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Jan 12, 2010 01:07 PM

OC Birthday Dinner, tired of all the chains...Help!

We have been to them all, Maestros, Maggianos, Flemings, Gulfstream for birthday dinners and we are looking for something new. My wife was thinking Italian but somewere nice we can celebrate her birthday too. Any and all suggestions are welcome. Thank you.

P.S we live in Irvine

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  1. Have you tried Pina's Bistro in Tustin? Small, family owned restaurant in a strip mall, but don't let that fool you - the food is fabulous!

    1 Reply
    1. re: chris1621

      An outstanding suggestion!

      Pina and her daughters run this charming little bistro like an Italian home kitchen. Hey, that’s just what it is. She sources many of her ingredients from Italy, notably her cheeses, cured meats and spices. The recipes are from her mother and grandmother. Felicia, her eldest daughter, is a highly capable chef while Hana, her youngest, takes dutiful care of your every need at the table.

      Try the Gnocchi Gorgonzola with Sausage (she makes her own and it's downright otherworldly good) and onions, the White Cheese Pizza, the Veal Chop, and the Ravioli. Save room for dessert. Pina’s Tiramisu is arguably the best outside of Italy. The Cannoli is fabulous and Felicia's Black Walnut Cake is to die for.

      Everything is cooked fresh to order so be prepared for a brief wait. Very loyal clientele. Be sure to chat up Pina; she’s a real straight shooter who’s not afraid to give you a piece of her mind.

      Pina’s Bistro
      640 West First Street
      Tustin, California 92680
      (714) 730-5442

    2. Have you tried either Antonello (Costa Mesa) or Cucina Alessa (Newport)?

      2 Replies
      1. re: OCAnn

        Antonello is wonderful if you haven't been.

        1. re: BubblyOne

          And Alessa is very nice too, a nice, low-key sit-down Italian where they make their own pasta (which is rarer than you'd think). There's one in Huntington Beach too, if you fancy walking around downtown HB and having a drink or something afterwards.

      2. One of my favs is the Black Sheep Bistro in Tustin.

        Black Sheep Bistro
        303 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780

        1. I've heard nothing but blowing things about Marche Modern in OC located in South Coast Plaza.

          11 Replies
          1. re: toonoble

            I'm guessing that you meant "glowing" - MM is very good, I had a very nice birthday dinner there - the food and service was outstanding, with one exception which may or may not be a big deal, depending on your outlook: despite numerous big hints (by my wife and friends) that this was my birthday dinner, the restaurant did not acknowledge it in any way - we were not expecting a free dessert or a Claim Jumper-style "happy happy happy birthday" or anything crazy, but most nice places do something like pipe "happy birthday" on the dessert plate, etc. Despite my wife explicitly telling the staff that it was my birthday, there was nothing, not even a "happy birthday" from our waitress.

            This really bothers her - me, not so much. She even called to the next day to ask what was up, and was told they'd get back to her and make it right - they never did get back to her.

            So, take it for what it's worth. I'd go back anyway, but she's still a little bitter for the lack of customer service / followup. Maybe this was just a one-off situation, I don't know.

              1. re: mikester

                They never acknowledge your birthday. That bothered me also. In every great restaurant they at leat say happy birthday to you. Their service is getting worst and because of that we don't go there as much as we used to. Charlie Palmer provide you with much better service, bread selection, bigger and nicer space and better pre fix selection specially on the weekend.

                1. re: mikester

                  It's not a one-off. I went over a year ago for my bday and have not been happy w/MM service since...until their "pig head-to-toe" in October 2009 (which was one of the best meals I had all year). In any case, I did email them to address the handful of service issues I encountered and a couple weeks later, I got a call back. They said next time, make arrangements thru Florent (which I did) and they would take care of me (which they did not).

                  That same day (after my unfortunate bday lunch @ MM), we had dinner @ Stonehill Tavern; as soon as we checked in at the host counter, I was greeted by our host & server a cheery "Happy Birthday!" Their service more than made up for the lack of it earlier.

                  1. re: OCAnn

                    I have a little bit of a counter example on the customer service side. I've always had really good service at MM. We eschew Bday and Anniversary recognition at restaurants, so never mention it and personally prefer not to have that recognition, but my experience was of a different nature.

