At Pelican Hill's Andrea, the Service Is Everything You'd Expect, But the Food Is Unexpectedly Dull

Color Me Beige
The opulent dining experience at Pelican Hill’s Andrea is everything you’d expect, but, with some delectable exceptions, the food is unexpectedly dull

When describing the newly opened Resort at Pelican Hill, you’d be remiss if you didn’t employ certain adjectives. So let’s get them out of the way: Opulent. Breathtaking. Luxurious.

These descriptors also apply to its newest restaurant, Andrea. The restaurant’s terrace boasts a view of the rolling golf course on a hill. Beyond that lies the sparkling Pacific Ocean. From the horizon, Catalina Island waves hello.

As you’d expect, the service is impeccable, bordering on obsessive. It all started with the valet, who noticed that I had my coat crumpled in the back seat and asked, “Would you like to bring your coat, sir?” When I agreed, he opened the back door and took out the coat, but he didn’t just hand it over—he put it on me.

It continued from there. There wasn’t one doorman; there were two. Both bowed slightly as we passed. During dinner, there were no fewer than three staff members flitting about our table, refilling water glasses and replacing the tableware before every course. It didn’t matter that we hardly touched more than one fork; the whole set of utensils and plates had to be cycled out as part of the routine, all for pomp and pageantry. Their dishwasher is one unlucky son of a bitch.

Our head waiter had a European accent, probably a prerequisite of the job. I hardly understood the guy, but that’s precisely the point. This is the flagship Italian restaurant in a resort inspired by Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. You’d better believe they’re going to dote on the details.

Yet the dining room is a neutral beige, purposely designed not to offend. The food, unfortunately, followed suit. It goes the safe route, operating on the assumption that palates need to be coddled, not jostled.

They offered us breadsticks—or, more accurately, bread yardsticks, ridiculously long, extruded pieces of baked dough the length and shape of a rider’s whip that were stale by the time I bit into one. And though it sounded promising, a complimentary amuse bouche of foie gras mousse with a cherry-port reduction was nothing more than muddy-tasting foam. My bouche was more confused than amused.

For a starter, we ordered the burrata, which appeared to have been unceremoniously plopped onto a plate. The cheese—all ropy and chewy on the border, mushy and decadently creamy in the center—seemed to long for its plate mate, a barely dressed mound of peppery arugula that was placed 4 inches away. Like lovers yearning to embrace, the two components of this salad course would’ve been better if they were allowed to get it on, maybe drenched in some sinful sauce. Instead, the pairing was star-crossed.

A colorless appetizer of braised artichoke hearts had a bread-crumb topping, which carried with it its only hints of life. The rest was a bland, soggy and watery dish overloaded with shaved fennel and underfunded of flavor.

Luckily, the pasta dish woke our mouths from boredom. The perfectly cooked ribbons of tagliatelle with chewy nubs of smoked pancetta lived up to the wordy introduction on the pasta menu. The preamble: “In true Italian tradition, Andrea’s pasta is made fresh every day in our Pasta Room, using the finest and simplest ingredients—stone wheat flour, organic eggs, filtered water and natural salt from Cervia, Italy. It is created by hand in our dedicated Pastaio, where the pasta dries on oak-wood bars and the temperature is always a perfect 68 degrees.”

The main entrées came with no such buildup. The turbot was as dense as a Real Housewife and just as dull, flavored with what seemed to be just salt and pepper and served with an underseasoned pile of wilted spinach. The osso bucco was better. Like a deconstructed beef stew, it was accompanied by a small mountain of grilled root vegetables. But this was a true veal shank—a sopping column of slow-cooked meat surrounding a thick central bone. We were given a tiny fork and a tiny spoon to extract the marrow. And though I made a remark to my tablemates that the dish had a certain “Dinty Moore taste” to it, I didn’t mean it as an insult.

Ice cream—in the form of quenelle-like ellipticals of pistachio and hazelnut gelato and a bold blood-orange sorbet—was an elegant closer. Each was spoon-lick-worthy: smooth as soft serve, as fulfilling as Häagen-Dazs. Afterward, complimentary petit fours arrived in an ornate silver candelabrum. The assortment of cookies and mini-tarts were meant to be plucked off with our fingers. Finally, that dishwasher can take a break.

Andrea at 22701 Pelican Hill Rd. S., Newport Coast, (800) 820-6800; www.pelicanhill.com. Open daily, 5-10 p.m. Dinner for two, $100-$120, food only. Full bar.

 
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