Find your bliss at Nirvana, where dishes are inspired by and in harmony with the changing seasons

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

In 2008 downtown Laguna Beach was graced with the arrival of Nirvana Grille, a sister restaurant to its flagship restaurant in Mission Viejo, which had opened just two years prior. 

Nirvana Grille is committed to offering delicious food and impeccable service. Their fresh menu allows a kitchen full of high-quality ingredients to take center stage. 

They describe their food as ‘clean’ California cuisine. They strive to work closely with purveyors to ensure access to the best-available provisions while changing menus with the seasons. 

The menu I got to taste was the fall menu – however, the spring menu is out this weekend, and I’ll be back to try that soon.

The menu is composed entirely of all natural meats free from hormones and antibiotics, organic free range Mary’s poultry and sustainable seafood. No food allergy or intolerance is too much of a challenge for these guys. Offering gluten free vegetarian and dairy free alternatives is no problem for this forward-thinking, adaptable restaurant. 

The nuances of American-, French-, Latin-, and local-seasonally influenced fare has earned executive Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales and Nirvana Grille accolades from both local press and her peers. 

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Light, fresh, gluten free and tasty: the burrata and organic heirloom salad

The night I chose to report on Nirvana Grille, Chef Lindsay was not there. However, she had no worries about this as she has full confidence in her sous chef, Jimmy Corona, and she left him full instructions that we should be presented with a delectable tasting menu.

I love it when chefs surprise you with dishes, it’s the best thing about this job – the element of surprise and trying all things new is my favorite thing to do.  

Our server for this evening was Enrique, who has been with Nirvana Grille Laguna Beach for six years and is charming, charismatic, knowledgeable and professional. He explains that we are to have a tasting menu that the chef will prepare fresh, therefore he will need to know of any allergies. 

With one of us choosing to be gluten free and the other not, he explains that he will cater the tasting menu to suit us both.

Our Food Journey at Nirvana Grille

The first dish to come out was the burrata and organic heirloom tomato salad. Served with a delicious basil pesto, balsamic reduction, kalamata olives, fresh basil and micro arugula, this dish was really good: light, fresh, gluten free and incredibly tasty. The organic cherry heirloom tomatoes were sweet and juicy. This is a dish I would definitely order again and again.

The next dish was Nirvana Grille’s famous poblano chile, a huge green chile stuffed with fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, shallots, cream and Parmesan cheese, served with cream cheese garlic toast for the gluten free guest. This was totally my kind of dish, the little kick of the pepper was just enough to taste and the texture of the whole dish felt right, not too greasy or heavy. It was a perfect dish and reminded me of a giant jalapeño popper. Great to share. 

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Delicious whole “Loup de Mer” sea bass is served with sautéed vegetables

I then chose a dish from the large plates section of the menu, a whole Loup de Mer sea bass served boneless, with a fresh herb coating that is grilled to give the fish a crisp coating and then baked in the oven to cook through. This is served with lemon, sautéed vegetables and sautéed lentils. This dish hit the spot on many levels. 

The fish was first of all cooked to perfection, because the two methods of cooking, lightly grilling and then baking, ensured it really did “fall apart” without being dry or chewy. The vegetables, in this case broccolini and zucchini, were cooked al dente (I suspect steamed) and were perfect. Lentils are so hard to get right, but chef Jimmy knows what he’s doing. No mush, no hard bites. A perfect side to a perfect dish.

Next was the grilled fillet mignon, a center cut, in our case cooked medium rare, served with herb maître d’ butter, roasted garlic mashed Yukon gold potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and Cambazola cheese.  This dish is usually served with a green peppercorn sauce, however that does contain wheat, so we were served with a delicious chimichurri sauce that worked just as well. 

This dish was tasty and surprisingly light given the density of the ingredients.  The fillet cut through like velvet and had that delicious melt in your mouth texture. The Cambazola cheese worked really well with the Brussels sprouts also.

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Individual mud pies were delicious, rich and perfect for two

It was dessert time and we were presented with two beautiful options to try.  

The individual mud pie was a gluten free chocolate cookie crust, with espresso ice cream, chocolate sea salt and truffle gelato, topped with macadamia nuts, chocolate sauce and fresh whipped cream and strawberries. It was delicious, rich and perfect for two spoons.

