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.

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