Chef Vic Casanova, the new executive chef at Balboa Bay Resort, is framed and backlit by the early afternoon sun beaming from the harbor into the spacious dining room of A&O Kitchen Bar. The cascade of adjectives applies to the new menu that Casanova has recently engineered and launched here, as well as the philosophy applied to his purview over the resort’s fine dining venue, Waterline.
“It’s where we are and where we’re trying to go … My goal was to gather up a menu that is ingredient-driven and three-dimensional. The way to do that is to use bright, vivid colors and textures…” And he goes on: “I find great ingredients and let them speak for themselves.”
If they can get a word in, that is. Nothing if not energetic, genuinely enthusiastic, articulate and loquacious, Casanova has embraced his new outpost in Newport Beach with verve.
A Bronx native trained on the line at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne and Danny Meyer‘s storied Gramercy Tavern, Casanova arrived in Southern California ten years ago, after an extended stint at The Phoenician in Scottsdale. From the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, he opened the popular nouvelle trattoria Gusto, which Esquire named as Best New Restaurant in 2012. Initially, he moved his young family to Orange County because he realized that after 10 years in L.A., he had never seen the beach. When the opportunity opened at Balboa Bay, it seemed a natural fit. He joined the resort’s team at the end of February.
His chef de cuisine Josh Shapiro joins us as we begin to assay the ultimate purpose for our visit: to eat.
A small rectangular ceramic plate arrives at the table. Atop sits grilled ciabatta layered with English pea pesto and creamy burrata crowned with furls of delicate pea tendrils and finished with a fresh squeeze of lemon. It’s played like edible art. Soon only stray bits of crumb remain.
Have we noticed an odd preponderance of toasts and toppings on our beat of late? Yes.
Yet are we instantly weakened by anything involving burrata, let alone English peas? Again, the answer is yes! Is the combination irresistibly simple and sophisticated? You be the judge.
ENGLISH PEA PESTO
4 cups English peas, blanched and shocked
3 cloves garlic, peeled
8 cups pea tendrils
4 tsp lemon juice
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Place peas, garlic, salt, pepper, pea tendrils, and lemon juice into a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is coarsely chopped.
While the food processor is running, slowly stream in olive oil and blend until everything is incorporated into a smooth pesto. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula and pulse once more to incorporate.
A&O KITCHEN BAR at Balboa Bay Resort
1221 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach