Cool enough for Quail Hill?
In the case of Two Left Forks in Quail Hill, I will come clean: we were hoping that empty space where Jade Kitchen used to be would be taken by a cool, foodie-forward gastropub with a happening bar. There would be a creative list of somewhat affordable small plates along with interesting entrees that would reveal the chef’s forward-thinking flare and understanding of cool culinary trends. Maybe it would be the first brick and mortar location of a popular food truck, or the first OC location of a popular San Diego or L.A. concept.
The interior would be chic, industrial and modern. The crowd would include hipsters, cool kids from Blizzard, chic couples from Shady Canyon and “worth-the-drive” foodies making the trek to the quiet corner of Irvine from around the county because the buzz about the food was so strong.
Two Left Forks is few of those things, and that’s perfectly fine. No doubt many Irvine diners will revel in the fact that this new restaurant does a contemporary take on old-school dining so well.
The first old-school clue is the art on the wall: a lovely painting of a young woman waiting at the bar with a glass of wine, that sort of thing. They’re a bit reminiscent of the art that used to hang at The Ritz Restaurant, the original one in Newport Center.
The second is the food, which includes many old-school favorites that one could have found on many 1990s-era menus: Artichoke dip. Caesar Salad. Rack of Lamb. Crab Stack. Chilean Sea Bass. There are a few notes of multicultural fusion mixed in: tataki, chimichurri, and such. It’s not cheap, but not outrageous for full service done well. Shared plate appetizers range from $10-$15, with entrees $15 to $30.
This isn’t challenging fare; no culinary ground is being broken. We don’t expect it to be an Instagram darling among the millennials.
Again, revealing our bias: we like to be challenged. We wish Irvine had a great gastropub, and that the Quail Hill Shopping Center had one. But those with tastes like ours have Diamond Jamboree, and the several new, cool spots that have debuted in recent months and years at Los Olivos, Heritage Plaza, the Spectrum and University Center. We should be, if not satisfied, then thankful at the evolving Irvine culinary scene.
The food is fresh, nicely presented, business lunch or date-night fare. It’s fine dining comfort food, without the side of irony so often served at those gastropubs mentioned above. And it’s all presented with friendly professionalism by a clean-cut crew of young adults, without a hipster beard or ostentatious tattoo among them (that we noticed, at least).
Two Left Forks is good news for those who take to message boards like NextDoor to complain as traditional “American” restaurants have closed in recent years, replaced by hot spots like Meizhou Dongpo, EMC Seafood and Kang Ho-Dong Baekjeong. Don’t get us wrong, Two Left Forks is certainly not a Marie Callender’s or Denny’s, as far as prices and menu choices go, thankfully. Think of it as more like the Elephant Bar, but for a new era.