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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Wilhelm's Chophouse Irvine - Tustin Marketplace

13290 Jamboree Road
Irvine, CA 92602

I just got back from the Grand Opening evening of Wilhelm's Chophouse in The Marketplace-Irvine. Wilhelm's Chophouse resides where French 75 Brasserie used to be. The owner of the restaurant, David Wilhelm, felt that people thought French 75 was a "special occasion" restaurant. Apparently people around here also aren't very fond of French food. He wanted to make a restaurant that had a broader appeal. Therefore he transformed French 75 in Irvine into Wilhelm's Chophouse. The restaurant is now supposed to have a more casual feel to it and feature "roadside favorites." The menu now features things like chili, steaks, ribs and cheeseburgers.

The decor inside the restaurant looks pretty much the same as French 75 did. The signs outside are different, and they extended the bar into the dining room a little bit to make a "lounge" area. I believe they changed the pictures on the walls as well. The restaurant pretty much still looks like French 75 though.

I arrived at Wilhelm's Chophouse with a party of 5. We had reservations and were seated right away. The restaurant was about half full. The waitress told us that we were her first table she was serving under the new "Wilhelm's Chophouse" name. She said that all the staff was the same as French 75 though. She told us that all the staff members had gotten to try all of the items from the new menu and she was excited about a lot of them. She added that everything was good but she felt that the Shrimp Diablo was one of the best items on the new menu. We probably should have ordered it, but we didn't.

We looked over the menu and noticed that even though David Wilhelm was trying to make this into more of an "everyday dining" restaurant, the prices were as high or higher than French 75. We decided to order a couple of appetizers to start us off. We finally picked the Calamari ($8.00) and the Grilled Artichoke ($11.00). The Calamari was supposed to be served with Buffalo Hot Sauce and a Garlic Sherry Aioli. I thought the idea of buffalo sauce with calamari sounded really good.

We ordered our dinners and the appetizers arrived shortly after. Everyone thought the artichoke was pretty good, but a few of us, including me, felt that it was a little too "smoky." I know it was a "grilled" artichoke, but I felt that the smoke flavor was a little overpowering. I was excited to try the calamari with the buffalo sauce. Unfortunately, the sauce we got tasted more like a sweet BBQ sauce. I asked the waitress if she was sure that they had brought us the right sauce. I noticed that there was a Honey Chipotle BBQ sauce that came with one of the other appetizers and wondered if they had accidentally brought us that sauce instead. She checked with the kitchen and they told her that the sauce was indeed the buffalo sauce. She brought us an extra side of the sauce just to be sure. It really tasted like a sweet BBQ sauce with a slight Asiany flavor. The waitress came back a few minutes later and told us that the kitchen said that the Honey Chipotle BBQ sauce and the Buffalo Sauce were basically the same sauce except that the Buffalo Sauce had Chipotle in it and the Honey Chipotle BBQ sauce didn't. "The Honey 'Chipotle' BBQ sauce doesn't have any chipotle in it?" I asked. She agreed it didn't make sense but she was sure that this was what the kitchen had told her.

After what seemed like a really long wait, our entrees arrived. I'm not sure if our food was taking an especially long time, or they were just bringing our food out slower because we ordered appetizers. After we were seated, people sat at the table next to ours. They ordered their food, ate, paid and left before our entrees arrived. By the time we finally paid and were ready to leave, another couple was seated at the same table next to us and had eaten, paid and was leaving at the same time as we were. So the table next to us turned over twice in the time that we were there. I don't think we really ate especially slow or anything either. Maybe something we ordered just took an extra long time to cook or something.

Anyway, I ordered the Hickory & Pecan Wood Smoked Prime Rib ($28.00). Again, I realize that I ordered something with "Smoked" in the title, but I felt that the flavor was too smoky. The smoky flavor in the meat kind of overwhelmed the dish and it was the only thing I tasted. I tasted smoke and nothing else. I had to add a lot of salt, au jus and horseradish to get it to have some flavor. I also did not care for the mashed potatoes that were served with it. You usually can't go wrong with mashed potatoes, but these had some weird flavor that I couldn't put my finger on. The green beans were just green beans.

