Teaser from Oak Grill: Seared Maine diver scallop
Teaser from Oak Grill: Seared Maine diver scallop
Anne Marie Panoringan

Now Open: Oak Grill/Aqua Lounge and A&O Kitchen+Bar in Newport Beach

I think the list started with Fireside Tavern inside Crowne Plaza. Then, we checked in to Driftwood Kitchen alongside Pacific Edge Hotel. I'm not just talking [yawn] hotel restaurants-- these properties are trying to bring sexy back in the kitchen and dining rooms of properties overdue for change. The current newbies may confuse you a little, seeing as they are both in Newport Beach and possess 'A' and 'O' titles.

Let's go over the basic characteristics of each. That way you don't agree to meet at one and accidentally end up driving to the other.

Who and Where: Anchors & Oceans (A&O) Kitchen+Bar is located in the revamped Balboa Bay Resort off Pacific Coast Highway Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge are found within the remodeled Island Hotel, across from Fashion Island

What and When: A&O earns the gastropub classification. They launched last Wednesday. Oak Grill is a relaxed dining room, while Aqua Lounge is vibrant and flows outdoors and under the trees. Both concepts kicked off last Friday.

Eat and Drink: A&O's chef is Vince Lesage. His kitchen presents snacks like Popcorn and Pig: caramel popcorn with peanuts, bacon and fleur de sel. I'm curious about their Tobacco and Whiskey brulee, since you need to be 18 to order. There were at least 20 wines by the glass, but only a couple of quality beers on tap. Oak and Aqua's Chef Marc Johnson heads the kitchen for both spaces. Plates like tandoori spiced ahi tartare and diver scallop with heirloom beans show confidence in his cuisine. They do a range of beverages, from tableside Moscow Mules for 8 of your closest friends to individual classics like French 75, Aqua style.

And then . . . A&O addresses a resort crowd, as demonstrated by its proximity to the docks. A space where the sun shines through from every seat, it is less pub, more open air dining. Waterline down the hall (another new concept) provides a high-end, "water-to-table" dining experience. Oak and Aqua want to bring in associates from the surrounding office complexes after the work day is done. Their outdoor seating goes on and on, making it easy for group socializing or intimate conversation. Guests can transition between grill and lounge based on their appetite, offering both casual and formal dining experiences.

Which one will you choose? For me, that might depend on street traffic. Also, I didn't spot any happy hour menus at either locale. Be ready to pay a pretty penny for that meal.

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