BREAK | OF DAWN

May 9, 2017

Have you ever heard of a pop-up restaurant? If this term is unfamiliar to you, a pop-up restaurant is generally a temporary restaurant held at any location where a chef can showcase their talents and create unique menus to a private audience.

Popular since 2011, many notable chefs have opened pop-ups but it’s pretty rare to hear of them in Orange County, CA. Not to take anything away from the restaurant scene in the OC because it is definitely getting more urban and hip than before, it’s just that Orange County used to consist mainly of chain restaurants and the sort. But thankfully this is changing as we speak and the OC is finally getting it’s fair share of dining experiences inlcuding pop-up restaurants.

Recently I had the privilege of attending such an experience hosted by Break of Dawn’s chef, Dee Nguyen.


Chef Dee Nguyen

/ Dee Nguyen /

A little history on the chef, just because I love hearing people’s stories…where they’re from, what decisions they made to get to where they are, what inspires them. Everyone has a story, but Chef Dee’s story is a testament to his love and passion.

Break of Dawn was born out of a lifetime of unexpected twists and turns. For Dee Nguyen, whose culinary journey began at the San Francisco-based California Culinary Academy and rapidly rose to the Executive Sous Chef position at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, his was a career destined for success.

Then, unforseen tragic circumstances beset his son Berlin who was discovered to have Eagle-Barrett syndrome, and while undergoing one of the procedures, his breathing tube was mistakenly blocked by uncleared mucus, causing him to go without oxygen for more than ten minutes. He was in a coma for a month. Miraculously, he survived the episode, but the effects were devastating.

At a major crossroad in his career, Nguyen chose to follow his heart and his true passion – his family. He left behind his lucrative and prestigious position to open a modest 50-seat breakfast and lunch restaurant, located only three miles from home, to have a more manageable schedule to better care for Berlin.”

Hence, Break of Dawn was born circa 2006. And breakfast and lunch in the OC has never been the same since.

/ Pop-Up Dinner /

Break of Dawn is open Wednesday – Sunday from 8:00am – 1:00pm. First thing to note here, the hours are limited. But for those who can’t live by these rules, lucky for you, there are special hours. Dinner hours. Intimate, off menu, and exclusive. If you are a foodie, or if you want to try a different experience, or if you just need to feel special, THIS IS FOR YOU.

Chef Dee opens his doors for dinner only at his limited pop-up dinners. Seats are very limited, being offered to the previous patrons of his pop-up dinners first. And if you have a coveted seat, you don’t give it up, you just don’t. So you see why obtaining a seat is so difficult. But every once in a while, when the stars align and the mood is right, you get a golden ticket. And I just got mine.

Upon entering Break of Dawn, the vibrant, modern, and diverse decor is reflective of Chef Dee’s cuisine. A range of colors, traditional elements, and unexpected twists are splattered against the walls and also on his plates as you will see. I found my seat and took it immediately as if sitting down would mean the festivities would start sooner. Literally the envy of everyone else seated at the tables, I got a front row view at the chef’s table. I could see the 60+ bowls and dishes laid out between every course, the immaculate precision where each ingredient was carefully placed, the final touch of a petal or garnish that was intentionally set before the course was deemed perfect enough to send out. Whatever I did to earn this seat, I must find out and do it again. For after experiencing the behind the scenes activities of how Chef Dee efficiently, calmly, and deftly gets out his entrees, I don’t ever want a backseat to this show.


Chef Dee and one of many Sous Chefs


Behind the scenes look at the kitchen


The coveted chef’s table


Blue dick used in dish 5 (we had lots of fun with this ingredient)


Prepping the scallops (dish 8)


Every detail prepared and planned to perfection


Efficient, systematic, and effortless

I can’t say enough about the food itself. There are just no words to explain the immersion of flavors. What I can say is that after almost ever course I took a bite of, I kept muttering to myself, “amazing,” “this is my favorite.” I didn’t think anyone else could hear me, but when I would look up, I could see the Chef lingering nearby, close enough to make out the words that escaped my lips. He’s used to this, he hears it all the time, but still each time he does, it makes him smile. It’s validation that once again he’s made magic happen. The fusion of ingredients, the mixture of textures, the pairing of uncommon flavors, all combined into 17 different courses, it’s as one person described, a symphony of food, where every piece, every note, is in perfect harmony.


