Bistro 75 - Newport Beach
The title of this post is not a typo, it's just ahead of its time**. What was once Fashion Island's French 75 (and at one time, Rouge) will be rechristened Bistro 75. It's all part of chain-wide rebranding effort by David Wilhelm and his marketers. The restaurateur has discovered that his American-themed joints performed better than his French ones.
The solution is an exorcism of all things Gallic, which recently began by turning Chat Noir from a French Can-Can Girl to a Southern Belle named Savannah. (READ ALL ABOUT IT HERE)
But even though there may be some truth to their conclusion that French food is too often associated with fancy special occasions, I find it eerily coincidental that in the same week, I see Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud's face emblazoned on boxes of Costco frozen food. (Wasn't this a plot point in the movie Ratatouille?)
No, I'm not implying that French 75 or any of Wilhelm's properties are of the same caliber as a Keller or Boulud (nor is it even the best French in Orange County), but is this a harbinger of a future where all restaurants are Taco Bell?
Thankfully, at least for now, things haven't changed much (eventhough the new name is already being used on mass mailers). As of a week ago, French 75 remains French 75, and the appetizers still boasts escargot, fromage and shrimp en cassolette.
The complimentary basket of bread still wows with a crackly crust that shatters in shards. In the center, its steamy, billowy crumb goes especially well with a smear of mayonnaise tapenade.
Their main courses also kept a French accent. Even the cheeseburger is called "Cheeseburger in Paris", utilizing brioche and gruyere.
For a recent lunch, I opted for the Chicken Viennoise ($15), which is encased in a light, crunchy breading of Panko that rivals the best Japanese katsu. Its oily crunch reveals a white-meat filet as moist as dark-meat. But unlike it, the ivory flesh is sinew-free and creamy, almost buttery. To counter the richness, a bitter salad of arugula and shaved parmesan is served.
The best part of the dish, though, are the smattering of deep-fried capers buds and leaves strewn over the top of the chicken. These carbonized, crispy things pop with a licorice and anise wallop -- palate cleansers that you eat in concert with the food.
However, not all things French are good. The Moules Frites ($16) has a cream sauce that coats your tongue in butterfat and makes you wish you had taken a Lipitor before you came. The mussels suffer from this sauce as much as your palate. Their delicate sweetness are all but drowned out in the deluge.
A deluge of a different kind is welcome in dessert. Ah, yes, Chocolate Souffle ($13.95). It may well be the one signature item to survive. Because let's face it, who can say no to a puffy, chocolate cake that comes hot from the oven, drizzled with chocolate sauce, dolloped with cream, and drizzled with more chocolate sauce?
French 75/Bistro 75
327 Newport Center Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660
**Update from Joy (12/22/07):
"...the staff I spoke with seemed optimistic that this branch would not, in fact, be turned into a Bistro 75. I contacted Culinary Adventures to express my hope that this was true, and David Wilhelm himself assured me that the Newport Beach location is not going to be converted, although the Irvine Marketplace location is. Hooray! I like the NB location much better anyway."