Owners of Former Zuni Grill Hitch Their Wagon to Family-Oriented Irvine

Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times Orange County

Creating trends is one thing; bucking them is another. And restaurateur David Wilhelm's chic Zuni Grill concept just didn't work in family-oriented Irvine. So upscale Zuni is out, down-home Saddlerock Ranch is in--complete with a Buckaroo Menu for the little ones. The restaurant opened last week at the Crossroads shopping center.

Like Zuni Grill, Saddlerock Ranch is operated by West Coast Restaurant Ventures, which once employed Wilhelm as director of operations. Wilhelm stepped down from that post in January but remains a stockholder.

The corporation considers Saddlerock Ranch an extension of its working 800-acre ranch in Malibu of the same name, and the restaurant is decorated accordingly.

Older cowpokes might try Uncle Arnie's meatloaf, farm-ranched catfish or a fried chicken recipe "as old as the hills."

Meals range from $5.29 to $11.99 and include all-you-can-eat salad and two side dishes.

The Buckaroo Menu, at $2.95, includes a side dish, a sundae and a coloring mat and crayons. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

3966 Barranca Parkway. (714) 262-0864.


A tasting of different fois gras, whole duck or goose livers considered one of the glories of French cuisine, and fois gras terrines will take place Wednesday at the Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Center in Costa Mesa.

James Drakeford of Aristoff Caviar will be the host, and attendees will also be able to sample various varietals from the Vichon, Byron and Robert Mondavi wineries to determine which pairings they like best. (Hint: The French prefer dessert wines with their fois gras.) Cost of the tasting is $45.

On a less esoteric note, the center will offer its popular seminar in basic wine tasting skills on Tuesday. Participants will explore how components of wine affect appearance, taste and aroma. The $25 seminar includes a pasta reception and sampling of at least seven wines; attendees are requested to go easy on perfumes and after-shaves.

Both events begin at 7 p.m.

1570 Scenic Ave. (714) 979-4510.


Le Meridien in Newport Beach will hold a poolside party from 5 to 7:30 this evening to celebrate French independence day, or Bastille Day. Admission is free.

Food stations scattered around the third-floor pool deck will feature regional French appetizers. Wines include Burgundy, Bordeaux and Beaujolais varieties; French beer and champagne will be served. And there will be a selection of pastries.

Food items start at $2 and can be purchased at the party using scrip.

4500 MacArthur Blvd. 476-2001.

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