Splashes, at the Surf & Sand Resort, recently had a new chef. His name is Michael Reyes, and his credentials include stints at Gotham Bar and Grill and the French Laundry. We were excited to try his cuisine at this beautiful Laguna restaurant.
On a warm spring night, the windows were open to the ocean, and we sat there savoring the sight of the sun sinking into the sea (an alliterative cliché but still very beautiful). Between that and the sound of the lapping waves, it is a very romantic spot and a great place to bring out-of-town visitors.
The room is surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling wood-framed windows. A dramatic modern light fixture of wavy glass sheets echoes the theme of the sea. Soft beige walls and wood elements provide a background for comfortable, contemporary indoor-outdoor wicker furniture. A fireplace on one wall makes for a warm atmosphere on colder evenings. There are also three outdoor dining areas, one on either side of the main room and one on the floor below, on the beach level.
As we perused the menu and sipped our wine, we munched on the crispy toasted flatbread that was served in a paper cone along with some very good tapenade of tomatoes, olives and anchovy paste.
Large, plump, green lip mussels swam in a delicious brodo (broth) with bits of pancetta, a touch of crème fraiche and a soupcon of spice. The meaty parts of the mussels were very tender, but the ends were a bit rubbery. Matchstick fries were strewn on top, and they were as thin and crispy as possible. We finished off the wonderful broth with a soup spoon.
Raw fish must be extremely fresh to have any flavor at all, and Chef Reyes' ahi tuna tartare tasted right out of the sea. It was presented in a stack with two layers of fish divided by a layer of avocado resting in a green puree of cucumber broth. Notes of ginger, cilantro and mild heat added complexity. It was accompanied by very thin, puffy flatbread for dipping up the fish.
Ever since they decided to market pork as "the other white meat," we rarely order it in restaurants because it is often tough and dry. This was not the case here. You could see the fat edges on the generous portion of meat, four thick slices, one of them still on the bone, where the meat is sweetest. This made for tender and juicy flesh, while the brown ale reduction sauce added salt and a little bit of sweetness.
On the side was a potato and mushroom hash topped with thinly sliced, braised, sweet red cabbage that was especially good, although the potato hash had an oily aftertaste. Thin, crunchy French green beans completed the dish.
Black cod is our favorite fish and it was perfectly cooked, moist and juicy, with well-crisped skin. It was enhanced with a dashi and sesame soy sauce and served with delicate jasmine rice and sautéed bok choy.
We tried two desserts, and one was a knockout! Flourless chocolate cake is a dessert standard these days, but this was definitely kicked up a notch. The cake itself was moist and smooth with lots of dark chocolate flavor and just the right amount of sweetness. It was topped with chipotle-spiced caramel popcorn. What a surprise, and how delicious a complement to the cake. There were also two little mounds on the plate resembling gumdrops, but they were, in fact, delicious bites of Fra Angelica mousse.
The cheesecake was topped with tasteless strawberries. (Pet peeve: Why bother with fresh fruit if it's tasteless?) It had a nice, creamy texture but a rather bland flavor.
After-dinner drinks include a s'mores martini with marshmallow vodka, Godiva chocolate liqueur, cream, chocolate syrup, graham cracker crumb rim and marshmallows. We passed on that one!
Great food and a dazzling view make this dining experience worth the price.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 1555 Coast Highway, Laguna Beach
When: Breakfast 7 to 11 a.m., lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 5 to 10 p.m. (Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.)
Appetizers: $10 to $19
Entrées: $28 to $44
Desserts: $9 to $12
Bottles: $27 to $525
By the glass: $6 to $22
Corkage fee: $20
Information: (949) 376-2779 or http://www.surfandsandresort.com