Date Night: Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge and the Theater

Tomato Watermelon Gazpacho, Tomato Fattoush Salad
If you’re lucky enough to live in Orange County…then you’re lucky enough! Sun, surf and sand along 42 miles of uninterrupted beaches that provide endless outdoor recreation, enviable year-round temps, natural beauty and eclectic cities, diverse cultures and cuisine, and a sophisticated, yet casual lifestyle that embodies SoCal. We’re also incredibly lucky to have a thriving arts and theater scene centered in Costa Mesa at the multi-venue Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The entire gamut of world-class performing arts is at our fingertips, from Tony award-winning Broadway musicals, The Jazz Series, and National Acrobats of China at Segerstrom Hall, to internationally acclaimed philharmonic orchestras such as Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell, Grammy winning pianist and composer Billy Childs, Mariacha Vargas to Judy Collins at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, and ballet or Schoolhouse Rock Live! at Samueli Theatre. We have it all.

Segerstrom Hall

These architecturally stunning, state-of-the-art facilities are united by a spacious Arts Plaza whose culinary epicenter is Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge with Executive Chef Ross Pangilinan at its helm. Le Cordon Bleu trained, Pangilinan’s skill and talent was recognized by the Patina Restaurant Group where, at the age of 21, he was offered his first sous chef position at Pinot Provence in 2005. After two years he returned to France to work at Michelin-star Regis restaurant. Other successes include the opening of Sinatra in Las Vegas and in 2009 Pangilinan returned to Patina Restaurant Group  as Executive Chef at Leatherby’s Café Rouge. His menu exemplifies his life story – contemporary Californian cuisine with international influences.

Chef Ross Pangilinan, Leatherby's Cafe Rouge

Chef Ross Pangilinan

 About 14 years ago, when College Girl was in elementary school, we subscribed to the Broadway Series at what was then called the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now Segerstrom Hall. It ensured us a cultural fix and an elegant night out at the theatre about 5-6 times a year. Over the years we’ve seen all the Broadway hits including Phantom of the Opera, Caberet, Wicked, and The Producers to, more recently, Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, and coming up next week, Once. If you didn’t see Ghost, The Musical you missed out on a fabulous musical stage adaptation of the 1990 film starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in an unforgettable love story and won Oscars for supporting actress Whoopi Goldberg and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin.  

Before seeing the play, we dined at Leatherby’s to experience Chef Ross’s culinary interpretation of Sam and Molly’s love story in Ghost the Musical which was as alluring as I suspected it would be. Leatherby’s is part of the spectacular Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli. I am awestruck every time I see this contemporary curvaceous gem shining bright against the night sky. The wall of windows floods Leatherby’s with twilight, the setting is elegant and serene, punctuated with rouge half-moon booths that echo the curvilinear lines of the exterior and are perfect for conversation or private tête-à-tête.

The service at Leatherby’s is always outstanding, attentive without being intrusive, and Chef Ross’s artistic presentation and seasonally-inspired plates are modern interpretations of American dishes. He has designed a pre-theater prix fixe menu customized for each production and inspired by the music and characters. For Ghost, The Musical the menu offered a choice of first course, main course, and dessert for $45/$64 with wine pairings – very reasonable considering the beautiful execution, exceptional quality, and service you will experience. We ordered one of each and as I was quickly photographing each dish, we struck up a conversation with the couple in the booth next to us where the gentleman was doing the same. I’ve met some wonderful people during these shared moments of food fanaticism. Matthew and Karen are a photographer and personal chef duo and he proceeded to take photos of all our dishes and share them with me via Flickr. All the food photos here are courtesy of Matthew Manteon.

Date Night at Segerstrom Center of the Arts

 Matthew and Karen Manteon in front of Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall 

Avocado & Crab Toast, Beet & Buratta Salad, Beef Carpaccio & Truffle Vinaigrette

For the First Course: “Three Little Words” was a trio of delicate tastes: Avocado & Crab Toast, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad, Beef Carpaccio & Truffle Vinaigrette and Heirloom Tomato “soup & salad”. The Tomato Watermelon Gazpacho was sublime – refreshingly cool, sweet watermelon balancing the acidity of the tomatoes and a hint of heat on the finish. The crunchy oyster crackers of the baby heirloom tomato fattoush salad lent a welcome crunchiness.

