After a lengthy deliberation, we’ve narrowed the pasta selection down to three… out of 14. There are only two of us dining tonight, and we’re planning to order at least two appetizers and entrées as well. We’re so hungry that we’re having difficultly concentrating, and we still need to shrink our pasta selection to two. We motion to our waiter.
“We desperately need your help,” I say. “We’re torn between the pici with braised duck, the hand-rolled trofie with lamb ragout or the pumpkin ravioli with walnut, Pecorino and rosemary. Thoughts?”
“Order all three!” the waiter says. He pauses to watch as our eyes get bigger and the confusion on our faces grows even more vivid. Then he breaks the silence. “No, seriously,” he says, “we can do a sampler for you. We do it all the time. Pick any three. But you might also want to consider the spinach garganelli with veal Bolognese. It’s pretty amazing.”
Off in the corner, an incredibly gifted guitarist is strumming a slow, acoustical rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You” (MJ has never sounded so romantic). The sommelier has just decanted a riotous, full-throttled 2005 Gaja Barbaresco. We’re getting even hungrier. We’re milliseconds from deciding which three pastas to select when a waiter comes by, en route to another table, pushing a trolley weighted down with a massive wheel of Parmesan. It smells incredible.
“Uh-oh, what’s that?” I ask. “That’s the Parmesan risotto with morel mushrooms and truffles. We make it tableside,” the waiter says.
“Argh!” We end up ordering an embarrassing amount of food. But that seems better than being sorry we missed out. This is our first time in since the new chef, Luca Cesarini, took over the menu. Cesarini grew up outside of Milan, and most of his dishes are inspired by that region of Italy.
The pastas all turn out to be truly superb. Every one is handmade daily in a special, temperature-controlled pasta kitchen. The lamb ragout folded with the trofie is reminiscent of merquez sausage—brilliant. In the end, we could probably have done without the Margherita pizza, which is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a great pizza. The sauce is fine. The cheese, layered on too thick, seems like high quality. But the crust is lifeless. Oh, well; Andrea isn’t a pizza parlor. It’s a glamorous Italian destination restaurant.
So forget about the pizza and go straight for the lobster bisque and foie gras torchon. Or the tableside risotto—this is the only place in California doing that, and it’s excellent. Bulk up on pastas for sure. And don’t miss the turbot with lentils and wild ramps. But it’s imperative to save room for dessert. This is my fatal miscalculation. I can’t eat more than a tiny bite or two of our strawberry vacherin and Meyer lemon zabaglione—both sublime—but I’m already plotting a return for those. With an entirely new ordering strategy.
Pelican Hill Resort, 22701 Pelican Hill Road S., Newport Beach, 949.467.6800
Lunch: Wed.-Sat., 11:30am-2:30pm. Dinner nightly: 6-10pm.
When to go
Check online to determine exactly what time the sun will set, and then arrive at the bar at least 45 minutes before that.
Where to sit
About the noise
This is one of the most whisper-friendly and romantic restaurants in O.C.
What it costs
Lunch: appetizers $9-$18; pizza/pasta $14-$18; entrées $22-$25; desserts $11. Dinner: appetizers $10-$22; pizza/pasta $17-$24; entrées $28-$38; sides $8-$12; desserts $11.