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Thursday, Jun 30, 2022

New Year Offers New and Tried-and-True Options

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The French food at Pinot Provence hit a graceful note when the restaurant opened many years ago in the Westin Hotel in Costa Mesa, but the truly French decor probably got as much publicity as the Gallic food.

Almost all furnishings were imported from France, and we loved it until the restaurant closed several months ago.

In case you’ve not yet heard, the space will again be home to an upscale restaurant, but not until this summer. It’s being reworked for Crudo, the second restaurant of that name belonging to former Fig & Olive chef Pascal Lorange. He opened the first Crudo in mid-2016 in San Diego.

Fashionable seafood presentations will be an important part of the menu, per preliminary info. That will be interesting, considering that the beautiful new Water Grill and its serious seafood personality are only steps away.

Meanwhile, another iconic restaurant has changed hands. Lucca, the Italian bistro in Irvine that Cathy Pavlos opened before Provenance, has just been sold to the owners of Caffe Pinguini in Playa Del Rey, who wanted to expand to Orange County. Their food is classic, authentic Italian, which is always popular.

Meat Feat

I’d suggest the dining public visit 28 Restaurant and Bar in Irvine right away. There’s a terrific new chef at the helm, and he’s putting out a meat-centric menu studded with interest and flavor.

Jay Lacuesta, who has worked with the acclaimed chef Jose Andres’ Think Food Group in the past, has a menu that’s approachable and fun but with a definite uniqueness in every dish, as you will find in his Spanish Egg & Roasted Vegetables, a fun take on traditional ratatouille.

The seasonal winter menu that we are now enjoying consists of what the restaurant says are sustainable seafoods and local farm vegetables to accompany the wide selection of meats. To wash it all down well, there are thoughtful signature crafted cocktails, whiskey, cognac, and the sommelier’s handpicked wines.

Everybody is talking uni and bone marrow. They are items on many menus. Here, the chef combines them in a friendly Uni and Bone Marrow Toast. Tastes of hickory-smoked salt, brown butter breadcrumbs and chives sashay in and out of the luxurious uni and marrow.

I order octopus wherever I find it. This version of Mediterranean Octopus makes a fine appetizer for me with its tendrils of frisée and some spicy eggplant on the side, all benefiting from droplets of soy and garlic.

Char Siu Pork Shoulder is a hefty entree portion—24 ounces of Duroc pork served with lotus crepes, citrus tomato relish, fresh herbs, and charred scallion sauce. Wagyu Beef Cheek rates high for taste and texture. The 40-ounce Dry-Aged Bone-In Ribeye comes from the renowned Allen Brothers Ranch. Oxtail Noodles were on the menu before this new chef took over, and with their mingling of pork cracklings, they remain a very popular item.

Other suggestions: Crispy Lobster Won Tons, Beef Tartare with ancho chile, Cavatelli with Kurobuta Pork, whole Branzino with Chimichurri Sauce, and Scottish Salmon.

There’s also an extensive lunch menu. Sandwiches are tucked with the most tender beef brisket, fried chicken and char siu pork. There’s a sandwich built on the eggs Benedict theme, and a fantastic cheeseburger. The Pomegranate and Citrus Salad is a palate pleaser.

The house-made ice creams and sorbets are just about right as my dessert choices.

In addition to Twenty Eight’s new winter menu, the restaurant offers seasonal craft cocktails and a weekday happy hour at the bar from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and all night Thursday and Friday. 19530 Jamboree (in the Google Center), Irvine, (949) 852-2828

Culinary Grief

Sad news: Orange County’s only acclaimed Chinese restaurant serving the sophisticated tastes of Shanghai specialties closed last week. 

Master chef and owner Robert Chen just finished a decade at his Chef Chen restaurant in Irvine. Rising rent and labor costs and a nonstop cooking career in OC for the past 23 years played a part. He says he’s taking an extended vacation and then may open a more casual-style place.

Meanwhile, having written a lot about how authentic this restaurant is, introducing so many people to it and eating there at least a couple of times a month, I’m feeling a palpable loss. I will keep you informed if and when he opens another restaurant. 

Tasty Trio

On a brighter note, various food persuasions continue to add interest at Oak Creek/Gelson’s Center in Irvine. I already introduced you in an earlier column to Square One Pizza, a homey little cafe where tasty pasta entrees and some of Orange County’s very best pizzas are served. Now The Stand has opened its first OC location at the center—there are four others in the Los Angeles region. It features a scaled-down diner atmosphere, warm hospitality and burgers, sandwiches, salads and hot dogs, all sporting an extra snap of savory flavor that gives the items a memorable edge.

