baby back ribs, best fries, Bill Bracken, brisket, Cucina Enoteca and Wine Shop, DivBar, dockside restaurant in Orange County, family-style dining, Irvine Spectrum restaurants, Italian cuisine with fresh ingredients, jalapeño cornbread, Jeff Reuter, legendary cocktails, Lulu de Rouen, new Newport Beach restaurant, patio dining, pulled pork sliders, risotto, slips for Duffy boats in Newport Harbor, smokehouse BBQ
The first one, DivBar Smokehouse BBQ, is located at the former Josh Slocum’s digs in Newport Beach. It has been completely gutted and redone, thanks to owner Jeff Reuter of 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront fame. I took my friend Susie Hernandez there for her birthday, and we enjoyed talking to Reuter about the restaurant’s decor. He has a large assortment of area “props,” including the famous Arches sign, “The Joy of Life is Living It,” and the last nude painting to leave The Ritz Restaurant. The girlie lamps on the bar and the Texas longhorn chandeliers are the perfect touch for the barbecue theme.
Bill Bracken, my longtime friend from his Peninsula days in Los Angeles and later as the Island Hotel’s executive chef, is the DivBar’s pit master, and his smokehouse BBQ offerings are delicious. Whether smoked baby back ribs, brisket, beef short ribs, tri tip, salmon, or the Kansas City favorite – burnt ends from the brisket – they are finger lickin’ good! Add his sauces – DivBar Original, Hot & Spicy or Vinegar & Mustard – and you’re cookin.’ And, you’ll love the jalapeño cornbread and BBQ’s beans sides! There is also yummy broasted chicken on the menu, as well as mac & cheese, signature pizzas, a beef dog, DB’s famous griddled burger, and your choice of fries – chipotle, caviar, duck, or smoked pork. Other sides include DB’s crispy onion brick (Yum!), baked potatoes with all the fixins, country style smashed potatoes with gravy, corn on the cob, and fresh chopped cole slaw. For starters, look for pulled pork sliders, firecracker grilled shrimp, artichoke dip, and Spam sliders – no kidding!
It’s all good, especially the ancho chile pecan pie and the “kast” iron chocolate chip cookies with vanilla bean ice cream. And, if you’re into legendary drinks, try the ramos fizz, gimlet, side car, or brandy alexander (my first drink was a brandy Alexander!). The “Primm’s Cup” – a take on the classic English drink, Pimm’s Cup, is named for Reuter’s friend and partner Gary Primm.
There is something about sitting dockside for dinner on Newport Harbor that has its own particular charm. And, for the boating crowd, the Duffy spaces are popular for dinner or take-out. Don’t let me forget to mention the fragrance spritz’s in the ladies bathroom. I was taken down memory lane with classic offerings like Estee Lauder’s Youth-Dew, Jovan and Revlon’s Jontue.
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My other culinary excursion happened the very next day, when I took another good friend Kathy Hamilton for her birthday lunch to Cucina Enoteca at the Irvine Spectrum. Kathy’s daughter, Caroline, seated us. Caroline, a USC student, was working the summer as a hostess at the eatery. I had read Register food editor Cathy Taylor’s review on the restaurant’s wild mushroom and English pea risotto, and my mouth was watering! When I saw that it was the chef de cuisine Lulu De Rouen’s recipe, I knew it would be delicious. De Rouen cut her chops alongside Joachim Splichal of Patina fame, and I had followed her at her stints at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge and Pino Provence.
The restaurant itself is reminiscent of a rustic country farmhouse with a very modern kitchen. It declares itself a “California inspired Italian kitchen and wine shop,” with de Rouen adding, “It is Italian meets coastal cuisine with fresh ingredients and seasonal produce.” There are lots of selections. The ones Kathy and I succumbed to that day were excellent and included chicken liver pate with brown sugar shallots (it’s as good as my chicken liver pate, and that’s good!), stuffed fried squash blossoms, the farmer’s chopped salad with grilled shrimp, short rib pappardelle (fabulous!), and the burnt brussels sprouts with Ivan’s hot sauce (really good!). For dessert, the zeppole, Italian-style donut holes stuffed with dulce de leche and covered in sugared cinnamon, were out of this world!
The restaurant offers an extensive wine list, and if you’re interested, you can shop in the wine shop for wine to accompany your meal (there’s an $8 corkage fee) or you can purchase wine to go. Also offered are house infused liquors, specialty cocktails and artisan beers. You can dine traditionally or ‘family style,’ and the patios offer semi-private dining for a quick bite or lounging on couches while basking in the afternoon sun. The huge square bar also offers seating to dine as well.
I must admit, I didn’t get to taste what I went for – the wild mushroom and English pea risotto – because de Louen prepares a special risotto daily, and I didn’t hit the right day. However, she promised if I’d give her advance notice, she’d prepare it next time. How can you go wrong with a restaurant whose food philosophy is, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one hasn’t eaten well.” Amen!