Part of the allure of Oak Grill is the outdoor garden patio, a dining option shaded by beguiling old trees whose limbs host charming cylindrical lanterns. The restaurant opened in late spring last year at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach. Although the successful redesign may be what first gets diners’ attention, it’s my guess that the food is what truly wins them over.
Marc Johnson, Oak Grill’s executive chef, crafts dishes that showcase seasonal ingredients in irresistible ways. One bite reveals evidence of a very talented kitchen, headed up by a chef that puts a lot of thought into his dishes. Nothing on the plate seems random or boring.
Crucial to Johnson’s culinary know-how were the years he spent working with the acclaimed chef James Boyce, both at Studio at the Montage Laguna Beach and later at Boyce’s restaurant Cotton Row in Huntsville, Alabama.
VIDEO MAKES IT EASY: Chef Johnson showed me how to make his seasonal composed salad, a colorful assemblage of roasted carrots, prosciutto and burrata cheese (fresh soft-textured Italian-style cheese with an outer shell of fresh mozzarella and a core of cream). Arranged on an elongated plate, the dish is garnished with a date relish, a sweet-herbaceous-citrusy mixture of dates, lemon zest and juice, fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts.
Every bite of this salad is delicious, yielding different combinations of seasonally-driven flavors and contrasting textures.
You can simplify it by using fewer components.
But why mess with perfection?
Great Cut: Johnson’s wife Abby is a barber in Corona del Mar and owns CDM Barbers with her mother.
What’s New: A favorite new-to-him ingredient is zershk (also called barberry), a small red Persian berry. He says that they are mildly sweet and very tart; he uses them in rice or salads.
The Competition: His favorite Orange County eateries include Taiko in Irvine for sushi, as well as Ortica Pizzeria in Costa Mesa. About the later, he says he appreciates the char created in the wood-fired oven and the song-and-dance of the open kitchen.
Fanning Artistic Flames: While studying sculpture and metal craft at the University of Arizona, he made big batches of breakfast burritos and sold them to hungry co-eds. Moki’s Open Kitchen, paying homage to his childhood nickname, paid the rent.
Best Grilled Bok Choy: The irresistible taste? The secret is a marinade that includes Yuzu Kosho, a seasoning paste with yuzu (aromatic Japanese citrus), chilies and salt.
Insider Secret: He collects socks.
Roasted Carrot, Prosciutto and Burrata Salad with Date Relish
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound baby heirloom carrots, preferably different colors (stems intact if possible)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pitted dates cut in matchsticks
1 tablespoon minced or finely grated lemon zest, colored portion of peel
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Optional: balsamic syrup, see cook’s notes
4 ounces burrata, quartered
3 to 4 fresh figs or dried figs, quartered
2 handfuls of baby kale
Vinaigrette: 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil mixed with 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
8 thin slices prosciutto
8 crostini (thinly sliced toasted baguette)
Cook’s notes: To make balsamic syrup, gently simmer aged balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced by half in volume. Cool. To toast pine nuts, place in small skillet on medium heat. Shake handle to redistribute, heating until very lightly browned and aromatic.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel carrots, leaving a small portion of the stem attached. Place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet and toss with oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender-crisp and lightly caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool. (Can be done in advance and refrigerated.) Cut in half lengthwise.
2. Prepare date relish: Combine dates, zest, cilantro, mint, pine nuts, oil and juice. Set aside. If using, prepare balsamic syrup and cool.
3. Plate: On 4 long rectangular plates, place burrata cheese in middle. If using, drizzle on some balsamic syrup, using either a squeeze bottle or small spoon. Place figs and carrots on plates. Toss baby kale and vinaigrette; scatter on plate. Top with date relish. Twist each thin slice of prosciutto into a quasi-rose shape and add. Place crostini at one end of each plate.
Source: Marc Johnson, executive chef Oak Grill, Island Hotel, Newport Beach
… Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …
According to celebrity chef Michael Symon …
Brussels sprouts are a lot more versatile than we give them credit for.
One secret is to slice them into really thin ribbons and then toss in a flavorful vinaigrette.
Turkey Cutlet with Brussels Sprout Salad
Yield: 4 servings
½ cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (4-ounce) turkey cutlets, pounded to a ¼-inch thickness
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
4 cups thinly sliced Brussels sprouts (from 3/4 pound)
1. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Put the flour in a shallow bowl and season well with the salt and pepper. Season both sides of the turkey with salt and pepper. Dredge the turkey in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.
2. Add the olive oil to the preheated skillet. Put the turkey in the pan and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, tarragon, and a good pinch of salt. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and toss to combine. Put the turkey cutlets on plates, top with the Brussels sprouts salad, and serve.