During Easter weekend my wife and I decided to take a short road trip up to Newport Beach, California to most of all, escape the routine. I’d been there once when I was 12 and wasn’t really expecting much other that enjoying some down time. I remember it being a very beautiful quiet town surrounded by sailboats and breathtaking homes. I was pleasantly caught off guard by the extensive variety of dining choices and indeed coming across one of the best relaxing culinary experiences of my life thanks to these three places: The Crab Cooker, Gulfstream and Javier’s.
We arrived at Newport on Friday around noon and quickly settled into our hotel to be on our way to our first dining destination, The Crab Cooker; this particular destination was highly recommended by my father-in-law. My personal first impression upon arrival was that this place would be “different.” The best way I can describe it is as an eclectic little place painted red with neon signs out front. As I walked in I observed a small fish market area where there were oysters, fish and crab legs for sale; a few small steps later was the dining room where loads of “stuff” were hanging from the walls, from old paintings to a an entire sailboat and so much more, you can imagine it really gets your attention. Everything was served on paper plates and with plastic utensils. The dinning room was packed; I knew I was in for a real treat.
First up was a blue point oyster with a side of lemon, horseradish and cocktail sauce. Delicious. Right after came our order of crab cakes; no pretention here, just fried up breaded fresh crabmeat with seasoning, it can’t get any better. And then came our main course: 2 pounds of Alaskan King Crab served warm with butter. What can I say aside for it being a truly fresh seafood experience? Anytime anybody is in Newport Beach they have to eat here. The Crab Cooker, my new favorite place for crab.
The next day for lunch we arrived at a small commercial mall that is mainly composed of many boutique stores, and 3 of my favorite places in the world: Bristol Farms, Sur la table and Sprinkles cupcake, each one within a short walk from another. We finally arrive at Gulfstream restaurant; since we were a big party we had to be divided into 2; it turns out that the tables inside are bolted down. Regardless of this slight inconvenience, my attention turned to the ambiance of the restaurant. The décor is Beautiful! Very light but elegant with an open kitchen where you can see everything that’s going on, adjacent to a wonderful bar where you can enjoy California cuisine at its best.
We started with oysters served with a mignonette and homemade biscuits with honey, it was completely random but,nonetheless, exquisite. Next came the best Southern Californian Clam Chowder I have ever had. I really can’t explain why it was so good because it had the same traditional ingredients, yet it had that “je ne sais quoi” that just made it the best to this date. Right after came a mesquite grilled artichoke with mustard mayo. The smokiness gave it a completely different and delicious flavor. My main course was the fall off the bone! Short Ribs with a honey mustard sauce accompanied by a great California Cabernet. All I can say is definitely add Gulfstream to your list when in Newport.
As Saturday was coming to an end and I was mentally preparing myself for Easter brunch at noon the next day, I called up one of my best friends and editor Vanessa who happens to live in Orange County. I told her that she had to take me out on my last night in Newport, her choice. The shock came when she said we were going to Javier’s, an obvious Mexican place. My immediate reaction was somewhere along the lines of “really? Are you serious? You’re going to take a Mexican that eats in Mexico more often than not to a Mexican food place in Newport?” She just said,“Trust me” and with all the skepticism in the world we arrived.
As soon as you see Javier’s you notice there are palm trees and fire pits along the entrance with a cozy terrace lounge at each side, full of beautiful local people. We met the hostess without a reservation and calmly told us we had to wait for one hour for a table. We headed to a stunning tequila tree bar to enjoy some cocktails while we waited. The service was excellent even though they had a full house. We waited possibly a total of 30 seconds to get our first round of drinks. The crowd was a mix of young and old but all fun. It turns out Javier’s is an amazing high-end Mexican restaurant/bar. Our hostess took us to our table after the hour wait. As we walked in to the dinning area I noticed the old wooden tables and black chandeliers, a décor of Modern Mexico, the Mexico I like people to experience. Unfortunately we all have countless stereotypes and many of them are in regards to Mexican restaurants and cuisine so Javier’s came to me as a breath of fresh air. The food was deliciously authentic, (authentic is the key word) Mexican food, from the Carnitas to the Carne Asada, the salsa and the chips, TRULY Mexican with a beautiful atmosphere.
With these delightful and highly enjoyable dinning experiences I came back on Sunday afternoon with a great feeling and impression about Newport Beach: surf, sun, golf and food. Not just any food but a culinary 10. For those who haven’t been there, take a weekend to get to know Newport Beach and for those who have visited, I know you can’t wait, like me, to go back.
See you next week.