New Tastes and Favorite Classics

When we fall in love with a restaurant, we can’t help but compare notes. Here, we share 10 of our favorite newbies and the mainstays to match.

Maison Café + Market | Provenance

Passion isn’t normally listed on a menu, but in the case of these establishments, it absolutely should be. Provenance has quietly been spearheading the notion of farm-to-table cooking for years—first with Lucca in Irvine and then with Provenance, which opened five years ago. From the on-site garden to the stunning Sunday suppers, it’s more than a restaurant—it’s a local treasure. The same can be said of Maison, which recently opened to a shockwave of celebration among locals. It pays the same sort of homage to flavor and simplicity that Provenance does and showcases a reverence for delightful presentations.,

Provenance| Photo Credit: Anne Watson

††††††CdM | The Winery

CdM Restaurant’s American fare, craft cocktails and eclectic atmosphere beckons folks looking for a place to—well, to serve any number of purposes. “Friday night could mean a group of friends coming back from the beach, a couple on a date or colleagues that want a fun spot to hang out after work,” TV producer/owner McG told Sauté in the spring. The braised Colorado lamb is the stuff dreams are made of; the grilled heirloom carrots would appeal to even those who hate veggies; and the Gin Blossom is as delicious as it is pretty. That’s the same type of allure The Winery holds. It’s been 10 years since JC Clow, Chef Yvon Goetz and William Lewis opened their first restaurant in Tustin, paving the way for a spot on the water in Newport and a kitchen in San Diego. McG and biz partner Jordan Otterbein opened A Restaurant in 2008, and we suspect there’s more to come from this team. (By the way, CdM recently expanded its hours to include weekend brunch. Cheers!),


Chaak | Taco María

It’s one thing to present diners with regional cuisine from another country. It’s another thing to do so in a way that changes every notion you’ve held about that cuisine. Chaak and Taco María are evolving the perception of what regional Mexican food can be, and the respect for the ingredients and the heritage of the food shine bright. Taco María opened in Costa Mesa six years ago and has since established itself as a worthy classic. Chef Carlos Salgado has earned plenty of awards, including a Michelin star. While Chef Gabby Patrick’s Chaak is the newcomer, having opened in Tustin a little more than a year ago, its cacophony of flavors and skilled execution will open the hearts, minds and palates of anyone who visits.,

Fable & Spirit | The Cellar, San Clemente

There’s a timelessness to both, and a sense of locality that invites you to sit, exhale and enjoy the beautifully crafted food and drinks. The Cellar has established itself as the definitive example of what we love about California hospitality—an amalgam of what makes a meal with friends great. By comparison, Fable & Spirit opened in June in Lido Marina Village and has already established itself as a go-to spot with a menu that truly delights.,

Fable and Spirit | Photo Credit: Anne Watson

Harley Laguna Beach | Social Costa Mesa

Chef Greg Daniels is no stranger to the restaurant business. He was a key player in the team that opened Haven Gastropub in Orange back in 2010. But his new venture, Harley, showcases his keen ability to serve comforting food and clever drinks in a fun, welcoming environment. That’s why Social Costa Mesa pops into mind. Andrew Dorsey and his partner, Chronic Tacos founder Daniel Biello, opened Social five years ago, and it instantly became a hot spot for coworkers, couples and friends. The concept proved so popular that Dorsey recently opened a second outpost—Social Huntington Beach.,

Harley Laguna Beach

Journeyman’s Food + Drink | Studio at Montage

When you’re served one of Zach Geerson’s creations, you can’t help but notice the artistry. Each dish is constructed with care—components placed just so, creating a balance of color, texture and beauty. And every bite is delectable. Located at Hotel Fullerton, Journeyman’s has elevated the North County food scene, and in the year since its opening, it has become a worthy comparison to Studio, where Chef Ben Martinek exercises the same care
in sourcing ingredients and composing culinary masterpieces. His Garden Tasting Menu is one such picture-perfect example.,

Photo Credit: Anne Watson

Knife Pleat | AnQi

One is French. The other is Asian-fusion. While the cuisines are very different, these two restaurants have more than one thing in common. Besides being chic dining destinations at South Coast Plaza, they share a buzz among foodies and ladies who lunch that began a year before each opened and that continues to this day. For AnQi, it’s lasted almost 10 years—the restaurant celebrates a decade in business this December. The family behind its success—with matriarch and Master Chef Helene An and daughter Elizabeth at the helm—operate a small empire of fine-dining establishments in L.A., including Beverly Hills’ Crustacean. Likewise, the power couple behind Knife Pleat, restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi and Michelin-starred Chef Tony Esnault, have already demonstrated their skills with two uber-popular L.A. kitchens—Church & State and Spring. With the elevated offerings they’re dishing out at Knife Pleat, we’re certain they’ll enjoy the same degree of success.,

Knife Pleat
Knife Pleat

Ocean at Main | Marché Moderne

Though there have been many chefs to grace O.C.’s kitchens, there may be no greater examples of excellence, consistency and quality than Ocean at Main’s Chef Craig Strong and Marché Moderne’s Florent and Amelia Marneau. Equal parts technique and charming whimsy go into constructing every one of their creations. Newport Coast’s Marché Moderne has a relaxed elegance—like a cool barefoot stroll along the beach, but while wearing your Sunday best. Laguna Beach’s Ocean at Main is much the same, and it is quickly—and easily—affixing itself into the upper echelon of restaurants.,

Ocean at Main

OmG | Hamamori

Chef James Hamamori set the bar for sushi in O.C., first with his Wasa Sushi and then when he opened his eponymous South Coast Plaza jewel, Hamamori Sushi, in 2007. His skillful assembly of fresh, vibrant seafood has consistently captivated diners and earned him accolades. We see that same expertise at Omakase by Gino (OmG for short) a 10-seat restaurant that opened in Santa Ana in December. But unlike Hamamori, which is open for lunch and dinner, OmG is open for dinner only Tuesday through Saturday, and the format is more like that of a pop-up—everyone is served at the same time from a $105 prix fixe menu that often includes 15 to 20 courses. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth it, consider the reservation lead time—it takes at least a week to snag a seat.,

Davio’s | Il Barone

There are restaurants, and then there are restaurants—enduring institutions that will resonate with diners for years to come. That’s Davio’s, which opened in Irvine last October, and Il Barone, which has remained a go-to spot for almost a decade. Both deliver on outstanding cuisine, great service and an Old World charm—like an 8mm roll of film scored with the best of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.,

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Sauté Magazine.

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