Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gulfstream (Newport Beach, CA)

850 Avocado Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92660
Sat 12/18/2010, 06:00p-07:30p

Gulfstream Interior
Gulfstream may not seem like the type of place that I typically report on, but the restaurant holds a special place in my heart. In the early 2000's, my halcyon days of eating, Gulfstream was one of my most cherished places to dine. It managed to acquire this status due to a singular dish: the crab cakes. The cakes were a revelation when I first tasted them, a far cry from the over-breaded, over-cooked, over-seasoned monstrosities that I was used to. They were the best that I'd ever had, and remained the best despite considerable competition from authentic Maryland preparations, home-made versions, even haute Michelin-starred iterations.

Unfortunately, it'd been far too long since my last visit to Gulfstream--five years at least--so the question that I had in mind was simply: are they still the best?

Gulfstream Dinner Menu Gulfstream Wine List
Gulfstream is "inspired by classic seafood houses from America's culinary history," so it's not surprising that the menu is seafood heavy, and largely unchanging. Note that the availability of the crab is only guaranteed on Saturdays as a special, though they may be on offer other days as well. Click for larger versions.

Kirin Light
I started out with the restaurant's only bottled beer (curiously), a Kirin Light [$6].

#1 Ahi Tuna Burger
#1 Ahi Tuna Burger [$16.00] | pan-seared with thin-cut French fries
We started with one of Gulfstream's signature items, their tuna burger, which I'd had previously for lunch. I appreciated how the ahi wasn't cooked all the way, resulting in a supple, soft consistency in the center of the patty. Flavor wise, the fish was textbook tuna--delicate and delicious--and very well integrated when taken in concert with the lettuce, tomato, and onion. The paired mashed potatoes (substituted in place of fries) were light on salt, but still quite tasty nevertheless, and I enjoyed the corn kernels mixed in for texture.

Truffle Mustard
One of my dining companions decided to bring along some newly-acquired French moutarde au jus de truffle, or truffle mustard. It added a heady, earthy zing to everything it touched, and went particularly well with the mashed potatoes and crab cakes.

Pacific Red Snapper
Pacific Red Snapper [$30.00] | with rock shrimp zydeco sauce over mashed potatoes
Ever the pessimist, I half expected the snapper to come out overcooked, dry, and flavorless. Thus, imagine my surprise when the fish arrived cooked through, but still tender, moist, and savory, with a great bit of bitter char to boot. The snapper went rather well with its spicy zydeco dressing (a Creole-inspired sauce), and the shrimp, amazingly, were properly cooked, still snappy and briny in character. Quite nice.

Mustard Barbecue Beef Ribs
Mustard Barbecue Beef Ribs [$27.00] | with coleslaw and thin-cut French fries
Beef ribs were literally falling-off-the-bone, and teeming with the sweet, savory, smoky flavors of barbecue. The mustard, meanwhile, added a bright counterpoint to the otherwise dark flavors of the dish. I enjoyed the shoestring fries as well (though they were a chore to eat), with their crisp, crunchy consistency and slight herbal note.

Truffle Mustard & Ketchup
The fries went superbly with the admixture of truffle mustard and ketchup (Chinese restaurant style).

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2007
With our beers dispensed with, we ordered up a bottle of the 2007 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs [$32], sort of a prototypical California sparkler: crisp and dry, with lemon, apple, and toast, backed by a good minerality.

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes [$32.00] | with Pommery mustard sauce and coleslaw
The moment of truth: Is this still the best crab cake ever? I'm happy to report that yes, it still is. The most defining characteristic of Gulfstream's cakes is that they're almost all crab, with very little filler. This makes for a cake that's somewhat fragile, but positively brimming with the sweet, briny essence of crab. It's a crab cake that really tastes like crab--no cutting corners here. They were delectable alone, but even better when consumed with the piquant tang of the paired Pommery mustard. The sweet, peppery coleslaw wasn't half bad either.

Tres Leches Cake Tres Leches Cake To-Go
Tres Leches Cake [$10.00]
Though I used to come here for the crab cakes, I soon discovered another gem in the form of the tres leches cake, an off-menu special. It's basically a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream, with an undeniably satisfying sweetness perfectly accented by the hefty sugariness of the caramel. It was so good that we were compelled to order two more to go!

This was as satisfying of a meal as I've ever had at a casual-dining chain restaurant. Eating here was like revisiting an old friend--we're talking good, simple food, little pretense, and a hefty dose of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. She's still got it!

Gulfstream Exterior


Blogger Fritos and Foie Gras said...

What a wonderful post-I love that you love good food, but you aren't a snob! When I visit home this spring, you can bet I will be headed straight to Gulfstream!