There are a dozen burgers with one highlight or another. Of course, a down-home classic is available. But think of additions such as gruyere cheese and onions braised in red wine, arugula and homemade pimento cheese, porchetta and pickled peppers, blue cheese and roasted tomato, apple slaw and butternut squash, fried egg and bacon, onion strings with homemade barbecue sauce, and more. I like that there’s a mild residual heat from chiles in some of the burgers and sandwiches.

Short ribs, seared ahi, and cilantro-lime chicken are among sandwich fillings. Want a good dog or sausage? Try a hefty kosher dog piled with accoutrements or half a dozen kinds of wurst and sausages. Salads are equally interesting. Definitely worth a try in your comparison dining.

There’s also a swell sushi restaurant, Maizuru, in that center. It’s been there the longest and has garnered a very loyal following due to its penchant for palate-pleasing tastes and good-looking presentations. It is one of our favorite go-to places. The service is ultra-friendly, and the atmosphere is Zen-like and clean-lined.

The menu is a four-page foldout on which most of the sushi preparations and other custom dishes are pictured. Makes it so easy to see what you are going to get rather than guessing what the plate of food will look like. And the food does come to the table looking just like the pictures.

I could go a bit crazy telling you of faves. Let me stick to just a few from the long list of appetizers, 64 variations of sushi preparations, and a big bunch of house specials, Japanese casseroles, noodle dishes and exotic desserts.

For appetizers, I say yes to a plate of Fresh Oysters, a plate of Crispy Scallops, a bowl of Sizzling Mussels, some Albacore Tempura, a chunk of Miso Flavored Sea Bass, or a serving of Crispy Calamari or Shishito Peppers. They give you complimentary edamame to munch on while your order is prepared.

Be forewarned that as the meal progresses, you have to drool over more than five dozen pictures of unique sushi rolls and such while agonizing over which to order. I have an absolute addiction to the T.N.T. Roll, a mélange of soft crabmeat, smooth avocado, crunchy cucumber and super-crisp shrimp tempura with a sprinkling of roe. Killer combo of textures and fantastic flavors sitting in a creamy sauce that is awesome on its own.

The Harbor is a combo of sushi rice, spicy crabmeat, salmon, eel, tuna, cucumber and avocado sharing a warm embrace. California Roll is one of the most popular orders everywhere. It’s here, too, in its original form and with many specialty toppings—crunchy as in tempura items to additional kinds of raw fish draped over the top of each piece of the roll. Quite delicious is the Spicy Tuna Crunch. The rice beneath the tuna is crispy, akin to the crispy rice that goes in the famed soup.

Trust me when I say that one visit gets you hooked. The bowl of delicately flavored miso soup is a fine first impression. And the sushi is so much more extensive than most sushi menus. Good flavors keep unfolding.

All day, every day, order one, get a second order half price on sushi. Oh, and for those of you who like Bento-style combos, there are 25 items to choose from—two or three choices as you wish. We often order one of the 10 udon bowls and one of the many Asian salads.

Good food, good service, nice, uncomplicated atmosphere and prices we love.

All restaurants are in Oak Creek/Gelson’s Center (southeast corner of Jeffrey Road and Alton), Irvine. Square One Pizza: (949) 451-1750. The Stand: (949) 262-9090. Maizuru: (949)551-6802


SideDoor at Five Crowns in Corona del Mar stopped serving brunch at the end of the year. It is now open nightly for dinner, still with its seating on fireside couches and easy chairs. Love this place. 3801 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, (949) 717-4322

Meanwhile, it’s unusual for a restaurant to announce it’s closing for a year, with full plans to reopen later, when it has nothing to do with the viability of the restaurant itself.

Lillie’s Q in Brea opened two years ago. The joint venture of Chicago barbecue expert Charlie McKenna, touted master of various styles of Southern barbecue, and Joe Manzella, owner of TAPS just down the street, has been a great success. But parking in that area of downtown Brea has been a problem.

Now, with the construction of a parking structure ongoing but disrupting access to the restaurant, the principals decided to close and reopen this fall when the structure should be finished. So hang in there, and the fantastic and fully authentic barbecue of the South will return. n

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