Whole Foods, Newport Beach – Oasis for Foodies, Hipsters and Desperate Housewives

25 Sep

 

Last week I had the opportunity to do a preview of the new Whole Foods grocery store in Newport Beach. My initial impression is that this place was made for foodies! Located at 415 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach California, this store is proof that the “Foodie” culture is well ingrained in Orange County California. This multi-million dollar store is an amusement park for anyone who loves food. My only fear with this store is that if I go in for a bag of apples, I may not come out for a couple hours!

What makes Whole Foods a serious foodie destination versus just another “foofoo yuppie” grocery store? This store is a serious homage to all the latest food trends, and it embraces the local and organic movement. Just like the rest of the Whole Foods chain stores, you will find a very serious selection of organic and locally grown produce, hand crafted foods, and high-end center store items. The key differences at this store reside in the perimeter of the store, mainly their Beehive Tea Market, Coffee Station, Back Bay Tavern and their fresh craft food stations.

Bee Hive Tea Market
Whole Foods’ Beehive Tea Market is a tea-centered bar at the front of the store. Their drinks are based on teas like black or oolong and are infused with a blend of fresh organic fruits. For example, I tried about four of the tea based fusion drinks. My favorite Iced Tea was the Strawberry Lime Sparkler, made with Black Tea, Strawberry and Fresh Lime and a sprtiz of something effervescent. This drink was very refreshing a light, perfect for sitting on the patio. 

 If you are looking for something a little more “adult,” the beehive also offers some alcohol-infused tea drinks and several draft craft beers. Attached to the beehive is their outdoor patio, complete with over sized patio chairs, sofas and a fire pit. The manager confirmed that you are allowed to purchase alcohol in the store and drink it on their patio. Here is what I imagined: ordering some refreshing tea drinks, picking up a bottle of wine, chocolate and cheese from the store, and enjoying a picnic on their spacious patio. 

Back Bay Brewery

Probably the crown jewel of the Whole Foods store — what other grocery store has a gastropub? This restaurant has a rich focus on food, micro-craft beer and wine, as well as a stylized subtle throwback to prohibition era Harlem. The look of prohibition era Harlem isn’t obvious, but more subtle with exposed brickwork, slightly industrial pendulum lights that are dressed with yellow glass, and the center piece: a solid mahogany bar taken from an old-school pub in Harlem that dates back to the 1920′s. The details are pretty complete, with hex tiles and clear stained wood furniture that allows the natural grain in the wood to add to the ambiance of the gastropub. This was one of the best decoration jobs I have seen in a while.

The food was more impressive. The dishes were simple comfort foods with a naughty edge, just like a Kansas girl going to Vegas for a bachelorette party. The menu featured about 15 main course items, five appetizers and five salads. I was able to try most of them, here are my assessments:

 

 

“The Veggie Plate” –  Innocent Vegetables lightly covered in Tempura  and fried. This dish was light enough to make you still feel sexy on a date.

Wings – Wings made from local and organic chickens. You can taste the difference in the flavor of the meat. The Wings came in your choice of Buffalo, Inferno or Ginger Soy.

Chicken Club – Grilled Pittman Farms chicken breast and house smoked bacon with lettuce and tomato on a chibata roll. I usually do not select sandwiches because I think they will be dry, but this one is worth trying.

Tofu Sticks – A really good interpretation of tofu suitable for folks who don’t think they like tofu. I am no granola, but I liked this dish. The tofu had a lot of flavor. They use wing sauces (buffalo, inferno, ginger soy) to give this locally produced tofu a nice flavor.

Mediterranean Cal Organic Chopped Kale Salad – The way kale should be made. This version of Kale can make even the most fussy of 8 year olds like healthy, flaky greens. Tell you what — bring in your 4th grader and don’t tell them what they are eating and have them try this, they just might turn into a future foodie.

SoPac Caesar -Rough cuts of romaine stacked with parmesan and Caesar dressing and croutons.

Fish and Chips – Batter made with local beer .  Although these were not the  best fish and chips I have tasted, they were good.

Wasabi Pepper Seared Scallops - One of the best dishes on the menu, and despite the name, the dish was not spicy. Fresh scallops are seared and topped with micro greens. They are served with a forest of mushrooms and asparagus sauté. Great flavor combination from the sweet protein of scallop with the very subtle wasabi pepper.

Gingered Atlantic Salmon – One of the few exceptions on the menu where I thought the food was a little boring. Although the fish itself had great natural flavors, I felt that it needed a lot more seasoning or a marinade. The salmon is pan-seared to retain its natural juices and served with radish salmon roe. On the side is an organic salad that is dressed with Peruvian corn vinaigrette.

Panko Crusted Eggplant Parmesan Fondue – This dish was one my favorites. Chunks of eggplant are tossed in white truffle and panko and crisply fried. The fried eggplants are topped with a dollop of “cashew parmesan fondue.”

Cabernet Braised Short Ribs – Short Ribs braised in Cabernet Sauvignon The Short ribs are  served with root vegetables, corn cake, tomato confit and a Pobalano Sauce. I didn’t try this dish personally, but Mike from www.eatingmywaythroughoc.com loved this dish.

Tavern Burger- I was not expecting much from the burger, although I was very pleasantly surprised by the flavor and juiciness of the beef. The bun and toppings were pretty impressive, even better since it was topped with bacon jam.

 

In addition to the food, they featured a very impressive selection of draft micro-craft brews, many from local breweries. Some of the better beers that I noticed included Allagash Brewing (Portland), Ballast Point (San Diego), The Bruery (Orange County), and Bootleggers (Orange County). The wine list was also pretty impressive, and featured a variety of price points. Some wines that stood out included a buttery Chardonnay by Rombauer and Hitching Post Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara.

My Final Thoughts

This was a very impressive new Whole Foods in Newport Beach that was able to impress quite a few foodies who attended their media sneak-peek preview. I was very impressed by Whole Foods’ strong commitment to its Global Animal Partnership, locally produced food, organic materials, and sustainability. These practices are engrained in the set up and practices of the store, making it easy for customers to be a part of these practices. Whole Foods did an amazing job with this store and made it a foodie destination with shopping, a restaurant and bar. I know I will be back, you just might see me on the patio with a bottle of wine and stinky cheese!

 See what the internet is saying about Back Bay Bistro at Bristol Farms Newport Beach
Back Bay Bistro on Urbanspoon

 

Check out the awesome frozen food items at Whole Foods reviewed by Dani’s Decadent Deals:

http://danisdecadentdeals.com/2012/11/15/whole-foods-markets-newest-fabulous-frozen-items/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tom Holmberg

Food Blogger / Founder at Tom's Foodie Blog
Tom grew up in a cultural diverse neighborhood and a culturally diverse family, so he has learned to appreciate all types of food. "I am not a Chef, nor do I play one on T.V., but I have learned to appreciate food from years of eating and cooking." Tom also spent 10 years in the restaurant industry in various roles, from Prep Cook to server.

3 Responses to “Whole Foods, Newport Beach – Oasis for Foodies, Hipsters and Desperate Housewives”

  1. askmrlee October 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Thanks for posting. I wanted to see other Whole Foods or supermarkets with Gastropubs. One of the Whole Foods in Columbus just opened one in their store.

    http://bit.ly/U9x7Ag

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