One of the more novel concepts to hit Orange County is Lemonade, which combines fresh seasonal gourmet food and a cafeteria line. Yes this combination may sound a bit awkward; although the concept has proven popular in the chain’s 11 other locations in Southern California. After trying it out myself, I was sold and was already planning my next visit. I discovered that Lemonade provides the same high-quality food made with seasonal ingredients that I would expect to find in a high-end restaurants. The only difference is that there was a total of eight minutes from the point I walked in the door, to the time I took my first bite. That was impressive.
Lemonade features an open kitchen in the back so that you can see their professional Chefs creating artisan quality food and then moving it to the cafeteria style trays on display. When I walked up to the cafeteria line, I was greeted by a member of the staff and told me I could sample anything from the line before I committed. I love trying out food before committing. The pricing is straight forward, either by the portion or by the item. The cafeteria line is broken into different sections:
The marketplace which is filled gourmet cold salads, like “Orecchiette, heirloom tomato, perlini and mozzarella salad.” You pay per portion, which is a heaping spoonful. One portion is $2.75 and the prices scales down the more portions you order, for example 6 portions are $12.50
I ordered three items from this section:
One of my favorites was the watermelon Radish, ahi tuna, snap peas, black sesame, ginger salad. This is a very fresh summer salad and fit the warm weather perfectly. I loved the diversity of flavors and textures in this dish from the crisp watermelon radish to the smooth ahi tuna. Even though I ordered this item as a single portion, I could have easily ordered a full plate of this as a meal for $12.50. But variety is the spice of life, so I diversified. I would easily pay $20+ for this dish at a sit down restaurant.
Soba noodle, kimchi marinated vegetables, toasted peanuts – This dish was full of flavors and a pleasure to eat. The kimchi marinated vegetables kept the dish fresh on the palate.
The Land +Sea
The Land+Sea section has freshly made protein items or complex vege based creations. This section is priced a la carte, from $5.50-6/50. Consider these portions to be like a “small plates”. The portions are enough for small eaters, but folks like me would order one of these items , plus some cold salads.
I tried the avocado salmon Louie, which also turned out to be my favorite item. A half avocado is topped with a heaping portion of creamy salmon Louie and garnished with a cumber and slice of smoked salmon. Loved the fresh flavor of the dill spiked salmon Louie. This dish was very filling with the half avocado.
Another item I ordered in this section was the tomato, mozzarella and basil stack. A whole beefeater sized tomato was sliced and then it was arranged in alternating layers of tomato slices, mozzarella, pinenuts and basil! It was very fresh, delicious and filling!
Seared Ahi, served with a tangy mango sauce.
The sandwiches came either made to order or from their daily specials. We ordered the buttermilk chicken sandwich served on a pretzel bun. It was served with pickled cucumbers and melted cheddar cheese. The sandwich also came with a side salad. By its self, this sandwich was enough for lunch.
Braises and Sides – They also had a full selection of braised meats like BBQ brisket, a delicious red miso brisket and chicken Basque. They really did have flavors from around the world. There was also a nice selection of hot sides like Mac n Cheese, Chili, and risotto.
The lemonade in Newport Beach has a pizza oven, so they feature a selection of freshly made flatbread pizzas. I didn’t try them, but the fig, goat cheese and arugula pizza looked really good!
The dessert case was very impressive. It was filled with a variety of desserts including gourmet cupcakes, cakes and my favorite their macaroons! They featured four different flavors including pistachio, lemon, salted caramel and raspberry. Their macaroons are about 3x the size of a standard macaroon, so they literally were the size of a cocktail napkin
You can’t call this place lemonade without them featuring over eight flavors of lemonade from traditional to my favorite the blood orange lemonade, which has a nice balance of sweet and acidity.
My Final Thoughts
It is really easy to go overboard with your ordering, as everything looks delicious. As I learned, don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach. We obviously ordered too many items, because we left with to-go containers.
For a full plate of food, two sides, main course and lemonade, I would expect two leave paying under $20 for a full meal. Don’t let the cafeteria format fool you; this is gourmet food that is made with very fresh and seasonal ingredients. Yes it is more expensive than ordering the three item combo at Panda Express, but it is much better tasting and healthier than eating the processed food available at the mall.
987 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, Ca
Park in the Nordstrom’s parking structure.