Tomato Watermelon Gazpacho, Tomato Fattoush Salad

The Main Course offered a choice between “Sam Wheat” – Farro wheat risotto with poached organic chicken breast and “I can’t breathe” – Scottish salmon and Israeli couscous. Both were excellent, but I have to rave about the chicken. Blissfully crispy skin and moist flesh accompanied by a chewy farro risotto flavored with chicken jus and Banyuls vineger and fresh al dente vegetables.

Farro wheat risotto, Poached organic chicken

Perfectly cooked medium Scottish salmon with Israeli couscous, roasted vegetables with a carrot, ginger puree is beautiful array of color, texture and flavor. Variations on the salmon are a staple on Leatherby’s menu and available off the prix fixe menu.

Scottish Salmon, Israeli Couscous, Carrot Ginger Puree

For dessert we had a choice of  “The Love Inside” or “Unchained Melody”. I had to go with Unchained Melody – that song, made famous by the Righteous Brothers, gives me goose bumps every time.

The “Unchained Melody” was a Tropical Fruit Parfait that satisfied my love of tropical flavors with luscious coconut tapioca, a filigree of seeded brittle, tropical fruit syrup, and exotic mango sorbet – a veritable foodgasm in a jar of sunshine.

Tropical Fruit Parfait, coconut tapioca, seeded brittle, exotic sorbet

“The Love Inside” was a gorgeous display of passionate pinks and red juxtaposed against chocolate soil and poufs of yuzu clouds – Raspberry-Chocolate macaron, Manjari ganache, raspberry sorbet, yuzu clouds.

Raspberry Chocolate Macaron,

Beautiful food photography courtesy of Matthew Manteon.

 Guests may choose to dine a la carte or from the Pre-Theatre tasting menu, Market Tasting menu, or Chef’s Tasting Menu. Either way, Chef Ross  Pangilinan is sure to please your palate. Below is the menu he has created for Once and a little about this Tony award-winning musical. I can’t wait – hope to see you there. Our tickets are always for the first Thursday of the two-week run, but I have to exchange my tickets for another night as I will be in Las Vegas celebrating our 25th Anniversary! Happens only ONCE

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge Menu for Once


Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge

Segerstrom Center for the Arts

 615 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Reservations: 714-429-7640 or online.

Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards® including BEST MUSICAL, ONCE is a truly original Broadway experience. Featuring an impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights… but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance. Emotionally captivating and theatrically breathtaking, ONCE draws you in from the very first note and never lets go. It’s an unforgettable story about going for your dreams… not living in fear… and the power of music to connect all of us.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, previously called the Orange County Performing Arts Center, presents a wide variety of the most significant national and international productions of music, dance and theater to Southern California. Segerstrom Center for the Arts is Orange County’s largest non-profit arts organization and owns and operates the 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall and intimate 250-seat Founders Hall, the 2,000-seat Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall which also houses the 500-seat Samueli Theater, and the Lawrence and Kristina Dodge Education Center’s studio performance space and Boeing Education Lab. It offers many education programs designed to inspire young people through the arts. These programs reach hundreds of thousands of students of all ages with vital arts-in-education programs, enhancing their studies and enriching their lives well into the future.

For more information, visit

7 Responses to “Date Night: Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge and the Theater”

  1. Mary August 14 at 3:22 pm #

    Oh yumm, that all sounds fabulous. I lived in OC years ago, I do miss it.

    • Priscilla August 25 at 1:36 pm #

      Hi Mary – thanks for stopping by. We moved away (to Chicago no less) for almost a year when our daughter was young and were so happy to be able to return :)

  2. nancy August 15 at 8:44 am #

    Wow… ok, now I know where we are eating before we see Once! How fun to meet another couple who shares as you said “your food fanaticism”!! The photos are gorgeous – did he take them with his phone or a DSLR???

    • Priscilla August 15 at 10:48 am #

      Hi Nancy – I use my 4s, now 5s, for all my restaurant photos, but he had a Leica-type camera – a Lumix, I believe – “the poor man’s” Leica :) I want one for traveling because my DSLR is too big to carry around.

    • Priscilla August 25 at 1:34 pm #

      Nancy – Matthew emailed me and said the camera is a Fuji X100.

  3. Christy August 21 at 9:09 pm #

    Those photos are amazing for restaurant photos. I’m going to have to look up this Leica type camera.

    We usually stay at the Westin when we are in Costa Mesa – such a great spot, and close to so many wonderful things. You are lucky to live in Orange County!

    • Priscilla August 22 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Christy! The Westin is great central location for dining, shopping, beach days, and Disneyland. Next time you’re in Costa Mesa let me know, I’d love to get together :)

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