Broadway’s Chef, a Stand-Out Star
Years ago, I recall walking into one of the trendiest dining spots in downtown Laguna Beach, fondly and formerly known as Michael Kang’s Five Feet restaurant. Then, when entering the establishment, a partition wall blocked my view of the dining room. It created a foyer with a hostess stand and several chairs for patient patrons waiting to savor Asian fusion style cuisine. In the dining area, the walls were filled with hand-drawn portraits of local loyal Laguna residents. A fond memory for me was the “power” table in the back corner where I celebrated my 25th birthday with a gregarious group of my gal pals while we enjoyed a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne that had been sent over to my table by the gracious Donald Bren himself.
Those days are long gone. In its stead is Broadway by Amar Santana. As is expected with a new restaurant, the owners want to convey their personal style. Broadway’s interior has experienced a major transformation – an open room with high beams and several dining areas. Corresponding with its name, the atmosphere conveys a lively New York scene with visuals and show tunes to match the ambiance. An open kitchen (with a dining counter and six seats) allows patrons to witness first hand intense energy of Chef Amar as he commands with a controlled yet gentle manner his talented staff. The bar area hustles with busy mixologists blending special cocktails and customers who prefer a view of the flat screen television.
Culinary Institute of America graduate and former executive chef at Charlie Palmer in South Coast Plaza, Amar Santana is no newbie to the restaurant scene. His daring creativity and deep conviction for perfection are apparent. He is a new force to be reckoned with in the competitive culinary arena of Laguna Beach with the city’s many wonderful restaurants.
For example, Mayan Eyes blends Corazon Blanco tequila, Xtabentun (an anise liqueur from Mexico), fresh squeezed citrus juices with cilantro and jalapeno slices. This cocktail is one of my favorites! The licorice flavor along with cilantro and spicy pepper slices is almost comforting. On this particular evening, I decided against ordering another since Mike McConnell, our waiter, who also possesses a vast knowledge of wines, offered me a glass of pinot noir. A full bar with an extensive wine list and beers is available.
I always appreciate the efforts of a chef who takes seriously the amuse-bouche, bite size portions of hors d’oeuvres. Chef Amar composed an amuse-bouche of ahi tuna in crème fraiche curry foam. It was a creative flavor combination and most enjoyable! Note: the latest trend for serving Edamame, Japanese style soy beans, is to either grill or sauté the bright green legumes. Chef Amar serves this appetizer grilled and tossed with Yuzu, Japanese citrus. The smoky grilled flavor off-sets the tartness of the citrus; they are both “finger licking” good and addicting!
Generally, I like to dine at a restaurant on a couple of occasions before reviewing the establishment, but my maiden voyage to Broadway left me feeling a bit perplexed since I heard rave reviews about the executive chef. I visited several weeks after the restaurant was newly opened and had a few kinks to work out. Service was lagging, hubby’s duck breast was over-cooked and my Jidori chicken was rather pedestrian in flavor.
Upon a return visit, however, I enjoyed the special of the evening, lamb pork belly, chicken liver mousse; roasted bone marrow with anchovies and panna cotta dessert. Lamb pork belly is an unusual find on any OC restaurant menu. Chef Amar cooked the meat a perfect medium-rare leaving a sweet, crisp outer belly and soft, moist inside. Delicious!
The beef marrow bone is split lengthwise in two, oven roasted and topped with several small bites of marinated white anchovy fillets. Bone marrow is pure fat and has a very “heavy” taste therefore the mild vinegar-tart flavor of the white anchovies was a perfect topping. Kudos Chef Amar!
I am one never to pass up dessert so I ordered the panna cotta with a large quenelle of berry sorbet, tender strawberry quarters (they appeared lightly poached) and tiny black currants. The pretty presentation was a welcome sight. After a heavy meal of fatty roasted bone marrow and anchovies, this dessert was light and refreshing and a treat.
Laguna Beach has arrived as a foodie destination with restaurants seemingly opening every month. Chef Amar Santana and Broadway restaurant promises to be one of the best local restaurants and a tough culinary competitor worthy of a visit!
Broadway by Amar Santana, 328 Glenneyre St., (949) 715-8234, open daily for dinner, 5 p.m.
Local Patty Pinto’s Hot Dish blog can be read at OCinSite.com.