The following are summaries of recent Times restaurant reviews.
Far Pavilions, 1520 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach. (714) 548-7167. Open seven days, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 to 10:30 p.m.
Elegant, beachfront Indian dining. Far Pavilions has a surfeit of specialties hard to find in other local restaurants: minced chicken balls in a spicy tomato puree; bhindi masala , aka curried okra; Bihari kabab , a saucy chicken dish from north central India. Some flavors run together here, but you can avoid that problem by sandwiching dishes in the fine tandoori breads from the restaurant’s clay oven. Meats from the same oven are so good they should be eaten bareheaded, kneeling.
Caliente, 1910 Main St., Irvine. (714) 975-1220. Open seven days 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., till 11 on weekends .
Caliente is Spanish for hot, and that is exactly what this stylish new restaurant is. It’s the latest jewel in the El Torito crown, and its modest adobe exterior conceals a stunning design -- a faint red, ‘80s-chic motif complete with dramatic lighting, an open kitchen, and a comal, the high-tech version of a stone tortilla cooker. The restaurant smokes its own meats, and you can wash them down with premium margaritas made from vintage tequila. Desserts, such as burnt cream and apple crisp, are wonderful.
Rutabegorz, 211 N. Pomona, Fullerton ((714) 738-9339) and 158 W. Main, Tustin ((714) 731-9807). Open seven days, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
The Greenery Natural Kitchen, 119E Commonwealth, Fullerton ( (714) 870-0981 ) and 323 S. Magnolia, Anaheim ((714) 761-8103). Open Monday through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. , Saturdays 10 to 5.
Rutabegorz in Fullerton looks as if it belongs on a college campus; the food they serve does too. Best avoid the frozen poultry casseroles in favor of the meatless dishes like stuffed squash or veggie lasagna. Desserts like carrot cake and apple pie are reminiscent of a church bake sale.
The Greenery is a modest, unadorned storefront restaurant with homey, health-conscious fare. Best dishes are the lentil burrito, with guacamole, and the unburger, made from ground nuts and brown rice.
Both restaurants are inexpensive, with few dishes over five dollars.
Five Feet, 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach. (714) 497-4955. Open Mondays through Thursdays 5 to 10 p.m., till 11 Fridays through Sundays.
Owner Michael Kang has some of the most compelling art around decorating this restaurant’s somber, postmodern walls, and he serves plates of food very nearly as artful. Dishes of pot stickers or steamed dumpling are no better than you’d get in any Chinese restaurant, but the eclectic lamb, scallop, and catfish entrees demonstrate Kang’s flair. The catfish is particularly fine.
Crocodile Cafe in the Brea Marketplace, 975 E . Birch St., Brea . (714) 529-CAFE. Open seven days 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., till 12 on weekends.
Greg Smith is doing more than just promoting the new American cuisine; he’s making it into a populist movement at this small, laughably inexpensive cafe. Enjoy wonderful hamburgers grilled over smoking embers of oak, wood-fired pizzas with designer toppings, and trendy homemade pastas like fettucine with roasted Pasilla chili and ancho-cream. Sit under the 30-foot vinyl crocodile sipping boutique wines. You can bet your Beamer that this restaurant is a good value.
Almagreb, 23700 El Toro Road, in the Saddleback Valley Plaza, El Toro. (714) 859-9393. Open Tuesdays through Sundays 6 to 10 p.m.
Almagreb, a Moroccan restaurant in El Toro, has one of the most dramatic dining areas anywhere: clustered tent canopies among a maze of mirrors with an almost mystical dimension. Meals are taken in the traditional style, with no utensils, and are finger-licking good. Among the better offerings: b’stilla (a sugar-dusted chicken pie), couscous (cracked semolina wheat in a savory vegetable stew), and Tanya, belly dancer extraordinaire. The Arabic music accompanying her is deafening.
Thien Thanh, 5423 W. 1st St., Santa Ana. (714) 554-7260. Open weekdays 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., weekends till 3 a.m.
