At Tavern House Comfort Meets Creativity

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The poster for French 75
— Art by French 75/Photo by Christopher Trela ©

On my living room wall are two framed posters. One is of French 75 Bistro and Champagne Bar, the other of Chat Noir Bistro & Jazz Lounge.

Those two distinctive bistros, no longer around, were from the fertile mind of restaurateur David Wilhelm, who has spent half his life creating noteworthy restaurants, and menus.

His Newport Beach-based Culinary Adventures empire that he launched near the end of the millennium included Savannah Chophouse, Chimayo, Chimayo at the Beach, French 75 and others, but his career goes back much further than that.

Wilhelm most recent venture was the successful Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern (JFAT). He sold his share of JFAT earlier this year, and now has returned to Newport Beach with a new concept.

David Wilhelm
— submitted photo

Wilhelm and business partner Gregg Solomon have transformed the former 3Thirty3 restaurant on Coast Highway into Tavern House Kitchen + Bar, with a menu of elevated comfort food with a tasty twist.

“Returning to Newport Beach has been something I’ve wanted to do for years and Tavern House was the perfect opportunity to do so,” said Wilhelm. “Although the area is booming with new restaurant concepts, I’m confident that Tavern House can provide an enjoyable experience that’s unlike any other.”

I had brunch at Tavern House several weeks ago but returned last week for a media event where I had the chance to sample seven Tavern House dinner dishes as well as a couple of signature cocktails.

We began with warm house made salt and pepper potato chips with blue cheese sauce ($8), and then the salmon crudo with blood oranges, olives, capers and pink Hawaiian sea salt ($18).

The salmon crudo at Tavern House.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

Wilhelm’s comments on the dish: “This dish was inspired by a scallop crudo I had in Florence, Italy several years ago. I thought the unusual combination of the blood oranges, olives and capers was outstanding, so I decided to do a nightly version with different types of seafood. This week’s version was with thinly sliced, raw Lochlander salmon, which is naturally raised in the remote western Highlands & Islands of Scotland. It is topped with blood orange segments, Casteltrevano olives, capers, serrano chiles, and micro arugula. It is drizzled with EVO and blood orange juice and sprinkled with pink Hawaiian sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.”

My comments: a perfect way to begin a meal and awaken the palate for things to come.

Next was a voodoo shrimp martini ($17) with crispy rock shrimp in a sweet chile glaze and papaya salsa.

A voodoo shrimp martini at Tavern House.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

Wilhelm’s comments: “The Voodoo Shrimp contains rock shrimp that are marinated overnight in honey and buttermilk, flash-fried, and tossed with a sweet chili-Sriracha aioli, served in a martini glass topped with a papaya, tomato, and red onion salsa. This was one of my signature dishes 30 years ago at Barbacoa restaurant, which was located down the street on the harbor. When news broke that I was taking over the old 3Thirty3 location, I had some guests ask me if I was going to serve this dish on the menu as it was one of their all-time favorites, so I decided to do so to see if it would still be as popular as in the past. It has quickly become a crowd favorite again!”

My comments: Oh wow! This is a sensational dish, totally addicting and bursting with flavors that are both savory and sweet. I could eat this all night but had to force myself to stop because I knew more was in store.

BBQ bourbon baked oysters at Tavern House.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

Then came a dish I enjoyed recently at brunch: BBQ Chipotle Bourbon Oysters ($20) with chipotle, garlic butter and pecan wood smoked bacon, alongside chunks of sourdough bread.

Wilhelm’s comments: “Inspired by a garlic butter baked oyster I had at Hog Island Oysters, these are freshly shucked oysters, topped with a compound butter made with garlic, bacon, chipotle chiles and BBQ sauce. Baked briefly in a very hot oven and served with grilled Campagne Batard, which is a sourdough style, free form bread made with just four ingredients: rye and wheat flours, wheat germ, sea salt, and water.”

Wine with a red snapper dish at Tavern House.
— Photo courtesy of Tavern House ©

Red Snapper Veracruzana ($26) was next, with heirloom tomatoes, olives, capers, jalapenos, and fresh oregano.

Wilhelm’s comments: “My approach starts with red snapper place on a thin bed of Ranchera sauce then topped with heirloom cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, lime, Casteltrevano olives, capers, fresh oregano and jalapenos. Served with a side of Mexican style basmati rice flavored with tomato, garlic, smoked paprika and a touch of turmeric. As suspected, it has become a signature dish already.”

My comments: What he said.

Then, instead of a heavy beef dish to end our entrée courses, Wilhelm brought out his Tavern Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($24) with mashed red bliss potatoes, maple glazed brussels sprouts and thyme gravy.

Comfort food in the form of fried chicken at Tavern House.
— Photo courtesy of Tavern House ©

Wilhelm’s comments: “Introduced at my Sorrento Grille back in the mid-80s, this has been a best-selling dish since the beginning. Back then, it was very rare to see fried chicken on any upscale restaurant menu in OC, but I felt I wanted to add a dish to the menu that spoke to the love of comfort food in us all. Despite the doubters, it quickly became one of our most popular dishes and it has been on most of my menus ever since. I can confidently say that it has quickly become the #1 selling entrée at Tavern House.”

My comments: A fabulous dish. The chicken was tender, mashed potatoes were perfectly whipped, but it was that thyme gravy that made the dish shine. Comfort food with a capital C.

Wilhelm only has two desserts on his menu and he brought out one for us to try: the Bananarama ($12) with bananas, pastry cream, butter pecan ice cream, and salty caramel sauce.

Tavern House dessert, Bananarama, which includes bananas, pastry cream, butter pecan ice cream, and salty caramel sauce. 
— Photo courtesy of Tavern House ©

Wilhelm’s comments: “I am not a big dessert guy, but I have a handful that I make, mostly when cooking for friends. The banana cream pie was one that always got raves so I decided to do a blown-up size, a deconstructed version that’s converted into a sundae style dish that people could share. My version of this starts with butter pecan ice cream topped with pastry cream flavored with banana liqueur and banana puree, then piled with fresh bananas and whipped cream. I add candied pecans and coarsely crumbled, crispy chocolate-caramel wafers for texture. Then drizzle the entire sundae with salty-caramel sauce and shaved white chocolate.”

My comments: OMG! This is an intense experience for banana split lovers. This deconstructed dessert is just so good. The candied pecans are a brilliant counter to the luscious gooiness of the ice cream and pastry cream. It’s a large dessert, easy to share with two or more.

Verdict: Tavern House is a hit!

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The red snapper Veracruzana at Tavern House.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©
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