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The OC Food Scene, 20 Years Ago

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Courtesy of Memphis Cafe
That was then...

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

"Time just gets away from us" -Charles Portis, True Grit

The OC food scene 20 years ago was a much different creature. It was both stuffy and trashy at the same time, which seems impossible, but it was. That was when it was still okay to eat at Black Angus and if you were feeling like stepping it up a bit from there it was time for Hoff's Hut. Birraporreti's at South Coast was all the rage along with HB's epic Mazzotti's which, at the time, was THE spot to score some blow and a random bathroom/alley/backseat hookup. What is now considered the old-guard shops were more like the sort-of-old-guard and what would have been considered the old guard then are mostly the long gone now.

Sid's on Old Newport was charging headlong into its golden age, soon to implode. The former Cuckoo's Nest, now Zubie's Gilded Cage, was readying to shutter and the overall tone here in the OC food-wise was fairly bland, surely stagnant, and it didn't seem like there was much coming down the pike to change any of that. However, there were three events that occurred almost simultaneously 20 years ago that symbolize the cultural mindset that would influence the scene for the next two decades.


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6 Tips for Those That Dare Become a Chef

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David C Mau
Yep, this really happened...

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!
It's no secret I've been around the block and back again in The Biz. In fact, I've been back around a third time for one more swift kick in the nuts on a regular basis. (Thank you, sir, may I have another!) My first real job slinging burgers and McNuggets during the early 80's McDonald's glory days got me hooked, and the siren song of the restaurant industry has called me back over and over to dash my hull upon its rocky shores and scuttle my common sense, self-preservation and basic human decency. This doesn't make me Yoda or Obi-Wan-Kenobi but it does mean I can carry a light saber in my knife roll.

Awhile back I was hanging out with some younger Chefs that still had the glow of young enthusiasm and dew of innocence. Both were beginning to tarnish with the harsh realities of what they had gotten themselves into. After a few beers and a couple stray shots of Jameson, they started to pick my brain about what I had seen in my 30-odd years in and out of The Biz. At the time I didn't have a coherent set of answers for them but it did give me food for thought on what advice I would give someone who was just starting out on their culinary journey. The first would obviously be "Don't! You're sentencing yourself to a lifetime of admittedly delicious pain and agony, but pain and agony nonetheless." But if you are both passionate and dumb enough to jump into the deep end, head first, here's my two bits worth.

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Six Secrets Caterers Don't Want You to Know About Them

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David C. Mau
Cha-ching!!!!

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!

I catered my own wedding.

Yep, you heard right. I like to keep busy anyway and had some good friends in The Biz willing to help so it seemed a great way to stay occupied, shake off pre-matrimonial jitters and save a mountain of cash, the last one being most important. The money some caterers charge for a wedding is obscene. As far as I'm concerned, they should be classified as war criminals and it's not just because of the often times lackluster food. Caterers might hit you for way too much and that's just the start of things. A case in point: A friend of mine has a kid who is nuts about our own Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim/Fullerton/Buena Park or whatever other OC metro area they are currently co-branded with. She had a great idea! Let's throw a baseball-themed birthday party for Junior with all the appropriate trimmings, cotton candy machine, pretzels, churros and hot dogs. She started calling around, figuring she could just rent a hot dog cart and get one of her buddies to steam some buns and wieners. (HA! I just said "buns and wieners").

"Whoa-ho-ho, not so fast!" boomed Johnny-Jackass-Hot-Dog-Cart-Guy over the phone when she called. "Of course we rent the carts but you have to use our staff to run it and buy the product from us." Sure, fair enough. So how much? "Well, it's 250 to rent the cart for a day, 50 dollar delivery/setup/cleaning charge plus 25 an hour labor and 18 dollars per head for food. So with 75 guests you are looking at 1775 bucks".

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California's Most Wasteful Water-Wasters: Restaurant Customers. There, We Said It

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Buck Wahl
No bueno......

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!

Hope springs eternal but, despite holding out for a "March miracle," it looks like the
great drought grinds on. It's sinking in that we live in an artificial water utopia and it's
time to check ourselves. The opulent water consumption we have been used to is a
thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future.

The above photo of the normally full Lake Edison in the John Muir Wilderness is creepy
for a couple of reasons. Obviously, the lake is low but even more startling is the lack of
snowpack in the high country stretching to the horizon. Usually this time of year,
everywhere above 8,000 feet has 10-12+ feet of snow. Some places have much, much
more. Not this year, pal! It's dry as a bone up top and the little moisture that isn't running
off, it is seeping into the ground as quick as the parched earth above tree line can soak it
up. That means essentially no runoff. On a recent jaunt to Yosemite, the Kings River just
South of Fresno was literally devoid of any water at a time when it should be raging with
Spring runoff. DAMNIT!

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The Five Stages of Accepting the Santa Anita Park's Turf Club Reboot

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David C. Mau
The grand dame of horse racing.

