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The alfresco patio at Waterline offers harborfront views.

Bay Watch

by Jamie Gwen | Photography by Andrea Bricco | Modern Luxury Orange County magazine | April 29, 2014

Scenic views of Newport Harbor, with yachts cruising by during a dramatic sunset, and squash blossoms on my plate—I find all of that at Balboa Bay Resort’s new signature dining spot, Waterline. The destination can once again be considered a culinary contender in O.C. While it has remained a landmark through the decades, its restaurant needed a makeover—both in interior and gastronomical design. And that’s no simple task. But it’s happened. Vincent Lesage now heads the kitchen as the resort’s executive chef (he hails from The St. Regis), and Rachel Haggstrom is Waterline’s chef de cuisine. They’ve created a modernized menu with a focused, fresh approach—and I think you’ll be delighted.

On a recent weeknight visit, the eatery is almost full, with special-occasion diners, boaters and legendary families. We’re met with immediate attention from the gracious service staff before we settle in to peruse the wine list and menu. We select a few appetizers, and so begins our evening of overindulgence.

The just-baked focaccia arrives—a round loaf of bread that’s cheesy and warm. My dining companions and I slather the pieces with olive tapenade or douse them with organic olive oil, which is a local variety—Temecula Olive Oil. Then we’re informed the seafood on the menu is caught from Pearson’s Port, the fish shack just down the road. Nice touch.

The first shareable dish to arrive is the tagliatelle, and our friendly server, Jolleen, discusses its unique virtues. It’s not pasta—it’s squid, cut in thin strips to resemble noodles and sauteed with Italian smoked ham, sprinkled with chives and Parmesan, and served with an egg yolk cooked to 62 degrees to tie it all together. My friends finish the plate, and my fiance wants more. It’s satisfying, toothsome and truly delicious.

The plates that follow are all winners too. The house roll, with spiny lobster, avocado and cucumber wrapped in soy paper, then decorated with chipotle aioli and a yuzu soy vinaigrette, is as tasty as any I’ve had at my favorite sushi bar. And it’s created sans rice—it’s my new guilt-free addiction. Next come the lovely crabcakes. Chock-full of the seafood, they’re crispy but not oily, garnished with seasonal pickles and a New Orleans-style remoulade. But it’s the exceptional creamy cheese-filled and flash-fried squash blossoms that send my gourmand gang into a tizzy. The cioppino is also divine, with some heat in the broth, tiny clams to pick at and grilled bread to sop up the flavor—it’s great for sharing. And the ahi tacos are a hit: Crispy wonton shells are filled with cubed tuna and topped with a bright and textural jicama slaw.

We venture on to the entrees. A tempting combination of a broiled swordfish, polenta fries and a subtle beurre blanc comes courtesy of the steak frites. The fish is good, albeit a tad overcooked, but I like the concept. The catch of the day arrives en papillote, but with a twist. While it’s traditionally baked in parchment paper, the Alaskan halibut version is cooked in a bag, which is then snipped tableside to reveal fingerlings, mussels, the scent of basil, garlic and lemon, all infused with white wine. (I love a confident chef.) I would’ve liked the added sensory complement of a drizzle of olive oil, but the flavors are fresh and clean. Everyone’s happy—even me. And then there’s Haggstrom’s bone-in chicken breast. The poultry is tender yet subtly crusted, and it’s paired with a local green salad bursting with sliced strawberries, Drake Farms goat cheese and black walnuts.

A quick note about the wine list—it’s a progressive mix of vinos from Cali, France, Australia and Italy. The Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc we drink is a divine addition to our first courses, and the Trinitas Zinfandel Blend is perfect with the chicken and the swordfish. (I like red wine with everything.) The bottle list is a bit more advanced than the by-the-glass offerings, so bring friends and pop the cork on your best find.

The night draws to a close as the sun sets, and we linger over dessert. Pastry Chef Brooke Martin is peanut butter crazy, and her PB&J is an innovative take on the sandwich, thanks to layers of peanut butter cheesecake and spongecake, a Concord grape sorbet and homemade peanut brittle. I love the pineapple upside-down cake too—sticky with a caramel-topped brown sugar shortcake and embellished with an unbelievable toasted coconut ice cream.

Yes, oceanfront dining at Waterline is a treat, and when combined with kind service and inventive dishes, I consider the revamp of the Balboa Bay Resort’s restaurant victorious. The flavors and presentation have been elevated to meet the times, and I’m confident that your next jaunt to the sea will be a swimmingly good one.

Balboa Bay Resort, 1221 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach

Shared plates: $9-$14
Raw bar: $6-$13
Soups, salads and sides: $8-$9
Main dishes: $20-$32
Desserts: $9

Sun.: 7am-2pm and 5:30-9pm (the bar serves lunch 2-5:30pm), Mon.-Thu.: 6:30am-2pm and 5:30-9pm, Fri.: 6:30am-2pm and 5:30-10pm, Sat.: 7am-2pm and 5:30-10pm

Who Goes There
Locals, tourists and anyone who loves a harbor view

You Must Order
The squid tagliatelle

Carb Counter’s Delight
The house roll is prepared sans rice and is filled with delicious bits of protein-packed
spiny lobster.

Best Table in the House
On the patio or by the windows

Fresh Catch
The menu includes fish caught from Newport Beach’s Pearson’s Port.