Whole Foods/Back Bay Tavern
415 Newport Center Dr.
Newport Beach, CA 92660
For those of you that do not know me, I have had the same day job for the past 24 years. Yes, I have worked at my high school job for over two decades. I swear it was supposed to only be a summer job! Anyways, I work in a traditional grocery store, so when we got invited to come see the new Whole Foods Market at Fashion Island, I had some mixed emotions. Of course I had just spent eight hours in a grocery store working, and the last thing I wanted to do was go to another grocery store, but I did want to see the way that Whole Foods did things. To be perfectly honest, Whole Foods was way more than a grocery store, and at times during our visit, I forgot I was in a grocery store.
So of course I say that it was not like we were in a grocery store, but I start out with some pretty standard looking pictures of grocery store shelves. When we were at Whole Foods they were two days away from opening, so they were still busy filling the shelves. I am a dairy guy, so I was pretty impressed with the wide variety yogurts, cheeses, and deli meats. The wine selection was pretty enormous as well. The produce section was only half full when we were here, but the bright citrus really caught our eye.
The first thing that sets this Whole Foods in Newport Beach apart is the Tea Hive in the front of the store. What's the Tea Hive you ask? It is a brand new fusion cafe and tea bar that is making its debut at this Whole Foods. We were lucky enough to be able to sample all of their teas straight from the martini shakers of the "Tea Tenders". I am not too into overly sweet teas, I never even add sugar to tea. Most of these were not overly sweet. My favorites included the Ginger Citron, which was made with oolong tea, ginger and lime, and the Pomegranate Lemonade, which featured green tea, along with pomegranate and a tart lemonade. This one was fruity without being crazy sweet, and the finish was nice. Not pictured, but the Tea Hive also is serving bowls and wraps for a very respectable $9 and $7 respectively. Before 10:30 AM they are serving a Chai Oatmeal and an interesting sounding Acai Crunch Cup. Layered Acai, Greek yogurt, fruit and granola is garnished with your choice of honey or agave. A very healthy way to start the day fro sure.
The aspect of this Whole Foods that I was most looking forward to seeing was the Back Bay Tavern, which is kind of tucked away in the back right corner of the store. It kind of feels like a secret spot that only real insiders know about. Walking into the Back Bay Tavern I felt like I was transported 3,000 miles away to a bar on the East Coast. Brick walls, wood beams and tables, and a mahogany bar that was originally located in Harlem, all lend to right coast kind of vibe here. Back Bay Tavern has a rotating selection of 24 craft beers on tap, along with wines and spirits. They also feature special cocktails that are made from all organic ingredients. The draft beer prices were all very reasonable, in the $6 to $8 range. After ordering my Ballast Point Yellowtail Ale, I was ready to check out the food. Let's see what Executive Chef Dennis Horton came up with.
When we walked into the Back Bay Tavern we were treated to this Artisan Cheese Board ($10) and Bread Sticks on every table. I am not much into cheese boards, but this one had very mellow cheeses. I did not catch the names of all the cheeses, but they were gobbled up rather quickly. The bread sticks were a nice touch here. I have not had bread sticks in awhile. These were all flavored differently, but my favorite was the simple sesame bread stick. Went well with the cheese board.
They brought out almost all of their dishes for us to take pictures of. This trio of plates were the ones I did not get to sample. I was pleasantly surprised at the portion size of the Ginger Atlantic Salmon ($25). This pan seared Atlantic salmon was accompanied by a beet puree, salmon roe, and a green salad with a light vinaigrette. Fried Tofu is not really my thing, so I was not too concerned that I missed this, but it went quickly. The Tempura Veggies were not on the menu, but the people that had these really liked the light batter used here.
Salad time, and again I was very surprised with the sizes of these salads. Kale seems to be the hottest thing in salads right now, and the way the Mediterranean Chopped Kale Salad ($9) disappeared, it seems like the trend will continue. The SoPac Caesar ($9) was very good. Nice dressing, and the cheese was plentiful. The Kenter Canyon Herb Salad and Beet Carpaccio ($9) was not only colorful, but full of big flavor. This salad came with pistachios, crumbled blue cheese, and a champagne vinaigrette. Complex flavors, all working together to create a well crafted salad.
