Big-House Volume, Small-House Mentality
I never so much as look at a menu when I'm out to dinner with my girlfriend Lee. The publicist for your more obscene OC restaurants—I literally gained five pounds in one night when we went to Fleming's steakhouse, and ended up, months later, having to lay off beer and red meat to finally pare the stubborn fuckers off—Lee knows how to feed the county's reporters, and she knows how to do it in imperial style. At Blue Coral Saturday night, between the flights of premium vodka and the stuffed lobster, Lee might as well have called out some Christians and lions for our kingly amusement.
Lee consulted with our waiter on vodka for me, and decided on Jewel of Russia, Pinky, Roth and something else, presented in a small ice bucket in rounded, feminine, but four-inch-high shot glasses, and I sipped them slow and ladylike, like I sip my Night Train. The Pinky—infused with wild strawberries and rose petals—had too much flavor for my tastes, and in a different one (the Roth?), you could taste the grain alcohol, but one (I'm hoping the Jewel of Russia) was like drinking raindrops in some part of the world that hasn't yet succumbed to sulphur dioxide and PCBs—fuck-you-up raindrops, but raindrops nonetheless.
About the time I began on my vodkas, chef Michael Doctulero took his break from the kitchen and sat down at our table. We talked about the akita he and his wife had rescued that day, the feminine energy of the blue-toned restaurant and why women feel comfortable in it (it doesn't have the testosteroned energy of a steakhouse, Michael explained, and has a nice mix of customers), all the nasties that inhabit farm-raised salmon, whether or not you can eat Chilean seabass again (Michael claims that 90 percent of the countries that were overfishing the seabass have signed onto a treaty protecting its spawning season and such, and so the formerly endangered seabass is once again good—and delicious—to go), my son's favorite sushi (octopus sashimi), the report last week that our oceans will be emptied of seafood by 2045, and why the feds won't allow Irish organic fish to be labeled organic here. Michael was a wealth of knowledge on healthy living, and I wouldn't be gaining five pounds on his watch, no sir, unless I decided to finish the Maine lobster en fuego in one sitting (one and a half lobsters stuffed back into a shell, fattened up with a creamy chile aioli), which clearly couldn't have happened even if we hadn't started with the carpaccio nicoise with cukes and capers in a lemon vinaigrette, the yellowtail crudo with alaea sea salt and fresh blood oranges, beefy and sweetly charred (practically caramelized) asparagus, and an apple/blue cheese slaw. No, clearly even without those things, the greater portion of the lobster would have ended up on my lunch plate the next day. ("Be sure to bake it, not nuke it," Lee provided helpfully, "it's so much better that way!")
Dinner was as extravagant as it always is when I'm out with Lee, but it was light too. Take the seabass, for instance, done not with the usual lemon and capers but with red and golden peppers, or take the lobster. Four men do nothing but clean and strip the little buggers all day for the 300 dinners Blue Coral will serve. It's big-house volume but a small-house mentality, Michael says before bragging on his sous chef—poached from Gustav Anders—and complimenting broadly the rest of the staff too, smiling while he rattled off their résumés and bona fides. Even with the premium vodka flight, I didn't end up bloated, and the care that went into each dish—its pleasing textures and unexpected flavor combinations and beautiful plating—was the kind of care that makes you long for real money so's to dine that way everyday. Of course, we heard that the Top Chef finalist at one of the tables was bitching and criticizing but everything. Reality show contestants are so very, are they not?
Some hours later, after our multiple cappuccinos, an acceptable but not amazing apple tartlet, and a whole lot of gossip, Lee and I said goodbye.
Next week, she's taking me to Darya.
BLUE CORAL, 451 NEWPORT CENTER DR., NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 856-BLUE. OPEN SUN.-THURS., 5-10 P.M.; FRI.-SAT., 5-11 P.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $60-$120, FOOD ONLY.
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