Thien Thanh is more than just one of the area’s best restaurants: It is a crossroad of Vietnamese and American culture: The crowd is as diverse as the menu. Cua rang muoi (cooked salted crab) and bo dam (garlic-centered beef) are two dishes not to miss, but lighter appetites can indulge in more than 50 noodle dishes. While away the day listening to Asian pop music, gawking at the new wavers and sipping filter coffee and tropical freezes made from durian and jackfruit.
Felix Continental Cafe, 36 Plaza Square, Orange. (714) 633-5842. Open seven days from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
You can smell the garlic for blocks around this European-looking, Cuban style cafe in the old downtown of Orange. The menu abounds with exotica. Papa rellena, a potato and egg croquette rolled in bread crumbs, is about the best appetizer. Roast chicken Cubano, a crispy half chicken with bitter orange peel added for extra dimension, is definitely the best entree. Save room for dessert--it is the best course here. Pineapple-raisin bread pudding, a soft, buttery suspension of rum, eggs, flour and fruit, is good enough to make Betty Crocker blush.
Caffe Piemonte, 1835 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. (714) 532-3296. Open Tuesdays through Fridays 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays 5 to 10 p.m.
Two brothers from Piemonte, one of Italy’s most scenic provinces, have opened this handsome, spotless little trattoria in the city of Orange, and already it has become a county hot spot. Start any meal here with the wonderful, sumptuous antipasto and then move on to one of chef Luigi Ravetto’s hand extruded homemade pastas (such as chewy ruotelle , little, six-spoked wheels perfect for soaking up sauce). Ravetto’s cooking is somewhat generic, but he has included polenta , the cornmeal staple of his province, and you really should try it. His polenta Piemontese, with a light, grainy cheese sauce, is most appealing.
California Pizza Kitchen, Fashion Island, 1151 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. (714) 759-5543. Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays to 11, Sundays to 9.
With the eighties has come the designer pizza, and it looks as if the phenom is here to stay. That’s what the California Pizza Kitchen is banking on, anyway. This slicked down operation, designed for flash and staffed with young, beautiful people, serves an eclectic, almost futuristic array of pizzas topped with everything from goat cheese to peanut sauce. Service is somewhat indifferent at present; high energy owners Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfeld should fix that problem soon. Best to stick with the pizzas that don’t fall too far from the tree; five-cheese, homemade sausage, and a delicious bar-b-cued chicken.
1520 AD, 821 S. Beach Blvd., Anaheim. (714) 995-5464. Seatings are Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m.
The food at 1520 AD may not be authentic Tudor, but who cares? When you eat with your fingers, everything tastes better. The opening course at this re-creation of a Merrie Olde England roadhouse is a hearty lentil barley soup, drunk from large draughts and eaten with hunks of brown bread. There is a choice of four entrees: slow cooked chicken, lamb shank in a white sauce, steak kabob, and a most modern filet of halibut with a heathen Spanish sauce on top. The abundant platters of rice and vegetables, the fine, lemony pound cake, and the bottomless mugs of ice-cold beer make for a dinner that King Henry himself would have enjoyed.
Granville’s, in the Disneyland Hotel, 1150 W. Cerritos Ave., Anaheim. (714) 778-6600. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 6 to 10 p.m.
The Disneyland Hotel might not immediately spring to mind when the subject of restaurants comes up, but it ought to: Granville’s, its flagship restaurant, is one of the best around. The room is designed for elegance, with mahogany sideboards, Regency-style chairs and overwhelming shades of burgundy. Chef Tim Owen trained with Boston cooking teacher Madeleine Kamman, and his cuisine is original and delicate. Such appetizers as Little Neck clams steamed in Pernod with spinach are wonderful, as are such entrees as loin of lamb in an anise crust, oven roasted with thyme and rosemary. There is an extensive wine list (featuring American wines only), and the service is impeccable.
