Tags: Laguna Beach restaurants, top Laguna Beach restaurants, sustainable cuisine
By Ann Shepphird of GardenstoTables.com
Fresh Picks and Catches is a regular column by Ann Shepphird. Ann keeps our readers posted on restaurants around the world that are at the forefront of bringing the best local, seasonal and environmentally sustainable agriculture, meat and seafood to the table.
An artists’ colony since the early 1900s, Laguna Beach, California, is home to the Festival of the Arts, the Pageant of Masters, the Sawdust Art Festival and dozens of galleries. Luckily for foodies, the city is just as serious about its culinary arts as it is about its fine arts, with new restaurants seeking to please the “Lagunatics” (as the locals are affectionately called) as much as the tourists. The city’s visitors center even has a special section for “Laguna Beach Foodies.”
Visitors who want to create a true locavore experience may choose to skip the typical hotel room and instead enjoy one of the villas (with full kitchens) at the Retreat in Laguna (pictured here), which are located within walking distance of the weekly Laguna Beach Farmers Market. Along with fresh produce, the market features local vendors such as La Copa Catering, for quinoa salad and empanadas, and Jumbo Tamale, where Hector makes fresh homemade tamales to order. Add in a bottle of wine from The Organic Cellar (which features organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines from around the world) and the sound of the waves right outside your door and you’ve got an experience worthy of a true Lagunatic.
When you do decide to venture out, the Retreat offers a Foodies Deal that includes discounts to some of their favorite restaurants, including French 75, which offers an old-school French bistro vibe along with a new young chef who is working to source as much sustainable fish and meat and local organic produce as possible, and the Nirvana Grille (highlighted below).
Laguna Beach’s location on the Pacific Ocean and near one of the top growing regions in the country means that local seasonal products can be found in restaurants all over the city, from Nick’s, which features a Farmers Market Cocktail on its “Liquid Assets” menu, to Sapphire and Splash, both of which change their menus based on what’s in season, to the Orange Inn, famous for fresh smoothies since it opened in 1931. With so many options, choosing can be a bit daunting, but here are three restaurants we found that really stand out when it comes to providing a truly local experience – in ambience, offerings and their continuing efforts toward sustainability.
Three-Seventy Common Kitchen+Drink
A Laguna native, 370 Common Chef/Owner Ryan Adams grew up cooking with fresh vegetables and produce from his mom’s extensive garden. Today, she’s known for showing up with bushels of Meyer Lemons and Blood Red Oranges, which he then turns into dishes such as the beet-and-sweet carrot salad with citrus, pistachio, red onion, goat cheese and arugula or in drinks such as the Sexy Dennis, which is named after a well-known local and crafted nightly depending on what’s in season. Chef Adams opened his restaurant in 2011 after the closing of Sorrento Grille (where he was executive chef) at the same location and is constantly playing with what’s in season – or about to be in season. Recent favorites included wild mushroom bruschetta; a black cod with lentils, chorizo, leeks, parsley and red onion; and a kale salad with pear, currant, walnut, pecorino and citrus vinaigrette.
Nirvana Grille also features a kale salad (this one with grilled fresh corn, feta cheese, red onion and a preserved lemon vinaigrette) on the menu and a young local in the kitchen: Executive Chef/Owner Lindsay Smith-Rosales. While the name -- and, okay, the kale salad -- may evoke visions of a vegetarian-only restaurant (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Nirvana Grille is definitely omnivore-friendly, with menu items that include grilled line-caught swordfish with roasted organic cauliflower and sweet potato-butternut squash mash. The name was chosen by Smith-Rosales and her husband Luis Rosales to evoke a feeling of harmony and the two have worked to infuse the restaurant with an elegant locals (and tourist)-friendly setting and a focus on organic produce, natural meats and wild fish on the plate. Not to be missed is Chef Lindsay’s specialty dessert: Grand Marnier-glazed roasted honey crisp apples served atop house-made goat-cheese maple ice cream. Nirvana indeed.
Studio at Montage Laguna Beach
Long a believer in sourcing from local farms, Chef Craig Strong at the Montage Laguna Beach’s signature Studio restaurant stepped things up last spring with the addition of a chef’s garden (pictured here). Perched next to the Craftsman-style bungalow that houses the restaurant and overlooks the Pacific Ocean, the Studio Garden features beds filled with herbs, vegetables, berries and companion flowers. The new garden allows Chef Strong to add two things to his already-local offerings: he can pick herbs such as lemon verbena minutes before using them in, say, the aroma that accompanies his seared Hudson Valley foie gras, and in creating a series of signature cocktails using whatever’s growing that week. Guests at Studio can choose between ordering a la carte, enjoying a seasonal tasting menu or take in a private dinner at the Chef’s Table with the open-air kitchen in full view.
Photo Credits:Top photo is the view from a villa at the Retreat in Laguna; the photo above is the chef's garden at the Studio Restaurant at Montage Laguna Beach. Photos by Ann Shepphird.