Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taking the Plunge at DivBar - CLOSED

2601 W. Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663

It's another week in the early part of the year, and another city is hosting a restaurant week. This time it is a city where I lived for over ten years, Newport Beach. Newport not only holds special memories for me, but the city also has some of my favorite restaurants located within its boundaries. So, it was no big surprise that we would make a special effort to try as many restaurants as we could during this week long culinary event. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with our busy schedules, we only had time to hit one of the restaurants on our list, so it was a done deal that we would be heading to DivBar for our only Newport Beach Restaurant Week experience.

DivBar is located in the old Josh Slocum's location on PCH. In fact they still have the Josh Slocum's sign on their fence by the valet stand. Josh Slocum's is of course the restaurant that Dennis Rodman famously owned about ten years ago. This is not the only reference to a long gone Newport restaurant, there is also an Arches sign up by the bar. I kind of liked the slight nod to local restaurants that have since met their doom.

Now back to the present though. DivBar opened their doors in the middle of last year. They are owned by Jeff Reuter, of 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront fame. We have not been able to try that restaurant yet, but have heard some good things, and it is definitely on our list of places to go. DivBar kind of had a rocky start to its business, much like lots of other restaurants. They opened in early July last year, and on-line there were many people who were complaining on Yelp about their service, food, and anything else they could think of. This must have just been early growing pains though, because lately almost all of their reviews have been glowing, and then the cherry on top must have been this review from Brad A Johnson, the award winning food journalist at the Orange County Register, who had lots of nice things to say about DivBar here.

We got to DivBar on a very busy Saturday night in Newport. The parking here is valet, but it is probably worth the hassle due to the lack of parking in this Mariners Mile section of Newport. They have definitely made some improvements to this restaurant since it was Josh Slocum's. There is a nice patio out front that has maybe six tables, the inside is decorated with lots of stuff on the walls, and they have a bar placed right in the middle of the restaurant that dominates the space. The noise level in this restaurant is pretty loud, while the restaurant lighting is on the dark side. I mention this so you do not judge my pictures too harshly.

We are seated right next to the bar, and are promptly welcomed by the now former Consultant of DivBar, Bill Bracken. Bill was in charge of setting up the kitchen at DivBar, after very successful stints at the Island Hotel in Newport and The Peninsula in swanky Beverly Hills. Bill was very personable, we talked barbecue and he seemed very excited that we were here. He was eager to show off DivBar's three course $20 restaurant week menu, so let's get to the real reason we are here, the food.

Not part of the restaurant week menu, Bill sent this appetizer out for us to try. The BB's Original Mac ($8.95) came out in a cast iron skillet that contained macaroni combined with Taleggio cheese, crushed truffles, and Parmesan tuile. I will admit that I had to look up what tuile is when I got home. It is a thin crisp of cheese, and in this case the cheese used was Parmesan. This mac and cheese was pretty rich, but straddled the line of not being too rich. It was not overly cheesy, but the truffle was a good substitute for the absence of cheese. I would sum this mac and cheese up by calling it simple, but with a little kick.

Also not on the restaurant week menu, but we had to order the Kaylie's DivBar Artichoke Dip. This dip was also served in a skillet, along with a side of Frito's. This was a pretty smooth artichoke dip. No big pieces of artichoke were found here. If you are sensitive to salt, this dip might not be for you. It did have a nice spice, and the Frito's were a nice touch here. We liked this appetizer and would get this again on future visits.

Okay, two items in and we finally will start with the $20 Restaurant Week dinner. The first course was a Sampling of DivBar Appetizers for us to share. This sampler platter came with three different appetizers. The DivBar Fries with Chipotle Aioli, Ahi Tuna Tartar, and a Crispy Calamari. The fries were cut into wedges, which were fried perfectly. The chipotle aioli was very good, but these fries needed some more of it, or maybe it should have been put on the side instead of on top of the fries. Katie is no fan of calamari, so I got all of this squid to myself. This calamari was buttermilk soaked, then quick fried and finished with a chili lime sauce. The breading was not too heavy, the calamari was pretty fresh, and the chili lime sauce really hit the spot here. Very good, and they definitely made this calamari their own. I am not too much of a tuna tartar guy, but this one was not too bad. It was served oddly enough with tortilla chips, but it was very fresh and almost had a tuna salad feel to it. Not something I would probably order again, but I was glad I got a chance to try it.

So naturally we are in a restaurant that features barbecue, and Katie opts to get a fish dish. The fish offering on the restaurant week menu was a Potato Crusted Black Cod. The fish was paired with an orange reduction and fresh dill oil. It also had shredded veggies hiding underneath the fish. Katie felt that the cod here could not stand on its own. The fish in her opinion was tender, but was not remarkable in any other way. She liked the citrus and dill sauces that came with this, because she felt these were more of a necessity than just a side condiment. The vegetables were fresh, but more of an afterthought.

I was not going to come to DivBar and not try their barbecue, so I went with their Smoked Meat Combination. This combo included smoked brisket and baby back ribs. Both meats were very good. The smokiness of the meat was very evident, so if you are not partial to that, these would not be the meats for you. I do like the smokiness, and it was very apparent that they actually do smoke their meats for at least 12 to 18 hours before serving. The meats were both very tender, and full of smoky flavor. The sauce here was good and subtle. It allowed you to still taste the meat. I would definitely come back here for barbecue. This plate also came with Asian Slaw and a hunk of Jalapeno Corn Bread. I enjoyed the corn bread, but wish that it came with some butter. The slaw was fresh, but I am not sure what made it Asian. It was still a decent side dish though.

It seems like almost every restaurant we have been to lately has had a skillet cookie dessert. DivBar was no exception. Here they call it the Kast Iron Kookie. This skillet was not very big, maybe six inches, but the cookie was cooked a little longer than other skillet cookies I have had in the past. It made for a crunchier cookie, which I liked. Of course there is never enough ice cream on these desserts for us. Both Katie and I ended up fighting over the forkfuls of ice cream. It almost got heated, but cooler heads prevailed.

As far as restaurant week menus go, this one was a winner. Both Katie and I left feeling very full, and at only $20 this was practically a steal, and a great way to try a bunch of items at a restaurant we have never been to. This visit really piqued our interest in returning to DivBar. They not only have barbecue, but they have pizzas, chicken and burgers that grabbed our attention. The vibe here is a little on the cool Newport Beach kind of scene. Lots of good looking people in front of the bar and behind it. The service was very good for us on this night. Our waitress really made sure we were taken care of, which can sometimes be tricky when you are seated in the bar area of a restaurant. One last thing, it is not too late for you to experience this restaurant week menu for yourself. Starting on Sunday, February 24th til March 2nd, DivBar will be featuring this same restaurant menu for the upcoming Orange County Restaurant Week. A great deal, so there is no excuse not to go.

Out of five worms, (in honor of Dennis Rodman, since he used to own the restaurant in this same location, and that was his nickname during his NBA career), five being best to zero being worst, DivBar gets 3 worms.

For more information about DivBar, click here:

DivBar on Urbanspoon

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