Sunday, January 09, 2011 5:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A post after my own heart. My parents have a summer house in a tiny town on Maryland's Eastern Shore and I spent A LOT of time there -- and ate a lot of crab. There the crab fishermen would bring their live wares in baskets right up to the docks of the restaurants and toss them to the huge old guys who ran the steamers.

Gulfstream is run by the Hillstone group, and I often go to their Santa Monica Houstons where I get the same crab cakes:

The only one I've found better away from the Eastern Shore (and admittedly most even on the shore do stick a bunch of filler in) is this one at Capo:

Call ahead, make sure they have it, and try it. The perfect crab with the zesty Meyer Lemon butter sauce... Wow!

Sunday, January 09, 2011 9:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yeah. And where do you find that truffle mustard online? I only see it from EU websites. :-)

Sunday, January 09, 2011 9:29:00 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

My parents and I used to come here for dinner every so often and we too LOVED their crab cakes! They really have set the standard for me as well -- I can't think of a version I've liked better. Though I did think Spago's singular crab cake was quite tasty when I had it a few years ago.

Sunday, January 09, 2011 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eating is no longer peaceful or happy for you?

Sunday, January 09, 2011 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

Dontcha love it when that happens? Glad to read that the crab cakes were as great as you remembered!

Sunday, January 09, 2011 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger JustinM said...

Few things are as disheartening as revisiting a place from your childhood - or even a decade ago - and realizing that a cherished dish really isn't that good. 'Wait a minute, is this what a Big Boy always tasted like?' you think to yourself.

The flip side, of course, is the affirmation that something you've held dear in your memory actually is the best in the world. It's better than Christmas morning.

Sunday, January 09, 2011 1:39:00 PM  

If you like crab cakes you should go to Passionfish in Pacific Grove. Only crab, no filler. The restaurant in general is one of the better places in Montery/Carmel beside Marinus

Sunday, January 09, 2011 4:21:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Sarah: Nice--try to go on a Saturday if you can. Where else do you have planned for your visit?

Andy: Thanks for the tips. I didn't even know that you could get them at Houston's. And Capo? I never would've thought! As for the mustard, it was actually from Garagiste Wine. ;)

Diana: That's right--you're from Newport originally right? When was the last time you had the cakes?

Anon: It's definitely happy, but peaceful, tranquil, or carefree? Not as much as before.

Cathy: I do. :) I wish I had more places like this to revisit.

Justin: For sure. I've definitely been let down more than a few times, so this was a pleasant surprise!

Two Foodies: Thanks for the rec--Passion Fish looks good! Also, since you're in SD, what do you think of Oceanaire Seafood Room's cakes (if you've had 'em)? They've been recommended to me as well.

Sunday, January 09, 2011 6:57:00 PM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sunday, January 09, 2011 11:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should have mentioned the bun with the tuna. Baked in house daily

Monday, January 10, 2011 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

i lurve crab cakes. you make me want a cake made by crabs...wait a minute....

Monday, January 10, 2011 4:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Ann said...

Kevin: The crab cakes and tre leches look great! The food looks on par,quality and portion size, with other Hillstone restaurants.

Two Foodies: I concur. It was good and not uber pricey.

Monday, January 10, 2011 6:13:00 PM  
Blogger me said...

great looking crab cakes! did the gulfstream police say anything about the mustard tube your party brought or did you guys keep it incognito? ;-)

btw, i noticed the joel gott zin and layer cake shiraz on the wine list. have you had either of these before? layer cake's shiraz AND zin are fabulous, and joel gott is the first zin i ever tried before i became a zin-a-holic. another fantastic post, kevin!

Monday, January 10, 2011 9:29:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Sam: Why the deleted comment? There was nothing wrong with it.

Anon: I wasn't aware of that. How do you know?

Amy: Now that doesn't sound quite as appetizing...

Ann: Yep. Now I'm somewhat curious about trying to get the cakes at Houston's!

Jane: Nope, the moutarde was sitting proudly on the table--our server was mildly curious about it. Never had the Gott or Layer Cake before. Heard pretty good things about 'em though, and they appear to be a great value as well.

Monday, January 10, 2011 11:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I ove Gulfstream! Lunches there especially in the summer whent he weather is perfect is amazing.

And you are completely right about the crab cakes. That's one of the reasons why I go there! :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 4:13:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

"That's one of the reasons why I go there! :)"

What are the other reasons???

Sunday, January 23, 2011 7:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

They used to have Grapefruit and crab cake salad that isn't on the menu anymore. I like chilling out on their patio on a nice day. Very relaxing =)

Monday, January 24, 2011 9:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin, I know you're a crabcake fan, so check out an O.G. Maryland one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Interestingly, the second best crab cake I've had was also in Maryland, at Jerry's Seafood in Lanham (their infamous Crab Bomb).

Thursday, April 28, 2011 2:20:00 AM  

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