To say the arrival of Shorebird is long overdue is a profound understatement. This quayside stretch of Newport Boulevard hadn’t seen a new restaurant in decades.
Shorebird’s June debut was understandably muted because of the pandemic. Add a location with zero street presence, and it’s no mystery as to why so many are surprised this waterfront beauty exists.
Hidden within the new marina enclave of Vue Newport, it’s invisible until you actually enter the 6,000-square-foot, split-level venue. Once inside, the massive waterfront view hijacks all the attention. Outdoors and indoors merge here. Pricey boats reflect the sparkling water of their slips for a classic Newport Beach visual. You can’t help but downshift to mellow mode as drinks arrive, taking in the view while exploring the gently priced menu. The single page is packed with contemporary American fare plus familiar detours for sushi and tacos.
Brought to life by Wild Thyme Restaurant Group, Shorebird is the sibling of Jay Bird’s, a Nashville hot chicken shop in Huntington Beach. Executive chef Jay Bogsinske oversees a scratch kitchen, fixating on execution of dishes that seem familiar but rise to exceptional, thanks to top-tier sourcing and painstaking technique. Maryland crab cakes star squeaky fresh sweet crab, gently mixed with a bare minimum of fillers, sauteed just long enough to generate a thin, golden crust. Halves of tiny tomatoes, shaved fennel, and dark arugula glisten with lemon vinaigrette for a petite salad that completes, not clobbers, the delicate cakes. Impeccably shucked oysters excel naked, dressed with smoked sherry mignonette, or the way of sushi chef Tin Nguyen: with ponzu, tobiko (flying fish roe), and Tabasco.
Starters are a craveable, shareable lot that can sub for hearty nibbles to pair with a sprightly fresh juice cocktail or Smog City Bohemian Pilsner. Giant beer-battered onion rings get the Buffalo treatment with house-made buttered hot sauce, Point Reyes blue cheese crumbles, and chilled buttermilk ranch. Fresh green goddess sauce and flakes of cilantro-lime salt boost tempura avocado fries above the competition. The unexpectedly ambitious wine board is a killer cheese platter that begs for friends and a bottle of Grgich Hills Zinfandel.
Don’t be misled by throwback dishes: They’re not at all trite and taste like the best version you can remember. San Marzano tomato soup arrives steamy and fragrant with fresh basil, accompanied by a mini Wisconsin cheddar sandwich. Bust through a puff pastry lid to find an intense lobster bisque laced with brandy. Sicilian oregano croutons crown a definitive, lemony Caesar with ribbons of top-notch Parmesan.
Dinner is when the almond wood grill romances a colossal 16-ounce heritage pork chop with cool-weather flavors of Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, brandy-soaked apples, and Saigon cinnamon butter. Prime Harris Ranch skirt steak wows with a badass red chimi-churri sauce and crispy Yukon golds. Pan-roasted black cod is downright elegant with chive whipped potatoes, fresh vegetable, and a sunny-side-up quail egg. Salmon sells no matter the recipe or restaurant, so it’s often perfunctory, but not here. Boneless Faroe Islands salmon is transformed into salmon mignon, the flesh wrapped and tied like a beef filet. The rich bundle is brilliantly sauced two ways; rosemary cauliflower sauce plays bass, caper-raisin emulsion brings the treble notes.
Weekend brunch is the only midday meal here, and while there is some overlap with dinner offerings, the menu’s heart is sunny with sweet or savory recipes not served after dark. Think pulled rotisserie chicken chilaquiles with handmade tortilla chips. Or the slyly spicy smoked pork shoulder adovada with eggs and a cheddar tostada. Souffle pancakes are trending hard right now, and these lemon ricotta clouds of joy are superb.
Even partially full, the space hums with cheer. Service is practiced and snappy. Like the cuisine, the mood has wide appeal, making it a good call for date nights, celebrations, or hanging with friends.
Newcomers of this scope are precious and rare. Don’t expect another for many years. What a relief Shorebird is a looker with brains.
5 BEST DISHES
Maryland lump crab cakes
Duroc pork chop
Carne adovada y huevos (marinated pork shoulder with eggs)
Dinner, $14 to $45
Brunch, $10 to $24
Garage parking validated for first two hours