Another Slow Food Revolution
Back Bay Bistro’s beef and bananas are worth the wait (and weight)
How long would you wait for a cheeseburger? Fifteen minutes? Thirty?
If you ordered one at the sparkling-new Back Bay Bistro (nee Back Bay Café) like I did a week ago, you would’ve had plenty of time to ponder the question. Service during these formative weeks at the newly remodeled restaurant will be slow. So take a crossword puzzle with you, or just whittle away the minutes by sipping iced tea, staring out at the water, and watching the boats putter in and out at the docks.
Had it been in any other setting, on any other day, the lag time would’ve been intolerable. But the Back Bay Bistro is located at Newport Dunes, one of the most tranquil places in OC, where time seems to move at a slower pace than the paddle boats you’ll see inching along in the distance. And the sunlight pours in not just through the restaurant’s bay windows, but also from above—its roof retracts like a planetarium’s.
Since the mood is relaxed and leisurely, it’s easy to cut the staff a little slack.
When our lunch finally arrived, I’d realized they’d forgotten the bacon on my bacon cheeseburger. I pointed it out politely and patiently—like I said, I was in a sunny mood—and it came out shortly thereafter on a saucer and with an apology. Unfortunately, the burger was still unremarkable. The bun was of a thick stock and sturdy crust, but the half-pound patty seemed to possess the all-too-familiar consistency of frozen, machine-formed ground beef. It did its duty in filling my stomach, nothing more.
The Reuben sandwich was better, but it was far too lean and far too neat. You’ll have the same reaction if the memory of Tommy Pastrami’s sublimely sloppy and gloriously greasy Reubens are still fresh in your mind. And if you’re day-dreaming of Alerto’s nachos, snap out of it before you try Back Bay Bistro’s version. Otherwise they, too, will disappoint. Despite three different colored tortilla chips, guacamole, sour cream, refried beans and cubes of grilled chicken, you’ll need some Cholula Hot Sauce (provided upon request) to finish the plate.
We came back after sundown for dinner. Without daylight, the calming views were gone, but the food was now making up for its absence. The baked, macadamia-crusted halibut had a creamy flesh so moist it melted into its puddle of lime-cilantro sauce. It seemed more apropos to eat the fish with a spoon instead of a fork.
The prime rib was one of the best I’ve ever had. Every cube of meat I excised from the slab was a tender, sanguine pleasure. The side of au jus and creamy horseradish wasn’t necessary, but both were the best versions of themselves; neither was too salty nor too overpowering. Pound-for-pound, the meal was the best bargain from their roster of red meats. At $24, it’s priced $8 less than the New York steak, which also weighs 12 ounces, and it’s only a measly $3 more than the half-pound burger.
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The worst deal was an appetizer called the “Mashed Potato Martini.” For the egregious price of $13, mashed potatoes are leveled into a martini glass, and then topped with either sautéed bay shrimp or three tiny, chewy slices of steak. The novelty of eating meat and potatoes from a martini glass will wear out quickly when you realize what you’ve just paid for. Avoid it.
Ironically, another martini glass is used for the best thing they do: the Bananas Foster Nuggets. Simply put, I’ve never had anything involving bananas that impressed me more than this dessert. Encrusted in a fried shell, it will remind you simultaneously of donut holes and apple fritters. Each bite led to the warm, sweet and mushy insides of fruit. Over the three golden-brown morsels and the vanilla-bean-ice-cream base, banana puree and caramel was drizzled. It was more of a treat than the panoramic views of Newport’s Back Bay—and worth the wait.
Back Bay Bistro, 1131 Back Bay Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 729-1144; www.backbaybistronewportbeach.com. Open Wed.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Lunch entrées, $10-$24; dinner entrées, $18-$36. Full bar.