RVOC July 2010 : Page 77
Photo of AmAr SAntAnA by EthAn PinES. aurantRest to liVe Dine &O.C. Special 0 in Welcome to our resto rave party 2010—spanning one end of Orange County to the other! For Riviera’s annual restaurant issue we made a list, drooled on it twice, and charged into the county’s top restaurants with one mission: to find the best. We’ve amused, we’ve bouched and we’ve eaten more pork than we ever plan to mention to our doctor—but there’s no other way to scout out the best restaurants in SoCal. Te following pages are packed with everything from hot new things making their debut performances to old classics still nailing the role. Of course, there’s plenty to choose from, and a few are so memorable they managed to garner more than one mention. In the midst of a back-to-basics economy, there’s still plenty of room for splurges and Orange County has its share of spots to indulge. Hungry yet? Dig in, O.C. Your table is waiting. | By Te Editors | Photography by Edward Duarte, Ethan Pines and Peden+Munk | CHEf Of THE YEAR ViVa santana! Playing top local guy on the grill in a celeb chef’s restaurant can be a tough gig, but Amar Santana is more than man enough for it. As executive chef at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Santana has exposed O.C. to all sorts of offal (the guy loves his meats and membranes), and a fair share of wonderful, too. While Charlie himself is no absentee owner (he’s down from his Napa-area digs regularly), Amar has truly made the stunningly designed place his own. Suffice it to say, this Santana really rocks. 714.352.2525, charliepalmer.com, amarsantana.com. Meat and Greet With 64 U.S. restaurants, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is the most successful O.C.-born upscale culinary conglomerate. So it’s sorta cool that the original Fashion Island location feels so local—try and walk through the bar without embracing (or trying to avoid!) someone you know, or knew. With hot new menu items (we love the peppercorn steak with a side of spicy “F17” sauce) and a 90-calorie “Bikinitini” on the happy hour drink menu, it’s where we’re taking our meat-based diet for summer! 949.720.9634. flemingssteakhouse.com. Haute Habitués Where we dined most in the past year: Hush, Crow Bar, Rooster, BEST DESIGN Clever AnQi! When we say the family An has designed the coolest new restaurant in O.C., we mean the sleek, loft-like interior, certainly. But it’s also the way the ladies run AnQi, and how well they “get it.” Te lithe and lovely Elizabeth An seems to be everywhere—charity lunches, fashion shows and chic soirées, and she and Elizabeth S. have become fast friends. Smart, sexy and sophisticated—what’s not to admire? 714.557.5679, anqirestaurant.com. July 2010 | | 77 210 MarchéModerne, La Sirena, Pizzeria Ortica and Golden Truffle. Where we’ll dine more in the next: Raya, Andrei’s, Splashes, Studio, Napa Rose, Stonehill and... Golden Truffle!
To Live and Dine in O.C.
Welcome to our resto rave party 2010—spanning one end of Orange County to the other!<br /> <br /> For Riviera’s annual restaurant issue we made a list, drooled on it twice, and charged into the county’s top restaurants with one mission: to find the best. We’ve amused, we’ve bouched and we’ve eaten more pork than we ever plan to mention to our doctor—but there’s no other way to scout out the best restaurants in SoCal. Te following pages are packed with everything from hot new things making their debut performances to old classics still nailing the role. Of course, there’s plenty to choose from, and a few are so memorable they managed to garner more than one mention. In the midst of a back-to-basics economy, there’s still plenty of room for splurges and Orange County has its share of spots to indulge. Hungry yet? Dig in, O.C. Your table is waiting.<br /> <br /> ViVa santana!<br /> <br /> Playing top local guy on the grill in a celeb chef’s restaurant can be a tough gig, but Amar Santana is more than man enough for it. As executive chef at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Santana has exposed O.C. to all sorts of offal (the guy loves his meats and membranes), and a fair share of wonderful, too. While Charlie himself is no absentee owner (he’s down from his Napa-area digs regularly), Amar has truly made the stunningly designed place his own. Suffice it to say, this Santana really rocks.