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.

Kya

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie, Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

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