Photo by Jessica Calkins Her eyelids had the iridescent hue and slow flutter of a Blue Morpho butterfly's wings. And few could look as good in the tight dress to match. I told her so. "Thanks—it's Vivienne Tam," she offered.
We met while waiting for our tables at Gulfstream. I perused the oyster bar during the delay. The chef offered up a plump, glittering morsel on the half shell. "Hama Hama," he said. I slurped down the amuse-bouche, imagining that the Tam-clad, name-dropping talent would probably consume at least half a dozen, not really as food, but as foreplay.
Of course, she wasn't the only one dropping names. Owned by Houston's, Gulfstream used to be called Cowboy Seafood. "The name changed to reflect the menu," said manager Phil Kastel, pointing out that while there are five fresh fish choices daily, there are only two steaks. Say what you will about either name: hoards of Newporters both famous and obscure have cruised PCH at ramming speed to dine there ever since it opened. And now it's added lunch.
Gulfstream makes it easy on claustrophobes and others who just like their space like Chartres. Or maybe outer space. You could drive a Rose Parade float through the gaping exhibition kitchen and down the aisles, clear out onto the enormous stone patio to people-watch among the sycamore trees. On one visit, a nervous-looking producer-type was nearly obscured from view by the diaper-bag-sized man purse he guarded like a rent-a-cop. I pegged him for the rib-eye steak, which, while it packs flavor and heft, probably feels less dangerous than risking possible mercury content in seafood.
Other, more comely patrons lounged on Adirondack chairs around a blazing fire pit like so many indie film celebs at Sundance. They seemed to have tuna carpaccio written all over them: although it's tasteless, it sounds good, and they were putting away too much vino to care.
Everything is big at Gulfstream. Even tennis star and Gulfstream regular Lindsay Davenport, who was sporting crutches taller than most of the waitstaff on one of my visits, seemed perfectly comfortable sprawling in a candy-apple-red leather booth. I couldn't make out what was on her plate, but she seemed like the caesar salad type; crispy romaine paddles coated perfectly with a yummy Reggiano-tinged emulsion and topped with lightly battered, tender-sweet crispy fried oysters. For her entrée, I would guess the cedar plank salmon: full of flavor, perfectly cooked and with an incredible moist texture that goes great with the wispy shoestring fries and creamy, sweet slaw.
Yes, Gulfstream is big, but you'll never be served an entrée that is outweighed by a power garnish, and no heaps-o'-chow that scream Claim Jumper either. Proportions are just right. So is the wine list. And though there are just a handful offered by the glass, it's always something interesting and varied. Chardonnays, for instance, range from the pungent and nervous to the buxom and buttery—a little something for everyone and every dish.
I'd choose a voluptuous, vanilla-heavy pour for once-a-week regular Tawny Kitaen and pair it with the super-rich English-muffin-sized lump crab cakes. If she wasn't in the mood for seafood, I'd steer her toward the ultra-tender Flintstones-sized short ribs with mustard-infused barbecue sauce. On second thought, the actual rib consumption is better left to ordinary schmoes like me. Waiters and chefs trying to catch a glimpse of Tawny Kitaen sucking on bones covered with sauce could really back up the kitchen, not to mention pose a safety hazard.
Not being famous has huge advantages. I'm sure being an celeb has its perks too, but how, pray tell, can you maul Gulfstream's tender, juicy fried chicken sandwich (like yours truly did) without having annoying people wondering how you manage to stay thin eating such high-calorie entrées? Well, you can't. Desserts aren't a big deal at Gulfstream, but they make a fabulous hot fudge sundae with candied pecans. I'll leave that for the more active—like, say, Davenport.
GULFSTREAM, LOCATED AT 850 AVOCADO IN NEWPORT BEACH, IS OPEN MON.-WED., 11:30 A.M.- 10 P.M.; THURS., 11:30 A.M.-10:30 P.M.; FRI.-SAT., 11:30 A.M.-11 P.M.; AND SUN., 11:30 A.M.-9 P.M. (949) 718-0188. DINNER FOR TWO, $70, FOOD ONLY. BEER AND WINE. VISA, MC AND AMEX ACCEPTED.
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