Earlier this year, my industry colleagues and I were lamenting on the stagnant dining scene in Orange County and all of a sudden, in the last six months, a host of new, exceptional restaurants have emerged
After 27 years in this business, it is difficult for me to be excited about a menu that is a reiteration of the same old, same old, therefore, I was overjoyed after visiting Whitestone.
The restaurant occupies the former Two Left Forks space in Dana Point, and sees two young chefs at the helm. This extremely thoughtful and incredibly creative menu from Executive Chef Tony Celeste, and Executive Sous Chef Nick Herrera not only surprised me, but also, gave me hope that OC’s stagnant food scene is bouncing back.
Whitestone boasts a scratch kitchen, so we were eager to try Chicken Liver Pate ($11) which arrived with stone-fruit jam, and the most delightful pickled strawberries. The grilled ciabatta is also fabulous, which owner Steve Dickus informed us, is flown in from New Jersey. Like always, I try every component separately, and then, as a whole entity — make sure you include everything because it is a flavor explosion when you do. The pickled strawberries are tart, cutting through the unctuousness of the pate, while the jam adds a hint of sweetness.
Pistachio Muhammara ($13) is a hummus-like dip, served alongside a market vegetable pearl couscous salad. This dish is texturally pleasing with sunflower seeds and orange bread crumbs for crunch. The piquillo vinaigrette and purple mustard add another level of complexity to this marvelous starter.
We were already in love with the first two dishes, but when the next two hit the table, we were completely blown away. Crispy Forbidden Rice ($10) sits atop a sauce comprising yuzu kosho (a fermented paste of yuzu citrus peel, chile peppers and salt), lime, cilantro, kona sansho (Japanese pepper powder), and sudachi (sour Japanese citrus) juice. I’ve always loved forbidden rice, but I’ve never eaten it crispy before. It is a clever use of a familiar ingredient, and one of the most addicting things you eat this year.
BBQ Mushrooms ($14) was another spectacular dish. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have textural contrast when it comes to creating a dish, and here’s another example of it. The mushrooms are paired with pickled ramps, cornbread polenta, and an extract which chef has painstakingly coaxed out of the fermented mushrooms. While this item looks simple, it is anything but! The flavors are complex and packed with umami.
New Orleans BBQ Shrimp ($15) is a slightly different rendition to the traditional. The wild shrimp are grilled, and presented in a foam broth served with grilled ciabatta. The shrimp were overcooked, but it didn’t take away from the fact that the flavors were all on point.
When it comes to entrees, Vietnamese Fisherman’s Stew ($39) is delicious, but not what I imagined. In my mind, I pictured a brothy stew rather than a cioppino of sorts. The sauce is hearty and rich, dotted with peanuts and the aromas of lemongrass and coriander. The wild Alaskan halibut is beautifully crusted with chile and served on top, rather than chunks swimming in the sauce. It is a clever presentation as it allows you to experience the slight crunch from the crust, as well as the flaky texture of the fish.
Meat lovers should absolutely order Niman Ranch Angus Ribeye ($59) which is so tender it almost melts in your mouth. This 16 ouncer is great to share, but it is the sweet potato accoutrement that thrilled us the most. The sweet potato is whipped with olive oil, creating the lightest, creamiest mouthfeel we’ve ever experienced with this root vegetable. There is a small pool of garum bringing umami to a whole new level.
*garum is a combination of fermentation and autolysis, an umbrella term based on Carthaginian fish sauce. It is a long and grueling process which takes three months, resulting in a bold, savory liquid encompassing flavors of caramelized beef, soy sauce, and black garlic.
I can’t wait to come back to try more things on the menu very soon. I’m truly excited for south Orange County to have such an impressive addition to its dining repertoire.
34212 Pacific Coast Hwy
Dana Point, CA 92629