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As I look ahead to 2015, the words “classic” and “cluster” come to mind.
Local culinary phenoms – Amar Santana, Rachel Klemek and Jason Quinn – are expanding their empires in Orange County. The operators of Anepalco’s are dreaming up a new eatery for downtown Santa Ana. Portola Coffee Lab’s wunderkind Jeff Duggan is sending his lab-coat clad baristas to new cafes in Santa Ana, Orange, Tustin and Mission Viejo.
No doubt, these signature brands run by class acts will become destination stops when they open.
Then, we have the clusters – or what I’ve been calling culinary walkabouts. At least five are in the works for the new year – Orange County is fast becoming ground zero for these artisanal ecosystems.
Here’s a look at the most anticipated openings of the year. This week we start with the classics, next week we’ll tackle the clusters.
Dunkin’ Donuts: The pride of New England is bringing its Boston Kreme doughnuts and strong coffee to Orange County. A shop in Laguna Hills will be the first of several to open in O.C. It will have a drive-through and be open 24 hours. Coming early in the year to 25242 McIntyre St.
Vaca: Amar Santana returns to Costa Mesa with a Spanish tapas eatery near South Coast Plaza. Vaca will blend the cuisines of Madrid, Andalusía, Seville and the Basque country, says Santana, who left Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s three years ago to become chef and owner of Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach. He said Vaca will “offer less-celebrated yet undeniably superior-tasting meats.” The restaurant is scheduled to open this summer at Park Towers, 695 Town Center Drive.
El Mercado Modern Cuisine: The operators behind the two Anepalco’s restaurants in Orange are opening a new fine dining concept in downtown Santa Ana. Executive Chef Daniel Godinez, who blends Mexican and French cuisine at Anepalco’s, is developing the El Mercado menu. Scheduled to open by the end of March. 301 N. Spurgeon St.
Blackmarket Bakery: Pastry chef Rachel Klemek said she’ll have an expanded menu of “savories, plated desserts and brunch options” at her new bakery in downtown Santa Ana. She also plans to serve beer and wine. Construction is expected at the end of the month in the Santora Building on Broadway. The Life/Food team is looking forward to having Blackmarket close to our Grand Avenue home base. 211 N. Broadway.
Moulin: I’m cheating here by mentioning this restaurant, which opened in 2014. But it is worth noting that the French épicerie is performing so well that it plans to expand. It is taking over the shop next door, a move that will allow dinner five nights a week starting April 1. The added space will include more table seating, a larger épicerie and a refrigerated deli case filled with les petits pots de glace by artisan ice cream maker Edouard Vicqueneau. 1000 Bristol St. N., Newport Beach
Eat Chow: We were hoping a third eatery would be open before the new year. But construction and permit delays have moved the project to late spring. Eat Chow is a no-frills bistro that puts a fine-dining spin on classic American cuisine. The 70-seat Santa Ana restaurant will be the largest of Eat Chow’s locations and the first with a full bar. 313 N. Bush St.
Taps Fish House & Brewery: A third restaurant and brewpub by local restaurant operator Joe Manzella opens in Irvine at the Market Place. Besides showcasing Taps’ premium seafood and steak offerings, the Irvine restaurant will have 25 craft beer taps – more than double those at the flagship Brea restaurant. Scheduled to open in late March at the old Buca di Beppo space, 13390 Jamboree Road.
Pizza Press: With so many build-your-own pizza concepts opening in Orange County, why am I singling out this one? Two words: craft beer. Anaheim-based Pizza Press, created by entrepreneur Dara Maleki, has the best artisan beer selection of all the assembly-line pizza places invading Southern California. It also offers beer flights. The first restaurant opened in 2012 across from Disneyland. The second one is slated to open this month in Old Towne Orange at 155 N. Glassell St.
Portola Coffee Lab: The hipster Costa Mesa coffeehouse is expected to open four more cafes this year. Duggan is also renovating the flagship SoCo coffee bar to reduce the bottleneck at the barista counter. The Costa Mesa makeover includes moving the coffee roaster to a central facility in Santa Ana. The new roasting facility will supply the cafes and the company’s growing list of wholesale clients. Portola’s next three cafes are expected to open in Old Towne Orange inside Provisions Market, Union Market Tustin, Fourth Street Market in downtown Santa Ana and Union Market at Kaleidoscope in Mission Viejo.
Artic: Anaheim’s $189 million, armadillo-looking train hub opened in December. Unfortunately, the main restaurants planned for the depot are months away. We are especially interested in Leonard Chan’s nano-brewery, Black Sheep Brewing, and speakeasy Hive Bar. Ritter’s steam kettle cooking, and organic coffee by the The Lost Bean (a caffeine staple in Tustin), are also coming. Reps for the train depot say the restaurants should open by late spring or early summer. 2626 E. Katella Ave.
Downtown Anaheim: The architecturally stunning Anaheim Packing House opened last year, but we’re still waiting for a few more eateries and bars to open at the food hall. Ecco finally opened before the new year, and will have a grand opening celebration Jan. 22. Other venues still to come: BXCR Wine Bar, an underground wine society in the lower level of the packing house, and Urbana, a fish and ceviche shop. 440 S. Anaheim Blvd.
Pacific City: Huntington Beach’s latest coastal resort features Lot 579, a food hall-style spot with a few indie eateries. Food tenants tapped thus far include Santa Monica’s The Bungalow (not to be confused with the steak house by the same name in Corona del Mar), Lemonade, Simmzy’s (gastropub fare), Bear Flag Fish Co. (fish tacos/burritos) and Ola(Mexican cuisine). Opening late this year on Pacific Coast Highway.
Fourth Street Market and beyond: We are drooling with anticipation over Fourth Street Market, a craft food mart and incubator space coming soon to downtown Santa Ana, aka DTSA. Early buzz is centering on Electric City Butcher (a European-style butcher shop by Michael Puglisi), Portola Coffee Lab and Quinn’s three food stands: Noodle Tramp (Thai), PFC (Playground fried chicken) and Wagyu Chuck (house-ground burgers on sponge dough buns). Coming early this year at 201 E. Fourth St. Nearby in DTSA, these eateries are also coming: Luna Kutsi, Paninoteca Maggio, WurstHaus, Yojie Japanese Fondue, Bar Moda and The Barrel Room.
Union Market (Tustin and Mission Viejo): Andrea and Russell Young are the creators of the first Union Market, which opened last fall at The District in Tustin. More than 20 food and retail tenants are listed. However, like Artic, most of the highly anticipated restaurants aren’t open yet, such as Leonard Chan’s Rolling Boil, The Hatch and Taco Bandito. Other eateries coming to Tustin’s Union Market: Portola Coffee Lab, The Kroft, Crepe Coop and Honey and Butter. The Youngs are curating similar food artisans for Union Market at Kaleidoscope in Mission Viejo.
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