes to Old Towne Orange, which has such an affinity for nostalgia and the comfort of the past, is exciting and something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”  Expect Bosscat’s doors to open come early April at 118 W. Chapman Ave.

DIY Cocktails at Paséa with DrinkWorks

One Orange County property found a workaround to socially distant partying. The first resort to partner with Keurig’s boozy beverage dispenser line known as DrinkWorks, Huntington Beach’s Paséa Hotel & Spa outfitted the appliances in its poolside cabanas and oceanfront suites. A whiskey sour, margarita and mojito are now possible without navigating the bar crowd. Assistant food & beverage outlets manager Pim Berkeley extolled the device’s virtues: “The new experience pairs great with our balcony concerts — Safe & Sounds — offering a breath of fresh air for guests looking to safely enjoy the hotel grounds or relax in their room.”

DrinkWorks appliances are located in Pasea’s suites and cabanas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Pasea Hotel & Spa

Crafting one’s cocktail involves a visit to the nearest ice machine beforehand, but the DrinkWorks machine handles the rest. Each drink pod is filled with a concentrated blend of spirits, juices and natural ingredients. There’s nothing to measure or mix, and a finished beverage is ready in under a minute. After testing a couple, it actually is a convenient alternative to standing at a crowded bar. All that was missing were garnishes. The first three pods are complimentary, meaning happy hour can start as soon as guests press a button. With beach access across the way and Pacific City next door, a peaceful staycation is definitely attainable. Learn more about the updated amenities at Paséa here.

Dedicated Dining at Blinking Owl Distillery (Finally!)

Strictly as a distillery, Blinking Owl  was limited in the amount (and selection) of alcohol that it could pour for each guest. Per the Type 74 Craft Distillers License, the inclusion of a kitchen would allow an establishment to provide a comprehensive selection of spirits to diners, plus an amount greater than the restrictive 1.5 ounces per person. 

A pop-up eatery overseen by nearby Benchmark restaurant enabled OC’s first distillery to operate beyond retail sales during COVID since autumn of last year. But it was last week’s health inspection that finalized a more permanent solution at Blinking Owl. The Santa Ana operation began running a much-needed kitchen, with brothers Luis and Eddie Perez (known for properties Lola Gaspar and Frame Pizzeria) slinging pizza pies, wasabi deviled eggs and sliders. The pizzas are crafted from the rye grain used in BOD’s whiskies; one can’t go wrong with any of the pies. However I strongly suggest requesting a side of honeycomb piccante for self-drizzling; its Calabrian heat mingles nicely with all the cheesy goodness.

Of the dozen beverage selections, a gin-based Cool Hand Collins, a riff on a Tom Collins, delicately refreshes thanks to blackberry cacao orange peel shrub. The cocktail of the evening was bartender Chloë Jayne Bell’s 20/21 Vision, featuring Blinking Owl aquavit, dry vermouth and aquafaba. Note: Expanded operating hours begin this week, adding Wednesday into the mix.

Paisano pizza from Blinking Owl Kitchen Credit: Photo courtesy of Ron De Angelis

Editor’s note: Other food and beverage recommendations would include the Fab French Onion Dip Hummus, accented by seasonal farmers’ market veggies; the OC Orange Mule and the Tini Viking. The aforementioned Blinky Baby Burger slider was very tasty. I’m not 100% sure about the Little Piggy in a Blini, unless you like sweet and creamy hot dogs. 

The Son of a Butcher red wine was chilled, which isn’t exactly how I might drink my Napa red blend. When it’s too cold, the subtleties get dulled. But to each his/her own.

Semi Tropic Wines Builds a Bar

From the owners of hidden gem coffee spot Daydream Surf Shop, Semi Tropic welcomed the neighborhood in late November 2020 to its Westside Costa Mesa natural wine shop. Produced on a smaller scale, natural wines are fermented with native yeast found on the fruit and grown without the use of pesticides. Its next phase, an adjacent wine bar buildout, is nearing completion and will fulfill Rebecca Mantei and Kyle Kennelly’s goal to not only educate visitors on environmentally conscious farming practices, but the opportunity to sip and purchase wine for themselves. Expect opening news next month from 816 W. 19th St.

