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Pelican Grill- Newport Coast (Thanksgiving Prix-Fixe Dinner)

Pelican Grill Exterior

Since everyone is talking Thanksgiving dinner right now, I'll give you my glimpse on my Thanksgiving dinner. And yes, my posts on Orange County restaurants/hotels will be out of order as the special stuff should be mentioned first after months of HK cafe postings and some product reviews. I'll give you the final order of my two OC trips in a week in index pages. Anyway, moving on now...

The Resort at Pelican Hill, offered us a special package (American Express offer) of a room with a 20% certificate (of the room's value) back for spa/dining use. So, since it was Thanksgiving after all, why not have a Thanksgiving meal? Pelican Grill offered a three course menu with several different choices so we went. Andrea? Although it too also had a three course menu, we were not in the mood for a Thanksgiving dinner with an Italian twist, and plus, Edwin Goei of Monster Munching / author at the OC Weekly said it had great service but also had varying food, some being great while others unspectacular. Dining in our own room? The food could be not as fresh as in the restaurants with the delivery times. So Pelican Grill it was.

After we arrived in the villa and settled down, we called for a hotel shuttle to come and then after 5 minutes than promised (after they told us to come out). I was expecting a mini golf buggy (Dubai speak for a golf cart), but instead they brought a Mercedes Sprinter instead. In the US,mostly you see the Dodge Sprinter, not the MB Sprinter. Some reason Pelican Hill was able to get the new MB version. Plus, the interior was like a conventional Mercedes- at least at the center console was. The rest did not seem like conventional Mercedes, but the leather seats were supple, soft, and comfy for a short five minute ride.

It was not until we were in the car we saw how large the Pelican Hill property actually was. Staying in the villas, it almost seemed like a special private section, separated from everything else. The hotel, Mar Vista, and the Golf Club/Pelican Grill were also separated and you had to drive on the street or on a golf cart not on the street to go to each section of the property.

We then arrived at Pelican Grill, where there were a nice variety of cars parked- Bentley, Audi, BMW, the like. I like to see cars, of any type.


Booth Table
(Booth Table)

As we had a reservation, made by our butler Luis, we then went to the front desk and without any wait we were seated in a booth (you can choose between a booth or a table), which was nicely furnished with square bread plates, a bread knife, glasses for water/wine, a candle, flower decoration, and salt/pepper mills. Our server then came to bring us our menus and to wish us a happy Thanksgiving, as well to ask what we would like to drink. In addition, he suggested the pumpkin soup and the trio of pies to choose from. What, do you ask? What items out of what?

(Click on image for full size- not blurry in full size image)

Here is the menu. Or, if you can not see the photo, here are the menu choices:


Pumpkin soup- with cinnamon creme fraiche and panettone croutons
crispy quail salad
- with brussels sprouts salad, bacon, pomegrantes, and warm sherry vinagrette
Heirloom tomato salad- with lemon cucumbers, avocado, mozzarella, and a balsamic vinagrette

Roasted free-range turkey- with shitake mushroom stuffing, sweet potatoes, snap peas, and gravy
Loch duart salmon-with sweet corn, chanterelle mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and a tarragon sauce
Prime filet mingon- with potato puree, a grilled mushroom salad, and red wine sauce


Trio of mini pies- with carmelized cinnamon gelato
Chocolate carmel mosaic- with a soft pecan brownie and apple pear sherbet.

Table Decorations
(Table Decorations)
(changing the ISO to see how the photo changes with the same aperture/shutter speed)

While the rest of my dining companions were trying to make their minds about what to eat, I was seeing how ISO affected my photos in low light as I was taking pictures of their candle and flower decoration. So a quick glance at the menu was it. Our server came back about 10 minutes later, but bread came after five minutes.

Bread and Butter

The breads were quite interesting too. As you would expect in a fine dining establishment there was a variety of bread to choose from, including pretzel bread, a carrot multigrain bread, and a apple multigrain bread. I am guessing the flavors of the multigrain breads as they both seemed the same, but one had more apple scent to it while the other bread had mini cubes of carrot in the bread. Alongside was a slab of fresh unsalted butter with a small sprig of rosemary for decoration. All of the breads had a chewy, slightly hard exterior and a very tender interior- especially the pretzel bread.

