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Tuesday, Jul 23, 2024

Irvine Towers Lands New Power Couple

Meet Benny and Mary.

Benny is a retired interior designer and Mary is his retired fashion model-muse. They are a bit eccentric, but they throw the best dinner parties in town.

Benny and Mary opened their eclectic restaurant, aptly named Benny and Mary’s, last October at the Irvine Towers office complex. It took over a stand-alone restaurant space at the airport-area campus previously occupied by Davio’s (which closed during the pandemic) and before that, Prego Ristorante.

Don’t expect Benny or Mary to be greeting customers—they are fictitious characters created by restaurant owners Cynthia Vigil and Chad Reinhardt, a husband-and-wife team that own a handful of other local restaurants.

“I wanted to create an atmosphere like you were in someone’s home, and have a menu that’s eclectic and fun and whimsical,” Vigil said.

“Everything looks familiar but taken to different dimensions. You’ll feel like you are in a different atmosphere. You can get dressed up and be a little bougie, but have fun and be loud.

“Our menu doesn’t have straight this or straight that, it’s something you recognize but it has something different to it,” Reinhardt said. “If I went to your house and met your aunt, maybe she makes her hamburgers a certain way, like we do.”

Locally Sourced

Benny and Mary’s is open for lunch and dinner, with menus created by Chef Matthew Resler, who uses locally sourced ingredients and sustainable cooking practices.

His lunch menu includes bright, flavorful dishes like a chopped kale salad with green and purple kale, red onion, yellow bell pepper, heirloom tomatoes, English cucumber, avocado, crispy quinoa, and an agave mustard vinaigrette; Korean short rib tacos with bulgogi-braised short rib, house-made kimchi, gochujang aioli, and fried garlic; and the drunken goat burger with an eight-ounce all-beef patty, wine-infused onions, roasted garlic aioli, wild arugula, and tomato jam on a brioche bun.

Resler’s dinner menu kicks it up a notch with dishes such as his Thai mussel pot with Prince Edward Island mussels, garlic, shallots and leeks tossed in a coconut-lemongrass broth with micro wasabi, served with toasted baguette; Yellowtail crudo with fresh yellowtail, ginger pea puree, pickled fresno chiles and cucumber, and puffed forbidden rice; and short rib osso buco with 12-hour braised short rib, seasonal vegetables, and amaretto-butternut squash puree with a port demi-glace.

Resler’s culinary career came after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and then as a law enforcement officer for 14 years. Resler traded his uniform for a chef’s jacked and attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. After graduating, he worked in the kitchens at vibrant gastropubs and wellness-focused establishments centered around holistic cooking.

He gained extensive knowledge and mastery into various dietary lifestyles including vegan, paleo, keto and gluten-free cooking.

Restaurant Space

And then there’s the restaurant itself. As Vigil noted, “it had good bones, so we did not need to knock down any walls. But it was very sterile, and I wanted to create a space that has more energy. The kitchen is big, so our chef can get creative. There is no ego here. We taste everything and try to guide as much as we can, but we wanted to give them freedom and have the chef bring something to the table.”

“We wanted things that fit our ideology,” Reinhardt said. “We had ideas of our own, and they take on our ideas and come up with a menu that fits.”

The menu is succinct, but Reinhardt stated that “I would rather have eight or nine wonderful items than have 30 things that are hit and miss. There are some surprise things on the menu. We have a vegan meatloaf, I tried it and said, ‘it’s not bad, are we are going to have meatloaf on the menu?’ They told me it’s vegan. What? It’s good. And we have vegan poke.”

As far as not making many changes to the restaurant itself, Reinhardt explained that “we only take over facilities that we don’t build. For us this is a perfect location, we thought we could put our spin on it and really make it go. We are excited about how it turned out.”

The OCBJ Review 

A recent event at Benny and Mary’s gave me the opportunity to sample several menu items.

We started with vegan poke: Hawaiian style marinated tomatoes with sticky rice, edamame, cucumber, avocado and puffed tapioca cracker.

This vegan version of poke was as good as any poke I’ve had. Who knew that marinated tomatoes could prove to be a doppelganger for tuna.

Next came Mini Chicken Tinga Tacos with esquite, chicken tinga, pickled onions, avocado crema, and salsa Negra.

The tacos are a perfect appetizer to share. They come four to a plate, and offer lingering flavors without overwhelming the palate.

Then we ordered entrees. I chose the Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon: an eight-ounce salmon filet with a maple Dijon glaze, sticky rice, fried garlic, sauteed baby bok choy, beech mushrooms and edamame finished with sesame seeds.

I liked this dish as much for the accouterments as for the main salmon ingredient. Yes, the salmon was delicious, but the mushroom and edamame concoction was a nice counterbalance, as was the sticky rice.

We were able to sample two desserts: Black Cocoa Brownie served with vanilla creme anglaise, chocolate pastry cream, powdered sugar and fresh raspberries; and Lemon Yuzu Meringue Tart with lemon yuzu curd, torched Swiss meringue, spiced shortbread crust, and lemon yuzu tuile.

These are ridiculously good desserts, refined and decadent, and pretty on the plate. Chocolate lovers will gravitate to the brownie, but I love anything with lemons, so the tart put a smile on my face.

Benny and Mary’s: 18420 Von Karman Ave., Irvine, (714) 439-1733, bennyandmarys.com

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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