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Wilhelm Brings Tavern Flair to SJC

David Wilhelm has had a prolific career in Orange County as both a restaurateur and chef.
Wilhelm is the gastronomic mastermind behind some of the most memorable Orange County restaurants of the past four decades.

French 75, Chat Noir, Kachina, Sorrento Grill, Chimayo, Barbacoa, Diva, Savannah Chop House and Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern (JFAT) are just some of his notable restaurants.

After selling his shares in JFAT, Wilhelm took a short break and then opened Tavern House Kitchen & Bar in 2019 in the former 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront restaurant location overlooking the Newport Beach marina.

The menu pairs new American cuisine with comfort food classics, as well as dishes that pay homage to his storied history as a chef and restaurateur.

Riding the success of that concept, Wilhelm and his business partner Gregg Solomon have acquired Cedar Creek Inn in San Juan Capistrano’s historic Mission Promenade, across the street from Mission San Juan Capistrano. He’s already revamped the dinner, lunch and brunch menus and is rebranding the restaurant as Tavern at the Mission.

“I met with all the staff and said I know this has been a family-owned restaurant for 25 years, and it’s going to continue to be a family-owned restaurant, it’s just a different family,” said Wilhelm, who moved to San Juan Capistrano five years ago.

“We want this to continue to be a local neighborhood place, but we are going to elevate the experience.”

That includes updating the menus to reflect the Tavern House cuisine, changing the wine list, and making modifications to the décor, including the patio as well as the lounge and bar areas.

“We were going to continue to operate it under the Cedar Creek brand until the end of the year, but it’s become too confusing,” said Wilhelm, noting that regulars come to Cedar Creek Inn but don’t see their favorite dishes on the menu anymore.

“I decided not to delay, so the first week of July we will launch as Tavern at the Mission. I had to rip the Cedar Creek Inn bandage off.”

Broad Appeal

Wilhelm warned the staff that the changes to the menu and bar programs will result in negative comments on social media and displeasure from longtime diners. That won’t last long as new patrons discover the Tavern at the Mission cuisine, and older ones find new dishes to try.

“This will be a place that appeals to all age groups,” Wilhelm stated. “We want this to be the go-to place.”

Cosmetic changes will occur next year. Wilhelm plans to shut down the restaurant in January and February (traditionally slow months in the restaurant industry) so he can rehab the bar, redo the patio, and overall refresh the entire restaurant.

“I want it to be contemporary Santa Barbara clean, with stucco walls, and the bar paying homage to the cowboy culture. We’ll have fun with it.”

Wilhelm said some diners remember his Kachina restaurant and asked if he’ll put his famous side-by-side bean and corn soup or his shrimp tamales on the menu, which he said may happen in the future.

Two signature dishes from the old Cedar Creek Inn menu will still be available: the Monte Cristo sandwich and the famous coconut cake.

“Even my doctor, when he found out I had bought the restaurant, told me I cannot take those off the menu,” Wilhelm laughed.

The OCBJ Review: ­By Christopher Trela

I had to try the Monte Cristo during a lunchtime visit to Tavern at the Mission.

It’s seldom seen on a menu anymore, and for good reason: it’s a decadent savory dessert masquerading as a sandwich.

Take turkey, ham and gruyere, layer them between multiple slices of bread, dip the bread in egg batter, and grill as you would French toast. A ramekin of blackberry preserves provides a suitably sweet dipping sauce.

It’s a fun dish, but not one I’d likely repeat.

I also had the terrine of duck liver and cognac mousse with blackberry gelee and grilled bread. It’s made to share, but I hogged it to myself.

And finally, the tequila shrimp pasta with green chili pesto cream, garlic, parmesan, toasted pumpkinseeds and corn. I am in love with this dish!

The thick pappardelle noodles act as a magnet for the sauce, and the shrimp are butterflied and oh so savory.

This might be my new go-to dish, except David Wilhelm has many more of his terrific Tavern House dishes on the menu, including his buttermilk fried chicken, which ranks among the best in OC.

Wilhelm upgraded the wine and spirits list and has added signature cocktails to the menu, helping cement the Tavern transition.

According to Wilhelm, his new Tavern at the Mission will merge online with his current Tavern House website starting in July.

Tavern at the Mission: 26860 Old Mission Road, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-2229, tavernhousekb.com

Tavern House Kitchen + Bar: 333 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach, (949) 673-8464, tavernhousekb.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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