I celebrated a birthday last weekend at my Number One, favorite restaurant in San Clemente and just had to share how much I love this place! Iva Lee’s is a Southern and Creole restaurant with a nod to the 40’s and 50’s Blues era in New Orleans. I’m a sucker for all things throwback to another time and place – and the ambiance at Iva Lee’s does not disappoint. Named for the owner’s grandmother – who raised the California girl on Southern staples – you can feel the love the husband and wife owners have put in. The entrance opens up to a reception area between the main restaurant, bar and lounge area. The lights are dimmed with glam chandeliers and candlelight. Hues of burgundy fill the decor with old photos lining the walls. There are even “Mardi Gras” beads atop the folded napkins at each table.
The menu gives southern cooking a modern twist. My husband loves the generous meat and cheese plate appetizer and massive, perfectly cooked pork chops with grits and collard greens – although he leaves me the greens! I would normally go for the fried green tomatoes with goat cheese appetizer but there was an amazing creamed asparagus soup du jour that I loved. After a bit of overendulgence the night before, I needed comfort food, so this time around I had the Chicken Clemenceau with sauteed peas, wild mushrooms and truffled mashed potatoes. I don’t eat meat very often, so when I do it has to be this good! My other favorites are the Blackened Salmon with grilled asparagus and huckleberry sauce and the Grilled Vegetable Stack with sauteed spinach, roasted walnuts, balsamic glaze and creole spice. I don’t know of many places you can order Gumbo or collard greens so the menu here is truly a stand out! The menu is seasonal and may change slightly, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Stop by for Fat Tuesdays and enjoy a whole new menu with even more Southern favorites like Pan Fried Catfish and Macaroni ‘n Cheese.
Over at the bar, the Georgia Peach Martini is perfection in a cocktail. The Mint Julep is also a great nostalgic cocktail that’s rarely done right but is fantastic here. There’s a great selection of wine as well. And the best part? Wednesday through Saturday you’ll find live entertainment in the lounge. An intimate area to the left of the bar with seating, a small stage and room to dance. You can hear the music perfectly throughout the restaurant, but the bar and lounge are the perfect spot to take it in up close. They feature local talent every Wednesday, and the Blues bands have a sound you don’t hear anywhere else. One of my favorite things is seeing couples dance like I only wish couples still danced, looking just as in love as they must have been dancing to that music 60 years prior.
So if you are in San Clemente and have the chance, make it a night at Iva Lee’s. The perfect spot for date night or even girl’s night and an experience that is so much more than your everyday!