Above photo courtesy of I Nom Things
Thanks to a generous invite from the Lido Deck Restaurant arranged through their PR, my friends (including blogger pals I Nom Things, Hey Hey Scenesters, Gourmet Pigs, e*starLA and Rumdood) and I had an opportunity to check out the recently-opened Newport Beach restaurant (which used to be Blanca, where I met I Nom Things, Rumdood and Gourmet Pigs and numerous other foodbloggers for the first time via Foodbuzz-arranged dinner.)
While the original plan was to have an dockside dinner experience at the Lido Marina Village, the cold and sprinkly rain shifted the meal indoors--probably to the relief of my camera-touting, and light-craving, dining companions.
But the biggest surprise of all was what Chef Don Schoenburg (formerly of Leatherby's Cafe Rouge and Tradition by Pascal) planned for us that evening, namely a nine-course tasting extravaganza--which none of us had expected on a Wednesday evening. Their PR did indicate it'll be a chef's choice dinner, but I was thinking maybe five courses and not nearly double that (and that's if you consider multi-component dishes as one "course," which you'll soon see.)
The culinary theme of this restaurant and wine bar is tricky to pinpoint but it works surprisingly well, reflected in the dishes such as a marinated calamari salad with kalamata olives and heirloom tomatoes, cinnamon-rubbed pork loin with red mole and polenta and braised rabbit roulade with chanterelles, mushrooms, asparagus tips and celery root puree. If I absolutely have to attach a cuisine label, based on ingredients and techniques used I would say primarily Cal-French with a good dose of Mediterranean and Latin-American influences.
And while all nine courses are solid in their own right, the five below are the most memorable to me, and dishes I'd love forward to ordering again . . .
Paté and Cheese Platter - this isn't your ordinary charcuterie of salami, sopressata and jamons -- but their housemade duck and olive pate, pork and tarragon terrine and rabbit rillette, served alongside a variety of amazing cheeses (a crystalline 18 month-old Gouda and a complex, layered Spanish tres leches [from goat, sheep and cow milks] among them,) is absolutely rocking. Even friends squeamish about trying exotic meats can't help grabbing extra forkfuls of the rabbit rillettes. And I love combo-ing the cheeses with the different accompaniments (particularly the honeycomb and pickled onions.)
Chili-Smoked Shrimp w Brown Sugar-Chili Rub w Mango Gastrique and Mango Sorbet - A definite standout in taste and style; a perfectly cooked shrimp is rubbed with brown sugar and chipotle and ancho chili powders and served alongside a fruity sauce and sorbet. I was ooohing and aaahing with every chew as I'm hit with a sublime combination of spice, smoke, sweet and tang, further accentuated but the hot-cold contrast between the shrimp and the sorbet. When I asked Chef Schoenburg about the inspiration for this dish, so vastly different than anything else that night, he noted he created it as a upscaled bar snack that's tasty and encourages diners to drink more beer, which I can totally see happening. But regardless of whether (and how much) you drink, this is a must-try bite!
Seared Day Boat Scallop w Braised Wild Boar Bacon and Escarole, Black Truffle Jus and Dijon Mustard Foam - pure comfort in a bowl, every aspect of this dish just warms the soul and the stomach: perfectly seared scallop with an ever-so-thin layer of crackly crispiness yielding to a luscious, creamy interior and accented with just a hint of mustard, thick sliced bacon and tender escarole with flavors cranked up a serious notch from the braising liquids and the truffle jus. Definitely will defy any pre-conceived notions of the ubiquitous "bacon-wrapped scallop."
Venison Tenderloin, Cauliflower Puree, Chanterelle and Black Trumpets, Honey Glazed Cipollinis and a "Zinfandel Paint" - another not-so-common meat that some dinner guests were initially skeptical of (or, as we joked around the table, "now that we've had thumper and bambi, I hope flower's not coming next!") that turned out splendidly. The venison has the flavor and texture of an unweaned baby lamb, just a smidgen of gaminess and absolutely tender and juicy. The mushrooms were wonderfully meaty and I loved what the honey glaze did to the already-sweet onions. If there was one thing we felt bad about, it's leaving so much venison on the plate because we've already feasted on seven other courses by the time this arrived!
And of course, the sweets here, prepared by pastry chef Christi Carter, definitely deserved its own special kind of applause. This "single course" actually consisted of four desserts: a brioche French Toast with roasted bananas and pineapples, a flourless chocolate cake, a trio of gelato and sorbets (one nestled in a sugar cage) and a medjool date cake with black pepper toffee caramel. All were great, but the first and last ones were definitely the crowd favorites. Really, who can resist a breakfast sweet as dinner dessert? And the date cake is like a new-and-improved sticky toffee pudding that's less heavy and cloyingly sweet. Despite exclamations of "I'm too full to eat any more desserts" I still saw spoonfuls being snuck as Chefs Don and Christi talked to us. Personally, I didn't even vocalize the "can't have another bite" pretense and kept digging right in.
Talking to Chefs Schoenburg and Carter after the dinner, I can really tell the passion and love they're putting into this new restaurant, and trying to bring a newer kind of dining to the O.C. - where guests can have a few small bar bites to go with their wines or beers, or enjoy an elegant meal without breaking the bank (their 3-course dinner prix-fixes are $38, $55 with wine--not shabby at all!) And as the days get longer and warmer, there's that absolutely gorgeous waterfront view (and for those who actually want to be dining in the water, for $100 you can get a gondola cruise around the harbor and a multi-course picnic meal!)
And while they admitted business have been slow since Valentine's Day, I'm sure as the days get longer and sunnier a lot more folks will take advantage of their marinafront space for a refreshing al fresco meal with a gorgeous view to boot, and I plan on being one of them later this year!
The Lido Deck & Wine Bar
3420 Via Oporto, Suite 101
Newport Beach, CA
Chef Schoenburg's twitter