Hot Water Pot

Water also arrived, and just like Panevino, we all got our own hot water pots. Cute!

Soon enough, we ordered, and in the end, we ordered everything on the menu except for the filet mingon, as it looked fairly red when we saw it being passed to the table, which was not very positive in one dining companion's view.

Our appetizers arrived after about 10 minutes, and first up was the pumpkin soup.

Pumpkin Soup

The pumpkin soup was a nicely seasoned pumpkin puree with a light nutty flavor to it. It was fairly thick and very concentrated with pumpkin flavors. I did not get to try the croutons or the cream fraiche so no comment on that, but both of my dining companions who ordered the pumpkin soup were very happy with their selection.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

One of my dining companions ordered the heirloom tomato salad, which had nicely chilled cucumbers, very fresh and flavorful multicolored heirloom tomatoes, and meaty pieces of mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegrette. Simple but quite yummy.


Now lastly was my crispy quail salad. My salad seemed to also be the favorite out of the three appetizers, as the two dining companions were wowed by the crispy quail and salad that they sampled. With the warm sherry vinagrette which was slightly sweet and sour, the brussel sprouts and pomegranate arils became slightly warm which was a nice touch from your regular chilled cold salads. The bacon was cut into thick miniature cubes and was a nice match with the crisp brussel sprouts- it itself was not salty compared to usual breakfast bacon. The pomegranate arils were delicious by themselves, with a nice thick crunch to them and a small seed.

What really was special though was the crispy quail, which was the highlight of the meal! The crispy quail was lightly dipped in a light batter and then fried. Biting into the quail, there was a light tempura like crunch from the batter (but with more savory flavor), and then there was the smooth, juicy, and tender quail meat. Definitely no chicken or squab. This was ultra tender with no fibrous/gristle in the mouth at all, but it was obvious they did not add some chemical agent either which would make it haphazardly tender. Simply delicious. I still want more!

And if you thought you hated brussel sprouts, you probably will love them after eating this dish. The stereotypical kid would also probably change their mind.

But of course, right after I finished the appetizer, the dish was whisked away, and like a choreographed play, all of our entrees arrived at once. Three of my party of four ordered the roasted free range turkey, of course, due to the fact it was Thanksgiving. I did so too. We were expecting quite a bit from Mr. Turkey after all, due to the fact we had a turkey feast last year and last year's turkey was quite flavorful and delicious. It was however, a roasted turkey bought from Full House, a Chinese restaurant. How would an American restaurant make turkey? (Although I've had turkey at Marie Callenders and Turks and Caicos too...)

Roasted Turkey Dinner

Well, Pelican Grill's turkey came with plenty of dark meat and white meat pieces, and they were lightly smothered with a ladle of homemade turkey broth gravy. To the side was a cranberry (orange?) compote, a shitake mushroom stuffing, roasted pieces of sweet potato, and snap peas. My first bite well, was bland. Was it because I had just eaten the very flavorful salad? Maybe.

Further eating revealed that the breast meat was not very tender but still juicy (not very though). But that of course always happens to turkey after cutting. The breast meat also came with pieces of skin, which were unfortunately not crispy, but still yummy (I like skin whether it be crispy or chewy...). Dark meat was obviously more flavorful, with more roasted turkey flavor in it. Still, this dish needed more in my opinion. I guess I am just not used to the traditional preparation of turkey. So, one way I thought which would make the turkey more moist would be more gravy.

So we asked and received a nice small pot of turkey gravy, which I then immediately tasted with a drink spoon. How unmannerful am I in such a fine dining establishment! Well, it was definitely tasty by itself. It was like drinking turkey juices and broth- definitely flavorful and different compared to a normal gravy. Definitely, it helped with the moistness with the turkey, but then of course there needed to be variety. How was I going to eat the giant mound of turkey with just gravy? So, I tried out the cranberry sauce. (anything else added?)

Which was in fact very tasty. I have never tried out the combination before (having not eaten an American style Thanksgiving), and it worked perfectly. The cranberries were soft and still whole, and had a nice piquant punch. It added a light sweet and sour flavor which worked well with Mr. Turkey.

