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Dock Your Paycheck
The food is pricey, the clientele is Peninsular, but the skilled hands in the Dock’s kitchen make for a welcome port, even in this economic storm
We were outnumbered by rich people. Some arrived after crossing the marina on a Duffy boat, moored to the restaurant’s dock. Others came on foot. Everyone, it seemed, called the Balboa Peninsula home. And judging from their chatter, they socialized in the same circles, walked their dogs in the same parks and ate regularly at the restaurant even though it’s been open only for a few weeks.
This was Dennis and Christine Overstreet’s the Dock, located in the claustrophobic side streets of Balboa’s Cannery Village, where parking is scarce and metered. Before it, the couple owned Le Quai on the same spot, then closed it up and leased the space to Dan Marcheano, who opened Arches on the Water. Marcheano’s restaurant was supposed to be a companion piece to the Arches, which is still found not more than 50 paces away from here. But two Arches restaurants within yards of each other was one too many in this economy, even for the pampered and privileged.
2816 LaFayette Ave.
Newport Beach, CA 92663
Region: Newport Beach
So when Arches on the Water finally folded, the Overstreets reclaimed the place, changed the menu, reupholstered the couches, and added votive candles and a fire pit. But the hook of the place hasn’t changed: The patio is still breezy, open to the elements, and so close to the water you can skip a stone from your seat.
As such, it’s prime real estate for those who can still afford to plunk down $25 on main entrees, and God-knows-what on wine. We, on the other hand, were financed by a modest OC Weekly expense budget. So, knowing we were outspent and underdressed, my self-conscious tablemate texted me during the meal.
“I feel like I’m in a bad episode of Real Housewives,” he typed.
“Is there such a thing as a good episode of Real Housewives?” I replied.
Despite our insecurities, we enjoyed the food, which was prepared inside a pocket-sized kitchen by hard-working men whose toil and sweat can be seen from the street through a window. The grilled romaine they cooked up was yet another take on the new classic. A whole bullet-shaped head of the lettuce was charred to wilt and warm, drizzled with an acidic dressing and crumbles of chewy bacon, bleu cheese and diced tomato. Every leaf touched by the flavor it brought was wonderful—the salty, the tart and the sweet merging to offset the slightly burnt bitterness of the greens.
Protein-based appetizers were also well-made, none more so than the PEI mussels (that’s Prince Edward Island to us proles), which lived up to their hyped pedigree. Each tiny sea castanet we pried open revealed fleshy morsels easily gobbled; the race was on to pluck the last one from the bowl. Since no spoons were provided, the spent shells became the tools to scoop up the flavorful parsley, tomato and white wine broth puddled beneath. On the side: crisp homemade fries as thin as matchsticks and addictive as sex.
We saw the fries again later, topping the salmon entrée. But it wasn’t the only starch on the plate. Inexplicably, the fish also sat on risotto. Yes, that’s two starches in one dish. A grave miscalculation if it didn’t work; but it did. Root veggies were present but hidden as part of the perfectly creamy rice. Most important, the salmon was crisped up properly on a rocket-hot pan, like all salmon should be. The same can be said for their pan-seared sole—which came with no starches at all. This yin to the salmon’s yang, it turns out, was Atkins-friendly, with only carrot puree, asparagus, and a barely there saucing of lemon caper butter as side items.
If it weren’t for the couscous that joined the lamb loin entrée, it, too, would’ve been low-carb. Despite being mixed with raisins, the couscous was far too dry. Tasting too much like unseasoned breadcrumbs, the arid granules desiccated my mouth faster than my glass of water could rehydrate it.
But oh, that lamb! It was roasted, rested and sliced perfectly. Every medallion I ate was blush-red but not bloody, tender but firm. This is the kind of precise attention to detail that might inspire more than locals to visit the restaurant. So watch out, you wealthy Balboa Peninsula dwellers: The 714 rabble just might come over someday (as soon as we get our jobs back) to check out your new favorite neighborhood spot.
The Dock at 2816 LaFayette Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3625; www.eatatthedock.com. Open for lunch, Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Tues.-Sat., 5:30-9:30 p.m.; brunch/lunch, Sat.-Sun., 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner for two, $60-$80, food only. Beer and wine.