Best Romantic Restaurant
217 Marine Ave., Newport Beach; 949-673-0570
A special-occasion restaurant feels extra special when it has a touch of exclusivity, the feeling that you're among the select few who have scored a table.
It's that intangible element that elevates Basilic, a shoebox-sized spot on Balboa Island, into the highest ranks of romantic dining. Not only is it small (24 seats), it's also a spot where meals proceed at a leisurely pace and reservations are staggered to avoid overwhelming the kitchen.
The intimate space is decorated with fresh Gerber daisies, hurricane lamps and dainty chandeliers. Banquettes run down both walls, and many of the chairs are perpendicular, letting couples steal kisses more easily.
Lovebirds aren't just coming for the atmosphere – Basilic has often nabbed top honors in Zagat's food and service categories.
The must-have starter on the Swiss-French menu is raclette – sizzling plates of melted cheese with cornichons, pickled onions and petite fingerling potatoes.
Another rich appetizer is blue crab with avocado, micro greens and a mustard dressing. It's the very definition of seafood sinfulness.
Main courses are staples taken to a new level, such as the coq au vin, boneless, skinless dark meat that's shredded, coated with a smoky sauce and paired with herbed egg noodles and haricots verts.
The steak au poivre is a New York Strip expertly seared, drizzled with a pepper sauce and plated like a work of art alongside whipped potatoes, ratatouille and baby carrots.
For dessert, sip a cup of divine black coffee and carve into a tarte tatin, paper-thin apple splices atop flaky puff pastry. And then marvel at the good fortune you have to be among the select few dining that night at Basilic.
- Jeff Overley, Food Frenzy
1. Orange Hill Restaurant
6410 E. Chapman, Orange; 714-997-2910
Interesting facts: Couples are attracted to the intimate ambiance, secluded tables, fireplace, lush linen and fine dining.
An outdoor ceremony site can be reserved for a special event or wedding.
Enjoy your meal and fine wine with ocean views all the way to Catalina (on a good day) and the hilltops around Orange County.
Why they're No. 1: Couples head for Orange Hill Restaurant when they're looking for privacy in an elegant setting with a good meal, dependable service and quiet conversation. This is the place for a romantic evening for two. "The atmosphere is traditional," supervisor Daniel Rizk said. Fountains, a fireplace and classic table settings set the mood. Sunset dinners, with a menu featuring prime rib, Atlantic salmon, chicken Dijonnaise and mushroom ravioli are available at lower prices from 4:30 to 6 p.m. every day.
Claim to fame: The view and the setting are spectacular. Rizk said fish and steaks are a big draw. A wine captain can help choose a vintage from among 200 wines that pair with any entree. Bring the family to a champagne brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
Fan favorite: "The minute you get there, the mood is set. There's a fountain as you walk up, and an elegant entryway, with beautiful views looking toward the west. They have outdoor fire pits for after-dinner drinks. I've been to a wedding shower and a baby shower there, and they do a really nice job." – Carol-Dee Chisolm, Anaheim Hills
Fun fact: The restaurant was opened by David Tallichet 39 years ago. Tallichet, a bomber pilot during World War II, restored WWII airplanes, most of which are now in museums.
– Lois Evezich
2. The Melting Pot
Brea, Irvine, San Clemente
Interesting facts: Specialties are fondue dishes and wine.
Private tables for two are designed for intimate conversations.
Claim to fame: Couples looking for a romantic evening out are drawn to the Melting Pot for fine dining. "It's a special occasion restaurant," said Dana Robertson, director of operations. "When you're seated at a table for two, you don't see many people around you." The Melting Pot started in 1975 in Florida with just three menu items and has expanded to full four-course meals, featuring cheese fondue as the appetizer, salads (no dipping here), main courses that the customers cook in their choice of broths and then dip tableside in a choice of sauces, and chocolate fondue with an assortment of sweets for the finale.
Fan favorite: "They have a great selection of fondue items for a couple who wants to share food and have a romantic meal. The drinks are great, too!" – Joanna Chang, Yorba Linda
Fun fact: You can buy dark or light chocolate at the Melting Pot for your own private dipping party at home.
– Lois Rothschild
3. Ti Amo
31727 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; 949-499-5350
Interesting facts: Classic wall paintings and a fireplace set within an Italian villa bring romance to Ti Amo.
Claim to fame: Ti Amo is located in a building that was once a home built in 1928. Styled after a Mediterranean villa, the gardens, the fireplace and the wall frescoes create an atmosphere for a romantic special occasion. The grounds include a climate-controlled atrium and a 60-foot oak tree growing in the middle of the restaurant. With an Italian/Mediterranean menu that also includes six to eight specials each day, the ingredients are delivered fresh daily. Leave room for dessert: The banana bread pudding is a Ti Amo favorite, according to their website menu.
Fan favorite: "Ti Amo has a great ambiance and good food. I've been to most Orange County restaurants in the past 40 years, and Ti Amo is cozy, relaxing and is just comfy. There are no hard edges, and they use deep colors, which makes it look plushy." – Linda Miller, Laguna Woods
Fun fact: Celebrities such as the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Brian Wilson, Magic Johnson and Former President George H.W. Bush have signed menus that decorate the main lobby.
– Lois Rothschild