Zov Karamardian started her popular Orange County restaurant, Zov's Bistro, as mostly a takeout restaurant with four tables, three employees and one of the few female chefs in the county.
Now 22 years later, with a staff of 200 and a 13,000-square-foot operation, Karamardian is championing the first Orange County Restaurant Week, running Sunday through Feb. 28 at more than 75 neighborhood cafes, fine-dining rooms and luxury hotels countywide.
"Orange County has come a long way," said Karamardian, who will serve a prix fixe restaurant-week menu at her Irvine and Newport Beach cafes in addition to her flagship bistro. "We have wonderful restaurants -- no different than L.A., New York or San Francisco."
The Orange County Restaurant Assn., which is sponsoring the event, envisions restaurant week as a twice-yearly happening, with the next planned for this fall.
To set the stage for restaurant week, Bloomingdale's in South Coast Plaza is hosting cooking demonstrations by participating chefs now through the end of the month.
The idea is to get new customers out to eat, at price points from $10 to $40 for lunch or dinner. For $40 per person, for example, diners can get a taste of Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Resort, Restaurant 162' at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, First Cabin restaurant at the Balboa Bay Club & Resort, Bayside and other elite kitchens in the county's most prestigious ZIP codes.
Among the newest participants is Pizzeria Ortica by Chef David Myers of West Hollywood's acclaimed Comme Ca.
"We were handed a great opportunity in Costa Mesa," said Myers. "The dining scene didn't have a pizzeria like the one [Executive Chef] Steve [Samson] and I have created."
TAPS Fish House & Brewery in Brea is one of many restaurants continuing its fixed-price menu beyond restaurant week.
"We just look expensive," said owner Joe Manzella. "We love being part of the community and serving people everything from bar appetizers to steaks and $600 bottles of Cabernet."
Michael Cho, a Newport Beach attorney and consultant to the hospitality industry, likens a restaurant meal to micro-economic stimulus. "Go out and have some fun while prices are more affordable."
Orange County Restaurant Week
Where: At more than 75 participating restaurants countywide.
When: Feb. 22 to 28
Price: Prix fixe lunches $10 and $20; dinners $20, $30 and $40.
Contact: www.orangecounty restaurantweek.com