The name Rothschild's evokes the Old World, not Italian food. Helmut Reiss named his restaurant after his mother's family.
Until its recent remodel, when a large sign was put up advertising "Fine Italian Food," people often wondered what kind of restaurant it was. Actually, it was one of the first, and one of the few, fine dining establishments along the Orange Coast. Rothschild's has just celebrated its 35th anniversary serving traditional Italian dishes in a warm and charming Old World atmosphere.
Helmut, originally from Munich, Germany, via St. Louis, opened a deli in this very location featuring fine wine and cheese. He was the first to carry Far Niente wines because the winemaker was a friend from St. Louis.
Several other St. Louis cronies had opened Italian restaurants in the area, namely Ferrantelli's and Andreinos, and Helmut was not to be left out. He expanded and converted the deli into a full-service restaurant in 1977, featuring housemade pasta using Andreinos' original recipes. At Rothschild's, they continue to make these pastas fresh every day.
Helmut's daughter, Heidi, now owns of the restaurant. When she took over several years ago, she began to remodel the space but maintained the original ambience. It's a romantic, quiet place with white tablecloths and soft lighting, where you can have an intimate conversation with the person sitting next to you.
You enter the restaurant into the pleasant bar area. It's the kind of place where a lady on her own can stop by for a martini, a light supper and a chat with the regulars. Cozy, semi-circular banquettes are along the wall next to the windows. The main dining room is through the archway, with rich dark woods, plein art paintings, classical music in the background and draped windows looking out to a fountain.
The service is as warm and friendly, as in a ristorante in Italia.
Our delightful waitress, Maureen, suggested that we begin with their very popular fried ravioli. Supposedly, an Italian chef in St. Louis invented this recipe, so it's no surprise that it is on Rothschild's menu.
Finely ground chicken and spinach are stuffed into pillows of pasta, breaded and then fried. They are served with a generous amount of nicely balanced marinara sauce. We found the ravioli filling to be lackluster, but the tasty sauce made the dish.
For our other appetizer we selected the seafood cakes. The combination of crab, salmon and shrimp was accented by crunchy chopped red bells and green onion. The exterior of the large cakes was nicely crusted and the flavor of the mixture was pleasant, with salmon predominating. The cakes rested in a puddle of roasted bell pepper cream sauce. The rich sauce was a bit salty but married well with the seafood.
Paglia e fieno means straw and hay. It's a classic combination of egg pasta and spinach pasta intertwined. The housemade fettuccine was tossed in a delicate white wine sauce with sweet little shrimp, crabmeat, fresh-chopped tomatoes and a scattering of marsala sautéed mushrooms. Everything was enjoyable but we wished the pasta had been al dente.
All the desserts are housemade. In addition to the expected chocolate mousse, crème brulée and their prize-winning tiramisu is a spectacular linzer torte.
This beautifully browned lattice crusted pie is made with buttery almond pastry. The filling is a concentrated raspberry purée. Wonderful on its own, their version is gussied up with a luscious Bavarian sour cream custard and gilding the lily, was a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. We are big fans of linzer torte and this one was one of the best ever.
Cozy and romantic, Rothschild's is an ideal place for a quiet, intimate meal and, for some of us, a trip down memory lane.
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: 2407 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday
Dinner: 5 p.m. till closing nightly
Appetizers: $2.95 to $98
Entrées: $15.95 to $36.95
Desserts: $7.95 to $9.95
Glass: $8 to $25
Half Bottles: $25 to $225
Bottle: $32 to $895
Corkage Fee: $20
Information: (949) 673-3750; rothschildscdm.com