<br /> <br /> Meat and Greet <br /> <br /> With 64 U.S. restaurants, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is the most successful O.C.-born upscale culinary conglomerate. So it’s sorta cool that the original Fashion Island location feels so local—try and walk through the bar without embracing (or trying to avoid!) Someone you know, or knew. With hot new menu items (we love the peppercorn steak with a side of spicy “F17” sauce) and a 90-calorie “Bikinitini” on the happy hour drink menu, it’s where we’re taking our meat-based diet for summer! 949.720.9634. flemingssteakhouse.com. <br /> <br /> Haute Habitués <br /> <br /> Where we dined most in the past year: Hush, Crow Bar, Rooster, Marché Moderne, La Sirena, Pizzeria Ortica and Golden Truffle. Where we’ll dine more in the next: Raya, Andrei’s, Splashes, Studio, Napa Rose, Stonehill and... Golden Truffle!<br /> <br /> BEST DESIGN <br /> <br /> Clever AnQi!<br /> <br /> When we say the family An has designed the coolest new restaurant in O.C., we mean the sleek, loft-like interior, certainly. But it’s also the way the ladies run AnQi, and how well they “get it.” The lithe and lovely Elizabeth An seems to be everywhere—charity lunches, fashion shows and chic soirées, and she and Elizabeth S. have become fast friends. Smart, sexy and sophisticated—what’s not to admire? 714.557.5679, anqirestaurant.com.<br /> <br /> Best Beach Bash In a place with 42 miles of coastline, why aren’t there more worthy beachside nosh options? And Te Beachcomber at Crystal Cove was one of those dining disappointments. But now the historic hideaway has a renewed beach buzz, what with superstar sommelier Michael Jordan (late of Disney’s Napa Rose) adding his expertise and chef Jon Gibson’s new menu offerings (pecancrusted barramundi, grilled rib eye with wild mushroom and truffle mac). With these additions, the sandy setting isn’t the only insatiable draw. 949.376.6900. thebeachcombercafe.com. <br /> <br /> Sextest Restaurant <br /> <br /> Night Moves Laguna’s Hush has always offered a touch of the naughty—its cool, marble interior, on-the-prowl crowd and carnivorously carnal menu harken back to the lush decadence of just a few years past. But the party’s still on at Chuck Rock’s pad. A new chef is tweaking the menu, the patio is going a bit loungier with small plates and fireside snuggling, and powerful partner Danny Reyes always makes it run just right. 949. 497.3616, hushrestaurant.com. <br /> <br /> Old-School Cool Garduno’s is 23 years old. So why are we just now writing about the fave Italian joint in Costa Mesa? Because maybe we’re a bit bored with new-restaurant hype. So we’re going home—to a dozen sauces, each with its own zesty flavor, just as we remembered; to the once and always favorite artichoke chicken lasagna; and to one perfect soup—and only one—a day. Because no one can beat those meatballs with marinara, and because Mark and Julie may not be the kids they were in 1988, but it’s nice to know they’re still there every day—as comfortable as faded flip-flops and a beach chair. 949.645.5505, gardunosristorante.com.<br /> <br /> Stu-Stu-Studio!<br /> <br /> If you had to bet your inheritance on a single, price-is-no-object meal at an Orange County restaurant, which would you choose? Our money is on Montage, where Studio boasts a total package tri fecta of location (the best view in Socal), service (try to find a flaw) and cuisine (palate-pleasing perfection). Chef Craig Strong has proven himself over the past year not just in the kitchen, but also in the community-Strong and the resort support numerous local causes. Bottom line? Any list of O.C.'s top spots that doesn't include Studio is oh so suspect. 949.715.6420, montagelagunabeach.com.