Rancho Capistrano Winery Continues South County Expansion

Currently under construction, the third branch of OC’s expansive winery will be unveiled this fall at 25682 Crown Valley Parkway in Ladera Ranch’s Mercantile West. Live entertainment and a 3,000-square-foot patio will make this a neighborhood hub for those seeking one of RCW’s 40 different varietals (F.Y.I., the 2021 Trestles Cabernet Sauvignon is now available).  Founded by Kyle Franson and helmed in the kitchen by chef Adrian de la Torre, the original Rancho Capistrano Winery opened at the San Juan Capistrano train depot in 2014; San Clemente launched early last year. Serving daily lunch and dinner, and brunch on the weekends. 

Amuse Bouches

Bacchus Wine Bar Now Pouring Cocktails

In early February 2021, this Irvine watering hole updated its small bites menu plus transitioned beyond glasses of cabernet and chardonnay. Craft cocktail service, including old fashioneds and sazeracs are now the standard at Bacchus Bar & Bistro. Locals can pop in for a pre-dinner sip or post-meal nightcap closer to home. Due to changing seating capacities, reservations for dinner are recommended. 

Noteworthy: Bartender Ravin Buzzell materializes Wednesday through Friday evenings. Originally at YNK speakeasy located in the Irvine Marriott, and most recently overseeing the bar program at CdM in Corona del Mar, he splits his time between Bacchus and San Juan Capistrano’s Inn at the Mission.

FIRST LOOK: The Bungalow Kitchen, Long Beach

Encompassing the same breezy vibe as its Bungalow properties in Huntington Beach and Santa Monica, hospitality entrepreneur Brent Bolthouse took a different approach when building his newest creation at Long Beach’s Belmont Shore neighborhood, The Bungalow Kitchen. Joining forces for the second time with his friend, Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina (the first collaboration was in 2008 for L.A.’s XIV), the duo designed a boho-chic bar/lounge/restaurant to complement Mina’s expertise in sharable bites and large format creations.

Bungalow possesses a sizable wine list; I gravitated toward Bungalow’s LBC-themed offerings. Coconut-infused Gin & Juice flowed with peach, passionfruit and pomegranate, while mezcal-based Fuzzy Naples was an intoxicating blend of prickly pear, cucumber and lime. If you arrive before sunset, harbor views from its enclosed upstairs patio transition to a dimly lit dining room kept cozy with overhead heaters. 

Under “Table Snacks,” one could approach it from a surf aspect, squeezing charred lime onto chili-garlic king crab coated in scampi butter. Carnivorous tastes should steer toward a short-rib ‘pop tart,’ best explained as if a pot pie and empanada hooked up. Pomegranate arils give a playful pop to apple-walnut tabbouleh salad. While pizza sounds good any time of day, the pasta to spy is a toothsome bowl of kale pesto rigatoni hitting all the savory/sweet notes with Italian sausage and tangy Pecorino. For a quintessential Mina offering, go all-in with the tableside lobster pot pie, incorporating an entire Maine crustacean covered in puff pastry and presented in a copper pot.

For a sweet finish, one is at a crossroads. Party-friendly ice cream sandwiches come in Maker’s Mark whiskey caramel swirl, Lamill-brand coffee and strawberry cream. Intermediate palates will appreciate Harry’s strawberries dolloped with vanilla whip and pistachios. Level up for the decadent signature slice — a crêpe cake layered with Meyer lemon curd and crėme fraîche cream; it was worth sitting in 405 traffic for. The Bungalow Kitchen is now open on the second floor of the 2nd & PCH complex in Long Beach, by Whole Foods Market.

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

Richard Chang, senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC, contributed to this report.

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