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 , a.k.a. 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., to 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 Ave., Fullerton (714) 738-9339 and 158 W. Main St., Tustin (714) 731-9807. Open seven days, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
The Greenery Natural Kitchen, 119 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton (714) 870-0981 and 323 S. Magnolia Ave., 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 $5.
Five Feet, 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach. (714) 497-4955. Open Mondays through Thursdays 5 to 10 p.m., to 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 would 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 d ays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., to 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 until 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, Newport Center/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 ‘80s 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 barbecued 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 fillet 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 is 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 such as 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.