The goats’ cheese ice cream was the second option and this was crazy good. Absolutely not what I expected (ice cream and cheese?) however it was insanely more-ish, smooth and had such an interesting flavor. 

I did take some strawberries from the other dessert to combine the berries and goat cheese and that worked really well too, so it may be worth asking if you could have a small side of berries to accompany this when ordering.

All in all, my experience at Nirvana Grille was really positive. I left feeling like I had eaten a healthy well-rounded packed full of goodness meal, even with having a dessert.  I didn’t have that stodgy, I’m full-to-popping feeling. 

In fact I felt in a state of bliss, oblivion – an ideal condition of rest, harmony, stability and joy, also known as: Nirvana…

Well done to Lindsey and the team. I look forward to your spring menu!

Nirvana Grille is located at 303 Broadway. Visit www.nirvanagrille.com or call 949-497-0027 for more information.


Yummy dishes, some served family style: the Avilas know how to please Mexican-food-loving Lagunans

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

When Salvador Avila came to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico with his wife and children, he came with hope and the American dream in his heart. Five decades later, Avila and his children own and operate one of the most well known and highly successful groups of Mexican restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, Avila’s El Ranchito restaurants.

It all started in the kitchen more than 50 years ago. Mama brought with her recipes that have been in her family for generations, paying strict attention to freshness and quality.

It was Papa, though, who had the idea to involve the whole family and create a truly special restaurant. The entire Avila family pitched in and helped at the first El Ranchito when it opened in Huntington Park in 1966 with only five picnic tables. Even Grandpa Poldo offered a helping hand by washing dishes.

Today, the 50-year tradition that has made their authentic Mexican cooking legendary continues to be served at the family’s thirteen restaurants. It is still a family business, family owned, family operated and family loved. 

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Michael Avila, son Brandon, Lula Buckle and her friend – and fried ice cream…

Mama and Papa eventually shared the responsibility of running El Ranchito with their children and now their grandchildren. Each restaurant is under the personal care of a family member, guaranteeing the reputation the family has earned for treating the customers “like part of the family.”

My food tasting is in he Laguna restaurant (of course), which has been open for 14 years. I have the pleasure of meeting and being served by not just one, but two generations of Avila’s El Ranchito, Michael the owner and grandson of Salvador, and his 10 year old son Benson, possibly one of the cutest most polite waiters I have ever had serve me. 

Michael, after opening Avila’s in San Clemente, opened this place with his wife Christine, whom he met in San Diego.  Benson was one year old and Christine was pregnant with their youngest son Braden, whom I didn’t get to meet but I am sure if he’s anything like his brother he is a truly wonderful boy. 

Not only is Avila’s historical story fascinating, but Avila’s also has a history for me and my family as it was the first place we came to eat when we visited Laguna Beach six years ago on vacation. I remember sitting in there during Oscars’ week and having my first shrimp tacos – we are not renowned for our Mexican food in England… 

So Avila’s El Ranchito will always have a special place in my heart. 

Our food journey at Avilas Laguna Beach

It’s Taco Tuesday when we arrive and the deal on Taco Tuesday is $2 per taco and trust me this is a great deal, the tacos are huge and fully loaded. Avila’s El Ranchito deals do not stop there either with an array of daily specials including “kids eat free Wednesday” and $3 mimosas all day Saturday and Sunday- yummy! 

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Mama’s soup is something special, spring, summer, fall or winter

The restaurant is buzzing with familiar local faces and given its location, a large number of tourists also.  Avila’s El Ranchito rarely takes bookings, but in a true friendly family style restaurant, there are plenty of places to sit and wait if you need to the ambience is always welcoming and comfortable.

Michael had suggested I bring the family for this tasting so he could serve us dishes family style. Sadly my son was on babysitting duties, so we took my daughter’s friend along to feast.

I had saved myself. If there’s one thing I know about Avilas, it’s that the portion sizes are always substantial, so I knew I needed to prepare for a feast 

Sensing our hunger, Michael and Benson, along with Erika, our server who has been with Avilas for three and a half years, brought us chips and salsa. The salsa is sooooo good at Avilas! One of my favorites.  Lula’s friend quickly ordered her favorite guacamole (she’s obsessed) and we scoured the menu.

