Newport Beach’s A Restaurant remains a local favorite
“I’m in love,” moans my husband as he reclines back in satisfaction. While I wish these doting words were directed at me, the aroma inducing his blissful smile surely is not my new eau de perfume; I can tell that with each savory bite of his rib eye, it’s apparent that my husband is sweet-talking the steak. I can’t really blame him. Newport Beach’s A Restaurant is known for its prime cuts. Chef Jonathan Blackford purchases from five prime purveyors to ensure that his beef is always top notch. “He only uses the best,” says operating partner and restaurant veteran Jordan Otterbein. The charred medium rare perfection that appeared sizzling at our table now glistens with melted herb butter, garnished on the side by a petite head of roasted garlic. The dish leaves nothing to the imagination. It’s just a great steak.
When founding partner and Corona del Mar native McG took over the current A Restaurant space in 2006, he knew that this project was going to be a labor of love. The restaurant had indelible history. Originally, the building housed The Arches, a longstanding Newport Beach institution that doubled first as a diner and a service station.
As McG and Otterbein gear up to celebrate the space’s 90th anniversary in March, it’s refreshing to see that A Restaurant continues to exude an old school cool, befitting of the Rat Pack. Red leather booths, dark wood-paneled walls, framed black and white photographs of Orange County, a dimly lit dining alcove warmed from the glow of a fireplace in the adjacent bar. While the décor remains classically retro, the food is up-to-date and modern. “The menu needs to stay relevant,” says Otterbein. A delicate calamari starter sings with charred Shishito peppers and pickled caper berries. “We give the chef total creative freedom when it comes to the food,” he continues. “And, I know we can trust the chef completely.” Otterbein then mentions artichokes. “It’s a dish usually on the menu. But, the chef hasn’t found any that meet his standards. So, we haven’t served artichokes in weeks.” This mention of Blackford’s restraint is refreshing. Especially since I recall an experience just a week before when I dined at another PCH hotspot where the artichokes were tough and inedible.
Ingredients of the highest quality are key to the restaurant’s success. The cheese and charcuterie boards include some of the world’s most beloved artisan creations. A soft ripened goat cheese called Humboldt Fog with its bloomy rind comes served with warm honeycomb that melts as it spreads on lightly toasted croûtes. The charcuterie ranges from white truffle Berkshire pork salumi to classic two-year aged prosciutto. The Ibérico de Bellota, touted as the finest ham in the world, is an unctuously delicious import from Spain. Forged from black-hoofed, acorn-fed Ibérico pigs, this delicately sliced pork exudes a subtle sweetness, which balances well with the ham’s salty curing process.
Other main courses include the delightful ocean trout that appears with a bright pink-hue and looks more like salmon than trout. The free-range veal porterhouse must not have been up to snuff on the night we dined, since the chef swapped it for a juicy, well-seasoned pork chop. The thick slab of pork still pairs well with the porterhouse garnishes. I devour the smooth white truffle-laced potato puree plated beneath the chop.
The food and ambience encourage diners to linger away the evening. The servers at A Restaurant are knowledgeable without being pretentious; helpful without seeming invasive; and confident without sounding arrogant. This comes through when we dine on a blustery Sunday evening speckled with light raindrops. Our server, Steven, doubles as the sommelier. As he glides around the dining room, Steven gently inserts himself into the neighboring table’s boisterous conversation with a few witty, well-placed jests. He refills their wine glasses and then heads to our table. “I already know the perfect wine for your steak,” he says to my husband. “Trust me.” He returns with a spicy Malbec blend. The wine’s peppery notes offset the steak’s rich flavor. “He was right,” confirms my husband.
“Tell the chef: Another great steak,” says one gentleman to Steven. “I’m never disappointed.”
A Restaurant, 3334 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949.650.6505 :: ARestaurantNB.com