Where does a food writer go to celebrate his birthday?
My birthday this year was on a Tuesday (Oct. 1). Not the best day of the week to celebrate a special occasion, so the fancy dinners were held the weekend before at the Disney Resort: Jazz Kitchen on Saturday and Napa Rose on Sunday.
However, I did grab a birthday burger on Oct. 1 at Olea, one of my favorite spots in Newport Beach. Olea’s American wagyu burger uses Hook’s two-year cheddar, caramelized shallots, preserved tomato, organic butter lettuce, and secret sauce wedged between a soft potato bun, accompanied by herb fries for only $17.50.
This burger is a beauty — albeit a bit messy thanks to the meat, cheese and sauce that vie for space in the bun — and good to the last bite. The fries are perfect — a bit crispy on the outside, soft inside.
To accompany the burger was a glass of Opolo zinfandel from Paso Robles — my go-to vino at Olea.
Olea recently added some fall items to the menu, including house made sugar pumpkin agnolotti with white truffle goat cheese, crispy sage leaves, and hazelnut brown butter ($14).
They wisely retained their most popular items, including the signature crispy meyer lemon & honey duck wings, terrine of duck liver, bacon & bourbon with pickles, mustards, and toasted ciabatta (one of my favorite Olea dishes). They also still have a few other favorites on the fall menu, including the baked skillet mac & cheese, and, of course, the crispy Jidori chicken schnitzel with maitake mushrooms, butternut squash spaetzle, baby rainbow carrots, apple cider & whole grain mustard gravy. And yes, the dark chocolate chunk & fromage blanc cookies with peanut butter gelato and Spanish peanut crumble is still a dessert option, and probably my favorite.
For more information, visit oleanewportbeach.com.
Gracias Madre Update
Several weeks ago, I mentioned that Gracias Madre restaurant will be opening soon in the Westcliff Drive spot vacated by Gratitude.
Since then, I received additional info on the new restaurant, which is expected to open next month.
Part of the Love Serve Remember restaurant group, Gracias Madre has been a culinary staple in Los Angeles for several year with a focus on plant-based Mexican cuisine and an inventive, organic cocktail program.
The menu at Gracias Madre in Newport Beach will feature favorites from the flagship West Hollywood location including bowl uno, Jamaica flautas, and jackfruit carnitas tacos, and an array of exclusive items created by award-winning Chef Alan Sánchez Lázaro, who joins the team from Mexico City where he most recently served as Executive Chef of Parcela CDMX.
His signature dishes such as the al pastor pineapple tacos, watermelon carpaccio and churros with dipping chocolate will also use locally sourced, organic ingredients and pair perfectly with the restaurant’s cocktails.
“I’m drawn to the idea of adapting the authentic flavors and techniques of traditional Mexican cuisine to create new and innovative dishes that are still largely influenced by the customs, practices and heritage of my culture. Without tradition there is no evolution,” Sánchez Lázaro said. “I want to dispel the notion that Mexican cuisine is just spices and tortillas — there is a whole story to each dish.”
The Gracias Madre bar will offer a range of cocktails using organic, artisanal tequilas and mezcals that are free of chemically processed spirits.
The atmosphere will be warm and comfortable. Décor elements include a Mexican tile accented bar, earth-toned tile flooring, textured palm matting ceilings, heavy draping, iron lantern light fixtures and a perimeter of tall hedges framing the expansive patio canopied by trees.
Gracias Madre Newport Beach is at 1617 Westcliff Dr. For more information, visit graciasmadre.co/newport_beach.
Five Crowns Fall Menu
Another local restaurant that updates its menu with the seasons is Five Crowns, which recently announced a new fall menu courtesy of Executive Chef Alejandra Padilla.
The vibrant “comfort” menu features seven new seasonal cocktails and nine new menu items including beef tenderloin carpaccio with arugula, truffle vinaigrette and parmesan crisps, pan seared scallops with warm spices, brown butter and butternut squash purée, and lamb shank with a scallion potato pancake, horseradish purée, and caramelized onion jus. Save room for decadent new dessert options like apple crumble or chocolate tart.
Other new menu items I’m looking forward to tastings: Fritto misto with Hawaiian prawns, jalapeño, calamari, and calabrian chili aioli; beet & burrata with persimmon and coriander citrus vinaigrette; forest mushroom risotto with kale sesame chips and mascarpone; pan seared scallops with butternut squash purée, brown butter, warm spices and pumpkin seeds; and lamb shank with scallion potato pancake, horseradish purée, and caramelized onion jus.
New cocktails include peach fuzz with Denizen three year rum, stirring peach, lemon juice, citrus simple, orange bitters, and egg white; last word edgewise with Junipero gin, yellow chartreuse, Lillet blanc, lime juice, and pineapple juice; the holy strawberry drop with lemongrass vodka, Lillet blanc, citrus simple, lemon juice, strawberry, and plum bitters; and scotch and cigars with belle meade, walnut liquor, turbo simple, and angostura bitters.
For more information , visit TheFiveCrowns.com.
Gelato Paradiso Anniversary
Happy 20th anniversary to Gelato Paradiso! The purveyor of perfect gelato opened its first location in Newport Beach in the fall of 1999 with a goal of preserving the heritage and quality of traditionally-made Italian gelato and sorbetto, while making a commitment to its communities by sourcing the highest quality, all natural ingredients, and by supporting staff volunteerism for a wide variety of local organizations.
The company has since expanded to three other locations in Southern California including Laguna Beach, Coronado, and San Diego. Gelato Paradiso will soon be opening its first out of state location in Austin, Texas.
If you have not been to Gelato Paradiso, what are you waiting for? Go have a taste at the Fashion Island Atrium, 401 Newport Center Dr., suite A102.
For more information, visit gelatoparadiso.com.