All About Food: Best 10 dishes from Fountain Valley to Laguna

The top 10 dishes of 2010 (in no particular order and not a list of the 10 best restaurants):

Café Grill (Fountain Valley): Sweet Potato Ravioli is a winner! Looking more like cannelloni, the toothsome pasta is wrapped around an exquisite sweet potato puree, whipped into a state of sublime creaminess with an astonishing depth of flavor. The nut-brown butter sauce with sage accents adds a whole other dimension of mouth-watering delight. The final fillip is the crispy, deep-fried sage leaves on top. Unbelievably, only $5!

Charlie Palmer (Costa Mesa): Truffle Fried Egg, Potato, Mojama and Salsa Tartufara is luscious. We'd never encountered mojama before. It's like prosciutto for pescetarians: thinly sliced, salted, dried tuna loin. Salsa tartufara is a mushroom truffle sauce. Transforming an American standard, this is bacon and eggs with hash browns gone to heaven. Stacked on top of the deeply flavored chopped mushrooms with truffle oil are slices of creamy fingerling potatoes, topped with a fried egg that oozes a golden glaze over everything. The salty tuna functions as the bacon. All the elements together make a compelling combination.

Alessa (Laguna Beach): From the very refined to the very homey, Mamma Mia consists of three big meatballs covered with melted burrata cheese and a wonderful, slightly spicy tomato sauce. The meatballs are some of the best; well seasoned, with a really meaty texture.

Leatherby's (Costa Mesa): The Octopus Salad is served on a chilled slab of heavy glass — quite dramatic. The very tender rounds of octopus are tossed with thin slivers of radish, cucumber pearls, black and green olives, yellow and red baby tomatoes, capers and fried slivers of garlic. Gently dressed with very nice sherry vinaigrette, it's finished with a sprinkle of micro-greens. Olives and capers provide saltiness. The tomatoes are especially sweet, the radishes peppery and the fried garlic crunchy and delicately flavored. Each ingredient is top of the line, and they make beautiful music together.

Phans55 (Newport Beach): Vietnamese Spring Rolls are fabulous, with their clean bright flavors. Sushi grade tender ahi, mixed with a variety of herbs, mint, cilantro and perilla leaves, gently pickled daikon and carrot along with crunchy cucumber, green papaya and soft, sweet mango, create an explosion of flavor and texture in the mouth. An extra kick is provided by the unusual sauce – wasabi mayo, floating in soy vinaigrette.

Pescadou (Newport Beach): Duck Magret arrived as requested…rare, seasoned with a lovely, slightly peppery, flavorful rub. The breast is juicy and tender, and the accompanying sauce is light with just a touch of cream and the perk of green peppercorn. It's by far the best we've had in recent memory...truly French.

Sol Cocina (Newport Beach): Try the fabulous White Corn Soup, which can be ordered in a generous tasting portion for only $2. Full of corn flavor with a silky rich taste and a perfect texture, plus a touch of heat from poblanos, garnished with crema and pepitas. It's a must.

Xanh Bistro (Fountain Valley): The Rice Flake Shrimp has a very light coating of crunchy rice flakes, reminiscent of Rice Krispies without the sugar — thoroughly addictive. The good-sized shrimp are very fresh and juicy. They come with a tangy, sweet plum dipping sauce, which is very tasty but not even necessary, because the shrimp themselves are so irresistible.

Sorrento Grille (Laguna Beach): The Peppered Rare Tuna Niçoise is a terrific deconstructed riff on a Niçoise salad. The centerpiece is a seared, sliced filet of peppered ahi, topped with a gently fried quail egg showing off its bright yellow center. Fingerling potatoes, haricots verts and teardrop tomatoes surround the fish, peppery arugula provides the "salad," and a tapenade vinaigrette provides the olive component. As one breaks open the egg, the creamy yolk spills out to coat the silky fish, giving it a whole new dimension.

Lido Deck (Newport Beach): Medjool Date Cake is dessert chef Christi's specialty, absolutely scrumptious. This caramel flavored cake is reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding. The moist light cake is made with puréed dates that add sweetness and depth of flavor. Paired with a luscious, caramel black pepper sauce and toffee ice cream with bits of crunchy toffee, this dessert is a standout.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

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