Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge: Upmarket Steaks, Premium Seafood, and a Killer Light Show

Berry shortcake photo by Mariah Tauger
Jumbo diver scallops with lobster nage

This is quite a show, I think, as I settle in for dinner at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the crystalline dining room that’s more dazzling than ever after its recent face-lift. Small clutches of pretheater diners are intent on their meals, determined to be in another seat by curtain time. Tonight they’re heading for the touring “Shen Yun” production, but they’ll miss the sunset light show starring a mauve sky against Richard Serra’s tall, twisting rust-hued sculpture, “Connector,” now more visible through the windows. 

Accompanied by a friend and buoyed by some precise cocktails, I’m hypnotized by this slow spectacle of art and nature. Everyone else is watching the clock as servers hasten out courses in the hushed, exquisite setting.

Asparagus salad with guanciale, Meyer lemon, smoked egg yolk, and frisee

Relieved that we are the rare party not attending a show, we’re happy to take our time to sip, relax, and eventually get around to reading the compact new menu, refreshed along with the decor. The latest concept is “pure American steakhouse,” according to executive chef Greg Stillman, a path well-trodden by the Patina Group, which also operates luxe Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse in downtown L.A. Gone are the clever prix fixe menus inspired by the night’s production. Instead, a la carte stalwarts include upmarket steaks, premium seafood, and a cast of starters and sides.

A small but welcome touch, popovers are the new bread service, the golden puffs plucked tableside from their baking tins by waiters using tongs. The drama intended by this flourish is dashed by the fact that the popovers are barely warm.

Every steakhouse needs a meritorious shrimp cocktail, and this one qualifies. Three giant poached shrimp, chilled and pristine, pop with sweet flavor that ably takes on the spunky, chunky cocktail sauce packing heat from fresh horseradish. I could gleefully down two orders, and regret I didn’t since the night’s other seafood appetizer pales by comparison, though not on the plate. The Hawaiian kampachi crudo is a riot of color—thin slices of pink fish, pink peppercorns, glistening olive oil, and bits of fresh tangerine.

Prime ribeye steak

Among the narrow choice of four steaks, two are gems. Snake River Farms is the esteemed source for the 8-ounce New York of hypermarbled Wagyu beef. Medium-rare is the optimal preparation for this rich steak, which arrives sizzling, with a deep-pink center and crusty char all around. Flawless grilling makes this superb cut many mouthfuls of marvelous. The 16-ounce Prime ribeye is right up there, handily honoring its Prime designation. The steak is so inherently fine and juicy, it needs no adornment, although a cadre of full-bodied sauces are available for the asking. Both the shallot bordelaise and chimichurri sauces are classic in fashion, but almost unnecessary. Ask for small pitchers to experiment, if you’re intrigued.

Non-steak entrees are uneven. Jumbo diver scallops get a perfect sear and a lovely lobster nage. It’s a satisfying dish and a top seller. Duck breast from Maple Leaf Farms is expertly rendered, if lonely on its big white plate. In an attack of curiosity, I try the Jidori chicken, cooked under a hot brick. Alas, the uncrispy, compressed chicken looks forlorn and tastes plain. Days later, I spot a similar dish on another restaurant’s menu that touts a fitting sauce and appealing elements with texture and contrast. It makes this dish seem lacking and overpriced by comparison. But diners don’t choose Leatherby’s for unexpected value; my Manhattan was $18.

When it comes to side dishes, stick to the potato gratin and the mac ’n’ cheese. Desserts are a mixed lot. Hazelnut crunch bar with its layers of filbert mousse, chocolate ganache, and caramel pearls breaks my heart when the glossy coffee meringue is so hard it defies my fork. Yet the day’s house-made pistachio ice cream is exemplary.

Once the pretheater set departs, we’re the lone diners in a private aerie of undulating glass in this world-class building. A handful of staffers are quietly closing shop by the time a check arrives. Tonight’s performance was short, but dense with beauty, grace, comedy, and tragedy. As we exit, our waiter is mere steps ahead of us. Clearly, the show is over.

★½

615 Town Center Drive

Costa Mesa

714-429-7640

patinagroup.com/caferouge

5 BEST DISHES
➜ Shrimp cocktail

New York Wagyu Steak

➜ Prime ribeye

➜ Jumbo scallops

➜ House-made ice cream

PRICE RANGE $10 to $60

FYI Corkage is no longer free, but a reasonable $10.

All photos by Mariah Tauger

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