By Matt Coker
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Sauces made of velvet and class in Newport Beach
Never mind that the Arches has been in business since 1922, the hangout for such legends as Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne. Never mind that it was frequently featured in the now-defunct Fox show The O.C. Never mind all that because nothing—and I mean nothing—will prepare you for its prices.
508 29th St.
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Region: Newport Beach
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Unless you're a regular who has come to revere this Newport Beach institution, you'll do a double-take at the $45 it costs for a rib-eye and the $49 for a lobster tail. If that doesn't send you running for the nearest value menu, then the whopping $58 for the king crab legs will.
Regulars will also know that the restaurant's current Newport peninsula location—hidden in a maze of alleyways on 29th Street—has only been open for a month. The original spot on PCH now belongs to McG—the man responsible for those Charlie's Angels movies.
Meanwhile, Dan Marcheano, ex-Marine and owner of the Arches since 1982, took his loyal staff, the menu and the name to the smaller digs. Although it's still classy (the waiters are tuxedoed), the new space is breezier, more casual than stuffy. The old restaurant had barely a window; the new one has nothing but.
The menu also got a minor makeover. Alongside such old standbys as Chateaubriand and Steak Diane are now barbecue items such as pulled pork.
The Escargot Bourguignon was exactly the kind of appetizer those Old Hollywood icons would have enjoyed—a food that predates cholesterol-controlling medicines and heart-healthy attitudes. It's presented six shells to a serving, on a dimpled metal dish slicked with melted butter and minced garlic. A gripping instrument that looked like a speculum crossed with an eyelash curler was provided, along with a skinny fork to fish out the meat. But the whole point was an excuse to slurp that garlic butter, and I made sure to lube each dark, chewy nugget in the fat until it gleamed. When I was done with the snails, I sopped up the rest of the puddle with some French bread.
Just as buttery was the house white clam chowder. Rich with cream and packed full of clams, it needed just a dash of pepper to attain a perfect balance. The French onion soup was lighter but just as savory. Beneath its broiled gruyere top, a crouton raft floated, soaking up a beefy broth sweetened by the caramelized onions. This was the best French onion soup I've had in recent memory.
Then came the Money Dishes.
While I'm still unconvinced that $58 was a fair price for the Alaskan king crab legs, the steamed limbs were extra meaty and as sweet as candy. About a half-dozen came on the plate, each one precut lengthwise to make extraction easier. Clarified butter and a lemon wrapped in cheesecloth were necessary, but the crab claw crackers were not.
For the Steak Diane, filet mignon was cut to four medallions the width and thickness of silver-dollar pancakes, then pan-seared and draped in a brown sauce studded with mushrooms. The meat was fork-tender, but it was the gravy that wowed: Pan juices, cream, cognac and a touch of Worcestershire coalesced to form a sauce seemingly made of velvet and class. It even made up for the fact that the Steak Diane wasn't cooked tableside, as it's traditionally supposed to be.
Although the $45 rib-eye wouldn't usually come with tableside theatrics, it needed it, if only to justify the price. It was chewier than it should've been, with too much gristle and too little flavor.
Bananas Foster got things back in order, although it was brought out sans flambé. Regardless, this dessert was exactly right—the warm slices of the fruit were spiced with cinnamon and cooled with a quickly melting vanilla ice cream.
After our meal, Marcheano greeted every diner warmly and gave a long-stem rose to all the ladies in his restaurant, a gesture that echoed the doting presence of the waitstaff. It was then that I understood why the Arches commanded such a loyal following despite its prices: It's not so much the food as it is the location. And now that it has moved, it's not so much the location as it is how Marcheano and his staff treat everyone as if they were Hollywood stars.
THE ARCHES, 508 29TH ST., NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 645-7077; WWW.THEARCHESRESTAURANT.COM. OPEN FOR LUNCH MON.-FRI., 11 A.M.- 3 P.M.; OPEN FOR DINNER DAILY, 4:30 P.M.-1 A.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $150, EXCLUDING DRINKS. FULL BAR.
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