Just as a peanut is neither a pea nor a nut, Tavern House in Newport Beach is neither a tavern nor a house. When I hear the word tavern, I picture hay bales, knotty wooden benches and a musician playing a lute in the corner. Call me old-fashioned, but this place overlooks multimillion-dollar yachts with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean; it is hardly a tavern of old.
“I’m somewhat of a serial restaurateur,” says founder David Wilhelm. The tall, tanned silver fox is standing tableside, warmly greeting guests as they clank glasses.
Just when I thought it was impossible to add something new to Newport’s rich dining scene, Tavern House somehow feels as if it’s that missing puzzle piece that long ago fell between the couch cushions. I went expecting to see the same tiny plates everyone else is doing; instead, I walked out dethroning my all-time favorite sandwich—the iconic French dip at Philippe’s. In all seriousness, if I were ever on death row, I’d call Wilhelm to craft my last bite.
Tavern’s epic prime-rib dip is nearly Nerf-football sized, with a lightly grilled sourdough that is filled with marble-sized air pockets. The bigger the bubbles, the sturdier the bread, and you need all those pleasant pockets to stand up to the aus jus. It shouldn’t sog, but rather, it should carry the meaty-umami liquid to your mouth as if it were a specialized delivery system. Inside the bread is a mound of slow-roasted prime rib, sliced thin and piled high; crispy fried onion strings that are light and seasoned well; and some melty Gruyere cheese that ties it all together. What sets this sandwich apart is the bite; it’s surprisingly light, airy, juicy and crunchy. I inhaled it without thinking. If you and your date are comfortable, definitely add the garlic fries, which feature a mound of fresh garlic shaved on top, and don’t be scared to dip them in the house cumin-onion ketchup and/or the creamy horseradish.
The beverage menu feels a bit dated (for a drink snob such as myself)—there’s one that calls out both Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels—but I did find some winners on the In Agave We Trust cocktail menu. The Walk the Line cocktail features Los Javis mezcal, Cocalero liqueur, lime juice and a kick of coconut purée. Los Javis is derived from agave Espadin in Oaxaca that is ground-roasted and crushed using actual horsepower. Inside the glass, the coconut adds a silky texture to the overall lightly smoked mezcalita. It’s very easy to drink multiple.
The rest of the menu reads like a Wilhelm greatest-hits mixtape, offering buttermilk fried chicken and barbecue chipotle bourbon oysters, among other delights. If you have room for dessert (you won’t), be sure to try the dark malted-chocolate mousse, which is light and airy.
Tavern House, 333 Bayside Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 673-8464; tavernhousekb.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!