Longtime Laguna Beach resident & chef behind Royal Hawaiian resurrection – opening around the corner!

Story and photos by DIANE ARMITAGE

After all these years, the Royal Hawaiian Restaurant is coming to life again, like some kind of resurrection from an ancient oahi fire-throwing ceremony (done for prosperity and growth, of course).

Chef Jonathan Pflueger tells me they hope to open by the end of July or the first week for August. 

First established in 1947 by Harold Hanna, the Royal Hawaiian was sold to Francis Cabang just a few years later. Run by Francis and his family from that point forward, the Royal Hawaiian was a more-than-popular staple in Laguna Beach for decades until 2006, when the family sold the property to Doug Cole. He renovated the entire property and operated the RH for another six years before closing in 2012. 

The restaurant sat empty until wireless industry veteran Mo Honarkar purchased the property in 2015. 

While we all noticed scurrying activity at the restaurant a few months ago, only two recent announcements have solidified the rumors of opening:

For starters, George Poulos, longtime business partner to Ivan Spiers at Mozambique, has moved to the General Manager’s position at Royal Hawaiian. 

“George and I have been in business together for decades and decades, first starting in South Africa together and, then, choosing to come here to create our brand in Laguna Beach,” says Spiers. 

“He’s my very dear friend and an absolute pro in every aspect of restaurant management. I think everyone – at some point of his or her life – needs to do a change-up just to keep it fresh and lively, and I think this is a great opportunity for George. 

“And … now I get to stop in for a Lapu-Lapu and chat with my friend just down the road,” Spiers adds. “It can’t get much better than that.” 

Chef Jonathan Pflueger

 

Indeed, with tiki torches and Lapu-Lapu drinks being reinstated, the Royal Hawaiian looks to Poulos and Chef Pflueger to truly resurrect the good name of Hawaii.  

For longtime Laguna Beach residents, Pflueger is a very welcome name. 

Raised in South Laguna and a graduate of its only high school, Pflueger immediately plunged into the highest levels of culinary on special appointment in France, and a series of high-level invitations thereafter as the Executive Chef of the Star of the Sea Room in San Diego; the Chef de Cuisine at the Ritz Carlton; and the Executive Sous Chef at the Russian Tea Room in New York City. 

Always longing to return to his Laguna seaside home, though, Pflueger took the real plunge as innovator, chef and owner of the very popular Vertical Wine Bar on Forest Avenue. The restaurant was an award winner in mere months, earning spotlight and thoughtful onlookers as Pflueger continued to create one innovative dish after another. 

In less than two years, the request came: He was asked to open the Montage Resort & Spaas its Executive Chef. After many nights of tossing and turning, Pflueger chose to close Vertical and devoted more than two years to the Montage’s initial establishment before moving south to a two-year engagement as the Executive Chef at the popular Currant American Brasserie.

From there, Pflueger hopped the lily pads to Kauai, Hawaii, where he and his brother opened very successful “The Eastside.” Over seven years at the critically acclaimed Eastside, Chef Jonathan carefully melded fresh California style with classic Hawaiian dishes. It was only when his father passed away that Chef Jonathan returned to Laguna Beach and his childhood home. 

Over the last year or so, and as he looked for long-term new opportunities, he helped Chef and Owner Jessica McLeish create the high-level gourmet cuisine brand of the delivery-only Sourced Cuisine, and only just relinquished those reins when he was approached by the Royal Hawaiian. 

“Morris Skendarian has been a friend of mine for years and has been consulting on the Royal Hawaiian project,” says Pflueger. 

“About a month ago, he called me out of the blue to ask if I might be interested. So, in about 30 days, I’ve created dinner menus and lunch menus, and have hired kitchen staff and chefs and begun training. Everything is moving very, very fast.”

Royal Hawaiian Owner Mo Honarkar had hoped to open in early summer, but is pleased that the venerable RH will be open for late summer guests, regardless.  