Thai Nakorn, 8674 Stanton Ave., Buena Park. (714) 952-4954. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Thai Nakorn is an innocent looking storefront restaurant -- but inside awaits the blistering fare of northeast Thailand, arguably the world’s hottest cuisine. A long list of specialties will make a believer out of you, ones like larb , ground pork with brown rice, onion, lime juice and chili, or nuad dad deal , a dried, salted beef with a faint aftertaste of the sea. Appetizers show the restaurant’s class: Try a savage barbecued shrimp salad with mint sprig, and a homemade sausage wrapped up in cabbage leaves. Frog, eel and other exotica can be ordered from a blackboard.
McCharles House, 335 South C St., Tustin. (714) 731-4063. Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, 2 to 6 p.m. for tea; Thursdays through Saturdays 5:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner.
If you have never experienced a proper English tea, then now’s your chance at this converted Victorian house, built circa 1885 in old town Tustin. You’ll even get heart shaped scones. Audrey Heredia and her daughter Vivian fuss over this dining and tea room, a spinster’s fantasy of wooden tables, tasseled lamps and enough doilies to make Gladys Cooper an overcoat. Lunch is a choice of salads and little tea sandwiches. Dinner is simple and sweet. Don’t miss a tempting array of home baked goodies, like the rich chocolate cake served with clotted cream.
Spats, 901 Civic Center Drive, Santa Ana. (714) 558-1883. Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 a.m to 2 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Spats is one of those maddeningly confusing little restaurants where it is impossible to know what you are supposed to be eating. The chef is Japanese. The menu is Italian and Japanese. The ambience is pure California. Best to try are the more Japanese dishes like broiled beef on bamboo skewer, fresh oysters in the shell with Japanese dipping sauce, and soba , handmade buckwheat noodles treated with a simple respect. Avoid the gummy pastas and the pretentious Western concoctions. Most of them are better left to the concept stage. There is an adjoining disco if you get too impatient waiting for service.
Los Alamitos Fish Company, 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos. (213) 594-4553. Open Sundays through Thursdays 11 a.m to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays until 11 p.m.
Order mesquite broiled fish from the restaurant’s giant circular grill, or enjoy a brace of other dishes such as steamed Dungeness crab, smoked albacore tuna or simply flavored steamers, all of which go beautifully with the restaurant’s standout sourdough bread. Desserts are all homemade. The best of them are a superior blackout cake and a soft, tart, lemon mousse pie.
Soup Exchange, 151 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton. (714) 992-5522. Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Salmagundi, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa . (714) 549-9267. Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays noon to 5.
Eat soup, live longer at these two emporia for our favorite comfort food. Soup Exchange is the slicker and less expensively packaged of the two, a soup and salad bar with such extras as frozen yogurt and muffins and a nacho bar to boot. It’s all you can eat and every man for himself. Salmagundi is homier and even a bit trendy, with such exotic soups as tortilla, wild rice and country Cheddar; they change daily. Salmagundi also has a dessert bar where you can indulge in such goodies as trifle, apple brown betty and chocolate mousse. Either restaurant redefines the word excess.
Metropolitan Grill, 18201 Von Karman Ave., Irvine. (714) 474-3060. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.
Metropolitan Grill is an urban steakhouse in the center of a vast canyon of Irvine office buildings, and its dining room has the same kind of handsome muscularity as a prize steer: sculpted wooden bar, halogen lamps, high-tech metals. The beef is certified Black Angus and it tastes terrific. Metro Grill steak is a center cut top sirloin marinated in a Jack Daniel’s garlic sauce, topped with pancetta and mushrooms. Prime rib is sublime. Everything is broiled with mesquite and comes with huge baked potatoes, fine julienned vegetables and a first-rate house bread.
Scampi, 1576 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. (714) 645-8560. Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., daily from 5:30 p.m.
Scampi is the name of a dark, noisy and unassuming Neapolitan style trattoria that has come to the nether reaches of Newport Boulevard, and it is already bringing new energy to the street. Chef Massimo Navaretta specializes in scampi , those outsized Italian crustaceans with a flavor between lobster and shrimp, but does many other things to perfection as well. Zuppa di vongole , the house version of steamed clams, has mysterious fragrances from a combination of herbs. Timballo di verdure , a flat noodle layered with fresh ricotta, vegetables, and herbs, is irresistible. Wear your T-shirt. The waiters do.
