The following are summaries of recent Times restaurant reviews by Max jacobson. Prices are based on average cost for a party of two without wine. $--less than $15 $$--$15 to $39 $$$--$40 to $75 $$$$--More than $75
* Soup Exchange, 151 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton. (714) 992-5522. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. $
* Salmagundi, South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. (714) 549-9267. Open Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays till 6 p.m.; Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. $
Eat soup and live longer at these two emporia for our favorite comfort food. Soup Exchange is the slicker and less expensively packaged of the two, a soup and salad bar with such extras as frozen yogurt, muffins and a nacho bar. It’s all you can eat and every man for himself. Salmagundi is homier and even a bit trendy, with such exotic soups as tortilla, wild rice and country cheddar; they change daily. Salmagundi also has a dessert bar where you can indulge in such goodies as trifle, apple brown betty and chocolate mousse.
* 3-6-9 Shanghai, 613 N. Euclid St., Anaheim. (714) 635-8369. Open daily except Sundays from 11:30 a.m.; Mondays through Thursdays to 9:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays to 10 p.m. $
One of the best small Chinese restaurants in the heavily ethnic San Gabriel Valley, 3-6-9 Shanghai has opened this storefront sister in an Anaheim shopping mall, bringing nearly all of its popular dishes. Handmade breads and savory dumpling preparations excel here along with such exotic cold appetizers as tea-smoked chicken and braised baby bamboo. The restaurant is cheap and basic; tell them to tread lightly on the MSG. The steamed pork with rice is a revelation.
* JW’s, Anaheim Marriott Hotel, 700 W. Convention Way, Anaheim. (714) 750-0900. Open Mondays through Saturdays from 6 to 9 p.m. $$$$
JW’s is one of those staunchly old-school, special-occasion restaurants, but the food is somewhat innovative and of surprisingly high quality. Appetizers show a certain daring, like home-grown foie gras served on a potato galette in a Madeira sauce, or escargot ravioli with wild mushrooms. Main dishes show enthusiasm as well, and the sauces accompanying them are generally big hits. Roast boar comes drenched with a simple sauce of sage, juniper and honey and has a robust spiciness. Venison comes in a sauce based on red wine vinegar. Prices are definitely on the high end; service, attentive and manicured. It is fail-safe the way only a good hotel restaurant can be.
* Sorrento Grill, 370 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach. (714) 494-8686. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5:30 to 9.30 p.m.; Sundays from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. $$$
Sorrento Grill is one of the best new restaurants around, a virtual lock for local stardom. The restaurant is a high-concept operation, and it pushes all the right buttons: a stunningly designed open kitchen, postmodern vastness and a decibel level even Philip Glass would object to. The food is wonderful. Young, innovative chef Roseanne Ruiz uses the finest ingredients, Chino ranch vegetables, carefully selected poultry and fish, and she prepares them with the finest olive oil and utmost care. Desserts like an amazing creme brulee are brutally rich. Expect lines and unbridled enthusiasm.
* McCharles House, 335 S. C St., Tustin. (714) 731-4063. Open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lunch; 2 to 5 p.m. for tea; Thursdays through Saturdays from 5:30 to 9 p.m. for dinner. $$
If you have never experienced a proper English tea, then now’s your chance at this converted Victorian house, built circa 1885 in Tustin’s Old Town. You’ll even get heart-shaped scones. Audrey Heredia and her daughter, Vivian, fuss over this dining room and tearoom, a spinster’s fantasy of wooden tables, tasseled lamps and enough doilies to make Gladys Cooper an overcoat.
* Mene’s Terrace, Orange Tree Plaza, 23532 El Toro Road, El Toro. (714) 830-3228. Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m. $$
Mene’s Terrace is like a sun-splashed Aegean taverna transported magically to an El Toro shopping mall. You know you’re 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. Tirapita 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.
* Far Pavilions, 1520 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach. (714) 548-7167. Open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 to 10:30 p.m. $$$
Elegant, beachfront Indian dining. Far Pavilions has a surfeit of specialties hard to find in other local restaurants: minced chicken balls in a spicy tomato puree, bhindi masala (curried okra) and bihari kabab, a saucy chicken dish from north-central India. Some flavors run together here, but you can avoid that problem by sandwiching dishes in the fine tandoori breads from the restaurant’s clay oven. Meats from the same oven are so good they should be eaten bareheaded, kneeling.
