Executive Chef and VP Dishes on What’s on the Menu
Written By: Susan Krupa
Photographed By: Chad Mellon Five Crowns
When Five Crowns opened over 50 years ago in Corona del Mar, it established itself as a fine dining steakhouse with a British feel. Lawry’s Restaurants’ Executive Chef and Vice President Ryan O’Melveny Wilson continues the legacy of his family’s 90 plus years in the restaurant business. As the newest successor to the throne, a decision was made to revitalize Five Crowns by remodeling the look and feel of the establishment. In doing so, every room changed, much of the furniture replaced, the menu revamped, and a new bar added. Now, in addition to the stalwart Five Crowns restaurant, there is the newly opened Cooper’s Bar, as well as SideDoor, an onsite but separate gastropub. This small empire of restaurants has been modernized under a new era of sovereign rule bringing Five Crowns into the 21st century with style and grace.
Q: What was the approach to the redesign?
Ryan O’Melveny Wilson: With the restaurant turning 51 this year and having been in my family since 1965, we wanted to keep the traditions of the restaurant, the heritage, and keep it appropriately British but bring it into the 21st century, liven it up, and give it some more energy.
Q: What elements did you keep from the original?
ROW: The core of the restaurant is all still here, including all the fireplaces. The cozy nature of the restaurant is still here but with some color splashes and finishes that give it some new energy.
Q: What kind of atmosphere did you want to create with the remodel?
ROW: This restaurant is a fine dining restaurant but what is fine dining today? We want this to just be a great neighborhood restaurant, we want it to be more accessible. We still and always will want it to be the place for special occasions. We will always do special things for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc. but we also want it to be a great place to come on a Tuesday night for a great meal. The menu reflects that now. We’ve broadened the menu, so there’s a lot more items that are fresher, more seasonal, and in smaller portions, so that people can come in and have a salad and maybe split something or come in and have a proper traditional three-course meal with a salad, prime rib, and dessert.
Q: Tell me about the names of each of the rooms in the restaurant.
ROW: The small room off the Main Room is called the Nixon Nook because it is allegedly where President Nixon requested to dine. The larger room next to the Main Room is the Nelson Room and is decorated in a nautical theme and named for Lord Nelson [an officer in the British Royal Navy]. The back room is called the Crown Room and now has crown wallpaper (with five different crowns) that was designed by my aunt.
Q: Why is the restaurant called Five Crowns?
ROW: At the time, when my grandparents bought it in ‘64 and opened it in ‘65, it was the fifth restaurant in the portfolio and was said to be the Crown Jewel. It was the restaurant that had the most high-end, fine dining experience, in addition to its location in Corona del Mar, the Crown of the Sea.
Q: As your menu is now more seasonal, what can we expect to change each season?
ROW: We do a menu change about every six weeks and we find what works for the calendar and what’s available. The prime rib is always going to be there, it’s never going to change. We’ve also added a section called Crown Classics where we go into the archives and pull out old items and put a modern take on them. We want particularly some of the salads and soups and some of the small plates to move through the season to reflect the temperature outside. With that, our cocktails also shift since we want them to be complementary to the food being offered.
Q: What’s the most popular item on the menu?
ROW: Prime rib. No doubt about it.
Q: What’s your favorite item on the menu?
ROW: We have an à la carte steak section. My family has a long tradition in beef and in meat and it’s something that I personally take a lot of pride in. I was trained as a butcher and have spent a lot of time cutting meat. Every steak on [the menu] has a reason and a place. They are all coming from different packers, different parts of the country or the world. The à la carte steak section highlights all different kinds of cuts and that’s a fun place to come in and order off of, share a couple of different steaks, and everyone can get a taste of different cuts, different aging, different finishing.
Q: As a trained butcher, how does that affect your approach to sourcing beef?
ROW: It’s so easy these days to just pick up the phone and place the meat order and not know where it comes from. It takes a lot of time and attention to dive three layers deeper and know exactly where these cuts are coming from. I’ve visited the majority of the plants that supply the restaurant. To me, it’s about knowing that not only is it the right product, with all the right genetics and all the right feed, but also that the animal was cared for properly and that the facility itself is of the condition we would want it to be—sanitation and safety, of course—but also the ethics of being in this business. It takes a lot of time and attention, but is something that comes out in the product. I don’t have confidence in bringing the steak to my restaurant if I don’t know where it’s coming from.
Q: On the restaurant website, you have recipes for some of your most popular items. Why include directions on how to make the restaurant’s dishes at home?
ROW: I don’t mind passing out recipes. It’s ultimately about the meat we bring in and the time we take to produce the meal, but if someone wants to replicate it at home, who am I to hold back on giving them a great meal at home? Also, as much as I am passionate about meat and food, the dining experience is so much more than about the piece of meat in front of you.
Q: Which kitchen tool do you have that you couldn’t live without?
ROW: There are these very particular pans from Italy that I use for pasta. They are curved a particular way and there’s some sentimentality to them. I don’t use them at the restaurant but I use them at home and they do make a difference.
Q: What did you cook for yourself yesterday?
ROW: I made dinner. We had a roasted pork tenderloin with chanterelle mushrooms and brown butter shallot quinoa. I make a point of cooking at home. I think it’s important to cook to nurture yourself. In the restaurant business, you end up cooking on deadline but it’s nice sometimes to slow down on a rainy afternoon and cook a nice meal.
Q: What kind of food do you like to go out for?
ROW: Japanese food. I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan and love the food and culture. So, we’ll go to sushi as well as other types of Japanese food. I could also eat Mexican food every day.
Native Knowledge: Cooper’s Bar is named after Chris Cooper, who worked for Five Crowns for over 40 years. In fact, his wife still works there. When he decided to retire and spend more time kayaking in Laguna Beach, it became an opportunity for the restaurant to celebrate his tenure.
Beet & Goat Cheese Salad – baby kale, pomegranate, walnuts, champagne vinaigrette
Seared Scallops – asparagus, brown butter, hazelnuts
Pan Roasted Mary’s Duck Breast – shaved brussels sprouts, celery root, polenta, muscat grape jus
Seared Scottish Salmon – mashed potatoes, baby spinach, beurre blanc
Prime New York Strip – 16 oz. Kansas
SideDoor’s The Ugly Gentleman: Make This Tasty Drink at Home
2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey
0.5 oz. Amaro Abano
3 tbsp Turbinado
2 DAB (Dash Angostura Bitters)
2 drops sesame oil
Instructions: Burn maple wood with a propane torch and cover with rocks glass so the smoke is trapped. Stir all ingredients into mixing glass. Keep rocks glass upside down while hand-cut ice is placed in the glass. Keep bottom covered while turning it over and pour the cocktail into the glass. Smoke should rise out. No garnish. Drink.
Flowers Provided By:
3801 East Coast Hwy
Corona del Mar, CA 92625
Juicy Meat and a Newly Redesigned Venue is What Five Crowns is all About