What is that huge restaurant next door to the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove that popped up a couple of weeks ago? It’s Nova Kitchen & Bar, an Asian-fusion palace. With proximity to Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Convention Center, we bet it will be a popular spot for special events, but it is also a shiny new place to go for dinner and drinks. Here’s all you need to know.
Background: Chinese investment company SCG (Shanghai Construction Group) America bought the Hyatt Regency and created this new high-concept restaurant in the 10,828-square-foot space with 475 seats that were JC Fandango Nightclub. SCG has spent nearly $10 million renovating the building which now houses an enormous restaurant with five designated dining zones, a bar, a patio and a swanky VIP room. The experience is “Inspired by getting lost in central Tokyo and exploring the up-and-coming neighborhood of Daikanyama.” According to General Manager Joseph Gebhardt, “They want to bring quality product in, in a high-end dining experience for tourists and locals.”
The look: SCG chose design firm Gensler to create a look based on the Five Element theory of Taoism with spaces devoted to Fire, Wood, Water, Earth and Metal. The themes continue throughout the space with a skinny fire wall that can be seen from both sides, flashy metal sculptures, an imposing white font and other features. The look is modern and clean with pops of gold and red. There are striking accent pieces such as sculptural chandeliers, live-edge wood tables and a wall of red origami swans. A dramatic sushi bar, fitted with elegant glass shelves, spans almost the length of an entire room. Pickled ginger and tiny individual squeeze containers of soy sauce are presented along with the rolls and sashimi. The spacious surroundings and easy flow from one room to the next make it ideal for events with hundreds of guests, but it’s also a spot for dinner and drinks for two.
The staff: Chef Abel Vargas is the former executive chef of Mesa in Costa Mesa. He’s spent time at Habana in Irvine and at kitchens in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami and Germany. Food and Beverage Director Alec Zheng is a 15-year veteran of the hotel and restaurant industry who has worked at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and other restaurants and hotels. Manhattanite Joseph Gebhardt spent a year at The Winery in Newport Beach and ran Antonello Ristorante for two years, working directly with owner Antonio Cagnolo whom he considers a mentor and a kindred spirit. “We’re both Italian guys,” says Gebhardt, Nova’s general manager. “The way that I am on the floor is because of Antonio. He is genuine. He loves his work. He loves his people. He loves everyone, and that’s what I want.”
The menu: Three kitchens fire up the five-part menu. The Water section shows off Nova’s dedicated sushi chef, Kenji Haruki, formerly of Katsuya in LA and SLS in Las Vegas. There’s plenty of sashimi such as Yellowtail Jalapeño ($18), Octopus with Japanese Herbs ($20) and more. Specialty rolls include Rainbow ($18), Salmon Lemon ($20) and Volcano ($16), a California roll with scallop.The Wood section offers chow mein ($12), seafood fried rice ($12) and dan dan noodles ($12). The Earth portion gathers vegetable dishes from Caesar Salad with Seaweed Powder ($13) to marinated cucumbers ($7). Fire lists Chicken Karaage ($14), Peking Duck ($80) and other dishes. Metal offers miso or chicken ginseng soups ($6), dumplings ($14), edamame hummus ($7) and other goodies. “We cover a large amount of Asian cuisines from very traditional Sichuan style to Cantonese style, Korean style and Thai. And of course Japanese, and there’s a little bit of influence of American cooking style too,” Zheng said.
The drinks: The bar will tempt you with 16 signature cocktails ($16) crafted from premium liquors: Nolet Gin, Ketel One Vodka, Woodinville Bourbon and more. Look for fancy ice made in a Vietnamese press that mechanically changes a block into a sphere in 30 seconds before the Nova logo is stamped on. Wine by the glass ($12-$15) and sake will pair well with the menu and there are plenty of craft beers ($8-$10). Altogether there are 386 items on the beverage menu, Zheng said.
Location, location, location: “We’re three blocks away from Disneyland,” Gebhardt says. “And I don’t think there’s anything better than to sit out on our patio and watch the fireworks go off at 9:30 every night. Absolutely perfect view. And it’s a wonderful thing … magical.”
Find it: 12361 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, 714-696-0888, novaoc.com.
Open: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday.