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The Gossiping Gourmet: A short journey to an understated treat

Although the Irvine Spectrum has many restaurants, they are often part of a chain and very crowded.

But my companion and I discovered an understated place to dine just across the street and down a block or so. It is the 90 Pacifica Restaurant & Wine Bar in the DoubleTree Hotel.

The restaurant has an attractive bar area and two dining rooms as well an area for the breakfast buffet. The floor is carpeted, which helps to keep the decibels down so people can actually have a conversation — something of a rarity these days.

The décor is modern and subtle. The far wall that leads to the buffet area is floor-to-ceiling frosted glass that has tree branches etched in it — quite pretty. Pale green banquettes and pale-brown straw-like wallpaper lines one wall, while upholstered chairs and thick wood tables complete the décor.

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As we munched on warm buttered rolls, we decided on two starters. The Korean-style chicken drumettes had a crispy breading and came with a sesame garlic glaze that had both a touch of sweetness and a nice bite. The dish arrived on a bed of carrot and daikon slaw and was quite good, though it was even better cold the next day.

Our other starter was crunchy calamari, rings and tentacles, served with a Valencia orange and coriander dipping sauce. The batter was good and crisp, but it overwhelmed the calamari a bit. The sauce was the saving grace.

Other tempting-sounding starters include the mango and shrimp jicama tacos, with chopped cilantro, carrots, cucumbers and a tomato sauce. Baked brie dip comes with spicy bacon, candied pecans and white balsamic glaze, all served with tomato sauce.

My dining companion ordered the salmon for his entrée. The large, fat piece of fish had been perfectly grilled but sadly had very little flavor. We did love the delicious creamed corn, spinach and crispy onions that came with the fish. We added some salt and pepper and that helped the salmon somewhat.

I asked about a dish I saw come out of the kitchen, and the waiter gave it his nod of approval. He was right. The grilled chicken penne pasta was perfectly al dente and smothered with wilted spinach, very good mushrooms, salty pancetta and Parmesan cheese. A light creamy lemon sauce coated the pasta and rested in the bottom of the bowl as well. It was an excellent dish.

The five flat-bread choices included one with chorizo, onions, peppers, sun-dried tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and, on the top, two sunny-side-up eggs. Guests can create their own flat bread, adding to the sun-dried tomato pesto and mozzarella cheese a choice of three toppings from a list of 14.

From the “greens” menu is the signature DoubleTree apple salad with dried apple chips, radishes, candied pecans, herb goat cheese crostini and apple dressing. To turn the salad into a complete meal, chicken, steak or shrimp may be added.

The chef’s specialties are entrees that range from Gorgonzola-crusted ribeye steak to a triple decker club sandwich and a burger of Angus beef on a brioche bun with spicy bacon, crispy onions, lettuce, tomatoes and a choice of cheese. Several other sandwiches and entrees are also available.

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Lately we have been having some very unsatisfying cheesecakes for dessert, but the nontraditional version at 90 Pacifica was quite good. The dense cheesecake filling came with a nut crust on top and more nuts in the center, as well as small pieces of apple and lots of raisins. It was unexpected, very different and very good.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

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90 Pacifica Restaurant & Wine Bar

Location: The DoubleTree Hotel, 90 Pacifica, Irvine
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Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and Sundays; 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Cost:

Appetizers: $9 to $16

Entrees: $14 to $32

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Desserts:$6 to $9

Wine:

Bottles: $28 to $170

By the glass: $8 to $18

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Corkage: $20

Contact: (949) 471-8888


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