<br /> <br /> SplASH zONE<br /> <br /> Jeff Armstrong is just one month into his new exec chef gig at Splashes, but it only took one meal to earn this award. Plus, there’s his pedigree: Te 35-year-old chef (with perhaps the best tattoos—food and otherwise—in the county) got his SoCal start in ’97 working with the Goodells at Troquet, Aubergine, Red Pearl Kitchen and Whist, where he won Angeleno’s “Hot New Chef ” award. He headed east for a spell, but Armstrong’s back in Laguna making waves. “I’ve always felt like this was home,” he says. “I kind of melt in here.” 949.376.2779, surfandsandresort.com.<br /> <br /> RESTAuRATEuRS Of THE YEAR <br /> <br /> Real Big fish Call it the Big Fish effect: Some of O.C.’s top bars and restaurants have gone virtually vacant since the newest from the team that brought us The Rooftop Lounge opened a few months back. Partners Richard Ham and Chris Keller seem to have their fingers on the pulse of local dining trends. Oh, hell—who are we kidding? Their hands are firmly gripped around its jugular!<br /> <br /> When O.C. needed a party-time place five years ago, the dynamic duo developed the rooftop of La Casa del Camino hotel (casacamino. Com) into the coastal hot spot. Then, seemingly seconds before the economy took its first swoon, they converted Casa’s K’ya Bistro Bar into a wildly varied and value-oriented small-plates place. Now, when everyone is all bubbled out and searching for a bargain-based good time, they open House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer (houseofbigfish. Com), the inexpensive, sustainable seafood bar we never knew we needed in (again!) The perfect Laguna-with-a-view locale. And we haven’t even mentioned Hotel Ménage, their Disney-rrific boutique hotel, where they posted former Hush chef Ronnie Arnold to oversee K’ya Street Fare. How about a beach club next, boys?<br /> <br /> Something on the Side <br /> <br /> Every superhero needs a sidekick, and that goes for restaurants, too! The famous Five Crowns in CdM opened SideDoor (949. 717.4322, sidedoorcdm.com), a strategically located (almost speakeasy-hidden) gastropub. Down the street, Quiet Woman’s little sister The Little Woman (949. 640.0551, quietwoman.Com/littlewoman) churns out sandwiches and quick lunches to go. And A Restaurant’s chef Vartin Abgaryan hosts B Side Kitchen (949.650.6505, arestaurantnb.Com), a monthly dinner where Abgaryan has free rein to work his magic on a secret theme. Not bad for side gigs.<br /> <br /> Al fresco fab!<br /> <br /> Who’s got the prime outdoor real estate? Tere are picture perfect harbor views aplenty at First Cabin (949.630.4145, balboabayclub.Com) and the Cannery (949.566.0060, cannerynewport.com). And if a dock counts as a patio, then Lido Deck (949.673.9500, thelidodeckrestaurant.Com) wins with its<br /> <br /> Wraparound outdoor dining overlooking the Lido Marina. Of course, there’s a battle of the best patio in Laguna Beach with Sapphire’s (949.715.9888, sapphirellc.com) cozy fireside dining; the generous shade under Sundried Tomato’s (949.494.3312, sundriedtomatocafe.Com/ lagunabeach) red umbrellas; the unbeatable view and central location of Las Brisas (949.497.5434, lasbrisaslagunabeach.com); and the sleek and sexy outdoor dining at Hush (949.497.3616, hushrestaurant.com). And how can you compete with the Rooftop? (949.497.2446, rooftoplagunabeach.com). Up the coast, with impeccable service and a view of the Pacific, Pelican Grill (877. 735.4226, pelicanhill.Com) gets bonus points for its heated floors, while the ultimate beachfront view at Beachcomber (949.376.6900, thebeachcombercafe.com) brings us just steps from the sand. Even without water, Gulfstream (949. 718.0188) has us headed straight for the fire pits and beach chairs. And though it’s not technically a patio, with the breezy windows wide open, Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine (949.387.8887, andreisrestaurant.com) makes us feel like we’re sipping freshly muddled cocktails in the sunshine.<br /> <br /> Gourmet Guru<br /> <br /> Foie gras and pork belly? They, we like to indulge, but balance is key to a healthy lifestyle. Two mega restaurant enterprises are bringing good-for-you options at our fave shopping destinations this year. Seasons 52 (seasons52.Com) opens late fall at South Coast Plaza. The seasonally inspired chain resto encourages diners to have their cake and eat it, too, with indulgent mini desserts and custom flatbreads. And in late summer, Fashion Island welcomes True Food Kitchen ( foxrc.com), a collabo with health guru Dr. Andrew Weil. Of course, everything is fresh, natural, sustainable, and hormone free, and True Food exclusively serves Olivello juice. According to Dr.Weil, this extract from sea buckthorn berries is a magic potion of antioxidants and protective phytonutrients. Has Fashion Island found the fountain of youth?