* Scampi, 1576 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. (714) 645-8560. Open Mondays through Fridays from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sundays from 5 to 10 p.m. $$
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 outsize Italian crustaceans with a flavor between lobster and shrimp, but he 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.
* Viva Italia, 303 Broadway, Laguna Beach. (714) 497-6220. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. ; Friday, Saturday and Sunday to 1 a.m. $$ The Viva in Viva Italia is an acronym for the first initials of brothers Vittorio, Ignacio, Vincenzo and Antonio Romeo, and the restaurant seems to have caught on as neatly. It’s a somewhat cramped version of an Italian trattoria : terra-cotta floor, tile kitchen, elbow-to-elbow seating. Food is simple and straightforward but erratic. Pastas and wood-fired pizzas are the best bets. Beach-crowd salads and ill-conceived main courses can be passed over. Service is snappy and efficient.
* Umi, 2075 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. (714) 631-2208. Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays to 11 p.m. $$
Umi is a modern and imaginative but often unprofessional sushi bar with high-tech pretensions, and knowing what to order is important. You are safe if you stick with the sushi, which is fresh and crafted with an excellently prepared rice, but it is easy to run aground on the many hot dishes. Among the best are a wonderful scallop casserole, a toothsome Japanese steak and yaki-onigiri (grilled triangles of sushi rice with various fillings). Service can be painfully slow.
* Hyang Chon, 12921 Fern St., Stanton. (714) 891-5166. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. $
Eel, grilled short ribs and barbecued herring are just a few items on this Korean restaurant’s exotic and varied menu. Pan cha, colorful side dishes, are especially good here, with such specialties as gae jang, raw marinated crab and jap chae, glass noodles with meat and vegetables. Lunchtime prices are a steal.
* Hassan’s Cafe, 3325 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach. (714) 675-4668. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Sundays from 5:30 to 10 p.m. $$
Hassan’s Cafe specializes in the cuisine of Lebanon--a hybrid of Turkish, French and local influences--and the restaurant is relaxing and exotic. Mazza, one of the world’s great noshes, is the absolute must here, a splendid array of Middle Eastern appetizers such as mutebel , a smoky eggplant dip, and warrab ennaq , vine leaves stuffed with aromatic rice. There are interesting main dishes such as kibbe nayya , raw ground lamb mixed with bulgur wheat, sort of an Arabic version of steak tartare. Kebabs are first-rate.
* Salud, 17041 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach. (714) 842-1194. Open Mondays through Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sundays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. $$
Salud, a new high-concept Mexican restaurant from Larry Cano, has an outlandish design that looks like a set Roger Corman might have used for a movie on Aztec discomania. All the trendy Mexican buttons are pushed: hand-shaken margaritas, ‘80s chilis, blue corn. Avoid the usual Meximush and head for the soups, grilled meats and desserts. Pozole verde is hominy and shredded chicken in broth, and it’s great. So is Ibarra chocolate bread pudding, little cubes of fudge-soaked bread in a tequila orange cream sauce. Prices are reasonable.
* Almagreb, Saddleback Plaza, 23700 El Toro Road, El Toro. (714) 859-9393. Open for dinner only, Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 p.m. $$
Almagreb is one of the most dramatic Moroccan dining areas anywhere. Meals are taken in the traditional style, with no utensils, and are finger-licking good. Among the better offerings are b’stilla (a sugar-dusted chicken pie) and couscous (cracked semolina wheat in a savory vegetable stew). Entertainment is provided by belly dancer extraordinaire Tanya.
* Places Afar, 25932 Muirlands Blvd . , Mission Viejo. (714) 581-4200. Open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Mondays through Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m. $$
* Calesa, 2106 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana. (714) 541-6585. Open daily except Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 to 10 p.m. $$
Places Afar is your basic Cuban-French-Vietnamese restaurant; the English is circumspect, the cooking spectacular. Start with Cuban ham croquettes alongside greaseless plantain chips, or a bowlful of smoky black-bean soup. Then try Imperial salad from Vietnam. Evenings, there are such French classics as couscous and choucroute . Calesa has a sign boasting “Round-the-World-Dining"--it’s a luxurious restaurant with Filipino, Asian and Continental specialties. There is a wide selection of main dishes from paella to sate , and cooking is often on the sweet side. Service is formal, and waiters in tuxedos flame desserts with enthusiasm that borders on lust.