Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer in Laguna Beach - Relaxation Defined

2008 Discussion - Best of the Year?
It was the perfect setting with the perfect wine – probably the best red I have tasted in 2012. Sitting on the outdoor patio of the Surf & Sand Hotel, enjoying a spectacular bottle of Duckhorn “The Discussion” 2008. With the waves crashing the beach below, it was the epitome of the Laguna Beach lifestyle. Relaxation defined.

Laguna Beach is a destination that inspires the senses. It is an artist’s colony, a walker’s paradise, a town loaded with enjoyable dining spots and at times, a horde of tourists. While some enjoy the crowds at storied Main Beach, we prefer the quieter, more expansive beaches to the south, like the beach near the aforementioned Surf & Sand.

The Surf & Sand is pricey, but for those who cannot resist the serenity of a balcony over the ocean, for those who love the fresh ocean air and the endless pounding of the surf through open double doors, there is no better place to be.

Laguna is internationally known for art festivals and events – most notably, the Sawdust Festival and the Pageant of the Masters. Sawdust is local art show, fun and casual; the kind of art and craft show that serves cold imported beers and offers free entertainment as part of the overall package. Strolling around Sawdust, a nice walk from downtown Laguna - a fine way to spend an afternoon – open 10 to 10 daily, it runs through September 2nd. All located in the same area of Laguna, the Festival of the Arts and the Pageant of the Masters (where art comes alive on stage) is the main event. Tickets for the Pageant can be a hot item.

Nice Super Tuscan
Our favorite destination after visiting the Sawdust Festival is to grab a patio table at Cucina Alessa, at 234 Forest. A choice spot to watch the amazingly diverse, somewhat dazed tourists walk by, Cucina Alessa offers some delicious selections from all regions of Italy. With a bottle of Super Tuscan La Macchiole, Bolgheri Rosso on the table, we felt it was appropriate to hit up the Prosciutto and Mozzarella Bar, enjoying some Parma Prosciutto, aged 14 months, along with fresh imported mozzarella. The Super Tuscan held up well to thin ham and smooth cheese – getting better every minute as it breathed amid the ocean air. We flipped out over the Manila Clams, sautéed in a light garlic tomato white wine sauce and were impressed with the thin crusted sausage pizza. Cucina Alessa remains one of our favorites in town.

Breakfast in Laguna is a real pleasure. We visited two well regarded local establishments, the Cottage and the Beach House. The Cottage is just north of Main Beach and offers indoor and outdoor dining. Some of the locals absolutely swear by the place and it is good – we had some tasty and generous omelets. The Cottage also serves lunch and dinner – we will check that out down the line. The Cottage has been there since 1917 – a restaurant since the 1930’s.

Beach House - Eat Outside on the Balcony!
Like the Cottage, the Beach House, a few blocks south of Main Beach, has plenty of history (was the home of actor Slim Summerville, household name, right?) and serves a hearty breakfast and a spicy Bloody Mary. The Beach House also has a nice outdoor dining balcony right on the ocean. Here’s the question that perplexes me: Why do people go to the beach and then choose to sit inside? We enjoyed our breakfast on the balcony, above the crashing waves. For a more refined breakfast (that’s code for expensive) it is hard to beat the open air dining at Surf & Sand. Not a rustic beachcomber’s breakfast, but great food, white tablecloths – rich coffee.

We were attracted to the look and the buzz at a restaurant called Asada, a nice open air venue in downtown Laguna. The business card has three words on it to describe the place: Steaks, Tequila, Fiesta. Right on target – the bar runs right down the middle of the place, so the diners and the revelers are in close proximity. Fun place. We started with some Guacamole Diablo – some Classic Albondigas Soup and tender Filet Mignon Tacos. A nice bottle of Brown Estate Zinfandel – direct from Bevmo – was perfect, bringing a rich berry flavor to the table, just right amid the spice. Our server enjoyed some wine with us and poof – no corkage.

The Rooftop - It is a party up there!
Because we cannot seem to get enough Mexican food, we acted on a raving recommendation one month earlier from a gregarious Newport Beach lifeguard. La Sirena Grill is a tiny little place in Laguna Beach, but we visited their spacious new location in South Laguna, just a short cab ride from downtown Laguna. Clearly a local favorite, we feasted on Carne Asada Tacos and Tortilla Soup. Good enough that a visit to their El Segundo location is on my radar. In South Laguna, they have 19 craft style beers on draft – nice touch along with a signature Margarita. Creative, fresh, organic and delicious Mexican cuisine.

If there is a pulse to Laguna Beach, it has to be the Rooftop at La Casa Del Camino. It is a front row seat to staggering Pacific sunsets and quite the outdoor party venue. It could be the happy hour that has an impact – half price wine, well drinks, beer and the best Mojito we have enjoyed in a while. Maybe the setting makes everything taste better, the Baja Ceviche was excellent. This is a place to snack, drink and laugh out loud, especially at happy hour, when the patrons are revved up.

Best thing we had at Katsuya
Katsuya – big name Sushi has arrived in Laguna Beach with a very lovely building, all their own. Beautiful decor, certainly good sushi, late night dining, very hip crowd (we felt like we were in Kill Bill) but as someone who tries 40 different sushi bars per year – something was missing that kept this from being an exceptional experience. Example, the $20 Wild Salmon Sashimi (doesn’t that sound great?) had a pesto like sauce on it and packed no flavor punch whatsoever. Maybe we just visited them on a night when they were exceptionally mediocre across the board. I would love to hear opinions from readers on this.

At Katsuya, we kept waiting for one thing to taste as good as the bottle of 2008 Ferrari-Carano Tresor that we carried in. This wine was so exceptional, I am not even bitter about the $25 corkage. Yeah, maybe I am. But then again, someone has to pay for all that designer bling.

Here are the winemaker’s Notes from wine.com:

Inspired by the great wines of Bordeaux, our 2008 Trésor, meaning "treasure" in French, showcases the vintages' finest lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The grapes are hand harvested from dry-farmed, low-yielding vines primarily on our mountain vineyards. Delicious aromas of black tea, cedar, earth, vanilla, blackberry and cassis combine with rich, wild berry flavors and a full mid-palate with considerable, round tannins. Lingering sweet oak notes of crème brûlée and dark chocolate add great depth. This wine's upfront silkiness and roundness make for a delicious selection now and will drink well for 15-20 years.

Blend: 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec

Here a tip from the locals. On our last night in town, around 9:30 PM, we were walking back to our hotel after that nice dinner at Asada. We chatted up the owner of a local t-shirt shop and the young man suggested a restaurant called Café Zoolu. As he put it, “A little place with the best seafood in town, the best.” So, we walked over to 860 Glenneyre and initially, could not find Café Zoolu on the dark street. An older couple passed us (even in the darkness, it was clear by the red hue that these locals need to find some shade once in awhile) and we asked them where Café Zoolu was. They pointed down the road at a small restaurant and added “The best seafood in town.” Next time, Café Zoolu for sure.

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What I am listening to right now on the crowded LA freeways - The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader.  Just in time for the movie release.

If you drive a lot, or if reading just wears you out, you have to try Audible. I am thoroughly addicted to the Audible downloads program. I’m personally cranking through a book each week.

High quality beverage your office every day: Try the Tassimo Pro - now available from Gourmet Coffee Service – Southern California’s office refreshment leader.