After our conversation, Michael had a firm idea of the types of food we enjoyed Mexican style, and seeing how quickly the girls – who had been in the ocean and were beyond hungry – wolfed down the chips, the Avila boys bought them a cheese quesadilla, a bean and cheese quesadilla and some fries to start off with.  

I would like to accurately describe how delicious this was, but within seconds of them being out in front of the girls they were gone. However the satisfaction in their faces told me all was good.

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Great tacos at Avilas

It was then time for The Avila boys to wow us with a selection of foods for us to try family style. 

The first dish bought out was Mama Avila’s soup, a large bowl of chicken breast and rice soup, garnished with fresh avocado, cilantro onions and tomatoes, cooked in mama’s special broth. This soup is beautiful, on a hot or cold day.

Next to try was the Californian burrito. It’s a crazy burrito, inspired by Michael’s wild college days, where in the early hours of the morning he would visit a place called Santanas in San Diego and order a plain flour tortilla stuffed with carne asada, French fries, guacamole, cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream.  

This is a complete carb fest and the kids LOVED it. I had a taste and it was yummy, definitely a good option to soak up one too many margaritas.

The Californian enchiladas came next: two enchiladas filled with shredded chicken and topped with tomatillo sauce, shredded cheese and avocado, served, of course, with Mexican rice and beans. These were great, surprisingly light, very tasty and the tomatillo sauce was one of the best I’ve tasted.

I’m a huge fish taco fan, so Michael bought us the halibut tacos, two seasoned grilled halibut tacos with cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado and chipotle aioli.  These were great, the halibut worked so well and was very salty and peppery which I loved I would for sure order these again and again. 

Finally came the shrimp botana platter, a favorite of my family’s, large Mazatlan shrimp sautéed in Avila’s special garlic butter sauce, with sliced avocado, fresh tomatoes, onions, jalepenos and lemon slices. This comes with rice and beans and tortillas so you can make your own tacos. It’s really good and a great dish to share.

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The shrimp botana platter is a favorite dish to share

As always, just when we thought we were done, it was time for dessert and we were served fried ice cream, crispy coated vanilla ice cream that is literally dunked into the fryer for a second so the sugar caramelizes around the ice cream, topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and caramel. 

This was decadent to say the least. The kids loved it. I could only manage a small taste.

Avila’s did not let me down. In fact Michael, Benson and the team went above and beyond to give my family a really pleasurable experience. Hospitality runs through the Avila DNA, and meeting young Benson, I feel like I saw the future of Avila’s right there.

Awesome job, Michael, Christine and your whole team. 

Avilas El Ranchito is located 1305 S. Coast Hwy. Phone: 949.376.7040


Magical, mysterious, sexy, chic, special: that’s Starfish, which offers sensational Asian cuisine

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Sexy, muted, oriental, contemporary, chic, eclectic are all the words I would use to describe Starfish, one of my favorite “date night” locations in Laguna Beach. With its stunning horseshoe shaped marble bar, serving some of the best cocktails in Laguna Beach, its low lighting and funky house music inspired beats, Starfish, for me, is like television Dr Who’s Tardis, whisking you to amazing places. Open the doors to this simple looking building, and a magical world reveals itself. 

Starfish first opened its doors in June 2011 with a vision of creating what other Asian restaurants have not succeeded in creating. And what is that you may ask? Well, Starfish’s concept highlights cuisines across all regions of Asia: Japanese, Vietnamese Thai, Korean, Indian and Chinese. Starfish’s menu encompasses all. 

In addition to its stunning interior, starfish also boasts a small yet chic patio area, consisting of high top tables and a lounge style area with plush furniture and pretty foliage.  

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From edamame on, Starfish dishes are magical to see and to taste

Gretchen Andrews and Archie McConnell are the brains behind this magical environment. Gretchen, a founding partner, has been monumental in the development of Starfish, from the décor to the intricate menu. Gretchen’s skill and vision are firmly engraved in Starfish’s personality.

Archie has a background in the heavy-hitting corporate restaurant industry and a charm and charisma that could make the toughest of customers break a smile.  Together they are a force to be reckoned with, a powerful dynamic team with a vision and drive that is hard to equal.

I arrive at Starfish on a Monday, naively thinking that maybe this would be a quiet evening to do a report. How wrong I was. Monday is “industry night,’ a fabulous concept, where people who work in the restaurant industry can get 50 percent off their check upon proof of employment. 

