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Stonehill Tavern : is it best restaurant in OC?

  • k

After several experiences at Stonehill at St. Regis in Dana Point a fellow diner suggested that this may be the best restaurant currently in OC. They challenged me to think of one clearly better. I was puzzled and could not readily think one which is better. Can you and why?

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  1. I'm dying to try this place. I went in one night to check it out. I heard a lot about it and after seeing it was blown away by the decor. I just haven't had time to go there. Whats the food like? The decor was very San F/NYC and thats me me me. I felt like I was in one of my restaurants actually. Ok, well my wife and I will have to get our bums down there and try it out.

    1. I'd say Studio. Now... this could be totally erroneous info, but I was told Stonehill is being Mina's from people that dined there last night... Maybe an old cocktail napkin? I'm thinking they said 'Michael Mina's Stonehill Tavern' & they missed the last part. They were pretty positive, but this is the first I've heard of anything... They really enjoyed sitting on the patio, though, much more than the time we sat inside.

      1 Reply
      1. re: torta basilica

        I'm not sure what your saying being Mina's? But if you guys are talking about Stonehill Tav being owned by Mina you are right. Also Tony Chi the designer is part owner as well.

        I've been to the Studio, it was an incredible experience and very good. Went to the Loft as well and that was just ok. Nothing to write home about but very professional in there. Food was ok.

      2. It's one of the best, though I hesitate to say *the* best, not having tried Studio.

        See my report here: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fus...

        3 Replies
        1. re: kevin h

          Kevin: super review. How would you rank the top 6 or 8 rectaurants in OC?

          1. re: kel

            Unfortunately I haven't had enough experience in OC to make that call (I usually head up to LA for my dining needs). My guess is that Stonehill would be near the top however.

          2. re: kevin h

            In my experience Studio was far less than stellar. Prices were north of what you'd pay at Providence, Spago, Melisse or Valentino. Yes, Studio was MORE expensive. The seared foie gras appetizer (at $42!!!) was not cooked through... I don't mean rare/molten in the middle like it's supposed to be, I mean the middle was rock hard - felt slightly FROZEN. Other dishes failed to impress, not horrible, but certainly not world class. However, the service was very good, the room is gorgeous, the setting beautiful and the view is amazing. Food is a 6 or 7 on scale of 1 to 10. I can see that they might get to an 8, but they are charging prices at a 10+ level.

          3. Definitely one of the best, though I'm speaking from a single experience only. My wife and I ordered the tasting menu and wine pairings. The service was excellent, several dishes were of a very high caliber, though the duck was overcooked. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines paired with the tasting menu -- and with the bourbon paired with dessert. We would definitely go back -- especially after a massage at the spa on the premises.

            1. I guess it depends on what you regard as best. I LIKE Stonehill Tavern, but perhaps since it is a Mina restaurant, I expect more out of it? I've done both the tasting menus and the trios, and usually there is at least one dish that I find mediocre, either in preparation (over / under cooked) or just execution (what were they thinking?). Or certain wine pairings with their TMs don't work at all. Now I understand that a chef has to take certain risks in order to expand their repertoire and skills, but if I rally wanted that, I would have frequented Bastide more often in it's gummy bear / root beer days.

              As for Studio, I think the cooking there is superior- very good, but not transcendent,yet something always rubs me wrong about the service- proper, but stiff to the point of robotic, yet always with a sense of haughtiness / arrogance. Smiles never returned- feeling like they are just putting up with us for a few hours. The food is not THAT good. Oh, and the vaunted view is only available from about 15% of the tables- and if you go in the Winter, you're just staring out into a inky blackness anyways.

              If I had to choose between the two, I would take Stonehill, since it has a more comfortable feel to it, and atmosphere is important to me, especially when contrasting the two places. However, to answer the OP, I can only cop out and say I don't know. There are a lot of very good restaurants in OC, but none that I would consistently go to as "The Best"- it just depends on what the desire is for that particular evening.

              Now if Providence or Spago were in OC...

              1. Stonehill is the best possible choice behind the Orange Curtain:


                3 Replies
                1. re: hungrygirl106

                  Good to hear that Stonehill's new chef (previous sous chef) and new sommelier are holding their own. We like to sneak in early for wine and apps on the terrace.

                  1. re: hungrygirl106

                    Hungrygirl: Excellent review. Nice deatails and work.

                    1. re: kel

                      Thank you, but I can't take the credit. It's all my husband. :)

                  2. So are we saying it is the best currently in OC? Compare it to Napa Rose?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: kel

                      Napa Rose(Chef's Counter) clobbers Stonehill in our opinion and Studio is a mere shadow of it's former self.

