Monday, May 9, 2016

Their Grade is In Their Name at A Restaurant

A Restaurant
3334 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Spring is a season of rebirth. Much like the leaves returning to the trees, or the birth of animals, spring is a season which represents new things. This is true in restaurants, as lots of them feature spring menus, which they hope will entice customers through their doors by refreshing their menus, and taking advantage of what this new season brings food wise. We were recently invited to experience A Restaurant's new spring menu, and what an experience it was.

For the few of you that are unaware of A Restaurant, they are located on PCH, right where it intersects with Newport Boulevard. This was the same spot where the famous Arches Restaurant operated for a ton of years, 80 of them in fact. In those 80 years, they went from roadside diner in the 40's to a menu that featured steaks, seafood, and French cuisine. The restaurant went through a name, ownership change and renovation in 2006, and struck the delicate balance of updating their menu, while not angering long time patrons, something that many older spots have tried to do, but ultimately fail at achieving. Not the case at A Restaurant.

Of course it helps to have people running this place that know the history here, and want to help preserve it. Founding Partner, McG and Operating Partner, Jordan Otterbein are longtime Newport Beach residents, who wanted to create a restaurant that felt like it always had, with its fantastic old school charm, wonderful staff, and excellent cuisine. They also struck gold by getting the very talented Jonathan Blackford as Executive Chef.

Chef Jonathan is Pittsburgh born and raised, getting his degree from the Culinary Institute of America, and then moving to OC after stints at restaurants in New York and San Diego. His Orange County resume includes the Hilton Waterfront and the now departed Kimera in Irvine. He credits the management team at A Restaurant for supporting his vision, and providing a place that challenges him to create food that he hopes his customers will react favorably to. We were very excited to see what his new spring menu had in store for us.

To be honest, I have no idea what I was drinking from the time I got here, until I left. I basically just told our bartender to bring me something at random. This was the first thing he brought me. I checked out the cocktail menu, and nothing really matched the description of this drink. I know this was rum based, and it was definitely refreshing. You could totally taste the alcohol, but it was not overwhelming. This beverage got my night off to a great start.

The first item to come out for us was this Tomato + Burrata Bruschetta ($14). For those of you that know me, you know that I'm not really into tomatoes. Yes, I'll eat salsa and red sauce, but I have a problem with the texture of whole or sliced tomatoes. I decided since we were at such a nice place, that I would be a big boy, and eat this as the chef intended. I ended up really enjoying this slice of ciabatta that was topped with heirloom tomatoes, pesto, shallots, basil, and one of the better burratas that we have had. This had a very balanced and complex feel to it. The burrata was very creamy, you get the crunch from the toasted ciabatta, the acidity from the tomatoes, and the kick from the pesto. Yes, I would have liked the tomatoes chopped a little more, but this starter has helped teach me that I can overcome my fear of the ominous red fruit, and actually enjoy it. Thanks Chef.

Definitely much more in my wheelhouse, this Crispy Suckling Pig ($15) made its way out next. A very carnitas feel to this, with its spicy guajillo pepper puree, queso fresco, cilantro, and avocado salad topping this delicious swine. I really liked the crisp edges of this, and appreciated the spicy sauce here. Kind of surprising that you can get this great Mexican inspired dish at A Restaurant, but that's just a testament to the creativity of Chef Johnathan and the support he gets from his management team.

In a night full of winning dishes, this one really stood out, and is one that I have thought about non-stop since having it. The Kentucky Fried Quail ($16), yes you read that right, quail, was the best version I have had of quail ever. The breading was a slight nod to the colonel, with a great crispness to it, and a wonderful casing for the tender meat inside. As if this well made quail was not enough, this was plated with a decadent foie gras gravy and a beautifully done truffle potato puree. Big time flavors here, that did not overpower each other. A great option for people not wanting to partake in red meat at A Restaurant.

My drink was near empty, so it was time to try another cocktail, and this time our bartender surprised me with this off the menu beverage, the Bradley. Inspired by a longtime customer, this cocktail is essentially an old fashioned, but instead of whiskey, it is rum based. A lot smoother than other old fashioned cocktails I have had, I liked this updated version much better.

Now that I was refueled with my new drink, I was ready for the next plate, which was this Spring Garlic Sausage ($14). Here Chef Jonathan threw me for a loop, because when this was presented, it kind of screamed fall to me, instead of spring, but it totally worked. The house made garlic sausage was lighter than I imagined it would be, without sacrificing flavor. It was plated with a Bavarian red cabbage, Yukon potato, mustard seeds, and one of the best onion rings you will ever have.

Like all good husbands, Chef Jonathan listened to his wife's request for something on his menu to be named after her. The result was this Kristi Salad V 3.0 ($14). This third version of this salad used baby organic spinach as a base, then included watermelon radish, avocado, shaved fennel, toasted pecan, Asian pear, and a green goddess dressing. This very fresh salad really had it going on, and Katie was caught hoarding most of this. She really enjoyed the way that all the items combined together to create this delicious salad. I enjoyed the different textures here, and how the green goddess dressing really tied everything together. Chef's wife has to be pretty excited with her namesake salad, and I'm sure it has scored him a few bonus points, which can always come in handy.

Next up was the lone seafood offering we got to try, the Wild Opah ($28). This Hawaiian fish was prepared with a splendid hollandaise sauce, tapenade, and a very good version of a dill fingerling salad, which puts your traditional potato salad to shame. The fish was mild, and cooked to a great texture, where it was not dried out, but still moist and delicious. A great dish that got me excited for other seafood items on their menu on my future visits to A Restaurant.

My biggest regret of this evening was not getting a better shot of one of the better beef dishes I have ever experienced. I was pretty much in a food coma at this point, but I make no excuses for not being able to move closer to get a better shot of this Japanese A5 Miyazaki Beef ($15 per ounce). Chef Jonathan called this, "meat butter," and his description could not be more apt. When this was consumed, it melted in your mouth, leaving one of the cleanest tasting beef flavors I have ever encountered. Everyone should experience this beef nirvana at least once in their life, and maybe a little more often than that. Not that this beef needed it, but it came with some very well flavored mushrooms, which were seasoned with a Ibushi Shoyu, a top grade soy sauce which provided a great smokey flavor.

Even though I did not need it, I was very excited with these Corn + Brown Butter Madeleine's for dessert. They were dusted with just enough powdered sugar, and served with an assortment of berries and a light Chantilly cream. The madeleines were freshly made, and provided a subtle sweetness, which was heightened with the lighter than air whipped cream. A great end to our heavier than usual meal.

On the way home from A Restaurant, I was left looking fondly back on the meal we just experienced. We have been to quite a few tastings of new menus, and this one is right near the top. I have not been able to put some of the plates out of my mind, and that's a testament to the team at A Restaurant. When we sat down at dinner, we were sitting with my friend Rich. He stated that we were in for a treat tonight, with Chef Jonathan at the helm, and he was one hundred percent correct. We were floored with what we were served on this night, and encourage you to give his latest spring menu a try. There are great things going on at A Restaurant, and we look forward o seeing what the next 90 years brings to this historic location.

We would like to thank the restaurant staff and management at A restaurant for making us feel so comfortable and at home in your restaurant. You have all achieved your goal of creating an atmosphere that is cozy, romantic, and reminiscent of your history, while not ignoring the present. We would also like to give a big shout out to Ashley Eckenweiler of the fabulous ACE Agency for including us in this wonderful event.

If you would like to experience A Restaurant for yourself, and you totally should, head over to their website here:

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