Off the Menu: International Wining and Dining

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By Christopher Trela & Catherine Del Casale | NB Indy

This week we’ve gone international thanks to our visits to Moulin Bistro, Benihana and LCA wine, which is providing European wines for the Uncorked food and wine experience at SOCO.


Moulin has been a hit ever since it opened its doors last September. Owner Laurent Vrignaud created a French bistro so authentic that you’d be hard pressed to find anything from outside France in his restaurant. His food is also tres French.

Normally open only until 6 p.m., Moulin has two weeknight dinner specials that we love.

The Tuesday night prix fixe dinner ($25) served at 7 p.m. changes weekly, but includes a salad, entrée and dessert. This week it was rack of lamb with Merguez sausage, endive apple walnut salad and a slice of Tropezienne for dessert.

Vrignaud recently launched a Thursday night prix fixe dinner ($25) that is a Parisian classic: Entrecôte Frites, or rib eye steak with béarnaise and pepper sauces, unlimited French fries and a butter lettuce salade tossed tableside. It’s served from 6 to 8 p.m. (last seating 8pm).

The unlimited fries got our attention, as did the price, so we went to Moulin last week to try the Entrecôte Frites.

“I love the authentic French feel of Moulin,” said Catherine as we sipped our French wine while waiting for our entrée. “All of the staff is French so if you want to work on your ordering and conversational French skills you can.”

“And I like the fact that Moulin has a nice selection of French wines by the bottle that are reasonably priced, so you can match a wine to your meal,” noted Christopher.

Once our food arrived, we dug into the steak and fries. Our waiter noticed we were running low on fries and brought a huge bowl of fresh fries to our table.

“Steak frites is one of my favorite meals, made all the better with unlimited fries,” said Catherine with a smile on her face.

For more information, visit


Benihana chefs are as famous for their showmanship as they are for their cooking skills. Now, you too can be a Banihana chef for a day with the Benihana Be the Chef program.

The Benihana Be the Chef package includes personal training on tabletop hibachi and knife skills from a Banihana master teppanyaki chef, a signature Benihana chef hat and apron, diploma and commemorative photo.

Then you can impress your friends and family with your culinary prowess at a special dinner performance that includes soup, salad, shrimp appetizer, hibachi vegetables, entrees, and Japanese hot green tea.

We recently took a mini lesson from a Benihana chef at the Newport Beach location near John Wayne Airport so we could see how the Be the Chef package worked, and had a terrific time learning how to cook Banihana style, including cutting, dicing and serving with a showy flair. We also gained a newfound appreciation of the hard work the Benihana chefs have, yet they make it look so easy.

“It was a wonderful experience to get to participate in cooking your meal in such a unique way,” said Catherine. “And somehow food just tastes better when you’ve had a chance to slave over it in the kitchen—or in this case the Benihana dining area.”

The Be the Chef basic package is $140 for four people (the chef and 3 guests). Additional guests are $35 per person. The Be the Chef special package is $250 for a party of 8. Gift packages can be purchased at the restaurant or online at


SOCO Collection in Costa Mesa has been growing at a rapid pace, especially the culinary offerings which range from ARC and Shuck Oyster Bar to Portola Coffee and SusieCakes.

Last year, Nancy Milby moved her LCA wine shop from Laguna Beach to SOCO, where she has the space to expend her international wine collection and offer wine appreciation classes.

Milby is also curating the wines for the Uncorked Food & Wine Experience held from 6 to 8 p.m. at SOCO on Thursday, April 16, an al fresco event that takes place in the SOCO courtyard with live music and nearly three dozen vintners.

Some 18 restaurants and food purveyors at SOCO are participating by offering small bites, paired with specific varietals from LCA Wine.

For example, roasted potato and duck from ARC will be paired with a Bordeaux, Bistro Papillote’s classic escargot or mini croque monsieur will be paired with a Burgundy or Chateauneuf du Pape, and red velvet cupcakes from SusieCakes will be paired with Carol Shelton Black Magic, a late harvest zinfandel from Sonoma County.

Wine festival aficionados may remember the Uncorked name from an event that Milby participated in several years ago in Laguna Beach that featured numerous wineries and restaurants. This new version at SOCO is a more intimate event with special pairings that highlight the many SOCO restaurants.

Tickets are $80 per person in advance ($100 at the door), or $120 for a VIP experience ($150 at the door) that includes your choice of wine seminar with Master Sommelier Peter Neptune that explores varietal typicity, or cooking demo by Noah Blom of ARC.

For tickets and more details, visit, or


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