Date Night: Four Faves-From Music Spots to Over The Top!
The choices are many—from an evening of music & cocktails, to dining in a real garden, or a classy, “be seen” steakhouse. Here are some of my favorites. And it’s easier to get away than you think. Just select which one of these four experiences fit your desire and place it on the calendar. Make the reservations, and be an instant hero for Date Night! Grab that “someone special” and escape your hum-drum schedules. Even if it is just for a few hours— recharge and reconnect.
Go ahead, it will be fun!
Aqua Lounge- Music, Cocktails & Perhaps Shopping at Fashion Island
If you’re a local, you may not have had a chance yet to pop in to the Island Hotel. What an amazing transformation has just taken place from the Palm Terrace—- to presto-chango—-The Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge. A complete change has taken place here and takes full advantage of the beautiful outdoor patio, and in the distance the pool & cabanas and cozy fireplace. They have smartly added a gated entrance from Newport Center Drive so one can easily access the restaurant and lounge directly from Fashion Island (near Neiman Marcus), and complimentary valet is also available at the hotel entrance.
The Aqua Lounge is a perfect setting for cocktails, appetizers and DJ music mixing it up for the evening. The lounge beckons a sense of water from the moment my toes touch the lush azure carpeting with swirls of silver as a soft accent. The ceiling has an intricate waved design. The seating is hip, and modern with many sofas and comfy chairs in conversational pods sprinkled around the lounge. The colors are soft in creams, blues and silver tones. The 360 degree bar has creative lighting with hues of soft blue and light wood—creating a centerpiece of drama in the expansive room. And tucked in the corner is a DJ booth. In the evenings (beginning at 8pm) they are spinning all types of hip music for guests to enjoy. The DJ’s rotate throughout the week to ensure a new vibe nightly. For eats, guests can enjoy a selection of casual, shareable small bites, such as: flatbreads, short rib beignets, oysters, charcuterie, just to name a few. A more robust late-night menu is also available Thursday-Saturday evenings. The dining is prepared by the Oak Grill kitchen.
Aqua Lounge presents a finely curated wine, craft cocktail and beer program. The beverage show-stopper is the masterfully crafted classic cocktail program featuring seasonally inspired drinks created with freshly squeezed juices from The Irvine Ranch fruit and locally sourced herbs. The renowned mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim guided the development of the cocktail offerings. A unique offering here at Aqua are the punches that are prepared tableside in a punch-bowl and are perfect for groups of 8-10 people. So if you do decide to do a “group date night” this would be a fun offering.
My “Favorite Finds” you ask? Well I have four….. 1) For Aqua, the seating I prefer is the outdoor wood planked patio. Here, I am perched above, and can watch what goes on inside the lounge, out on the patio, and the pool and fireplace are in the distance. 2) My favorite craft cocktail is: the Newport Sunset. This is made with: Ketel One Citron, Aperol, Pavan Liquor, grapefruit juice, lemon juice and honey syrup. 3) The Fire Pit- just below the Oak Grill Terrace with greenery surrounding it, is a large patio (seating 30 people, I would guess). There is a wooden pergola structure overhead, and I assume vines will soon be growing skyward on the upright columns. A large fire pit is center stage with conversational seating all around. Other clusters of seating pods can be discovered, for restful repose and whispering conversation. Music can be softly heard in the distance. And lastly, 4) is the small bar that is along the back wall of the Oak Grill restaurant. This is a quiet find, and I enjoy watching all the activity.
The restaurant, Oak Grill, is led by Executive Chef Marc Johnson (previously with Mastro’s Ocean Club and Cotton Row). He oversees the culinary programs for both Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge and has created a contemporary California menu featuring his imaginative takes on the diversity found throughout the region. They have a lovely dining room, and outdoor terrace under two huge trees with romantic lanterns in the branches above. They have recently added live music on Wednesday evenings, which is a perfect addition.
Perhaps A Shopping Spree– So between the Aqua Lounge, the outdoor seating, and the music— this makes for a lovely evening of romance. It is a short walk to Fashion Island for a little pre or post shopping, and I would dare say that is an evening to be repeated.
Pescadou Bistro-French Inspired Dinner & How About A Walk on the Beach
Originally owned by Daniel Sidhoum (Olga’s brother), the “new-and-improved” Pescadou Bistro remained in the family after Chef Jacques de Quillien and his wife Olga took it over in 2002. Olga, was raised in Southern France and Paris, and Jacques was brought up in France’s Loire Valley and Brittany. Both bring an eclectic French Cuisine perspective to Pescadou Bistro and their passion for what they do is evident every time I walk through the front door.
For Olga and Jacques the spirit of Pescadou Bistro is all about romance and the simple pleasures of French cuisine. They are amazingly hospitable, casual and yet attentive to every detail. Planning a Date Night here would be a special evening indeed.
They offer a Prix Fixe menu for $36 which includes a starter, main course (plat du jour) and dessert. The menu is just what we might expect to find in France. The starters include: Smoked Duck Crostini, Fromage, Escargots, various Charcuterie, Salads, and Soups. It is quite a selection. Then for entrees there is, of course, Coq au Vin, and Beef Bourguignon and Cassoulet. The menu also includes: Mussels, Salmon Florentine, Duck Breast, Lamb Chops, Filet Mignon, and so much more. Pescadou also offers a wide selection of wines and please note there is no corkage fee on Wednesday evenings (normally $20). Pescadou’s menu transports guests to a sense of dining in France and all the wonderful memories that this exudes. The cuisine is authentic and delicious.