At 7 p.m. this place was packed.

Our wonderful server this evening was a gentleman called Jeff, who has been with Starfish for just seven months, although his knowledge and comfort with his job would suggest he had been there for longer.  

However his working friendship with Archie goes way back, having worked with Archie previously at PF Chang’s.

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This lobster roll lineup was really luscious

My guest this evening was my good friend Sheri, owner of a Pilates studio in town. She is both gluten and dairy free. There is a certain reluctance to take someone so healthy on a tasting, but I was confident that Starfish could more than accommodate our needs.

As I do with many tastings, I put the decision making in our server’s hands. He suggested we start the evening “tapas” style and he promised he would make sure everything he brought out would be in keeping with my guest’s food allergies. 

Wok fired edamame was the first dish to come out of the kitchen that evening and it did not disappoint: seasoned with togarashi, garlic and salt and pepper, these were delicious in every way. We were served a huge portion between us, enough to take some home for my son, “the bottomless pit.” 

We were then presented with the lobster macadamia roll: lobster tail, avocado, mango, cucumber, and cilantro with roasted macadamia nuts to give this a crunchy gluten free topping. This was served with a sriracha aioli and was absolutely delicious. 

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Sea bass, steamed in a banana leaf: out of this world!

The biggest treat of the evening for me was to see Sheri’s face light up when she was presented with gluten free calamari. It’s so hard to find fried calamari that doesn’t contain gluten but Starfish has this nailed down. The calamari is tossed with dried basil and lime leaf and literally lightly submerged in aioli for a couple of seconds.  

These are then served with a Kaffir lime aioli and a blue ginger cocktail sauce. They were yummy and plentiful; again I took the remainder home. 

Next course was a dish from the sea section of the menu, a beautiful sea bass steamed in a banana leaf served with Thai green curry, garlic, green beans and lemon grass rice. This fish was out of this world good: the flavors complemented each other so well and yet again there were leftovers for me to take home.

Just when we thought we couldn’t face any more food, Jeff presented us with a gluten free chocolate cake that was unbelievably good, served with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries. 

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Gluten free chocolate cake tasted as good as it looks

Starfish, as I expected, pulled out all the stops to look after us this evening. I love the food here and have been a fan since I moved to America back in 2014. But I’m a creature of habit and always order the same thing.  

Thanks to Jeff, I tried dishes on this menu that I know I will try again and again. 

Starfish is located at 30832 S Coast Hwy across from the Montage. For more information, visit www.starfish.com


Outside Nick’s, a wet and fearsome storm raged: but inside, warmth, hospitality and great food reigned

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

On a stormy day in Laguna I set off to seek warmth, comfort and of course great food. Luckily for me, this week’s report gave me the opportunity to do just that, as it was time for me to report on the ever so popular “go to” place in Laguna Beach: Nick’s.

Established in 2008, Nick’s has become something of a brand, with five locations under its belt, all of which have excellent reputations. I was confident that this evening’s tasting was going to be something special. 

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the night I chose to report on Nick’s was the Friday night of the infamous storm. Nick’s is notoriously busy, so I thought maybe visiting them on a wet crazy night would be the best idea as it might be a little quieter. It was indeed quieter but by no means empty. The lure of Nick’s food warmth and generators (most areas in town were without power) seemed to pull in many customers.

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Nick’s generated both light and great food on the evening of the Great Storm

The chef that evening was Chef Rene Regaldo. He is the newest chef at Nick’s and started his career as a line chef, working his way up to the top of the tree. The restaurant manager was the delightful Krystal, who was attentive, knowledgeable and who clearly loved her job. She had been a fan of Nick’s for years, mainly visiting South of Nick’s in her hometown of San Clemente and, having carved a successful career at PF Chang’s for eight years, is delighted to have been part of the Nick’s family for the past 12 months.

Our server was Katie, who was bright, bubbly, knowledgeable and very attentive.  The staff at Nick’s have never disappointed whenever I have visited.

My food journey at Nick’s

We decided to try a couple of starters. I chose Nick’s original bacon devilled eggs, lightly fried and with crumbled nueske’s bacon. We were served four eggs, two of which were a gluten free option (non-fried) and the other two were regular. Both were delicious.

