In the vein of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, where two enjoyable things collide together, nothing has been as momentous as dinner and theater. Is it theater that got stuck in with dinner where the play is incidental or secondary to the meal, or is it dinner that got stuck in with theater where the play is a major production with dinner less important? Receiving an invitation to Encore Dinner Theater in Tustin, we discovered that they’ve created an entertainment destination that gives both star billing. Blending the elements of feast and storytelling, quality performances presented by seasoned actors alongside a gourmet meal by an award-winning chef is the foundation of the Encore experience.
Exposing the backdrop for one of the most beloved and highly acclaimed Broadway musicals “Fiddler on the Roof”, the ruched, satin curtains reminded us of Cinderella’s regal powder blue, ball gown. Much like the fairytale princess, the odeum has undergone a wondrous transformation — from that of the milquetoast Elizabeth Howard’s Curtain Call Theater to the now tony Encore Dinner Theater. With the city’s motto of “building our future, honoring our past”, the stage production’s opening song “Tradition”, could not have been more apropos.
Ever since the venue was given a major makeover in 2011, it has brought the City of Trees’ cultural ways of tradition to a new generation of theater-goers — one even as young as 16 years old going on his first date. Set against an interior of claret, leather banquettes and pristinely crisp, white tablecloths, you might imagine that you’ve traveled back to the legendary Chasen’s of Old Hollywood yore. The tiered elevations afford everyone an expansive vantage point and the magnificent crystal chandeliers are Met Opera inspired dazzlers, ascending and descending in tandem with the curtain.
Weaving though the dining levels with graceful navigation, the professional waitstaff takes your order. Much like the performers, they too know their cues and have impeccable coordination with getting the food to the table prior to the onset of the show. Like clockwork they appear again during intermission to refill your drinks and make swift of bringing dessert immediately before the end of break alert.
Chef Christophe Jardillier’s almost 20 years in the culinary field offers French-inspired twists on American Classics. Clearly from the school of Cuisine Classique rather than Nouvelle Cuisine, his dishes are abundantly sauced, rich and hearty; and devoid of pretentious presentation. Executing everything in a bantam kitchen, marvelous plates that magically emerge are show stoppers in their own right. The dinner and show combo itself includes a 2-course meal of salad and entree, but there are entree upgrades and quite a number of other tempting eats on Chef Christophe’s menu that you’re able to add on.
Encore’s Stuffed Portobello Mushroom
This elephant ear of stuffed portobello mushroom could conceivably be a vegetarian dish, but as bonafide bacon hedonists we were glad it wasn’t. But even without the porky bits, this hefty appetizer would still make you salivate. Stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and herbs, it’s then topped with parmesan and baked until a golden, cheesy crust forms. Laid atop a warm pool of long simmered marinara sauce, the lightly seasoned fungi acts almost like a sponge that soaks up all the savory elements beautifully.
Asian Black Pepper Shrimp
This item sort of stood out as odd man out on the menu, but we’re not complaining. The characteristic Asian ensigns of garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil lacquered succulent, plump shrimp with a not too sweet, not too salty flavor. Scallions, shredded carrots, chunks of onion and sesame seeds contributed to varying degrees of crunch that complemented the perfectly cooked crustacean. We took note that the spiciness factor was not overly aggressive and could be enjoyed by many. Serve this up with a side of rice and you’ve got an instant entree.
Butcher’s Reserve Beef Brisket Sauerbraten
Although there were a number of main courses to select from, we figured that the Jewish favorite, beef brisket, would be our edible homage to “Fiddler on the Roof”. Wine braised for days to a fork tender surrender, deep flavors of beef melted on our palate. We also loved the hints of sweetness from the raisin demiglaze and the sauerbraten caramelized apple and onion. Almost tipping the meshuggah good scale, this was an excellent dish overall.
Encore Surf & Turf Fettuccine
Served up in porcelain ark, ribbons of fettuccine slathered with a perfumed Chardonnay sauce are further enhanced with the earthy notes of wild forest mushrooms. Studded with free-range chicken, sautéed provencale shrimp and broccoli florets, the shredded parmesan cheese sprinkled atop gave off a pleasantly pungent aroma. The tumbleweed of sprouts as garnish complicated the appearance to create a jumbled mess, so we tossed it aside and enjoyed the lovely wine sauced pasta dish. It is so substantial that you’ll feel the need to share it with three other people.
Classic New York Cheese Cake
Classic, New York and Cheesecake should be enough of a descriptive for this enticing dessert. Classic because who doesn’t love a luscious wedge of decadence? New York because it boasts of sophistication. Cheese Cake because that’s a given. A big thumbs up for not having to hit a tough base with the graham cracker crust, with it giving way to our fork with a slight crumble. The cream cheese custard itself had a velvety smooth consistency with no discernible cracks from overbaking. Sliced strawberries and the strawberry sauce added a tongue tingling tartness and delightful freshness to this confection. We [heart] New York (Cheese Cake).
World’s Best Carrot Cake
One might challenge Encore’s hyperbolic claim of world’s best carrot cake, but there’s no denying that theirs is a viable contender. The texture of the carrot cake was dense and moist and the chunky ingredients were chopped up to manageable bits. Incorporating pineapple was like the addition of sunshine and we were thankful that the cream cheese frosting didn’t come off as being excessively sweet. Sans the strawberries and aerated whipped cream embellishment, we could imagine this being pinned with a winning blue ribbon.
The pitfall of supping whilst watching a teary scene is that there is a good chance that your food might get a little soggy. Good thing we were able to eat halfway through dessert before that part of the program.
It’s hard to deny “Fiddler’s” warm and homespun charm, which tugs on our heartstrings and desire for the good old days. We laughed, we cried and then laughed and cried again. If you’re not familiar with the story line, it follows the life of Tevye, a humble dairyman living in pre-revolutionary Russia in 1905. Teyve attempts to honor the Jewish religious customs of his forefathers, but he discovers that the world around him is changing and that his daughters all yearn to pursue new norms. When Tsarist forces assert their stronghold over the Jewish village’s traditional way of life, Teyve summons the strength to fight for his family’s home and the traditions of his people.
We were simply beguiled by the top-notch rendering of “Fiddle on the Roof” and Michael Lopez’s deft direction. As Tevye, Cliff Senior does a brilliant turn playing a man who is weary, but buoyed by a quirky and peculiar Jewish sense of humor. Klieg-like lighting accentuates his soul-searching conversations with God and his deadpan expressions and commentary towards the audience become humorous digressions. Other highlights include the wine bottle Cossack dance, adroitly choreographed by director Michael Lopez, and the surreal Lady Gaga-esque dream scene where the masked apparition thrashes dramatically about in a flowy, white dress.
The majority of the cast possessed very good singing chops, but it was Abigail Schwartz, who played Hodel, whose haunting strains gave us hair-raising goosebumps. Our spirits actually did soar as we were swept away by memorable songs like “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “To Life.”
A rousing production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with a superb meal was a perfect combination for a night out. Currently, Encore is treating everyone to the crooning suaveness of Las Vegas star Henry Prego as he channels Old Blue Eyes in “A Sinatra Christmas” along with the multi-talented Elijah Rock and comedienne Frances Dilorinzo. Future stagings include “Grease”, “The King and I” “Legally Blonde” and more, so there is a show that anyone and everyone can surely revel in.
Find me a find, catch me a catch, Encore Dinner Theater is truly one of the best hidden gems of Orange County.
Encore Dinner Theater
690 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780
publisher | advertising
Corky Nepomuceno has 62 post(s) on Fullerton Foundry