June 17, 2007

Kimera [Irvine]

Kimera has all the trappings of the type of restaurants I tend to be wary of. First, it belongs to a restaurant group (namely the Dining as Art Collection, which also owns Bastide). Second, it serves fusion food in a trendy lounge and dining room combo. And lastly, it falls into the category of restaurant that I call "overpriced fine dining designed to appease OC conservatism."

To say I was skeptical about coming to Kimera would be a gross understatement. To say that you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming on any other day besides Father's Day would be more like it.

What ended up really selling me on the restaurant was the OC Weekly's mention of "chef Chris Grodach—a true food alchemist from Napa Valley institution the French Laundry." French Laundry and molecular gastronomy? The two biggest buzz words on the culinary front right now? Now I was really curious.

The restaurant certainly makes a statement with its slanted bamboo ceiling and the splashes of abstract art scrawled across bold red walls. The flower arrangements at the center were nothing short of stunning and I'm told that they're brought in on a weekly basis.

Despite the Asian-sounding name and the few dishes reflecting influences from Japanese and Thai cooking, most of the menu has a Mediterranean slant with some Spanish and Italian thrown in for good measure. The menu is purposefully vague and begs you to ask questions of your waiter. We ordered three appetizers and two entrees to share between three people.

Based on our waiter's recommendations we started with the Polenta Beignets ($10.50) and the Seared Scallops ($12.75). I didn't feel as though frying was the best way to bring out the flavor of polenta and the most prominent flavor was the Parmesan cheese, which wasnt even mentioned on the menu. Regardless, the waiters were recommending it left and right and it seemed as though every party had an order on their table. The two jumbo scallops were perfectly cooked and were good enough to be served on their own (the olive oil emulsion and prosciutto didn't add much).

We also tried the Heirloom Squash Blossoms, which came with came with an ibarra and milk chocolate mole sauce. You would have expected the combination of achiote, lime, mole, and goat cheese to be overwhelming, but the flavors worked as good balances against each other and the dish was incredibly light.

For our mains, we ordered the Seared Ahi on ratatouille ($26.75) and the Paprika-dusted hangar steak on a bed of corn with a manchego fondue ($23.40). While both proteins were cooked well and of high quality, they were also both under-seasoned. The kernels of corn that came with hangar steak were like biting into little nuggets infused with the essence of summer.

As a whole, I felt that the flavors could have been crisper and more distinct. While the dishes tasted good overall, the individual flavor components were either incomplete, incompatible, or absent altogether. The aesthetic and presentation, however, was flawless.

I was glad to see that the restaurant had an in-house pastry chef and we opted for the Tropical Cheesecake ($7.50). The texture was good, though the flavors of the coconut macaroon crust and pineapple gelee were lost in the cheesecake.

Service was uneven, though the effort was there. Our waiter neglected to bring us a basket of bread in addition to spilling a glass of water on our table. He seemed to struggle with his words when I asked questions about the menu, though that could have been a lack of eloquence more than anything else. But ultimately, we received our service with a smile and everyone worked together to make sure all our needs were attended. Hey, no harm, no foul.

Chef Grodach's experience at the French Laundry shows in the kitchen's ability to turn out dishes that are perfectly cooked, but the true test of his skill will only be known when the dishes are perfectly seasoned. Kimera just opened not too long ago and I suspect the kitchen and waitstaff have yet to work out the kinks. When they do, I'll be the first revisit.

19530 Jamboree Rd
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 261-1222


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