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A devilish choice on a devilish night: delicious eggs

We then went for one of the specials, the fire roasted artichoke, served with herb mayo and lemon butter. This was delicious, light yet tasty and I would totally order this again, maybe as a bar snack with friends. 

There were three of us taking part in this food report and we each chose a dish. From the house specialties menu we selected pan seared Chilean sea bass served with lemon beurre blanc, sautéed spinach with garlic and slivered almonds and whipped mashed potato. I have to be honest, I have had this here before and it is one of my favorite dishes. Yet again it did not disappoint. The fish was fresh, beautifully cooked and the accompanying sides were perfect. 

Another dish ordered from the house specialties menu: the baby back pork ribs, beer-braised, with Nick’s house recipe BBQ sauce, served with thin cut fries and petit bistro salad. These were so good. The petit bistro salad was amazing and something I will definitely be trying to replicate at home. 

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Gluten-free burger came wrapped in lettuce leaves

The final dish was from the sandwiches and burger section of the menu. We ordered Nick’s Burger, which, I may add, if you Google best burger in Laguna Beach, this comes out as top. We changed the burger to the gluten free option, so instead the burger came wrapped in crisp iceberg lettuce.  We ordered this with a side of Nick’s fries, and it really was a very tasty burger, perfect for a cold stormy evening.

It was then onto dessert and this did not disappoint. We ordered two desserts, one a warm butter cake with a crystalized sugar crust, served with Haagan daz vanilla ice cream and served with a berry compote. This was outstanding and a large portion, but we managed to finish it all. 

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Butter cake was the ideal dessert – tasty, and not too big a portion

Our second dessert was a hot fudge sundae, vanilla ice cream, Helen Grace hot fudge, fresh whipped cream and chocolate toffee crunch. This was also really good and although I am not a whipped cream fan, I did enjoy it. There was no gluten free dessert option, so our gluten free guest could merely watch the dessert-eating going on.

To accompany our food we had a couple of cocktails: a delicious cucumber Collins and a local draft beer called Trigger Figure by the Artifacts beer company based out of San Clemente. Both were gorgeous.

Nick’s turned a stormy night of unrest into a very pleasurable evening of great food, warm hospitality and a unique charm that makes Nick’s so popular locally. No wonder this place is always busy, come rain, hail or shine.

Nick’s Laguna Beach is located at 440 South Coast Hwy. Call 949.376.8595 for more information.


Coyote Grill: Tremendous tacos along with magical margaritas make this eatery a fabulous fun zone

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

#Unpretentious, #authentic, #truelaguna, #eclectic, #exciting, #loyal, #regulars, #crazy #bajaatthebeach – if this were an Instagram post, these are the many things I would be hash-tagging about the wonderful Coyote Grill. 

However this isn’t Instagram, and I have to write like a grownup.

In 1989 Kim “Coyote” Bryant made the decision to downsize from his original restaurant Café Del Clemente and open up a “modest little shack” in south Laguna, Coyote Grill. Kim, who is half Korean, half Italian, was adopted by a white family and raised in Santa Monica, yet he frequented Baja so much throughout his life that he couldn’t help falling in love with the Baja cuisine. 

That’s how Coyote Grill came about. After many renovations and years of building a loyal and long standing team, Coyote Grill has become a Laguna institution. Kim has retired and now lives on the Big Island, leaving his wonderful daughter Desiree Gomez to take over the running of this legendary Laguna eatery.  

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Desiree Gomez loves her job managing Coyote Grill, keeping it all in the family

Desiree has been a firm fixture in Coyote Grill for 27 years, working from age 12 busing tables and she’s made her way up the ranks taking on every role that Coyote Grill has to offer. At age 18, just after she graduated high school – she laughs, saying she took a brief hiatus, leaving the business to “get a real job,” – she worked as a fry cook on T Street Beach, then went on to have a brief stint in a video store.  

However, Desiree made her way back to Coyote Grill, and you can see and feel the love she has for this place and the customers through her food and her attitude. 

Coyote Grill is a hub of eclectic décor: hand-painted murals adorn the walls and the hardwood floors, with paw prints carved out and peso coins, are a true reflection of its quirky taste.  

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Coyote Grill is a “hub of eclectic décor”

Desiree is quick to point out that she uses only local Laguna people when it comes to renovations and closes during the winter for five days each year to renovate.