Extra crabs for those at the chef’s table


Lamb belly straight from the kitchen


Adding the finishing touches


My excitement at each plate

/ The Menu /

Seventeen courses. Yes, you read that correctly. Small bites of perfection that literally melt in your mouth. Instead of me trying to describe the essence, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.


1 | Loquat: duck “proscuitto,” peanut, elderflower hooch


2 | Trout: roe, mandarine, samphire, sunchoke


3 | Kanpachi: wild radish, kumquat, jicama, fennel


4 | Carrot: smoked jowl, meyer lemon confit, sea rocket


5 | Dough: bone marrow, baby dilis, parmesan, bluedick


6 | Sable fish: kaffir lime kosho, miner’s lettuce, brown butter


7 | Yamaimo: smoked tuna, water dropwort, burnt barley


8 | Scallops: nasturtium, ice plant, verbena dashi


9 | Shrimp: lobster-almond bisque, kinome


10 | Morel: asparagus, shirako, calamansi, cured uni


11| Mulberries: cultured coconut milk, ginger, egg yolk


12 | Lamb belly: quail egg, pinenuts, green garbanzo, pine syrup


13 | Pork: bacon, platanos asados, cactus pear-yucca blossom


14 | Beef: koji-mugwort aged, fava, primativo grape


15 | Rice: rock crab, dulse, black vinegar, tia to-plum


16 | Marshmallow: coffee, sesame, shiitake, pomegrante


17 | Cheesecake: coco, hedge nettle, burnt mango cream

If you’re name isn’t up yet for this golden ticket, don’t fret. You can still experience the essence of Chef Dee’s creativity and flavor during his normal hours at Break of Dawn. My personal favorites are the mac and cheese, beef brisket, and the French toast creme brûlée. Trust me when I say that these are not your traditional dishes by any means.

But if you get lucky enough, know someone, or have 60 friends to convince Chef Dee to host a pop-up dinner yourself, you are in for treat. For more information on Break of Dawn’s dinners, check here.

BREAK OF DAWN
AVENIDA DE LA CARLOTA
LAGUNA HILLS, CA 92653
949.587.9418

Thank you to Break of Dawn and Chef Dee for this unbelievable culinary experience and for Lisa Chen for putting this together.

All photos taken by Lisa Chen.

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49 comments

Adelina May 9, 2017 at 12:24 pm

The food looks incredible! Chef Dee must be so talented 🙂

http://www.thecharmingolive.com
xx, Adelina

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:18 pm

The food was so amazing. Such a wonderful experience and Chef Dee is truly talented indeed!

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Lisa May 9, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Amazing post, Christine! Makes me want to relive it. You described it perfectly! Thanks for sharing!

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:18 pm

Thank you Lisa for taking these incredible photos and capturing the evening of deliciousness!

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Jennifer May 9, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Whoah! This place looks amazing! I’m definitely going to check out Break of Dawn. Thanks for the tip. Beautiful done dinner course by the chef!

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:19 pm

Yes Jennifer, you must! If you are ever in the area it is a must-try!

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Heidi May 9, 2017 at 2:23 pm

This looks heavenly! I’ve heard a lot about this place but mostly breakfast and brunch. I’m going to have to look into these pop-up dinners. Right after I try them for breakfast. 🙂

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Hi Heidi, their breakfast and brunch is also very yummy. I love going there especially since the OC is limited in breakfast places. The pop-up dinner menu is so different from the regular menu (not to take away from it at all, just very different) so if you have an opportunity to go, you must!

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Marie May 9, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Wow what an experience! Loved reading about the chef too and his journey. Such a talented chef and I wish I could’ve experienced that myself.

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Marie, we will have to go there before you leave or when you come back and visit. I know you will be blown away by the food!

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Rachel Vogt May 9, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Wow this place looks so amazing. I’m drooling the whole time.

@rachelvogttrends
http://rachelvogttrends.com

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Rachel, it really is. I seriously gobbled up each entree and waited for the next one! I wish it was 25 or 30 courses not only 17! It’s THAT good!

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Candace May 9, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Often times life’s struggles cause us to make decisions it probably would have taken us much longer to make. Aside from the circumstances that led Nguyen to his business move, I commend him on following his dreams and by opening his restaurant. From the looks of that delicious food, I’m sure it’s a major success!

http://www.thebeautybeau.com

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:22 pm

It’s such an amazing story and journey and one can only have the utmost respect and admiration for Chef Dee. Not only is he passionate about his family but his art as well. Lucky for us we get to experience a little of that at his restaurant.

