Feed Your Inner Food Critic
If the Internet’s aggregate review sites have taught us anything, it’s that a food critic lurks within the depths of everyone’s soul. It’s a part of the psyche that isn’t satisfied with declaring a plate of food good or bad. A critic insists on breaking down the “why” behind the decision, from the way a dish is presented to how its flavors combine to create a perfect bite. While it’s fun to feed this beast, this endeavor can sometimes be cost-prohibitive. This is usually a problem, since a critic always seems to be hungry.
Keeping this demanding brute satisfied is one of the biggest reasons why Newport Beach Restaurant Week continues to be so vital 10 years after it launched. The affordable prix-fixe menus crafted by the event’s participating eateries make it possible to provide your inner food critic ample opportunity for analytical workouts without breaking the bank. As the following dishes show, you’ll find plenty of edible inspiration to share your epicurean musings with the world – or at least with your friends and family.
Andrea at Pelican Hill
Newport Beach Restaurant Week takes place in late January, so your inner food critic should expect to see several items that fit the vibe of the crisp, cool season. The thyme pappardelle lunch item offered by this Newport Coast resort’s flagship restaurant excels at capturing the essence of wintry bliss. The herb adds a warm, slightly spicy touch to the dish’s wide ribbons of handmade pasta, which intertwines with a wild Oregon winter mushroom ragout. These dense flavors are enriched by Marsala and mascarpone sauce, which furthers the dish’s delectable seasonality. Springtime can wait.
A chicken club sandwich may not be the first thing that interests your inner food critic while perusing Restaurant Week menus. When Top Chef “alumnus Brian Huskey crafts it, however, exceptions to this mindset can and should be made. The visually arresting version of the sandwich he whips up at the Corona Del Mar “local grub shack” is simple on the surface; topped with apple-wood smoked bacon, tomato, romaine lettuce, and lemon garlic sauce. However, these freshly procured elements are meticulously arranged so no one ingredient overpowers the other, leaving you with a sandwich delivering flavorful consistency with every bite. This sandwich is a textbook case of finding brilliance in the basics.
Even non-food critics know that Brussels sprouts have transitioned from scorned vegetable to a must-order appetizer. This rather remarkable metamorphosis makes the Brussels sprout pizza at this popular Mariner’s Mile space an essential bite during Newport Beach Restaurant Week. The pie’s design takes its cue from the now-traditional composition of a Brussels sprout appetizer, with the circle of dough dressed with red onion, pancetta, panna, mozzarella, and Pecorino in addition to the dense, leafy green. The mélange of toppings results in an earthy, smoky pizza that is filling without feeling heavy. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more fun way to eat your veggies.
Amelia’s Seafood & Italian Restaurant
Considering the bevy of restaurants that debuted in Newport Beach the last couple years, you’d be forgiven if you’ve lapsed on visiting some of the city’s classics. Newport Beach Restaurant Week is the perfect time to get re-acquainted with veteran venues. Perhaps no spot is more worthy than this long-standing Balboa Island spot. Their go-to status for seafood and Italian cuisine is succinctly reinforced with their pink plate special; a thoughtfully composed dish featuring broiled salmon, zesty scampi, and plump lobster ravioli. One bite will have you wondering what took you so long to get back here.
You would hope a sushi restaurant known for crafting meditative omakase would put together a Restaurant Week menu with an equal amount of culinary intuition. Takashi Abe, owner/chef of this Crystal Cove Promenade venue, does not disappoint. To wit: his Chilean sea bass miso-yaki is a fourth-course option during the venue’s five-course prix-fixe dinner, sandwiches between sushi and dessert. The fish’s delicate nature and its subtly sweet glaze entice with rich, creamy flavors that gently prepare your palate for the meal’s final bites. This dish helps frame the entire meal as an edible journey.
There should always be room on your schedule to enjoy a burger during Newport Beach Restaurant Week. The 10 oz. Newport Wagyu burger served during lunch at this Fairmont Hotel eatery deserves your time by far exceeding the basics. Over a half-pound of some of the world’s most desirable beef is succulent and wedged between two buns, joined by heirloom tomato, avocado, and honey pepper bacon. This plate provides the kind of satisfaction that only a good burger can bring and also delivers the kind of gravitas that your inner food critic may demand.
Rockin Baja Lobster Coastal Cantina
You don’t need white tablecloths, dim romantic lighting, or fancy cutlery to achieve a sense of fulfillment during Newport Beach Restaurant Week. All you need is good food. There may be no better way to prove this axiom than by ordering the seafood skillet melt at this laid-back joint along Balboa Peninsula. Garlic butter-sautéed shrimp, crab meat, and lobster rests between a Mexican rice bed and a layer of Jack cheese and Poblano cream sauce. This hearty, “stick to your ribs” meal will make you happy.
If you are going to feed your inner food critic a salad for the main entrée, it better be a showstopper. The hoisin glazed shrimp and mango salad at this Corona Del Mar venue fits the requirement nicely. Balance is the key to this lunchtime dish’s delightfulness. The shrimp’s inherent sweetness tempers the salty, slightly pungent nature of the glaze coating its surface. This combination allows the tropical fruit to step forward and deliver a bright tang to the dish without being overwhelming. This may technically be a salad, but it’s one you may reward with five stars.
Chances are, your inner food critic moonlights as an amateur photographer. If so, the bucatini offered at this Fashion Island establishment is ready for its close-up. This dish’s gorgeous nature comes from a decidedly rustic appearance. The slightly thick, toothsome pasta and a strategically placed hen’s egg provide vertical bookends for guanciale, burnt cabbage leaf, tomato, chili, and Pecorino. The fully composed dish looks like it was lifted directly from a simple home ensconced in the Central Italian countryside. Make sure you set your smartphone’s camera to a decent setting before the pasta arrives.
Newport Beach Restaurant Week is the perfect time to indulge in desserts your inner critic has always wanted to try since most prix-fixe dinner menus end on a sweet note. It’s certainly a prime opportunity to sink your teeth into Roy’s Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé at this Fashion Island staple. This treat is part lava cake, part traditional soufflé, and densely packed with rich, oozing chocolate goodness. At the same time, raspberry coulis and a scoop of vanilla ice cream adorning the plate bring a different dimension of sweetness, preventing the dish from being a cocoa overload in the process. This decadent meal-ender warrants breaking any New Year’s resolutions you may have made, if only for one night.