Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Spring Menu Preview at the Beachcomber

The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove
15 Crystal Cove
Newport Coast, CA 92657

Every so often I get an email from someone that will be traveling to OC from another part of the country asking me about what restaurants they should be eating at when they come to our great county. I always suggest eating at a restaurant that you can not eat at while you are back home, so that means no chain restaurants. I also think it's important that visitors get to experience the California vibe. That vibe is nowhere more evident than at the famous Beachcomber at Crystal Cove.

I'm not going to lie and tell you this is the most convenient of restaurants to get to, but the payoff is huge when you do get to it. Parking for the entire Crystal Cove Historical District is located on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway in the Los Trancos parking lot. Parking is charged at a rate of $5 per hour, with a maximum rate of $15 per day. The Beachcomber does offer validation for three hours, with a purchase.  After parking, you can choose to either take the Beachcomber Shuttle, which will cost you a $1.50 or, you can choose the easy ten-minute walk along the well-maintained path, which goes through a tunnel underneath the whizzing cars traveling above you on PCH.

See, I told you it would be worth the small ten-minute jaunt to get here. Coming to Crystal Cove always brings to mind the feeling of Catalina meets Gilligan's Island. Picturesque landscapes, no cars, and these tiny, historic cottages, many of which date back to the 1930's line the beach. Hollywood also found this location idyllic, and filmed numerous movies at this historic California State Park. Getting to the Beachcomber literally means getting your toes in the sand, as you have to walk on the beach to reach the front entrance of this restaurant. Talk about beach front dining. with an extraordinary view.

So, what brought us to the Beachcomber on this fine afternoon? We were invited to get a sneak preview of Executive Chef Carlos Olivera's new Spring Menu, which will be available starting on Friday, April 7th. His inspiration for these new menu items is color, as spring is the season of color, and he wanted to create dishes that were not only visually stunning but had equally stunning flavor profiles. Chef Carlos is also inspired by seasonal ingredients, which showcase his unique take on California coastal cuisine. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to be included in this media event.

Upon arrival at the Bootlegger's Bar, which is just off the entrance to the Beachcomber, I was presented with one of their most popular signature cocktails, the Pimm's Cup ($15). This concoction combined Pimm's No. 1 Cup, a little Bombay Saphire Gin, lemonade, sparkling soda, lime, strawberries, lemon, cucumber, and is garnished with an orange slice. Talk about refreshing. A few of these could really sneak up on you, but with this vacation vibe going on, you'll want to throw caution to the wind. I've already got my eyes on their Tropical Crush cocktail during my next visit.

Food started making its way out to us, and they started with a tasting plate of three appetizers, which are Beachcomber classics. After my first taste of the Tiny Ahi Taco ($14.95), it was apparent that this taco was not tiny in the flavor department. The very crunchy tortilla did an admirable job of keeping the very fresh ahi tuna, Asian slaw, and Sriracha aioli all together throughout the very short life of this taco. Delicious. Another hit was the Mahi Mahi Spring Rolls ($11.95). Kind of resembled a lumpia to me, with a very good filling inside, but it lacked the greasiness that usually comes with regular lumpias. Very well done. Last but not least was the Lemon Grass Chicken Skewers ($10.95). I'm always a little nervous that chicken is going to be overcooked, but this version was tender and juicy. It paired nicely with the coconut peanut sauce and the edamame salad.

The first of the new spring menu items was out next, with this Seared Crusted Yellow Tuna. This very fresh piece of tuna was perched atop a wasabi potato puree and served alongside an asparagus spear with a forest mushroom wine sauce. Again, this is just a tasting plate, and the entree version will be much larger. I thought the wasabi potato puree was going to overpower, but it was very subtle. I was also a fan of the mushroom sauce, which made me want to lick the plate, but of course, I was on my best behavior on this early evening.

Not a new item to the Beachcomber menu, but I was very happy they let us try a small portion of their famous Chilean Sea Bass ($39.95). Seabass is a personal seafood favorite of mine, and this version was right up there. The fish was delicate and made even better with the inclusion of a fish consomme. This was paired with a mushroom tortellini which would rival any served in any Italian restaurant in OC. A dish that should be on the top of your list when dining at the Beachcomber.

The last of the new entrees made it out to us, and they might have saved the best for last with this Island Roasted Chicken. With the regular sized portion of this, you get half a roasted chicken, which is served with a Huli Huli glaze and is then rounded out with baby bok choy and coconut rice. A very tropical feel to this dish, and some of the most tender chicken I've had in awhile. I could have used a little more sauce, but still a very fitting plate for this oceanic paradise.

Dessert is not to be missed at the Beachcomber, and I was pretty impressed with the Beachcomber Beignets ($8.95). These were light and pillowy but still had a lot behind them. These are normally served with chocolate syrup and some vanilla bean ice cream which I assume would push these over the top. I did not catch what kind of cake this was, but it did not last too long on my plate. I really enjoyed the moist cake and the caramel topping this.

When a restaurant has a view like this, the food is usually an afterthought. That is not the case at the Beachcomber. Chef Carlos and his team not only presented food that tastes great but is also presented wonderfully. A big accomplishment in this rather small spaced kitchen. I love that they are doing a seasonal menu here while keeping all the customer favorites. We did not get to try it, but I'm already making plans to return to try their new Honey Maple Glazed Pork Chop very soon. The Beachcomber is definitely a worthy pick for any out of town guests, as well as locals alike that want to take advantage of dining right at the beautiful California shoreline.

I'd like to thank the staff and owners of the Beachcomber for this amazing chance to sample their new spring menu and classic favorites. It was definitely a wonderful evening, with a great group of food friends. I'd also like to thank Lexy Berru at the wonderful ACE Agency for the invite to this great event. Much appreciated Lexy, and it was wonderful to finally meet you.

For more information about the Beachcomber at Crystal Cove, head to their website here: http://thebeachcombercafe.com/_crystalcove/index.aspx

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