                    Sometimes we are at MM 2 or 3 times in a month, and sometimes it is 4 or 5 months in between visits. Just works out that way, not consciously, just situational.

                    One time we were there and as I was leaving I realized that I was billed for a cocktail that I never got. It was a great evening and everything else was perfect, so I really, REALLY, didn't care, but as we were leaving the front staff bid us farewell and asked if everything was OK, and I just passingly mentioned that I think I was billed for a drink that I never got. They were pretty shocked and VERY apologetic and immediately offered a refund and to take care of it. I didn't really care so I said, not to worry about it. It was late and the $9 didn't matter that much. As we were leaving, they insisted that they would take note and remember during our next visit.

                    Well, this was one of those times that it was several months (3 or 4 or 5?) between our visits (HEAVY travel schedule). However, the next time my wife and I showed up there, we were immediately greeted by our server and she apologized for the cocktail mix up from before and comped us both our first round of drinks that evening. We did not say anything and quite frankly, I had forgotten about it. The fact that they had taken note and remembered several months later was quite a big deal for me.

                    Again, I've ALWAYS had really great service and food at MM and have been going there for a while.

                    On the other hand, my experience at the Palmer place in/near Bloomingdales have been mediocre at best.

                    1. re: woojink

                      Well we have been to MM more than 20 times and only one or two times we recieved a good service. If you are not used to good service you don't know what you are missing. I remember when we traveled to Portland, OR last year, we were shocked at the level of service and friendliness of the staff even at casual restaurants. When you pay MM prices, you expect certain level of service. Last time I had a salad there, it was drenched in the dressing .When I brought up to the waiter he said he let the chef know!!! No replacing no nothing. They treat you like, they are doing you a favor by waiting on you.

                      1. re: mrsjoujou

                        I'm not sure if you're saying that I'm not used to good service or if you are making a general point. I do agree that if one doesn't know what good service is then one doesn't know what one is missing.

                        However, I must assure you, I am not a stranger to good service. In fact, I am fairly a strong stickler for good service. I guess I will give your post the benefit of the doubt.

                        One service experience at MM that I'll also share is that I had an entree at the wrong temperature (overdone) - only time this has happened - and asked to have it re-done. There was absolutely no issue with this from the staff (as it should be), and to make sure that there was no issue with me having nothing in front of me while my wife had her entree, they brought out a very nice scallop dish (maybe half an entree size) for me to enjoy while they were re-doing my original order. Didn't ask for this at all. Just brought it out to have good service.

                        I have had great service at restaurants all over the world and bad service as well. I would definitely say that MM offers very good service, very appropriate for the price point.

                        1. re: woojink

                          Well, it sounds like MM has uneven service at best. Certainly, it's not a one-off. I'm glad that you've had, for the most part, good service there.

                          1. re: OCAnn

                            Yeah, it sounds like that has been the experience of several 'hounds. Kind of a bummer, especially since we've always considered MM to be one of our "go to" places for food and service - overall top flight experience. I guess I just thought everyone else had that same level of experience also.

                            1. re: woojink

                              Well, the good news for you & MM is that they came on top in the >$25 category in the OC poll. So it's the go-to for many folks; you're not in the minority. =)

                    2. re: OCAnn

                      Funny, I went to Stonehill several years back for my birthday and we were seated then ignored for something like a half hour at the table. Once we were actually acknowledged, the service was perfect (I love it when everything is bussed between courses and new and appropriate flatware is presented for the new course), and they gave us desserts to make up for the wait. The food was great, but I have not been back since (no reason, just have not been back).

                2. You have some good suggestions. I'll add to them Studio at the Montage in Laguna Beach or maybe Old Vine Cafe in Costa Mesa (depending on how many people you've got, it's a small place). I'll heavily second Marché Moderne and Black Sheep Bistro. Also, not a fancy date-night place but still pretty solid is Citrus City Grill in the Orange Circle, or go to Gabbi's for upscale-ish Mexican-ish.

                  If you love sushi you could go to Bluefin in Newport Coast...