Is there a patron of the new Orange County Performing Arts Center or South Coast Repertory Theatre who wouldn't appreciate parking only once for dinner and entertainment? Fortunately, there are several restaurants within walking distance to performances. But one of the most accommodating--John Pohl's Bistro--hides out of view at the southeast corner of Anton Boulevard and Park Center Drive.
You don't see it until you park in front of the Commerce bank and head back toward Anton. Step around the striking Claire Falkenstein stained glass windscreen, and you're there.
When I called for reservations, the hostess thoughtfully asked if we'd be going on to a performance. And two experiences at John Pohl's confirm that the staff works to meet patrons' schedules. The menu offers a page of pre-theater fare, and you may even order a Grand Marnier souffle to be ready when you return after the final curtain.
Things to Eat Before the Show
Pre-theater entrees vary from chilled bay shrimp in dill mayonnaise with fresh crudites to a petite fillet of beef wrapped in bacon, served with bearnaise sauce. I savored a delicately sauced, perfectly cooked pasta primavera with five vegetables and a brochette of seafood Mediterranean, alternating scallops, shrimp and swordfish in a light garlic sauce. Less appealing was a coquille de fruit s de mer a la maison-- Pacific scampi, bay shrimp and bits of other seafood in a bland dill sauce with Duchess potatoes.
Pre-theater entrees, priced from $6.75 to $13.95, do not include salad. However, if time and appetite permit, order an a la carte Caesar or a plentiful heart of palm with bay shrimp on bibb lettuce. Or choose French onion soup or the day's soup (a pleasant cream of mushroom one night) and salad for a still lighter supper.
John Pohl's Bistro also offers a full dinner menu (entrees include soup or salad), priced from $14.75 to $19.50. Highlights: whole broiled baby chicken with chanterelles and Madeira sauce; Dover sole garnished with large shrimps, poached in vermouth and Chablis, with saffron sauce.
The night my dining partner ordered the tenderloin of veal Helvetia, he received the halibut steak in fine herb butter with pine nuts. It looked terrific, but could the restaurant deliver the order and still get us out on time? The stellar dish of other visits, the Helvetia was definitely worth the wait, its light cream curry sauce with brandy enhancing fork-tender white veal and mushrooms. And, yes, we were able to walk and not run to the theater.
Time for Leisurely Dining Too
Incidentally, if you come to John Pohl's at 8 or so, the hustle abates and you can enjoy quiet, leisurely dining in the restaurant's elegant modern peach setting.
Desserts? Nice but not fabulous. Our gorgeously puffed Grand Marnier souffle divided too neatly--cakey, rather than creamy inside. Chocolate ice cream and sauce helped redeem rather tough profiteroles. A lively lemon filling sparked crepes which, however, lacked the delicacy of the finest.
Other selections for after dinner or after a performance include caramel custard, cheesecake, Viennese ice cafe (strong coffee with vanilla ice cream).
John Pohl's Champagne kir is a nice starter (no cocktails), and there's a modest wine list, plus beers, espresso and cappuccino.
Lunch on the patio is pleasant on a fine day, and features a broad menu of entrees, salads and sandwiches.
John Pohl's Bistro, 655 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 662-7531. Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. , from $5.75 to $10.75; dinner Tuesday through Saturday 6 to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 to 9 p.m. , from $6.75 to $19.50. All major credit cards. Validated parking in front of Commerce Bank. Reservations recommended.