It is 6pm. The sun is easing towards the horizon, and the air is cool. These long summer days mean more daylight to be enjoyed outdoors. I arrive at The Island Hotel’s Oak Grill and enjoy a Skinny Margarita by the firepit before dinner. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the firepit area offers up Fireside Sessions with live music from 6pm to 9pm which filters throughout the restaurant, although, it is best enjoyed when seated outside (photos for collage courtesy of The Island Hotel).
After 45 minutes, it is dusk and we move onto the restaurant’s patio for dinner. Our server Jeff brings an irresistible basket of bread with salted butter for us to nibble on while we peruse the menu. It is difficult to choose because there are many items which appeal to me.
After deliberating with my dining companion, we start with Ballast Point-Steamed Manila Clams ($17) — plump clams infused with one of San Diego’s finest craft beers. The smokiness of bacon, coupled with the hint of acidity from baby tomatoes is mouth-watering, but it is the grapefruit which lends surprisingly fresh and bright profiles to the dish.
I am a sucker for scallops and Chef Marc Johnson’s Seared Diver Scallops ($31) is absolute perfection. The texture is impeccable, tender and bouncy in my mouth. The pairing of farro with chanterelle mushrooms adds an element of nutty, earthiness to the plate . I am always wary when fruit plays a part in a savory dish, but here, the sweetness of roasted peaches works amazingly well with the corn kernals. I do not allow Jeff to remove the plate until I have picked up every morsel with my fork — this is where chopsticks would have come in handy!
We debate between entree selections, opting for Grilled Pork Chop ($30) because of the intriguing accoutrements. Smoked cherries are intense in flavor, which is an ideal accompaniment for pork. The chop is cooked to a medium temperature and I find myself dipping each morsel I cut into the robust Madeira demi glace. A bite of the heavenly pork belly risotto will bring tears to your eyes because it is THAT good. I would ask for more of the demi glace if I’m eating this again with friends. I’m embarrassed to say, I pretty much hogged what is on the plate.
Seafood lovers should choose Seared Alaskan Halibut ($33). Flaky, moist fish with an immaculate sear sits atop heirloom tomatoes, English peas, shaved asparagus and … wait for it … watermelon! I am skeptical when I first read it on the menu — fruit pairing — but I am wrong. It not only works, but invokes the feeling of summer in every bite. I adore English peas and these not only add beautiful color, but I love that Chef takes advantage of produce at its peak.
Our server Jeff convinces us to order dessert even though neither of us have a sweet tooth. His suggestions are Strawberry Butter Cake ($10), which sounds heavy on paper, but the butter cake is light even with cream cheese icing. Fresh mint strawberries are refreshing, but it is the quenelle of slightly tart yogurt ice cream that wins me over.
Coffee & Donuts ($12) is another respectable choice. Drizzled with a Bailey’s Irish Cream glaze, these doughnut holes are served with a ramekin of warm espresso chocolate dipping sauce. They are light, decadent, and not overly sweet. I manage to eat two, even after several mouthfuls of the butter cake.
If you haven’t yet visited Oak Grill, now is the time to do it. Chef Marc Johnson’s menu is well-tuned and offers solid menu items to please just about any palate. Weekends are busy, so make sure you arrive with a reservation intact.
at The Island Hotel
690 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660