Venus Thrives on Thin Atmosphere

Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times Orange County. Information for this column can be faxed to (714) 966-7790. Or phone (714) 966-7700.

By '90s standards, the Venus in the paintings and sculpture of yore might seem a tad, well, ample. Today, one can imagine the goddess of beauty heading for The Spa at South Coast Plaza and signing up for ATB classes (that's abdomen, thighs and buttocks).

While she's working out, the rest of us can make a hard left off the lobby into the recently opened Venus at the Spa and dive right into a menu focusing on such items as focaccia, fettuccine and fish.

Under the menu heading "Fountain of Youth," appetizers include a plate of grilled vegetables with shaved parmigiana ($8); among pastas--called here "The Spring of Life"--is black fettuccine with scallops in lemon garlic sauce ($14); entrees ($16 to $22) include large prawns wrapped in eggplant ($18) and roast leg of lamb with mustard seeds and thyme ($17); focaccia and pizzas range from $8 to $11.

Sound Italian? Venus was the Roman goddess of beauty. And the owner-operators of Venus at the Spa are Massimo Navaretta and Salvatore Cesareo, who serve in the same capacities at Amici Trattoria, down the street. Venus offers views of both South Coast Repertory and the Orange County Performing Arts Center. You don't have to be a member of the spa to dine at the restaurant.

Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.

695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 546-5313.


Does that young white wine seem a bit brassy? That Cabernet come on like a cello?

Sort it all out at the Symphony of Wines, Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel Newport Beach. Wines from 40 California wineries, including Chalone, Joseph Phelps and Silverado, will be available for tasting; the event also includes a silent auction of older wines and hors d'oeuvres provided by Antoine, Sfuzzi and Issay restaurants and Rockwell's Bakery.

The event is sponsored by the Town & Country Committee of the Orange County Philharmonic Society and Hi-Times Cellars. Proceeds support the society's youth music programs, the most comprehensive music education outreach programs offered in the United States; 275,000 county youths benefit from the programs each year.

The ticket price of $45 a person includes a souvenir wineglass and refillable buffet plate.

4545 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach. (714) 637-7108 or (714) 838-2033.


Michael Kang is on the march in March.

Kang, owner-chef of Five Feet in Laguna Beach, is offering cooking classes at the restaurant each Saturday during the month from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; it's $50 a class or $200 for the series. On Tuesday at 7 p.m., he kicks off a series of four winemaker dinners (one per month) with a six-course meal, $80 all-inclusive, featuring the Champagnes of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.

On Saturday, he cooks for 200 guests at the "Feast on Art" festivities at the Laguna Art Museum; party-goers will dine with 20 artists who have created tables, centerpieces and dinnerware for the event. The museum benefit, which starts at 6:30 p.m., is $175 a person, and you can for sure let it all hang out--it's organized by the Exhibitionists Council.

Five Feet Restaurant, 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach. (714) 497-4955.

Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. (714) 494-8971.

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