Grown-Ups A Go-Go
Bistango in Irvine must be where grown-ups go when they roll up the sidewalks. The dance floor is small (10 by 15 feet) but nevertheless can accommodate several couples out for an old-fashioned night on the town. And the restaurant was hopping on a recent Saturday night, with a crowd waiting for tables by 9 p.m.
Live music sets a mood but never prevents conversation. And there’s dancing nightly--some nights better than others--so amateurs need not be intimidated.
Mondays from 7 to 11 p.m., the Jimmy Hewitt Duo provides piano and guitar. The James Exchange plays as a piano-guitar duo on Tuesday-Wednesday (7:30-11:30 p.m.) and as a trio, adding sax, on Friday-Saturday (8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.). Sax man Doug Webb takes the floor Thursday, 7:30-11:30 p.m., with his quintet.
On Sundays from 7 to 11 p.m., Latin international musician Ricardo Linarez plays guitar, “but he sounds like 12 men,” says Marc Ghoukassian, son of owner John. The music is piped to an outdoor area with tables and, at chillier times, heaters.
The 10-year-old restaurant’s dramatic interior features fine art curated by the Studio Gallery in Irvine that’s changed every three months. It’s all available for purchase--low end $275, high end $10,000. “You can add it to your dinner tab,” Ghoukassian says.
Dinners under the direction of chef Paul Grstein include traditional dishes, from first-date pastas ($12.75-$15.25) and pizzas ($11.95--Mom always said to pick the second least-expensive thing on the menu) to chicken and salmon ($16.50-$19.75) from the wood-burning oven and entrees from grilled swordfish ($20.75) to veal ($26.95).
Looking to impress someone with the details? Those prices cover attentive service, including a selection of fresh breads brought to your bread plate and some of the fastest water-glass refillers in the West. However--possibly to conserve dishwashing water in compensation--when we arrived, there were no dinner plates already on the table (the ones that, in polite society, are whisked away as soon as you are seated).
The dining room’s discrete seating areas, some elevated, add a sense of intimacy to the 250-capacity restaurant. Between the dance floor and the front entrance, in the thick of things, are a full bar and lounge.
For those who like to dance first and refuel later, the lounge serves the full menu plus lighter bar fare. Those dishes ($9.50-$12) and desserts (from $6 to $13.75 for a Tower of Sweets that can serve one glutton or up to five supermodels) are available 30 minutes after the full kitchen closes Sunday through Thursday and one hour after on Friday and Saturday.
For oenophiles, a list of 300 wines (the by-necessity small print is hard to read in the low--flattering but not dangerous--light) includes 30 available by the glass (half reds, $3.50-$11.50). Thirty signature martinis (average $5.75) are available, among other cocktails.
On Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., fine new wines--many available only to restaurants--are featured in the patio; the $10 sampling includes hors d’oeuvres. Labels might include Bernardus, Caymus, St. Supery and Wattle Creek. Reservations are required, and attendees can purchase bottles or cases at discounted prices.
Jackets and ties are never required for men, but would it kill you to dress up for once? And the one woman who stood out recently was in tight faded jeans and stilettos. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Bistango, 19100 Von Karman Ave., Irvine. Restaurant hours: lunch, Monday-Friday, 11:30-3 p.m.; bar menu, Monday-Friday, 3-5:30 p.m.; dinner, Sunday-Friday 5:30 to closing (about 10:30) and Friday-Saturday till about 11:30 p.m. No cover. Reservations recommended for dinner and required for the wine tasting. Complimentary valet parking is optional. (714) 752-5222.