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The Gossiping Gourmet: A Restaurant that's like time machine travel

September 26, 2012|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz | By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • The flatbread with strips of portabello mushroom above melted taleggio cheese at A Restaurant in Newport Beach.
The flatbread with strips of portabello mushroom above… (DON LEACH, HB Independent )

Stepping into A Restaurant is like stepping into a time machine and finding oneself back in a 1940s steakhouse with dim lighting, nail-studded, dark red leather booths, wood paneling, a roaring fireplace and a buzzing bar.

When oil was discovered in Huntington Beach in the early 1920s, a road was built to connect Newport Beach to Huntington. In 1926 a restaurant and service station was constructed at that junction and called the Arches.

At first, it was just a roadside diner, but by the '40s it was known for its steak, seafood and Hollywood stars. Morphing again in the 1970s, it became a fancy French restaurant.

In 2008, the Arches was sold and the site was completely remodeled to replicate the interior and menu of its steak and seafood heyday. Thus, A Restaurant was born.

In the hottest days of summer, it is somewhat peculiar to walk into a dark dining room with no windows and a blazing fire. Nostalgia quickly set in as we slid into a comfortable red booth, and took in the red plaid carpeting and the red ambient lighting in the bar.

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Speaking of the bar, the scene is intense. Martinis and pick-ups abound; the decibels are high.

The service too was old-fashioned, which is to say that we had a very attentive and helpful waiter. We really appreciated his suggestions and caveats.

He guided us to the flatbread for an appetizer, which was quite delicious. It had a very crispy, razor-thin, crackerlike crust adorned with slim slices of earthy portabello, peppery arugula, salty taleggio cheese and large shavings of Parmesan.

What was advertised and undetectable was "truffle." Certainly there were no pieces of truffle, and if there was truffle oil, we missed it.

A tempting appetizer would be choices from their charcuterie and artisanal cheese selection. Duck salumi, lonzino (spice-rubbed cured pork loin) and Perigord Noir (black truffle sausage) all sound interesting and a little different.

Among the cheeses is a mellage, a very strong flavored cow, goat and sheep's milk for the serious cheesehead. Their very good, warm, crusty bread makes the perfect conveyance for getting those morsels into your mouth.

Jidori chicken soup with dumplings was a thick potage, with shredded chicken, spinach, carrots and a little cheese. Unfortunately, the dumplings were dense and tasted undercooked.

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