Off the Menu: Dining Adventures During Newport Beach Restaurant Week

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“So many restaurants, so little time.”

Happens to me every year during restaurant week—with 70 different restaurants participating, it’s not easy to choose which restaurants to dine at, so I try to select a range of cuisines and prices.

This year, my initial foray into Restaurant Week took me to four dining spots this week: Session West Coast Deli, Taco Rosa, Olea, and Pelican Grill.

Sessions West Coast Deli: I decided to pop into Sessions for their $20 diner menu, which actually turned out to be $15, an incredible deal for what they are offering: any sandwich or salad, a side, a cookie, and a draft beer.

I was going to go for the BBQ beef sandwich but they were out, so I opted for the pastrami with swiss cheese and slay on a poppy seed roll. I did the Baja potato salad with sweet mustard sauce and pickled jalapenos for my side, and a Bootlegger IPA draft beer. They also brought me some shaka spuds with parmesan and rosemary to try, as they are a specialty of the house.

The pastrami sandwich is huge and takes two hands to hold. The potato salad has a nice kick thanks to the jalapenos, and the chips are indeed addicting. My chocolate chip cookie was brought to me warm, always a nice way to eat dessert.

All in all, a tasty dinner and an incredible value, and a nice reminder of the good food at Sessions.

Pelican Grill: I had a Tuesday morning meeting with NB Indy writer Richard Simon at the Pelican Hill Resort Caffe, and we decided to stay for lunch and try the Pelican Grill $25 lunch menu, a three-course affair: appetizers, entrée and dessert..

For appetizers we had one of each option: Sweet potato soup with toasted almonds, crème fraiche and petite arugula, and grilled radicchio salad with lemon mint yogurt, manchego, toasted pistachio, golden raisins, and saba.

The soup was more like sweet potato puree, which I love, and blended with the crème fraiche was a perfect winter starter on a drizzly day.

Grilled radicchio was a first for both of us, but combined with the manchego and pistachios, plus the raisins, it turned out to be an unusual but satisfying salad.

There are three entrée options on the lunch menu. We selected the grilled flat iron steak with Romanesco and duck fat potatoes, plus the bluenose sea bass with charred brussels sprouts, purple kale, apple and cucumber salsa, toasted pepitas, and roasted cauliflower puree.

The sea bass dish was pretty on the plate, and the combination of flavors and textures was pleasing to my palate. The steak quickly disappeared from the plate.

Dessert was apple cobbler, which came out piping hot with house-made vanilla gelato on top, and a trio of gelatos with seasonal berries. Both desserts were delicious, and we marveled at the simple flavors that came bursting out of the gelato.

Olea: Russ Bendel, the owner of Olea restaurant, invited several local food writers to sample the Olea $50 three-course dinner menu on Tuesday night, and I never say no to Russ, or Olea.

The first course options are Pate of Duck Liver, Bacon & Bourbon with pickles, mustards, and grilled ciabatta; Spice Roasted Garnet Yam Agnolotti with crispy sage leaves, fresh California goat cheese, pecan brown butter, and Vermont maple drizzle; and Fried Green Tomatoes with Fresh Burrata Alla Panna with crispy serrano ham chicharrones and hazelnut romesco.

I got to sample all three. I love the pate dish—a generous slab of smoky pate accompanied by large pieces of grilled ciabatta bread. The yam agnolotti was also wonderful, but the fried green tomatoes dish was a fun change of pace for my palate.

There are three entrée options on the Restaurant Week menu: Wild Caught Alaskan Halibut with Russian banana potatoes, toasted almonds, baby endive, cauliflower, Riesling raisins, and preserved lemon butter; Pacific Northwest Filet Mignon with melted garlic & crème fraiche potatoes, farmers market vegetables, and crispy langoustine béarnaise; and Zinfandel Braised Napa Lamb Shank with sunchoke tapenade puree, mint yogurt, toasted feta, and English cucumber.

Because I was sipping a glass of Opolo Mountain Zinfandel from Paso Robles, I ordered the lamb shank. The cut is generous, and the meat was so tender it practically fell off the bone. I sampled some of the other entrees—all excellent, all generous portions.

For dessert, we shared the signature Dark Chocolate Chunk & Fromage Blanc Cookies with peanut butter cup gelato and Spanish peanut crumble, and the Mexican Lime Crème Brulee with fresh berries and lavender. The crème brulee was nice and thick, while the cookies are as decadent and delicious as they come.

Taco Rosa: I popped over to Taco Rosa on Wednesday between rain showers to try the $15 lunch menu, which starts with either Roasted Tomato Soup or Beet Salad. I went with the beet salad, which is basically a mixed green salad with a couple of slices of beets and a couple of cherry tomatoes cut in half.

There are seven entrée options and I had a hard time deciding because they all sounded good, but finally went with the Rosa Combo: blackened chicken taco (awesome) and cheese tamale (also really good) with rice and refried pinto beans. The rice was moist, always a good thing but not always the case at Mexican restaurants.

Dessert was a chocolate churro with flancito. The combination of the chocolate churro and the flan was perfect.

Next on my list: Moulin’s $20 lunch menu with French onion soup and half of a roasted chicken, Provenance $20 lunch menu, Bayside’s terrific $25 lunch menu, and Muldoon’s three-course lunch menu. And of course, plenty of choices for dinner.

For complete menus of all the restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, which runs through January 27, visit DineNB.com.

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