Now for the sides. The roasted sweet potatoes were just that, and were slightly crispy and creamy on the inside. They were not really sweet however, which my dining companions complained about. The snap peas crunched with every bite and had no stringiness to it- a good sign of careful preparation. And the shitake mushroom stuffing was quite interesting, with soft pieces of soaked bread seasoned with herbs and spices and flavored with the shitake mushrooms. Great with the gravy of course.

Overall? A solid Thanksgiving entree plate. But if you asked me if I wanted extras and to choose between the salad or the turkey, I would pick the salad. That quail is still so memorable and so special in my mind still.

Loch Duart Salmon

The one lone dining companion was the one who ordered the loch duart salmon, which was another great delicious dish. Simply because you could see the salmon juices flowing out onto the plate, but yet the salmon was ultra tender, smooth, and delicious all over, with a crispy and flavorful sear on the outside (which unfortunately was burnt on one edge slightly). The corn and chanterelle mushrooms mixture was a simple but tasty mix, with freshly cut corn and tender, flavorful mushrooms. Tomatoes added a nice brightness to the dish, and the tarragon sauce added creaminess and blend to the entire dish. This dish worked out. Suffice to say, better than the turkey? I would say yes. My dining companion would say so indefinitely, but that is because he was never fond of turkey.

(The shots that caused the chef to notice...)

So, while we were eating, our server came around to ask how everything was, which we said "good" since that is the normal saying anyway. Since I was getting full but still wanted to finish the plate, I took photos in between. Mainly of the kitchen though, since it was open to the interior of the place and was very extravagant looking. And soon enough, Kathleen Donley, the manager, came to our table, saying that the chef had noticed my camera and said it was very nice, and that I should take more photos. That was the second time of the day someone noticed the D90! (first was at the Villa Clubhouse) How intriguing! But of course, being the first one day+ outing with the D90 it was something unexpected anyway.

Dessert came around after we were stuffed from the entrees.

Chocolate Carmel Mosaic

Two of my dining companions ordered the Chocolate caramel mosaic which came with the apple-pear sherbet. This was a fantastic dessert. The chocolate pecan brownie was not the big highlight of the dish of course, as if it was so the dessert would be way too chocolate-y. It still could have been the highlight though, as it was not exceedingly chewy/gooey- a bit cakey and gooey instead, which is the best balance for a brownie according to Cooks Illustrated. My dining companion was right of course, saying that a 85 dollar dinner would definitely have a special brownie and definitely best any usual brownie.

Interior of  Brownie/Chocolate Mousse

On top of the brownie was fluffy and creamy chocolate mousse, which inside also had a half sphere of slow cooked, lightly cinamon flavored apple. On top of everything was a leaf shaped piece of chocolate.

The apple-pear sherbet was placed on top of a bed of crunched pistachios and was exceedingly delicious. Probably the best sherbet that I have had so far, but I haven't had many. The pear was pureed and in the sherbet, you would taste its slight roughness which was quite interesting. Tasting the sherbet, it was almost like applesauce, but not as sweet and more "bright" tasting in comparison. Quite interesting and scrumptious, especially since it was served at a temperature where the flavors stood out easily.

Served alongside were dots of caramel and cranberry (?) sauce which matched the dish well.

Trio of Pies

Another dining companion and I ordered the trio of pies with the cinammon gelato, which was also quite interesting. The trio of pies were actually a pumpkin pie topped with freshly whipped cream, an apple pie topped with powdered sugar, the gelato, and a white chocolate curl, and a pecan pie topped with a chocolate covered almond (?- not very obvious).

All the pies had a similar crust to them which was buttery and not very sweet at all. The pumpkin pie filling was ultra smooth with plenty of pumpkin flavor and a hint of spice flavor, which went well with the thick creamy whipped cream. The apple (crumble) pie had cubes of sweet caramel and cinammon (a bit) flavored of apple, which were not too sweet unlike McDonald's apple pies. With the gelato it was a perfect match together, not being too sweet at all. On the other hand, the pecan pie was sweet (in comparison to everything else) with lightly crunchy pecans and a caramel mixture, which was still warm enough to still have a good chew to it. How fun.