While the interior hasn’t changed much from the most recent renovation in 2006, expect solid Hawaiian-style dishes and nostalgic Royal Hawaiian dishes of old. 

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A sneak peek at the Royal dinner menu talks to plenty of fresh fish and shellfish in starter pupus such as Hamachi Sashimi, Shrimp & Scallop Springrolls, Blue Lump Crabcakes, Steamed Mussels and more. The dinner “plates” offer Onaga, Shutome and Mahi Mahi as well as an Ahi Tuna “Hot Pot,” Huli Huli Chicken and classic Hoisin Glazed Pork Spareribs.  

Take my word for it … while the Lapu Lapu’s return on the cocktail menu might draw you in initially, it will be Laguna Beach resident Pflueger’s return that will keep you coming back for more.

Congratulations, Royal Hawaiian. 

This promises to be some kind of fabulous re-entry.

ŸŸŸŸ

A published writer and marketing agency owner for 30 years, Diane Armitage authors the popular blog, www.LagunaBeachBest.com and the newly revised: The Best of Laguna Beach: The Travelers’ and Residents’ Guide. She is a regular contributor to StuNewsLaguna


A love affair begins in Laguna Beach in 1990 and leads to quite a steamy situation in 2016

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

1990 was a memorable year for James and Kara Taylor: it was the year they met and fell in love working in the restaurant industry in Laguna Beach, James as a line cook in the Renaissance Café (now Alessa) and Kara as a waitress. A love affair blossomed not only with each other, but also with Laguna Beach. 

During their early years in Laguna, James worked his way up from a line chef to lead line chef and general manager, eventually managing as well as serving as head chef for Café Zoolu for three years.

Then James and Kara moved to San Francisco, James pursuing his dreams, working in French Brigade Kitchens in the city and making a name for himself as a successful chef. 

However, working in the industry had its pitfalls. When Kara took on a 9 – 5 job in marketing, the couple became like ships passing in the night. James had to make a decision: leave the restaurant industry or lose the woman he loved. He chose the woman he loved.

From producing food to producing music videos

So it was that James moved into an entirely different field, becoming a film producer, largely working for music videos and commercials in LA. During this time the couple had two beautiful girls and set up a home in Venice Beach.  

James continued to cook, experimenting with new things, hosting fabulous dinner parties and even taking desserts and treats on set with him whilst producing. 

Life was wonderful and exciting but still the couple would visit Laguna Beach regularly, knowing that this would be the place they would return to. The question was, in what capacity?

2013 was the year the Taylor family relocated to Laguna Beach, with one key goal: to become part of the restaurant community they had known and loved for years. James continued to work in production, all the while waiting and watching to see if anything was worth making the leap.

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Kara and James Taylor: a love affair with each other – and Laguna

On March 19 this year, after a long and traumatic buying process, James finally got the keys to his dream, a former coffee shop located on Forest Avenue in the heart of Laguna Beach’s downtown area. 

From that day until its opening less than two weeks ago, James and Kara have not stopped a painstaking renovation and remodel process to create a one-of-a-kind location in Laguna Beach, providing fine dining in a café environment.

The couple has named the café The Grove On Forest. 

They were out of gas – through no fault of their own

But they had to confront a major challenge. The location had no gas, which meant that to serve the style of food he wanted to serve, James had to look for alternative cooking methods, an approach that would still give him the ability to cook with a finesse and quality to which he is so accustomed.  

During his years of working in production he had constantly kept himself up to speed with cooking methods and was extremely impressed with a method of cooking called sous vide. Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum”and it is a method of cooking in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times (95 hours or more in some cases). 

The steamy solution to the Taylors’ challenge

The cooking must occur at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used, typically at around 55 to 60 degrees Centigrade (131 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for meat, and higher for vegetables. The intent is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture and flavor. 

