“You must try this bread,” she says, pushing half a loaf of brown bread onto my table at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach. The bread brings with it an aroma-cloud of brown sugar and vanilla and dark Irish stout. She then passes a ramekin of luxuriously soft butter that smells sweetly of honey.
We haven’t met. We merely exchanged nonverbal pleasantries as I squeezed between tables to reach my spot on the banquette. Our tables are snuggled intimately close together, like at an old European bistro. Once seated, it’s impossible not to be transfixed by the sight of her roasted salmon and her husband’s bucatini with clams and bacon. Both dishes smell heavenly, and my mouth is watering. I must have stared too long because this woman who I do not know has just given me her bread.
I don’t eat food off of strangers’ plates, but this bread is making my stomach growl. My partner gives me one of those looks like, “You’re not actually going to eat that, are you?” But it’s too late. I’ve got butter on my chin and I’m now looking around the room to see who else might have something I could pilfer.
Glazed rabbit with morel mushrooms and mashed potatoes at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The dining room at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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Bucatini with clams, bacon and black pepper at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Kale salad with pumpkin seeds at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Wood-grilled burger with smoked bacon and fried egg at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Fish and chips with mushy peas at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Beet agnolotti with whipped goat cheese at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Duck confit pizza at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Grilled spot prawns with corn succotash at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Diners enjoy a private booth called the “snug” at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach Pictured seated, from left, are Michael Lindenbaum, Paula Fairfield, both of Mission Viejo and Deborah Moch, of San Juan Capistrano. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The Coyle family at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach. Pictured, from left, son Drew Coyle, director of spirits, Darren and Jean Coyle, owner, and daughter Ali Coyle, the sommelier. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Pork belly and couscous at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Except in random encounters like this, the bread and butter at Fable & Spirit doesn’t come free. They charge $8 for it, and on every subsequent visit I’ve opened my wallet for another taste. They bake each loaf to order so it arrives straight from the oven.
You might have noticed this new luxury gastropub across the street from Lido Marina Village on the Balboa Peninsula. It is a beautiful, professionally designed restaurant from the Coyle family who for years have operated Dublin 4 and Wine Works For Everyone in Mission Viejo. Those restaurants are good, but Fable & Spirit is next-level.
The same chef, David Shofner, also runs the kitchen here, and it feels as if he’s been waiting for this moment for years. Nothing about his cooking comes across as tentative. And it’s a big menu: more than 20 small plates, plus 10 large entrees and a couple of desserts. Much of it comes from a wood-burning grill.
Intensely smoky octopus comes from that grill, and it is delicious, paired with fingerling potatoes and chorizo. And if you order the burger, your waiter will ask if you prefer to have the meat cooked on the flattop or over the wood fire. “The wood grill takes a little longer,” the waiter explains. He doesn’t have to twist my arm, as I’ve ordered plenty of other things to nibble on this night. My patience is rewarded with a genuinely excellent burger, one that tees up a serious neighborhood burger war with The Mayor’s Table around the corner.
Darren and Jean Coyle have long been wine enthusiasts, a passion they passed down to their daughter, Ali, an astute sommelier who runs the wine program here. The intriguing wine lists suggests she spends a great amount of time driving the backroads of wine country, ferreting out little-known vintners whose wines rarely see their way into restaurant inventories, particularly in Orange County. She offers more than 20 wines by the glass.
“I can’t decide what to drink with this duck confit pizza,” I confess to her one night when she stops by the table. Bells go off and she jumps into action. “I’ll be right back,” she says. She returns with two glasses, each filled with a splash of red, neither of which I’ve tasted before. The first is more tannic and exhilarating but it needs a few minutes in the glass to unwind. The second is more complex, more earthy and soothing, ready to drink right this instant, and that’s exactly what I need at this moment.
After six visits I’m still not bored. I can’t wait to try the delicate kampachi crudo again, or that outrageous slab of porchetta from the rotisserie. I want another shot at those agnolotti stuffed with beets, too, and those mussels steamed in beer and butter. The glazed rabbit with morels and mashed potatoes, the braised pork belly with couscous, the spot prawns with corn succotash, and that bucatini with cracked pepper, clams and cured egg yolk… I hate menus that ramble on and on, but I have yet to find anything here that I don’t like. A lot. Shofner is having his moment. The Coyles, too.
This is easily one of the best new restaurants of the year.
Fable & Spirit
Rating: 3 stars
Where: 3441 Via Lido, Newport Beach
Hours: Daily, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Don’t miss: Porchetta, bucatini, burger, wine
Best place to sit: In the “snug” booth or in the kitchen window
About the noise: Festive but not too loud
County health inspection: One major violation for a dishwasher malfunction
Cost: Small plates, $8-$25; large plates, $22-$40; corkage, $20; free parking in the adjacent lot
What the stars mean:
0 = poor, unacceptable
1 = fair, with some noteworthy qualities
2 = good, solid, above average
3 = excellent, memorable, well above norm
4 = world class, extraordinary in every detail
Reviews are based on multiple visits. Ratings reflect the reviewer’s overall reaction to food, ambience and service.
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