The side dish, once just an accompaniment of a meal’s main course, is now stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Don’t miss these outstanding bites from restaurants around town.
Korean Galbi Tacos
Combining unique flavors from the many regions of Asia, Starfish brings mouthwatering fusion creations to south Laguna. Diners can enjoy a number of different small plates with flavors of all kinds, but the visually appealing Korean galbi tacos stand out as a colorful piece of culinary art.
With a rainbow of pinks, greens and oranges, these open-faced tacos are almost too beautiful to eat. The plate features three corn tortillas topped with prime flat iron steak, a spicy but somewhat sweet gochujang aioli and pickled vegetables. The tender steak, beneath all the color, is marinated in a soy and sesame sauce, adding even more flavor to this exceptional dish. With so much zest packed into just three tacos, Starfish diners may reconsider sharing this savory side. (949-715-9200; starfishlaguna.com)
Peri-Peri Chicken Pops
If you’re in the mood for something with a kick, head just south of downtown to Mozambique, a restaurant serving up spicy dishes inspired by the South African country of the same name. At this lively establishment, the peri-peri chicken pops comprise three pieces of skewered chicken pierced through a grilled pineapple disk, plus a vegetable slaw. But what truly makes this dish unique is the sauce: An authentic African experience, the sauce is a spicy blend of vinegar, garlic, paprika, lime juice and, of course, dried peri-peri chilies.
Complementing the spiciness of the chicken, the vegetable slaw is a creamy mix of cabbage, sweet bell peppers and shiitake mushrooms. All together, the elements of this dish combine for an appetizing plate with lots of character that will leave Lagunans wanting more. (949-715-7777; mozambiqueoc.com)
Jalapeno Roasted Garlic Potato Puree
Tortilla Republic’s jalapeno roasted garlic potato puree is served with multiple dishes, including the tequila coriander rub hanger steak and pork chop al pastor, and can even be ordered individually to accompany others. But according to Assistant General Manager Brett Lowers, it was originally paired with the short rib chili verde—a flavorful, enhanced version of a traditional steak-and-potato entree. It’s slow-cooked comfort food with complex flavors.
The short ribs are braised for 48 hours in chili verde; the puree lends creaminess and an extra kick. “We make it with a ‘misto’—kind of like a mirepoix, which is a combination of jalapenos, peppers, onions, garlic, all mixed together and pureed—and then we put that with our homemade mashed potatoes,” Brett says. (949-393-4888; tortillarepublic.com)
Ahi Watermelon Skewers
Watermarc’s menu features an entire section devoted to small, delectable “grazing plates” that are sure to make mouths water. A must-try is the restaurant’s ahi watermelon skewers.
Each skewer is built in levels: a seaweed salad, followed by a cube of seedless watermelon, a piece of pickled ginger, a cube of fresh yellowfin tuna and lastly, a cherry tomato. The dish is finished off with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzling of citrus ponzu. The combination of favors and textures come together to create a light and tasty plate perfect for passing around the table.
“The skewers are fun and sharable, which I feel really enhances the experience of the whole meal,” explains chef-owner Marc Cohen. “It’s also so fresh and would really pair well with a buttery chardonnay.” (949-376-6272; watermarcrestaurant.com)
Wedge Salad With Bacon Foam
A steakhouse classic, the wedge salad is a signature side dish that truly completes a hearty steak meal. At Selanne Steak Tavern, however, the standard wedge is presented with a modern twist without losing the charm of its origins. While the tavern stays true to tradition with a thick disk of baby iceberg lettuce topped with creamy dressing, Point Reyes blue cheese and heirloom tomatoes, chef Josh Severson completes his dish with a fresh take: Instead of the typical accouterment of bacon shards, Severson adorns the salad with bacon foam.
“Our bacon foam is a unique addition to this dish,” Josh explains. “To prepare it, we use the rendered bacon drippings from Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Bacon and mix it with heavy cream and mascarpone cheese. Then we put it into a whip cream canister and inject it with nitrogen to create the foam.”
The tavern’s innovative methods will tickle your taste buds, making this salad a side worth returning for. (949-715-9881; selannesteaktavern.com)
– Written by Matt Valdez | Photos by Jody Tiongco