James began to study the methods of Bruno Goussault, a pioneer in sous-vide who researched the effects of temperature on various foods and became well known for training top chefs in the method. As chief scientist of Alexandria, Virginia-based food manufacturer Cuisine Solutions, Goussault developed the parameters of cooking times and temperatures for various foods.   

James decided this was the method he would use. 

Earlier this week, I set out to The Grove on Forest to check out the results for myself.

The Grove on Forest: My food journey

As always I took someone with me, because two mouths are better than one… This time, I decided to ask Chris Guziak to join me, because that way we could catch up on some realty business, plus he is my boss, and we all know you have to treat bosses well!

To start, we had the house cured Scottish salmon. James chooses to import his salmon from farms in Scotland because, although described as farmed, the salmon live their lives in a very natural way – the farmers merely section off natural fjords with nets. This means the salmon gets a fresh diet of krill, creating a level of fattiness, which James believes gives the salmon a much better flavor.  

The salmon was served with capers, cherry tomatoes, and micro arugula and garnished with lemon rind. This dish was absolutely delicious. The salmon was so tasty, melted in our mouths and left us desperate to try more! But we had other dishes to taste.

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The salmon are so Scottish all they lack is a kilt

Next up was a firm favorite on the breakfast menu, the truffle egg toast.  James explained that was inspired by a popular New York dish. The bread is hollowed out and the egg is placed inside and then cooked. 

James’s version is slightly different in the sense that he uses the sous vide method to cook the egg in the shell then places it on top of toasted rustic white bread topped with Fontina cheese. He adds prosciutto and drizzles the dish with white truffle oil, serving it with shaved raw asparagus.  

This dish was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had in my life! Layer upon layer of flavors, a perfectly sous vide cooked egg, delicious cheese, salty prosciutto, and rich truffle oil, with the raw asparagus cutting the richness and further boosting the flavors. I totally appreciate why this is a firm favorite.

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The Grove on Forest’s truffle egg toast is not a dish to trifle with

Following this, James bought us a dish from the lunchtime menu, Caesar salad served with sous vide chilled Scottish salmon. Organic hearts of Romaine, creamy Caesar dressing, grana padano and croutons make this dish truly spectacular alone, but the addition of the sous vide Scottish salmon with dill takes it to another level. The salmon was incredible.  

Chris Guziak, my meal buddy, is a self confessed salmon snob, who having spent time in Alaska fishing for wild salmon, states that he never orders salmon anymore as it doesn’t compare to eating what you’ve caught.  However, Chris declared this dish was “the best salmon I have eaten since Alaska.”

Next up was a delicious mixed nut tart, supplied by Hans Rockenwagner, a friend of James’ who delivers cakes and pastries daily at 5:30 a.m. It was absolutely delicious and painful to have to share with Chris!

To end our food journey, we were served a breakfast favorite, the gluten free waffles, served with Madagascar vanilla bean whipped cream and berries.  Trust me, my friends, these waffles taste anything but gluten free… 

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No waffling necessary – these were unquestionably delicious

They were the most delicious waffles I have ever had to date: light, non greasy and the vanilla cream, berry combination was perfect. At this point I was so full…. But I ate the lot!

James’ love for cooking came from his mom (who sadly passed away last year) – because, he says, she was an awful cook…This meant that James, his brother, and his father would head to the kitchen on a regular basis, to ensure they ate well!

James always wears a blue chef’s outfit in her honor, as his mama always said, “blue is your color.”

I could have sat and talked with James and Kara for hours. James’ passion is as admirable as the food he serves. 

With Kara by his side, he has worked hard and tirelessly to make this café unique and in my opinion, he has more than succeeded!


Gu Ramen is the gu-to – um, the go-to place for hungry boys and adults seeking good food, too

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

With school out for the summer, I took it upon myself to report on a restaurant which, over the past 12 months, has established itself as a firm favorite in Laguna for both its eat-in and take-out menu: Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas, 907 S. Coast Highway.