All the pies had a bit of sauce under them but they pretty much blended into the pie and I forgot to try the sauces separately, so no report on them.

Overall we were very pleased with the desserts. The frozen treats were palatable and smooth, just like Edwin had with his dessert at Andrea. We liked the fact that the desserts were not overly sweet like most places that serve dessert. Everything was well balanced and worked in harmony.

Water Containers
(Nice water containers!)

(Plates on the Wall)

Kitchen Panoramic (not completely matched together but shows the point)
(Click on the images (Kitchen Panoramic and Plates on the Wall) for the CLEAR photo, as this photo was uploaded onto Blogger, not Flickr)

Wine Rack
(Wine rack)

After eating some of the dessert, I took more photos. And then I went to the kitchen, and Ms. Donley introduced me to the sous chef, Neil Dandekar, as well as two other kitchen staff members and we had a chat on the camera, my photo taking, and how they should act for the photos I was taking of the kitchen.


And of course I took a picture of the hard working chefs who helped prepare and meticulously plate the Thanksgiving dinners to the hungry customers.

What was interesting in the kitchen was a pot of what looked like to be fried puffy noodles next to a bowl of red colored soup. I could not give a clue on what it was so I asked, and Mr. Dandekar replied that it was actually strips of corn tortilla that were fried for their normal menu tortilla soup. (You can see those strips of tortilla in the panoramic actually) How interesting! Quite different than the normal strips of corn tortilla that I see. Those now I can presume are mass produced. What I saw at Pelican Grill was freshly made.

Mr. Dandekar also asked if I wanted a kitchen tour and I definitely said yes. After all, I have never stepped to any restaurant kitchen before. I've seen through restaurant kitchens many times at restaurants like Green Island, but never stepped into them before. This was going to be something very educational and informative.

(the chocolate garnishes were in the boxes)

First up he started at the desserts area, which was near the entry to the kitchen. It was fairly small, mainly because the restaurant was not a pastry shop. He did say though that the resort area did have a pastry kitchen which I would try to discover the next day, sadly not finding it due to the lack of time. In the desserts area as far as I could see were garnishes for the Thanksgiving menu.

Cold Salad Section

Ahead slightly on the same counter was the salad preparation section...


...and to the right was the fish/veggie saute station.


To the front( facing the dining room) was the call and garnishing area, where Mr. Dandekar would call the plates out and give the plates to the servers to serve the guests. It included the tortilla chips and the like. (You actually see him in the Kitchen photo from earlier in the post)

Meats Section

Turning right again was the meat section, where it was exceedingly warm and toasty. In the summer, this would be a very hot place! Neil also said that running around the kitchen was not easy during the busy hours. I would definitely think so too. Around this area I also saw a pan of the red wine reduction for the filet mingon and cups of the shitake mushroom stuffing that were featured on the plate. Due to Thanksgiving dinner this housed most of the Thanksgiving dinner preparation. It was not as busy compared to normal also due to Thanksgiving- plus very little customers were coming in while we were eating.

Olive Wood Burning Oven

(Pizza ingredients)

To the end now was the pizza section, which also had a wood burning oven, which I was quite interested in. They actually used Olive wood for the oven which was grown by the Irvine company all the way to around the Corona area. Far! No pizzas were in the oven though. 8 PM it seemed like a late time for Pelican Grill already. Thank goodness we bumped up our reservation from 7:45PM. Ooh, what that would have been.

So that was pretty much the end of the tour. I did not get to see the preparation area, but it was behind a door, unlike the dining room kitchen. It was definitely something intriguing, especially with the olive wood for the pizza oven. Who knew olive wood could be used for pizza making? The preparations for the Thanksgiving meal made the kitchen not as busy, as everything was pretty much done, so for the food part it was a bit less action. The equipment was definitely large and professional- no comparison to the middle school cafeteria which I worked/volunteered for three years at. All in all, something very different from a normal kitchen, but still they were very clean and very organized.

We ate more dessert afterwards, after I went to see the kitchen. One dining companion could not eat too much sweets so we split their dessert. The bill already came and was finished, and so we left a few minutes later as we already requested a shuttle back to the villa.

