The Studio at Montage

A window seat at the Studio at Montage in Laguna Beach overlooks the Pacific. (Los Angeles Times / September 11, 2009)

Southern California is all about long summer evenings warm enough to linger over dinner. A meal enjoyed outside or, better yet, near the water seems to taste even better and becomes a delightful respite after a day spent chasing down phone calls, tweets, emails and that ever-growing to-do list. Here are three restaurants for summer dining.

Chez Soi

Thierry Perez (L'Epicerie) and Mark Gold (Eva Restaurant) have just launched Chez Soi in Manhattan Beach. It's a sprawling space with a broad outdoor terrace overlooking a courtyard the size of a piazza. Gold doesn't miss a beat with his soulful seasonal cooking. Check out his wood-fired cherrystone clams "casino" or the wood-fired octopus with crispy fingerlings.

451 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 802-1212, http://www.chezsoirestaurant.com. Snacks and first courses, $8 to $18; main courses, $17 to $39; kids menu, $10; four courses served family style, $39 per person.

The Hungry Cat Santa Monica Canyon

For me, the perfect summer supper is a tiered seafood platter at the Santa Monica outpost of the original Hungry Cat — chilled oysters, clams, mussels, crab. Or else a plate of messy, delicious peel-and-eat shrimp. Chef-owner David Lentz turns out terrific main courses too — maybe grilled squid with squid ink pasta or house-made chorizo with clams and ribbons of kale. The wine list is tailored to the menu.

100 W. Channel Road (at Pacific Coast Highway), Santa Monica, (310) 459-3337, http://www.thehungrycat.com. Seafood platters, $47.50 to $147.50; peel-and-eat shrimp, $19; dinner courses, $13 to $32.

The Studio at Montage

Elegant dining on a bluff above the Pacific? That's the lure of Studio at Montage in Laguna Beach, where Craig Strong's inventive, beautifully executed cuisine can be enjoyed while watching the light go from tall French windows. The wine list is deep, the prices steep, but if you're in the mood to splurge, this luxe restaurant delivers. The best deal? The six-course chef's tasting menu at $125.

30801 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, (949) 715-6420, http://www.studiolagunabeach.com. First course, $24 to $28; second course, $25 to $29; main course, $55 to $58; desserts, $15; chef's six-course tasting menu, $125 per person ($200 with wine).

irene.virbila@latimes.com