This scene has all the trappings of a restaurant star being born. The shiny new bar is engulfed by fashionable drinkers standing three deep in hopes of getting an order in while jockeying for the best spot to be noticed. Diners without reservations are negotiating (rarely successfully) with the room captain. Of course, CdM Restaurant is this summer’s white-hot spot.
Open since March, this coastal spot was preloaded for glory and started weekend brunch in July. After waiting for an attractive address, the successful team behind much-loved A Restaurant pounced on the defunct Crow Bar, lavishing the Coast Highway venue with a spendy retool that erased its past. Now it’s tastefully beachified with scraped light-wood floors, peacock-blue velvet booths, leather chairs, and a free-standing 13-stool bar glinting with brass and glass.
Executive Chef Jonathan Blackford, along with Chef de Cuisine Moises Chavez, are central to why you’ll return to Corona del Mar for consistently delightful takes on seasonal, contemporary American fare. Think morel mushrooms and spring peas over silky, aromatic white-corn polenta finished with creme fraiche and an over-easy egg. Or sublime Alaskan halibut, matched with lemon risotto and three little stacks of fresh asparagus, each prepared in various ways. And strawberry-rhubarb crumble, will you marry me?
Alas, those fabulous dishes are probably not on offer today, thanks to the giveth and taketh nature of seasonal cuisine. Winning dishes that are likely to appear this season include grilled heirloom carrots glistening with pecan butter and a tangy dressing loaded with just-snipped herbs. Or the fancy cheese bread—two open-face ovals of grilled ciabatta under hypersavory oxtail jam and a scatter of pickled shallots. Consider sharing as it has the gustatory weight of a big sandwich.
First on the menu is the “small” board of charcuterie. Not at all small, it’s a feast of diligently sourced cured meats and fitting sidekicks. Or start lighter with classic Parker House rolls in all their glossy, pull-apart splendor with two types of butter to accompany the feather-light bread. From the small-plates group, tai crudo is well-executed and elegant, the raw fish flattered by lime, coconut milk, and Fresno chile. Meat aficionados, don’t dare overlook the chilled, 45-day dry-aged beef carpaccio with crispy parsley.
Items you can expect right now include an exceptional “Dirty Pasta” tossed with ground duck, sage, and sharp ricotta salata. Blackford reports working weeks on perfecting a finicky pizza dough. He nails it, and the chewy-crisp dough elevates all three pizzas on the menu. Intense ’nduja (spreadable pork salumi), crushed tomatoes, and stracchino cheese get down and rowdy on the spicy pizza. Not into spice? There’s a mellowed version with sweet garlic, mozzarella, and fennel sausage. Organic chicken with couscous, olives, red pearl onions, and dates taught me ordering chicken doesn’t have to result in boring; this is a sleeper dish for sure.
The caveman-worthy Niman Ranch pork chop satisfies the Neanderthal in all of us, but I doubt their juicy, charred chops were accompanied by spinach spaetzle and sweet onion puree. It’s a great plate. The Delmonico steak, dry-aged for 45 days, is worth the splurge, especially when prepared by Blackford or Chavez, who are old hands at making steak fit for sticklers.
A compact list of desserts is never too small. There is a seasonal fruit cobbler (think stone fruit this time of year), a citrus cheesecake with torched meringue, and a chocolate confection. Or you can drink your dessert. The After Dark is made with Knob Creek rye, Fernet Branca, chocolate bitters, and housemade chocolate syrup.
Better yet, if there’s room, have a nightcap downstairs at Under CdM, a 22-seat speakeasy with craft cocktails you won’t find up top. This is where bar star Ravin Buzzell holds court. It’s a sweet find you’ll want to keep secret but won’t because you can’t resist recording your gleeful antics in the old-school black-and-white (and free) photo booth.
Surely, the crush of scene makers has eased by now, but don’t expect CdM to achieve a hang-loose personality anytime soon. I suggest diners forgive the noise and preening scene and simply go all-in on the joyful, satisfying cooking of Blackford. Just like sibling A Restaurant 4 miles north on Coast Highway, this giddy new winner will nestle in and settle down for many years to come.
2325 E. Coast Highway
Corona del Mar
5 BEST DISHES
➜ Cheese bread
➜ Dry-aged beef carpaccio
➜ “Dirty Pasta”
➜ Mary’s Organic Chicken
➜ Niman Ranch pork chop
PRICE RANGE: Dinner, $8 to $46; brunch, $40 a person
FYI: Reservations aren’t available for the speakeasy, Under CdM.