All About Food: A week free from doing dishes

Orange County Restaurant Week is celebrating its fifth delicious year with prix fixe menus from every corner of the county. Between Sunday and March 2, about 100 restaurants will feature specially priced menus. Lunch will be $10, $15 or $20. Dinner will be $20, $30 or $40. Most of the menus are three courses, and a few include a glass of wine, beer or other beverage with your meal.

They range in style from Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour Restaurants in Brea and Mission Viejo to Pinot Provence in Costa Mesa. Check out, which lists all the eateries by cities, types of cuisine and styles, including fine dining, steakhouses, gastropubs, seafood, ethnic and vegan, as well as kid-friendly, romantic or friends and fun.

It's amusing to peruse this wide variety of menus and plan your dining experiences. The promoters of this culinary event suggest, "The only thing to make for dinner this week is reservations."

We've compiled a number of the menus that were most appealing to us and thought we'd share them with you. They all have a little extra flair.

Zimzala in Huntington Beach has our favorite menu, in part because the choices sound so mouth-watering and in part because they offer more options than anyone else on the list. Its $40 dinner includes five different menus: "I Love Fish," "I Love Meat," "I Love Bread," "A Lighter Dinner" or "Mix or Match," and each category has an extensive number of choices for appetizers and entrées. The two desserts are the same for all.

If we were dining there, Elle might choose as an appetizer the Manila clams with roasted dried corn, smoked bacon, Dutch yellow potatoes, double cream and grilled sourdough bread. For an entrée, the cast-iron duck breast sounds good, with celery root puree, caramelized fennel, apple gastrique and micro celery. Dessert would be the German chocolate waffle with caramel sauce and almond coffee ice cream.

For Terry's dinner, the starter would be the Middle Eastern Zimzala platter with hummus, faro salad, cous cous salad and heirloom tomato mozzarella. Her entrée would definitely be the Moroccan chicken tajine with caramelized onions, carrots, preserved lemon, picholine olives and golden couscous. For dessert, she'd choose crème brulée with pistachio biscotti and fresh raspberries.

At Cucina Alessa in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach for $30, we'd begin with a zucchini flower filled with ricotta and spicy salami, then battered, fried and served with homemade marinara sauce. We'd follow that with grilled New Zealand lamb chops laced in black fig reduction and served with polenta. Topping off the meal would be homemade spumoni (multi-flavored gelato) with amarena cherries.

For vegans, vegetarians and other healthy eaters, at 118 Degrees in Costa Mesa and Laguna Niguel, for a mere $20, you can have a set four-course meal. Start off with a raw "sushi" roll with yellow squash and mango, accompanied by a sweet sushi dipping sauce. Follow that with sweet miso soup, a thick soup filled with vegetables and rich, garlic crème miso. Next, feast on Thai coconut lettuce cups with lime sesame noodles, and for dessert, there is an apple cobbler in a walnut crust tart.

One more tempting dinner in the $40 category is from Canaletto Ristorante Veneto in Newport Beach. Our choice for an appetizer would be carpaccio di spada, house-cured swordfish with sliced fresh artichokes, followed by the Colorado lamb shank braised with root vegetables, herbs and Sangiovese wine, topped with mint and almond gremolata and accompanied by mashed potatoes. We would complete this meal with crepes filled with Granny Smith apples, pastry cream and caramelized walnuts, topped with crème Anglaise, caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Bon appétit!

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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