The Lake Forest crowd is a clubby bunch, and when they find someplace they like, they descend upon it in numbers. Westwood Bistro, which opened last year, certainly fits that bill. Yes, I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never, right? It was jammed to the gills on a recent visit, both in the sleek bar area as well as the spacious dining room, but if you want to dine on their lovely outdoor patio, you will have to wait until the sun returns in the spring.
It’s easy to see the appeal. The drinks are carefully prepared (a special shout-out to the talented bartender Russ, a true professional), with several specialty cocktails (all $12) to recommend, my favorite being the El Diablo (Milagro Reposada tequila, crème de cassis, fresh lime juice and ginger beer), a cross between a margarita and a mule with just a bit of fruitiness from the cassis.
The menu sprawls over several continents (Europe, Asia, North America), virtually guaranteeing that there is something for everyone at your table. There’s no stuffiness here; the staff is eager to please, and service is informed and efficient.
Start with a sushi roll or two for the table (yes, sushi!), available with regular or black rice and made to order. We enjoyed both the tempura crunch-covered Spicy Salmon Crunchy Roll ($13) and the impressive Dragon Roll ($16) as we sipped our well-balanced cocktails.
Chef Neptali Nava, who worked under Stephanie Izard at Girl & the Goat, has been in Westwood’s kitchen since it opened, and he has a real way with fish. The best appetizers we sampled were the Ahi Tuna Poke ($14), a Hawaiian favorite of Asian-spiced tuna tartare combined with avocado-mango salad and served with crispy wontons for forkless portability. The Ceviche ($13), made with citrus-marinated halibut, diced Vidalia onions, tomatoes, celery and avocado, was tangy and refreshing.
The Arancini ($14), here interpreted as fried risotto squares, was topped with a delicious braised short rib concoction that unfortunately overpowered the risotto balls, and might best be served instead over a bed of polenta as a main course. We happily popped the Papas Bravas ($9) into our mouths, licking the spicy aioli off our fingers as we awaited the entrées.
Casual or Fancy Options
For the main course, you can go highbrow (steaks, seafood) or low (burgers, pizza, tacos), or even a blend of both, like the Surf & Turf Burger ($18), which perches grilled and shelled lobster meat on top of a ribeye-chuck blend patty along with tarragon-remoulade sauce and Japanese togarishi spice, served on a puffy, eggy brioche bun. Quite the mouthful!
The Wagyu Burger ($15) was not as moist as the ribeye blend, and was overwhelmed by the Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, although we loved the duck bacon and Havarti cheese that gilded that particularly lily.
Again, fish steals the show. Scottish Salmon ($25), so often ho-hum, is here roasted medium-rare and set over a smooth sunchoke-potato purée and sauced with meaty sautéed oyster mushrooms and a flavorful bok choy-ginger au jus. Next stop, Umami City.
The Roasted Grouper ($27) was another flavor festival, especially as paired with butternut squash, shiitake mushrooms, pickled daikon and a sweet and sour sauce anchored by Meyer lemons. It was both sunny and autumnal.
Cholesterol had it’s due in the Beef Tenderloin ($32) paired with a rich oxtail-red wine sauce; add bleu cheese or truffle/foie gras butter ($3 additional) if you just don’t give a damn about your HDL. We were disappointed in the 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese ($8), a promising side dish (gorgonzola, smoked gouda, parmesan and gruyere cheeses and smoked bacon are elements) that fell flat. It just wasn’t cheesy enough, believe it or not.
Desserts are made in house and change frequently. If the tiramisu is available, go for it (not something I suggest very often). Here, it’s a lighter version served in an individual parfait glass and topped with fresh berries. The Crème Brulée was also lovely.
So when in Lake Forest, do as they do. Check into the Westwood Bistro and belly up to the bar — Lilly Pulitzer optional.
950 N. Western Ave.
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