I am always so impressed when I go to a place that has a long-serving team. And Coyote Grill is a great example: the longest standing member is Victor, who has served for 27 years. 

The staff forms a real team and you can tell there is chemistry between them, which gives this place its unique ambience. 

I ask Desiree what the secret is to her team’s camaraderie. She explains to me that when it comes to hiring, she has to find people who mesh well together, who can laugh and have fun with customers no matter what time of day they come in to eat. 

Coyote Grill is customer friendly, specifically local friendly. 

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Taco Tuesday is great, but so are tacos every other day of the week at Coyote

During the recession, the restaurant started a Coyote Grill Card, a reward card that gives customers 10 percent back on food orders. Some people now have large amounts of money on this card and, as Desiree explains, with many regulars the card gives people a bit of a bragging rights status. 

Coyote isn’t all locals though; this place (particularly during the summer months) is really popular with tourists too. Although it is “off the beaten track” of downtown Laguna, the resorts often recommend people to head to Coyote Grill to experience “real Laguna.”  

My food journey at the Coyote Grill

My food journey took me to the Coyote Grill for Taco Tuesday. Every Tuesday from 3 p.m. until close every taco is $3.50 and this is a firm favorite with many Laguna locals. I chose a selection of tacos to try. I started with a chorizo taco, one I hadn’t tried before, and it was really delicious, ground spicy chorizo served on a corn tortilla with cilantro and onions and a lime wedge. I’d highly recommend this, it was really tasty.

Next up was my favorite, the calamari taco, tender strips of calamari, lightly battered and fried, served with Coyote’s secret sauce with cabbage cheese and cilantro, served on a flour tortilla. This is always a hit with me, and Desiree explained to me that it was a customer who encouraged them to do this dish as a one-off 12 years ago. It has since become a regular favorite on the menu.

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Calamari and shrimp tacos are favorites at Coyote Grill

For me a taco tasting wouldn’t be a taco tasting without a carnitas taco, and Coyote Grill doesn’t disappoint: try their corn tortillas served with Mexican roasted pork and topped with pico de gallo, served with guacamole and salsa verde - perfect.

And finally I chose the blackened shrimp taco, consisting of blackened shrimp coated with Coyote’s secret sauce, served on a corn tortilla with cabbage cheese, tomato and cilantro. This was delicious and very more-ish. 

Alongside the delicious food, I also sampled Coyote’s magical margaritas. Margaritas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the beverage selection at Coyote. Wines, beers, and various tequilas are available, and as with everything Coyote does, the emphasis on selling “local Laguna” beverages is clear.

It’s safe to say that I love the whole vibe of Coyote Grill. I love the energy, the color, the magic and the sense of family. It’s busy for a number of reasons: great food, great drinks, great prices, great atmosphere and what’s more, it’s a guaranteed fun zone, any day of the week.


Watermarc checks all the boxes: fabulous food, great staff, an adventurous chef, and a family-friendly menu

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

As with all of my food reports, I like to do a little background research on the chefs and the owners. 

If you Google Marc Cohen, you’ll find pages after pages of accolades, so to say I was excited about my tasting at Watermarc was an understatement. What is even more exciting is that Watermarc is not the only place in Laguna Beach where I can sample Marc Cohen’s magic. 

Twenty-one years ago Marc was responsible for opening 230 Forest Ave and he has been the executive chef and co-owner there ever since. Alongside this, he also owns Opah Restaurant and Bar (in Aliso Viejo and Irvine). I asked him the secret to his success. He replied, “No secret, just hard work” and clearly he has worked very hard to perfect his craft.

Marc’s magical touch with menus started back east

Marc Cohen originally hails from Baltimore on the East Coast and received his culinary training at Johnson and Wales. After graduating, he worked in the Florida Keys and then Washington DC, where he was named among the top 100 chefs for his work at SuttonPlace’s Blue Point Grill. In 1994 he was lured to the West Coast where his Laguna Beach career started.

Watermarc is the “newest” of Marc’s restaurants, but it is by no means “new” in that it has been successful in Laguna Beach for the past eight years. Kevin, our server told us that every Mother’s Day is the restaurant’s anniversary. Kevin has worked here for all eight years, and there is nothing he doesn’t know about the food, the wine and the menu. 

