Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bayside Restaurant -- Newport Beach

I first tried Bayside Restaurant last month, during Newport Beach Restaurant Week. The promotion was successful, at least in my case, because I've already been back, this time for lunch with a colleague and a visiting scholar (yes, another work meal).

Bayside is part of the "Dining As Art Collection" restaurant group, along with Bistango and Kimera. To tell you the truth, I didn't notice any art, but then, I wasn't looking for any. Still, the dining room is definitely aesthetically pleasing, with dark woods warming up the smooth sleek modern lines of the decor. There are three dining areas: a tall, open-feeling inside space on the bar side of the room, with a piano. My friend and I sat there last month, and enjoyed the jazzy piano player. Another inside dining room is on the other side of the bar, and presumably quieter. On my second visit, I sat on the patio, which offers comfortably padded wicker chairs and a nice view of boats in the nearby harbor. A table of "ladies who lunch" looked very much at home here, demonstrating their stylish laughs over a second glass of wine.

On my first visit, I started with what they laughingly refer to as the "simple green salad." Yes, it is green, and it is a salad. But it is pleasantly un-simple. Circled by toast crisps, piled generously with wonderfully tangy blue cheese, it is sprinkled throughout with pine nuts and topped with julienned strips of crisp, sweet pear. The combination is not exactly unique, but it works well, and the high quality ingredients push it beyond "just another salad" status. Also, as I was reminded when the visiting scholar ordered this for lunch later, this is a big salad. If you consider that the cheese toasts are basically small sandwiches, you could count the salad as a light lunch all by itself.

On my second visit, the waiter told us that we were very lucky to be there on a Wednesday, because the soup of the day on Wednesday is chicken, the virtues of which he extolled quite highly. So, I got the soup. The waiter may have exaggerated somewhat, but yes, it was good soup: flavorful broth, shredded chicken that actually tasted like chicken, well-soaked grain (rice, if I remember correctly) for added texture, and bits of vegetables. I would have liked more vegetables, but then, nobody ever gives me enough vegetables.

The soup went well with the bread rolls, which are the round type that are almost-but-not-quite hard on the outside and soft on the inside. I slathered mine with soft butter and the bread was still warm enough to melt it just a little. The bread was thick and doughy on the inside, as though it were undercooked -- or should I say, as if everyone else cooks their rolls too much. Please, continue undercooking them. The wait staff noticed my first roll was gone and brought me another, so they get bonus points for not being stingy.

My colleague ordered the tuna tartare as her appetizer, which looked excellent. Are we still doing stacks? Apparently so. I, for one, am happy to see one now and again. The stack was fairly simple as these things go: mostly tuna and avocado, with other decorative bits scattered around, all soaked in a sauce of soy, chili, and ginger that she remarked upon very positively.

I realized later that I had salmon for my entree at both meals. For dinner the first time, I had oven-roasted wild mushroom crusted salmon, with potato puree, green asparagus, and Riesling sauce. The salmon was thickly sliced and meaty, with a perfectly crusty crust which added good texture, although it didn't taste much like mushrooms to me. The salmon was perhaps cooked a touch longer than it should have been, but was still within the acceptable range. The mashed potatoes and asparagus were unremarkable, even with the help of the sauce, which was fine (at least after I surreptitiously -- gasp -- added a bit of salt to it).

For lunch the second time I had another baked salmon with another admirably crusty crust, but this time the crust was spicy: mostly pepper, with a touch of chile and something else, possibly cumin. Spicy enough to make my lips tingle, but still low enough on the heat scale to be appreciated by a wider audience. The salmon was thick and meaty again, and this time cooked to perfection. It was served on a couscous salad, which was room temperature, although the vinegary infusion made it taste cooler. The couscous had a nice texture, neither so dry that the individual grains fall like sand off your fork, nor so wet that it feels sloppy in your mouth; and although I assume it had oil in it to hold it together, it didn't taste at all oily. The couscous salad included cherry tomatoes, very thinly sliced strips of red and yellow pepper, minced red onions, and plenty of parsley. The zing level was right on, but again, I wish there had been more vegetables. The size of the dish overall was more than I needed for lunch, given the large bowl of soup I'd already consumed. I took home about half the salmon and two-thirds of the couscous, which was enough for another meal later.

For her lunch entree, my colleague had the chicken breast with wilted spinach and lemon sauce. It looked fine, but I was more interested in the soft polenta that accompanied it, in a separate bowl. She did not seem crazy about it, and offered me a bite: I loved it! It had hints of corn pudding to it, which elevates it above the flavorless mash that is too often served under the name polenta. My guess about how it's made is that the polenta is mixed with crushed corn kernels, many of which are still mostly whole, and then baked in the shallow bowl. The smooth, thick polenta settles to the bottom, while the kernels rise to the top, solidifying into a chewier, chunkier layer. The result was a strong corn flavor and an interesting blend of textures.

I had something chocolate and delicious for dessert when I was there for Newport Beach Restaurant Week, although I didn't take notes on it. The online menu says it was chocolate soufflé cake with hazelnut ice cream. That sounds about right: I only remember that I enjoyed it. On the second visit, we were running short on time, so we didn't order dessert.

Bayside is not a top-dollar venue, but it's not inexpensive either. Dinner entrees are mostly $29-$32 (with two dishes priced at $20) and the charges for appetizers, drinks, and desserts add up fast. They have a relatively reasonable deal at lunch: $19.95 for two-course prix fixe, which includes any soup or salad and any entree (the pricier entrees cost an additional $3, but then, those entrees cost $19-20 by themselves). The deal includes a glass of house wine, a martini, or a non-alcoholic beverage. Forgetting to ask, I found out the hard way that their iced tea is flavored -- as I think of it, iced tea for people who don't like how tea tastes -- but it's more subtle than some.

Overall, Bayside is a lovely dining experience. The food is good: a cut above many options in OC, with nice presentation and good flavor, if not foodie-level excellent. It's also a cut above in terms of price, which puts it somewhat out of range for me for "normal" dining, whereas the food quality is not quite high enough for me to endorse it for "splurge" dining. That said, I'll be more than happy to return whenever they have special offers, or when someone else is paying.


Bayside Restaurant
900 Bayside Drive
Newport Beach
949-721-1222
www.baysiderestaurant.com

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Comments on "Bayside Restaurant -- Newport Beach"

Blogger Chubbypanda said ... (March 2, 2008 at 11:30 PM) : 

I have mixed feelings about the Dining as Art restaurants, but I definitely think they do a better job of it than Culinary Adventures, the other OC restaurant powerhouse.

Blogger Vegasbuff said ... (March 9, 2008 at 1:24 PM) : 

Thanks joy. Sounds like its definitely worth a try.

Blogger restaurant said ... (March 31, 2008 at 3:10 AM) : 

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Blogger kevinEats said ... (May 14, 2008 at 8:50 PM) : 

Bayside was decent, but I'd still give the edge to Bistango. As for Kimera, only been there once, but it appears to be comparable.

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