My wife ordered the Chophouse Salad ($8.00) and a side of Blue Cheese Potato Poppers ($6.00). She liked the salad but was a little disappointed that they only used iceberg lettuce. She realizes that this is pretty much the standard when it comes to a "chop" salad, but was hoping that they might do something a little more special with it. She really enjoyed her blue cheese potato poppers as did everyone else at the table that tried them. The poppers were basically homemade tater tots stuffed with blue cheese and served with a blue cheese dipping sauce. The only complaint that everyone had about them was that they were hard to handle. When you tried to pick one up to dip it in the sauce and eat it, it fell apart in your hands and kind of disintegrated into mush.

S ordered the fish special of the day which happened to be Sea Bass ($24.00). They have a standard sea bass meal on the menu, but since Sea Bass was their "special" fish of the day, they basically had two different sea bass dishes served two different ways. S liked her fish pretty well and ate it all. She did say it was a little bland though and she had to add a lot of salt to it.

R ordered a cup of the Texas Red Chili ($8.00) and the Grilled Filet Mignon Skewers ($14.00). Both of these items are categorized as appetizers. R liked the chili but said that it was served to him lukewarm. He said that the filet mignon skewers were pretty good and he liked the bernaise sauce on them.

J ordered the Zinfandel Braised Short Ribs ($22.00). She said they were ok, but that they needed more sauce. She said that her mashed potatoes were fine but she thought that the vegetables were a little undercooked. She thinks that may just be the style they were going for though.

After dinner we looked over the dessert menu. One of the items was a Warm Seasonal Fruit Crisp a la Mode ($7.00). I asked the waitress what the selection was for the evening. She told me that she didn't think they had one yet. She went back to the kitchen to double check. She came back and said that they had just started making them and that they were making Blackberry Apple Crisps. I ordered one. No one else wanted dessert except for R, who ordered the Banana Cream and White Chocolate Pie ($8.00).

The Blackberry Apple Crisp was served in a ramekin. It had blackberries and apples cooked down to a mush covered with a granola mixture of oats and nuts. It was all topped with vanilla ice cream. The blackberries and apples were pretty good but I didn't really like the topping. The oats were really chewy.

The Banana and White Chocolate pie was much better. R seemed to like it. I tried it and liked it as well.

Overall, the service was excellent but a little slow. Our waitress was very friendly and if she didn't know the answer to a question, she made sure to go back into the kitchen to get us accurate information. You of course have to excuse them though since this was their first night open with this new menu and identity. The food was good but not great. After the meal, everyone was in agreement. We all missed French 75. I may go to Wilhelm's Chophouse once in a while, but I definitely won't be going as often as I went to French 75.


Anonymous said...

Great review - thank you - my husband and I loved French 75 and usually go to the one in Laguna but I received a gift certificate specifically for the one in Tustin. Now that they have changed to the Chop House apparently they will honor it but I am not as excited to visit now...I can't imagine paying more for chili and steak than French cuisine...but I guess will give it a try.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to be hosting a dinner event there this Saturday for my girlfriend and I know she liked French 75 when it was there so I'm hoping that this place is going to live up to the "hype" that I've been hearing about, but this blog is making me question my choice now...

I'll be back and let you know how the event went.

Anonymous said...

Why are they closing all the good French restaurants? First La Brassiere in Orange, Then Chat Noir in Costa Mesa, now French 75. First they close them then they repace them with something new with mediocre food that is not French and is WAY OVERPRICED! Where is a girl supposed to go now for French food who lives in Tustin?

Anonymous said...

If people thought the French 75 was a "special occasion" restaurant perhaps it was not because it served French food, but because of the prices. Converting the French 75 to the Chophouse while maintaining the same exorbitant prices will not cause people to flock there. Give people a good meal at a fair price and the place will be crowded.

Anonymous said...

es are what may have made it a special occasion place, i really liked french 75, although i had a bad xperience with the coq au vin, it honestly was the saltiest thing ive ever tasted, but the had good onion soup, burgers, mac and cheese, so i think the management thought that people preferred that kind of food (soup burgers and macn cheese"