Along with the rest of the DGA team, I was down in Southern California recently working on a project in the vicinity of Newport Beach. We’re usually out there a few time per year (you’ve gotta love those Silicon Valley lawsuits), but I’m still learning about the restaurant scene.
After a full ten hour day of mock trial work, all of us were hungry and we wanted a drink (or two…or three). None of us wanted to think about it much, so we walked over to Fashion Island figuring we could pop into the first place that looked good. That was the idea…
Steakhouse? No, not all of us want to eat steak. Besides, a steakhouse is going to be a whole production; a full sit-down, drawn-out meal. Five Guys? No, too much like fast food. We didn’t want fast food. Apparently, we wanted something light, but not very light; we wanted to sit down, but not be there long; we wanted alcohol for sure, but not a loud cantina or brewpub. We spent more than a few minutes bemoaning our situation by the fountain until Bill pointed out a place called the Great Maple.
We had already walked past it once and it didn’t immediately grab our attention, but given our situation it was staring to look more promising. Although the place was pretty busy with a mix of indoor and outdoor seating, it was a little hard to pin down exactly what sort of restaurant it was. The menu was outside, but it was cluttered and disorganized, and none of us really felt like scrutinizing it. Jamie thought it looked like a wine bar. I figured it for some kind of tapas place. Matt was tired of standing by the fountain.
|Maybe we were dazzled by the elaborate tile|
Not wanting to wait for a table, we decided to sit at the bar and make the best of it. I was immediately struck by our table, which turned out to be made from a huge wooden door. Then I examined the rest of the décor.
|If I look down at my food, maybe he won't put my photo on the blog|
It was a mixture of funky modern and early American brothel. There were low, simple tables, clean-lined booths, and an attractive, brightly colored bar with an open view of the kitchen. There were also rough wooden beams, couches, and elaborate red glass chandeliers with a distinctly Victorian flair.
|I found this pic on their website, but not before I looked like a weird-O taking pictures of them with my BlackBerry|
The Great Maple strives to serve seasonally available produce and sustainable seafood, so the menu often changes. Even so, the Great Maple seems to specialize in wood oven pizzas, funky burgers (such as free range turkey and Moroccan lamb), and home-style cooking with a twist. I had a simple dish of baby back ribs and mashed potatoes, but it was executed well. The ribs were tender, juicy and accompanied by a slightly sweet, citrusy sauce.
Desert, however, was fantastic. It was not at all what I expected, but I think the folks at the Great Maple like to do things their own way. We got all three deserts: apple pie, a jumbo red velvet cupcake, and peanut butter banana split. The apple pie was a small, circular single-serving pie that more closely resembled a cobbler with a flaky crust. The cupcake was massive; and the banana split was sophisticated, delicately presented and delicious.
Much like its deserts, cocktails at the Great Maple are both quirky and well-crafted. The list of specialist cocktails is brief, but if the bartenders put as much care into an old fashioned as they do in their raspberry lemondrop, it ought to be a great place for a cocktail. The wine list was similarly brief, with little that stood out, but it was far more inviting than the so-called “beer list.”
|Taken for posterity. I didn't think anyone would actually believe me.|
The Great Maple does several things well, but beer is absolutely not one of them. Clearly, the restaurant is focusing on cocktails. That’s fine enough, but when we first sat down, our waitress handed us the list of cocktails, the wine list, and a “beer list” that was literally 20% non-alcoholic. Yes, the “list” was composed of five beers: Bass Ale, Beck’s Non-Alcoholic, Bud Light, Dos Equis XX Amber, and Stella Artois. Somehow, the Great Mable felt that this necessitated a separate sheet of paper. The best thing I can say about this list is that it was alphabetized.
It seems to me that if your restaurant is relegating its beer selection to a few six packs in the cooler in case someone’s grumpy uncle refuses to drink anything other than a Budwiser, it isn’t something you want to advertise. The phrase “beer list” connotes a selection broad enough to require perusal and consideration. It was like providing a wine list that was composed of Yellow Tail, Arbor Mist, Sutter Home, Franzia, and sparkling grape juice.
|Ooooo, look honey, a wine list. How fancy.|
All in all, The Great Maple is a decent place to eat. Its best features are the cocktails and deserts, but the food won’t scare you away either. Just don’t go there expecting to get a decent beer.