People of all ages visit this place, but for this particular report I focused on how the younger generation feel about its dishes. I took my mum and two young gentlemen with me, my son Jesse (13) and his friend Aiden.

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Jesse Buckle enjoys calamari and hibachi fried rice at 

Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas

Gu Ramen just celebrated its one-year anniversary last month and according to manager James Thossansin, it has exceeded all his expectations. Thossansin originally thought that Gu Ramen would thrive from tourism over the summer months and “tick over” throughout the winter…

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Thossansin says that it is almost always lively and buzzing with locals, and both restaurant and take away orders have remained steady throughout the 12 months that they have been open.

The youth are flocking to Gu Ramen

Young people visit Gu Ramen regularly, for its well priced, tasty, wholesome, healthy dishes, according to Thossansin. I asked which dishes were favorites among the younger community and he told me the kurobuto sausage and the lollipop chicken served with the hibachi fried rice are usually their favorites from the tapas menu.  

From the ramen menu, he says, younger customers tend to go for the non-spicy ramen with the lollipop chicken as the protein of choice.

The atmosphere at Gu Ramen is casual and lively. Three widescreen TVs play music videos and there is a long bar area where people can sit and snack, as well as as booths for families or larger groups of people. 

Our food journey takes a mildly spicy turn

Thossansin recommended that we start our meal with a new dish created for the summer months. The hiyasi chuka is a Gu-style poke cold ramen, served with cold tender noodles, topped with fresh poke ahi, wakamme seaweed salad, bamboo shoots, and shredded peppers, served with Gu Ramen’s signature special sesame dressing. This new dish was incredible and the perfect balance of savory, tart, sweet and mildly spicy flavors. 

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The Japanese style filet mignon was cooked to perfection

We then shared the Japanese style filet mignon steak, sautéed with Gu signature soy batab, garlic, onion, and carrots and topped with fried garlic chips.  This was served on a bed of Japanese rice, sweet mirinyaki sauce and red ginger. 

The boys really loved this one (my son is such a carnivore). The steak was cooked to perfection and the red ginger wasn’t at all overpowering. The flavors were fused together beautifully.

Next came the tapas. We decided to go for what Thossansin said were the favorites from the tapas menu plus a few extras. So we ordered the hibachi fried rice, which was beautifully cooked – very tasty – and complemented all our tapas dishes very well. We followed this with the kurobuta sausage, which I didn’t try, but both boys demolished this dish.

The lollipop chicken was very tasty, lightly battered and the chicken itself was extremely tender. The firecracker shrimp was served with a wonderful mildly spiced mayo-based sauce and this was a real hit with boys, as was the crispy calamari (also served with the spicy mayo sauce).

Tapas were among our top choices

My particular favorite from the tapas menu was the senbei ahi tartare, which was served on a delicious rice cracker.

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I thought, “aha, this is good!” when I tasted the senbei ahi tartare

The boys’ favorite was definitely the buta belly slider, which I tasted. It was perfect, not greasy and very tasty.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas. My son has already decided that it is his choice of restaurant throughout the summer after he surfs. The dishes were universally tasty and fresh and we appreciated the wonderfully varied menu, which provides a choice for everyone, whether you like things super spicy or very mild. Gu Ramen is definitely a “go-to” for my 13 year old!

Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas is open Sun – Thurs from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and on Fri – Sat from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. The restaurant offers a happy hour menu from 3 – 6 p.m. during which time a selection of beers and wines as well as menu items are available at a reduced cost. 

Location is 907 S. Coast Highway, and the phone number is 949-715-0825.


Intimate, amazing and eclectic: Central is the place to be for Peruvian food and…well, you name it!

By LAURA BUCKLE

This week’s restaurant report took me to Central in Laguna Beach. Central has been open for 12 months and offers chic Peruvian cuisine as vibrant as the country it celebrates. Ana Driggs, the owner, is herself an eclectic mix of French, Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese and of course native Peruvian descent. With all these fabulous inherited elements, it is not surprising that prior to my visit I had heard nothing but positive remarks from a harem of faithful diners.

