Olea in Newport Beach is the latest addition from Russ Bendel et al, who brought you Vine in San Clemente, and Ironwood in Laguna Niguel. It is only a few months’ old, but the restaurant is already a hotspot for diners wanting a sit-down meal, as well as those looking for solid cocktails and a few nibbles.
On this occasion, I am here with friends to celebrate several birthdays. We arrived to a bustling Olea, with the bar area completely packed, and the energetic vibe is addicting.
Grab a cocktail or two while you are here. Mixologist extraordinaire Gabe Whorley is a master at creating the most fascinating libations. Rich Girl ($12.75) is a vodka-based drink with rose wine, lime, yuzu and basil, while the Jorge Lucas ($12.75) — my personal favorite — is a concoction of Mastro Dorbel Blanco Tequila, Mezcal, lime, orange juice, egg whites, serrano pepper, Tajin, and Angostura bitters.
We begin with the gorgeous Artisan Cheeses & Cured Meats Board ($23.50) an assortment of meats and cheeses accompanied with aged balsamic and honey tapenade, seasonal garnishes, marinated olives, mustards, served with the most delicious grilled rustic bread by OC Baking Company. In fact, all the bread used is by master baker Dean Kim.
The table ordered Blue Crab Baked Oysters with Champagne Tarragon Butter ($17) an appetizer I am not able to partake in. However, from everyone’s reactions, I know they enjoyed them thoroughly. The oysters are topped with melted garlic, Nueske bacon, and creamy watercress, are reminiscent of oysters Rockefeller, but modernized and kicked up several notches.
Terrine of Duck Liver, Bacon & Bourbon ($14.50) is a must-order. Chef Jared Cook creates this in-house and it is a creamy, unctuous preparation served with cornichon pickles, a duo of mustards, and toasted ciabatta.
One of my favorite dishes whenever dining at Vine or Ironwood is the schnitzel. In fact, this dish has become somewhat legendary, and a favorite among most food writers in OC. Jidori Chicken Schnitzel with Wild Mushrooms ($24) is Chef Jared’s masterpiece paired with kabocha squash spaetzle, thyme-roasted apples, whole grain mustard, and a cider gravy. The schnitzel is crispy and oh so flavorful, and we are all wanting a second portion.
My son orders Zinfandel Braised Napa Lamb Shank ($28) a solid offering of fork-tender lamb accompanied with sunchoke tapenade puree, mint yogurt, toasted feta, and an English cucumber salad. The accoutrements bring an element of freshness to the hearty lamb which helps balance the heavier aspects of the dish.
My friends are a little hesitant when I suggest Herb Roasted Prime Beef Cheek Stroganoff ($26), a dish I eaten before, and loved. This preparation is unlike any other. House-made rosemary pappardelle pasta is folded with maitake mushrooms, cippolini onion in a whole grain mustard sauce, drizzled with charred scallion creme fraiche. The result is a delectably rich, but never cloying, plate of tasty goodness which everyone reveled in. This is fast becoming one of my favorite dishes here.
We also ordered the Fish of The Day ($33) which happened to be halibut. The protein is executed to perfection with a gorgeous succotash accompaniment adding hints of sweetness to the finish.
If you’re looking for something sweet to end the meal with, look no further than Belgian Chocolate Chunk & Fromage Blanc Cookies ($10) a sinfully decadent dessert of little ice cream sandwiches of fromage blanc cookies filled with peanut butter cup gelato and a sprinkling of Spanish peanut crumble. The varying textures is rather enticing and not overly sweet. A bite is truly not enough!
If you’re planning to dine at Olea, make sure you have a reservation! It is virtually impossible to get a table without one.
2001 Westcliff Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660