The flatbread with strips of portabello mushroom above melted taleggio cheese at A Restaurant in Newport Beach. (DON LEACH, HB Independent / September 25, 2012)

Stepping into A Restaurant is like stepping into a time machine and finding oneself back in a 1940s steakhouse with dim lighting, nail-studded, dark red leather booths, wood paneling, a roaring fireplace and a buzzing bar.

When oil was discovered in Huntington Beach in the early 1920s, a road was built to connect Newport Beach to Huntington. In 1926 a restaurant and service station was constructed at that junction and called the Arches.

At first, it was just a roadside diner, but by the '40s it was known for its steak, seafood and Hollywood stars. Morphing again in the 1970s, it became a fancy French restaurant.

In 2008, the Arches was sold and the site was completely remodeled to replicate the interior and menu of its steak and seafood heyday. Thus, A Restaurant was born.

In the hottest days of summer, it is somewhat peculiar to walk into a dark dining room with no windows and a blazing fire. Nostalgia quickly set in as we slid into a comfortable red booth, and took in the red plaid carpeting and the red ambient lighting in the bar.

Speaking of the bar, the scene is intense. Martinis and pick-ups abound; the decibels are high.

The service too was old-fashioned, which is to say that we had a very attentive and helpful waiter. We really appreciated his suggestions and caveats.

He guided us to the flatbread for an appetizer, which was quite delicious. It had a very crispy, razor-thin, crackerlike crust adorned with slim slices of earthy portabello, peppery arugula, salty taleggio cheese and large shavings of Parmesan.

What was advertised and undetectable was "truffle." Certainly there were no pieces of truffle, and if there was truffle oil, we missed it.

A tempting appetizer would be choices from their charcuterie and artisanal cheese selection. Duck salumi, lonzino (spice-rubbed cured pork loin) and Perigord Noir (black truffle sausage) all sound interesting and a little different.

Among the cheeses is a mellage, a very strong flavored cow, goat and sheep's milk for the serious cheesehead. Their very good, warm, crusty bread makes the perfect conveyance for getting those morsels into your mouth.

Jidori chicken soup with dumplings was a thick potage, with shredded chicken, spinach, carrots and a little cheese. Unfortunately, the dumplings were dense and tasted undercooked.

We passed on the steak to try their short ribs with chanterelle mushrooms, cipollini onions and polenta. The meat was tender but lacked any interesting seasoning, and the old-fashioned gravy was plentiful but greasy. The mushrooms and onions were tasty; however, the polenta was bland.

The Jidori chicken was also prepared in a retro style. The chicken was nicely cooked, juicy and tender ,but the skin was soft and the bird was drowned in heavy gravy rather than the pan jus mentioned on the menu. The chicken nested on a cheesy risotto with hedgehogs (not the spiny little mammals, but mushrooms with teethlike spores), green onions and Parmesan.

Sitting across from us was a petite lady who kept smiling at us as she tried to get her mouth around a gigantic hamburger. The restaurant has won prizes for this towering creation, slathered with Thousand Island dressing, layered with caramelized onions, Point Reyes blue cheese, bacon and wild arugula. By the end of our meal, we noticed she had managed to get the job done.

It's summer, and we can never pass up a dessert with seasonal fruit.

In this case it was a peach tarte tatin. The crust had good flavor but got a little soggy from the fruit. The sweet peaches were sprinkled with a few huckleberries (similar to blueberries in appearance but a bit more tart).

The pastry was surrounded by a lovely raspberry coulis that made for a delicious complement, but the cinnamon flavor of the ice cream on the side distracted from the harmony of the dessert.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

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