Off the Menu: Best Newport Beach Dining Experiences of 2018

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Off the Menu columnist Christopher Trela

Another year has come and gone, and with it 52 weeks of memorable dining excursions. Of course, some are more memorable than others, which brings me to my annual list of my favorite Newport Beach culinary experiences of 2018.

I dine out multiple times a week at all sorts of restaurants, so trying to reflect back on my favorites this year was challenging (especially given the quality of our local eateries), but a few rose to the top.

Farmhouse

Farmhouse: Repeat visit to Farmhouse and chats with Owner/Chef Rich Mead have made me realize what a culinary treasure we have in Farmhouse—which also explains why the restaurant has been so popular since it opened two years ago.  The fall menu was fantastic, full of seasonal dishes and farmer’s market produce. The cocktails are equally creative and tasty, and the garden setting is unlike any other local restaurant. I dined here several times in 2018 and was continuously enthralled. I’m looking forward to seeing what lands on the Farmhouse menu in 2019.

Five Crowns

Five Crowns: Five Crowns upped its game this year thanks to new Executive Chef Alejandra Padilla, who brings a wealth of experience, including being named a “Chopped” champion. She has kept the classics while expanding the menu to reflect seasonal dishes. Having sampled her cuisine throughout the year, I’m impressed with the variety and her choice of ingredients. I also love the monthly Five Crowns Speakeasy, also known as the 552 Poppy Club. Reservations are tough to get, and the menu is always top secret. And yes, you can sample 11 different styles of Absinthe. But you didn’t hear about it from me.

Il Barone: Franco and Donatello Barone moved their popular Italian restaurant from their old digs near John Wayne Airport to a larger restaurant on Bristol Street. The move has invigorated the menu—the restaurant now has a nice pizza oven, among other amenities. Expect to get Franco’s classic dishes, including the facci ri veccia, a truly addicting pizza with prosciutto and truffle oil, plus a handful of new ones. And yes, Donatella is still there greeting guests and roaming the dining room.

Marche Moderne

Marche Moderne: Marche Moderne closed its South Coast Plaza location in early 2018 and reopened last fall in the Crystal Cove Shopping Center. The menu has plenty of new items plus classic Marche favorites, including dishes from Chef/Owner Florent Marneau’s long culinary career. I dined there multiple times in 2018—at a formal table, at the bar, on the patio, and in the lounge. I have been working my way through the menu and have not been disappointed. This is classic French cooking at its best. And of course, Amelia Marneau’s desserts are “sinsational.”

Moulin: I have breakfast meetings here several times a month and frequently dine here for lunch. I love the totally French menu and ambiance. Normally open for breakfast and lunch, Moulin also offers special prix fixe dinners on Tuesday and Thursday nights that are fun and a great value. They also have a wildly popular Cars and Café event the last Sunday of every month.

NB Wine and Food: Technically not a restaurant, the 2018 Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival brought together some three dozen restaurants for a wonderful weekend of fine food tastings from most of the best restaurants in Newport Beach, including Andrea, Marche Moderne, Olea, The Winery and many more. Dozens of wine purveyors, cooking demos and special culinary events helped make the 5th annual Newport Beach Wine Festival one of the premier events in So Cal.

Olea burger

Olea: May be my favorite restaurant of 2018. Opened last December, Olea has been popular since day one. The cuisine is creative and consistent, the portions are generous, and the fun atmosphere is Napa meets Newport. Whether you sit at a table for dinner or grab a seat at the bar for a burger (one of the best in OC) and glass of wine, you know you’re in for a good time, and a good meal.

Pelican Hill Resort: Last year, Andrea Restaurant at Pelican Hill made my list, but this year I have expanded it to include not only Andrea (one of the best restaurants in Orange County) but Pelican Grill (the burgers are fabulous) and also the Caffe (perfect lattes and croissants). The risotto in the parmesan wheel is still a must have at Andrea, and the service is still impeccable.

Andrea at Pelican Hill

HONORABLE MENTION

A Restaurant: After dining here twice in 2018, I’m impressed with consistency at this classic steak house that boasts a contemporary New American menu courtesy of Chef Jonathan Blackford, who is also overseeing the menu at the new A Restaurant venue due to open in 2019 in Corona del Mar.

Bayside: Whether it’s my Mom’s birthday dinner, a business lunch, a pre-concert dinner, one of Bayside’s popular Scotch dinners, or the Thursday night jazz menu in the lounge (and yes, I’ve done all of those multiple times), Bayside is consistently excellent.

Bluewater Grill: The fun aspect of Bluewater Grill is its monthly tasting event.  Whether it’s “French Bouillabaisse vs. Italian Cioppino” or the Stuffed Lobster special, each event offers great value and great dishes. Plus dining on the patio next to the harbor is always a treat.

El Cholo: El Cholo turned 95 in 2018, more than enough of a reason for me to go to the Corona del Mar location and try a variety of El Cholo classics.

Muldoon’s: This fun Irish pub and restaurant has a variety of classic dishes including Irish stew and shepherd’s pie (both excellent), but my favorite is probably the hamburger—big, juicy and served with tasty fries. On Thursdays, get any draught beer for $1 with your burger.

Tackle Box: After his success with his small restaurant at Corona del Mar beach, Chef Brian Huskey opened a second larger location at the OC Mix/SOCO Collection. This gourmet fast casual sit-down diner has a comfortable yet quirky menu that includes a “Cali” Cheesesteak with ribeye and white American cheese (it’s insanely good), and the always tasty Buffalo Cauliflower. The house chips are severely addicting.

The Winery: Chef Yvon Goetz loves his wild game, and has a menu focused on hearty fare as well as seafood. My favorites are the venison and the short ribs. Terrific view matches the service.

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