Enjoy an endless array of fresh food at Sherman Library & Garden’s new restaurant, Cultivar.
By Ashley Ryan
Dining at Sherman Library & Gardens is like stepping into a movie. The small, outdoor patio, strung with whimsical lights, is just steps away from the Central Garden’s bubbling fountain, which is surrounded by bold pink and orange flowers with pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds flitting to and fro. Guests can sit and bask in the sun most days, but even when the marine layer rolls in from the nearby Corona del Mar coastline, the magic in the air is tangible.
Finding beautiful outdoor spaces in Orange County isn’t necessarily easy, but Sherman Library has been an oasis in the middle of bustling Newport Beach since the 1960s. And, for the last 20 years, those looking to dine amongst the flowers could take a seat at Café Jardin or the Tea Garden Creperie, both run by local French chef Pascal Olhats. But now, Olhats has stepped aside to pursue other ventures, making way for Cultivar, a farm-fresh, garden-to-table experience dreamed up by Jessica Roy, who previously served as chef de cuisine at Café Jardin.
Roy says she wants diners to be able to “sit, look at and taste the garden,” which supplies her with a selection of herbs and edible flowers that she forages through each morning. In addition, she has produce deliveries each week and picks up other ingredients from local farmers markets or from The Original Manassero Farms, which is based in Irvine.
Everything from the flavor of the dishes to the thoughtfulness of the menu subheads (“Seedlings” for appetizers, “Central Garden” for entrees, “Succulent Garden” for dessert and so on) feels authentic. Plus, you might just catch Roy wandering tables to say hello and talk about her creations at this relaxing, refreshing establishment.
Starting off with a shareable item is always ideal, and the tempura squash blossoms simply can’t be beat. The crispy shell over the garden-picked blooms is stuffed with creamy herbed cheese that is full of flavor while additional taste comes from the plating of whipped pea, green onion fennel pollen and Himalayan salt. Those who would prefer to go the salad route can’t go wrong with the garden salad, which offers a mix of seasonal mixed greens, fresh herbs, summer tomato and carrot, with aged Parmesan and a light lemon-basil vinaigrette.
Other starters include avocado toast on triple-seeded, slow fermented bread; The Garden Board, which features a selection of cured meats and cheeses along with seasonal jam, crostini and house-made pickles; seasonal soups; and the Cultivar salad, with cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, white corn and crispy quinoa on a bed of romaine lettuce, topped with pink lemon cream and a tarragon vinaigrette.
As for main dishes, choose from Scottish salmon, flat iron steak, seared trout and grilled chicken breast, the latter of which is served with artisanal pesto pasta, roasted tomatoes and summer squash. The dish is both visually appealing and satisfying, with plenty of color and that natural flavor for which the restaurant is now known. The salmon, too, combines a number of fresh ingredients, with mixed vegetables, marinated beluga lentils and an orange-basil sauce.
With any veggie-forward restaurant, you can expect the meatless dishes to be just as fulfilling, and that definitely holds true at Cultivar. One of the best items on the menu is the vegetarian tacos, which offer protein in the form of fried purple sweet potatoes slathered in a delicious, savory chipotle crema. A slab of melting cheese underneath the potato enhances the dish further, while marinated cabbage and avocado finish it off. The vegetarian section of the menu also includes a summer vegetable quiche.
And, of course, dessert is just as enticing as the rest. On hot days, seasonal sorbet or ice cream are just the ticket, while cocoa lovers will tend toward the flourless chocolate torte. But don’t discount the almond lemon tart, whose sweet, browned lemon filling sits atop a nutty crust alongside a medley of berries, house-made whipped cream, and flavorful vanilla and mixed berry sauces.
For now, the restaurant is open only for lunch, with Sunday brunch to begin in early September. Roy hopes to eventually expand to dinner service as well. Her menus will change with the seasons; the fall iteration will roll out in late September.
at Sherman Library & Gardens
2647 E. Coast Highway