Order! Square foot for square foot, no restaurant in Orange County gets more gawkers than Moulin Bistro. Hell, even if you're one of Newport Beach's society ladies who colonized one of the patio seats for your squad last year, you inevitably wander and stare and get lost in the place. You'll drift off to the patisserie portion, with its rows of macarons, éclairs, tarts and that French pastry that's like the love child of a Sno Ball and a raspberry Zinger. But you'll also notice the dozens of goods flown in from France: quince paste, mango vinegars, sardines. Then you get distracted by the arsenal of baguettes and croissants coming out of the bakery. You follow the curved counter from there and see the pâtés, the cornichons, the fromages, the dried sausages, the to-go salads, the hot trays . . . and then finally the register. Actually, Moulin has registers throughout its space, knowing full well customers get lost yet want to order immediately.
Order! The great thing about Moulin is that it's a French restaurant for all levels of eaters. High-schoolers and college kids just getting into Godard and Amélie can dip their toes into Gallic cuisine with jambon sandwiches, tart niçoise salads and a couple of crêpes. People who've walked the Champs-Élysées last fall will delight in the croque monsieur, cheesy and unafraid of butter, or a roasted chicken that's the best spun hen this side of an Armenian restaurant. But what makes Moulin such a smash (a Laguna Beach branch is scheduled to open this summer) is the uncompromising, restless vision of chef Laurent Vrignaud. He hosts weekly three-course dinners every Tuesday that require reservations and sell out quickly, always switching up the offerings to reflect some rustic meal or other (the pork cheek confit last week was nearly lustrous). If you can't get in, Vrignaud also preps a daily special (usually a French classic such as boeuf bourguignon or pâté au saumon) that usually sells out by lunch. All the meals taste of a Frenchman who misses his homeland dearly and has coped with his nostalgia by cooking his heart out. So stop gawking, and order!
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Moulin Bistro, 1000 N. Bristol St., Newport Beach, (949) 474-0920; moulinbistro.com.