At its simplest, a restaurant kitchen is merely a heat source that can turn raw ingredients into cooked food. If it’s fancy, a place might have someone convert trees into tables and chairs, clay into various tiles and plates, and forge steel into cookware and utensils.
Although it seems silly to whittle it down to that, not much has changed with cooking since primitive times, and not much has altered the idea of going out to eat in the past 100 years, aside from a few helpful phone apps.
This thought hit me while cuddled into a cozy, U-shaped booth at Five Crowns, mesmerized by the shadows of flames from the fireplace flickering across nearby smiling faces. People come here to celebrate life’s special moments: a birthday, a retirement, etc. The lovely couple next to me are marking their 22nd wedding anniversary, sweetly holding hands under the table. Their secret to a lasting marriage? Order the same thing: two prime ribs cooked medium rare, accompanied by statuesque Yorkshire puddings to keep it interesting.
But I was there with nothing to celebrate other than really great food and drinks.
What makes Five Crowns exceptional isn’t the classic British country inn look and feel, but rather the people who make it come alive. General manager Kenyon Paar floats around the restaurant floor as if she’s a ballerina, while my server rattles off why a Spanish Tempranillo will go great with the pork shank on the new fall menu. The restaurant’s honorary ambassador, Tommy “the Roadrunner” Martin, has been greeting tables for more than 50 years; he’s so full of charm and wit I quietly contemplate kidnapping him for a beer after dinner at the SideDoor, Five Crowns’ adjoining gastropub.
The back of the house is where the main attraction lies. Young, exciting executive chef Alejandra Padilla has created fall dishes that look inspired by Mother Nature, and the appetizers could pass for high-end SideDoor gastropub plates. The plump, toasty foie gras doughnuts ($29) also take on a bit of dramatic irony: Fatten up the duck to harvest its delicious liver, then inject that goodness into a doughnut covered with pomegranate syrup and sea salt that will fatten us up. It’s the circle of life, really.
If you happened to miss Oktoberfest in Munich, the braised pork shank is a worthy stand-in without having to endure an 11-hour flight. Pair the heaping meat with a local craft lager or a dry and effervescent Lotus Flower Bomb cocktail. Or you can do what I did and try to stump the sommelier. Turns out, he knows his stuff. The Tempranillo has the uncanny ability to lift the sweet red cabbage in the dish into a jammy bliss, whereas the grape tannin backing it up helps you reach total pork enlightenment. Truly genius.
Five Crowns, 3801 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar, (949) 760-0331; www.lawrysonline.com/five-crowns .