My friends surprised me with a belated birthday celebration upon my return from Hong Kong. I thought we were simply having dinner that evening, but when I arrived at Oak Grill, I find out that Chef Marc Johnson came in on his day off to prepare a 7-course dinner ($90/$120 with wine pairing — only available if you book it ahead of time) especially for me. What an honor! I was beyond touched.
First course: The meal begins with Beet and Roasted Pear Salad comprising red and golden beets with spiced pumpkin seeds, soft chevre and chestnut butter. It is light, refreshing and the salty sweet combination is an ideal start to whet the appetite.
Second course: I am absolutely tickled by Seared Tasmanian Sea-Trout, a brightly hued, and lusciously silky composition. The fish is served with a piece of tempura avocado offering a juxtaposition of creamy with crispy. Citrus segments add brightness and help cut the richness of the fish and avocado on the palate.
Third course: I’m a huge fan of foie, so the next dish is especially lovely. Foie Gras Terrine is a decadent morsel of toasted brioche topped with a sliver of unctuously rich terrine. The pickled kumquats and strawberries add sweetness with a pop of tartness on the tongue. There is a drizzle of bourbon maple syrup to tie it all together. Beautiful all around!
Fourth course: Seared Branzino, a piece of white fish possessing crispy skin with flaky moist flesh on the underside. The Meyer lemon gnocchi is pillowy soft, while watercress adds an element of brightness in my mouth. I absolutely loved the parsnip puree, and the apple cider glaze is to-die-for. I wanted more of everything on this plate.
Fifth course: However, it is the Roasted Quail, which make me swoon. I love quail, and this little bird is utter perfection. The foie jus is served table-side, drizzled on top of the flavorful fowl. The accoutrements of brandy cherries, lentils, and cornbread are superb, but it is the foie jus which made me weak at the knees — and I am sitting down!
Sixth course: I’m pretty full by now, but we still have another savory course of Grilled Australian Lamb to eat. Chef Marc prepares this Moroccan-style at a perfectly medium rare temperature. The double chop sits atop couscous dotted with dates, accompanied by a creamy butternut squash puree. The lamb is succulent and tender, while the Moroccan Bordelaise sauce is rich, decadent with subtle hints of cumin. It would have been my favorite course had we not eaten the quail or the branzino.
Seventh course: To finish, we are presented with a Dessert Platter of warm apple butter cake, pumpkin donuts and Guanaja cremeux, a sinfully scrumptious chocolate pudding of sorts.
However, the birthday girl — ME — received a special dessert presented on a plate with my logo drawn in chocolate! What a treat!
If you haven’t dined at Oak Grill yet, you’re missing out. Chef Marc Johnson is currently one of THE BEST chefs in Orange County, and definitely not given the recognition he truly deserves. His cuisine is elegant yet casual enough for a “just because” meal. If you’re celebrating, then it is absolutely a no-brainer!
at The Island Hotel
690 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660