Restaurants around town offer up a variety of dishes made with a unique ingredient: liquor.
By Alina Orozco
What’s a shrimp cocktail without a sip of bubbly? Or a bite of aged beef without a swig of whiskey? We’ve crafted such a beautifully synergetic relationship between our food and drink that one without the other seems amiss. If done properly, the pairing of liquor and food can elevate the essence of both the dish and the cocktail. But, such pairings don’t always start at the table—sometimes, they start in the kitchen. From a red wine reduction, a beer-battered tempura or flaming dark rum for a little extra flair, chefs in Newport Beach have cultivated exquisite dishes using various types of alcohol as one of the many ingredients. Here, we explore our favorite local creations made with liquor.
The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar
It’s no surprise that The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar has a dish on the menu that utilizes that one of its many wines, but what a standout it is. The slow-braised Angus beef short ribs have been on the menu since the eatery opened its first location in Tustin in 2007, and remain a staple at both locations due to the dish’s popularity.
A glorified comfort food, according to the Executive Chef Yvon Goetz, the short ribs are rich and warming. The wine reduction, which comes into play as vegetables like carrots and onions are sizzling in oil, is combined with the short ribs and various herbs, all cooked for up to six hours. The dish is served with carrot-infused pearl couscous and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.
“Since we are called The Winery Restaurant, it only seems natural to connect the food menu and our wines beyond just pairings,” Goetz says. “I really enjoy the marriage of flavors, even if they are subtle. It really creates a dynamic experience for the guest.” (949-999-6622; thewinerynewport.com)
Nobu Newport Beach
Now that Newport Beach boasts its very own Nobu restaurant, it’s easier than ever to enjoy one-of-a-kind sushi rolls. But the expanded menu allows for other innovative dishes as well, like the beef toban yaki. A slice of grilled filet mignon, placed on a bed of caramelized onions, is flamed with sake and a special yuzu soy sauce. After the dish is finished with asparagus as well as enoki and shiitake mushrooms, it is served over a hot ceramic stone. According to Executive Chef Frank Gorriceta, “Sake is such a significant part of the Japanese culture and cuisine, so we use it not only as an accompaniment to Nobu style dishes but often as an ingredient to elevate the flavor. In the case of the beef toban yaki, the sake helps tenderize the meat and deglazes the toban, bringing out the natural flavors of the meat and onions to create a harmony of all ingredients in the dish.” (949-429-4440; noburestaurants.com)
Pacific yellowtail, also known as hamachi, has been making the rounds on menus across town for a while now. Andrea at The Resort at Pelican Hill serves up a refreshing appetizer, the hamachi crudo, that relies heavily on the Italian lemon liqueur limoncello for its citrus-fueled flavor. The liqueur is not very prominent in the United States, more common as an after-dinner drink in places like Spain and Italy, but Andrea uses the unique beverage to its advantage, creating a limoncello vinaigrette. The boozy dressing is drizzled over raw hamachi, arugula leaves and pickled Fresno chilies.
“Acidic limoncello provides a counterbalance to the fatty hamachi, by emulsifying the liqueur in a vinaigrette,” explains Troy Mendoza, Andrea’s head chef. “You get all of the flavor without cooking the fish.” (844-445-2183; andreanb.com)
With a menu that is inspired by Napa Valley and plates filled with an array of fresh, seasonal ingredients, Provenance may not be the obvious choice for bacon beer-battered waffles, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the savory meal. Served alongside half of a fried chicken, the waffles come with chipotle butter and maple syrup, plus a side of coleslaw; nothing will fill your belly quite like this meal.
“The hops in beer plus the fermentation make our waffles really fluffy,” notes Cathy Pavlos, chef and owner of Provenance. “Fluffy waffles are the perfect companion for our fried sous vide chicken. The bacon just goes along for the wild ride.” (949-718-0477; provenanceoc.com)
When it comes to seafood, the recommended drink pairing is almost always a white wine. However, at Zinqué, skip the glass (or don’t) and enjoy the moules frites, a dish that incorporates white wine in the cooking process. In this meal, mussels are the main event, but they’re definitely not the only ingredient that benefits from the use of white wine—and it’s not the only alcohol used either. Pastis, a French anise-flavored spirit, is also cooked into the mixture.
“We saute shallots with white wine, pastis and cream, reducing until the sauce is thickened,” explains Kristin Dossetti, co-owner of Zinqué. “We then stir in the mussels, steaming [them] in the broth until they all open. C’est tout—[that’s all].” (949-612-7259; lezinque.com)
While appetizers and entrees filled with boozy goodness are always a plus, this dessert from Sushi Roku will end your meal on a completely different level. Impressive in both design and execution, the eatery’s Carnival Cake is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve had before. It starts with a decadent piece of New York cheesecake, topped with strawberries and surrounded by cotton candy. In a unique twist, the cotton candy is doused in rum.
“The cotton candy is set on fire upon arrival to the table, creating a little show for the guest,” says Executive Chef Alejandro Chavez. “The fuel for the flame is Don Q 151, which essentially burns away before the guest dives in. Both playful and nostalgic, it lights up the room every time a guest orders it.” (949-706-3622; innovativedining.com)