<br /> <br /> Ritz Redux Ah, the Ritz Egg! Who doesn’t love it? An eggshell filled with creamy, delicately scrambled eggs and mild salmon, topped with a dollop of caviar and served with an ice-cold shot of Stoli. Sure, there are more adventurous dishes on O.C. menus. But when you’ve got a post-charity event buzz on due to Stretch’s stiff pours and the bar burgers are still an hour away, nothing satisfies like this classic dish. Order one in the bar, and watch as your fellow patrons follow your wise lead.<br /> <br /> That’s Italian!<br /> <br /> We yearn for Pizzeria Ortica’s pasta (714.445.4900, pizzeriaortica.com), can’t wait to try Il Barone (949.955.2755, ilbaroneristorante.com), wish Cucina Alessa weren’t so far up PCH (949.645.2148, cucinaalessa. Com) and have high hopes that Andrea at the Resort at Pelican Hill (949.467.6800, pelicanhill.com) will eventually find itself on top. Meanwhile, our go-to Italian spot is also one of O. C.’s oldest: Polina’s Salerno (949. 497.2600) in Laguna. Sure, it’s old-school—it’s a fave of everyone’s father we know—but what’s not to love about Italian comfort food, an attentive staff and a surprisingly eclectic crowd?<br /> <br /> Alliterative laguna When racking our mental restaurant directory for a perfect Laguna Beach meal, Salerno is just the start—we can go weeks without getting out of the ‘S’ category. There’s local sushi fave San Shi Go (949.494.1551), the healthy, sustainable Mexican served out of the hole-in-the-wall La Sirena Grill (949.497.8226), and plenty of special-occasion spots, too. Sorrento Grille & Martini Bar (949.494.8686) offers a buzzy scene and tasty, ocean-appropriate fare; Splashes at Surf and Sand (949.376.2779) launches new executive chef Jeff Armstrong’s Mediterraneaninspired menu this month; and Sapphire (949.715.9888) owner/ chef Azmin Ghahreman always dishes out spreads worthy of royalty. And an ‘S’ list wouldn’t be complete without the Montage’s Studio (949.715.6420)—and exec chef Craig Strong.<br /> <br /> Moderne Marvel<br /> <br /> You can tell when someone doesn't quite get O. C. when they say that Marché Moderne is a great restaurant, "even if it's in a ma*#" (we never use the "m" word!). The point is, the best bistro in Socal is made better for its penthouse location in South Coast Plaza, the shopping resort that everyone knows is ground zero for glamour. The high-fashion ladies, the Euro retail execs, the cute shopboys and -girls in for a bite... it's all that action that gives MM its buzz. Oh, and the supremely fine food from chefs/owners Amelia and Florent, of course!<br /> <br /> IslAND OASIS<br /> <br /> It’s hard to understand how a resort restaurant in a hotel towering over Newport could be overlooked, but The Island Hotel’s Palm Terrace too often is. And that’s a shame, because chefs Bill Bracken and David Man are tremendously talented, turning out some of the best cuisine in the county. From scallops brought out on a sizzling salt block and then sauced tableside to s’more tacos with marshmallows seared by the server, this restaurant keeps its staff on the run. And that includes Bracken, who is training for the Chicago Marathon! 866.554.4619, islandhotel.com.<br /> <br /> Camp Tramp Old Vine Café, tucked away in The Camp, always offers a delectable escape, and now chef/ co-owner Mark McDonald is presenting his foodie followers with the ultimate gourmand getaway. In January, Old Vine is hosting a 10-day, all-out epicurean excursion to South Italy (Calabria and Sicily), where elaborate meals, hands-on lessons, working farm visits and superb wine tastings are tailored to tickle the most sophisticated palates— guided by masters at each stop, natch. Oldvinecafe.com. <br /> <br /> Such a Jerk Nine-Ten’s Jason Knibb is often hailed as the best chef in San Diego (though we might go with Addison’s William Bradley). Knibb’s dish that’s worth-thedrive- to-La Jolla is Jamaican jerk pork belly with plantains and spicy jellies. Fat hasn’t been put to such good use since Chris Farley did his Chippendales dance on Saturday Night Live. 858. 