Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cleared for a Great Meal at Nieuport 17? - CLOSED

Nieuport 17
13051 Newport Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780

When I think about the restaurant Nieuport 17, two things come to mind. This was a restaurant that my parents frequented back in the seventies and eighties, and we always had to stay home and be babysat while they ate here. We liked all of our babysitters, so this is not a bad memory. My other recollection about this restaurant is a little later in life. I was interning at my Dad's work in Santa Ana at the age of sixteen. I had won a radio contest, and had to go to Hollywood to see if I had won the grand prize of $86,000. A lot of money for 1986. I had made the promise of buying my coworkers lunch at Nieuport 17 if I won the grand prize. Needless to say, I did not win the prize, and it took me nearly 27 years to make it, but I finally got the chance to come to Nieuport 17.

Back in the old days, Nieuport 17 was located on 17th Street in Santa Ana. That's not how it got its name though. It is named after a single seat, French fighter plane used in WWI. Original owner of this restaurant, former naval aviator Bill Bettis, realized his dream of opening a restaurant with an aviation theme. Along with  authentic artifacts and pictures spotlighting the glory days of flight, Nieuport 17 has also hosted some of the greats of aviation, including the flying groups the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels.

Nieuport 17 has been around forever in restaurant years, but they just recently hired a new chef to help breath some new life into this four decades old restaurant. Award winning chef, Greg Moro, formerly of Laguna Beach's French 75 took over the helm of this venerable restaurant in February of this year. With new owner, Cameron Irons, both he and Chef Greg are trying to slowly add new items to the menu, while trying not to anger the longtime regulars that have become accustomed to their favorites. A very delicate balance I am sure.

We had made a long overdue double dinner date with our good friends Erven and Rocio on a recent Sunday night. We met them in the Barnstorm bar area for a quick drink before dinner. In the bar area they feature live music every night. Moving to the dining room, the feel of this place kind of reminded me of the now departed Mr. Stox. This restaurant definitely draws an older crowd. The restaurant is a little on the quiet side, even with a good number of the tables full. I was good and hungry when we got here, so I was more than ready to eat. Let's see if we would be flying high after this meal or still stuck at the gate.

Starting out our visit to Nieuport 17 was the bread basket. The bread served here was toasted and it came buttered with some herbs on top of it. It had a nice crunch and went well with the sun dried tomato and olive oil tapenade. I liked this version of tapenade better than the olive versions I have had previously. It was a very nice twist.

We must have been really hungry, because we started out with three appetizers. The first of which was the Escargot ($18). This was not like any escargot that I have had before. I have always had it the more traditional way, with lots of garlic and butter. Here they use garlic parsley butter and a mirepoix (celery, carrots, and onions cut very finely), to create this greener hued escargot dish. I actually liked this take on escargot. Sometimes when it is just butter and garlic, you can not taste the escargot. With this variation, the meatiness of the escargot was present, surrounded by the mellower flavors that did not overpower. Well executed, but more escargot would have been favorable.

Sauteed Button Mushrooms ($18) were out next for us. Sorry I did not snap a picture of the serving size, but there were a fair amount on the serving plate. These mushrooms were paired with a Cabernet jus. These really failed to impress me. They were cooked fine, the meatiness of the mushroom was evident, but the Cabernet jus was very subtle and kind of made these boring in my opinion. I would pass on these next time.

Here's two shots of Rocio's appetizer selection, the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($20). She was very generous and let me have one of these huge shrimp. The shrimp cocktail at Nieuport 17 is made with avocado and escadrille sauce. Not sure what escadrille sauce is, and when I googled it, nothing came up. The sauce was brownish in color, very tart, with maybe a horseradish tinge to it. I liked this little twist on shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were very fresh, and this is something I could see myself getting here next time.

With the appetizers disappearing so quickly, it was now time for soups and salads. Up first was Katie's choice, the Nieuport 17 House Salad ($8). This very basic salad was made up of romaine and iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and garlic croutons. Kate very much enjoyed this salad calling it, "delicious, with fresh lettuce, and crunchy croutons". Guess she is easy to please after all.

