A Conscious Effort at Andrei's in Irvine, CA

For my second OC Restaurant Week menu, I decided to try out Andrei's Conscious Cuisine in Irvine, a spot that has struck my curiosity for the past year or so. It's a place I've always passed by and wondered what it was all about. So Monday evening, I set out to settle my questions. Driving in, there's options for valet or self-parking. Valet is free during lunch, but $3 for the evening is not that bad. Since Monday is not the busiest day for any restaurant, I decided to self park. The restaurant offers validation so you don't have to pay a dime, which is a nice plus!

Located near a business complex, Andrei's is spacious and large with room to accommodate private parties on its ground floor. Yes, the building is two stories and the restaurant is located on the top. As you walk up the stairs, there's a ceiling to floor wall fountain with a giant fish statue at the top of the stairs. It was kind of strange and seemed out of place. However, the screens around the restaurant had jellyfish floating on loop, so maybe it was meant to set the vibe as serene and chill.

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After checking in with the hostess, we were promptly seated within a few minutes. Since I was here for restaurant week, I paid most of my attention to the offerings. With fish as my main entree, I inquired about what the best white pairing would be for the dish. Because the entree is pan-roasted and may be a little oily, she walked me through the best white wines and their flavor profiles.

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Once I made my decision, I was given a sample tasting of Lima from Portugal. The wine is fruity on the nose with tastes of white peach and apricots, finished with an acidic tang. I decided to stay with this choice and my full glass was brought out. Wow..so much wine, but thankfully I wasn't drinking on an empty stomach. A bread basket (mini French baguette and cranberry loaf) arrived to the table with butter.

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~ First Course ~

Endive Salad with chopped endives, radicchio, Shaft blue cheese, Granny Smith green apples, candied pecans, parsley, champagne vinaigrette and toasted Harvest bread. The dressing tasted more like a apple cider vinegar base, but it paired nicely with the lighter greens and sliced apples.

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Roasted Beet Salad. Made with a medley of California beets, Soledad Farm goat cheese mousse, blood oranges, watercress and candied walnuts. Pops of citrus with the sweet beets was absolutely excellent. Combined with the goat cheese mousse, the creaminess added texture and then the bitter watercress added contrast. I seriously could eat this all day.

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~ Second Course ~

Winter Vegetable Risotto. Made with barley, the risotto had mixed mushroom, spinach, asparagus, goat cheese, almonds and a balsamic vinegar reduction. Before I could even get a taste, my brother had finished it. He really enjoyed the crisp asparagus mixed with chunks of goat cheese.

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Seasonal Sea Bass served with rainbow swiss chard, mushrooms, organic red beet farro and a carrot-ginger emulsion. Our server described the plate as pan-roasted with skin on, but nope, there was no skin. Instead, it was pan-roasted to a golden brown with a stale crisp crust, which ended up overcooking the sea bass and leaving an oily streak across the palate. Surprisingly, the farro left a lasting impression instead of the highlighted entree.

~ Dessert ~

Dark Chocolate Creme Brulee with a pecan and bourbon cookie. My brother is a huge fan of chocolate, so he was quite excited to finish with this. Unfortunately, he described it as Jell-O chocolate pudding with torched sugar on top. Additionally, he was given a fork. When was the last time you tried to eat pudding with a fork?! We waited for our server to come around, but she was nowhere to be seen.

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Andrei's Signature Spiced Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting, pomegranate glaze and walnut brittle. There's a lot of elements on this that didn't really complement each other. The cake was great with carrot crisps atop the frosting. However, the frosting had a slight yogurt-y flavor to it, the pomegranate glaze felt like an afterthought, and the walnut brittle was just plain ol' sugar brittle. I actually tried eating them altogether, but the taste was really, really odd. It's indescribable, but at least the cake is tasty.

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Although dinner started on a high note with much anticipation for the meal ahead, the excitement began to fizzle to mediocrity. Andrei's Conscious Cuisine incorporates farm to table practice, but execution was lacking and the story seems disconnected. Their attempt at conscious cuisine didn't let the ingredients shine through and the elements didn't always jive well together. At least when you dine-in, all restaurant profits go toward their philanthropic foundation for Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), so go ahead and eat for a good cause!

Andrei's Conscious Cuisine and Cocktails
2607 Main St
Irvine, CA 92614
www.andreisrestaurant.com