While some South Coast Plaza restaurants have pre-theater set menus designed to feed you quickly and have you out the door before show time at SCFTA, Leatherby's Cafe Rouge is a restaurant that was expressly designed to be the dinner part of your “dinner and a show”.
If you didn't know already, Leatherby's is only open during performance nights, which is often, but not necessarily every day. As such, you don't go to Leatherby's unless you have your show tickets bought and were already going to brave that labyrinthine parking structure anyway. And that's a shame, because its located in the beautiful undulating structure of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, next to the lawn–one of the most scenic venues in Costa Mesa in which to enjoy a meal. But most of all, it's a shame because Ross Pangilinan–its chef for at least the last five years–is a whiz.
He turns out prix-fixe meals themed to whatever show is currently at Segerstrom Hall. During Dirty Dancing's recent run, Pangilinan did a main of boneless beef short rib with mashed potatoes and mushrooms he called “Hungry Eyes”, which was different than the a la carte version of the short rib that came with spinach gnocchi and squash. For the upcoming production of Nice Work If You Can Get It, he'll be doing a braised rabbit.
But the dish that's always there, no matter what's performing, is also possibly the best and most consistent dish Pangilinan cooks. Order the Bristol Day Boat Scallops and you get three obese sea cylinders pan-seared to crispy edges while their interiors still wiggle. He always serves them with potato hash teeming with bits of spicy chorizo and frames the plate with brushstrokes of sauce. In an excellent restaurant that must cater to whims of the theater schedule, the scallops are the one dependable constant–sort of like Pangilinan himself.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.