“A” Restaurant, History and Allure
by Dawn Garcia
Newport Beach is a city that travelers from all around the globe flock to for it’s gorgeous pristine beaches and high brow lifestyle. And while there are beautiful and gorgeous new developments, the real charm of the city lies in the architectural gems and authentic finds. One such find is “A Restaurant” located on the Coast Highway. As you pull in to the valet and enter through the main door, you are immediately taken back to another place in time. With deep rich garnet booths, red lighted ambiance, dimly lit decor, gorgeous floral arrangements, the chatter of a rather lively and full crowd gravitating towards the bar, and the smells seeping out through the kitchen – one can’t help but feel engaged. Rich in history dating back to 1925, A Restaurant has a story to tell and while it has undergone several different ownerships, last year a new duo joined the team and it’s been nothing short of wonderful. Doug and Julie Garn became the new owners of the “A” Family and since, well, the restaurant is getting better and better. Doug and Julie are the most generous and kind entrepreneurs you’re likely to meet in the “everyday world”. The former CEO and President of Quest Software, Doug has a success story you’ll be impressed with but even moreso, it’s his kindheartedness that will give you hope that success can happen to really good people. In addition to the Garn’s, a longtime affiliate of the Restaurant includes Hollywood Director and Producer, McG who, alongside friends Mark McGrath, Chris Brigandi, Mike Ness, Bob Hurley, and Stan Frasier were instrumental in the transformation of A Restaurant.
The night begins as PR Guru Jane Gillespie and I scour the menu, my discerning eye not quite set on any one particular drink. As the ingredients and descriptions process, we go with a sampling of what is said to be their specialty cocktails:
The Opener: Made with lemon basil rime. This could have been blissfully refreshing and crisp but was a bit bland.
Exparte: This is not as interesting as I’d like. At first sip this is good but after it sat for a few minutes it resembled NyQuil more than a sophisticated spirit.
Salty Pear: Jane asks for this to be a little more on the sweet side. It is good, but we later find out it tastes best as intended (and far more delicious!).
Our server, Christina (a girl after my own heart with a 1940s retro style) gives us time to taste each one. She is a delight. When she returns, I announce I’ve decided to pause on cocktails for now to look over the wine list and am ready to order a starter:
Spicy Yellowfin Tuna: Well balanced on the airy tart. Fish is fresh and light rather than gummy and predictable. The textures of the tart and the clean bite of the yellowfin is certainly a welcome distinction.
I decide to attempt another cocktail but, after learning that the ingredients are unavailable (because they were out), I return to the wine list. While everything else has gone well, so far, I’m not pleased with the drinks so I change gears and go with the Duckhorn Paradise Blend Bordeaux. (Referred to as the “Original Prisoner” this is a Zin blend with Merlot, Cabernet, and Petit Syrah as the backbone.) This is a full and lush glass of red.
In a few minutes I am pleasantly surprised as I am greeted by owners, Doug and Julie Garn, and after a bit of conversation am guided to the kitchen by Julie Garn to meet Chef Jon Blackford. Chef couldn’t be a more endearing man with the social graces one appreciates. He has a curiosity in the kitchen that lends to a flavor landscape that invites you to embark on everything from homemade favorites like pot pie to the insatiable Delmonico steak that melts in your mouth like honey drips from its honeycomb. We talk for a few minutes and he asks me what I ordered out near the bar. I tell him the Yellow fin only to then proceed to say I normally prefer to order less expected dishes. He assures me I’ve chosen the most popular – and expected dish – to which I take a breath and reply, “Ok, well then, I can’t have that so if there’s something you think I need to try, I will”.
Not too long after I’ve left him to continue on to dinner I find myself back in the garnet booth and contently sipping on my wine. Moments later, out comes Steak Tartare (thanks to Chef) made with horseradish, scallion, a quail egg nesting in half an egg shell, Parmesan, arugula and Chef’s own addition of herbs and citrus. I admire the presentation of the quail egg so understated in its shell. I place the beef on my fork and in one bite, I’m pleased. Steak Tartare is one of those “standard” dishes that can be exquisite or down right boring. This was palate pleasing.
Now beginning to find myself craving more of the menu, my 2nd guest arrives to join us. He is yet another discerning palate. As he takes his seat, we are greeted with a new face. The man behind the bar.
