The Gossiping Gourmet: Spend a summer meal at The Dock

Summer has finally arrived, and with it the pleasures of alfresco dining. One of the prettiest spots for this seasonal indulgence is The Dock in Newport Beach. Located on the canal facing Lido Isle, this restaurant features outdoor seating but is completely enclosed with a vaulted, clear vinyl roof and canvas sides. The transparent wall facing the water allows guests to enjoy the view and can be rolled up in warmer weather. This light and airy space has been very attractively "decked out" with chocolate banquettes accented by French blue pillows. Classic wicker bistro chairs at the center tables and a beautiful natural stone floor complete the picture. It feels as if you're eating in a fabulous tent.

We were seated next to a tableside fire pit with flames emanating from blue glass rocks, providing warmth in both atmosphere and temperature. (Heaters and blankets are available on cooler nights.)

The small-plate section of the menu gave us the opportunity to compose a meal with lots of different tastes. A sashimi of excellent ahi tuna featured some silky slices of ruby red fish accompanied by a surprising creamy avocado sorbet, which had a lovely hint of sweetness but no discernable taste of avocado yet made a sparkling counterpoint to the tuna. It was accessorized with a crunchy little mixed radish salad. Our only complaint was that the soy vinaigrette on the bottom of the plate was too strong, but it was easy enough to lift out the fish. The dish was a complex medley of flavor and textures.

The fried calamari was very tender, but the rings were quite small, so that the excellent light, crispy batter provided most of the taste. The two dipping sauces were a chili aoli, which was redolent with flavor, and a basil mayonnaise that was rather bland.

A few months ago, the mussels we ordered in every restaurant were big, plump and juicy. Gradually, they have been getting smaller, and the ones we ate at The Dock were the smallest yet. We are wondering if mussels are larger in certain months of the year or if there is some other explanation. We've all been told to eat mussels only in "R" months because there are unhealthy bacteria in the water during the warmer months on the West Coast. This is somewhat moot, since Prince Edward Island mussels are the ones most commonly served in our restaurants and are almost all cultivated.

The tiny mussels at The Dock were sweet but a lot of work for so little to eat. They came in a nice wine broth with a touch too much acidity. Larger mollusks might have given off more juice to provide balance. Fortunately, they came with some fabulous French fries.

We've never had gnocchi pan-fried before, and it gave the exterior a tasty, very thin crust. However, the interior was a bit gluey. They were helped a lot by a Manchego (Spanish sheep's cheese) "fondue," which was a creamy, flavorful sauce. Also on the plate was a dollop of thick Romesco (a ground almond, red pepper, garlic, tomato and olive oil sauce).

A side order of asparagus proved to be fat, juicy spears of delicious and perfectly cooked examples of this spring vegetable.

For those who prefer a more traditional-style meal, you might try braised short ribs with truffle soft polenta, maple glazed bacon and Swiss chard. Maine diver scallops come with roasted tomatoes, artichokes and olive tapenade with beurre blanc sauce.

We finished our meal with an absolutely wonderful peach cobbler. Even though it was a bit early for peaches, these were cooked until tender and bathed in a superb caramel sauce and topped with a thin buttery crust. Another tempting dessert is the profiteroles, which seem to have returned to menus lately; here they are filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with white and dark chocolate ganache.

Location and atmosphere make The Dock a delightful choice for summer dining.

The Dock

Where: 2816 LaFayette Ave., Newport Beach

When: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday

Dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Prices:

Small plates and salads $9 to $18

Entrées $27 to $32

Desserts $9 to $16

Wine:

Bottles $50 to $1,000

By the glass $10 to $18

Corkage fee $25 Tuesday through Friday; $35 Saturday and Sunday

Info: (949) 673-3625 or http://www.eatatthedock.com

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