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SECOND HELPINGS

Food at Chanteclair Now Worthy of Irvine Restaurant's Reputation

October 22, 1992|MAX JACOBSON

Irvine's Chanteclair has always been one of Orange County's most beautiful restaurants, the recipient of various awards from national travel organizations and heaps of local praise. Now, at long last, the food being served at this landmark (situated directly across the street from John Wayne Airport) seems worthy of all the attention.

Talented chef Byron Gemmell has been running the show for well over a year and a half now, but it took him a while to train his sous-chefs and assemble the team he wanted. He has also completely revamped the menu, once a tired affair composed of ersatz California-French creations, substituting more classical dishes gently modified with his personal imprint.

Gemmell is a Guatemala native with an impressive resume. His mentor was late master chef Jean Bertranou of West Hollywood's L'Ermitage--the man many consider the father of modern French cooking in Southern California--and he had much success at his own restaurant, Gemmell's in Costa Mesa, before coming to Chanteclair.

His special appetizers, an ethereal oyster creation served in a hollowed eggshell flooded with creme Anglaise and fresh spinach, or the impossibly rich foie gras in pear brandy, are pages from the textbook of royal French cooking--with original twists.

Heady game dishes--anything from a salmis of pheasant with foie gras to a perfectly cooked veal chop with a light morel demi-glaze or a New Zealand venison with a traditional Grand Veneur sauce--spotlight a varied menu that is most assuredly not for the calorie-conscious.

Gemmell is capable of showing off a light touch as well. He smokes his buttery, melt-in-the-mouth salmon on the premises, using hickory chips, which impart an exotic sweetness. Salads such as duck confit and that old standby the Cobb are constructed with finesse. And his cuisine legere (French for "light") means lunchtime dishes such as tuna tartare, grilled trout on a bed of endive and a spate of things that won't weigh you down during that long, busy afternoon back at the office.

Noontime, book a table in the atrium, a lush, exotic plant-filled room flooded with ambient light. At dinner, the Grand Salon, where most parties are seated, resembles a warm country cottage overhauled by an upscale decorator. Service and appointments are first rate, but Chanteclair's wine list could be improved--it's short on bargains, heavy at the top end. Fantastic cognac cart, though, lined with crystal decanters brimming with liquid gold--at heart-stopping prices.

* CHANTECLAIR

* 18912 Mac Arthur Blvd., Irvine.

* (714) 752-8001.

* Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m.; brunch Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

* All major cards accepted.

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