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The alfresco dining area offers a view of the garden.

From the Garden

by Jamie Gwen | Photography by Melissa Valladares | Riviera Orange County magazine | June 5, 2014

I watch as chef Cathy Pavlos exits her wide, windowed kitchen, walks across the sun-laden hallway and out to the garden. And when I say “garden,” I don’t mean a few planter boxes with stakes for naming herbs. It’s a 1,300-square-foot organic raised-bed orchard, with rows of lettuces and baby carrots, eggplant, peppers and a bounty of herbaceous goodies.

Provenance has arrived in Newport Beach—a restaurant with urban rusticity in a Napa Valley farmhouse setting. The on-site farm is a dedicated organic area designed by Native Soils’ Kathy Agresto and the team responsible for the garden spaces at the Montage Laguna Beach and Park Ave Restaurant in Stanton. It’s a nearly $2 million creation that impresses, and Pavlos is at the center of it all. She and her husband, Elliott, are the power couple behind its ubersuccessful sister restaurant in Irvine, Lucca.

Sunlight shines throughout the bistro, where tables are sporadically placed instead of tightly packed—it’s a pleasant revolution. California red cedar frames the patio, where you’re enveloped in a glorious green setting. You’ll feel like you’re taking in more oxygen, becoming one with the land—but you’re there to eat, and you’re in for a treat.

On my multiple visits, the service has been exceptional, the hospitality gracious and the food elevated and notable. At our first dinner, Rolando arrives at the table to welcome us. He offers cocktails and homemade sodas in Mason jars, boozy or mock, and we settle in. The Earl Grey cream soda is the table favorite, and the honey yuzu ginger ale, made with housemade ginger syrup, is refreshing. The old-fashioned root beer is just dang delicious.

The amuse arrives instead of a bread basket, and the warm-from-the-oven yogurt biscuits accompanied by honey butter are gone in an instant. We peruse the menu to find shared starters, and the whole smoked Idaho trout jumps out from the menu. How good does this sound? The trout is first smoked, then finished on the plancha, and it’s served with ribbons of hearts of palm, artichokes, oven-roasted tomatoes, capers, smoked olive and lemon cream. Atop the brioche, it’s like the best smoky, unctuous flatbread you’ve ever had, but made swimmingly better with clean, filleted flavors. The housemade charcuterie impresses too, with potted rillettes, duck pâte, artisan prosciutto and more—all adorned with little cornichons, stone-ground mustard and outrageous pickled vegetables plucked from the on-premise plot. We indulge in the salt-roasted beets (you know where those were grown) with burrata, avocado and sherry-maple vinaigrette, and our palates are delighted. The food tastes so fresh, looks so beautiful, and you can feel a Wine Country vibe. The wine list is Napa Valley-inspired too, with additional offerings from Santa Barbara, Epernay and Tuscany. The 10 Span Chardonnay is a stellar food pairing on a warm night, and the Melville Syrah from Santa Rita is a grand mask for the meat-lovers.

During my restaurant visits for these reviews, I try as many dishes as possible so that I can share inspired thoughts. Everyone at the table orders something different, and we play musical plates by passing them around. On one visit, just after we order, a platter of perfection arrives at the neighboring table-a grilled 32-ounce certified Angus beef porterhouse steak, carved off the bone, with pan potatoes, drippings, grilled garden veggies and a bevy of sauces. It’s gorgeous, and we vow to order it next time.

Our main courses are pretty superb. The rib-eye is tender and juicy, served alongside Provenance’s hand-cut fries that are entirely addictive. The plancha-seared New Zealand sole with tarragon-infused brown butter is delicate and graceful. And the maple-cured kurobuta pork chop with apple gin relish and mascarpone polenta is hearty and sweet. Side dishes are the highlight—the honey balsamic roasted baby carnival carrots with fresh dill and feta cheese are outrageous, and the blistered fingerling potatoes are delectable.

Desserts bring culinary pleasure as well—but that’s no surprise, considering there’s a master pastry chef who serves as an on-staff consultant. My better half thinks the peanut butter ice cream is sent from heaven. We girls fall for the carrot cake with a carrot-ginger marmalade—a perfect textural component and a great twist on the traditional. And the cast-iron apple pie has undeniable finesse, served with Calvados ice cream, just to gild the lily.

It’s like Bouchon and Chez Panisse had a baby, and the stork dropped it in Newport. Come forth, Provenance. I know you will be loved.

Provenance
2531 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach, 949.718.0477

Starters: $8-$27
Fish: $27-$29
Meat: $16-$42
Sides, prepared fresh from the garden: $7-$8

Mon.-Fri.: 11am-2:30pm and 5-10pm, Sat.: 5-10pm, Sun.: 10am-2:30pm and 5-9pm

Who Goes There
Lovers of true farm-to-fork cuisine and those longing to visit Wine Country

You Must Order
The whole smoked Idaho trout

Take a Sip
Homemade sodas and handcrafted cocktails are served in Mason jars.

You Will Love
The yogurt biscuits with honey butter-they’re addicting.

Nice Touch
The chef learned to cook on her grandmother’s stove, which is used as the host station.