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| Sunday Brunch

Still Waters

Open nearly a decade, charming eatery on lake in Irvine offers festive feel and great view . . . but really needs to update the menu.

May 14, 2000|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Waters Lakehouse in Irvine has the happy charm of a Caribbean cafe, a vacation from Irvine's stucco sterility. The pink walls, pastel flowers and tank of exotic fish lend a festive island feel to this restaurant overlooking Woodbridge's North Lake.

If only its menu were as fresh as the decor.

I remember when Waters opened. The food seemed new, innovative. Nearly a decade later, the same menu is struggling to excite taste buds with broiled salmon and Chinese chicken salad. C'mon, people. Let's liven things up here.

The food is not bad. In fact, many dishes are downright tasty. It's just that the cooks need to banish the predictable and update the entrees. I suggest you go for the atmosphere and aim for the tried and true, because novelty is not an option.

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One of the cafe's biggest attractions is the wide patio--flanked by tropical plants--offering lakeside dining and a window on recreation, Woodbridge-style. One time we watched a bride and groom exchange vows on the dock. Last week we observed a race by three remote-control sailboats.

Brunch offers a wide selection of both breakfast and lunch dishes from the regular menu. For $12.95, customers may choose from a dozen meals and each comes with a fresh fruit parfait--rescued from melony mediocrity by large chunks of fresh pineapple--good, warm and crusty sourdough bread, orange juice, coffee and J. Roget champagne.

The most popular item is the BBQ ranch chicken salad, a toothsome mix of tomatoes, greens, cilantro, lime, corn, black beans grilled chicken and fried onion rings with ranch dressing. This beats the other green and leafy item, the ubiquitous Chinese chicken salad, for flavor and texture.

Another favorite is the crab, avocado and cheddar cheese omelet, though I found the cheese overwhelmed the otherwise fine crab (the real thing) and avocado. Hold the cheese.

Our party enjoyed the excellent chicken conchigili pasta: shells with pancetta, chicken, artichoke hearts, smoked Gouda cheese, shallots and cream sauce. The other pasta item, angel hair with lobster, sounds better than it tastes, though our table was divided on its merits. I found the lobster watery and over-salted--a signal to me that the shellfish could have been fresher--and the pasta flavorless. Others found it just right.

Waters prepares eggs Benedict very well. Huge, swollen poached eggs float on crisp English muffins topped with a well-made Hollandaise. For its "Waters" version, the restaurant gets a little madcap with the addition of an avocado. Whoa, hold onto your hat. Yet another sign this menu needs help.

For those with a sweet tooth, the only choice is French toast, a thick eggy slab of grilled bread with strawberry topping and candied pecans and served alongside scrambled eggs. I like the combination of syrup and pecans, but the dish might mesh better with fruit or vegetables. I have trouble with syrup anywhere near eggs.

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For a he-man meal, try the top sirloin with eggs, a tender piece of meat served with home fries. As for the potatoes, our table was again divided. Some found them hot and crispy, others found them pallid and flavorless. I think they should have been crispier, and cooked with more onions and peppers.

Dessert does not come with brunch, but a cart will appear on request. The white-chocolate-chip macadamia-nut cheesecake is a favorite and has been a mainstay since the restaurant opened.

Another top choice is the gooey mud pie, made with espresso crunch ice cream in a cookie crust, topped with caramel and hot fudge sauce. Not a bad way to start the day.

*

Waters Lakehouse, 4615 Barranca Parkway, Irvine. (949) 733-9503. Brunch hours: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Prices: $12.95, which includes limitless champagne.

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