Erven could not resit trying the French Onion Soup ($11) at Nieuport 17. He felt this was a better than average onion soup. The top of the soup held a special surprise for Erven. It contained a thin garlic crostini and bruleed Gruyere cheese. He could not stop talking about the thin layer of bread just underneath the cheese. The onion was in very thin pieces and the soup was not too salty in Erven's opinion. He would definitely get this soup again.

I almost always get a Caesar salad when I go out, but I was branching out at Nieuport 17 with an Iceberg Wedge Salad ($11). This traditional wedge was topped with bacon, red onion, tomatoes and blue cheese crumbles and dressing. I like the sharp flavors of wedge salads. This one was pretty good, but it needed more of their house made blue cheese dressing. The dressing was very thick, with a good taste to it, but they needed more of it to help even things out here.

It was Sunday when we visited Nieuport 17, and on Sundays they feature a Southern Fried Chicken Dinner ($30). Katie heard about this special when we sat down and could not resist it. This dinner comes not only with the above plate, but also soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert. The fried chicken was pretty good here. It really reminded me of Mrs. Knotts fried chicken in Buena Park. The chicken was moist, with good breading, and was not crazy greasy. The green beans were very fresh, but the mashed potatoes kind of got lost here. The texture was right, but they kind of lacked any pop of flavor from either the potatoes or the gravy. Katie did like the biscuits that came with this dinner.

Erven did not take too long to decide what to have for dinner. The Sauteed Scallops and Jumbo Prawns were his quick choice. The seafood was joined on the plate by a Bearnaise and caramelized onion beurre blanc sauce, along with charred asparagus. Erven said this plate could best be described as, "mild". He liked the way that the prawns were cooked, but the scallops were a little on the gritty side. The mildness came from the sauces that were a little runny. The asparagus was a nice compliment to the seafood.

Erven's beautiful wife, Rocio went with the Peppercorn Black Angus Boneless New York Strip Steak ($36).  This steak was paired with a green peppercorn sauce. Although this was spiced with peppercorns, they did not overtake the taste of the meat. The steak was cooked a very nice medium rare, like Rocio had requested. This steak came with baked potato and asparagus. Much like her husband, she thought the asparagus was pretty good.

Last but not least was my dinner for the evening, the Filet Mignon Fungi ($39). I had ordered another Filet dish, but this is the one that came out instead. Instead of making a big deal about it, I decided to try this one. This ten ounce charbroiled filet came with an abundance of mushroom demi-glace. The steak was pretty tender, and cooked medium rare just as requested. The mushroom demi-glace kind of took over this plate, but it was not a deal breaker here. This steak came with Dijon mashed potatoes and roasted kale sprouts. The mashed potatoes texture was spot on, but the Dijon was undetectable. The roasted kale sprouts had a nice texture and flavor to match. I believe this was my first time having roasted kale, and after this, it will not be my last.

So what to think of Nieuport 17? Just walking in the door, sitting in the dining room and looking at the menu, you can definitely tell that this restaurant has been around for awhile. I kind of got the feeling that things are about to change for this restaurant. New chef and new twists on the menu can not be far behind. Some changes have already occurred, but I sense that more might be on the way. For now the menu is very safe. A few chances are taken, but all of the traditional favorites are here. It is evident that Chef Moro knows his way around a kitchen, as everything was prepared well. We all liked our food, but nothing wowed us enough to make us want to return again and again. Of course that is not a bad thing, Nieuport 17 is more of a special occasion restaurant, than a place you would eat weekly. I did feel that the prices were on the high side for the serving sizes. The service on this night was very good. The waiters here are of the older variety, but our waiter Art really was a first rate server. He even had no trouble dealing with my good buddy Erven, who can sometimes be a handful. I'm glad I finally made it to this iconic OC restaurant, and look forward to seeing what the future holds in store for them.

Out of five baggage carousels, (due to the airplane theme here), five being best to zero being worst, Nieuport 17 gets 3 baggage carousels.

To find out more information about Nieuport 17, click here:

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