For a meal that goes beyond the regular menu, special prix fixe lineups provide unique dining opportunities around Newport Beach.
By Ashley Probst
The epitome of fine dining is a multicourse tasting menu that showcases exceptional service and true culinary artistry. Though this may sound like something reserved for royalty, local diners have access to myriad restaurants that feature such experiences. From omakase sushi at world-renowned Nobu Newport Beach to the various menus at Michelin-starred French restaurant Knife Pleat at South Coast Plaza, prix fixe offerings abound at restaurants in the region.
Curating Culinary Collections
Prix fixe menus give guests the opportunity to taste a curated collection of dishes, making for an elevated dining experience.
“Tasting menus allow us to provide a dining experience to our guests that we feel is a reflection of what we are as a restaurant and who we are as chefs,” says Florent Marneau, chef and co-owner of Marché Moderne, which features a seasonal prix fixe dinner. “With a tasting menu, we’re able to flex our culinary creativity.”
Another draw for diners is meal diversity, whether they choose to eat at different establishments or frequently return to a personal favorite.
“A lot of our guests dine with us sometimes several times a week or several times a month and it’s nice for them to have different options that are not on our regular a la carte menu,” says Yassmin Sarmadi, co-owner of Knife Pleat, where diners can enjoy a daily prix fixe lunch option, Saturday afternoon tea service and three- and six-course dinner menus depending on the day. “… It’s also a very French thing to do.”
These offerings also empower restaurants to highlight the best of their kitchens, from the chefs’ signature style to the freshest or rarest ingredients available. One example is the weekly four-course tasting menu at Lido Bottle Works.
“We started our Sunday suppers under the assumption that we wanted to give our guests insight into the farmers that we are working with, so this … gives us the perfect opportunity to do that,” says Executive Chef Joel Gutierrez. “We like to highlight certain farms and produce … or the proteins and the fish we’re getting from the Dory Fleet [Market], so this is really a chance for us to showcase how local we really are.”
Gutierrez also sees the Sunday suppers as an opportunity to interact with guests and get their feedback on dishes that have the potential to be added as long-term menu items.
Basilic Restaurant on Balboa Island offers another prix fixe offering, a five-course tasting menu that incorporates a soup du jour, seasonal salad, fresh fish of the day, beef bourguignon (or filet mignon for an additional charge) and dessert trio. And at Nobu Newport Beach, there’s a signature omakase menu and one that changes monthly, but both pay homage to the restaurant’s Japanese roots. These tasting menus feature a zensai (Japanese amuse-bouche), a soup, three sashimi-style cold dishes, two cooked dishes and dessert.
Back in February, Knife Pleat actually decided to replace its a la carte menu with monthly dinner menus: A three-course meal offers a choice between dishes for each course on Tuesdays through Thursdays while an indulgent six-course tasting menu is available on Fridays and Saturdays.
“When you have an a la carte menu with 30 … [to] 40 items on it, only a certain amount of work can go into each item. But if you have a tighter menu like a prix fixe with very curated items, then our chefs can incorporate a lot of technique into each course,” Sarmadi says, noting these offerings give guests a more elevated experience.
At Terrace by Mix Mix, a three-course, weekday express lunch menu changes daily and a build-your-own four-course meal allows guests to choose an item from each section (except pizzas) of the regular a la carte menu for either lunch or dinner—plus complimentary wine pairings on Wednesdays. This Costa Mesa eatery also plans to bring back its chef counter tasting menu this spring, which provides up to six guests with an immersive five- to nine-course dining experience, showcasing the chefs creating the dishes right before your eyes.
Playing With the Seasons
Though the cuisines may be different, one thing remains the same for these various prix fixe menus: They all tend to highlight newly harvested produce and proteins based on the time of year.
“As the seasons change, we look into the freshest produce that is available and incorporate them into our tasting offerings,” says Basilic Restaurant owner and Executive Chef Bernard Althaus. “With the fresh catch of the day … we do the same—it’s a matter of finding out what is available from the fish market and we then base our menu on that, developing the sauces and additions to go with each dish.”
At Marché Moderne, Marneau also likes to focus on what’s in season and any special ingredients that are available. “Sometimes the inspiration comes from nostalgia of certain dishes from France or trying to put fresh spins on classic bistro dishes,” he says.
Gutierrez tailors the second course at Lido Bottle Works to ingredients he procures from the Santa Monica Farmers Market every Wednesday. “I’ve tried to do a vegetable-forward dish to highlight not only the season but the farm that we’re getting that produce from, as well,” he says.
Gutierrez notes that peas, asparagus, Santa Barbara spot prawns from the Dory Fleet and citrus from Sunny Cal Farms are all likely to make an appearance on the spring menu, with heirloom tomatoes and other bright-colored produce coming into play a bit closer to summertime.
The prix fixe lunch menu at Knife Pleat changes daily based on specials that the chefs come up with in the morning, which also use fresh ingredients from the farmers market and local fish purveyor. Also in Costa Mesa, Terrace by Mix Mix’s menu is inspired by the season, but a few signature items stay on the menu like the albacore tostada, soft egg raviolo and pork cheek adobo—a riff on an adobo recipe from Executive Chef Ross Pangilinan’s grandma. “It’s braised so the pork cheeks get nice and tender, but they still have great flavor. It’s cooked with soy, vinegar, bay leaves [and] peppercorns until tender and then we fry them and put … [them] back in the braising liquid and serve it with garlic fried rice.” Pangilinan adds that, “We always have steak and seafood [on the menu, too], but we switch the garnishes with the season.”
With rotating offerings, there’s never a guarantee that a particular dish will be available, but there are certainly some memorable items from past menus. A few noteworthy ones include a shiitake-crusted black cod at Basilic Restaurant; Scottish salmon at Terrace by Mix Mix; and luxurious items like caviar, wagyu beef, lobster and truffles at Nobu Newport Beach.
Though the ingredients may differ, diners are sure to find a pasta on the menu at Lido Bottle Works with Gutierrez at the kitchen’s helm. As a self-proclaimed “sucker for pasta,” it’s no surprise one of his favorite dishes is a bucatini cacio e pepe with white truffles that was recently featured on the Sunday supper prix fixe menu.
At Knife Pleat, the kitchen works with The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano to source its greens for the farmers market salad. One of Sarmadi’s favorite renditions was from a black truffle tasting menu earlier this year—specifically the black-and-white salad with frisee, castelfranco radicchio, savoy cabbage, celery, apple, walnut, Parmesan and, of course, truffle.
Marché Moderne also specializes in French cuisine, with Marneau pointing to a dish that features Santa Barbara sea urchin filled with grapefruit gelee, fresh oregano and hearts of palm, watermelon radish, avocado, kosho-lime vinaigrette, orange dust and cilantro. The fine dining establishment also tends to include a handmade pasta course that serves as “an elevated take on a classic comfort food,” such as chestnut creme-filled agnolotti with Parmesan and foie gras.
“Of course, Amelia’s desserts are always the perfect ending to the tasting menu, like her burnt honey yuzu tart,” Marneau says of his business partner and wife who serves as the restaurant’s co-owner and pastry chef. “… After 15 years of cooking together, Amelia and I feel very fortunate to be able to continue evolving as chefs and to be able to stretch our culinary muscles with these tasting menus after all this time.”