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Gracie May 9, 2017 at 7:00 pm

WOW my mouth is watering. What an experience. Can’t wait to try. I will be studying in California the next four years so hopefully will get the chance. Food looks incredible.

Xxgracie

snappedbygracie.com

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:23 pm

You are? Where will you be going to school? If you happen to be in the OC, you definitely need to stop by for breakfast or lunch for sure. You will be blown away!

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Stephanie May 9, 2017 at 7:59 pm

Not only does the place itself sound incredible, but the owner sounds like such a gem. I can’t believe how much he would change his life just to take care of his son. That’s an amazing person right there. I hope you enjoyed trying all those delicious plates! You’ll have to make sure you get a chance to be at the next pop-up!

Stephanie // SheSawStyle.com

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dailykongfidence May 9, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Thanks Stephanie. Chef Dee is truly a magnificent person and chef. It was an incredible experience to eat with him and hear about his story. I definitely need to be there at this next pop up because word is that he never ever serves the same pop up menu twice!

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emily May 9, 2017 at 8:18 pm

Oh this place sounds amazing and the chef is such an inspiration! The food looks so incredible too! Drool!
x Emily
http://shedoes.com.au

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Jenn Hanft May 9, 2017 at 9:27 pm

It’s so interesting learning about the backstories to people’s lives and what they do! This is so touching and Break of Dawn looks like an incredible place that I definitely want to check out! All of the dishes are really crafted to perfection. The presentation is incredible and I bet it tastes amazing!

With love, Jenn
https://www.jubilantdose.com/

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Bernice May 9, 2017 at 10:32 pm

You’re so lucky to get to step into this kitchen and watch these culinary artists work their magic to produce these mouth watering meals!

https://www.bunnybernice.com/single-post/2017/05/10/Peachy-Keen-Sweater-Review-with-Inu-Inu

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dailykongfidence May 10, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Thanks Bernice. I was so lucky to score this seat at the counter. It was such an amazing experience!

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Thomas Falkenstedt May 10, 2017 at 3:33 am

What a lovely, yet heart breaking story behind the name of the Break of Dawn concept. I love pop-up restaurants as chefs tend to experiment a lot more in these and showcase their culinary skills with such traditional dishes as mac and cheese for example (which I’d love to taste). Quite astounding that it was a 17 course meal as well, now THAT’s crazy…
xoxo
Thomas

http://thomasfalkenstedt.com

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dailykongfidence May 10, 2017 at 2:45 pm

Chef Dee’s story is incredible isn’t it? Heartbreaking yet you would never know it when you see him in action in his kitchen. Pop ups are the way to go and not only fun for the chef, but the patrons feel special and get to sample such unique and brilliantly crafted dishes.

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Jessie May 10, 2017 at 5:56 am

I consider myself quite lucky to be able to grow up in a city that is known for its culture and food! Melbourne is famous for its pop-up restaurants and bars, and I love the concept of pop-ups. I’m constantly on the look out for new restaurants to try, and pop-ups definitely brings more excitements into the city lives.

Break of dawn looks amazing! I’m reading this post right before my bedtime and right now I’m drooling all over my keyboard. I’m a big fan of seafood and fusion food, and this restaurant tick both of the boxes! Would love to try it out one day .

xx, Jessie
http://4evajessie.com/jo-malone-london-rare-tea-collection/

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dailykongfidence May 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

I know, I keep looking at these pictures and drooling myself. I want to go to another one and try more dishes! I am a huge fan of food so I love cities and places that cater to that.

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Keri May 10, 2017 at 7:37 am

Wow, these dishes look amazing!!! Such an awesome opportunity 🙂

Enclothed Cognition

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dailykongfidence May 10, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Thanks Keri! The dishes WERE definitely amazing indeed!

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Samantha Mariko May 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

I didn’t know about these pop up restaurants, but it looks like a fun experience! I’ll have to check them out when I am back in the OC 🙂 Everything looks so delicious!
http://www.samanthamariko.com

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dailykongfidence May 10, 2017 at 2:51 pm

I actually didn’t hear of them until recently myself, but now that I know of pop-ups I will be on the lookout for some more. When you are back visiting, you must try Break of Dawn even just for breakfast or lunch, you will love it!

