Orange County chefs talk about – and share recipes for – the dishes they just can’t ditch

You want a Caesar salad? Fine, you probably will find it on the menu. Chances are the chef would like to ditch that option, subbing in a salad that shows off a talent for innovation. But, they wouldn’t dare. They know guests would stage a revolt.

Comfort for many longtime chef-restaurateurs is fueled by enduring dishes of their own, concoctions introduced years ago that have become signatures. And like the Caesar, patrons would be furious if they disappeared from the menu.


Thirty years ago, Zov Karamardian opened her first restaurant, Zov’s Bistro, in Tustin. A year later, she put her scrumptious calamari dish on the menu. It’s rich with flavor and contrasting textures, a lush sauce blanketing crisp, quickly sautéed calamari. The mixture sits atop thick crostini, making it a knife-and-fork version of bruschetta.

“Everyone wanted calamari, but I didn’t want to serve the deep-fried version,” Karamardian says. “I was health-conscious and wanted something fresher. I thought, if we can do shrimp scampi, why not do it with calamari?

“It was an immediate success. The guests loved it. Now they drive a long distance just to have it. Part of the appeal is the chardonnay sauce; they like to sop it up. And the rice flour on the calamari makes it crispy. The fresh oregano is milder (than dried), and it is prettier.”

She says that years ago, she tried to change it. She made a tiny tweak, grilling the bread instead of baking it to a golden brown in the…

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