Ivory: Unique dishes – and there’s parking!

Story by MARRIE STONE

When I entered Ivory Restaurant, my first impression was, “This place feels chic and sophisticated, trendy and beautiful, but without an air of pretention.” 

The noise level is delightful for maintaining a civilized conversation (which I loved), yet the subtle remixed rhythms of European electronica still made for a young, cool atmosphere. 

More important, no one at Ivory is trying to be anything they’re not. They’re simply—and genuinely—delighted to be there. And that authenticity, combined with the classy coastal atmosphere, attracted my attention.

A Ukrainian Foundation

When I had a chance to talk with owners Alexander Pavlovsky and Olga Bevz, my feelings began to make sense. Both Alex and Olga grew up in the Ukraine, where eating out wasn’t just a luxury—it was nearly beyond the realm of possibility. “Ever since I was a little girl, I always loved gathering places and great food,” says Olga. “Eating out wasn’t a common thing, so I was fascinated with this concept of a restaurant.” 

Alex shared Olga’s childhood experiences. “We were friends a long time and both realized we had the same concept in mind,” says Alex. “Owning a place for people to gather and enjoy their experience.”

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Photo from website

Ivory’s exterior is attractive

Together, they began looking for a coastal location, modern and fresh. Ivory fit the bill, with a white décor and old world elements that gave the space a chic vibe. The room is small and intimate, appointed with luxurious leather couches and flowing white drapery. They were inspired to add an outdoor patio with a living wall of jasmine. “Ever since we did that,” says Olga, “it’s become a hit. Especially during the warm summers.”

Ukraine meets California for a perfect culinary union 

Did that Ukrainian influence find its way onto Ivory’s menu? Da! (Actually, in Ukrainian, it’s “tak.”) Alex and Olga strive for exclusive offerings that are difficult to find in other Orange County restaurants. Their blini, for example, is a quintessential Ukrainian dish infused with a Californian touch: Crepes filled with braised short ribs and a mushroom sauce. Alex is quick to point out these are nothing like French crepes. You won’t find this taste or texture elsewhere. That culinary homage to their homeland makes Ivory’s menu utterly unique.

This winter, Alex will expand the Ukrainian influence to include pelmeni—a Russian boiled dumpling, filled with veal. It will be presented in a way consistent with Ivory’s style, incorporating both the influences of Southern California and Alex and Olga’s heritage.

Other signature & standout plates

Chef Jesus Duran joined the Ivory team as a line cook and quickly demonstrated unparalleled creativity and passion toward food. He moved through the ranks, becoming their trusted head chef in February of 2015. “When he came in,” says Alex, “we fed off a lot of his ideas and improved the menu to provide an excellent food and tasting experience.” 

What sets Jesus apart? He’s a wizard with meat temperatures and textures, says Alex. The octopus ceviche, for example, is a very tricky protein to get just right. “Jesus has perfected the process,” says Alex. “There’s a very narrow window of cooking time to get the right texture.” Jesus knows just the sweet spot.

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Shrimp, Ivory style

Another signature favorite is the Boom Boom Shrimp (an homage to Laguna’s old Boom Boom Room), a light and crispy shrimp marinated and served with a creamy aioli. My recent visit to Ivory proved that the hype over this appetizer was justified. The flavor combinations and crispy texture tasted just right. We also applauded the goat cheese and beet hors d’oeuvres, which I hadn’t associated with Ukrainian cuisine until I spoke with Alex and Olga. Beets—of course! The fresh cucumbers and pears on the side made this a delightfully light dish.

Let me not forget the prawns in a citrusy asparagus risotto. The lemon leek buerre blanc sauce created a light finish to the heft of the risotto. Against my better judgment, warning me against eating a full serving of risotto, the plate returned to the kitchen clean. And, surprisingly, I didn’t have that overly full feeling I’m often left with after a hearty carb-rich meal. 

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Beets – of course…

Alex also worked with Jesus to create the blackberry duck. “Duck isn’t something you see on a lot of menus,” says Alex. “We wanted a standout dish to differentiate us from typical fare.” The duck is complemented by farro and a side of blackberry sauce.

“The sweetness of the port and darkness of the berries work really well together,” he says. I must return to test this for myself!

The Dirty Russian & other drinking delights

Olga and Alex wanted to ensure their specialty drink menu represented their heritage, as well as a variety of options for their guests. There’s an old Soviet Union hangover cure that involves pickle juice. Actually, maybe it is just pickle juice. Alex decided to experiment. The result is a twist on the classic dirty martini, using pickle juice and adding pickled tomato, as well as good vodka. Diners can’t get enough.

This winter, Alex will bring his own family tradition into the restaurant. For years, he’s personally made a cranberry infusion for the enjoyment of his friends and family. Fresh cranberries, muddled with sugar and vodka, infused for over a week—what’s not to love? Plus, probably some antioxidants. “It creates this amazing tasting beverage,” says Alex. “Our version of the cosmopolitan.” 

It will go on the menu in a few weeks, plenty of time to become a local favorite this holiday season.

A local advantage

A few other things make Ivory particularly palatable for locals. Free, easy and plentiful parking. All the time. If you live in town, I hardly need to tell you this is a treat. 

After some research, I also discovered their happy hour is nearly unmatched in Laguna. Served from 5 to 6:30 p.m., you’ll enjoy 50 percent off appetizers and well drinks. They also have a reasonable prix fixe menu—four courses for $35. 

But, more than that—at least for me—are all the benefits that come from its location off the beaten and overcrowded Laguna path, nestled in the Canyon near the Sawdust Festival. This means the beach bikini crowd isn’t strolling by the front window looking for a seat. This intimate setting makes Ivory a perfect choice before a night at the Laguna Playhouse, with whom they partner often for various events. 

“Unlike other places in Laguna that get continuous walk-by clients,” says Alex, “we’re a destination. We work harder to provide a better experience. As a result, Laguna locals love us. We have a loyal support-base, and don’t rely on drop-in business.”

For those who want a place where they can relax, away from the frenetic crowds and beach scene, Ivory fits the bill.

Kya

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

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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.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

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