                      1. re: russkar

                        Funny I was just at Napa Rose tonight. We weren't at the Counter; however we did have the tasting menu. I was pleasantly surprised. Wish it was more than four courses though!

                        1. re: kevin h

                          The following is a special tasting menu at NR back in April. Approx cost $120 plus T&T. More than 4 courses.

                          1.Chef’s Canapés
                          2.Thinly Sliced Carpaccio of Seared Kona Kampachi and Pacific Ahi
                          with Kaffir Lime Leaf Panna Cotta and Passion Fruit Vinaigrette
                          3.Simply Sautéed Early Spring White Asparagus
                          with Shaved Fresh Black Winter Truffles from Alba, Italy
                          4.Grilled Sonoma Duck Breast with Hearth Roasted Apples and Wild Coastal Mushrooms
                          5.Oak Roasted Wild Alaskan Halibut
                          with Morels, Spring Onions, Applewood Smoked Bacon and English Peas Coulis
                          6.Colorado Spring Lamb “Osso Buco” Braised with Roasted Garlic-Rosemary Jus
                          7. Selected Cheeses
                          8.Warm Spring Berry & Oat Crisp
                          with Market Strawberry Sorbet

                          1. re: russkar

                            Hmm sounds good. Next time I'll inquire about ordering a longer tasting menu. I'm assuming this is by special arrangement only.

                            1. re: kevin h

                              Of course pre arrangements are suggested.

                          2. re: kevin h

                            Although the term "tasting menu" has become trendy, the Napa Rose 4-course Vintner's menu is really more like a prix-fixe arrangement with full-size courses (appetizer, first course, second course, dessert). I really like Napa Rose. They don't have all of the trendy dishes du jour such as Kobe beef but stick to their Cal-Med seasonal format. The only course that has occasionally let us down has been the desserts, especially if they include a pastry element. Sometimes we get one Vintners and add an extra main course and veggie side. The service can be sluggish at times and I don't think I'd want to tempt fate with more than 4 courses. Two hours is about all the time I can handle for dinner service.

                        2. re: kel

                          Napa Rose is far better than Studio and Stonehill.

                          1. re: woojink

                            Please explain experiences and reasons.

                        3. Dining solo, I opted for the tasting menu with wine pairings. As in similar reports, there is a huge stemware SNAFU as every single wine I was served (except the Champagne) came in the basic, white wine glass. This is a massively glaring error, in my opinion. Also, you can see pics on eG.

                          Domestic Caviar Parfait - smoked salmon, organic egg, chive, creme fraiche paired with Chartogne Taillet 'Cuvee Michael Mina' Champagne NV. This was a very nice start although the smokiness of the salmon and the saltiness of the caviar almost over-powered the subtleness of the egg and creme fraiche.

                          Golden Tomato Gazpacho - Dungeness crab, avocado, and lemon basil served with Nora Albarino, Rais Baixas, Spain 2004. The freshness of the yellow tomato was quite good but for the life of me, I could barely detect the crab. The Albarino was bright and lemony but this hardly seemed an inspired pairing.

                          Alaskan Halibut - Roasted bell peppers, potato-corn chowder, opal basil paired with Point Concepcion Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, 2004. To start with, the wine served was too cold. It was downright icy. On the dish itself, the initial taste was that it was simply too salty. The halibut was perfectly prepared, but whatever green component was added to make the potato-corn chowder so bright green gave the dish an imbalanced tone. There was simply no cohesiveness to the flavors and the excessive salt highlighted that imbalance. Chardonnay is a classic pairing for fish and I could see why this was chosen, but as neither the wine nor the dish inspired, both seemed to fall a bit flat.

                          Berkshire Pig - Yellow carrot puree, wild arugula, black truffle jus paired with Dom. des Margotieres Saint-Romain, Burgundy, France, 2002. What's this? A white wine glass with a Burgundy??? Wrong... The sauce on this dish was rich and reminded me of Julian Serrano's version from Picasso. Studded with truffles this was quite a lovely dish. The pairing, yet again, was uninspired. The wine was simply a decade too young for service.

                          Colorado Lamb - Cappeletti pasta, braised artichokes, sundried tomato relish served with Peay Vineyards Syrah, 'Les Titans,' Sonoma Coast, 2005. This wine had a great jammy nose, showing potential, but is another I thought served far too early in its life. The lamb itself, despite its glistening, moist exterior, was surprisingly dry and tough. The green puree (spinach) was bitter and this dish was sent back, mostly un-eaten.