Upon hearing of the “not quite right” cocktail experience I was having, Derek, the Mixologist, comes by to apologize with a determination to win my thirst over with another try. I reference that owner, Doug Garn had mentioned a tequila martini Derek makes especially for him that is “off the menu” and I decide I need to try it. Jane orders the Salty Pear (without any amendments this time) and finds she is all too happy with it as it is intended once it arrives. The “Gartini” is made with 1942 Don Julio and it is one of the most delectable tequila based cocktails I have ever had.
To my surprise, tonight I have been rather fortunate to meet the owners and, as luck would have it, McG also happens to be in for dinner. We introduce ourselves (though we’ve met a few times at the annual Wood Racquet Classic along with his longtime girlfriend – and stunningly beautiful actress and mom – , Bridget Moynahan). I am invited over to his table to sit and chat with him and the “A Market” Chef, Shelly Register, mostly about the Magazine, the food, and how much fun the WRC is, including watching he and Bridget compete with their respective partners every year. His dinner arrives and he offers up some of the tempestuous family style dishes he’s chosen:
The Butterleaf Wedge and the Free Range Chicken Pot Pie. Leaving the bacon for me to devour (thanks McG), I take a small taste of the salad and find myself holding back because it is worth eating every last bite. (A salad!) The pot pie is hearty.
After sampling a few bites and enjoying the wonderful conversation with he and Chef Shelly and her friend, it was time to return to the table and my guests and order our main courses. We all decide to order 3 dishes and share:
Jumbo Diver Scallops: Made with nante carrot mash, vandouvan curry, coconut milk, heirloom cauliflower.
Delmonico Steak: – a new menu item that deserves a permanent place made with a garlic mash puree and a sprig of thyme
Free Range Veal Chop: Anson mills grits, hedgehog mushrooms, baby spinach, leeks, marsala reduction
I was rather pleasantly surprised by the scallops (a dish I am genuinely always wary of) simply by way of the carrot mash blended with the vandouvan curry, both of which paired so well with the scallops. I have to comment on the cauliflower that was a standout in every way. The Delmonico, ahh, this is the perfect bite of beef. The first bite climbs onto your palate with dream-like precision and the flavors continue expanding as it rests. The Delmonico is not yet a permanent fixture on the menu but I’d encourage Chef to keep this one. It’s superb! The Veal Chop is the final dish to devour with its culmination of vegetable choices that compliment the meat well. The grits add an element of texture to the veal when placed together that accentuates the natural flavors of the veal (of course the tastiest bites are closest to the bone).
Overall, this may be one of my more memorable OC meals and I am eager to follow along as Chef Blackford continues to make the menu his own. Thank you so much to Doug & Julie Garn, McG, Chefs Blackford and Register, and Jane Gillespie for making this trip out of the Los Angeles world a wonderful experience.
A Restaurant Newport Beach
Newport Beach, CA 92663
The History of “A”
A Restaurant, formerly known as The Arches, and the A Market were originally built as a restaurant and service station in 1925, the same year Coast Highway opened up from Huntington Beach to Newport Beach. Founded by John Vilelle and James Sturgeon, the restaurant was named by 10 year old Victor Chatten in a local contest advertised in the Balboa Times. The distinct Mediterranean style of the original buildings, with arches and red tile roofs, quickly made it a recognizable landmark in Newport Beach, and it helped shape and inspire the town in its early stages.
Beginning as a basic roadside diner, the restaurant and its menu flourished together, featuring steak, seafood and a celebrity clientele in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s, and was touted for its French food by the early 1970′s. And while A’s appearance and function has changed over time, its commitment to guests and serving high quality cuisine has not. Today, A Restaurant is an acclaimed upscale steakhouse with a sophisticated and retro chic ambiance.
New ownership and management took over in 2013, and with their guidance, A Restaurant has further elevated the dining experience. Chef Jon Blackford changes the menu seasonally to offer the freshest and highest quality ingredients possible. Classic dishes are served with a modern twist. A also has four sommeliers on staff, who have worked with Chef Blackford and their mixologist to offer an extensive wine list of nearly 200 varietals in a range of prices, along with an impressive list of cocktails and craft beer.
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