I cannot emphasize how ambiance and vibe are the most important things a restaurant has to offer. It is the first thing you see and feel when you enter, and it affects every moment of your dining experience. The Village Inn has what I like to call the best of both worlds. It gives you a neighborhood bar feel with the craft cocktails you crave. It has an extended bar area with amazing beers on tap complimented with a wine list that was recently extended! Along with the bar area, there is also a fireplace/lounge area, an area with live music, and a side room area. Live music is a great addition to any restaurant, especially since The Village Inn plays such classy music, loved it! The main area can hold up to 70 people, and in the side room area, it can hold about 35 people. The bar is mirrored on the main and side dining areas, providing a very comfortable feel. There are TVs for the sports fans, but they are still nicely placed where you wont be overwhelmed with television if you are looking for a nice spot to dine in. Speaking of the dining situation, they have to go orders, as well as delivery to the 1100 residents on Balboa Island! Their cuisine is a must try, even for those foodies not on the island! Not only do they have a breakfast menu, but on Saturdays and Sundays, they have bottomless mimosas and champagne. With a beautiful location walking distance to the ocean, this is a must try for brunch (I know where I am going this weekend for breakfast!). This is a must go place for the boat parade going on right now. It is walking distance from it! Come in for pre-parade drinks and snacks, walk down to the viewing area for the boat parade (what beautiful boats, I love this time of year!), then come back for some live music, dinner, and some after dinner cocktails. Best of all, there is none of the hustle and bustle of the large crowd, so you can enjoy your drinks and food in peace before heading out toward the parade area. I love how they have decorated their place for the holidays too, very festive!
Daniel Miller, owner of The Village Inn, has used his previous experience working with the Montage in Laguna to brighten up this venue. The lighting is bright enough to see the person across from you and your meal, but still dim enough to give you a cozy, bar kind of feel, it is the best of both worlds! The fireplace is an amazing addition if you are looking for that living room kind of ambiance, this place can fulfill any vibe you are looking for!
Victor Sandoval, head chef, was formally trained in Italian cuisine by a French teacher! This creates a unique and deep flavor for his skillfully crafted dishes.
The first dish I tried was the crispy calamari, served with spicy marinara and lemon wedges. What stood out to me the most about this dish was the portion size and perfect amount of breading (which is usually the most important part of calamari). Each piece was about the size of a half dollar, in a donut shape. This was a good size to work with because any smaller and they would be popcorn calamari, and any larger and it would become too difficult to work with. What I mean is that many places that serve calamari either serve them too chewy or too crispy, fortunately Village Inn does not have either of these problems, theirs is perfect. The breading is not too thick, and it has an amazing taste! It is spiced masterfully, and it served with their chicken as well! I was pleased with the large portion, it was very filling, in a good way of course :).
The master mixologist Lindsey (very charming girl, I love great service with a smile), served up the first drink of the night, the Mark McGrath’s Moonshine Mule! Since Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray is one of the grand marshals for the boat parade, this festive drink is very applicable. Lindsay is a master craftsman, she expertly muddles different spices (including cloves and nutmeg) to create this festive mule. Many mules I try say they are unique, but they are all pretty much the same. I was impressed with how different this actually was. The strong kick of the moonshine is matched with the cloves and other spices so well that they end up complimenting each other. I have never seen anyone put cloves in a drink, for the obvious reason of the spice overpowering the drink. In this case, however, you get the best of both worlds, the strong flavor of the cloves, without the hard bite of it. My theory is that the cinnamon used helps blend out any kick the moonshine or cloves might give, but it all ends up being a festive masterpiece to the taste buds. It tastes like it really is sprinkled with holiday cheer!
The next item served was the toasted bruschetta. The crostini they use is the perfect texture, it is not so crispy that it explodes everywhere upon biting into, but it is not too soft where it becomes gooey and tastes under cooked. Perfect texture is an excellent sign of freshly baked bread. It is covered with a flavorful balsamic, it adds a savory and salty kick to the bread. However, the sweetness from the tuscan tomato mixed with the basil and the arugula complete the experience. The sweetness doesn’t over power the salty tang of the balsamic, it compliments it well, giving, you guessed it, the best of both worlds.
Halfway through the buschetta, I was given a delightful drink. Not only was its flavor exquisite, but so was its presentation. It was the Leslie’s Gingerbread Mann, aptly named after the second grand marshal of the parade, Leslie Mann! There was such great attention to detail, from the green ornament hanging from the side of the mason jar, to the red cranberries used to compliment the color coordination and flavor, to the silver twine used to hold the ornament in place. It was very festive and just looking at it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. The taste was like a festive roller coaster. When you take a sip, the initial flavor is the bold kick from the vanilla vodka, the alcohol and vanilla giving you a rush of warmth and depth. This is quickly followed by the warm gingerbread cookie like taste, provided by the Torani Gingerbread Syrup used in the recipe. The final after taste is very similar to apple juice, provided by the apple cider of course.
The final drink was the perfect dessert drink, a great cuddle up next to the fireplace kind of drink! Made with chocolate vodka, banana liquer, crème de coco, and garnished with their own version of the Balboa Banana with a chocolate rimmed lip, is the Village Inn Balboa Bar Parade Cocktail. It is a mouthful to say, and with its sweet and savory flavor, it tastes like a mouthful too (and trust me a mouthful is just enough ;) ) Its flavor was warm and sweet like an after dinner drink, but it was still strong enough where two or three would have you calling a cab home. It was hard not to order more than one because I am voting this drink as the best garnished drink in the OC. They used a chocolate and sprinkle covered banana as a garnish. The banana liqueur’s flavor was really brought out by the chocolate banana, and some of the sprinkles that fell into the drink really complemented the chocolate vodka and crème de coco. This drink is a must try, not only for its deep cocoa taste, but for its amazing garnish!
The Village Inn has done an amazing job this holiday season. Not only have they creatively named some special drinks, but they have crafted them expertly as well. The presentation of the restaurant itself is beautiful, with holiday decorations, a fireplace, and perfect lighting. This matches the presentation of their dishes and amazing drinks (I mean, come on, one drink had an ornament on the side of it, and another had a chocolate banana for a garnish. I know there is a “thumbs up/like” button, but I’m looking for the “love” button to press!) With flavorful dishes served in large servings, and many diverse sitting areas, from the bar, to the live music stage, to fireplace, why choose one or the other when you can have quantity AND quality; the best of both worlds.