With OC Restaurant Week this week, and just more than 100 options to choose from, it's to separate the wheat from the chaff. I've dined at half of them, but like most people, I want to take advantage of the special pricing to check out some places I wouldn't otherwise go to. These five places are establishments I have NOT been to before but entice me enough with their Restaurant Week specials to succumb to their potential. You can love or despise them, laugh at them, or question them. After the jump is my to-do list.
1. 118 Degrees, Costa Mesa
118 Degrees embodies the diet I wish I could commit to with the ambiance that soothes me. Chef Jenny's menu reads divinely, but it costs more than if I walked around the corner to Native Foods Cafe. With a Restaurant Week menu on the affordable end of the spectrum, I look forward to tasting the lemon alfredo pizza with basil zucchini, spinach, marinated mushrooms and basil cheese on organic buckwheat bread.
118 Degrees, 2981 Bristol St., Ste. B5, Costa Mesa, (714) 754-0718; www.118degrees.com.
2. Marrakesh, Costa Mesa
Belly dancers with my dinner? Yes, genie. With a built-in prix fixe menu already in place, Marrakesh might be the best deal of the five. For $20, you'll receiving some $30 options such as the tagine of lamb, roasted in honey sauce and topped with prunes. The four-course party even includes soothing mint tea plus homemade baklava. And washing your hands with rosewater before eating? A memorable meal should delight all senses, so I'm ready for this one.
Marrakesh, 1976 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8384; www.marrakeshdining.com.
3. Medieval Times, Buena Park
Sooner or later, someone from out of town will inquire about Medieval Times or Pirates Dinner Adventure, so I'm choosing this one. It's pure kitsch and dinner theater, so make it a guy's milestone birthday or something. Go have that
baby dragon chicken, and cheer for your team's knight. The only expectation I have is to be entertained like an Ugly Betty episode–and to eat with my hands. Which reminds me: bring handiwipes or smuggle in that plasticware. Or get sloshed up at the bar beforehand so you won't care about your greasy fingers. At least you're not paying full price like the couple beside you. Did I mention you probably shouldn't come here for the food?
Medieval Times, 7662 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (866) 543-9637; www.medievaltimes.com.
4. Quatro Caffe, Costa Mesa
For a shopping-mall location, I walk by Quattro Caffe all the time and think about how convenient it would be to stop for a bite. If the weather got freakishly warm again, I may even contemplate its outdoor-patio dining. I just want to sink my teeth into the ravioli di zucca (pumpkin ravioli in brown butter and sage sauce topped with amaretto-cookie crumbles) because it reminds me of Pasta Pomodoro's version. Alas, they are no longer participating.
Quattro Caffe, 3333 Bristol St., Ste. 1201, Costa Mesa, (714) 754-0300; www.quattrocaffe.com.
5. The Next Door, San Clemente
Associated with the adjacent Melting Pot, the owners opened this new concept late last summer. A selection of tapas-style offerings, lighter fare and heartier entrées offer the alternative from self-service cooking in boiling oil, you know, next door. I'm inclined to chew on the dinner menu, once I can figure out if its dragon is related to Medieval Times' version.
The Next Door, 647 Camino De Los Mares, San Clemente, (949) 940-8845; www.nextdoorsc.com.
And some basic advice for Restaurant Week: If you have a place in mind already, call ahead for a reservation. Prices like these will bring out the frugality in droves and may result in less-than-stellar wait times for your food (cough, Ecco, cough). However, be sure to tip your waitstaff generously if service met or exceeded expectations. They gotta make a living, too.
Oh, and dine with caution. It might be hit-or-miss for some places, since the OC Restaurant Week offerings might not necessarily be reflective of their normal menus. I'm not saying cut them some slack, but know this going in. If it's a pleasurable dining experience, great. If not, now you know. And knowing is half the battle.
For a full list of participating restaurants, just visit OCRestaurantWeek.com.