Off the Menu OC

Covering the dining scene in and around the OC

A Restaurant Gets A+ Grade

“Meet me at the Arches.”

That was a familiar phrase back in the 1920s and 30s, when the only route between San Diego and Los Angeles was Pacific Coast Highway.

The Arches Restaurant and Gas Station at the corner of Newport Blvd. and Coast Hwy. was the halfway meeting point between the two towns.

Built in 1926, The Arches eventually shut the filling station while the restaurant altered cuisine and appearances over the years, but it never lost its place in local lore.

Several years ago, The Arches changed hands and names, but retained its allure. Now called A Restaurant, it’s become known for creative, upscale cuisine in a fun and energetic yet classy atmosphere.

A Restaurant 5Despite driving past the restaurant many times, we had never managed to fit a visit to A Restaurant into our schedule. That changed recently when we were invited to a media tasting to sample new menu items; we also returned two weeks later for dinner.

The media tasting offered an opportunity to try a variety of dishes–more than we’d normally sample during dinner. However, dinner on a recent Friday night gave us a chance to have the “A” experience.

Between our two visits we tried several appetizers and sides. Chris’ favorites were the spicy yellowfin tuna on crispy eggplant with chili aioli and sweet soy ($16), which looked beautiful on the plate and were morsels of goodness on the palate, and the charred octopus ($16), with eggplant, shallot, sweet garlic, peppers, pine nuts, and romesco.

Catherine preferred the  Brussels sprout leaves ($12) with capers, lemon, butter, shallots, and a grilled crouton. “They are not your average Brussels sprouts–they had a great buttery flavor that made you forget that you were actually eating something you used to dread eating at your family dinner table,” she said.A Restaurant 2

Catherine also had to try the mac and cheese ($9), which featured Hooks four-year cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses. It was baked with a crispy layer on top and just the right amount of gooey cheese underneath.

For our Friday dinner, Chris ordered the Alaskan halibut ($32) with baby artichokes, fingerlings, black garlic, turnip puree, and chanterelles. Again, beautiful presentation, and perfectly prepared.

A Restaurant 4Catherine had heard about the famous A Restaurant New York Block Cut, ($44), a 12oz steak with the fat cut off, leaving a piece of meat that’s juicy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside.

Catherine ordered hers cooked medium. It arrived as a baseball-sized steak on the plate with black truffle aioli on the side.

Catherine took a bite of her steak and nearly swooned. She offered Chris a piece, and his reaction was “wow!” We agreed it may have been the best steak we’ve ever had–perfectly cooked and seasoned, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. We’re still talking about it two weeks later.A Restaurant 3

Kudos to Chef Jonathan Blackford for a creative menu that offers new takes on old classics as well as creative gastronomic inventions.

Yes, the menu is a bit pricy, but we agreed that the high quality of food and the overall experience matched the price.

Call A Restaurant at (949) 650-6505, or visit arestaurantnb.com.

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