The rumor-mill hummed with news that an “out-of-town chef” was teaming up with a long standing Laguna Beach restaurant to re-vamp and freshen its menu.
In fact, months ago Newport Beach restaurateur and French chef Pascal Olhats took command of French 75 Laguna Beach. Executive chef and managing partner, Olhats owns and supervises Traditions by Pascal, Pascal Epicerie and Brasserie Pascal, all in Newport Beach.
French 75 is reminiscent of a bistro in France, at least apart from the tented outdoor dining area. Inside is a lovely two-story, 60-year-old cottage with a dark warm interior, vintage posters and romantic lighting fixtures. The bistro offers traditional fare, a full bar where experienced bartenders pour champagne, wine, beers and specialty libations. As I sipped a cucumber vodka martini with floaters of fresh cracked pepper and nibbled on herbed pommes frites, the restaurant’s hospitable ambiance swept me in.
The results from the kitchen, however, proved less convincing. The sautéed wild salmon scaloppini was served in a sorrel (mushroom) white vermouth sauce; the fish was flavorful and well prepared. Even so, I was confused as to why the dish was referred to as “scaloppini” since the term refers to meat or poultry flattened by pounding and dredged in flour or bread crumbs and then sautéed. My salmon was neither thin nor breaded but a thick fillet. The accompanying side dish of grilled asparagus sprinkled with sea salt crystals was simple yet very tasty.
Traditional French beef stew bourguignon was simmered for three hours with onion and bacon. The rich flavors of beef braised in wine, bacon and other veggies create classic comfort food. How can one deny that bacon makes everything taste great!
For dessert, chocolate soufflé, though a pleasantly large portion served with an equally large serving of crème Anglaise, had a thin consistency. I was puzzled by chocolate sauce ladled outside the dessert ramekin on the plate itself. My dining group also shared an order of crepes, which were unpleasantly gummy and too thick for my palate.
Nevertheless, I welcome Chef Olhats to Laguna and wish him well in continuing to transplant his know-how to bistro fare at French 75, where patrons can enjoy live music as well as tasty appetizers and specialty cocktails.
French 75 Laguna Beach: Bistro & Champagne Bar, 1464 S. Coast Highway. (949) 494-8444. Open daily, 4:30-11p.m. Small plates and prix fixe menu offered.
Personal trainer and South Laguna resident Patty Pinto’s restaurant blog appears on OCinSite.