Top 5: Special-Occasion Restaurants

Father's Day may have been and gone, but there are zillions of other events to celebrate, whether it's the Fourth of July--just around the corner, folks!--or your birthday.

Here's our pick of the best special-occasion restaurants in Orange County. Most of them, in particular Mastro's, aren't cheap (although Marché Moderne offers a bargain prix fixe lunch). But, in our opinion, they're worth the splurge.

1. Marché Moderne. Florent and Amelia Marneau's classic bistro may not be new (it opened more than two years ago), but it's still noteworthy. Expect inventive yet unfussy food served with impeccable presentation and flair. The softly lit room is lovely too.

2. Zimzala. This place is new. It's set in HB's funky Shorebreak Hotel, which threw open its doors last month. Many hotel restaurants are stuffy, but this one rocks (CLICK HERE for my review).

3. Mastro's Ocean Club. Pricey, yes. But what a setting! The open-air patio is gorgeous, the Pacific views to die for, and the warm butter cake worth the trip alone. Definitely one for a major celebration.

4. Canaletto. This gets my vote for the top-tier authentic Italian food, not the ostentatious dining room, which is way too cavernous for an intimate à deux. Great for a family gathering, though.

5. Melting Pot (various locations, but Brea is my favorite). I know, I know, this will raise some eyebrows. What can I say? It's my guilty secret. But, think of it: chocolate and cheese (skip the dull entrées) and tall glasses of stone-cold Chimay Belgian beer. Plus a free facial from the steam blowing in your face. In a word: fun.

Two also-rans worthy of a mention. First, Michael Mina's Stonehill Tavern at the St Regis Monarch Beach. The hotel is facing foreclosure, so it's perhaps not the best time to recommend it. Second, the Studio at the Montage Laguna Beach. The restaurant has just welcomed Craig Strong as Executive Chef, which is exciting, but I can't bring myself to put a restaurant that charges upwards of $45 for an entrée on my top 5. Not right now, anyway.


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