By Matt Coker
By Keith Plocek
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Matt Coker
By Edwin Goei
By Dave Mau
3334 Pacific Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Region: Newport Beach
Here's a concept no one saw coming: an affordable restaurant in Newport Beach. Even more surprising is that Tim and Liza Goodell are behind it. You may know the duo better as the husband-and-wife team who brought us the classy and costly Troquet and Aubergine.
Their restaurant, "A," or more formally, "A Restaurant"—a name impossible to Google and the future foundation of many Abbot-and-Costello-like routines—occupies the building that previously held the Arches, the PCH institution that once boasted John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart as regulars.
Seemingly stripped of all pretense (not to mention consonants), A is no longer just for the A-list. The dimly lit dining room feels like a cozy pub, and at least one part of the menu exists as a response to our souring economic times—OC's version of "The Recession Special," if you will.
Here, pastas are rotated out nightly, each heartily heaped onto plates in portions to satisfy John Q. Public without putting him in trouble with creditors. No dish in this section ticks above $16.
On Mondays, it's beef stroganoff, in which ribbons of egg noodle as wide as Scotch Tape are teamed with button mushrooms, a few slices of steak and an almost-too-rich sauce made from crème fraîche. On Tuesday, you'll see agnolotti with sage, English peas and brown butter. On other nights, feast on tagliatelle with lamb ragu, ricotta and mint, or linguine with clams, even gnocchi.
You were expecting spaghetti with cut-up hot dogs or Easy Mac? I said A is affordable; I never said "cheap."
Besides the pastas, the workingman can chomp on the A burger, with a patty as substantial as a steak, broiled to any rosy shade of pink you want. Under the glossy, mahogany crust of the bun, there's an unusually thick slice of bacon, strings of caramelized onion, blue cheese and some arugula, which does nothing but get smooshed beneath the weight of it all. The meal costs $14, but includes a cone of shoestring fries piled so tall that no one expects you to finish.
But it isn't all about being frugal and filling up on carbs. If the Duke were alive, he'd still be able to mosey in and order a bloody steak—everything from a $19 8-ounce flatiron to an $89 32-ounce porterhouse for two. Other cuts fill out the middle, but all sides have to be ordered à la carte for $6 apiece.
He'd probably take in the French-onion soup while he was at it, something the Arches would've kept as a staple. A does it good and proper, the brew poured into an ornate goblet with a floating raft of toast, draped with a bubbling, fetid layer of Gruyere. Your nostrils will recoil at the stench, but your palate will rejoice in the caramel sweetness of liquefied Vidalias.
The caesar salad, on the other hand, is not worthy of any palate, rich or poor. Though some fried capers add zing, the croutons are stale, the romaine overdressed. Choose the asparagus salad instead: Spears of pickled asparagus are lined up to form a platform that supports a sunny-side-up egg on crusty, toasted bread. Let the yolk break and dribble to offset the salad's biting, vinegary presence.
For appetizers, oysters on the half shell, shrimp cocktail and crab cake are all available. But why bother when there's octopus on the menu? The bane of Captain Nemo exists here as chewy, coin-sized tentacle medallions, mired in a spicy sherry salsa that plays like a marinara as cooked by a Mexican mom.
Marine creatures such as mussels and yellowfin tuna inhabit the starters and creep into the entrées. Three bloated scallops are seared with bacon bits and mushrooms, served on top of creamy, mashed spuds. And the lightly smoked Scottish salmon is simple, pure and demure as it rests over a mess of fingerling potato salad.
For those who insist that a farm animal must die for their supper, there's pot roast, roasted chicken and a pork chop. Although they're all more expensive than the pastas by a few bucks, they're still reasonable compared to the steaks. You'll need the extra cash (at least $5) for the restaurant's compulsory valet. But before you balk that there's no self-parking, remember: This is still Newport Beach.
A Restaurant, 3334 Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 650-6505; www.arestaurantnb.com. Open daily; bar, 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; dining room, 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Starters, $12-$30; Pastas, $13-$16; Main entrées, $14-$34. Full bar.
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