Part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, which includes Houston's and Gulfstream among others, R+D Kitchen at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, CA has been one of my SoCal go-to spots for some time. Though I've never been to a Houston's I have dined at Gulfstream in Newport Beach, which was quite a good experience but for reasons I can't put my finger on I've never felt compelled to return. R+D, however, keeps me coming back for the food, the service and the comfortable space.
R+D Newport Beach is part of a mini chain with sister restaurants in Dallas and Santa Monica, but don't hold that against it. The menu focuses on a handful of classic American items made from scratch daily, done right and paired with an equally short but well-chosen wine list. I was told that the restaurant's name and menu sprang from the kitchen where research and development for the group's other restaurants is done, but I've never seen this documented anywhere.
I'm a sucker for a well-designed space and they had me with the modern indoor-outdoor spin on comfortable old school wood, glass and leather. They kept me with their flawless French dip sandwich and three-layer mascarpone carrot cake.
Yes, I said flawless French dip sandwich. If you can find fault with it you've obviously had one hell of a French dip and have to tell me where you found it at once. Frankly, I was never a fan of the sandwich before, finding it either dry, tough, flavorless or all of the above, until I tried the R+D interpretation. Featuring fresh made bread and tender prime rib it was a revelatory experience. The carrot cake was also an eye opener. I'm not sure what I'd been eating before, but they weren't French dip sandwiches and carrot cake. These items at R+D were like the successful reboot of a couple of sad franchises. The same can be said of R+D's take on the cheeseburger, which features meat ground fresh in-house daily, and their Rubenesque sandwich with tender corned beef on grilled corn rye.
If you're feeling more like dinner, the evening menu features terrific fish options, a wild mushroom meatloaf, and a great center-cut filet.
Be smart and get a reservation. I've never seen R+D without crowd out front.
R+D Kitchen Newport Beach
555 Newport Center Drive