Now Playing

The Santa Barbara spot prawns are stellar.

ARC de Triomphe

by Jamie Gwen | Photo: Andrea Bricco | Riviera Orange County magazine | June 28, 2013

It’s comfort food with an attitude—a smokin’ hot, delicious attitude—and you’ll find it at ARC. It’s the newest concept from Noah Blom. (Get it, Noah’s ARC?) In case you haven’t heard much about him yet, Blom’s an Orange County native—raised in Newport Beach—and an accomplished chef who’s brimming with enthusiasm and bright ideas. And, as you might guess from the name connotation, there’s a whole lot of wood to be found here—not just in the construction, but stacked outside the building, at the ready to fuel the oven and grill (California almond and orange, specifically).

Yes, Blom and his skilled cooks are dishing out wood-fired everything with great gastronomic flair. (The drinks are pretty extraordinary, too. And there’s a grand amount of passion—not just from Blom, but from his bride-to-be Marín Howarth, and his mixologists and staff.) It stands to reason—he worked under the tutelage of culinary greats like Hans Prager, Daniel Boulud and Laurent Tourondel. This is his second venture in Orange County, and we suggest you begin the night with a quick stop at his first one—Shuck Oyster Bar, just a few steps away in The OC Mix at SoCo—for a bevy of bivalves. Then head over to ARC for a creative cocktail and some serious cast iron.

I’ve made multiple jaunts to ARC—the first visit was a hit, the second one was a bit of a miss, and the most recent experience was a home run. (I stopped in for a cocktail once, too, only because I was craving Cigarettes & Coffee. Don’t be alarmed, though. You’ll know what I mean in just a bit, when you read the details on that libation.) It’s gotten better with age (it opened early this year), and after working through a few growing pains and ventilation issues, ARC is poised to be the hottest restaurant to dine at right now.
It’s dark and loungy, and the design is cool.

(We’ve got Howarth to thank for that.) It’s tucked in the back of the design center, inside The OC Mix, and the wood out front—piled to the hilt—is a dead giveaway that you’ve found the place. The sweet hostess will give you directions by phone if you’re lost. Once you enter, you’ll find a scarce amount of tables, a two-top, a few four-tops and one big booth for eight. Then there’s my choice of seating: the counter, where all of the action is. Blom is there nightly, and Howarth is accommodating and attentive to guests. They make a good team.

Start by indulging in concoctions that Koire Rogers, the drinksmith, created. Cocktails in the form of vintage libations with a modern twist create “dirty, sexy, happiness,” as the menu reads. Many of the drinks are gin-based, but all of them are brilliantly inspired. The ARC team starts by handmaking blocks of ice, then chisels them into large shards that melt slowly, so as not to dilute your drink. And the libations are layered with depth and complexity. The Number One is a perfect aperitif, with Amaro Meletti, Pimms #1 and a ginger infusion. Or try a Grappa Sour, mixed up by the skilled cocktillians and foamy with an egg white finish—delicious!

Move on to the food phase, and the simple descriptions on the menu will leave your mind wondering. (You’ll find dishes named Pig, Fish, Dip and Tart.) But the impact is in the delivery of the cuisine and the taste. At ARC, everything is cooked with wood and only wood—either over the grill or in the 2,000-degree open oven.

All of the limited specialties are served in cast iron skillets, placed in front of you on a trivet or atop gorgeous wood boards.

A starter of shishito peppers off the Secret Menu (you’re in the know now), with their grilled lemony acidity and scrumptious charred blisters, will make you yearn for more. The calamari, with potato, lemon and pepper, is a prized plate that cooks solely from the heat of the cast-iron. But, for true tenderness, remove the toothsome squid from the platter before they overcook (another insider’s secret). Continue with the killer meatballs, swimming in a garlicky, whiskey-laden tomato sauce, served alongside garlic toast.

Blom butchers full animals in his little refrigerated closet, visible through the sliding window straight ahead of your seat. It’s like a 1920s butchery, with classic cuts and dry aging done in-house. During my most recent visit, the chef delivered a board of surf and turf deliciousness—fresh Santa Barbara prawns with garlic butter, paired with a few perfectly charred, rare slices of his 28-day dry aged filet, mouthwatering wedges of custardy buttermilk-poached bread and a rich duck egg. This guy’s really showing his stuff.

The gluttony continues. Next, the tart: creamy, caramelized onions with lardons. It’s like a big flatbread pizza, but smoky from the oven. Tantalizing. The Veg is a trip, too, made with roasted Roma tomatoes and zucchini, housemade buffalo ricotta, Beechwood mushrooms and Parmesan. It’s delectable, vegetarian and my guest’s top pick. The fish this evening is mahimahi, humbly cooked in a light tomato sauce with roasted corn—simple and clean. But I say pick the duck—a confit leg with lemon, honey and jam that is lush with umami, sweet and savory notes, and it’s fall-apart tender. (There’s more from the Secret Menu you need to know about—a crazy burger, serious steaks and some pork you shouldn’t miss. You may now consider yourself informed.)

The desserts finish the night on a high note. I love the cheesecake in a glass, made from whipped creme fraiche, cookie crumble and raspberry compote. But it’s not as extraordinary as Cigarettes & Coffee—the cocktail, that is. It makes for a perfect nightcap, with rye whiskey, smoke and coffee—ingeniously layered with the flavors of the word descriptions, but no coffee or cigarettes at all. It’s like cocktail magic and the most impressive drink I’ve tasted in a long time.

Open-flame cooking is a skill, and Blom is mastering it. At ARC, you’ll be treated to well-crafted cocktails and inspired cuisine, and you must please your palate at the chef’s counter. (Oh, and the restaurant serves wine and brunch, too.) ARC is the new face of progressive dining in Orange County, and there’s more to come from Blom’s culinary mind—just you watch.

ARC
3321 Hyland Ave.
(Inside The OC Mix at SoCo)
Costa Mesa
949.500.5561
arcrestaurant.com

Mon.-Fri.: 11am-11pm
Sat.-Sun.: 10am-11pm

Cocktails: $12
Starters: $10-$15
Entrees: $12-$15
Sides: $5-$8
Secret Menu: That’s a secret.

Who Goes There
Die-hard foodies and drinkers

You Must Order
The meatballs, The Veg and the shishitos (they’re on the Secret Menu)

Best Table in the House
At the counter

Into the Fire
Everything is cooked over ARC’s giant grill or oven—both of which use wood as the heat source.

Can Not!
You won’t find any canned goods in the pantry here—only farm-to-table ingredients—which is why the restaurant had no need to purchase a can opener.

We Suggest…
Starting your dining adventure with a stop at Blom’s other restaurant venture, Shuck Oyster Bar, which is also located at The OC Mix.