Oak is designed for locals, by locals, and its American food with Latin flair is proving a huge hit with locals

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Finally this week I was able to report on our new restaurant Oak in Laguna Beach.

This was a review I was so excited to do having watched the former Olamendi’s and Seaside Lounge restaurant being literally transformed over the past few months into a stunning contemporary cool space which now has a totally different vibe, making the most of its central location and killer ocean views. 

Upon arrival at Oak, you just know that this place is all about detail, from the stunning wooden flooring that extends to the out door courtyard area, the inviting hostess stand, the artwork, the beautiful crafted bar area with a cool muted tile that faces out to the ocean and the balcony with comfortable and chic furniture. It is truly a job done well and has quickly become the talk of the town.  

Which is exactly what the developers of this restaurant wanted.

Becoming a local hangout was “a most important factor for Oak”

The VP of Hospitality Ann Page explained that being a local hangout was the most important factor in the whole development of Oak. “We wanted a place that local people would love, tourists are of course always welcome, but we really wanted this place to be a local hangout, for families to visit after the beach or for lunch.” (Oak is now open for lunch every day.) 

As well as having a very cool contemporary vibe, Oak’s family-friendly side shines through, with a great kids’ menu and a box of toys, including fidget spinners, for children to choose from upon arrival.

Oak’s local vision is reflected in their menu, which is an array of American comfort cuisine with a Latin flair, developed by Oak’s amazing (more on him later) executive Chef Chris Tzorin. 

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Chef Chris Tzorin’s Oak tattoo: the restaurant has literally gotten under his skin

With dishes such as Brooks Street classic meatballs and cocktails named the Lagunarita and the Brah Berry this menu reads like a conversation between two local surfers on the shore at Hakama. With an array of cocktails, more wine and beer choices than you can quite believe, this restaurant has left no stone unturned when it comes to catering for Laguna locals. 

I was delighted to speak to Chef Tzorin himself to hear just how he developed this menu and his journey to becoming executive chef of Oak.

It seems that, as with many people who end up in Laguna Beach, there is history and a magic that connects people to our town and chef Tzorin is no different. Upon meeting Chef Tzorin I liked him right away, he is straight talking but with edginess, a coolness that is emulated by his many tattoos: he actually has OAK tattooed on his arm. He’s like a rock star chef but is a family man with a beautiful fiancée, one young son and a baby on the way in January. His father was the corporate chef of the Beach House (before the The Deck and Driftwood Kitchen) in Laguna as well as two other locations. 

At the young age of 20, Chef Tzorin first became an executive chef

Chef Tzorin loved to cook from a very early age. At 13, he would regularly take charge in the family kitchen and would ask question after question regarding the science of cooking, and his father encouraged him to always carry a notebook, so that if he ever had a question or an idea he could quickly write it down. He still carries this notebook in his back pocket to this this day.  

At 17 years old Chef Tzorin would leave La Quinta High School every day and take the bus from Westminster to Laguna to help his father out in Laguna Beach, it was here he really fell in love with the town. Working with his father taught him many things: kitchen skills, how to pace himself for long shifts, budgeting and devising menu’s based on specials and seasons. As well as working at the Beach House, Chef Tzorin was also enrolled in culinary school, where he graduated with honors at 19 years old.

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The Heirloom beet salad looked beautiful and tasted great

At age 20, Chef Tzorin decided to leave the Beach House, for no other reason than he needed to spread his wings independently from his father. He took up residency at Opah under the watchful eye of Laguna’s favorite Marc Cohen (230 Forest and Watermarc). Chef Tzorin learned so much from Marc Cohen and thrived under his watchful eye as a sous chef.  

During that year he received a call from the Beach House location in Dana Point offering him the Executive Chef position. “I was 20 years old,” Tzorzin says, “and being offered an Executive chef position, no way would I turn that down.” 

After a successful time there, Chef Tzorin moved onto private catering, before working at acclaimed restaurants such as French 75 and Savannah Chop House and he was instrumental in the opening of Tortilla Republic located here in Laguna Beach. It seems that Laguna just kept luring him back.

A star on TV too

Following a brief hiatus from restaurant cooking, Chef Tzorin worked in cooking PR, private classes and was involved in television programs such as Cut Throat Kitchen and Guys Grocery Games (he was the season nine winner). He travelled to Mexico, learning more about culinary fare, specifically locating himself in Tijuana, which has become one of the most dynamic culinary cities in the world.  

After that time he returned to Laguna Beach, more knowledgeable, more mature and more eager to settle and make something of his own.  

Oak came at the right time and Chef Tzorin has been involved in the whole design of the kitchen ensuring it was just how he wanted it to run.  He designed the menu, sat on the steps at Oak Street Beach, or sat on the staircase below the building as it was renovated, asking various Laguna Beach locals what they wanted on the menu. 

My Food Journey at Oak

I decided to approach this food journey as a true Laguna Beach local. I was salty sandy and fresh off the beach, when my two children and I went in for an after-beach day meal. Our wonderful server Bri Terrafranca seated us and immediately gave us her recommendations, which I love a server to do, as I am very indecisive. We started with a few appetizers family style (to share). 

The calamari served with rice wine coleslaw and sriracha aioli, was delicious: small crispy calamari, pretty spicy to taste but not greasy and a good portion size.  The crispy duck drums were spectacular with a sweet citrus glaze. And my personal favorite, the Local Albacore stack, which consists of a spicy soy sriracha marinade, mango, avocado and wonton chips was so tasty (there was nothing left).

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The crispy duck drums were spectacular

Alongside this we also ordered the Heirloom beet salad, served with burrata cheese, watermelon, radish, candied pecans and garlic oil.  Not only did this look beautiful, but it was so tasty and I loved the combination of the red and golden beets. 

By this point we were kind of full, Oak’s portions are very generous and the thought of trying an entrée was overwhelming. However like true Buckles we rose to the challenge by ordering two dishes to share that we were recommended by the chef and our server. 

First up was Chef Z’s Hot Chicken, which is Chef Tzorin’s take on a chicken sandwich. It is rare I will order chicken sandwich (always favoring a burger) but this was insanely good, served with hot sauce and pickles with a side of fries. Delicious.

Next was the Chilean Sea Bass with whipped potatoes summer squash and blood orange butter. This dish was really tasty and my youngest child, who usually only eats fish if it is breaded, devoured this. 

It was then onto desserts and Oak does not disappoint, they served us a combination of two – Frozen Nutella Cappucino served in a large mug and absolutely decadent, and the doughnuts and ice cream which my children boxed, took home and devoured for breakfast the next day. (I know, I am Mother of the Year.) 

The food at Oak was great, we shall definitely return, but that is only one part of this place that will bring me back. This place has thought of nothing but locals in its design and its execution. The staff are wonderful, the chef is inspiring and they are open to suggestion critique and adjustments. 

I urge you to go and try it as soon as you can. Oak is located at1100 South Coast Highway, #202 (above Gina’s pizza). Phone: 949.940.3010

Website: http://www.oak-lagunabeach.com

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