RVOC October 2014 : Page 134

[food & drink] review Fine Oak island Hotel’s new signature restaur ant is serving up fresH and modern culinary creations witH soutHern california style. By Jamie gwen | photography by John dole It’s a cool Saturday evening and a picture-perfect night for dining alfresco. Surrounded by trees, it’s like stepping into an enchanted forest, within close proximity of a mighty shopping venue. I’m talking about the newly revamped and quite beautiful renovation at Island Hotel that is Oak Grill. It was six months in the making, and it brings together chef Marc Johnson (a Mastro’s and Studio at Montage alum) and GM Miguel Rodriguez-Vidal (a Mastro’s and Red O legend). The entrance is light and airy, a fine change from the former Palm Terrace, which had classic virtues but was screaming for a face-lift. You’ll find a TV the size of a wall, chic decor to match its locale and a wood patio that sets the stage for dining outdoors in the ocean air. It has the same feel as The Ivy—the L.A. landmark that draws insatiable crowds. My guests agree this is a well-done remodel. The staff is a well-trained bunch. Annie, our server, greets us, and thirst-quenchers are ordered. The management team consulted with a crew of top mixologists (Tony Abou-Ganim of Iron Chef fame among them) when creating the bar menu, which boasts an array of contemporary drinks. I select the sazerac—a subtle blend of bonded rye whiskey, absinthe and bitters, perfectly stirred and elegantly made. We’re dining with an oenophile, and he offers his take on the wine list—eclectic and California-centric, and just what O.C. wants. His choice of Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir, with sweet farmers market strawberries on the nose, is a wonderful entrance to the night, and the gluttony begins. We start with a tempura soft-shell crab with an arugula salad, lemon olive oil, avocado mousse and heirloom tomato. The produce is sourced locally from Manassero Farms, and the offering is scrumptious—so fresh with bright flavors and good crunch. We lick our plates clean and move on to more apps. The carpaccio is rich and attractively presented. The tartare is stellar—a true winner—made from fresh-caught ahi tuna and spiced with flavors from the tandoori, with cumin, cardamom and curry, and served alongside 134 tree time Clockwise from left: the Chilean sea bass; the beer taps; the scenic outdoor patio is surrounded by shade trees. RIVIER A octobER 2014

Food & Drink Review

Jamie Gwen

FINE OAK

ISLAND HOTEL’S NEW SIGNATURE RESTAURANT IS SERVING UP FRESH AND MODERN CULINARY CREATIONS WITH SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA STYLE.

It's a cool Saturday evening and a picture-perfect night for dining alfresco. Surrounded by trees, it's like stepping into an enchanted forest, within close proximity of a mighty shopping venue. I'm talking about the newly revamped and quite beautiful renovation at Island Hotel that is Oak Grill. It was six months in the making, and it brings together chef Marc Johnson (a Mastro's and Studio at Montage alum) and GM Miguel Rodriguez-Vidal (a Mastro's and Red O legend).

The entrance is light and airy, a fine change from the former Palm Terrace, which had classic virtues but was screaming for a face-lift. You'll find a TV the size of a wall, chic decor to match its locale and a wood patio that sets the stage for dining outdoors in the ocean air. It has the same feel as The Ivy—the L.A. landmark that draws insatiable crowds. My guests agree this is a well-done remodel.

The staff is a well-trained bunch. Annie, our server, greets us, and thirst-quenchers are ordered. The management team consulted with a crew of top mixologists (Tony Abou- Ganim of Iron Chef fame among them) when creating the bar menu, which boasts an array of contemporary drinks. I select the sazerac—a subtle blend of bonded rye whiskey, absinthe and bitters, perfectly stirred and elegantly made. We're dining with an oenophile, and he offers his take on the wine list—eclectic and California-centric, and just what O. C. wants. His choice of Lucy Rose of Pinot Noir, with sweet farmers market strawberries on the nose, is a wonderful entrance to the night, and the gluttony begins.

We start with a tempura soft-shell crab with an arugula salad, lemon olive oil, avocado mousse and heirloom tomato. The produce is sourced locally from Manassero Farms, and the offering is scrumptious—so fresh with bright flavors and good crunch. We lick our plates clean and move on to more apps. The carpaccio is rich and attractively presented. The tartare is stellar—a true winner—made from freshcaught ahi tuna and spiced with flavors from the tandoori, with cumin, cardamom and curry, and served alongside papadam (a cracker-thin Indian bread) and supple avocado. And the littleneck clams with bacon lardons and a grilled baguette are just lovely, with a delish broth made for slurping. The mushroom truffle flatbread is laden with fingerling potatoes and plush with fungi. It's a meal on its own. We all take a taste and consider its virtues of indulgence.

Salads excite too. The heirloom tomato BLT panzanella comes in a Mason jar for presentation: The tomatoes burst with flavor; the bacon is decadent; and the greens are a simple foil for the excuse to order this salad. And before we select entrees, an impressive salt presentation arrives—smoked salt, lava salt and fleur de sel. It's an insider perk, so be sure to ask for it. It makes for great table conversation.

We move on to our final courses (before sweets, that is). The grilled pork chop, braised short ribs and roasted Alaskan halibut arrive. The chop boasts smoked cherries, which I crave more of, and the bed of pork-belly risotto is decadent. The short ribs are tender, slow-cooked and swimming in a well-reduced bordelaise sauce. The halibut is beautifully prepared and rests in a divine lemon beurre blanc. The entrees satisfy, but we begin a conversation of starters versus mains. My party agrees that the first courses rank a bit higher than the entrees in flavor and visual appeal. Some of the big plates could benefit from a bit of tweaking, which will no doubt occur as the restaurant hits its stride. And we all agree that the ambience is another strong draw.

Dessert arrives, and Pastry Chef Andy de la Cruz proves his talent. The creations are immensely refined, offering a sweet ending that is fancy in its style and formulation. We love the warm pineapple butter cake, served in a castiron crock, and the Oak Grill rocky road bar, made with impeccable quality chocolate.

Next door to Oak Grill sits Aqua Lounge, a trendy bar that brings a new approach to the long-loved digs that used to boast Jimmy Hopper. In his place: a female DJ rocking out, and a hip crowd sipping and mingling. And if you need a quick fix, check out the restaurant's business lunch. It's perfect for professionals craving a speedy bite.

In all, I'm impressed. With its new dining digs and multitude of attractions, it might just end up being your new hangout.

Oak Grill

690 Newport Center Drive (at Island Hotel), Newport Beach, 949.760.4920, oakgrillnb.com

Shared plates: $13-$21
Starters: $8-$18
Greens: $9-$18
Entrees: $17-$39
Desserts: $10

Who Goes There

Newport Beach's well-heeled crowd and food connoisseurs from near and far

You Must Order

The tandoori-spiced ahi tartare

Carb Counters, Take Note

Do not forgo the bread when you visit. The basket is filled with a variety of baked wonders topped with European butter and coarse salt.

Best Seat in the House

On the patio under the shade trees

Savor This...

When creating the cocktail menu, the team consulted with modern mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim of Vegas bar fame, among other tastemakers.

Insider's Tip

Ask for the trio of smoked salt, lava salt and fleur de sel. You'll only get it if you request it

Read the full article at http://digital.modernluxury.com/article/Food+%26+Drink+Review/1822765/226956/article.html.

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