With the grand opening of ReMark’s this Sunday, the recent closure of French 75, and management turnover at Starfish, Laguna Beach’s restaurant scene is shifting again.
Nearly two years after closing the doors of Mark’s, Mark DePalma returns to the same Festival Center location at 853 Laguna Canyon Rd. with the aptly named ReMark’s, already garnering rave Yelp reviews from customers who dined there during his soft opening last week.
DePalma partnered with Richard and Donna Alexander of Huntington Beach to launch the new eatery, already booked for several private parties, including one for the city’s police department, prior to its grand opening to the public this Sunday, Dec. 16, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
DePalma attributed his reopening to “a great deal with our landlord,” and said that nothing on the menu exceeds $14.50, since their goal is to “make it affordable for people to come in once or twice a week.”
At a dinner this past Wednesday, ReMark’s offered reasonably priced creative gourmet dishes. Green fried tomatoes, crusty on the outside and vibrantly tangy on the inside, were pared with a smoky chipotle sauce on the appetizer menu, where prices ranged from $5 to $11.25. Entrees ranging from $9.75 to $14.50 proved equally enticing. Bassa, a flaky white fish similar to sand dabs, was delicately executed with fresh fennel and orange, a bargain at $13. Signature cocktails, including the Dana Tini (Zaya rum, pomegranate and pineapple juice), were all priced at $10.50. Beer options ranged from $4 to $5.75, and most wines on a small but well-informed list were in the $25 to $35 range, with individual glasses priced from $6.50 to $9.50. If proof is in the pudding, ReMark’s served up decadent pumpkin bread pudding without any heaviness.
ReMark’s will be open for dinner only, beginning at 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays for private events. DePalma also continues his thriving catering business, now called Catering by ReMark’s.
In a coincidence of karma, the veteran of Laguna’s restaurant scene launches his new restaurant just as French 75 has gone dark.
With his own restaurant shuttered, DePalma was recruited to join the team at French 75 after it had emerged from bankruptcy in the spring of 2011 to help revitalize the ambiance under new owners John Martin and Rudy Pollak.
But the new owners of French 75, which had operated at 1464 S. Coast Highway since 1997, recently accepted a buyout offer and sold the restaurant to an investment group that plans a major makeover.
The space is tentatively set to re-open as Teemu Tavern & Grill next April, according to a statement on the restaurant’s web site. NHL hall of famer and current Anaheim Duck Teemu Selanne has partnered up with businessman Kevin Pratt and longtime restaurant operator Jim Shumate, manager of Dana Point’s Chart House, for the venture, which has been billed as “a traditional upscale neighborhood tavern and steak house in a sophisticated, yet casual environment.”
Reached earlier this week, Shumate declined to discuss the project, but expects to make a statement soon.
Just a few more degrees of separation distance French 75 from Starfish.
Celebrity chef and longtime restaurateur David Wilhelm was a principal in Culinary Adventures, the group that originally launched French 75 but later filed for bankruptcy. Wilhelm’s ex-wife and business partner Nancy Wilhelm established her own credentials as managing director of Laguna’s top-rated Tabu Grill. Last year, she opened Starfish nearby in the Albertson’s shopping center.
Gretchen Andrews, who opened Tabu Grill with Wilhelm in 2004, and who became the general manager of Starfish when it opened in June 2011, ascended as the co-star of Starfish in October.
Andrews said her mentor, friend and boss left Starfish in September, returning full time to Tabu, since Wilhelm had lost her general manager there and could not do both.
At the same time, the chef of Starfish packed his knives to return to work in the Bay Area. The restaurant’s investors recruited a new team, Archie McConnell and Marco Romero, who were partners of the P.F. Chang’s in the Irvine Spectrum. Andrews and McConnell were named managing partners, and Romero the culinary partner.
“We have been adamant about keeping up Starfish’s integrity and reputation” since the transition, said Andrews, who worked on the restaurant’s concept with Wilhelm for two years and now plans to capitalize on her own hard work.
The menu already reflects additions that Andrews describes as “more approachable.” “We do not want to be a P.F. Chang’s,” she insisted, but offer modern Asian cuisine.
Starfish is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., for happy hour (called “opium hour”) every day from 3 to 6 p.m. and for dinner nightly beginning at 4 p.m.
Photo by Edgar Obrand