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Hot Dish

A Hidden Gem

 

By Patty Pinto

I approached my next restaurant review with a sense of apprehension. How could the amalgamation of cooking school, deli and retail wine store be a place for great food? Twice before I patronized Laguna Culinary Arts, buying cheese and eating a student created lunch. It was during the latter experience I concluded I would not dine at LCA again. Why patronize a cooking school where upcoming chefs learn to hone culinary skills?

 

As dining establishments go, the ambience in LCA failed to stimulate any excitement for my upcoming meal. A deli counter filled with prepared foods, a selection of cheeses and meats and retail wine store dominate the dining area. My enthusiasm was further dampened after a trip to the restroom, which is in need of a serious overhaul.

 

What happened next is a textbook lesson in expectations gone happily wrong.

 

Years ago, chef-owner Laurent Brazier closed the doors of his popular north Laguna Beach French and Mediterranean restaurant Picayo to travel the world and work in Michelin star establishments. When he returned, Laurent became a driving force at the Laguna Culinary Arts, creating the culinary academic program.  More recently, he and Executive Director Nancy Milby opened Mirepoix on the store’s premises, a Thursday-through Saturday restaurant with a prix-fixe menu.

 

On a recent Friday, the hostess and server offered me a choice of tables. Only one other table was occupied, not a good sign. I decided on sautéed prawns as my starter course and roasted duck breast as my entree.  The accompanying cheese plate and dessert were pre-selected by the chef.

Much to my bewilderment, each of the four menu items was of excellent quality, with the flavors and presentation of each dish of the highest culinary caliber. I felt slightly ashamed to realize how far off my initial judgments were.

 

Moist, plump prawns were sautéed and served in a garlic sherry wine cream sauce over braised leeks.  The leeks are plated chiffonade style, sweet and slightly crunchy.  Paired with a Riff pinot grigio, the combination was a perfect balance of food and wine. I ordered my duck breast medium-rare and was not disappointed.  Duck is traditionally served with a contrasting sweet sauce, such as cherry or apricot glaze or a sweet-soy sauce. Mine was plated and served with a savory olive tapenade sauce. Paired with a rich syrah wine and cooked-to-order pink, the duck was delicious!

 

Dinner service includes a prix-fixe four course tasting menu that changes daily based on freshness and availability from local purveyors.  Four courses plus a nice size amuse bouche is $48 without wine.  For an additional fee, diners may enjoy suggested wines from the adjacent retail wine store.

 

My plat du jour was a rich chocolate mousse.  Cylindrical layers of dark, milk and white chocolates were light and fluffy.  A topping of shaved white chocolate curls and vanilla bean bespeckled crème Anglise completed this delightful dessert.  I declined the suggested dessert wine since the hefty pours of my prior two wines had me feeling a bit lightheaded.  Note:  Even for a fee, most restaurants and wine tasting establishments are sticklers to “taste” portions of wine abruptly stopping at the pre-measured six ounce. Mirepoix offered gracious pours.

 

For those seeking a beautiful venue for a romantic dinner, cross Mirepoix of the list. Those desiring a multi-course tasting menu of wonderfully prepared food at a very reasonable price in a casual setting, Mirepoix comes highly recommended. With many years of classical French culinary experience, Laurent and his Mirepoix tasting menu will not disappoint.

 

Mirepoix, 845 Laguna Canyon Road, (949) 494-4006. Dinner served Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

 

Patty Pinto’s Hot Dish blog with more reviews can be viewed at OCinSite.com.

 

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