It takes daring and vision to label a restaurant’s fare as fusion cuisine. Fusion is such a vague and confusing term. Tex-Mex and Cal-Ital I understand, but beyond that, things get murky. Is fusion a mashup of disparate styles? Countries? Regions? Ingredients?
At Dana Point’s new Bistro Provincia, fusion is all of that: an open category that goes just about everywhere. The concept of roaming is amplified further when we learn Bistro Provincia is not so much new as new to Dana Point, launching in March after five successful years in Covina. Yes, Covina. Moving 56 miles south from your inland fan base is one gutsy relocation. Chef-owner Manny Diaz’s wife, Veronica Tovalin-Diaz, explains O.C. is “a better fit for our concept.”
The sprawling 100-seat venue, formerly a wine bistro and redesigned by Veronica, is brimming with seating options: banquettes, tables with settees, two tops, a cozy patio, and a lengthy bar. Like the menu, there is something for everyone, but the bar would be more inviting without the bright white light from the modern chandeliers.Tapas Hour—4 to 6 p.m. every day except Monday and Saturday—is a well-priced preview of the appetizer, wine, and spirits menu. Tuna poke with sushi rice is commendable, as are the croquetas de pollo with Manchego cheese and a lively garlic-tomato sofrito. Caribbean shrimp and mango tostaditas, a trio of crisp blue-corn tortillas, are a tad mysterious since the grilled shrimp is Mexican and the execution varies. One time, the flavors are muted and lack acid; the next time, they are well-balanced with a tart lime-cilantro aioli. I still wonder where the Caribbean comes into play. Calamari fritti is a generous portion with two dipping sauces, but the sturdy breading dominates. This is also the time to sample from discounted beverages, such as four local draft beers and $5 glasses of house wines.
Chef Manny’s $54 prix fixe dinner is a decent value for the upscale choices offered and gets top billing on the menu—goat cheese and strawberry spinach salad or the day’s soup, seared Maine scallops with browned butter pan sauce and baby turnips, or chateaubriand (here a Prime filet mignon) with red wine sauce and wild mushroom mashed potatoes. Dessert is your choice from a generous menu.
Solid though it is, the prix fixe meal seems almost subdued compared with the vast choices on the rest of the menu. Consulting the friendly servers is wise; they know where the winners reside. For starters, you can’t beat the chicken curry lumpia, the crispy fried rolls cut into halves, standing upright in a pool of creamy but mild curry sauce. Shrimp chile relleno, with its roasted poblano, queso blanco, earthy epazote, and tomatillo salsa is vivid and unadulterated Mexican. Diaz’s Durango roots really pay off on this dish. The Caesar salad is better than many and blessedly uncomplicated.
Venturing beyond starters is a wild ride. Into pasta? The wok-sizzled fresh rice noodles with pulled ginger-duck, bok choy, and pops of cranberry is worthy and filling. Squid-ink pasta is made in-house to accompany black mussels, Manila clams, and shrimp all fancied up with lobster-Pernod sauce. Feeling French? Head for the duck confit à l’orange—why not? Bastille Day is July 14.
Diaz is a sauce monster, with pan-made mixtures adorning numerous dishes. New Zealand lamb chops, a special one night, get a green peppercorn sauce. Braised Kurobuta pork shank, fall-apart tender, has Malbec-ancho-guajillo sauce to lace together the pork, potatoes, and cipollini onions. The popular poblano mac and cheese, billed as sinfully spicy, isn’t. A pale green hue on the al dente orecchiette suggests pepper is present, but any heat is undetectable on my try.
Desserts, also made in-house, are an ample array. My fussy dislike for white chocolate steers me away from Diaz’s signature Yin Yang cake, but it’s easy to fall for Myers’s Rum banana flambé. It’s quite lovely if you can down it before it becomes ice cream soup.
Given the no-cuisine-ignored menu, it’s smart that Bistro Provincia offers a copious wine list, both by the glass (20 choices) and bottle. That the bottles are thoughtfully priced is another sign the Diazes are here to please, not fleece. It’s lovely to see Sanford Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, for $52, or Patz & Hall Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, for $56.
Late risers, the weekend brunch is for you. Expect scads of choices, from ricotta buttermilk pancakes with seasonal berries to a short-rib hash skillet with duck fat-fried eggs, petite potatoes, and salsa rustica.
As South County diners know, Dana Point always needs new blood. With the arrival of Bistro Provincia and its multifaceted (OK, fusion) cuisine, this coastal burg gets a something-for-everyone destination with a welcoming vibe and solid values on every front.
34091 La Plaza
5 BEST DISHES
➜ Provincia shrimp chile relleno
➜ Chicken curry lumpia
➜ Wok-sauteed rice noodles with duck
➜ Chateaubriand Prime filet mignon
➜ Braised Kurobuta pork shank
Dinner, $6 to $66; brunch, $10 to $33
Live music most Fridays and Saturdays