A small flight of stairs leads guests down into a rustically decorated room, which evokes the ambiance of a subterranean wine cellar with its earthen arches, barrel-lined walls, and soft chandelier lighting. Designed by the artisans who created Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, the dining room appeals to a similarly nostalgic whimsy. However, the cooks slightly modernize the menu's historic European roots by introducing unexpected ingredients.
The chefs elevate simple grilled-cheese sandwiches by slipping in braised short ribs, caramelized shallots, and horseradish cream alongside the gruyere and monterey jack cheeses, and a splash of cognac adds even more richness to the silken lobster bisque. Thai barbecue-glazed tofu and basmati rice also help to distinguish the menu by lending it a distinctly international flare.
Staying true to its name, The Cellar proudly features a 1,400-bottle wine list, which, according to the staff, helped to garner the restaurant Wine Spectator's exclusive Grand Award. The selection includes familiar staples, boutique producers, and rare vintages from virtually every major wine-producing region except the Marianas Trench.
When the chefs at Italian Cravings Irvine created their menu of Italian favorites, they decided not to be too fastidious with their recipes. So in addition to their traditional Italian recipes, they also created fusion dishes using the flavors and ingredients of other cuisines. Plates of tender veal in a marsala wine sauce sit next to the chicken tequila?a bed of fettuccine topped with chicken, bell peppers, and cilantro, all drizzled in a tequila lime sauce. Alongside the Italian entrees, chef also toss pizzas with traditional and unusual ingredients, from pepperoni to barbecue chicken. They pair all of this with tall glasses of beer or wine, which help ensure that meals are long, jovial affairs?like marathons emceed by a standup comic.
Originally the location of San Clemente's jailhouse and fire station, the retro-modern Blue Danube dishes out flame-cooked steaks, seafood, and European specialties in a renovated space that maintains original jail cells for private parties. Blend the best of surf 'n' turf with the bacon-wrapped-shrimp appetizer ($8), or beam taste buds to Budapest with the goulash soup, a substantial stew that balances meat and vegetables on its nose and twirls flavors on its fingertips ($6). Butter-drizzled shrimp scampi entertains the tongue with sizzle, snap, and a capella sea shanties ($15), and the flame-kissed pepper steak ($21) and the wiener schnitzel ($15 and up) waltz with appetites to the tune of the restaurant's namesake. The plump pillows of apple or cheese strudel may inspire overjoyed strangers to spontaneously wed in Blue Danube's in-house chapel ($5).
Zona's culinary artisans serve up classic comfort fare infused with a California twist while pouring out 4-ounce swigs of draft microbrews. Tongues can strap on their fanny packs and begin an expedition across the menu with a small dish starter such as the scintillating shrimp nachos, topping wonton chips in black beans, tropical mango salsa, and manchego cheese. On Monday and Tuesday, taste buds plunge into Zona's dip, stuffed with thinly sliced prime rib and sidled up next to a pool of sage-infused au jus, and every night the yuzu salmon swims ashore with yuzu butter, garlic noodles, and Asian veggies. Eight craft beers rotate seasonally and arrive in three 4-ounce flights, though guests seeking nonbubbling libations can substitute their brews with equally priced goblets of wine, cocktails, or flat seltzer water.
Angela Kishijara and Martha White learned to cook in their hometown of Chimbote, Peru, picking up culinary techniques and absorbing recipes as they scampered around their mother's kitchen. "Our mother was always in the kitchen cooking for us," Angela explained to reporters from OC Metro, "and she was an inspiration to all of us kids to learn how to cook."
Today, Angela and Martha bring their mother's traditional Peruvian recipes and lifetime of cooking experience to their own restaurant—Inka Mama's. Deep in the kitchen, the sisters and their chefs fold fresh chili peppers, garlic, and cilantro into a variety of Peruvian dishes, from citrusy fresh seafood ceviche to juicy beef lomo saltado. To craft their signature pescado a lo chimbotano, they simmer fish in a spicy garlic and chili broth before sprinkling on fresh cilantro.
Out in the airy dining rooms, customers snack on complimentary baguette slices dipped in flavorful green house-made aji sauce. Meanwhile, bartenders dole out pints of Peruvian beers and whip up pisco sours—a traditional cocktail made from grape brandy and sugar—also the ingredients of Crush soda for Adults. Soft lamps dangle from the ceiling, illuminating rustic stone walls and vivid murals of Peruvian landscapes.
Perk up your ears upon entering The Shore’s sleek, dimly lit dining room, and you’ll make out a variety of sounds. Frying pans crackle and hiss in the kitchen as chefs whip up Louisiana-style shrimp ‘n’ grits and Guinness-braised short ribs, as well as other contemporary American dishes lauded by reporters from San Clemente Journal.
Out by the backlit bar, the air resounds with the tinkle of ice and the pop of corks as bartenders blend specialty cocktails and dole out glasses of wine and beer. Meanwhile, five flat-screen televisions hum with the voices of sportscasters who comment on games and praise the timeless appeal of referee uniforms. On the weekends, the eatery features live musicians who send guitar melodies and drumbeats echoing across the dining room’s cushy black banquettes and intimate tabletops.