Taste, texture, flavor and palatability: Chef Marc hits the mark on each at 230 Forest, where seafood rules

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of meeting the wonderfully talented and genuinely very nice guy Marc Cohen, owner and chef of Watermarc here in Laguna Beach. That tasting experience goes down as one of the best according to my two children, both of whom thoroughly enjoyed their visit. As did I.

However Watermarc was not where Chef Marc’s Laguna Beach career began. In 1996, while working at the highly respected Bluepoint Grill in Washington, he met Richard and Terry Rothbard, Laguna locals, who were vacationing at the time, and were so blown away by Chef Marc’s food that they approached him to head west, bringing his talent and his passion with him here to their hometown.

Despite Laguna Beach being so incredibly beautiful, leaving home is not easy and I totally empathize with Chef Marc when he talks about that move as being super hard. It is indeed very difficult to move yourself and your partner such a long way from extended family, particularly when you have a young family yourself.  

In addition Marc had to open a brand new restaurant, coordinate the renovation, devise the menu, and hire staff, as well as familiarizing himself with the local community. It was a huge risk, often taking him away from his wife Michelle for up to 17 hours a day. 

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Once a market, 230 Forest is now a contemporary and comfortable restaurant

230 Forest Avenue had never been a restaurant – in fact it was a market, originally called Forest Avenue Market. 

The building itself is more than 100 years old and is classified as an historical building, meaning that when Chef Marc and his partners talked about naming the restaurant they were restricted. They could only use the number and street name: they could however ditch the word “market,” as it no longer was one.  

230 Forest Avenue was a hit from day one, and it’s easy to assume that’s because of its great location. It is indeed in a great spot in downtown Laguna. But while many restaurants have tried and failed, 230 Forest has remained one of the liveliest, busiest and most well respected places to eat and the reasons why are clearer with every bite of the delicious food they serve.

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The lobster rolls are just one reason 230 Forest is so memorable

When Marc opened Forest Avenue, he really wanted to create a New York Bistro kind of vibe, and it certainly is just that. Renovated in the summer of 2016, the restaurant is contemporary, yet comfortable. 

The bar area is warm and inviting with the small kitchen and prep area fully visible to the customer. The tables are evenly spaced; the art hung on the walls is local and in keeping with the ambience.

Like Watermarc, the majority of the staff at 230 Forest has been around for a long time.  Having worked in the food industry in the past, I have seen how hard it can be to keep staff. I asked Chef Marc his secret to hiring and maintaining his staff as well as he appears to achieve in all of his restaurants.

Respect appears to be the key. Chef Marc is the first to admit that he expects a lot from his staff but he also respects every single role his team members play. Having worked every part in the restaurant and hospitality industry during his life, Chef Marc realizes that there is no better job and as long as all play their role right, all should be treated with respect. 

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Fried Brussels sprouts and braised bacon are cooked in lime, sea salt and clover honey: this kind of dish sets 230 Forest apart

Marc also hires right. He looks for professional, personable people, people who have extensive knowledge of the menu and his local diners and has the right personality to deliver his unique food. Our server was Jorge, also known as KoKo, who has been there for the past 13 years. He was funny, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, thus making the night’s experience even better.

My experience at Watermarc meant that I had no doubt that the food here would be exceptional. Chef Marc has a rule that every plate in every restaurant must have the following components: taste, texture, flavor and palatability.

My Food Journey at 230 Forest

What I noticed about 230 Forest is that the menu is seafood heavy. Chef Marc is very proud and confident of his seafood dishes and sources all his seafood from the best places – Hawaii, Japan, Alaska and Maine, to name but a few. Marc also ensures that he focuses on seasonal items to give his customers the best flavors. 

I started the evening with fried Brussels sprouts and braised bacon. These are cooked with lime, sea salt and clover honey and are absolutely to die for. The sweetness of the clover honey and the sourness of the lime, adds more flavor to the bacon and Brussels sprouts. Perfection. 

It was then onto the New England lobster rolls, which were warm Parker House rolls, filled with delicious fresh meaty lobster and sprinkled with sea salt. These were light, tasty and very more-ish. 

For the entrée, I decided to go with Jorge’s recommendation and try the special blackened salmon dish, which was served with a sweet potato hash and a charred salsa served with a corn nage. This dish was phenomenal: the fish was so fresh, the flavors so complementary and the presentation so exquisite. 

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Talk about taste, texture, flavor and palatability: the scallops have it all

It was then time to try the Day Boat scallops, served with a corn risotto, braised bacon and a tomato salad. Yet again Chef Mark has the flavor combinations down. The textures worked so well together and the scallops were fresh tasty and cooked just right.

And then: dessert. And lucky me, my tasting was the night before they launched their new dessert menu. I allowed Marc to decide which dessert I should try and quite frankly he could not have picked better one for me.  

Because I’m a huge crème brulee fan, Marc chose the pistachio crème brulee served with cranberry sorbet and biscotti. This was amazing, there was nothing left on my plate. That’s all I can say about that. 

My time at 230 Forest did not disappoint. Marc and his staff were attentive, professional and focused on ensuring I had the best food and the best time. 

I love the look and feel of the space and the history behind the building.  I hope to be a customer for the next 26 years and more.

230 Forest is located (not unexpectedly) at 230 Forest Ave. Call (949) 494 2545 for reservations. Website is www.230forestavenue.com.

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