Sabatino’s, 34700 Coast Highway, Capistrano Beach. (714) 661-8998. Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 5 to 10 p.m., Fridays through Sundays to 11 p.m.
Sabatino’s is familiar, Chicago import Italian, complete with a romantic beach view, the best sausage this side of Cicero, and cloying lounge lizard music. As long as you don’t mind hearing “Mama” three times during dinner, you will love the place. Owner Pete Sabatino mixes an outstanding Caesar tableside, using pickled garlic cloves that he hoards in a jar. Pastas are mostly fresh, with thick, flavorful sauces like pesto and Alfredo. Main courses, as in most restaurants of this genre, are almost beside the point.
Shan-Li Palace, 5634 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. (714) 779-1410. Open Mondays through Thursdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays to 11 p.m.
This Mandarin-style Chinese restaurant is further proof that gentrification is spreading like a brush fire. It is nestled snugly in the Anaheim Hills not far from the Riverside County line; a few years back you couldn’t have found a hamburger stand in these parts. Order the steamed dumplings, despite the fact that the waiter may try to discourage you. They are wonderful. Spinach bean curd soup tastes as fresh as if the spinach came from out back. Twice cooked pork is fiery and colorful. Moo-shu dishes, minced meats and veggies rolled up burrito style, are terrific.
Mene’s Terrace, 23532 El Toro Road (Orange Tree Plaza), El Toro. (714) 830-3228. Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m., Saturdays 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Mene’s Terrace is like a sun-splashed Aegean taverna, transported magically to an El Toro shopping mall. You know you are not in Greece because you can see the Denny’s just outside the window. The menu is small, but everything is prepared the way an Orthodox grandmother would prepare it. Tiropita and spanakopita , little cheese and spinach pies in a filo crust, are near perfect. The egg lemon soup is even better. Wonderful char-grilled meats, marinated in lemon juice and Greek spices, are served with rice pilaf and pan roasted potatoes. There is even complimentary baklava at dinner time.
A La Carte Bistro, 16847 Algonquin Road (Huntington Harbour Mall), Huntington Beach. (714) 840-8152. Open Mondays through Thursdays 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fridays to 10 p.m., Saturdays 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The A La Carte Bistro has a giant menu for such a tiny space, and the portions are giant to match. Chef Friedrich Rechberger has a dedication that borders on fanaticism, and a deft hand behind the range. You have got to see the house salad to believe it, a huge, European-style platter of mixed salads that comes with dinner. Such game dishes as rabbit, venison, and quail abound. A must here is one of the chef’s special desserts, such as Kaiserschmarn, a chopped-up, butter-fried pancake served with powdered sugar and pureed apricot. Guaranteed to keep the wolf from the door for days.
Royal Khyber, 1000 N. Bristol St., Newport Beach. (714) 752-5200. Open Sundays through Fridays 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and daily 5:30 p.m. to 10:30.
The cuisine at Royal Khyber is the rich Mughlai type from north India and the restaurant has a richness to match; it resembles a maharaja’s palace. The best time to visit is for Sunday brunch, when a tempting array of more than 20 dishes is spread out before you. Meats cooked in the 800-degree tandoor are tender and crumbly with exotic spices. Biryani , a simple basmati rice dish with peas and fried onions is soft and fragrant. Among the many other dishes, chicken curry, channa masala (stewed garbanzo beans) and the dessert, a carrot-almond pudding, are most memorable.
Tootsie’s Sidewalk Cafe, Fashion Island, 327 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. (714) 759-9000. Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m..
Tootsie’s is a bit overdone for a sidewalk cafe, and the prices are rather steep. Nonetheless, the place is fun. It is an exaggerated-looking pink room that dares you to like it, complete with poster art, columns and gaudy mirrored tables. Food is average, but desserts, made by Tootsie herself, are outstanding. Flaky apple dumplings are served warm with vanilla ice cream and a perfect caramel sauce. A wonderful chocolate pecan pie has a dense chocolate mixture folded in. Cheesecake is topped with an outrageously rich turtle topping. Come to think of it the whole place is a bit outrageous.