I have lived in Orange County for a good chunk of my life and have always noticed the restaurant up on the hills above Orange – The Orange Hill Restaurant. So many people have recommeded this restaurant that I felt that I had to make the trip up the “switchback” to the top of the hill.
On this Saturday, our monthly foodie group headed up to the Orange Hill Restaurant as one of our co=workers and dear friend was leaving Ignite. There were 7 of us there this night and we arrived at 7:30. Driving up the “driveway/switchback” was interesting and wasn’t sure if I should shift my car into “2″. I kept looking out my windows to see the wonderful views of The OC below me. The trees along the drive were lit up with lights and it was a nice drive up. Once at the top I was greeted with a valet as valet parking is the only option there. There is no charge for the valet, but there is a posted suggested donation of $3.50.
I walked up to the front door with a nice roaring fireplace. We had reservations that I booked thru OpenTable and was told that serveral members of our party were already here and in the O Bar. Here is a vibrant space with lots of chitter chatter, lots of people laughing and overall having a great time. My friends were at the end of the bar and the view was amazing! I can’t express how the view is just breathtaking. At 7:30 the sun had already set, but still peeking thru the heavy clouds at the horizon.
Tonight the restaurant was packed! It was completely full. As our host escorted us thru the restaurant, all I could see was full tables. We kept winding thru until we came to a room that I will call the “annex”. This was the “we are so full, let’s use this space”. This is the space they usually reserve for events and banquets. Two of the walls are windows and you get a nice view of The OC below, but you definitely aren’t sitting in the restaurant and the vibe is completely different. The room is quite open and there is a high ceiling so you don’t feel cramped, but it wasn’t inviting at all. There was a fireplace in the hall, but that was about as warm as it got in there. Our party was seated. I looked around and in one corner looked like a drink station setup for a banquet that was already completed – it definitely looked like it had been gone thru.
Our server arrived as asked for our drink orders. We were debating wine with dinner and decided to get something small now and then order a bottle with dinner. I have to say that we did not have attentive service all night. Between the time initial drink orders were taken and the time they showed up it was probably a good 15 minutes. She then took our starter orders. I have to apologize, but the lighting was so horrible in the “annex” that none of the photos came out. Even with my Photoshoping skills, these shots looked pretty bad.
For starters we had the Cheese plate with five cheeses, the Salumi and Pate plate and the Sampler plate which had Ahi Tuna, two beef skewers and calamari fritti. It took another 15 minutes before our starters arrived. everything looked good. We actually enjoyed the cheese plate that came with baguette rounds, 5 different cheeses of Humboldt Fog, Saga Blue, Triple Cream Brie, Saint Andre & Boschetto Al Tartufo. There was also a spoonful of honey on the plate along with some fruit spread. I’m not normally a fan of blue cheese (other than when it comes on a steak), but this was god cheese and a drop of honey goes a long way! All seven of us devoured that plate. Meanwhile we also had a nice plate of Soppressata, nostrano, gentile salami, rosa salami, pate Forrester, and Prosciutto di san daniele which came with a side of dijon and little cornichons. Our third appetizer was a sampler plate. The favorite on the plate was definitely the seared ahi tuna. Next would be the calamari, then the two skewers of beef that “looked” tough, but remarkably tender.
While we were waiting for our main dishes to arrive, I was looking at the wine list and out of nowhere a sommelier shows up. We had originally had our hearts set on a Chilean Chardonnay, but was convinced to go with a 2008 Ferrari Carano from Sonoma Valley. This wine has some nice fruity tones, while if we had gone with our Chilean choice, we would have had something much drier and not as fruity.
Our monthly dinners is mostly about catching up with friends and having a good time. This always trumps the meal and tonight was no exception. Our food finally arrived at the table and I have to say I was a bit surprised at the total time it took from the time our starters were taken away t0 the time our plates arrived. What was more disappointing was that my dish “where I was cautioned 3x that my plate was hot” was not hot whatsoever. My first forkful of sea bass was warm at best. It had a nice sear on the outside and it was cooked well, but I have a feeling that it was sitting on a plate under a light for some time. Most of us at the table had seafood and vegetarian. No meat. THere was no reason that anything needed to wait while something else was being fired. I decided to taste another part of the fish thinking it was a fluke, but that bite was equally just as lukewarm. In addition to the sea bass, I had steamed rice and sautéed kale. Now under the rice and bass was a pool of sweet chili sauce. Now, let me say that I while I do recall that it was on the description, I wasn’t prepared for the amount that was on the plate. THe chili sauce completely overwhelmed the sea bass and it was lost in a pool of spice. I was quite disappointed. A few of my dinner mates had the salmon and the drunken mahi mahi. Their dishes looked good and they seemed to have enjoyed it. I was quite famished from the day and finished my plate.
More time had passed and the staff managed to take 5 empty plates away from the table. But it took another 20 minutes before they would return for the last two plates and ask for desert. Service was not on the mind of the servers this evening. In fact, by the time we had gotten to our dinner entrées, most of the other tables in the “annex” were now empty and we were all alone. There was even a period, where we felt they turned off the heat in the annex and it got a little chilly despite the fireplace. At one point, they even opened a door that led to the outside and it got even colder.
Dessert and after dinner conversation ended our evening. We talked about everything from post-it flags to a weird district in Copenhagen that has succeeded from the EU to lights in they sky and UFOs. It was a great night indeed. I will have to return to The Orange Hill Restaurant for brunch for I think that is the real gem of this place. I have been told by at least a dozen people about the views and about brunch. Tonight’s dinner was so-so, my companions and conversation were top notch.
So stayed tuned for a “part 2″ when I return in a few weeks for brunch.
Orange Hill Restaurant
6410 E. Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA 92869