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Where's There's Smoke, There's Probably a Cigar Dinner

October 20, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times Orange County

At a time when many restaurants are banning cigarettes, some establishments are going up in smoke--albeit very aromatic smoke--with cigar-tasting dinners.

Antoine kicked things off Monday with a five-course Davidoff cigar dinner. Sunday at 6 p.m., The Hobbit will host a Dunhill cigar dinner ($80 per person). Tuesday at 7 p.m., Newport Tobacco of Fashion Island hosts a Macanudo dinner at Tutto Mare ($100). And Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Mission Viejo-based Hiland's showcases cigars from H. Upmann and Dunhill with a meal at Carmelo's-- and teaches you how to roll your own cigars ($60). All the upcoming dinners are five courses, and prices include tax and gratuity.

There are more events in coming weeks:

The Smoke Shack samples cigars of Arturo Fuente from 4 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 7, and Davidoff on Nov. 14. $15 per event includes hors d'oeuvres and cigars; sherries and red wines additional. And Nov. 30 at 6:30 p.m., the shop hosts a four-course meal at Bistango featuring Sublimado and Ashton cigars; $75 is all-inclusive.

All of which raises questions with more than one answer.

Do they really pair cigars and food courses?

"Absolutely," said Chuck Abarta of Smoke Shack. "You start off with a light cigar and hors d'oeuvres. With a main course, say lamb, you go with maybe vintage Ashton. Then you bring out Hardy X.O. Cognac and a Sublimado cigar impregnated with 50-year-old Hardy ( Noces d'Or )."

"It's more like kids in a candy store," Newport Tobacco's Annie Hallajian said of the Tutto Mare event. "We put out the boxes and you take cigars freely. At the end, we bring out the piece de resistance, the Macanudo vintage special selection, aged like fine wine."

Doesn't it get smoky?

"We take over the patio," Hallajian said. "There's always a nice breeze."

"We're inside, and we smoke up a storm," Abarta said. "But we put in a special environmental unit (at Smoke Shack) that circulates the air four times an hour."

So Rudyard Kipling wasn't necessarily right when he said "a good cigar is a smoke."

Bistango, 19100 Von Karman, Irvine. (714) 752-5222. Cigar dinner reservations, (714) 650-8463.

Carmelo's, 3520 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. (714) 675-1922.

The Hobbit, 2932 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. (714) 997-1972.

Smoke Shack, 250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa. (714) 650-8463.

Tutto Mare, 545 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. (714) 640-6333. Cigar dinner reservations, (714) 644-5153.

*

Bistro 201 reopened this week in Newport Beach at the former waterfront location of Shane, which is also the former site of Barbacoa--all owned by West Coast Restaurant Ventures. That corporation operates several other restaurants, including Kachina in Laguna Beach and Topaz in Santa Ana. Bistro 201 closed at its Irvine location Oct. 8.

According to WCRV executive chef John Sharpe, a dispute over rent at the restaurant's original site led to the move. "We wanted to renegotiate our rent, but the landlords in Tokyo (World Trade Center II) refused to come to the table," he said.

Best known for its lunch service in Irvine, the new Bistro 201 will serve only dinner. But what will come to the table will be identical. "I haven't changed a price nor a dish, nothing," Sharpe said. "It's a carbon copy of Bistro 201. Except for the view."

Open Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m. Closed Monday.

3333 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach. (714) 553-9201.

*

Though Bistro 201 is practically next door to the building in Newport Beach now sporting a huge Ambrosia sign, Sharpe knew only that the space is presently empty.

"We have a restaurant but no sign; they have a sign but no restaurant," Sharpe said.

Inquiring gastronomes want to know. But calls to building owner Michael F. Harrah were not returned as of press time, and a receptionist at Heartland Development could only say that she'd heard that a tentative opening date had been set for the end of November.

Ambrosia was the name of a successful, high-end eatery in Newport Beach that closed about a decade ago after a disastrous incarnation in Costa Mesa; at the time, owner Geril Muller likened the jump to moving Ma Maison to Monrovia.

Harrah briefly took over the Costa Mesa space--where the owners of nearby Amici Trattoria are now hoping to launch an Italian restaurant named Venus--and last we heard, he and Muller were still wrangling over use of the name.

Muller had filed a claim for $10 million in damages; Harrah filed for bankruptcy in 1990. Harrah also once owned an English-themed attraction at Lake Havasu near the London Bridge.

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