Good Breakfast, Fab Lunch, Great Dinner

Photo by Tenaya HillsSome of the county's better restaurants operate from hotels, such as Savoury's in Laguna Beach's La Casa del Camino, Aqua over at the St. Regis Resort, and the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel's recently departed Dining Room. Notice a trend? Nearly all hotels with optimal dining experiences hug the coast; their inland brothers, meanwhile, tend to serve cuisine only slightly better than the greasy spoons that congregate around them like quagmires in Iraq.

But the Hyatt Regency in Irvine is trying to change that. Last month, the favorite stopover of John Wayne Airport arrivals unveiled 6ix Park Grill, the latest culinary safari for Yves Fournier of Chanteclair fame. Fournier's creations at 6ix Park are fresh and memorable, a studied California approach to standards such as salmon, steak, and pastas. Even more impressive, though, Fournier veers from the protocol of most county hoteliers and offers a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. To get the full 6ix Park effect, then, I visited the restaurant for each food cycle. Why I did it in reverse order, though, only the saints and my wallet can fully explain.

DINNER: My charming companion Sarah made reservations for a 6 p.m. dinner, but it wasn't necessary. 6ix Park was curiously empty for a Wednesday eve, a disappointment quickly dismissed by our host Brett. "Once people find out about us, they'll eat here every night," the confident blond giant boasted. "Just you see."

It was a balmy evening, so we requested a patio table. Brett brought out a basket of olive-encrusted sourdough and fried lavash. Sarah grimaced at the former but she chomped through that lavash with a gluttonous joy. Fournier's crew fries the Persian flatbread until it achieves a Doritos crispiness, studding it with oregano and a sharp cheddar cheese. 6ix Park's lavash is the best tweak to a traditional side since the time I forked through a chocolate tortilla, and the lavash boldly complemented our entrées: a grilled halibut floating on a tangy green sauce for her, so-so balsamic-doused risotto for me. And the grilled octopus appetizer was marine bliss: tender, charred at the suction cups, painted with a wonderful lemon-pepper glaze.

Sarah and I were sated; dessert was impossible. But Brett insisted. "You have to try the apple-hazelnut cobbler with a ginger sorbet—it'll be the best dessert you'll ever have!" he enthused. We called his bluff, and let me tell you: whatever the Hyatters pay Brett, it ain't enough.

LUNCH:6ix Park is the only great restaurant in the John Wayne Metro area, so many of the area's worker drones march here for lunch. Which means there's always a wait—but it's not that long. Today, there was a solitary booth inside, and although I'd prefer my lunch basking in the sun, I grudgingly followed the attentive hostess through the dining room.

In retrospect, the lack of outdoor seating was a gift from God, since 6ix Park's dining room design is an interior recreation of heaven. The only walls mask the kitchen, and it's made of soft wood that seems stolen from the old Boston Garden parquet flooring. An elliptical wooden bar offers refuge for the soused; everyone else eats at tables spaced far enough to offer intimacy. Large windows thankfully make no effort to keep out sunlight.

6ix Park's lunch menu was similarly celestial—multi-layered sandwiches, chilled cucumber soup, some pasta dishes. I went with the top sirloin but was disappointed by its average size. In 6ix Park's defense, I grew up on the glorious hunks of Chris & Pitts, so most steaks looks puny to me. An accompanying peppercorn sauce, however, redeemed 6ix Park's sirloin magnificently—tangy, slightly sweet, as great a meat balm as ever concocted, and apt for sprinkling on that fried lavash. Damn lavash! I would walk down the 405 at rush hour for that fried lavash, and judging by the traffic that greeted me after lunch, walking just might be faster than driving.

BREAKFAST: Even at six in the morning, 6ix Park dazzles. A fetching waft of woodchip-fueled smoke drifts outside, greeting businessmen about to catch a flight and couples awakening from their trysts. Restrained lighting illuminates the restaurant just enough so that eaters can enjoy the rejuvenating rays of the coming dawn.

The breakfast menu is the least inventive part of 6ix Park—the usual A.M. suspects of waffles, omelettes, cereal/fruit combos, and no lavash. But breakfast is also the time where people can eat the frittata skillet, the reason why we keep chickens in coops. It's a dense, fresh mass held together with goat cheese that in some parts maintains its bumpy consistency to salty effect. Spinach and mushroom lengths bless the frittata with multiple notes, but bulbous, sugary plum tomatoes catapult the dish to that strata of things you want to greet the day with every day. And as I scrape off those last egg remnants from its skillet host, I sigh with anticipation. Lunch is but four hours away, dinner but eight—and the 6ix Park cycle begins anew.

6ix Park Grill, located inside the Hyatt Regency Irvine, 17900 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (949) 225-6666. Open for breakfast, 6-11 a.m.; lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Meals vary from $15-$80, excluding drinks. Full bar. All credit. Cards accepted.


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