Paul Martin's American Grill
31 Fortune Dr. Ste. 302
Irvine, CA 92618
As I get older I care less and less about birthdays. At a certain age, a person is just excited to make it to another year. I'm of the opinion that once you reach 21, you can do anything that any other adult can do, so blowing out another candle is no big deal. This year Katie's parents told me that they would take me out to dinner for my birthday. Of course life gets in the way, so our dinner got pushed farther and farther away from my birthday which was in June. It was now October, and out of the blue Katie's parents wanted me to pick a place, and we would go the next day. I thought about it for about an hour or two, and then it hit me where we must go. So I had Katie call them up, and we made plans to meet up at Paul Martin's American Grill.
We had been to Paul Martin's once before for a media event highlighting their happy hour and cocktails. At that event, I made a mental note to make it back to try their dinner menu. Paul Martin's comes to us from Brian Bennett and Paul Fleming, who is pretty much a restaurant icon. He is the man behind Fleming's, P.F. Chang's, and Pei Wei. This Paul Martin's concept was started because both men wanted to open a restaurant that serves items from scratch, with high quality ingredients, prepared simply, and at an affordable price. They actually do make all of their stuff here, with the exception of the bread. Paul Martin's started where these guys live, in Roseville, and now they have four others, including this Irvine location. Two more are on the way, so keep a lookout if you are in Scottsdale or Mountain View.
We got to the Irvine Spectrum at about 6:30 on a Saturday night. Predictably, this shopping center was buzzing with activity. On our walk from the car we noticed a throng of people waiting at the Cheesecake Factory, a crowd out the door at P.F. Chang's, and lots of people outside of Yard House staring at the pagers, waiting for their tables to be ready. Paul Martin's was busy, but we had no problem getting a table right away.
I would describe Paul Martin's as a sleek restaurant. They have a large display of their wines that they offer. They apparently have a wine list that's over 100 bottles deep, and most of those are available by the glass. The inside of the restaurant was pretty quiet and dark, but still inviting. The staff are just what you would expect at a more upscale South OC restaurant, young and good looking. We checked out the seasonal driven menu, made our selections, and waited for our food, while enjoying our great conversation. Let's see how everything turned out for us.
As is the usual custom when we eat out with Katie's parents, we always start with an appetizer or two. This time we only had one, because we were saving room for our dinners which were on the way. The Spinach Dip ($14) immediately piqued my interest. This spinach dip was made up of white cheddar, Bloomsdale spinach, and sun dried tomatoes. This was a pretty unique take on a spinach dip. It was a little on the runny side, the spinach could have been chopped up a little more, and it was a little less obtrusive flavor wise than others we have had. Definitely more subdued, and not as heavy as your typical spinach dip. This came with more than enough toasted bread to dip with. I always hate when you do not have enough bread for your dip, but that was not the case here. Next time we will try the Salt and Pepper Prawns, or the Grilled Artichoke.
Both Katie and I ordered salads, and she went with the White Bean and Arugula Salad ($7) which is listed under the sides area of the menu. Katie thought the white beans were pretty fresh in this, but there was a lot of arugula used here, and it kind of overwhelmed. Joining the mound of arugula was some red onions and goat cheese, which provided some relief from the arugula overload. I was pretty impressed with the portion size of this side salad. Katie had a tough time finishing all of this.
I am trying to add some diversity to my dining experience, so I decided to forgo my usual salad choice, which is usually a Caesar. This time I ordered the Butter Lettuce and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Salad ($10). This salad came with the aforementioned butter lettuce and blue cheese, candied walnuts, apples, and a maple vinaigrette dressing. This salad had some good things going for it. I liked the textures, the produce was fresh, and the blue cheese added a nice burst of flavor. I did not really get a lot from the dressing though. It was dressed a little too lightly for me, and I had a hard time detecting any hint of maple here.
