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The piquillo peppers

Cannery Row

by Jamie Gwen | Photography by Andrea Bricco | Riviera Orange County magazine | July 29, 2013

Here’s how the conversation went: “Grilled octopus, piquillo peppers and creative crudo? Sounds delectable. Sure, I’ll go back and visit The Cannery again. There must be a new chef. Oh, it’s Nick Weber, you say?”

The Cannery’s harborfront views have always been a draw. The patio on the water, where yachts tie up to come ashore and dine, is a Newport luxury. The restaurant has historical charm, too, housed in an old atmospheric building that once canned sardines in the early part of the 20th century. But you must know by now that for me, it’s all about the food.

Executive Chef Nick Weber’s gastronomic history includes his time at the helm of Blanca, where his fresh ricotta ravioli with the oozing egg yolk remains indelible in my culinary memory. He led the team at Catal at Disney for some years, as well, and I feel justified in saying that he’s a true talent. The Cannery’s mindfully crafted menu of seafood and land offerings is a mix of old and new—classic dishes like the bouillabaisse are made better with Weber’s skill, and the unique addition of inspired raw fish dishes (and some Spanish flair) create a thoughtful, fresh, worldly approach. He’s breathing new life into the restaurant. The Cannery has definitely been elevated, and from the word on the street, even longtime patrons are impressed. And so are we.

One recent visit starts with a welcoming and gracious host who kindly escorts us to our table, a prime spot on the patio. A grand yacht rolls in, and I feel like we have definitely arrived. Tamara, our cordial server, quickly tends to the table, offering cocktails and wines from a nice but still somewhat commercial list. (Note to oenophiles: Bring your best bottles if you want to drink in style.)

We order a bevy of oysters, because I would expect The Cannery to offer a vast selection of the bivalves for sheer seafood enjoyment. And delicious they are. Shigokus, farm-raised oysters named after the Japanese word for “ultimate,” are small and dense, with a clean salinity and a subtle chestnut finish. They pair beautifully with the chef’s apple and shallot mignonette, which offers a sweet finish to the umami, briny beauties. Paradise oysters also grace our platter,
farmed in Baynes Sound on Vancouver Island in Canada. Their plump, sweet meat pleases our palates.

But the best wave of fish rolls in when Weber brings by his evening crudo (that’s Italian for “raw”)—an artful plate of thinly sliced Hokkaido scallops paired with Peruvian yellow pepper. Their delicate heat, a cool cucumber sorbet and the sweet, sweet flavor of the scallop have us all reeling from the divine layers of texture and flavor. Incredible.

The night rolls on, and the braised and grilled octopus with deconstructed gazpacho arrives. This guy is good: He can even incorporate the seeds from the tomato, and you’ll like it. The octopus is so toothsome and tender, with a hint of smoke from the grill and amazingly complex, bright flavors. Then there’s the piquillo. I’m almost fearful of telling you about this sweet morsel of deliciousness with the knowledge that you are going to run to the restaurant and order it, leaving fewer of these peppers stuffed with golden raisins, toasted pine nuts and wildflower honey-laden goat cheese for me. Pearls of balsamic vinegar and sea grass add a modern and miraculous quality to the rich, yummy pepper. I’m tempted to order eight more.

The Kobe beef carpaccio is pretty tasty, too. The Australian Wagyu (American-style Kobe) is shaved thin and paired with homemade buttermilk ricotta, a horseradish vinaigrette and a bit of brioche. Simply scrumptious, but I would have liked more on the plate. Another gift to The Cannery from this new chef is his take on pho (my version of heaven). A Vietnamese oxtail broth is infused with cinnamon, star anise and ginger, with Thai basil and jalapeño flavors deeply rooted in the soup—oh, you’ll savor every drop. It’s topped with seared rare slices of ahi tuna, and it’s outrageous. The aroma is fragrant and beautiful, and the table is quiet from the sheer culinary ecstasy we’re all experiencing.

The only miss—on this night, anyway—is the homemade, handcut pasta with Calabrian chile, Maine lobster and guanciale. The San Marzano tomato-based sauce is delicious, and the lobster is incredibly tender, but the pasta is just too al dente. The bacon-wrapped venison arrives as our final course—a nice land offering on a seafood-rich menu—and I can’t get enough of the brown butter beet puree and red sprouted quinoa with dried fruit. Cocoa nibs adorn the plate, and this dish (along with so many others) proves that Weber is an incredible talent, and that The Cannery has moved a notch higher on the culinary ladder. He’s a top-tier chef making a new name for a legendary restaurant that’s proudly been a piece of art in our backyard for almost a century.

Our evening ends with a sundae, and this one is crazy good, with vanilla ice cream, Ovaltine fudge, pistachio crunch, brandied cherries and a flaky cinnamon pastry twist. (I can still hear my dining guest telling me, “Get your own spoon!”) We’ll be back for Weber’s ever-evolving flavors, scrumptious sushi upstairs (that was another delectable visit) and a seat on the pretty patio. I’m proud to love your food, chef Nick Weber, and The Cannery is lucky to have you. Keep raising the bar, and save me a piquillo.

The Cannery
3010 Lafayette Road
Newport Beach
949.566.0060
cannerynewport.com

Sun.-Sat.: 11:30am-10:30pm; brunch is served 11am-3:30pm on the weekends.

Starters and shared
seafood plates: $9-$90
Entrees: $26-$44
Desserts: $7-$9

You Must Order
The oysters, sushi, piquillos and crudo

For the Landlubbers
The bacon-wrapped venison

Sundae Special
The vanilla sundae’s a gift from God, with Ovaltine fudge, pistachio crunch, brandied cherries and a flaky cinnamon pastry twist.

Test of Talent
Chef Nick Weber doesn’t toss the tomato seeds when making his deconstructed gazpacho, and they taste fabulous.

Best Table in the House
On the patio

View Point
If you’re in a group, book the upstairs private dining room. It overlooks the water.