After 20 years in business, another grand dame of the Newport restaurant scene has passed on, and in Villa Nova's place, overlooking the bay, the highly regarded Winery from Tustin has opened its second location.
After a major remodel, the new restaurant has emerged, and it is quite beautiful, featuring stone slabs, warm wood flooring, a 14-foot private wine locker in the entrance hall and a two-story glass wine cellar along one wall with a capacity for 6,500 bottles. It employs eight sommeliers, and one of them is a level three.
A lovely dining room and large bar overlook the bay as does as a second-floor dining area and bar. An outdoor deck is accented by a fireplace at each end.
Executive chef Yvon Goetz, a Michelin star winner, uses the finest products, including prime meats and fresh-caught fish from Hawaii, flown in daily.
The appetizer menu has many tempting choices. My dining companion and I studied the selections carefully, and I finally decided on the Alsatian "pizza" (tarte flambee). We were delighted with the paper-thin crust topped with rich crème fresh, bits of applewood-smoked bacon, oozing gruyere cheese and sauteed onions. A very subtle sweetness lingered underneath. It was a generous portion and we took half of it home, but it will do nicely as a light lunch with a salad.
We also enjoyed the prosciutto-wrapped Hawaiian shrimp, although they were slightly overcooked, probably because of the prosciutto needing to be cooked longer to get crisp, which it was. The shrimp were nestled on a delicious arugula and asparagus risotto. The dish was delectable, with a creamy lemon verbena beurre blanc mixed into the rice.
My main course was a beautiful preparation of three jumbo Maine scallops and three wild white shrimp, dusted with saffron, also on a bed of risotto, this time studded with edamame beans and roasted red pepper. It was very cheesy and very good. The shrimp were again overcooked, but less so than before, and the scallops, sadly, were rather tasteless.
My companion liked his flatiron steak, which was an unusually thick piece, not the typical thin flatiron. It was perfectly medium rare, juicy and quite tender, with a good char on the outside and Cajun spice seasonings. The generous side order of sautéed spinach was also good. It was studded with roasted almonds and lots of garlic.
A unique category on the menu offers a choice of more exotic proteins: venison, elk, buffalo, ostrich, kangaroo, pheasant, quail, squab and partridge. A few different selections are offered each night. Take a walk on the wild side and try one.
We enjoy desserts that offer several small tastings so we can try more things. The Winery offers a trio of chocolate decadence, including chocolate mousse sandwiched between chocolate meringue crisps, a warm chocolate brownie with whipped cream on the side and a chocolate crème brulee with fruit on top. They were all good, but none was outstanding. The brownie had a slightly gritty texture.
Our other dessert was cheesecake. We found this version to be too light. It lacked the density and richness of great cheesecake. We have both done some serious cheesecake-eating in New York, and by that standard, this was just OK.
Diners also have the option of eating in the large bar area, where there is a separate menu. The selection seems very appealing. Crispy pork belly, lobster risotto lollipops, a trio of beef sliders, oysters on the half shell, hot lump crabmeat and tomato fondue are just a few of the items you will find there.
I'm sure this eatery will become a fixture in Newport Beach, just as its predecessor once was.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 3131 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach
When: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 5 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (bar opens at 4 p.m. daily)
Appetizers: $9.95 to $22.95
Entrées: $22.95 to $52.95
Desserts: $9.95 to $11.95
Bottles: $32 to $3,200
By the glass: $8 to $30
Corkage fee: $25
Information: (949) 999-6622 or thewineryrestaurant.net