If you look up the term “nova” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you’re met with two very different definitions. The first describes “a star that suddenly increases its light output tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity in a few months or years,” while the second reads, “salmon that has been cured in a mixture of salt and sugar and smoked at a low temperature.” While the team behind Garden Grove’s shiny new gem, Nova Kitchen & Bar, has left its name up to interpretation—yes, I asked—I’m going with the former. The sprawling 10,828-square-foot concept burst onto the scene (much like that star) in late summer, but I suspect its dazzling impression won’t be fading anytime soon. A cool $10 million was invested in renovating the former nightclub space into a 475-seat restaurant, where patrons can drink and dine in five different rooms—each based on the elements of the universe—or at the bar or ultraluxe whiskey lounge. A close neighbor of Disneyland, the restaurant also offers guests the chance to view the park’s fireworks from its covered patio. Dinner and a show? We’re in.
Designed by Newport Beach-based firm Gensler, the interiors are an eyeful of texture and color. “The execution of having so many rooms with completely different atmospheres is amazing,” says General Manager Joseph Gebhardt, an alum of Newport’s The Winery Restaurant & Bar and South Coast Plaza’s Antonello Ristorante. “They really captured each element and how we wanted them to be portrayed in each section of the restaurant.” Highlights include a sculptural dripping chandelier and communal tongue-and-groove tables in the Water room, where a sushi bar beckons; a wall of red origami swans and burning flames in the Fire room; and an ethereal chandelier full of twinkling branches above a font in the Earth room, where sumptuous leather booths nod to its steakhouse-style offerings. “Our main dining room—the Metal room—is the heart of the restaurant,” notes Gebhardt.
“And of course, there’s our whiskey VIP lounge; that is always everyone’s favorite room.” (I must agree, as it’s there you’ll find private lockers for premium spirits, available via an annual membership, plus a dedicated bar and premium karaoke for those looking to celebrate.)
But let’s get to the food, shall we? Chef Abel Vargas honed his skills locally at Mesa in Costa Mesa and Habana in Irvine, with other stints in Miami and Germany. Like the rooms, the menu is also divided up by the basic five elements of the universe—fire, earth, water, metal and wood—and features a wide selection of sushi, sashimi, and fish- and meat-driven entrees. “It’s a hip and trendy twist on high-end Asian fusion,” says Vargas. “I drew inspiration from all Asian cuisine to create a one-of-a-kind menu that allows our guests to enjoy exciting new flavors.” The crispy rice spicy tuna, crafted at the sushi bar by chef Kenji Haruki, formerly of L.A.’s Katsuya and Las Vegas’ SLS, is Vargas’ go-to order. “It’s pretty phenomenal,” he says, “though you really can’t go wrong with any item on the menu. We are proud to have such a great culinary team that allows us to exceed expectations.”
And exceed they do. The wagyu skillet is a sizzling display of medallion wagyu beef on a bed of flavorful shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, and it’s one of the best entrees I’ve had in recent memory. The dan dan noodles kick things up with spicy Sichuan bean sauce and green onion, and the pork-filled FiveElement Dumplings are perfect for sharing. Finish your meal with the saltymeets-crunchy chocolate-caramel ganache, sprinkled with wontons for Asian flair. Finally, head out to the patio with a drink in hand—there are some 16 craft cocktail offerings—for fireside mingling. From start to finish, Nova offers an experience that’s out of this world. Reaching for the stars, indeed.