964.5400, nine-ten.com. <br /> <br /> Wild Things Guess which O.C. restaurant has panko-crusted alligator tail risotto with sautéed asparagus and black truffle sauce topped with Parmigiano Reggiano on its menu? If you know how much Yvon Goetz loves good game—elk, buffalo, ostrich, wild boar, venison, antelope—you might have guessed Te Winery. And don’t forget the foie gras. It’s OK, he’s French! 714.258.7600, thewineryrestaurant.net. <br /> <br /> Tour de O.C. Are restaurant weeks over, or is it just us? Overdone, maybe— because we love ourselves a marketing campaign! Speaking of which, Riviera’s Cocktail Tour is upcoming, so get your drink on and choose a fave at these 10 O.C. hot spots during July and August: Andrei’s; AnQi; Charlie Palmer; The Coliseum Grill at Resort at Pelican Hill; House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer; Mesa; Phans55; Ritz Restaurant and Garden; Taps Fish House; and Te Catch.<br /> <br /> Hello, Neighbor Mozambique deserves better! The Laguna Beach City Council first granted then pulled permit approval for the PCH-adjacent restaurant to serve food until midnight to locals and resort hotel guests. Why, the very idea! Owner Ivan Spiers has been as supportive of the local community as any restaurateur we know, constantly hosting fundraisers, especially for surf- and ocean-related causes. We can be as NIMBY as the next guy when it comes to noise at night, but if neighbors want complete silence, they can move to Irvine. 949. 715.7777, mozambiqueoc.com.<br /> <br /> BEST CHEf<br /> <br /> Golden! Alan Greeley was cooking locavore before it was a word. He is O.C.’s creative culinary king. Let Alan have his way with you at a 10-course, wine-paired Golden Truffle lunch, and you’ll agree. 949. 645.9858, goldentruffle.com.<br /> <br /> By the Numbers Ritz-Carlton swapped its 162’ restaurant for the much cooler Raya (949.240.2000), and Laguna’s iconic 5’ may close, but O.C. still has plenty of numerology-inspired spots. We never tire of 21 Oceanfront’s (949. 673.2100) romantic mood, and French 75 (949.494.8444) in Laguna Beach is an institution. Jenny Ross’ 118 Degrees (714.754.0718)—the highest temp anything is cooked—is still at the forefront of the raw food movement. We love the Goodells’ H.B. burger joint, 25 Degrees (714.960.2525)—Newport next, please?—and our fave sushi spot is Miki’s 242 Cafe Fusion Sushi (949.494.2444, fusionart.us) in Laguna. Phans55 (949. 724.1236) makes fine Vietnamese pho, while Laguna’s 230 Forest Avenue (949. 494.2545) and 320 Main in Seal Beach (562.799.6246) keep it simple with the address as the name. And to be numerically adventurous we visit 50 Forks 714. 429.0918), which is a constantly changing teaching kitchen at the Art Institute in Santa Ana. Sometimes good dining is all in the numbers!<br /> <br /> GranD CanyOn!<br /> <br /> Though it’s off the beaten path, chef Rich Mead’s (of Sage and formerly of recently shuttered Sage on the Coast) newest venture has us headed to Anaheim Hills. Canyon boasts a welcoming wine wall, beautiful dining room, sound-enhanced booths (so conversations are kept at a reasonable level) and Mead’s delicious creations. There are sure-shot steaks and burgers, but Mead’s talent shines on the ethnic fusion. Try the filet mignon in a cheese- and vegetable-stuffed chile relleno or the panko-crusted halibut with Asian vegetables and saimin noodles in soy and wasabi broth.<br /> <br /> Oh, Antonio!<br /> <br /> Back in the day restaurateurs tended to be a slovenly bunch, but in the ’80s and ’90s a new breed of Armani-clad entrepreneurs made the scene, led by Antonio Cagnolo. His charming Old World resto Antonello in South Coast Village (714.751.7153) has served up inspired, authentic dishes for three decades (with the help of Cagnolo’s mother, Mama Pina), and longtime O.C.