The Gossiping Gourmet: A symphony of flavors at Leatherby's

Leatherby's Café Rouge, in Segerstrom Concert Hall, with a new chef and a brand new menu, has just reopened for the up and coming arts season.

Although most of their clientele are dining before a performance, we would like to encourage you to think of making a performance out of dinner at this strikingly handsome restaurant with its carefully crafted and highly enjoyable cuisine.

Drop by around 8 p.m. after the crowd is gone and take pleasure in a slow, leisurely meal in this contemporary, light and airy dining room with its floor-to-ceiling serpentine windows overlooking the dramatic arch at the Performing Arts Center, the promenade and the park.

High ceilings, tall white pillars and white marble floors are accented with burnt orange velour and leather booths. Pink lighting suffuses the room with a warm rosy glow.

Chef Ross Pangilinan prepares California cuisine with international influences, employing a skilled hand and a refreshing point of view as evidenced by his preparation of mussels. We've eaten a lot of mussels lately and this preparation was unique. The broth was made from long-simmered lobsters, coconut milk and the juices from the mussels, perked up with galangal root and bird's eye chili. The mussels this night were on the small side and a bit chewy. However, when the mussels were gone, we ate the wonderful broth with a spoon as a soup course.

The chef's careful hand was demonstrated in the beautiful and refined presentation of the octopus salad. It was served on a chilled slab of heavy glass — quite dramatic. The very tender rounds of octopus were tossed with thin slivers of radish, cucumber pearls, black and green olives, yellow and red baby tomatoes, capers and fried slivers of garlic.

It was gently dressed with very nice sherry vinaigrette and finished with a sprinkle of micro-greens. Olives and capers provided saltiness, the tomatoes were especially sweet, the radishes were peppery and the fried garlic was crunchy and delicately flavored. Each ingredient was top of the line and they made beautiful music together.

The best way to describe the house-made fettuccine is that the more you eat, the more you want to eat. This rich, but not heavy, al dente pasta was judiciously coated with a really scrumptious white wine butter sauce with truffle essence and perhaps a touch of cream. Punctuating the pasta were earthy roasted mushrooms and finely grated Parmesan cheese.

We don't often order chicken breast in restaurants because it tends to be dry, but we were tempted by the accompaniment of a faro pilaf tossed with spinach, sweet and sour eggplant, toasted peanuts and red wine sauce. Indeed the crispy skinned breast was a bit dry.

Faro is an ancient wheat grain that looks a bit like barley and cooks up chewy with a rich, nutty flavor. The inventive mélange of ingredients that were added to it lent complexity although the peanuts just didn't marry with the rest.

You've probably never had ravioli for dessert and neither have we, but a fruit-filled fried ravioli sounded too interesting to pass up. The single large ravioli was accompanied by wonderfully sweet mixed berries in a luscious lemon sabayon with a scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream. The fruit and sauce would have made a lovely dessert on their own.

However, the centerpiece was something of a disaster. It tasted like thin dough fried in old oil and the little bit of filling tasted like jam of no particular kind.

If chocolate is your thing, go for the Chocolate Symphony, a trio of goodies including: opera cake, flourless chocolate cake and a crunch bar. Lemon lovers might try the tarte au citron with lemon sorbet, lemon powder and tangerine chips. A cheese platter is also featured.

Because of Leatherby's location in the music center, people think to eat here only when attending a performance, but it is a lovely spot for dining with excellent food, reasonable prices and no corkage fee.

Leatherby's Café Rouge

Where: 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday


Appetizers: $9 to $16

Entrées: $24 to $36

Desserts: $9 to $15


Bottles: $25 to $400

By the glass: $10 to $30

Corkage Fee: none

Information: (714) 429-7640

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