Ana is a lively bubbly friendly funny individual whose passion for food is evident in every sentence. She talks animatedly about how her recipes have been passed down from generations and how she refuses to let her chefs change or alter them in any way. Ana explains that she wanted to do something different with Coastal.

“Most Peruvian restaurants are very casual,” she says. “I saw a gap in the market to create something chic and high end, and Laguna Beach seemed like the perfect place to do this.”

With the picturesque setting of Laguna Beach as her muse, Centrál’s chic design provides the perfect backdrop for Ana’s vision. The restaurant is elegant, modern, intimate and comfortable.

My food journey

I have to admit that it was difficult to choose a starter for the evening’s feast. The menu is not extensive, but everything looked so delicious. In the end we decided to go for thechicharron, which is braised pork belly in mojo/parmesan whipped yucca with pickled melon cucumber. 

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So yummy, such good food!

This dish was melt-in-the-mouth amazing. I’ve never been a big pork belly lover but I have to admit, it really is something that you Americans do so well! It was truly beautiful, not greasy, light, soft but filled with flavor. Exceptional!

To accompany this small dish we chose the kale salad, a combination of Russian and green kale with macerated red onion, Breaburn apple, toasted cashew nuts and an avocado and coriander vinaigrette. This was a light and refreshing salad but crammed with flavor and accompanied our pork belly beautifully.

Entrees

Decisions, decisions…yet again! This menu was so good that deciding on a dish was practically impossible. Luckily I had a friend to help me.

The first entrée we chose was the gnocchi & scallops. These were seared diver scallops, served with potato gnocchi, burrata cheese, heirloom tomatoes and believe it or not, more pork belly…!  

This dish was magnificent. My friend and I shared the dish and it was the perfect size. The gnocchi was tender yet not overcooked, and the burrata cheese accompanied this dish perfectly.

The next entrée was the Lomo Saltada, which was recommended by Ana.  This was a traditional recipe passed down from Ana’s grandmother and it did not disappoint. I chose to take my steak medium rare, as always, and it was perfection. The filet mignon was served with heirloom cherry tomatoes, red onion, papas fritas, garlic rice and natural jus. It was an explosion of flavor with every bite and I can honestly say that when it comes to combining flavors, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Dessert

Just when I thought I didn’t have any room for dessert, Ana recommended a dessert for us to share. La Bomba was seriouslythe bomb!!  I am not a huge dessert fan, but this dark chocolate shell filled with espresso gelato and accompanied by wine macerated seasonal fruit was incredible. 

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Much deserved dessert!

My guest and I were already full to bursting (a very English term) but I am so pleased we made room for this. It was delicious. The gelato was churned to perfection, creamy and not at all icy. The dark chocolate shell was crispy and the whole dish was rich but not heavy, a great dessert.

Central has all the ingredients to be a fabulous restaurant. Ana offers an exquisite menu. Everything we ate was perfect. Also, the lunchtime menu seems to be fantastic value, especially for business lunches.

I would highly recommend this restaurant if you are looking for an interesting adventurous menu, and an intimate, contemporary atmosphere!


Okura – the perfect place for a business lunch!

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

This week, I decided to concentrate on great places to go for a lunch meeting. I’m a busy lady and quite often I have to meet clients in the middle of the day. The comfort and ambience of a place has to be just right. Meeting in a loud noisy bar isn’t helpful, nor is somewhere where others could possibly hear confidential conversations.

Okura Robata Grill & Sushi Bar in Laguna Beach has long been a favorite of mine for a business lunch for all the reason listed above. It’s large, it’s cool, and it’s clean—a great contemporary space. With low-level lighting (but enough to see your lunch companion), the choice of being inside or outside (where you are under cover so that the weather doesn’t make a difference), and most importantly its great menu, this is the place to go.

