I’ve waited a long time for TAPS to open closer to me. I’ve been to the Brea location many times, but only for brunch. I’ve never ordered off the a la carte menu there, so have nothing to go by except the stellar Sunday brunch they serve.
TAPS Irvine opens today in the old Bucca di Beppo location off Jamboree at the Marketplace. The restaurant is a chic space when compared to the rustic look of its Brea location. I love the open space of the expansive restaurant split into two dining rooms. The ample bar area makes for the perfect spot to enjoy happy hour with friends.
We arrive for an early dinner during its soft opening and begin with some cocktails — Siberian Mule ($16) is TAPS’ take on the Moscow Mule, and even if you’re not interested in drinking all of it, it is worth ordering simply for the spectacle of it. Our delightful server Nikki pushes the trolley over to the table and starts by explaining the process, before she adds liquid nitrogen to the mixing bowl and creates our slushy cocktail right before our eyes. A spoon is required to transfer the concoction into the glass, and then, more vodka is drizzled over it. Depending on who makes your drink, it will taste slightly different. A friend stop by our table, takes a sip of my drink and tells me hers is heavy on the ginger beer.
Cool Runnings ($11) is a tropical libation with a base of Jamaican rum and enhanced with pineapple, lime, allspice, orgeat and nutmeg. I do not care for it due to its strong perfumey fragrance from the orgeat.
When your server asks if you want bread, please do yourself a favor and say YES. The crusty slices from BREAD Artisan are served with a dipping oil I am not able to resist. Parsley, garlic, red chile flakes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil — so simple — make for one of the best bread accompaniments ever.
We start our meal with Ahi Tartare ($14.99) — perfectly diced sashimi grade ahi tuna, avocado, red onion, and cucumber. It is all tossed with scallions in a soy-chile emulsion and topped with crispy wonton strips. Baby Gem lettuce cups are provided to lay the mixture on. Take a bite, repeat!
The 16-oz Smoked Prime Rib ($29.99) is humungous. I understand why I am hearing low moans coming from my dining companion while he’s eating it. After taking my first bite, I ask for a second. The meat is oh-so-tender, possessing an impeccable smokiness which never overwhelms. .The charred jalapeno horseradish cream is lovely, as is the flavorful au jus. There is enough meat for three of my meals.
Country Mash ($6.99 a la carte) accompanies the prime rib, but is also available as a side. It is a solid mash potato with good texture and nicely seasoned.
However, it is the Whole Roasted Branzino ($34.99) that wins my heart. I love fish served whole because it retains moisture and flavor. Those of you already thinking you’re never ordering a whole fish can rest easy because it arrives already deboned. Accompaniments include Tuscan kale, crispy shallots, citrus salad, red quinoa. I am told it is one of the favorites and best sellers at the Brea location, and I can see why.
The fish is served with a side of Toasted Red Quinoa ($5.99 a la carte) which I am only able to take a bite of, however, it is even better the following day!
I see the next table dining with kids and inquire about the Kids’ Menu ($9.99) which offers up a starter plate of cheese quesadilla, celery and carrot sticks, followed by a DIY pizza (cheese or pepperoni). I am told there are other options as well, but all the kids I see on this evening are enjoying pizzas.
Not having a sweet tooth, I don’t think much about dessert, but we end our meal with Chocolate Souffle ($8.99). It takes about 20-30 minutes so if you’re thinking about it, inform your server when your entrees arrive. I am surprised how enamored I am by the souffle — your server will break it open, pour the chocolate sauce into the center, then top with a dollop of housemade cream. The souffle is light and subtlely sweet — perfect for my palate.
I can honestly say we were blown away by our dinner at TAPS. Our meal is absolutely outstanding and service from Nikki W turns out simply fantastic. TAPS will undoubtedly do extremely well here — welcome to your new home!
13390 Jamboree Road
Irvine, CA 92602