-ers remember him as one of the partners that brought the celebfriendly (though food-deficient) Planet Hollywood here. Antonio’s power-dining prowess reaches beyond Antonello—his Quattro Café, Nello Cucina and Antonello Espresso Bar in South Coast Plaza draw a cult following of Euros and stylish locals.<br /> <br /> Rule Brittania For English ex-pats in O.C., culinary Britophilia can be found. Enjoy a matchless Sunday roast at CdM’s Five Crowns (949. 760.0331), with the best Yorkshire puddings outside of, well, Yorkshire. On weekends, Crow Bar and Kitchen (949.675.0070) serves a gourmet version of the full English breakfast (supply your own Lambert & Butler cigarette ash for that true “East End” flavor), while Fullerton’s Ye Olde Ship (714.871.7447) is your port o’ call for a more than passable impression of a genuinely English curry. Finally, Gulliver’s<br /> (949. 833.8411) in Irvine remains a red meat and creamed corn colossus; just accord the serving wenches the 18th-century etiquette and respect to which they’re accustomed. God save the Queen!<br /> <br /> All-Star Stop Not all our fave openings are fine dining spots: The Catch recently relocated to a spot across from Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Not only do the owners, the Manzella family, take pride in what they do (it shows in the service, housebrewed beer and decadent, morethan- just-a-sports-bar fare), but they’ve made their mod, spacious stop the place to watch games, congregate for lengthy happy hours, and spot hot baseball bigwigs. We know where we’ll be when MLB’s All-Star game rolls through Anaheim this month! 714. 935.0101, catchanaheim.com.<br /> <br /> Bottomless Sundays Charlie Palmer The DIY Bloody Mary brunch ($35) includes appetizer, entrée and unlimited access to the custom Bloody Mary bar with all the components, including houseblended gazpacho juice, hearts of romaine stuffed with apple-smoked bacon and crispy pork rinds. 714.352.2525, charliepalmer.com. Palm Terrace Pool Party and BBQ Summer’s perfect pool party comes courtesy of the Island Hotel.<br /> <br /> Sip powerful punch poolside and then head to the patio for a buffet of chilled shrimp and cucumber salad, slow-braised and grilled short ribs, yogurt-spiced chicken kebabs and pulled pork sliders ($34 adults, $12 children). 949. 759.0808, theislandhotel.com. Las Brisas Don’t let the tourists scare you away. Brunch ($33) includes bottomless Champagne and a threecourse Mexican menu. 949.497.5434, lasbrisaslagunabeach.com. Scott’s Sunday brunch features a choice of entrées and you can add bottomless beer or bubbly for $15. 714.979.2400, scottsrestaurantandbar.Com.<br /> <br /> Sage Rich Mead’s brunch is to die for with à la carte menu items ($5-$19) including spicy ahi spring rolls; salmon hash and eggs; and bananas foster Kings Hawaiian French toast. Add all the Champagne you want for $10. 949. 718.9650, sagerestaurant.com.<br /> <br /> Breakfast of Champs It’s chilaquiles that we crave, and the best are served up at Sapphire (949. 715.9888, sapphirellc.com) in Laguna Beach. Get this for genius: It’s a combo of huevos rancheros and chilaquiles! Ask for some of chef Azmin’s home-made hot sauces (or the super fiery XO sauce if you dare!), and dig in. It’s neck-in-neck with the gorgeous plate of chilaquiles served at the wonderfully odd little spot Anepalco’s Cafe (714.771.2333, anepalcoscafe.com) in Orange.<br /> <br /> Want Adds With the opening of Raya, a longstanding wish-list item of ours got checked off, but here are other restaurants and culinary concepts we’d love to see: fast-casual, healthy fare around South Coast Metro. The OCPAC-adjacent Patina’s Market Café closed, and prior to that we lost the greenish gourmet to-go spot where David Meyers was going to open his Comme Ça French bistro.<br /> <br /> For now we’ll make do with the Panera opening on Sunflower. And would it really kill someone to open a few more “worth the drive” spots in downtown Santa Ana? How about a pop-up spot, where we rotate chefs from Cuba, Mexico City and... Paris!<br /> <br /> Shh! What We Hear Culinary rumors and hints: Mozza isn’t coming; L.A.’s amazing Umami Burger may be, if it wins out over Stout; Lido’s Bear Flag Fish is looking at Te Lab; and Hidden Kitchen will soon be in plain view–whew!<br /> <br />