It’s always exciting when a noted restaurateur opens a new restaurant in Newport Beach (CdM, Louie’s by the Bay and Arc Kitchen & Bakery are the most recent).
However, I am particularly excited about a new concept from the man who created Rouge, Chat Noir, French 75, Chimayo, Diva, Kachina and many others from his Culinary Adventures office in Fashion Island.
Yes, David Wilhelm is returning to Newport Beach with a new restaurant concept that should turn out to be as popular as anything else he’s ever done, and he’s done a lot.
Wilhelm is an icon in the Orange County restaurant world. Credit Wilhelm with some of the best restaurants created in this area over the past three decades.
His Chimayo restaurant – later renamed Rouge – was a fixture in Fashion Island for many years until Chef Pascal Olhats took over the restaurant and renamed it Brasserie Pascal. It’s now the home of Sushi Roku.
I was a regular at Chat Noir in Costa Mesa, and French 75 in Laguna Beach (now renamed Selanne Steak Tavern), as well as Rouge, and loved the themed touches Wilhelm brought to each restaurant.
Eventually, Wilhelm pulled out of Culinary Adventures and, after doing some consulting, took his palate to San Diego, where he opened Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern in 2010.
The upscale casual gastropub concept was a hit, so Wilhelm opened a second Jimmy’s (aka J-FAT) location in Dana Point, then several more in Orange County and L.A.
However, Wilhelm recently sold his stake in J-FAT to the family of his late financial partner, and is bringing a new concept, Tavern House Kitchen + Bar, to Newport Beach.
Wilhelm has purchased longtime Coast Highway staple 3Thirty3, which will close soon and reopen this summer as Tavern House.
“I did not expect this would happen so quickly, but it did, so I am super excited to be back in Newport,” Wilhelm told me,
Wilhelm has teamed with longtime restaurateur Gregg Solomon, who developed a number of restaurant concepts over the last three decades, including working with Wilhelm on Kachina, Bistro 201, Barbacoa, and several others.
Wilhelm had talked to 3Thirty3 owner Jeff Reuter a year ago about turning the restaurant into another J-FAT, but decided to pass on the opportunity. Now, a year later, Wilhelm and Solomon structured a deal to buy a majority ownership of 3Thirty3.
Reuter will remain on board as a minority partner as the space transitions. Jeff Hatch of Hatch Design, the original designer of 3Thirty3, has agreed to come out of retirement to lead the interior renovation and design.
Tavern House looks to be an extension of the J-FAT concept, which seems perfect for Newport Beach.
“3Thirty3 slowly morphed into a bar and late-night entertainment spot,” noted Wilhelm. “There was less of a focus on food. Ten years ago when we launched J-FAT, I was of the mindset that was the kind of restaurant that people were looking for, and clearly that proved to be the case. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel with this one. I am going to feature some of the J-FAT signature dishes. With this location on the bay with spectacular views, the emphasis will be on seafood. We want to offer a great experience, great food, a lively bar. We want to be the local neighborhood go-to place.”
Wilhelm is making substantial cosmetic changes to the restaurant’s interior, from lighting to new booths. He’s reconfiguring the seating and redoing the covered patio.
“I don’t want people to walk in and think we just painted it a different color,” he told me. “We are also making substantial changes to the back of house because we’re going to do a lot more volume in food than 3Thirty3 did.”
As far as the menu, Wilhelm said he’ll be bringing select dishes from J-FAT, as he retained the rights to every dish he created over the past 10 years. There will also be a “greatest hits” section from his long career, such as the famous side-by-side soups from Kachina or the memorable souffle from French 75.
“I thought it would be fun to bring back some of the dishes that people ask me about all the time.”
And will the terrific Jimmy Burger from J-FAT make it on his menu?
“That’s one of my personal favorites,” he said. “If you’re a fan of Jimmy’s, you will not be disappointed.”
Wilhelm said he hopes to finish his remodel sometime in June, although he acknowledged that a remodel always takes longer than expected. Photographers are currently shooting food photos, so hopefully the reopening is not far behind.
Visit tavernhousekb.com for updates on Tavern House.