Passion Projects

For February, treat your sweetheart to one of these special spots 
fueled by passionate local chefs and artisans

Valentine’s Day is one of those looming holidays. There’s so much pressure to secure a prime reservation. Steaks, oysters, Champagne, and chocolate all seem like the perfect recipe for a decadent evening, but there are so many more interesting ways to share your love through food. For Orange County connoisseurs, we are blessed with an abundance of great restaurants. Instead of adhering to a traditional V-day menu, why not opt for something different? This year, visit a place where the chefs, owners and those tending the bar harness their passions to create something truly memorable.

Home sweet home

A Restaurant reopened with a mission. For the owners Joseph McGinty “McG” Nichol and General Manager/Operating Partner Jordan Otterbein, it was a love letter to Newport Beach. The longtime friends had known each other since middle school. For them, The Arches restaurant represented a piece of Newport history, a remnant of the good old coastal city that they once called home. More than forty years later, Otterbein and Nichol jumped at the opportunity to take over the iconic space. They harnessed the talents of chef Jonathan Blackford, who believes that food is a sensual experience. His attention to American-raised Wagyu and prime cuts will make you swoon. Nicols and Otterbein transformed a passion project into one of Orange County’s best steakhouses.

A Restaurant, 3334 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, 949.650.6505

For the love of the craft

Most couples will reserve tables at Five Crowns, but a real hidden gem is the tavern next to the restaurant. SideDoor seems like an unlikely choice for a romantic rendezvous, but the casual, laid-back, unpretentious atmosphere is reason enough to secure a table. The new head bartender Randy Thais is another. Thais shares his love for craft cocktails and his affinity for rye whisky with his Corona del Mar patrons. His mission: to concoct seasonal libations that are meant to act as conversation starters and to perfect the classics. Thais also has a little secret. 
He doubles as a poetry lecturer at UC Irvine. So, he can recite sonnets from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” while simultaneously serving a mean milk punch that took him three days to prepare.

SideDoor, 3801 E. Coast Hwy, Corona del Mar, 

Secret Garden

Chef Kathy Pavlos created a romantic farmhouse retreat in the tucked-in Newport’s Back Bay. Working with culinary landscape consultant Kathryn Agresto, Pavlos planted her dream: an herb and vegetable garden that inspires her culinary endeavors all year round. Tender lettuces and fresh basil are sprinkled into salads and appetizers. Lavender and mint are infused in housemade spirits and cordials. The garden invigorates Pavlos and her team’s creative minds. It also makes a lovely backdrop for a relaxed dinner date under the stars.

Provenance, 2531 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach, 

Finding refuge

When the Monarch Beach Resort launched last year, everyone admired the stunning renovation. Sprawling views, hints of cerulean blue and an open-air lobby draw you in and transport you. When descending the staircase from the lobby to the resort’s AVEO Table + Bar restaurant, you instantly feel transported, as if you are someplace special. This year, AVEO presents a $59 Valentine’s Day dinner tasting menu. The meal kicks off with an amuse bouche called “Chef’s seductive teaser,” followed by a creamy lemon verbena lobster bisque or an organic arugula and Frisée salad tossed with truffles and candied pecans. The main course gives diners an option of diver scallops plated with risotto and a spinach watercress emulsion or beef short ribs braised in Stone Brewery’s stout beer drizzled with a pan reduction sauce and porcini mushroom essence.

The decadent meal at AVEO is ideal for the big day. But, for ladies looking to spread a little love amongst their friends, the resort also offers its GAL-entines party on February 3 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Celebrity manicurist and nail polish designer Deborah Lippmann opens up her namesake salon at the resort’s Miraval Life in Balance Spa. Not only will Lippmann be in attendance for express manicures and cocktails, but she also promises to serenade the group with a live jazz performance. Canapés will be passed around during the evening–scallop crudo with green papaya, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato tapenade on olive bread, port wine-infused pears with Gorgonzola and candied walnuts. The GAL-entines party intends to take the pressure off before Valentine’s Day. After all, who isn’t passionate about being pampered?

Monarch Beach Resort, 1 Monarch Resort, Dana Point,