                          Cheese Course - This was not part of the tasting menu. But I am a huge cheese fan and requested a cheese plate along with a glass of '02 d'Yquem. Apparently I was served the plate that is normally made for two, in the Mina trio genre and quite frankly, it was too much. I'm a cheese fan - I can do without the accompaniments. In the picture, from left to right, St. Venere served with raisins on the vine, peanut brittle, and acacia honey; Humboldt Fog with quince paste, Marconi almonds, and honeycomb; and Rogue smokey blue cheese with dried apricots, spiced pecans, and wildflower honey. Oh yeah, they did serve this in the appropriate glass - go figure!

                          Strawberry Duo - Golden peach crisp and creme fraiche sorbet served with Coppo Moncalvina Moscato d'Asti, Italy, 2005. Hmmmm. Back to a white wine glass for this sparkler - not even a Champagne glass? This was not a bad dessert at all, actually. I was just pretty full at this point and prefer the cheese as a dessert.
                          user posted image


                          A few words on service. The first few courses came VERY fast - almost within ten minutes of each other. Dining alone, it isn't like there is conversation to draw an evening out and the waitstaff did offer me reading material (like Mina's cookbook). The General Manager noticed to speed of service and slowed things down a tad. He introduced himself as Tim when I asked if he was the sommelier as he was very attentive to what was going on in the room. Huge points on that account. It is obvious they are serving a very high-end crowd and the bells and whistles of the complexity of the food combinations would easily impress those who like the scene - however, I think they were misguided. One can easily be overwhelmed with the beautiful ambience of the room and assume that everything being served is exceptional when it plainly is not. Pity.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Carrie 218

                            Would you care to mention which restaurant you went to, since there were a few discussed on this thread.

                              1. re: mlgb

                                Sorry, yes - since this thread was entitled Stonehill, I simply assumed that was the topic of discussion. I honestly hadn't read the other comments that were about other places.

                            1. Stonehill is at the top or close to the top of the list. Stonehill is very good at what it does, but its menu is pretty focused. However, any discussion of potential top OC restaurants that does not include Onotria is incomplete.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: lawdog262

                                Onotria wouldn't last 5 secs in LA but for OC it's ok considering the horrible corkage of 25- per bottle most of my friends and I won't be rushing back.

                                1. re: russkar

                                  What was your issue with Onotria other than the corkage fee? It sure draws a loyal foodie customer base...

                                  1. re: lawdog262

                                    No issues with Onotria just stating a fact concerning the food(we've had several of the menu items) and the corkage fee is offensive. In fact we've had better Italian food at Max(NB), Mangia Mangia (HB), Barolo (Tustin) in OC.
                                    Italian Restaurants that are vastly superior in LA would be Valentino, Vicenti, Capo, Piccolo, Pecorino, Latini, Palmeri, La Botte, All Angelo, Angelini, La Terza, Pastina, Il Moro, Il Grano, etc , to name a few.

                                    1. re: russkar

                                      Geez. I have been to Ontotria many times and have found it wonderful each time. It is certainly has some of the more original menu items of any Italian restaurant I have been to in O.C.

                                      I have only been to Restaurant Max once and found it bland and overpriced. It is hard to duplicate the authentic Italian recipes without the real local Italian ingredients. I do plan on going back again. I went the first month it opened, so maybe I will have a better experience.

                                      I do like Angelini and La Terza better then Onotria though.

                                      1. re: cdmedici

                                        Totally agree with your assessment of Max. Went a few weeks ago and was sorely disappointed (see post below).

                                      2. re: russkar

                                        I have to disagree with your assessment of Onotria. The food there is wonderful and more authentic, Tuscan style Italian than the majority of Italian restaurants in Southern California (which are more Americanized Italian, with heavy sauces, cheeses, etc.). Tried Max a few weeks ago and was mortified-service was awful, two pasta dishes had little flavor, they were out of the wine and the appetizer we wanted, etc. Suffice it to say that we will not be back.

                                        Also, I don't think that a $25 corkage fee is outrageous. Onotria is a wine restaurant and they make much of their money off of selling wine. Just because there's a corkage fee doesn't make the restaurant bad.

                                2. In OC I like:

                                  1, Napa Rose in Anaheim
                                  2. The dining room at the Sand and Surf in Laguna
                                  3. Mahe in Seal Beach
                                  4. Red Pearl Kitchen in Huntington Beach
                                  5. Zov's Bistro in Tustin


                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: rickiek

                                    Red Pearl Kitchen is closed. Takashi Abe of Bluefin fame in Newport Beach just opend a izakaya restaurant called Izakay Zero.

                                    1. re: cdmedici

                                      thanks for the update. there's a new red pearl kitchen in the gaslight district, but i didn't realize the oc restaurant had closed.