Water Feature
(Water Feature outside while waiting for the shuttle)

And so we went out of Pelican Grill, with plenty of good byes from the staff and the chefs. All in all, a really great experience especially with the kitchen tour! That was another insight into the restaurant world and how restaurants prepare for their meals. The food was a mix of good and fabulous dishes like the crispy quail salad. Most delicious salad I've ever eaten? I seriously am thinking YES.

But...where was the shuttle? We waited for ten minutes for the shuttle and the staff at the restaurant was worried. Therefore, the valet people called again, and soon enough a white Cadillac Escalade ESV picked us up to bring us back to our villa. I personally do not think a person, whether they be paying 500 dollars a night, or 2500+ a night, should wait in the cold OC evening for such a long time when they are promised that the shuttle is coming as they say so.

Service in Pelican Hill on the other hand was no comparison. Exceedingly friendly, good chats with the employees (just like Sesame Grill which is also excellent in service), and a relaxing feeling to dinner. Consistent check ups were given, and the waiters even talked about the hot plates just in case. The madam was first served and first asked for what to eat by the waiter- customary in fine dining restaurants. No, I did not get all the pompous service that Edwin received but our dinners were not as complex after all. We used all the utensils given too, unlike the day after experience at Charlie Palmer.

Pricing may have been a bit on the expensive at 85, especially when compared to other pre fix dinners (like the villa dinner for 65 dollars, not 85), but the dishes were different and had more expensive ingredients. Plus, the atmosphere at Pelican Hill was very elegant.

So overall, a fantastic dinner. The turkey was a bit underseasoned for me but everything else was great, and service was fantastic (of course bonus points for the tour). Will we be back? Just for that scrumptious crispy quail salad? I say most likely. Still though, there are lots of OC restaurants on the queue to try so I need to try those too... (After almost a year I've tried Thai Nakorn now, but I still haven't gone to Brodard and the other places)

Pelican Grill
22800 Pelican Hill Road South
Newport Coast, California 92657
Tel: 1-800-820-6800

Pelican Grill on Urbanspoon

Pelican Grill in Los Angeles

*P.S. Thank you to Pelican Hill's staff for such a long post as I was inspired to write about the food right away due to the quality and the great service. Anyway, I was shocked myself 29 photos would end up in the final draft! (which shows Pelican Grill was an excellent restaurant and had many interesting details to me) 6 hours total devoted to writing this post, but it all went happily.

2009 11 26 9:04pm

Read the series in order:
China Garden- Irvine (Lunch Day 1)
The Resort at Pelican Hill: Introduction and Villa Clubhouse
The Resort at Pelican Hill: Three Bedroom Villa #805
The Resort at Pelican Hill: Three Bedroom Villa Kitchen
Pelican Grill- Newport Coast (Thanksgiving Pre-fix Dinner
The Resort at Pelican Hill: Second Day Thoughts
Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza- Costa Mesa (Lunch Day 2)



foodbin said…
that was one long post and i feel i was there along side you lol!
i never like turkey meat because of it's coarseness but with cranberry sauce it's different cup of tea.
salmon is also very delicate if it's overcooked it becomes woody.
Pelican Hill is chic and elegant and the kitchen is clean and very compact.
Unknown said…
Very interesting post and excellent descriptions too! I could almost taste everything! ...almost! : )
elmomonster said…
What a blow out! I felt as if I can taste the extravagance. 20% of the rooms value must still be expensive!
Velva said…
Wow! What can I say...beautiful hotel, great Thanksgiving meal, a glimpse of the kitchen...It does not get better than that! Thanks for sharing.
EatTravelEat said…
Haha, definitely long :). Be prepared to see more ultra long posts if I manage to edit all of those photos I took during last week.

Salmon is definitely delicate. Very hard to get it to a nice medium all over the fish- I have lots of trouble doing that.

Thanks! Hope Charlie Palmer which I will post next Sunday will just be as interesting :).

You bet! Although the coupon took off 75 percent of the bill total, the tip and rest of the bill still was quite high compared to our usual eat outs.

Thanks for visiting :). The hotel is even more beautiful. The view of the golf course next to the sea and Catalina Island not far away is just wow...