Shine on, Harvest Restaurant: every facet of Laguna’s hidden gem sparkles with innovation and good taste

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Having been given a tease of Harvest’s delectable menu on its opening night in November, I was delighted to be personally invited back to the restaurant by Jim Tolbert for a full dining experience. Understandably, Jim wanted to show off all that this “hidden Laguna Beach gem,” beautifully tucked into the curve of a quiet canyon not far from the beach, has to offer for foodies like me.

As the director of sales and marketing, Jim oversees all sales and business developments as well as account management. Now with more than 20 years of luxury resort management experience prior to being at The Ranch, Jim was formerly the director of West Coast sales at Montage Laguna Beach. Before that, he served as national sales manager for the San Diego North Visitors & Convention Bureau where he promoted business for 90 hotels and resorts represented in San Diego and Arizona.

Experience matters, and Jim Tolbert has what it takes

Jim has also held sales management positions at The Island Hotel in Newport Beach, as well as La Costa Resort and Spa and Four Seasons Resort Aviara, both in Carlsbad. His early career was spent in high-level directorship positions at prestigious golf resorts throughout Arizona. 

With his vast experience and knowledge of the industry, I was given the crème de le crème of tours: Jim showed my guest and me the many event and conference spaces, the amazing hotel rooms, pool and spa. It is safe to say that the property is one of the most beautiful and unique spaces Laguna has to offer. 

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The perfect blend of sharp and sweet, soft and crispy: these Brussels sprouts were exceptional and a great example of Harvest’s innovative cuisine

It was then on to Harvest for dinner, where we were introduced to our delightful server Haylie, who was attentive, witty and charming in every way. We were greeted by a beautiful cold glass of Kin Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Instantly I knew this was going to be a delicious experience.

We were presented with a couple of smoked Gouda gauche, served with marmalade butter. These were so delicious, a perfect light bite to start our evening. 

We then ordered the Brussels sprouts, which were served fried and crispy with sweet chili sauce, pecans, green apple and radicchio. This was not a starter, but a side dish, and the serving was huge. These were quite possibly the nicest sprouts I’ve ever tasted as the sweetness of the chili sauce cut through the sharpness of the sprouts.  

Both my guest and I couldn’t get enough of them, and in the end we had to tell our server to take them away (and box them, of course) as we were worried we would fill up on them.

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Hamachi crudo, served with yuzu vinaigrette, was oh so good

We ordered hamachi crudo from the starter menu, consisting of slices of hamachi with yuzu vinaigrette, served with pickled red onions, spicy corn nuts and mint. The flavors of this dish worked well together and the crispy texture of the pine nuts alongside the softness of the hamachi was a beautiful combination.

At this point in the evening, it was only polite to try one of The Ranch’s handcrafted libations. Being a gin lover, I decided to try the Harvest Moon cocktail, which consisted of Hendricks Gin, lime juice, St Germaine, cucumber, rosemary and tonic. It was an easy drink, a light, tasty cocktail, not too sweet yet not too sharp. Perfect, in fact.

My guest chose a Three Clubs cocktail, consisting of Ketel One vodka, hibiscus syrup, limejuice and ginger beer. This was the prettiest cocktail I have ever seen, bright pink in color, served in a Moscow mule cup. And it tasted just as stunning as it looked.

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Cocktails (this one the Three Clubs) were uniquely presented, typical of Harvest

Harvest regularly offers a special menu and we decided to go with the special entrée of the evening, which was the New York Centre cut steak, served with creamy mash, large shallots, a mixture of root vegetables and delicious gravy. This was an exquisite meal, rich but not heavy. I asked for medium rare and that was exactly the way it was done. The steak was velvety in texture and the vegetables that accompanied this dish were cooked to perfection.

My guest ordered the Skuna Bay salmon, pan seared salmon served with red pepper tzatziki, dill pickles, wild rocket and Marcona almonds. As I do with all tastings, we swapped halfway (so I can taste it all) and it was really good. Salmon can be so hit and miss, and this was a hit – not as rich as the steak, but just as delicious.

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Skuna Bay salmon: the dish looked and tasted fabulous

Just when we thought we couldn’t fit any more food in, we were directed to the dessert menu. We chose two desserts to share, the chocolate pot de crème, which is espresso whipped cream, cocoa nibs and chocolate mint, and then, on Haylie’s recommendation, the apple fritters, which are cinnamon sugared fritters with orange whipped cream, served with an apple cider reduction. 

These were both gorgeous desserts. I took the remaining fritters back for my children and they loved them.

My experience at Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach was nothing short of spectacular. Jim was such a professional in his tour of this magical property, and the food was just as magnificent as the setting. With its location, ambience and food, this place has all the right ingredients to be the hottest hidden gem in the OC.

Harvest Restaurant at The Ranch Laguna Beach is located at 31106 Coast Hwy. For more information, visit or call 949-715-1376.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Lynette Brasfield is our Features Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Cameron Gillespie, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers and/or columnists.

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