A perfect night out in Irvine for the Markowitzes includes a nice meal, an art film and a shopping spree at Trader Joe's. What's even nicer is that you can do it all within walking distance of your car.
We begin by buying movie tickets at one of the few remaining art-film houses left in Orange County, Edwards University Town Center 6, then stroll a few steps along the sidewalk into the always-reliable Britta's Café for a very pleasant meal. The attentive staff is always respectful of patrons' time considerations for the movies or the theaters. After the film, we walk over to TJ's and get supplies for the weekend.
As you approach, you will notice the two attractive outdoor patios dripping with bougainvillea on either side of the restaurant. The interior is one large room with a giant skylight over the slightly raised central dining area. Other seating is arranged around the room beside the large windows, and there is a bar area framed in rich, dark brown wood. The décor includes a pressed tin roof, blue and white checked cloths, fresh flowers on the tables and original artwork on the walls.
We have dined here frequently and never had a bad meal. The menu is changed six times a year, which makes for variety and seasonal freshness. We first encountered Britta when she opened a tiny place on the peninsula across the street from the Balboa Cinema, another art-film house that has bitten the dust.
A basket of warm house-made bread, this time sourdough with herbs, arrives with a little cup of butter to stave off hunger as you decide what to eat. We began with a delightful salad of mixed lettuces in a delicious blackberry dressing. It came with a soft, creamy, sweet ball of goat cheese cloaked in crushed almonds and pistachios.
On the lighter side, we would also recommend Henry's olives, which are hand-cured, artisan style, mixed olives. Steamed artichokes are another of our favorite starters.
You can create your dinner from the small plates menu or choose from the large plates menu. Small plates are tapas-size and served a la carte. The entrees come with seasonally inspired accompaniments.
From the small plate menu, we tried the pork belly served with a perfectly runny poached egg and frisee lettuce. Their take on pork belly was to slice it thin and fry it until it was unbelievably crisp. That, mixed with the runny yolk, was a decadent riff on bacon and eggs. The frisee had a light, seeded mustard vinaigrette for contrast.
Another small plate, which wasn't all that small, was meatballs on a bed of creamy polenta. The polenta was soft rather than creamy, but good, and the meatballs were pleasant but unremarkable. What made the dish was the thick, chunky tomato sauce cloaking them.
Kase spaetzle is the restaurant's German version of mac n' cheese. The spaetzle was a little too soft and the cheese was too mild. It was the only real disappointment in an otherwise delicious meal.
Our server recommended a dessert that he said was his favorite. We were in absolute agreement once we tasted the chocolate pot de crème. It was chocolate lovers' ambrosia. The chocolate was dark and dense and smooth and super rich. It was the best we had ever tasted! Naturally, whipped cream crowned the luscious custard for the final bit of decadence.
Britta's Café is open all day, serving breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. On Wednesdays, you can also get a burger, pomme frites and Caesar salad at the bar for $14. Call ahead to reserve your burger.
Yappy hour is the first Friday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m. Bring your dog and get complimentary nibbles. Well drinks and selected wines are $5.
Monthly wine dinners feature four courses paired with four wines
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: 4237 Campus Drive, Suite B-165, Irvine
When: 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Appetizers: $6.75 to $19.50
Small plates $13 to $19.50
Entrées: $18.50 to $27
Desserts: $6 to $7.75, $19 (cheese and fruit platter)
Bottles: $23 to $66
By the glass: $7.50 to $15
Corkage fee: $12
Information: (949) 509-1211 or http://www.brittascafe.com