The Pelican Grill is pricey, but the food is (mostly) amazing
Set to debut this fall with ocean views and an army of valets, the Resort at Pelican Hill is the Irvine Co.'s magnum opus of luxury—a place designed to give competitors such as the St. Regis a run for their money and the rest of us a reason to work harder for ours. Already open for business is a revamped golf club and the Pelican Grill, the first of five planned restaurants.
Both function like hors d'oeuvres before the main course, offering a taste of the high hopes the company has for the property. People are already fawning over the Palladio-influenced architecture, the Tom Fazio-designed golf course and the gourmet meals cooked by chef Thomas Ryan. It's the kind of extravagance that seems to validate the lavish lifestyle so cartoonishly depicted in shows like The O.C., which coincidentally used the exteriors for an establishing shot.
Near the Pelican Grill entrance, expensive cars are lined up like trophies. Inside, there's a show kitchen worthy of Iron Chef and a dining room populated with couture-wearing socialites. On the terrace, an elevated view of the shimmering Pacific makes you contemplate the world and your place in it.
Your meal starts with bread: the ciabatta roll smacks of garlic, and the mini pretzel loaf—a sleek cylinder with the darkness of pumpernickel and a light crusting of coarse salt—is identical to the one served at Mastro's, which is to say terrific. The menu reads like a typical steakhouse, with a few pasta and pizza dishes thrown in.
The prawn cocktails—dangling on a block of ice into which a well is dug for the cocktail sauce—would've been a standard starter, except the shrimp are so large and muscular they arouse more questions than Jose Canseco.
Another appetizer raises a different set of questions, such as "Twelve dollars for a boiled artichoke?" Worse yet, it's pasty and dull, brightened only by the juice from a cheese-cloth-wrapped lemon and an herbed-mayo dipping sauce. A better value is the vine-ripened tomato salad, in which wedges of the fruit are laid out between morsels of goat cheese so thick and viscous they slow your chew to a slog.
Steaks and chops dominate the main dishes. Sides are offered à la carte, but they can be skipped entirely since every entrée includes a few roasted-potato wedges and a marinated artichoke heart—a fact neither your waiter nor the menu will mention.
Some sides, such as the French fries, are worth the extra dough. Piled hot and crisp in a parchment cone, they're $10 well-spent. But others, such as a mushroom sauté overloaded with salt, should be avoided altogether.
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Besides, it's better to save room for the lamb chops, which are pitch-perfect amalgams of bitter charring and sinew-free flesh. Each tender medallion is attached to Frenched bones, immaculately scraped so you can use them as handles. There's a red-wine-and-shallot reduction served on the side in a ramekin, but as with a good piece of steak, extras are unnecessary and unwelcome.
"Line caught" salmon comes with your choice of sauce, such as the plum chutney, but the fish doesn't need the assist, either. Dusted lightly with crispy bread crumbs and wild herbs, the massive slab is thoroughly moist, pink and creamy. One serving is enough to feed two, and the leftovers are even tastier when eaten cold out of the fridge.
For dessert, ignore everything else and opt for the Trio of Chocolate. Among the three, you'll find a nugget of ganache wrapped and fried inside a skyscraping blossom of what appears to be egg-roll skin. Also on the plate: chocolate ice cream scooped into a lacy shell of hardened caramel, and a diamond-shaped slice of chocolate cake topped with real gold leaf. Is the gold really necessary? Well, that depends on whether you think a seaside-golf-course resort is necessary.
The Pelican Grill, 22800 Pelican Hill Rd. S., Newport Beach, (877) 735-4226; www.pelicanhill.com. Open for lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Dinner for two, $100-$160, food only. Full bar and lounge.