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Step into a time warp, and you have discovered the neighborhood restaurant where lingering is expected. All food is made from scratch with the utmost care and artistry, including their noodles, so there will be a bit of a wait for your delicacy, but for the discerning palate Mr. G's delivers.
There are only about 12 tables in this quaint candlelit restaurant whose pane glass windows open up - literally - to the charm of an old beach town Main Street at the center of Balboa Island. You might think that one might be shooed along with such limited seating, but for our two hour visit almost the same diners remained our neighbors.
Mr. G is Giuseppe, the head chef and owner, who walks amongst his clientele with towel over his shoulder and a crisp black floured pin-striped apron tied around his waist. When he arrives at our table he thrusts a hot bowl of cheese gnocchi before us.
Chewing away at his own creation, he instructs us in his enthusiastic Italian accent to try a few. Politely, we spoon out one a piece. He then thrusts the bowl before me and shakes out five more piping hot gnocchi and cheese balls. Then, off to his other customers he twirls with the same familiarity and generosity. This appears to be a usual occurrence at Mr. G's. Nice!
I must insert here that I'm a third generation Italian and have grown up with my grandmother mixing dough from scratch every night to make here spaghetti noodles, so I am quite familiar with homemade Italian cuisine that takes an entire afternoon to cook.
So, I repeat, it will take a while. Relax and enjoy the atmosphere, and definitely order and appetizer or salad to tide you over.
Each dish we sampled was exquisite, although the noodles were slightly hard in both of our pasta dishes, which was obviously an intentional choice of Giuseppe. I guess my grandmother is from a different region, and the standard diner might be unfamiliar with such a slant on pasta.
We ate family style. So, we started with some sparkling wine and a gourmet coffee for me. Other diners rave about the Brussel sprouts, but being that this is a common favorite of many eateries these days, I have had my share and passed.
We ordered the Charred Spanish Octopus, with turmeric potatoes, smoked eggplant, and puree, with burnt lemon. Delicate and tasty, but I must repeat, the servings - although each a work of culinary and visual art - are miniscule and the price is big.
Our pasta dishes were next. I ordered two dishes which are just too timely for me to create, and often not offered anywhere else. They were:
Mr. G's Rigatoni, made of a finely blended mix of ground beef and sausage, eggplant, carrots and celery in a red sauce.
Ricotta Catelli, a creamy Bolognese blend which will melt in your mouth.
Dining with two light eaters, we partook of only one of the offered entrée items recommended by our waiter:
Branzino is a delicate and sumptuous cut of sea bass, artfully laid over a bed of broccolini. The menu offers this dish with roasted cauliflower and meyer lemon yogurt, but they were out of the cauliflower, and the broccolini was an excellent substitute.
Let me remind you that all of these dishes can be devoured in just a few bites - seriously. I just shared my forays through France in order to satiate my companions' surprise.
While our neighbors continued to talk past the setting sun, we exited in a slight daze. Well, at least I did, because I was the one footing the bill, which came to 150+ dollars with tip.
From the looks of the primarily preppy moneyed Caucasian yacht club crowd (that would be my father's side of the family), this was a drop in the bucket. They ate and drank with no alarm. This is a local hangout for those who can afford Balboa Island and Newport Coast real estate. They love it, and the food is truly exquisite.
However, if you tend to be a writer or artist, or live life inland on an average incomed family, I suggest ordering the burger. This, too, is a gourmet experience, which many people rave about. At $19 it is not cheap, but the family feel and warm candlelit tables captained by Mr. G himself makes this a worthy experience.
WE WILL BE RETUNING TO MR. G'S IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS TO GIVE YOU OUR FALL UPDATE!
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After visiting Mr. G's with a general sense that they were one of Orange County's "75 Best Restaurants," we went in basically blind-folded to try it out ourselves.
Afterwards our "In-Depth Researchers" of all sites listed below we came up with a general practiced critic and populist consensus that Mr. G's can be a mixed-bag affair. What it does well, it does very well. Other items can improve.
Mr G's is a relatively new restaurant and one of the only more "casual upscale" dining experiences on Balboa Island sandwhiched between frozen banana shops and run-of-the mill tourist menus. So, lets give it time to grow.
Some of the dishes, although straight out of a native Italian's hands - he affable Mr. G himself - miss the mark for the American palate accustomed to hybridized Italian food.
CA's Best - ★★★★☆
Yelp - ★★★★☆
Trip Advisor - ★★★★☆
Other Articles: Mixed Reviews, honest & accurate.
OC Weekly "A Bad Chicken & a Good One, Too!"
Brad A. Johnson recommends the pasta dishes and includes Mr. G's as 56th in the 75 Best Places to Eat for 2018 (Article blocked for non-subscribers).