Variety that doesn’t overwhelm

Kevin is passionate about Watermarc, explaining to me how the restaurant has maintained a very consistent menu for the last few years, only tweaking certain dishes with seasonal changes and differences. The reason for this is that the menu works… there’s a saying, “If it aint broke- don’t fix it’ and Watermarc’s menu is definitely one that is not broke.

There is a wide variety of dishes on the menu, but it is by no means overwhelming. Upon first glance I saw a Spanish influence with a paella section and the Spanish octopus in the grazing plates section. So already I was excited.

My guests this evening were my children, Jesse, age 14, and Lula, age 10.

I love to take my children on tastings as not only does it encourage them to try new things but it’s also great for me to see a restaurant from a younger person’s eyes.  Laguna Beach is very much a family town and it is always nice to find a great place to eat that is also-kid friendly.

Our food journey at Watermarc

We started our food journey with a few dishes from the “grazing plate” section of the menu. With more than15 plates to chose from, we enlisted the help of Chef Marc to recommend the ones he thought we should try.

We chose the ahi watermelon skewers, served with seaweed salad and ponzu. Not only were these beautiful to look at but also they were absolutely delicious. I encourage anyone who tries this to just shove it all in your mouth, no shame. This dish needs to be consumed in its entirety as the combination of flavors is interesting and complementary. I absolutely loved this dish and so did my children.

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Ahi and watermelon skewers make for a satisfying mouthful

Next from the grazing plates section was the sizzling garlic shrimp served with fennel, sweet onion and citrus fruits. Again this dish was superb; the shrimp was beautifully cooked and the combination of the garlic fennel was perfection. But what I really liked was how the citrus fruits elevated this dish, turning it into something that was so palatable I could have easily have eaten a huge plate and nothing else.

Kevin recommended we try the house fries, which are cooked in white truffle oil, garnished with sea salt and served with a garlic aioli. These were great and a huge hit with my daughter, who spent half her younger years in Ibiza, Spain, with me, eating aioli for breakfast (I’m not exaggerating).

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Sizzling shrimp with citrus – plus fennel – create a perfect combination of tastes

It was then time to get to the entrees.  

My daughter chose from the kids’ menu, and went for the angel hair pasta served with marinara sauce. She also had a side of broccolini. This was a great kids’ dish and a large portion.

My son aka “the bottomless pit” and carnivore chose the braised short rib, served with a soft truffle polenta, spinach and maitake mushroom. This was something else… The shortrib was so delicious, probably one of the nicest short rib dishes I’ve ever tried. My son devoured it and then told me he couldn’t talk as he was in a “food coma” which implies it was really good.

I chose the Chilean seabass, which a few people had told me was phenomenal. The seabass was cooked beautifully; it fell apart, tasted fresh, and melted in my mouth.

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“If you like seabass, this is the dish to try”

The fish was served on top of a bed of heirloom carrots, glazed with clover honey and chimichurri. Like all of Marc Cohen’s dishes, the mixture of flavors, and the magic that happens during every bite of this dish was phenomenal. If you like seabass, this is the dish to try.

It was then time for my daughter’s favorite part of the evening, dessert time.

Chef Cohen sent us his recommendations, which I was so pleased about, though it was hard to decide because they all looked so good.

We were presented with two desserts: a white chocolate macadamia bread pudding, served with pineapple ice cream and Kahlua Anglaise. 

There was also a delicious dried plantain that my children fought over. This dessert was beautiful to look at, to eat, everything. All I could think of was my mum back in England, who would have gone crazy for it. (I’ll be coming back with her when she next visits.) 

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There’s nothing basic about this bread and butter pudding

The second dessert came presented in a Darth Vader lunch box and had three homemade Ding Dongs, Ding Dongs are small chocolate cakes shaped a little like a hockey puck containing a creamy filling. There were three, each individually wrapped for us and served with an old-style school carton of milk. These were fabulous and such a great idea for children… (Who am I kidding, for adults too!) 

Our experience at Watermarc was exceptional.  

On the morning of the tasting, some ladies in my Pilates class asked me my “go to” restaurant. The truth is, I have a few, but this place has definitely made my list, because of its fabulous food from an adventurous chef, staff rich in knowledge and a family friendly menu. Watermarc definitely checked every box. 

Watermarc is located at 448 S. Coast Hwy. Call 949-376-6272 for reservations.

Kya

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

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Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Dianne Russell, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

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