There is a coyote within view of my perch at The Resort at Pelican Hill’s northern Italian-inspired restaurant, Andrea. I had to look closely, squinting over my Italian-style Moscow Mule cocktail to be sure, stunned as I was that this wild canine had dared to roam onto the pristinely manicured grass of the resort’s golf course. But there was no mistaking this skinny beast’s profile. The nerve! I liked it instantly.
The coyote’s misunderstanding is reasonable. The Resort at Pelican Hill is an enclave in the midst of Newport Beach – all green grass, olive groves, panoramic ocean views, and ultra-secluded bungalows and cottages connected by shaded paths and rampant foliage. To a wild animal, it could seem like the great untouched coastal lands of California – and the wild animal would be wrong. Pelican Hill, with its architecture inspired by 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, along with the Irvine Company’s signature clean style, is among the most civilized destinations in Southern California, designed for those who want a (really, really nice) home away from home that is anything but rustic. And such a destination demands a restaurant of equal stature. At Pelican Hill, that restaurant is Andrea.
Two valet members, two doormen, one wandering hospitality assistant, two hostesses, a greeter, two chair puller-outers, and a bread-bringer later, we are seated at the aforementioned coyote-viewing perch. Service at Pelican Hill is not lacking; nary a moment goes by without a beige-clad staff member attending to needs both real and non-existent. It’s attentive, enthusiastic and a little bit claustrophobic – or just right, depending on your preferences. Regardless, within the span of a few minutes, we’ve been debriefed on the food choices, a menu has been decided upon and a wine pairing program has been initiated.
Approximately four minutes later, our first dish arrives – a cylindrically shaped tartar of yellowfin tuna, studded with Sicilian capers and gherkins and drizzled with olive oil and 100-year-old balsamic vinegar. It’s delicious. The tuna has been chopped into small pieces, and the capers and gherkins into smaller ones, resulting in a finely blended symphony of flavors missed by most tartars. It’s a good sign, too, for new Executive Chef Luigi Fineo, who joined the Pelican Hill team just six weeks prior, and who already seems at home in Andrea’s sprawling kitchen, which, in addition to the regular culinary accoutrements, is outfitted with its own dedicated pasta and gelato rooms. Fineo has earned his spot at this luxurious outpost, having started his career in southern Italy, where he is from, and eventually making his way to California, where he quickly earned one Michelin star for two consecutive years as executive chef at La Botte in Santa Monica. He went on to work for chef Thomas Keller at his famous French Laundry in Napa Valley, eventually returning to L.A. to continue his culinary development at Keller’s Bouchon. Andrea is the culmination of that experience.
Even so, Fineo’s duck breast carpaccio with rock salt and mild gorgonzola dressing is ambitious – and impressive. Cured in-house and sliced paper thin, the duck breast has a subtle hint of citrus and a rich taste, which is brought out by the rock salt that hails from Cervia, a town on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Gorgonzola dressing adds a pungent dimension that isn’t overbearing. Also impressive is the spaghetti “chitarra” with cuttlefish ragù and red mullet confit. Made using a low-tech contraption that resembles guitar strings stretched over a piece of wood, the pasta comes out in a long rectangle, which turns out to be just right for adhesion to the sauce. The cuttlefish (which is not a fish at all, but a mollusk related to squid and octopus) is surprisingly tender and light and pairs well with the more dense pieces of red mullet (which is, ironically, a fish) in the confit.
Things take a turn for the less than sublime with the next dish: poached turbot with Bloomsdale spinach, celery and bisque sauce. The flatfish known for its mild flavor and flaky meat turned up tough in texture, and the flavor of celery was strong, overpowering the other ingredients.
Greg Norman wagyu beef was a revelation, however. (Yes, that Greg Norman.) Grade nine on the Japanese scale, which is far above the American Prime standard, the four-ounce steak, which comes from cattle raised in Australia, is so tender that it renders a knife unnecessary, and so rich that a few bites are more satisfactory than any large steak we can imagine.
Vanilla sabayon with passito-infused baba, balsamic fig compote and whipped cream showcased a variety of complementary flavors and textures – the silkiness of the sabayon, the intensity of the baba (small yeast cakes infused with some form of liquor or wine, in this case a sweet Italian passito wine), the sweetness of the fig compote, and the levity of the whipped cream – that duly ended a well-curated menu.
Another thing it ended? Our coyote’s jaunt into his mistaken paradise.
800.820.6800 :: pelicanhill.com