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

Generally, I try to keep my writing OC-focused, but, once in awhile, an out-of-county topic jumps onto my radar. One of my very first pieces here at Weekly was about Laguna's Frank Panza, the beyond-legendary bartender at Santa Anita's Turf Club. That stately room was a bastion of old school charm and hosted the best of the best since the 1930's. Almost every Hollywood blueblood or great musician has walked its hallowed floors at one time or another. The track itself is beyond spectacular, with a gilded Prussian Blue facade, stunning view of the San Gabriel mountains and enough art-deco chic to keep ones gaze enthralled for months.

The exclusive Turf Club has been a favorite of mine for longer than I care to think about and opening day (always December 26) is one of my most beloved of holiday traditions. In 2014, I couldn't get in; there was a fishy cover story about "all the tables being reserved." I didn't get a straight answer, so I bagged the idea. "Next year," I thought.


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In Search Of OC's Best Garlic Cheese Bread!

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David C. Mau
Stubrik's version.....

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

Awhile back and over a few beverages, I got into a lively discussion with some of my fellow peeps in The Biz about the merits of garlic cheese bread in all its variations and, most of all, where to find the good stuff. We all agreed North Woods Inn still had some of the best and there were quite a few standouts south of the 91 as well. From the tone of our conversation - it was quite profane and opinionated--you would have thought we were discussing sushi grade fish or the finer aspects of Chateaubriand. It seems my fellow Chefs and servers have strong feelings about this otherwise simple dish.

Granted, we're not talking about some over engineered gastropub bread with housemade brioche, Tasmanian shallots and three different aged, artisanal cheeses. We're talking the down-and-dirty, Yankee Doodle Dandy version, overflowing with garlic, seasoned salt (maybe some Worcestershire or anchovy paste) with well broiled cheese on a chunk of French, white or even sourdough bread that looks perfect nestled up to a slab of pot roast or a Salisbury Steak. What were our picks here in OC? Drumroll...

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Ristorante Genovese's Throwback Charm!

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David C Mau

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

You've probably whizzed past it southbound on Tustin Avenue heading to work/school/a nail appointment and barely given Ristorante Genovese so much as a glance. It seems a quaint aberration compared to the newer development nearby. It is noteworthy though and not just because of its legendary status.

I, generally, don't do restaurant reviews. Despite food dominating my professional life, I'm pleasantly out of touch with all the current coming and goings of the culinary world. Thank God for Facebook. But I do like digging into the quiet backstory of a restaurant's people/history. I think there is a karmic reason a shop is around and a tale to be told about how the doors opened. Orange's Ristorante Genovese is a more than worthy candidate for a nod. It's been in the family for decades. Al Genovese and his wife Margie currently own the joint and run it with the help of a few family members and an absolute host of fiercely loyal, longtime employees.


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OC To The High Sierra: Musings On Restaurant Hospitality

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David C. Mau
VVR Crew-1998

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

Tearing up the blistering blacktop of the 99 between the bottom of the Grapevine and Fresno isn't exactly my idea of fun but it does have something to look forward to as you blaze past Delano, Tulare and Selma. Hang a right at Fabulous Fresburg, saunter your way through the Sierra Foothills, power up what we call the "four lane" and you'll find yourself entering the Sierra National Forest and, well, quite a bit more than a little slice of paradise.


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A Bartender Explains How the Way You Pay for Drinks Says A Lot About You

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Photo by Ben N
Hello, Ladies!

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

Work in The Biz long enough and it's gonna ruin how you deal with the general public. (I'm not talking about the fact that you'll probably not want to deal with them at all if you don't have to.) Put in your time slinging drinks or running tables and you'll turn into a veritable Obi-Fucking-Wan-Kenobi when it comes to reading people. There's stuff you pick up on quick as a bartender--like who's already wasted/shouldn't be served, the couple on the awkward first Tinder hookup and the 50-something-year-old guy posted up at the bar, nervously looking around to see if anyone notices that the bombshell brunette he's with isn't his wife (who's probably at home calling a family law attorney anyway). I'm talking about more subtle behaviors, like which cocaine cowgirl really has all the blow in the building and who is creepy-hover guy trolling for some (any really) chick at the bar. Whether you realize it or not, how you pay for your booze on a night out also says a lot about who you are and what you do for a living. Inside scoop? Drumroll...


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Developer Douchebags Score Again!

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

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David C. Mau
Going

Dave Alvin's seminal album Blue Boulevard features "Dry River", a song of longing and loss, redemption and hope. When I saw him perform it live at Bogart's in Seal Beach back in 1991 it brought me to tears and still chokes me up a bit. One verse recalls his SoCal youth growing up near an orange grove:

"I played in the orange groves, 'til they bulldozed all the trees"
"Still, I'd stand up on the dead stumps and smell blossoms on the leaves"
"Someday it's gonna' rain, someday it's gonna' pour"
"Someday all those dead trees, well, they won't be dead anymore"

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