by Deirdre Michalski

Get ready to enjoy a great new locals spot, if you have not had the pleasure of dining here just yet. The restaurant features a beautiful and spacious 10,000 sq. ft. dining room-welcoming us with 18 foot ceilings. All remnants of the previous Buca di Beppo restaurant have faded. Think lots of brick, natural woods, historical photos, an Oyster Bar, a charcuterie counter, a ginormous 130-seat lounge, private dining room, and even a dog friendly patio with a fire pit and heater lamps for cozy evenings out of doors. They even have a selection of Caldwell Cigars for after dinner drinks by the fire. This is white table cloths and with a nod to one of my "gone by now spots" The Riviera at the Fireside, there are tableside presentations to uplift the dining experience.

Bob Kuchinski, of Coastline Design in Costa Mesa, was a visionary on this project. With other restaurants under their wing, Joe Manzella and his team know how to do things right. And it shows. They have two other TAPS locations in Corona and the original in Brea. They also own The Catch in Anaheim, and Joe is a partner in the just year old Lillie's Q Restaurant in Downtown Brea. The General Manager Masaya Yamazaki here in Irvine is so proud. He was just beaming as he introduced himself, and it was a pleasure to meet him.

The menu here offers seafood, hand-cut steaks, fresh oysters brought in daily, seafood galore, smoked meat and fish, stone fire pizza, salads, sides, and front-of-the-house sliced charcuterie. The bar menu offers an impressive list of beers on tap, and most of those are their own brews. David Huls and Kyle Manns are the Brewmasters. They brew beer in the Corona and Brea location, but not in Irvine. They have the favorite lagers and ales, however are excited to presenting some barrel-aged brews that will pair well with the menu here, and they are adding some the new beers which are infused with local ingredients, such as honey from Massey Honey Company in Yorba Linda, and red grapefruit grown in Manzella's backyard. The bar is also quite proud of their beverage program, and that means playfully named craft cocktails. Austin, the Beverage Manager hails from The Catch in Anaheim, and is gathering a grand team.

Did someone say wine? TAPS boasts over 150 wines by the bottle and 20 wines by the glass. They also have 92 Wine Lockers for loyal customers to stock their prized vino. The cost is $1,000 per year, however participants receive a gift certificate of $85 each month to spend on wine in the restaurant and can order other wines to be stored in their wine locker as well. These lockers will be scooped up quickly I predict.

I attended an epic "preview" just prior to opening the doors and it gave us foodies a chance to walk thru the menu. The preview was very creatively executed. Bravo to Lee Healy-a PR wiz in the biz. Parties were presented with different menus, which gave Chefs and Servers a chance to serve a multitude of dishes. As a result, we are all chatting up the items and sharing visuals for a plethora of different menu items vs. all talking about the same 3 entrees. Brilliant Lee Healy and TAPS team!!!

The service was impeccable. The staff was very warm and friendly. They had been training for two weeks prior to entering the restaurant, which is always a good sign. And with a number of the items prepared "table-side" that becomes quite important. Some of the table-side shows include the following items: Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail on Ice, a Smoking Gun Beef Carpaccio, Sizzling Japanese Hamachi, a Caesar Salad for Two, Cobb and Veracruz salads, Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Sundae, Crème Brulee and various cocktails.

And speaking of cocktails, we enjoyed at the start of our meal a table-side presentation of their Siberian Mule. This was quite a production and started with a "witches brew" of Liquid Nitrogen, creating an icy cold shaved base for the drink. It was great fun to watch it evolve and was finished with ginger beer and vodka.

The Restaurant's creative menu is robust to say the least. It has the following sections, and guaranteed there is something for every taste bud here. It begins with Small Bites (charcuterie/artisan cheeses/snacks), Oysters, Starters, Salads, Pizzas from the Stone Oven, Sandwiches, Soups, Ocean Food, Steaks & Chops, and of course Sides and Desserts.

Exploring our visit, and perhaps giving you a few ideas of what to try, here is a walk through our "Menu of The Day" with some photos below to illustrate the delicious finds we had in store...