Top Tables

The first three rules of real estate—location, location, location—also are good guidelines when dining out

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We all know a bad restaurant table when we see it: a lopsided slab crammed into a dark, noisy corner in front of a busy service bay or the kitchen’s swinging doors. If you want the best dining experience, you have to know the best seat in the house. Ask for a specific table by number; there are no guarantees, but good restaurants will make every effort to honor your request. It’s worth snagging the perfect table when you’re celebrating a special birthday or want to impress a client. Here are prime tables for just about every occasion.

1. To Roast Chestnuts • Table 7
During the holidays—or whenever the temperature dips below 70—Five Crowns, is the place to be in front of a cozy fire. Every dining room in this replica of an English pub has a hearthside, but the preeminent table is in the main dining room. It can seat as many as eight, and is ideal for enjoying a slab of the slow-roasted prime rib of beef that makes this place famous. 3801 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, 949-760-0331, lawrysonline.com.

2. For Glamour • Table 40
Perched on the third level of South Coast Plaza, Marché Moderne is the place for elegance. Twosomes who want to be seen might opt for Table 20, set above the main dining room on a small stage. But the discreet want this corner cabana on the patio, where they can enjoy chef Florent Marneau’s flawless bistro fare, including a tagine of scallops, under an exotic hanging lamp in the kind of privacy such decadence deserves. 3333 Bristol St. # 3001, Costa Mesa, 714-434-7900, marchemoderne.net.

3. To Impress • Table 307
At Mastro’s Ocean Club, the lighthouse-like patio is where the privileged come to eat. The corner location has a peek-a-boo view of the sea, and the native landscaping that surrounds creates the feeling you’ve fallen into a plein-air painting. The table can accommodate as many as four, so it’s a fine place to toss down an Iced Seafood Tower and impress soon-to-be in-laws or prospective clients. 8112 E. Coast Highway, Newport Coast, 949-376-6990, mastrosrestaurants.com.

4. For Music • Table 31
Dark and clubby with a sweet retro vibe, Mr. Stox has a low-key elegance and a discreetly placed piano in the dining room. The private booth in an inconspicuous corner provides an ideal location to listen without feeling as if you’re part of the entertainment. Sup on a masterfully reinterpreted shrimp cocktail served with mustard vinaigrette and avocado, or a classic filet mignon teamed with Roquefort cheese. 1105 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, 714-634-2994, mrstox.com.

5. At Disneyland • Table 72
A lot of superlatives are associated with this large round table under the massive Arts and Crafts windows that dominate the lovely dining room at Napa Rose—just about the only place food-loving grownups can eat well with kids in tow. The proximity to the Magic Kingdom means the staff knows how to treat youngsters. But with a stellar crew in the kitchen and one of the county’s finest wine cellars, most gourmands will be satisfied as well. It’s enough to make you forget the theme park outside. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, 1600 S. Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, 714-781-3463, disneyland.disney.go.com/grand-californian-hotel/napa-rose.

6. To Watch Pizzamakers • Table 22
At Pizzeria Ortica, diners can watch a 300-year-old biga become pizza at a kitchen-adjacent round-top that can seat as many as six. Quite a feat in a dining space that could double as a train car. Still, it’s well positioned for people-watching and keeping an eye on the pizzaiolos as they hand-stretch dough made from that ancient starter before tossing the pies into the oak-burning oven. For those who love pizza, it’s like watching Picasso at his canvas. 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, 714-445-4900, pizzeriaortica.com.

7. To Propose • Table 12
Truth be told, any of the oceanfront tables in Raya’s muted-but-modern dining room could be the perfect spot for romance—especially as the sun settles into the Pacific. But this table in a quiet corner gets bonus points for its view up the coast. Chef de cuisine Greg Howe prepares a Pan-Latin menu that imbues everything with spice. The smoked swordfish dip guarantees the answer will be yes. (See Main Course, Page 141.) The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, 1 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point, 949-240-2000, ritzcarlton.com.

8. To Visit Italy • Table 73
The dining room at Rustica is pretty enough, dark wood illuminated by an open kitchen. But the go-to table is on the broad, covered patio. Positioned under a heat lamp, it offers a front-row-center view of the bustling fountain courtyard that’s part of Fashion Island’s $100 million renovation. The Italianate touches and splashing water make the view from this four-top feel like a pigeon-free version of Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica, but with no passport required. Where better to sip prosecco and nibble char-grilled octopus salad? 1133 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, 949-706-8282, rusticafashionisland.com.

9. On Your Birthday • Table 82
A group of 12 seated at this long rectangle on the brick-lined patio at Sapphire Laguna is bound to look like a poster for the good life. The terrace offers ocean breezes and a modern fire pit that stretches the length of the table. The food by chef Azmin Ghahreman is global in scope, and fabulously wine-friendly. Pair the Vietnamese lobster spring rolls with the Nahe Riesling. It’s a match as perfect as the setting. 1200 S. Coast Highway Laguna Beach, 949-715-9888, sapphirellc.com.

10. For Surf Lovers • Table 31
Can you say quintessential O.C.? For an almost feet-in-the-sand experience, any of the lower-level, two-top tables at Splashes Restaurant will do. But this table for four is a cut above. It’s situated at the window in the dining room and offers a weather-protected bird’s-eye view of the breaking surf. An ideal spot for plucking Bouchot mussels from their shells, served here with piquillo peppers. (See Rediscovery, Page 146.) Surf and Sand Resort, 1555 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-376-2779, surfandsandresort.com.

11. For Power Lunchers • Table 23
At Tradition by Pascal, lovely tables for two are tucked up on the raised portion of this rose-filled space—Table 15 is perfect for a quiet lunch a deux. But the epicenter of this well-established eatery is this large table in the middle of the main dining room. It always seems to be occupied by the best-dressed diners in the restaurant. At lunch, power ties abound, as do hearty classic French dishes such as braised lamb shanks and Salade Lyonnaise. 100 N. Bristol St., Newport Beach, 949-263-9400, pascalnpb.com.

12. For the Literati • Table 61
Author Dean Koontz made Table 7 famous at Zov’s Bistro in Tustin, where he dined almost every day. But things change. Zov Karamardian remodeled the bistro a few years ago and what was the novelist’s table now is part of the lounge. Koontz these days frequents Zov’s Newport Coast location for its Armenian pizza and golden lentil soup at his favorite booth in the back. 21123 Newport Coast Drive, Newport Coast, 949-760-9687; Zov’s Bistro, 17440 E. 17th St., Tustin, 714-838-8855, zovs.com.

photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.

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