by Jesse Stirling
First Cabin at Balboa Bay Club
The Balboa Bay Club sits right on top of swanky Newport Harbor. Large picture windows frame views of gorgeous coastline, while an outdoor terrance puts you side-by-side sailboats and sultry seaside sunsets. Live piano music plays softly in the background, creating a mellow atmosphere for a prestigious crowd. Patrons enjoy good, rich food amongst good, rich company. This is an old-school institution, the choice hang-out of such departed luminaries as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. It’s a venue for big parties, or a charming dinner for two; a timeless classic that is luxurious, yet simple and serene.
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, guests enjoy innovate and seasonal California Cuisine featuring fresh Pacific seafood, top-end prime beef and local ingredients. True to its name, The First Cabin Restaurant is reminiscent of an elegant dining room on a cruise liner. Subtle nautical details give way to a clean, light, airy feel. A private dining room seats up to 14 guests, and the adjacent First Cabin Wine Bar is the perfect place for intimate parties or wine tastings, from stellar local vintages to the finest French champagne. An impressive selection of more than 600 wines has helped the venue earn critical acclaim and prestigious awards, including: the Four Diamond Award, Wine Spectator “Best Of” Award of Excellence, and Award of Excellence by Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA).
Led by Austrian-born Chef Josef Lageder, the restaurant features the season’s freshest ingredients. Chef Lageder approaches our table with a big smile. His crisp Viennese accent is friendly and accommodating, yet hints at an underlying perfectionism. Chef provides an overview of his cooking style: “We keep the classics but give them a twist. We don’t use too many ingredients. If you have a great fish, keep it clean. Don’t use too many herbs. Let the flavor speak for itself. Keep it very simple. Buy fresh food and keep it simple.”
Before we begin our culinary journey, we partake in a sampling of cocktails including: their signature drink the B.B.C. Mai Tai (as refreshing as a tropical breeze), the Conquistador Sour (a sweet and tart delight that plays off the flavors of rum and sherry) and the Snowy Manhattan (a forgotten classic combining the spirits of bourbon and cointreau with hints of bitter orange and coconut essence).
Now properly primed, appetizers are delivered fast and furious: Spicy pan seared prawns (in a delectable sauce made of garlic herb butter, crimini mushrooms, chardonnay and lemon), Chilled Pacific Northwest oysters (drizzled with a dazzling Thai-inspired cilantro lime mignonette), Yellow fin tuna tartar (presented Mediterranean style with capers, chives and crispy crostini) and a martini of jumbo crab meat “Louis” (topped with avocados, lemongrass, pickled ginger and won ton crisp).
Next, seafood masterpieces are delivered. The macadamia encrusted Mahi Mahi with jasmine rice, papaya relish and lemongrass beurre blanc is transcendent. Sautéed spice rubbed Atlantic Salmon accompanied by wasabi whipped potatoes, mangoes and crispy prosciutto manifests every taste sensation perfectly from spicy to savory. Seared Chilean Sea Bass with shiitake mushroom quinoa and sun-dried tomato tapenade pleases my palate and seduces my soul.
Only the most prime meats are served. Our feast continues with a 12 oz. all natural Black Angus New York grilled steak, juicy and tender and succulent. The herb crusted Colorado rack of lamb posses a mild and delicate taste, served the traditional way with Mousseline potatoes and minted merlot sauce. The Chateaubriand for Two is carved table-side and paired with a symphony of vegetables. The house-made Béarnaise is so singular in its old-world perfection that it sends the dish into the gastromic stratosphere.
After such a massive meal, we end on the lightest of notes with a berry sorbet to cleanse the palate. Chef Lageder concludes: “Years ago people didn’t travel. Now food is global. East meets West. Presently, I’m learning to create a Thai curry sauce based on coconut milk – techniques we didn’t learn in Europe. Every day you can improve, step by step. Never stop learning. Always look forward to new adventures.”
If the adventure you crave is exquisite waterfront dining surrounded by a prestigious crowd, The Balboa Bay Club & Resort offers the highest quality cuisine in a breathtaking setting. The embodiment of premier Pacific perfection.