“It’s fun to create dishes that will out-sell the prime rib,” says Greg Harrison, 35, Five Crowns new executive chef. A recent remodeling updated the Corona del Mar landmark, known for its roasted prime rib and Yorkshire pudding. Five Crowns and SideDoor, the gastropub next door, are part of the Lawry’s Restaurant group. The cozy English inn atmosphere is maintained with antiques and artifacts, but brightened with new light fixtures, fresh fabrics, and framed photographs. A new management team now leads the restaurant to revitalize the one-of-a-kind venue.
The menu classics are still available but Chef Harrison is adding progressive touches to new items. “I’m keeping the prime rib on its throne,” says Harrison, but his pan-seared duck with duck confit, creamy risotto and roasted parsnips is also a hit.
He’s building on an extensive background with some chef luminaries Roy Yamaguchi in Maui, Michael Mina at Aqua in the St. Regis Monarch Bay and SEABLUE in Las Vegas, Fabio Trabocchi at Fiamma in Las Vegas and most recently Masaharu Morimoto in Napa. “At Morimoto restaurant, I was inspired by the endless possibilities. A collaboration of professionals shared the common goal of preparing great food. They were open to being whimsical with preparation and presentation – from the bartenders to the servers. It seemed to be in the air they were breathing. It was all done in a fun, hobbyist way.”
His hand-picked sous chefs have the right stuff too. “Both David Moldovan and Steve Kling worked at the restaurant previously and are very talented. Steve has worked in the kitchens of Mark Peel, Katsuo Nagasawa, and Thomas Keller. David’s experience is more local: Sundried Tomato Bistro.”
Always busy, Chef Harrison adds to the culinary excitement with regular Friday night chef suppers. “Guests love them,” he reports, “We’ve created dynamic presentations such as live sea urchin in the shell. Roasted whole fish on fig leaves is another stand-out. Twelve-hour roasted pork spare ribs are sweet and tangy.” Reservations are a must because the table seats only eight to ten people.
Another part of Five Crowns’ new team is General Manager Jim Colombo. Prior to joining the world of hospitality, Colombo ran a film, photography and music production company. “I was often in the kitchens of some very influential chefs working on photo shoots and I really came to appreciate the complexity of restaurants and the demands of an operation,” he says. Jumping into the fire with both feet, he went to culinary school at the age of 34 and was on his way, manning the stoves under several notable chefs – Daniel Boulud, Paul Bartolotta and Graham Elliot. From sous chef at Graham Elliot, his eponymous Michelin one-star restaurant in Chicago, Colombo was asked to run the business. His experience, of course, came into play. “The funny thing is that it takes exactly the same skill-set to run a restaurant as it does to take a band on the road.”
Now in Corona del Mar, Colombo has plans to entice guests to frequent Five Crowns on more than just special occasions. Traditionally a go-to for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions, “We are redefining what “special occasion” means. It could mean I’ve been travelling for business and just want to spend time with my wife’ or I just had a great afternoon shopping and want to enjoy friends over dinner.'” Diners do not have to dress up (even the leadership team has removed their ties) making the restaurant accessible to a wider cross section of guests. Colombo is seeing more walk-ins, later reservations and everything from tattooed hipsters to couples celebrating their 65th anniversary. “I love the fact that we are becoming a bit of a melting pot!”
In addition he says, “The music is really contemporary (everything from Bob Marley andFrench cabaret music from the ’40s to the Clash). I am a huge believer in the fact that music really adds to the landscape of a dining experience.”
Colombo is working with staff to enhance guest experience in other ways, too. “I have worked hard to make the staff really think about the back story of guests. The couplemay have not been out together in 6 months. Tonight they spent a hundred bucks on a babysitter and really want to just be together without distraction. We are the orchestrators of that experience and it is wildly important to have compassion for every diner’s reason for being here.”
Full of energy, Colombo is jazzed to come to work every day for a company with 90 years of longevity, yet still advancing. “They are open and willing to evolve to suit trends and tastes of diners andthey trust me to make changes that will benefit the business.” He also enjoys empowering his staff to offer genuine hospitality. “When a team member comes to me with a problem I ask them what THEY think the solution is and 99% percent of the time they are correct.”
His plans include putting bee hives on the roof for fresh honey, planting vegetables and herbs, and installing a rain water collection system that connects to the sprinklers to water the garden. “I want everybody to have fun and to see this restaurant as an exciting journey, be it guests or team members!”