The wife of a Scottish nobleman modeled the Five Crowns on a 12th century English country house when she built it in 1936.
Originally called the Hurley Belle, it was a bed and breakfast catering to the Hollywood elite. Couples like Rita Hayworth with Howard Hughes and Bogie and Bacall used it as a hideaway.
In 1965, Richard Frank of Lawry's Prime Rib took it over and renamed it Five Crowns, because it was his fifth restaurant and each was considered a jewel in the company's crown. The new executive chef, Ryan O'Melveny Wilson, is a fourth generation member of the Frank and Van de Camp families to be a part of the business.
With his arrival comes the reopening of the newly refurbished interior that still preserves an ambiance of old English warmth. Patio dining is also available, weather permitting. While retaining Five Crown's classics like rib eye, prime rib, creamed spinach and creamed corn, Ryan is adding a seasonal, regionally sourced menu, to be executed with Byron Freeze, the chef de cuisine.
We were very impressed with the artichoke tarte tatin, a thin, buttery pastry shell, covered with large, luscious chunks of artichoke hearts whose juices dripped into the crust. It was served with a dollop of whipped goat cheese and a lovely little frisee salad with a light lemony dressing.
Also new to the menu are the roasted day boat scallops with stinging nettle puree and honey nugget tangerines. The juicy, crispy scallops rested on the mildly flavored creamy puree that didn't pair well with the seafood. The tangerine sauce might have been a better accompaniment, but it was too thin and had very little tangerine flavor.
The delectable grilled sea bass was a whole filleted small fish cooked to perfection. The moist delicate flesh was simply irresistible. Interestingly paired with marinated fava beans, the two flavors complemented each other beautifully. Tasty little greens atop the fish provided a decorative touch of color. This dish was a fish lover's dream.
A classic Italian preparation for chicken is to cook it butterflied under a brick. This results in crispy skin with juicy, tender flesh. The small half Jidori chicken sat on a mound of smashed Yukon gold potatoes that were too bland and under salted. The sauce was a red wine reduction with deep flavor. Nice seasonal, sweet English peas rounded out the plate.
The evening's only real disappointment was the morel mushroom risotto with wild ramps. It sounded so delicious, and we were eagerly waiting to taste it but, alas, something had gone seriously wrong and it was strangely watery with all the flavors diluted.
Desserts were a high point. We were fortunate to be with a group of friends who were willing to share. We got to taste all five of them and each was excellent, making it hard to decide which we liked best.
In the end, the winner was the strawberry and rhubarb tart. Flaky pastry was covered with a thick layer of slightly tart rhubarb puree and finished with dense delicious custard. It was paired with a generous strawberry compote, very lively and fresh tasting with just the right amount of sweetness.
The dark chocolate soufflé, meant for sharing, had good deep chocolate flavor and was not overly sweet. Devonshire double cream came on the side.
We should also mention the hot fudge sundae because it is made with Dr. Bob's handcrafted vanilla bean ice cream and topped with that original Hollywood classic — C.C. Brown's hot fudge. Warm tangerine custard cake and a selection of seasonal gelati completed the desserts and in addition there is a cheese menu.
Old friends will still find their favorites but they, as well as a whole new crowd, will also be delighted with the new generation of seasonal farm-to-table offerings.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 3801 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar
5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
By the glass: $9-$28
Corkage Fee: $20
Info: (949) 760-0331 thefivecrowns.com