Entree time, and we'll do ladies first. Katie's mom, Lynn selected the Brick Chicken ($21). I really liked the way this came to the table. A very classic looking plate, that just conveyed comfort food. This free range chicken was served with mashed potatoes and an herb jus. Lynn was gracious enough to offer me a few bites of this, and the chicken was pretty tender, with a nice subtle flavor. Lynn cleverly described this plate as a meal that wrapped your insides like a blanket. Very good description Lynn. This portion size was just enough for Lynn.
I was a little taken aback by Katie's choice on this evening. She opted for the Fish Tacos ($15). The menu here did not mention what kind of fish would be used in these tacos, so Katie was a little surprised when these hit the table with salmon being the fish inside the flour tortilla. The salmon was cooked nicely here, and joining it in the tacos was a chili aioli, blistered tomatoes, and arugula. Katie felt this heart healthy dish was missing a big pop of flavor, and she also missed the inclusion of cheese on these tacos.
After looking at the menu, I knew Katie's Dad, Dennis would either get a bowl of soup, or a sandwich. He got the former, when this New York French Dip ($18) came out of the kitchen for him. This sandwich came on a roll, with a cream horseradish and au jus. Dennis was generally pleased with this sandwich. He liked the freshness of the bread, and the beef was sliced thinly and very tender. This came with a choice of side, and Dennis got the House Fries, which he quickly made disappear. Dennis eats at Paul Martin's often, and about half of the time this is what he gets.
It was a cooler than average night at the Spectrum, so the Braised Short Rib ($24) quickly caught my attention. This short rib was a little inconsistent. Some bites were pretty tender, just like you would expect, while others were a little on the tougher side. I want my short rib to be the consistency of a tender pot roast, and this had it in parts. I would have liked more of the horseradish cream and beef au jus served with this, to help enhance the short ribs natural flavor. The mashed potatoes served with this were also kind of inconsistent. Some bites were pretty smooth, and others had texture issues. Not bad mashed potatoes flavor wise, but I expected just a little more out of them.
We went a little crazy with the desserts at Paul Martin's, as we got three of them to try. The first of which was this Devil's Food Cake ($9). A three layered cake, with ganache made from cordillera chocolate, and garnished with cherries and whipped cream. This shocked me with its light and smooth chocolate flavor. The chocolate did not overwhelm, and the icing had just the right amount of sweetness to it. One of the best chocolate desserts we have had in awhile.
This Banana Cream Pie ($9) was probably our least favorite of the trio that we tried. The menu claimed that this had layers of vanilla bean pastry cream, chocolate, bananas, and fresh whipped cream. We could see the bananas and vanilla cream, but the whipped cream totally took over this pie. The chocolate was as absent as my sister during senior year in high school. Just don't tell her I wrote that.
The last of our dessert trifecta was our tables favorite, the Apple Cinnamon Crisp ($9). The apples are covered with a crunchy topping of oats, brown sugar and walnuts, then topped with a scoop of ice cream with a caramel drizzle. This had lots of apples, I liked the crumb topping a lot, but this did need more ice cream for the four of us. We were spoon fighting over the ice cream on this.
We did have some misses with our dinner at Paul Martin's, but for the most part the misses were pretty minor, and everything was still pretty good. Keep in mind that this is a seasonal driven menu, so theses items may not be available during your visit. The menu here is not crazy large, but there is enough diversity on it, that most people will be able to find something to their liking here. They have a few chef specials during the week that are worth noting. A 3 course fried chicken dinner for $20 on Tuesdays, a 3 course prime rib dinner for $25 on Sundays, and a prix fixe brunch on the weekends for $11. We are looking forward to coming back and trying these specials in the future. Service during our visit was great. When our waiter was not around, the busboys were checking on us, and everyone we encountered from the hostess's to the managers were very nice. Now that we celebrated my birthday six months late, it just means I will get my next birthday dinner that much quicker. Already looking forward to it.
Out of five candles, (because Paul Martin's started in Roseville, also the birthplace of Molly Ringwald, whose breakout hit was Sixteen Candles), five being best to zero being worst, Paul Martin's American Grill gets 3 candles.
For more information about Paul Martin's American Grill, go to their web site here: http://paulmartinsamericangrill.com/