Andrei's Conscious Cuisine is unusual in several ways.
For starters, it is a not-for-profit restaurant that donates funds to the Andrei Foundation, named after Andrei Olenicoff, the owner's brother, who died in a car accident at age 32. The foundation supports research in eye disease as well as other charities.
It is also a seriously green establishment committed to local, sustainable, natural and organic ingredients. It is in the semi-final competition for the greenest restaurant in the Los Angeles area. And last but not least, we think it's gorgeous.
The Olen Co. in Newport Beach is one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the U.S. Natalia Olenicoff, has designed and built this restaurant on one of their properties in memory of her brother.
The entrance is dazzling with its two-story waterfall cascading down a wall of stone, creating moiré patterns that change with the light. The first floor has large rooms for meetings and events. On the second floor at the top of the staircase you are greeted by an imposing wood fish sculpture.
The spacious dining room has a large central bar and lounge. On one side is a more formal dining area with white tablecloths and at the other end is a smaller area with capacious booths. The floor is made of beautiful pecan wood with interwoven patterns of light and dark.
We opened with the Mediterranean tasting platter, a four-dip arrangement of olive, eggplant, hummus and tzatziki, served with wedges of plain pita and toasted sesame pita brushed with olive oil. These were much more delicate than the usual offerings.
At first we were expecting bolder flavors but quickly readjusted our palates to their more subtle pleasures. The toasted sesame triangles were especially tasty, and the platter would easily have served four people.
A delicious grilled octopus salad, tossed in lemon vinaigrette, with charred, tender tentacles seasoned with smoked paprika was intensely flavored. Rounds of thinly sliced Spanish chorizo sausage added salt and heat, while little creamy potatoes and bell peppers, both yellow and red, finished the dish with a mellow contrast.
We specifically requested our grilled mahi-mahi to be moist or slightly undercooked but what arrived was unfortunately overdone, leaving the fish somewhat dry. The mango salsa that accompanied it had very little fruit flavor.
However, the cilantro pesto and goat cheese risotto that it rested on was excellent. It was perfectly cooked with each grain of rice remaining separate. The dish also had lots of flavor without being too rich.
Flatbreads come in all varieties these days with every sort of ingredient you can imagine. Andrei's serves a Moroccan style with curry-spiced, honey marinated chicken, mozzarella and cilantro, a classic Italian with chunky tomato sauce with three cheeses and a lamb sausage flatbread.
We chose the latter, which featured merguez, a spicy lamb sausage, thinly sliced and crisped, resembling pepperoni, along with goat cheese, arugula, a bit of cooked tomato, and big shavings of Parmesan. The crust was nicely browned and had some crunch.
We never have any conflict about what to order for dessert when there is a fresh fruit tart on the menu. The first stone fruits of the season have just arrived, and we were excited to sink our forks into a lovely almond plum tart.
The excellent crust was a cookie-like almond pastry topped with a ground almond crème patisserie surrounding tart plums. The sweetness of the crust and custard beautifully balanced the tangy fruit. Although the tart stood perfectly well on its own, it was hard to resist the little pot of crème fraiche that was served on the side.
Andrei's is clearly a go-to place for lunch, servicing the many office buildings nearby, but it also has a buzzy bar scene in the evening and is still quiet enough for a nice dinner with friends.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrei's Conscious Cuisine
Where: 2607 Main St., Irvine