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A Romantic Little Hideaway

July 07, 1988|BEVERLY BUSH SMITH | Smith is a free-lance restaurant reviewer in Orange County. and

Secluded, summery and sometimes excellent. There's my capsule review of Ann Marie's Restaurant in the Fernleaf Courtyard in Corona del Mar.

Ann Marie Wymer and her mother, chef Brigid Morahan, plus two Michaels (brother and father) have created a romantic little hideaway for contemporary cuisine. There's al fresco dining in the shady courtyard, and inside, visually enlarged with mirrors and softened with pastels, the restaurant is divided into a cozy room with a fireplace and a garden room with latticework overhead. Impressionistic paintings brighten the walls, and fresh flowers and crisp linens grace the tables.

It's so pleasant, you want to overlook such housekeeping lapses as a never-noticed knife on the floor, smudges on the mirrors, stained carpet. But I worry a bit about attention to details when even the quick-print menu is rife with typos: Ceaser salad, angle hair pasta, chocoalt torte. If they're meant to catch my eye, they did.

Good Entrees, Vegetables

Well, if the food is good, does it really matter? Fortunately, most of it is. A perfectly poached salmon in a fine dill sauce reposes on angel hair pasta. Delicate Chardonnay sauce with green grapes enhances tender breast of chicken. Melt-in-your-mouth scallops mingle with sun-dried tomatoes and homemade angel-hair pasta in a splendid basil sauce.

Exemplary al dente vegetables--usually four kinds--grace each plate. Garlic-spiked vinaigrette and pine nuts glorify a bibb lettuce house salad. Lobster bisque comes in glorious coral Technicolor, robust with lobster.

Now come the "howevers." A perfectly respectable cream of asparagus soup was greatly diminished by odd little bristly unchewable bits that had nothing to do with asparagus. Warm duck salad almost floated in an overkill of raspberry dressing.

I believe chef Morahan gave her all to the fresh Maine lobster on a bed of angel-hair pasta. She'd removed the meat, garnished the dish with colorful fore-and-aft portions of the shell and enhanced the lobster sauce with threads of saffron. Unfortunately, it was one macho crustacean unpleasantly strong in flavor and decidedly chewy in texture.

Chef Makes Own Desserts

Morahan, who has 45 years of restaurant experience, makes her own desserts. And if a flourless chocolate cake proved more orange than chocolate, the chocolate torte is really chocolate--like eating a truffle on a chocolate crumb crust. And the white chocolate ice cream is silken in texture, the perfect foil for fresh raspberries, strawberries and kiwi.

Ann Marie's serves wine and beer only, and one night I found two different Sauvignon Blancs past their prime. To their credit, the restaurant had removed the wines from the list when I returned.

The best news is that full dinner prices are reasonable, with the lobster the most expensive item at $18.

At lunchtime, many dinner items are available at lower prices, including fresh swordfish with pineapple and macadamia nuts, homemade pasta with fresh vegetables, and Ann Marie's special lobster salad. There are additional salads and sandwiches as well.

Ann Marie's Restaurant, 2640 Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. Reservations: (714) 720-9000. Lunch, Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m., $4.50 to $9.50; dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, from 5:30 p.m., $10.50 to $18. Lot parking behind restaurant. All major credit cards.

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