Many of my readers have grown to regard the Five Crowns in Corona Del Mar as a “special occasions” restaurant that specialized in prime rib. Some people have even started to think of the Five Crowns as the kitchen for the local retirement homes. Lawry’s Management noticed this trend, and started making major changes to the Five Crowns over the past year. First they converted their bar into a destination by converting it into a respectable gastropub , called The Side Door.
Then they closed the Five Crowns for over a month to renovate the interior from an English grandmother’s attic to a contemporary English countryside inn motif with a nod to the past.
The Five Crowns latest change has been to infuse new blood into the management and culinary team. The new head chef is Chef Greg Harrison, whose resume reads like a must-try restaurant bucket list. He worked with Chef Roy Yamaguchi in Maui, and then joined the MGM Grand culinary team in Las Vegas under chefs Fabio Trabocchi, Michael White, and Michael Mina and most recently with Morimoto in Napa. A very impressive restaurant resume, with some of the best food minds in the industry. But how do you convert these experiences at a prime rib restaurant?
When I chatted with Chef Harrison, he was very excited about bringing new dishes to the restaurant. He pointed out that they have brought a farm-to-table approach to the menu (they visit the Santa Monica and UCI Farmer’s Market at 6am to get fresh produce), modernized the menu, and introduced innovative cooking techniques. What you are starting to see is the inclusion of fresh modern dishes on the Five Crowns Menu in addition to their awesome prime rib. Below are a few descriptions of some of Chef Harrison’s creations that I tasted during a recent Chef’s Meet and Greet.
Cured King Salmon This was a nice dish that is featured on the Side Door Menu. This dish is a combination of cured king salmon, stone fruit, horseradish and crème fraiche atop a crisp and puffy “spicy sauerkraut cracker.” This dish was one of my favorites, because it had a naughty flare with the spicy sauerkraut cracker that more resembled Kimchee and had the texture of a pig skin. This dish is evidence that the Five Crowns is serious about leading the modern American/gastropub movement.
Crispy Squash Blossom – Although stuffed, battered deep-fried squash blossoms are always the rage on restaurant menus in the fall, I really liked Chef Harrison’s use of burrata cheese as a stuffing. I also liked the thickness of the batter and its crispness. The only thing I would have changed would be to add more salt to this item, perhaps Lawry’s seasoning salt.
Octopus Carpaccio – A simple yet clever dish, perfect for octopus lovers, like myself. The octopus was marinated and sous vided to accentuate the natural gelatin of octopus. The octopus was thin-sliced and chilled with small wedges of citrus, frissee, and fresh cilantro. It had a lovely, tender texture, but still retained a slight resistance that is natural with this protein. This was my favorite item on the menu, and it represents a clear attempt to prove that the Five Crowns can be cool with their dishes.
Pork Belly – Every cool modern American restaurant is serving pork belly. I personally liked the cut of the pork belly that Chef Harrison butchered for this dish. It had the right meat-to-fat ratio and was crisped just right. It was served skewered with candied cauliflower chunks and dusted with truffle. A version of this dish is on the Five Crowns menu and is definitely worth a try if you are not feeling like prime rib.
Lobster Bisque – This was a nice interpretation on the classic dish. The soup had a rich taste and was topped with a vidalia onion foam and lobster roe. Nothing earth shaking here, but the soup was luxurious and had a nice flavor. The onion foam and lobster roe added depth to the flavor of the dish and it might just scare your Great Grandma Mable.
Gazpacho – Using farmer’s market heirloom tomatoes, this gazpacho had a vibrant flavor of tomatoes and cucumber. The thickness and texture was just right, such that when I dipped my crostini into the cold soup, it thickly covered the crostini without dripping off.
Salmon Tartar – Raw salmon finely chopped with a pesto made of nettle (a tasty green flowering plant). This was a refreshing dish, whose flavor was bulked up with the use of hazlenuts. This dish was nice and I really enjoyed it with a glass of white wine.
Espresso Crème Brulee I did not try it, but the other foodies told me it was good.
Cocktail Innovations at The Side Door
In addition to the positive menu evolution, the restaurant started giving their professional barmen free range to develop and market signature cocktails that have their roots in classic drink recipes and updated with a modern twist. Below are two of the signature cocktails developed by head barman, Koire Rogers.
English Punch – I drank 3 of these . This is a fun drink that uses the very English alcohol Pimms #1: orange bitters and concoction of lemon-lime soda impregnated with their house-made strawberry puree. Barman Rogers actually uses the large 1 inch square ice cubes with a strawberry frozen in the center. This was a very creative spin on a classic English beverage with a complexly sweet flavor.
Papa’s Daiquiri – This is a direct variation of the beverage Ernest Hemingway drank in the Florida Keys. This margarita-style drink uses large grain crushed ice, Matusalem Cuban rum, luxardo maraschino liquor with fresh-squeezed lime, and grapefruit juices to create a naturally sweet and sour flavor. Better than most margaritas I have tasted.
I personally challenged Chef Harrison to bring his unique skills and experience to make The Five Crowns a food destination to try innovative cuisine. I think he can pull it off. With the support of their new general manager, Jim Colombo, I think the Five Crowns is in the process of a major change that will become an epicenter for innovative cuisine, as well as maintain their elite prime rib status. I will be visiting both The Side Door and The Five Crowns in the near future, and I will be reporting back on their progress. Look forward to a update in the next couple months.