David Wilhelm, who opened both Bistro 201 in Irvine and Barbacoa in Newport Beach during 1990, now turns his talents to Zuni Grill, scheduled for a Feb. 15 opening in Irvine. In today's soft economy, surely that defines him as an optimist. "I am," he admits. "I see a shakeout of a lot of restaurants without strong perceived value. But dining out will continue as both a social experience and for business entertainment." However, Wilhelm also sees the need for "excitement, an upbeat experience, a level of escapism. Restaurants that have this will survive." Zuni Grill will feature the colors and flavors of the Southwest; it will be along the lines of his Kachina restaurant in Laguna Beach but more moderately priced (entrees $8 to $14) and more family oriented. It will be in the Crossroads shopping center at Culver Boulevard and Barranca Parkway.
Joe Ling, who owns restaurants in Fullerton and Los Angeles, recently opened a China Palms in Cypress. The interior is done in peach, and there are linen tablecloths. It offers the same menu as its sister in Fullerton, including honey-walnut shrimp, lobster Cantonese, orange peel spicy beef and chicken with tangerine sauce. Entree prices are $5.25 to $14.95. The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. 10205 Valley View St. (at Ball Road); (714) 826-2890.
The three Velvet Turtle restaurants in Orange County will unveil new menus this week, with fresh emphasis on grill items. Many dishes will appear on both the lunch and dinner menus. Signature items--beef Wellington, rack of lamb, prime rib--remain. But new complete dinners include a combination plate: baby back ribs, pork chop and barbecued chicken, with cole slaw and French-fried yams, for $14.95. The new lunch menu introduces sandwiches such as grilled ahi tuna at $6.95 and fried shrimp with Malibu greens at $6.50. Velvet Turtle restaurants are at 23732 El Toro Road, El Toro, (714) 859-7885; 5970 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, (714) 523-5262; and 1450 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 871-9340.
The Crown House in Dana Point is offering a membership program that provides transportation services to its customers. Here's how it works: Patrons send the restaurant a check for $500 and receive a Crown Court Club Gold Card. Then cardholders use that $500 as house credit to sign dinner/bar bills, and the restaurant sends a monthly statement. Club members are also entitled to round-trip transportation within a 10-mile radius of the restaurant. It's at 32802 Coast Highway. (714) 496-5773.
Oceanfront 21 (the former Rex at Newport Pier) opens its 1991 winemaker dinner series today. The five-course menu will showcase wines from Sterling Vineyard. The cost is $50 per person and includes gratuity and tax. Reservations: (714) 675-2566.