Irvine Spectrum is hot, hot, hot right now with three highly anticipated openings: Capital Seafood, Cucina Enoteca and Paul Martin’s American Grill. Being Friday and bubbling with holiday cheer, I’m switching gears and inviting you to kick start the weekend with me at Paul Martin’s Happy Hour.
Of all the gin joints (err, shopping malls) in the state, demographics directed Brian Bennett and restaurateur Paul Fleming (the man behind Fleming’s Steakhouse and the P.F. in P.F. Changs) to select Irvine as the location for their third Paul Martin restaurant (following the success of Paul Martin’s in Roseville and El Segundo), expanding their “long-nurtured dream to create the restaurant we’ve always wished was in our neighborhood”.
“Eat organic. Believe in sustainable. Buy local.” is the mantra of Paul Martin’s and, as much as possible, that’s what they aim to deliver, and at accessible prices, with plates priced mostly between $10 and $22. Realizing that organic, sustainable, and buying local are overused terms, Executive Chef Brian Bennett emphasizes they not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. They believe that at the heart of all great food is fresh, local, peak of the season ingredients and they aim to take diners back to the farm with meat raised in a humane and wholesome way, locally sourced organic produce, the best of both wild and farmed fish, artisan cheeses and cured meats from small local purveyors.
I was among a group of Orange County food writers, bloggers, and Yelpers invited for a “Taste of Paul Martin” to sample their Happy Hour small plates and handcrafted cocktails and I’m happily reporting that Paul Martin’s mantra is being successfully carried out even during the hours of 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. Monday thru Friday and 3:00 – 6:00 Saturday and Sunday. The quality and freshness of the food was evident and I think you’ll be more than happy with the price AND the refreshing array of small plates, wine by the glass, and handcrafted cocktails. Thankfully, Happy Hour doesn’t mean chafing dishes of fried foods, frozen meatballs, and skimpy tacos anymore!
The restaurant interior is both comfortable and sophisticated with the kind of modern-rustic feel achieved by combining old brick, wood, zinc, polished concrete floors, soft lighting and sit-and-stay-awhile furnishings. The bar area is sleek and spacious with ample seating at the bar and high tables. We were welcomed to the patio lounge area – lined with wicker and fabric couches with plump pillows, large ottomans, and floor to ceiling linen drapery, the room exudes casual California elegance.
Wine, drinks and small plates are priced at either $4.00 or $8.00. In keeping with local sourcing, all wines, including those offered at Happy Hour are heavily weighted toward California regions with a few selections from Oregon. We started by trying three of the cocktails from the $4.00 list.
The Meyer Lemon drop, with its refreshing presentation, and Classic Mojito got a thumbs up. Several of us gave the Raspberry Martini, lovely as it was garnished with fresh raspberries but tasting oddly like cough syrup, a thumbs down. The wine selections for $4.00 were Shenandoah and Parducci sustainable wines, at $8.00 were Rodney Strong, Chamisal and ETC. The wine selections will change with availability as menu items do with the seasons.
The overall favorite cocktail of the night was the Champagne Lemonade, recommended by our friendly and knowledgeable server.
Soon after the first round of cocktails were delivered, the small plates began arriving, Small plates offered at $4.00 are:
What was outstanding about all four of these small plates was the freshness of the ingredients and the subtle flavors – a little too subdued (the skewers) for some of us. Each dish is paired with a bright flavor, crunchy textural component: pesto slaw with the chicken, a briny, salty caper salsa with the chicken skewers , sliced apples with the creamed salmon, and slivers of radish and chopped onions on the street tacos. Favorites were the smoked chicken and street tacos – the wings had a subdued smoky flavor and we were impressed by the tender shredded beef and homemade tortillas. The “Brick” chicken available on the dinner menu is from Pittman Family Farms, and I assume the chicken small plates are too, but I didn’t confirm this.
Small plates offered at $8.00 included:
The skewers and ribs were tender and well prepared. Again, what stood out for me was the fresh component with every meat: the acidity of the pineapple balanced the rich beef and creamy remoulade sauce as did the vinegary Carolina slaw to the pork ribs. She’s Cookin’ focuses on heart healthy recipes and dining options, so I appreciate this thoughtful detail, especially when it comes to Happy Hour food. Only the buttermilk fried chicken seemed lacking in execution – the batter was slightly burnt and didn’t adhere well to the chicken – the fries, however, were perfect and were quickly gobbled down.
All thing considered, if you’re seeking a respite from your busy day and appreciate a bit more upscale Happy Hour in a relaxing, casually elegant environment, I highly recommend checking out Paul Martin’s at the Irvine Spectrum, if you haven’t already!
Paul Martin’s American Grill
Irvine Spectrum Center
31 Fortune Drive Suite 302
Irvine, CA 92618
Titled photos, courtesy of Albert Evangelista Photography.