The Gossiping Gourmet: Menu choices for any lifestyle at bambú

At the Newport Beach Restaurant Week kickoff party, we had the pleasure of talking with Chef Chad Blunston from bambú Restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel. He was very excited about his new customized menu catering to guests' special dietary needs.

It is called Lifestyle Cuisine Plus and can be requested along with the regular menu. It's a very innovative concept formulated by the Fairmont Hotel chain that is uniquely expressed here in six specific categories: heart healthy, diabetes, vegan, raw, macrobiotic and gluten free. Each category features an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert.

We wanted to try selections from both menus, so we spent a bit of time perusing the many choices under the Brobdingnagian lamps hanging from the lofty three-story-high ceiling of this classically decorated hotel dining room. You know the drill … leather chairs and booths, floral patterned carpet, etc. What distinguished the space was a curved planter running the length of the room filled with giant bamboo trees and greenery, as well as a wall of windows facing a lush garden and a small pool and fountain, which our waiter referred to as the "sea" view.

We began with a couple of appetizers from the regular menu, which featured some standards such as shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, popcorn shrimp and a cheese plate but also some interesting and inventive selections including "Eggs Benedict in the Evening", a poached egg, smoked prosciutto, brioche, a béarnaise vinaigrette and frisée salad with apple cider vinaigrette.

Their ahi tuna tartar was given a twist as well. The very soft textured tuna was enhanced by the addition of sweet garlic chili sauce then layered on top of fork-crushed avocado. The surprise was how nicely the sweet spicy sauce gave a whole new taste to this old standard. The little mound was sprinkled with sesame seeds and topped with pickled ginger. Crispy wontons acted as scoops.

There are two styles of crab cake on menus these days, the chunky and the mashed. They both have their fans but we are clearly in camp No. 1. These were of the homogenized variety although we could discern bits of red bells and herbs. The two hefty cakes also got some flavor from blue cornmeal. The crab flavor tends to get lost in this style, as it did here. A thick drizzle of chipotle aioli decorated the top and provided some welcome heat. They came with a nice portion of lightly sautéed spinach and fresh corn relish.

A healthy option we will try next time is the chilled, spiced soba noodles with sugar snap peas, tofu, spinach, shitakes, soybeans, and sesame seeds. This time our healthy option from the Lifestyle Menu was the macrobiotic entrée, described as broiled lemon garlic shrimp, wakame, quinoa, pickled radish salad and miso soup. We confess we had some trepidation based on the description alone, but we were more than pleasantly surprised, in fact, amazed at how delicious this tasted.

The shrimp themselves had a lovely lemony zip and were juicy and tender. The quinoa pilaf was beautifully seasoned. The wakame had no particular flavor but tasted very nice when we added it to the light, mild miso soup.

The only item we eschewed was the palate-puckering pickled radish salad, which was highly acidic (no sugar is allowed on this diet). Not only was the food appetizing, the presentation was as well, with one large square plate containing four small dishes, each containing an individual element. As a side we ordered the sautéed roasted garlic broccolini — also especially good.

Feeling virtuous we returned to the regular menu for dessert. A wonderful treat awaited us. Being lemon lovers, we could not resist the lemon meringue.

This symphony of citrus began with a delicate moist lemon cake, enlivened with a tangy mousse, followed by a cloudlike meringue with a coda of whipped cream and a hard meringue cookie. Beside it was a scoop of very tart lemon ice sitting on a bed of crunchy brown sugar. The plate was finished with just a drizzle of butterscotch... one of the best desserts ever!

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

bambú Restaurant

Information: (949) 476-2001; fairmont.com/newportbeach

Where: 4500 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach

When:

Monday through Friday:

Breakfast, 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Weekends: Breakfast 6 a.m. to Noon

Closed for dinner on Saturdays and Sundays.

Prices:

Appetizers: $9-$14

Entrées: $20-$38

Desserts: $8-$9

Wine:

Bottles: $30-$225

By the glass: $7-$21

Corkage Fee: $25

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