What’s Old Is New Again: OC Dining Reinvents Itself to Stay Relevant

Tried and true; OC Weekly archives

Whether it’s a change of address or knowing when a tried and true formula is working, some of the heavy hitters in Orange County know how to bring in diners. We look at five examples of restaurants that handle change like pros.

Butter tasting is our Catch-22; Anne Marie Panoringan

Marché Moderne 

As one of the best dining rooms associated with a shopping mall plaza, it was an upset to have Marché say goodbye to Bristol Street. However, change turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Newport’s Crystal Cove neighborhood breathed new life into the already established brand founded by Florent and Amelia Marneau. Despite the disappearance of lunch service, evenings are as busy as ever. Additional legroom at the bar, as well as cozy booths overlooking the dining room are as welcome as chef’s expanded menu. Ten years later, there’s no slowing down the pace. 7862 Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (714) 434-7900; www.marchemoderne.net.

Sweet as ever; Anne Marie Panoringan

Prego Mediterranean

Despite a nasty fire, Prego Ristorante repaired and operated until they decided it was time to move elsewhere. The Bedi family and Chef Ugo Allesina’s decision to occupy Tustin’s former Bluewater space at The District was a move for the better. Now in a high-profile location, they quietly fired up the kitchen over Thanksgiving. The biggest change to occur was an adjustment to menu selections. Previously Italian-focused only, 30(ish)-year-old Prego Mediterranean also features dishes like Mushroom and Truffle Hummus as well as Lobster and Shrimp Stuffed Sole. 2409 Park Ave., Tustin, (949) 553-1333; www.pregoc.com.

Tried and true; OC Weekly archives

Olea: Cellar Craft Cook

The beauty of Olea wasn’t only in the interior, but the fact it was linked to a duo of similar concepts, Vine in San Clemente and Ironwood in Laguna Hills. The trifecta all share a love of wine country cuisine. However, Olea takes the best elements of its sister brands and factors in updates such as a much larger bar. Featured dishes include Chef Jared Cook’s Crispy Meyer Lemon and Honey Duck Wings (a favorite since 2012), and a familiar Jumbo Lump Crab and Roasted Heirloom Beets (pictured). Hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? 2001 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 287-6807; www.oleanewportbeach.com.

Naugles: 1; Del Taco: 0; OC Weekly archives

Naugles

For those who recall dining on a Bun Taco or Tortilla con Queso in the 80’s, this one’s for you. Christian Ziebarth brought back an entire chain from extinction in 2015, after spending five years in court with Del Taco over the trademark with a cult following. His commitment to serving authentic Naugles cuisine is sometimes met with criticism by die hard fans, but Ziebarth’s responsiveness is a testament to his desire to see the brand succeed. Now with a fully operational test kitchen in Fountain Valley, beachfront property reopening this week, and second Huntington Beach spot well underway, Naugles proves fast food is very much relevant to the dining scene. www.nauglestacos.com.

Quicker kitchen = faster pastries; Anne Marie Panoringan

85-Degrees Bakery Cafe

Ten years after launching their first U.S. outpost in Diamond Jamboree, this bakery brand that spans the globe is still going strong. 85-Degrees already has plans to move into the former Macy*s plot at Irvine Spectrum. Plus they opened a nearby Tustin branch earlier in the month. While older branches have plans to remodel in time for the big anniversary, Tustin is an example of the newer format. Ample seating and restructuring in the kitchen have customer’s best interests in mind. Per General Manager Manny Vega, “Most of the difference is in the back. Just the flow of how they organize everything is a lot more uniform. They (customers) might not know the difference, but the speed of the line goes a lot faster because we’re able to be more efficient.” www.85cbakerycafe.com.

A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.

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