Tempting Season Awaits Those Hungry for New Dining Spots

If checking out the new restaurants ranks as one of your favorite indoor sports, you’re in for a busy winter/spring.

Walt Babcock, who owns Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach, is joining with his general manager, Cary Redfearn, to open Oysters in Corona del Mar in mid-February. It will be where MacArthur Boulevard meets the Coast Highway, on the former site of Panama Joe’s.

Oysters will feature--that’s right--up to half a dozen kinds of oysters at the bar, which dates back to 1902 and once graced the Pump Room in Chicago. But oysters won’t be the whole story: There will be fresh fish cooked over oak wood, Angus beef and the restaurant’s own pastas too.

Ever wonder what happened to David and Nancy Wilhelm, who owned Bon Appetit and Pave in Corona del Mar? For several years, David consulted with and helped to open a number of Orange County restaurants. In March, he and Nancy will open a small Southwestern restaurant of their own in Laguna Beach, Kachina (after the dolls you can find in Arizona and New Mexico).


Franco and Sal Maniaci, who have fans lined up to sample the Italian fare at their Capriccio restaurant in Mission Viejo, will open Sapori in April in Newport Beach, at Bayside Drive and Jamboree Road. Franco promises a menu similar to Capriccio’s, with equally moderate prices and more daily specials.

And what about Capriccio? The Maniacis haven’t decided whether to keep it or sell it or what. But another brother has just arrived from Sicily. . . .

Gustaf Anders, the award-winning restaurant that closed recently in La Jolla, begins a new life in mid-March in South Coast Plaza Village, at the old Upstart Crow location. Partners Wilhelm Gustaf Magnuson and Ulf Anders Strandberg will treat Orange County to continental/Swedish fare at lunch and dinner. And--good news for after the concert or theater--lighter fare will be available from the bar menu till midnight.

Hans Prager strikes again: His Yankee Tavern will offer bayside dining at Coast Highway and Bayside Drive in Newport Beach, beginning about the first of April. Also on the horizon: Scott’s Seafood Grill & Bar, of San Francisco Bay Area note, debuts in Southern California on the site of the old Costa Mesa Cafe Casino in June. More on these next month.

Hearts and flowers: Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest dine-out nights of the year. A word to the wise about reservations . . . A few enticements: a flower “for your sweetheart” at Mayur in Corona del Mar, a Hawaiian orchid at the Royal Thai in Newport Beach or Laguna Beach . . . at Gandhi in South Coast Plaza Village, a prix fixe Indian menu (three appetizers, several main dishes and accompaniments, mango ice cream) for $19.95 or a vegetarian dinner for $14.95 . . . at Gianni in the Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza, a five-course dinner: appetizer, zuppa amore, crepes, a choice of three entrees and dol c e, $60 for two.

Comings and goings: Mark Wilhorne, formerly of John Dominis, is the new chef at JJ’s Bistro in Dana Point, replacing Guy Sockrider, who has moved to the Sheraton Hotel in Riverside . . . Chef Murat Day has left Chez Cary for Jay’s Catering. His replacement: Eugene Piquemal, formerly with Chanteclair in Irvine . . . Mario Zanetti has retired from Mario’s Place in Mission Viejo. The new owner, Sara Parrish, has retained Mario’s staff, replaced booths with tables and added a patio area . . . At La Via en Rose in Brea, Louis Laulhere has taken on a new partner and executive chef, Pascal Godet, who trained at the Negresco Hotel in Nice, France, with such luminaries as Jacques Maximin . . . Tony Florentine, owner of Tony’s Melody Inn, which was destroyed by fire earlier this month, says he has no immediate plans to rebuild. The charm of the old place, he believes, “was the location,” the landmark building in Fullerton that dated back to the early 1900s.

Beverly Bush Smith’s “News Bites” column will run every month in Orange County Calendar.