After I attended a screening of the new film, "Jersey Boys," directed by Clint Eastwood, I wanted to see a performance of "Jersey Boys," the musical play, to refresh my memory of it before I wrote my Huffington review of the movie. Fortunately, it has just opened at the Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa and will be running there until July 13th, so I booked a few tickets. The last time I had been there was several years ago, when I drove down to attend the ceremony where the Orange County Performing Arts Center had been renamed The Segerstrom Center for the Arts. I had then met the philanthropist Henry Segerstrom and his lovely wife Elizabth and they guided me on a tour of the center. Henry told me his long association with legendary architect Cesar Pelli, who had designed the stunning 2,000 seat $200 million state-of-the-art concert showplace, which opened in 2006. I later wrote an article entitled "From Bean Field to Bonanza" depicting the fabulous story of how the Segerstroms had developed their thousand acres of lima bean fields into the world-famous shopping and cultural center of today. Elizabeth pointed out the imposing 66-foot Richard Serra sculpture, Connector," on the plaza, which they had commissioned. All of this came to mind when I made my plans to see the show,,..and then decided to have dinner beforehand at the celebrated restaurant on the ground floor of the glass-and-steel concert hall next door to the theatre. I had heard great things about Patina's Leatherby's Café Rouge there (615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa (714) 429-7640, www.patinagroup.com/caferouge) and brought my friends there for what turned out to be an exceptional dining experience.
The main dining, with 110 seats and two private dining rooms, also designed by Pelli, is surrounded by undulating walls of glass inspired by the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Its warm minimalistic interior with plaza views was a perfect setting for a meal which equaled the theatrical experience to follow. The serene light-filled dining room was the scene of what has been described in their brochure as a whimsical culinary experience. I would describe our dinner differently: it was exceptional modern American cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal farm-fresh ingredients. Executive Chef Ross Pangilinan looked too young to be in such a responsible position, but I knew that Patina boss Joachim Splichal would not have assigned him to the task unles he was very, very capable..and we quickly learned that was the case. Ross grew up in an Orange County Asian-American household, worked at various sous chef positions at Patina and in Michelin-starred French restaurants, becoming Exec Chef here in 2009. One of our group opted for the Jersey Boys Menu while the rest of us ordered a la carte. Her first course was a summer dish of Tomato Watermelon gazpacho dressed with crab, cucumber gelee and crème fraiche. It was followed by a main course of house-made Fettuccine with sherry-braised beef short ribs, pea tendrils and forest mushrooms. She shared bites with me and I quickly realized that we were in the presence of a very skilled toque in the kitchen. Her Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame dessert was a trio - a root beer float, banana royale, and strawbeery shortcake. I expressed the hope that the musical would live up to the meal bearing its name.
By then the rest of us were enjoying our first course and one of the highlights of the evening: a Soft Egg Ravioli, made with fine herb ricotta, crispy guanciale (pork jowl), and mushroom ragout with parmesan. Breaking the yellow yolk into the dish unleashed a luscious taste treat which we all commented on favorably. One companion had ordered the Bristol Day-boat Scallops, the sea scallops charred on one side and served with carrot-ginger puree, baby bok choy, mushrooms, crisp potato and a lobster vinaigrette. My main course was the Colorado Lamb Loin, with a goat cheese potato ouree, zucchini, eggplant caponata, piquilo, preserved lemon, with basil emulsion and a drizzle of lamb jus. It was superb, and quickly disappeared with a passing of plates. I received a succulent slice of the Muscovy Duck Breast and quickly consumed the perfectly-rare bite. It had come with wilted romaine hearts, a French radish, shiitakes, cipollini onions, polenta fondue and cider jus.
We all commented on the delicious sophistication of the dishes emerging from the pristine kitchen. I asked the G.M, Al Kanjo, where the name of the restaurant came from, and he told me that Ralph Leatherby had shared his love of big band music with everyone, and was renowned for believing that art and music were essential to a life well-lived. So true.
Other dishes we experienced included a first course of Hamachi "sisig"....a tribute to the chef's Filipino family....a dish of sizzling pork belly, onion and Serrano chile, with a calamari-soy dressing, mango, avocado, and a quail egg. He and I talked about my love for authentic Filipino 'adobe' dishes with their vinegary base. Other dishes we all shared included a Sweet Corn Mezzelune, housemade moon-shaped raviolis; Scottish Salmon, and a Hercules Ranch natural Beef Tenderloin. Desserts were as exemplary as the rest of the meal: a White Chocolate Lime Bar and my favorite, the Smore's, milk chocolate Chantilly, torched marshmallow fluff, graham crumble and chocolate pop rocks. The wine list was full of boutique selections, fairly priced and sure to please any wine lover.I enjoyed the musical show in that stunning setting, but it was the superb meal at Leatherby's Café Rouge which received my rave review on the drive home.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.