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Yummy salad makes sushi even more spectacular

Okura had its beginnings in La Quinta, where the Japanese-fusion restaurant owned by husband and wife Sam and Jay Lee became a local phenomenon, winning first place in The Desert Sun’s Best of The Valley award for the Japanese restaurant category for over eight years

Okura Laguna Beach was opened three and a half years ago and is now managed by Jin Heo. Jim was a 2006 graduate of the Japanese Culinary School in Los Angeles. 

“Okura gives guests everything Japanese cuisine has to offer, ranging from unique appetizers to delicious Kobe steak and entrees from our Robata grill, to the delicate and freshest selection of raw fish and seafood prepared by sushi chefs,” says Jin. 

My business lunch

I decided to take my boss Chris Guziak with me for lunch. (I work in realty for Provenance Realty Group.) Okura’s lunchtime runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The full menu is available during this time: however, the $35 all-you-can-eat package is only available in the evenings.

Okura offers many lunchtime combinations, including salad & sushi, salad and sashimi, salad and roll, salad and a specialty roll or the specialty roll and sushi, accompanied in all cases by miso soup.

Okura also offers a choice of three bento boxes: the Okura Bento Box, the Robata Bento Box and the Chef Special Bento Box.

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Boxes of fish to die for….

We began our meal with the Garlic Edamame, which was very Moorish and a perfect start to our meal. Chris and I decided to go for a mixture of the choices offered. The miso soup was delicious, full of flavor and not too salty (as many times miso soup can be).

We chose the grilled kale salad to accompany our roll. This was delicious and fresh, lightly grilled with figs, sweet pepper and Parmesan cheese. The specialty roll we chose was the New Kyu and this was definitely a good choice.  The roll was a combination of hamachi, tuna and salmon wrapped in cucumber and served with tobiko and cilantro. It was a surprisingly filling roll and was very compatible with our choice of salad. 

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Amazing edamame starter promises great dishes to come!

Good looking, good tasting food

Next we sampled the Bento Box, choosing the Chef’s Special.  Even before we took a bite, we were very impressed, because the presentation of this box of delights was outstanding. So pretty, in fact, that a small part of me didn’t want to eat it! The Bento Box consisted of marinated cod with sushi, a selection of sashimi, a small salad, rock shrimp and tuna maki. It was a wonderful combination of flavor and perfect to share between two people. Especially at lunchtime!

In my opinion Jin Heo really does seem to have perfected lunchtime at Okura. The staff are wonderfully accommodating, the menu is extensive and the food excellent. The lunchtime vibe is casual but impressive, a place to which you can be proud to take clients. 

Jin really embraces and is supportive of the Laguna Beach community, often ensuring that the restaurant is available for celebrations involving different organizations, such as Stu News Laguna and nonprofits including SchoolPower and the Laguna Board of Realtors.

Okura is a place I will always go back to and always enjoy.

858 S. Coast Hwy – (949) 793-4320


Carmelita’s: A rich history results in tasty treats

Photos and Story by LAURA BUCKLE

Owner of Carmelita’s, Marcos Heredia, recalls that his grandparents were migrant workers from Mexico who came to Sacramento in the 1940s, at that time unknown to each other. During their travels, they met, fell in love, married and started a family. Heredia’s father worked on the railways and sadly was involved in an accident that affected his spine. Unable to work, he was awarded a sum of money for his care. 

In 1962 Heredia and his wife Carmelita decided the best thing to do with that money was to invest it in a restaurant, and so Carmelita’s, Kitchen de Mexico, was born.

The restaurant has been a fixture in Laguna Beach since September 2012 and has a location also in Rancho Santa Margarita.  

The Laguna Beach restaurant, open seven days a week, is always busy. When I ask Heredia if there is ever a quiet time, he smiles and responds, “Not really.” He says, though, that guests are more likely to get a “walk-in table” between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m. 