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marcy May 10, 2017 at 2:14 pm

Pop up restaurant sounds amazing!!! Heard about opt up store hahaha but not restaurant but I really like the idea!!!
For sure would love to experience this someday soon. The dishes looks so delicious and yummy!

xoxo
Marcy

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Jessi Malay May 10, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Looks like an absolutely amazing meal hun! Thanks so much for sharing!

I would LOVE for you to check out my current giveaway! <3
XO Jessi,
http://www.mywhitet.com/major-giveaway/

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dailykongfidence May 10, 2017 at 11:49 pm

It was Jessi, I totally think you would’ve loved it too!

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Salome May 11, 2017 at 1:13 am

wow everything looks so beautiful and yummy
Also check out my blog
https://thefashionsateen.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/lady-in-red/

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dailykongfidence May 11, 2017 at 9:43 am

Thank you Salome, it really was so tasty and an experience I won’t ever forget.

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Helen Chik May 11, 2017 at 6:42 am

Wow this dinner looks so incredible and this is giving me food FOMO here. It’s midnight and I am working through a never-ending list of to-dos. What an incredible story that Dee has and shows how resilient he is. A great inspiration and reminder to us all that life is short and that we should all pursue something we love!

Helen xx
http://helenchik.com

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dailykongfidence May 11, 2017 at 9:47 am

Hi Helen, I know this is the worst post to read when it’s late at night and you are hungry. =). Chef Dee is truly an inspiration and I am just happy to have met him, hear his story, and taste his amazing food.

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Deddeh Howard May 11, 2017 at 8:43 am

Never heard of pop up restaurant but it sounds amazing and I will love to try someday. The food looks great.

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dailykongfidence May 11, 2017 at 9:47 am

They are so much fun Deddeh, you would love it!

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Nina Nguyen May 12, 2017 at 3:59 am

Everything looks so amazing & delicious!!! I need to make a trip out there soon!!
xo-Nina

http://www.ninalnguyen.com/2017/05/killer-black-heels.html

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dailykongfidence May 13, 2017 at 12:19 pm

It really is so yummy! I highly recommend the dinner, but if you can’t go to a pop-up, the breakfast and lunch are super amazing too!

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Jo May 13, 2017 at 9:36 am

Looks and sounds like such an awesome experience! Love all the behind the scenes action you captured in your post. Everything looks absolutely delicious! Wish there was a way to virtually taste things too haha!

xo, Jo
http://www.cutandchic.com

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dailykongfidence May 13, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Thanks Jo, it truly was a magnificent experience and one that I will want to do again!

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Jordan Chapman May 13, 2017 at 1:14 pm

What a dinner!! I’m craving good food right now so I definitely want to go to LA!
Jordan xx
http://thehatlogic.com

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dailykongfidence May 15, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Doesn’t it look amazing?! Hope you had a great weekend Jordan!

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Sharon Wu May 13, 2017 at 9:18 pm

omg everything looks so good! i’ve heard of pop-up shops before but never pop-up restaurants but i love the idea of that! so glad to hear you got to experience all the delicious food. i miss all the good food in LA lol food out here in the desert isn’t so great so my bf and i have become better cooks in the kitchen (still not as good as all the food in these pics though lol!) xo, sharon

http://www.stylelullaby.com/travel/cabo-travel-diary/
@stylelullaby

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dailykongfidence May 15, 2017 at 12:48 pm

I didn’t even know you were moving to the desert until after it happened! But it sounds like a great move and I am sure you and David are enjoying exploring the new place. =)

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Yasmin May 15, 2017 at 1:21 pm

So pretty! This looks like an amazing experience. I have been to a tasting or two and always tell myself I need to do this more. But I never get around to it. But these experiences are so memorable. Really I believe the way to someone’s heart, at least mine haha, is through my stomach. I think a lot of conflict could be solved over a really good meal, where people put aside their differences, and come together through their mutual love of the food between them. It seems that this chef has really been able to find a way to continue his craft on his own terms and still do it with passion.

xx Yasmin
http://banglesandbungalows.com

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dailykongfidence May 16, 2017 at 10:38 am

I totally agree Yasmin. Food is definitely about bringing people together and bonding over a delicious and well prepared meal. I am such a food lover as well and they way to my heart is through food…and maybe some bags and shoes. =)

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