My checklist for you covers traditions with a twist such as Sunday brunch at a hidden gem, plus alternatives to dodging spring break crowds at a certain Anaheim resort.

Tiki brunch spread at Mah Jong’s. Photo courtesy of Mike Doctulero.

SCP for Easter – Mah Jong’s by Chef Mike

Easter is the time of year when it’s easy to forget that your local shopping destination isn’t likely to be open in observance of this particular holiday. But while a place like Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza is technically closed, many of its dining outlets are, in fact, ready for patrons.

Anchoring the lower level of Bloomingdale’s Collage food hall is Mah Jong’s, where chef Mike Doctulero (Scott’s Seafood loyalists know him well) and chef de cuisine Mateo Lopez (previously at Taco Maria) recently expanded dining hours to include a tiki brunch. À la carte entrees factor in familiar tastes such as grilled fish tacos and Asian chicken salad, but check out the shrimp cake Benedict and pulled pork pancakes for a different take on weekend fare. 

Mah Jong’s cozy main dining room prevents passers by from disrupting your meal. Its “outer” seating space showcases dramatic elements, giving a nod to the restaurant’s name. My last couple of visits were at the bar, which allows ample elbow room and the ability to order dishes from the same menu as the dining rooms to pair with a cocktail.

A sampling of Culinary Corner offerings. Photo courtesy of Watertable.

Culinary Corner at Watertable

As I was researching Easter brunch at Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach (which it’s serving, along with an egg hunt and photo ops with the illustrious bunny), I stumbled across the return of an amenity at the resort’s signature establishment, Watertable.

Referred to as Culinary Corner, the activation dedicates an accessible area of this restaurant for Executive Chef Manfred Lassahn to prepare choice items while also being available for guests to inquire about Watertable’s California cuisine. With his breadth of culinary knowledge, Lassahn can field questions, offering cooking advice plus discuss in-depth the ingredients used. 

Catch chef shucking shellfish, fussing over flatbreads topped with aleppo garlic spread or torching salmon belly atop avocado crema (all found on the bar menu) among other dishes from 5-10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Pie eating contest. Photo courtesy of Knott’s Berry Farm.

Boysenberry Festival Extension

The powers that be at Knott’s Berry Farm are as fed up with the rain as myself. As a result, they’ve made the decision to stretch the theme park’s popular Boysenberry Festival an additional three weekends beyond its original end date. So not only does the annual tradition run daily until April 16, but you’ll still be able to indulge in over 25 food and beverage specialities created specifically for the fest every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 7 in Buena Park. 

Personally, after strolling through the seasonal craft fair, I’m always down for a berry cider beer and some people-watching. But that new boysenberry donut funnel cake as well as jambalaya with boysenberry sausage, chicken and shrimp seem to be screaming “Eat me.” Note: Festival-inspired food and drink spots shut down 30-60 minutes before park closing.

Afternoon Tea display at the Ritz-Carlton. Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz-Carlton

Sipping iced or hot tea is a year-round activity for me, but springtime is the best time for indulging in afternoon tea. There’s something about mild temps and pastel color palettes that make tea service so fitting right about now. When I discovered the Laguna Niguel branch of Ritz-Carlton was taking reservations for a limited engagement known as “Spring Par-Tea,” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sip and savor. 

Going on through April 27, the Monday through Thursday seating times are scheduled between 2:30-3:30 p.m. and will be served in the on-site fine dining space, Raya. Cascading from the restaurant’s walls plus throughout the space are hundreds of faux and fresh floral arrangements, making for a delightful backdrop to photograph and partake in an array of delicate sweets and savories.

The royal spread incorporates tea blends from Parisian specialist Palais des Thés into many of its dishes. For example, there’s a take on classic deviled eggs that factors in black tea and one treat featuring seven citrus (lemon, lime, sweet orange, bitter orange, grapefruit, bergamot and mandarin) oolong shortbread. Did I mention there are also tea-infused cocktails available? Locate a carpool/drinking buddy and prepare for a long afternoon.

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