Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

We arrived in the O.C. (Orange County) late Wednesday afternoon to sunny skies and a fantastic view of Laguna Beach from the home of my sisters’ in-laws. Thursday was spent in Disneyland where we spent the entire day and ended up going on a dozen different rides. My son, J, really enjoyed being in the “happiest place on earth” as the last time we took him to Eurodisney, it was -10 degrees celsius. The last time my two sisters and I were there all together was seventeen years ago so it was fun to relive our summer holidays.

Early Friday morning, we drove to San Juan Capistrano to a local favorite – The Ramos House Cafe. It’s a little place that’s been there for ages and is right beside the train station in the sleepy district of Los Rios on the oldest residential street in California. The actual house has been there since 1881 and was the former residence of the Ramos family. The actual cafe was opened in 1994 by chef/owner John Q. Humphrey’s who not only cooks there but lives there as well. Menu items are limited and seasonal and keeps to the concept of a home-style restaurant where everything is made from scratch, herbs are grown in the garden and ice-cream is churned by hand. The cuisine featured is contemporary American with hearty breakfasts, sandwiches and salads plus some other Southern-inspired specialities.
The tables are simply set and covered by burlap sacks, drinks are served in mason jars and mini-galvanized tins are used to hold sugar – all part of the rustic chic concept. Servers are casually dressed in the cafe’s signature tank-tops and jeans. We decided to share everything – my sisters had the southern-fried chicken salad and three small plates: sweet potato fries, apple beignets and smoked salmon. My brother-in-law, C, had the crab hash with smoked bacon and scrambled eggs. J had the mac’n’cheese with smoked vegetables and I had the crab cake salad. The food was delicious. My favorite was the sweet-potato fries which came with a blue cheese dip. I ate them not with the accompanying blue cheese dip but with their special Krakatoa sauce – a home-made spicy ketchup. We ended our brunch with coffees and one dessert to share – the chocolate cake which was a sweet end to our meal. The Ramos House Cafe is the kind of little neighborhood restaurant one wishes every place had and is probably the O.C.’s best-kept secret.

After our hearty meal, we headed over to do the food shopping for my niece’s Baptism barbecue party tomorrow. We went to local gourmet supermarket Bristol Farms where we bought all the ingredients for the party – red and yellow peppers, sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, basil, baby potatoes, chives, assorted berries, creme fraiche, pita chips, ready-made hummus, tapenade and spinach-artichoke dip. We also got some store-made pound cake for those who want a bit of cake with their berries.

On our way home, we stopped at another Laguna Beach institution – The Shake Shack. It’s a beach side hut that serves milkshakes and a few simple deli items and is usually crowded with beachcombers and surfers walking up from the beach. It was recently taken over by the southern California diner chain Ruby’s and although some say it’s not as good as it used to be, it wasn’t bad at all. They had chocolate and strawberry milkshakes and I had a mango smoothie.

As soon as we got home, I started making the food for tomorrow and did the salads: sweetcorn, cherry tomato and basil, baby potatoes and chives with a mustard dressing, roasted red and yellow peppers with roasted shallots plus roasted aubergine mash with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. I also hulled the strawberries and mixed it in with the raspberries and blackberries with a little bit of extra-fine sugar to be served with cold creme fraiche as a dessert.

After prepping for the party, it was almost 8:30 p.m. so to complete my Southern California culinary tour, we bought some take-out from another Laguna beach institution and surfer hang-out – Taco Loco . We bought a few tacos including their specialty blackened calamari taco with soft flour and blue-corn tortilla and served with guacamole, chips and salsa. We went home, ate on the terrace and chatted till late, happy to be all together again.

4 thoughts on “Eating the Southern California way

  1. Hi Joey,We’re having a great time and eating our way through Laguna Beach and Las Vegas. Natalie is a happy baby and takes after her mom.Congratulations on the CULINATE feature!G.T.


  2. joey says:

    So nice that you are all together again! You are making me miss doodsie even more :)I love that photo collage of the food at the Ramos House…making my tummy rumble!


  3. Enjoy your holiday! My son is taking care of his little cousin and having a blast.


  4. I love the pic of that old house. So beautiful.Little ninja had a wonderful time too at the countryside and enjoyed the seaside for the first time in her life even though it was very cold. She loves playing ball with her 96 yr old great grandmother and kept going to her room first thing in the morning when she woke up. I kept telling her ‘shh..great grandma sleeping. Don’t knock on her door.’


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