OC LIVE : Flavors Can Sometimes Get Lost in Newport’s Vast Twin Palms


Twin Palms definitely feels like the big time. It’s a sprawling space, all in beige and rust color, under a circus-style canopy of white canvas. When full--capacity is more than 500--it feels like the Rose Bowl on a holiday weekend.

The Fashion Island Twin Palms comes a little more than a year after the opening of its successful prototype, an equally large space in Pasadena’s Old Town. Celebrity investors including Cindy Costner and a celebrity corporate chef, Michael Roberts, are the brain trust behind the restaurant. So far, this looks like a concept that cannot miss.

One side of the front entrance is flanked by an attached deli and gift shop where you can buy T-shirts, books (for instance, “Lulu’s Provencal Kitchen” by Richard Olney), elaborate pastries and cold-pressed French olive oil.


Inside, behind the chain’s trademark twin palm trees, is a stage for live music--most nights it’s jazz. The chairs and banquettes are stylish and comfortable. The back bar features some of the coolest stools ever: Art Deco stunners, upholstered in green with tops that rotate.

Roberts is a first-rate kitchen talent and an innovator. In the early ‘80s, he created the flashy and influential Melrose Avenue restaurant Trumps, now closed. And he knows his way around the provincial cuisines of France. The cooking theme at Twin Palms is the attractive rustic dishes of Provence.

Best of all, Twin Palms is reasonably priced. The days of big expense budgets and the kind of cooking they supported are probably over, and Twin Palms knows it. The most expensive item on this menu is $16.95, and many are priced well below $10.

If this all sounds like a dream, it probably is. There is much to admire about Twin Palms, but each time I’ve dined here, for one reason or another, I’ve come away unsatisfied.

A few of the major problems seem insoluble. Because of the vastness of this drafty room, food often arrives considerably less than hot. Then there are the dishes that taste as if all the flavors have been left in the pot.

The gorgeous lamb shank, with its tasty flageolet beans, is advertised to have been braised in red wine, but ours was shrunken around the edges and looked and tasted as if it had simply been boiled. It almost completely lacked the characteristically gamy flavor of good lamb.



Grand aioli is one of Twin Palms’ specialties--a recipe for the dish appears on the restaurant’s flier. It gets its name from aioli, a Provencal mayonnaise sauce heavily spiked with garlic.

Typically it’s eaten with vegetables, snails and boiled fish. At Twin Palms, you will be served a plate of grilled vegetables: eggplant, carrot, onion, potato and a few others. The garlic mayonnaise is delicious; the vegetables, though, are overcooked and insipid, hardly a foil for anything grand.

There are some bright spots.

Rock shrimp panisses look a bit like felafel, but no felafel ever tasted this good. These light, crisp, spicy garbanzo bean fritters are subtly laced with chopped shrimp meat. (The aioli mayonnaise is also served with this appetizer, a much better foil for it.)

Another good starter is brandade de morue, a fine, frothy puree of whipped potato and salt cod fragrant with olive oil and garlic.

Soupe de poissons is another success story. This a thick, grainy fish soup redolent of saffron, the kind of thing you’d eat in French beach cities such as Cassis or St. Tropez. A little crock of the soup comes with a thick, pimento-based rouille paste, grated cheese and a crusty crouton. At $2.95, it’s the menu’s greatest bargain.

For $16.95 you can get bouillabaisse--essentially the soupe de poissons with shellfish and salmon added. (Salmon in bouillabaisse? If you’re going to leave out real bouillabaisse fish such as red mullet and rockfish, why keep calling it bouillabaisse?) It’s pretty good, but I don’t think it’s $14 better than the soupe de poissons.


A few of my friends enjoyed the petits artichauts frits, fried baby artichokes, served with capers and aioli, but I found the dish excessively oily, the heap of capers overbearing.

Twin Palms’ pizzas are just so-so, especially the pissaladiere. In Provence, it’s sort of a thin flat bread smothered with onions, anchovies and purple olives. This version is a rather doughy pretender, overdressed with goat cheese, capers and caramelized onions.

The rotisserie items are probably the safest bet among the hot dishes. Both chicken and duck are just great, with excellent sides such as wilted escarole, roasted garlic and, in the case of the duck, a delicious wild rice pancake.

Rotisserie prime rib is simply a good piece of meat, and the horseradish creme frai^che served with it is a wonderful idea.

Only the rotisserie mustard and sage pork failed to meet my expectations. The meat, cut into thick slices, had scarcely any flavor apart from a heavy dose of sage.

I recommend passing on anything in the menu section labeled “from the great oven,” such as the lamb shank, the pallid cassoulet and the boudin blanc, a bland chicken sausage served with apples. On the other hand, many of the side dishes, such as garlic mashed potatoes, are worth ordering. The sauteed spinach with roast garlic is a real treat.



The desserts are acceptable: a chocolate souffle cake served warm (allow 20 minutes), a marzipan-rich pear and almond tart, a light lemon cheesecake in a gingersnap crust and the obligatory tarte tatin, topped with an excellent cinnamon ice cream. (All the many homemade ice creams and sorbets here are worth ordering, in fact.)

The wine list is interesting and unusual, thanks to a wealth of wines from the South of France.

A Domaine du Bagnal Cassis Blanc is a bargain at $34, and a deep-red Chateau Pradeau ’92 from Bandol, $45, works well with most of Twin Palms’ lustier dishes.

Twin Palms is moderately priced. Appetizers are $2.95 to $7.25. Pastas and main courses are $8.25 to $16.95. Desserts are $4.25 to $6.25.


* 630 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach.

* (714) 721-8288.

* Breakfast 7-10:30 a.m. Monday-Friday; lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10:30 p.m. nightly.

* All major cards.