A few more appetizers that I tried. It would not be a tavern without Chicken Wings. These large wings had plenty of meat on them with a real mellow sauce. The House Root Chips and Dip ($4) were a real winner for me. The chips were fried perfectly, with just a touch of greasiness, but what put these over the top was the spicy chipotle dip that came out with these. I would have eaten this dip on an ice cream sundae, it was just that good. Get these on your next visit here.
True to the vibe of an east coast bar, the guys at Back Bay Tavern have Local Brew Battered Fish and Chips ($11) on the menu. Big hunks of what I thought was cod, is served alongside skinny fries on top of fake newspaper. This fish came out of the kitchen smoking hot. The breading was good, but did not detract from the fish.
Not sure who ordered this burger, but the distinctive feature was what came on this burger. The Tavern Burger ($11) may look a little on the plain side, but they put bacon jam on this one. Yes, you read that correctly, Bacon Jam. The jam was not as overpowering as it could have been, but it really added to this juicy burger. I really liked the grill marks on this burger as well. They reminded me of a backyard burger.
My meal on this night really popped! I had the Cabernet Braised Short Ribs ($23). These were your classic comfort food short ribs. Very tender, and the flavor from the Cabernet was great. The short ribs were placed over some sweet corn polenta and for added zing, this had a smoked poblano puree that really kicked up the heat index on this one a few notches. Served alongside local veggies and a tomato confit, this was a very well balanced plate. Definitely not something you would expect from inside a supermarket.
The only miss of the night for me was Katie's selection for dinner, the Bayside Club ($10). Even Screech could not have saved this one for me. Sorry, had to get my Saved By the Bell reference in there! Anyways, this sandwich had a lot of everything that I like. Chicken, triple stacked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a ciabatta roll, but I found this chicken to be a little on the dry side, and even with the bacon, it kind of left me wanting more. Katie did not have any complaints about this, but she likes her chicken more well done than myself.
The biggest hit of the night for almost everyone in attendance was the Wasabi Pepper Seared Scallops ($25). Served alongside a mushroom and asparagus saute and micro Asian greens, this plate had everyone buzzing. It all starts with the scallop for me. It was cooked to just the right doneness. The Wasabi was present but did not detract from the scallop. The veggies all worked well together to create a very good dinner.
The last meal of the night belonged to Suki, she chose the Panko Crusted Eggplant "Parmesan Fondue" ($18). This vegan dish came with white truffle laced eggplant, tomato confit, basil pesto, and cashew Parmesan "cheese". This plate did not really get much of a reaction from Suki, so I will assume that it was just okay. Not anything that I would order. I know, shocking right?
After dinner and appetizers I could barely move I was so full, but there was one more thing that the good folks from the Tea Hive brought out, Frosted Tea Lattes ($5) and Blended Tea Sorbets ($5). The lattes were some of my favorites. The Chocolate Chai, made with black tea, spiced chai, and just the right amount of chocolate and cinnamon was very decadent. The Strawberry Almond Frosted Latte was very fruity, without being overly sweet. Katie really liked the Orchard Peach Sorbet. The mint used in it really enhanced the peach and black tea. Very refreshing with the warmer weather we have been having lately.
So in the end, I was happy to go to Whole Foods Market after all. It was way more than any average supermarket. The Tea Hive and Back Bay Tavern are places that people will want to go to, even if they do not have any grocery shopping to do. The food that we tried was way better than anything we have ever had in a supermarket. We are looking forward to another visit to Whole Foods very soon.
We wanted to thank everyone at Whole Foods Market for the wonderful opportunity to tour your market before you opened. Everyone we encountered was genuinely nice, and answered all of our questions. We also wanted to thank Sara Record, and everyone at Gold PR for the invite and the opportunity to experience Whole Foods Market. You guys rock! Lastly, thanks to all of the bloggers that experienced this with us. All of you make these kind of events worth going to. Good times.
For more information on Whole Foods/Back Bay Tavern, click here: http://wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/Newport