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French and Mexican influences are evident in Carmelita’s delicious dishes

Yet when I arrive for my 6 p.m. reservation, there is already a line of people. 

I ask Heredia what he feels is the secret to Carmelita’s success. “It’s no secret. It is all about consistency with our food and with our hospitality.  We don’t strive to be the best, we just strive to be your favorite,” he says emphatically.

His goal is to change the perception of Mexican food from street foodto fine dining. Heredia describes the food at Carmelita’s as a fusion of Puebla and Guadalajara cuisine. Puebla, said to be one of Mexico’s oldest cities, was invaded in 1862 by France, who wanted to make it part of the French colonies. The French did not succeed in winning the city, but the country’s influence resulted in a change in regional gastronomy and the sensitivity of local palates.

Meanwhile Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city, was renowned for its quintessential Mexican cuisine. The combination of Mexican and French influences is evident in the subtly flavored dishes on Carmelita’s menu.

I chose to take two people with me to Carmelita’s. One is a self confessed “foodie” who would rather cook at home than go out. The other is a personal trainer, who rarely indulges in anything deemed to be even a little “unhealthy” – which is probably why she has the body of a goddess…

My food journey: to Mexico and France and back!

Our party was greeted with a complimentary basket of tortilla chips, blackened beans and fresh salsa. Next came the guacamole, which is made to order and served with fresh cucumber and chipotle. This dish was the perfect amount for the three of us, and a great start to the meal.  

As we browsed the menu to decide on our main meal, Heredia sent over a variety of handcrafted margaritas. These margaritas are made with freshly squeezed limes and a homemade agave, served in an ice-cold glass with tahin around the rim instead of salt.

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Yummy margaritas!

We tried four different flavors: pineapple jalapeno; cilantro cucumber; strawberry jalapeno; and spicy Serrano. They were all delicious: none was overly sweet and all were pretty strong! My personal favorite was the cilantro and cucumber. The drink was so refreshing, and had I not been concentrating on writing this article, I could have easily downed a pitcher!

Heredia then sent out the shrimp taquitos, with queso fresco, roasted lime salsa and alioli. The taquitos were light, not greasy and the shrimp was perfect.

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Sensational shrimp taquitos!

What I loved about our time at Carmelita’s was that we felt no rush to move on to our main course. Marcos simply told us to leave our menus on one side of the table to show we were ready. This is a nice touch, as I do feel that some busy restaurants are very quick to rush guests along to get them to order! I chose the Pollo a la Chipotle, which was a beautifully cooked butterfly chicken breast, served with a creamy chipotle sauce and topped with caramelized onions on a corn tortilla.

Foodies and a personal trainer: telling choices!

My foodie friend went for the Marisco Trio. This was a lobster enchilada, a chili relleno and a shrimp taco, all of which were exquisite and ideally cooked. The portion was large, and her sons at home were definitely going to be happy with the to go boxes!

My personal trainer chose the grilled fish tacos. The fish was halibut, served with wine roasted lemon tartar. A house favorite at Carmelita’s, it did not disappoint.

For dessert we decided to share the vanilla flan with Grand Marnier.  This was wonderful, so light and creamy yet full of flavor.

I understand why Carmelita’s is consistently busy.  The whole evening was enjoyable from the moment we arrived until the moment we left.  The staff was attentive, accommodating and extremely knowledgeable.

Marcos is a truly wonderful manager and leader, who waits tables and dresses the same way as the rest of the staff.  He is determined to ensure that his staff has everything they want and need. That they appreciate his concern is evident in the minimal staff turnover and the loyalty from everyone who works there.  

It was a very enjoyable evening and I would highly recommend you to take a visit and definitely sample a margarita or two, or three…

Kya

 

Shaena Stabler and Stu Saffer are the co-owners. Shaena is the Publisher and Stu is the Editor-in-Chief.

Lynette Brasfield is our Managing Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Dianne Russell, 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.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

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