Pacific Coast Highway has always been our preferred way to commute between Huntington, Newport and Laguna destinations. When it came to dining, however, we normally ventured inland for our meals. That all changed this year, when a trio of hot properties opened their doors to Orange County locals. We provide a convenient reference for you below.
Where the former Crow Bar and Kitchen once stood, CdM (Corona del Mar, if you don’t do acronyms) is brought to you by the team behind A Restaurant/A Market. A cozy, yet stunning interior awaits those that make it through for New American cuisine. We checked it out opening weekend, discovering quickly that unless you have a reservation, a crowded bar means you’re not getting inside. If you parallel park like a pro, then bypass valet and stick to neighborhood parking.
Currently open for dinner only, future plans include lunch and even brunch. Chef Jonathan Blackford can be found in the kitchen most nights, with a reliable team anchoring their flagship spot down the street. We dig the bar program, thanks to one Ravin Buzzell. Edwin’s recent review can give you the lowdown on the rest. 2325 E Coast Hwy., (949) 287-6600; www.cdmrestaurant.com.
Louie’s by the Bay
A collaboration between Ron Salisbury of El Cholo and Cannery fame and Piero Selvaggio of Valentino in Santa Monica, Louie’s inhabits the former Ritz Prime Seafood in Newport (which took the property that was Chart House). The Ritz, for those who remember, was originally by Fashion Island until it closed in 2014. Grill Concepts, best known for The Daily Grill chain, hoped to keep the Hans Prager brand alive with an upscale atmosphere. It shuttered less than two years after they launched in late 2015. Hans is very relevant to Louie’s by the Bay, because he was the connector between Salisbury and Selvaggio.
Even for Sunday Supper, Louie’s continues to draw crowds. We noticed the bulk of tables occupied as we dined a couple of weekends ago. Labeled an Italian steakhouse, don’t be afraid to venture towards any seafood dishes. The pastas and extensive Italian wine list are lovely. Check out what Edwin had to say over here. 2801 W. Coast Hwy., (949) 720-1800; www.louiesnewport.com.
The first time it closed was in 2012. Then it had new ownership and a relaunch in 2016. A changeover occurred earlier this year, and brothers Maro and Martin Molteni now oversee the kitchen. Laguna Beach residents recognize Maro from his previous restaurant, Maro Wood Grill. Their head bartender migrated from Okura, another Laguna dining room. This is where things get a little confusing.
The full name of the relaunch is Royal Hawaiian (Fire Grill). Tiki enthusiasts miss the super kitschy environment. Folks who frequented the OG Royal Hawaiian miss the boozy dive bar. As for us, we enjoyed the unusually refined version of tiki; it’s more on par with the competition in downtown Laguna. And if you ever dined at Maro Wood Grill, you’ll recognize the similarities, like a perfectly executed cut of beef. When previous ownership tried to keep the cuisine more themed in 2016, it didn’t work for us. The existing menu might not be Hawaiian, but it definitely tastes better than before. Currently serving dinner only, with plans to add brunch. 331 N. Coast Hwy, (949) 424-8988; www.royalhawaiianlb.com.
Balboa Bay Resort
We sensed something was changing at the property when we frequented the bar last month, but couldn’t figure it out. While A&O’s menu still appeared the same, further digging found us reading the name of Chef Vic Casanova, who recently joined the team at Balboa Bay Resort. Best known for his Italian trattoria Gusto in the Beverly Glen neighborhood of Los Angeles, we’re looking forward to updates on Waterline’s and A&O’s listings. Per Beverage Director Ben Carpenter, “He’s a force of nature. I’ve never worked with a chef of his caliber. Incredibly cerebral and technique obsessed. I tend to lose track of space and time when I talk food with him. ” Now that’s a compliment. 1221 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (888) 894-2788; www.balboabayresort.com.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.