Dinner and A Walk On The Beach or Harbor Boardwalk- Given the restaurant’s location on the Balboa Peninsula, guests can take a stroll at the beach to the west, or the Newport Channel to the east. Now you can’t do that in Paris!
Hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday with Dinner beginning at 5:30pm
Provenance Restaurant- Dining In The Garden & Perhaps a Cooking Class–
With a fine wine, the grapes are the real story. For a restaurant, the key element that steals the show—or not— is indeed the ingredients. And it is this particular focus and passion that is brought to the table by Executive Chef and Owner Cathy Pavlos. Organic vegetables are grown right here in her garden-centric restaurant— Provenance. Products are sourced from local vendors, and the theme is fresh, local, organic and delicious.
For a date night (or lunch, or even brunch) this restaurant will bring an instant warm smile. It is cozy, and our eyes cannot help but gaze beyond the dining room to the amazing garden beyond. The dining experience here is truly a quick, dreamy, wine-inspired escape.
The hostess station is Grandma’s 1948 stove where the Chef learned to cook when she was just four years old. The wallpaper in the hallway was imported from Belgium and is based on a design from the 1930’s. The wood frame for the patio is California Red Cedar, and the garden fence was designed as an eco-friendly solution for noise reduction, as well as a vertical garden which doubled its size. There is a full bar, signature cocktails, and a lovely wine selection as well.
The California wine country cuisine takes its inspiration from Italy and France, and the menu changes constantly, paying homage to the seasons. Here are a few of my personal favorites: Carpaccio of Garden Beets, Heirloom Tomatoes, Fresh Peaches & Burrata Cheese, Pan Seared Baby Green Beans and Snow Peas, Pan Roasted Jidori Chicken, the Shortribs Platter, and my go-to salad is the Newport Wedge with grilled shrimp, vegetables in a rich Buttermilk Ranch Dressing.
“I didn’t invent “Farm to Fork” but I sure lived it as a kid. We didn’t know that we were being trendy—we just thought we were living with the land.” Cathy Pavlos-Executive Chef & Owner
Cooking in the Garden- One idea for Date Night, is to consider returning for a Cooking Class with Chef and Owner Cathy Pavlos. Or, a lunch date and cooking class is another fun option to explore. Cathy will be leading a cooking class in early October and a schedule of other classes will soon follow. Guests can learn techniques for how to prepare “in season” vegetables and so much more, right here in the garden! Chef Cathy will teach attendees how to prepare 3 dishes and will provide recipes. This class will be limited in size and is $40 per person, which includes wine and a light lunch. Guests can make reservations by calling Provenance, and gift cards are also available. This first class at Provenance will be: Saturday, October 4th from 11:00am to 1:00pm.
Provenance – The Garden at Eastbluff
2531 Eastbluff Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Monday – Friday:11:00am to 2:00pm and 5:00pm to 9:30pm
Saturday: 5:00pm to 9:30pm
Sunday:10:00am to 2:00pm for Brunch, and 5:00pm to 9:30pm
Bar open nightly until 10:30pm
Mastro’s Ocean Club Restaurant & Jazz It Up With Live Music
I don’t want to say that I have saved the best for last, but certainly this is a very high-end restaurant, and is one of the top ten steakhouse brands in the U.S. according to Gayot. The Crystal Cove location exudes such drama and is sure to be an instant hit for any “special” Date Night you may be planning. There are five different dining rooms, a lovely outdoor patio with a fireplace with peek-a-boo views of the ocean, and a gigantic horseshoe shaped bar with glistening bottles and cognacs.
My three “favorite finds” you ask? First there is music every night of the week beginning at 6:30pm. Second, is the Courtyard dining space, which features a lovely tree center stage and is majestically lit with white lights sparkling in the evening hours. Third, is the fact that guests can reserve the booths that flank both sides of the bar. This is perfect for side-by-side, footsie romance dining, and at the same time commanding views of the bar, courtyard, and the live music tucked in the corner.
The menu is steak and seafood centric. Executive Chef Josef Morphis creates an impressive tiered seafood tray for sharing, and so many appetizer choices that make my head spin with options. Steaks, Chops, Rack of Lamb and Chicken—- it is all here. Potatoes and fresh vegetables accompany the specialties perfectly.
Dinner & Live Music- So, between an elegant dining experience and after dinner cocktails in the bar with live music playing, this is a perfect Date Night!
Mastro’s Ocean Club Restaurant
8112 East Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92657
Hours: Sunday- Thursday 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Friday & Saturday 5:00 – 11:00pm
Lounge 4:00pm – 1:00am daily
So there you have it—four great ideas to make your Date Night extra special, creative and most importantly fun for an evening of togetherness. Enjoy!
Did you miss our Date Night- Hidden Gems by the Waters Edge suggestions? Click here to read more.
Photo Featured on main slide provided by Mastro’s Ocean Club Restaurant