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Driftwood Kitchen is a welcome reimagination of the former Beach House space.

By Linda Domingo | Photos by Jody Tiongco

 

It isn’t enough for a Laguna restaurant to have a beautiful view—ocean panoramas are a dime a dozen. That’s not to belittle Driftwood Kitchen; it has one of the most stunning restaurant settings in the area with “indoor” seating that’s really an open-air dining room surrounded with picture windows. But beyond taking advantage of the natural environs, Driftwood’s food, drinks and sultry, wood-flanked Stateroom Bar make it stand a bit above the rest.

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The open-air dining area offers spectacular views.

The restaurant appropriated the space once occupied by The Beach House, which opened in the 1960s. The building, however, has been around since the 1920s, and Driftwood pays homage to history with cocktails showcasing famous (and some infamous) drinks from bygone businesses that were once pillars of the town’s social and dining scenes. The Beach House’s tribute comes in the form of the Dark and Stormy Seas with rum, ginger beer and lime sour; The Cottage is represented by The Last Word made of gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice; even the Boom Boom Room makes an appearance with the Knob Cobbler, which mixes smoked maple bourbon, blackberries, lemon sour and coconut water.

“Those cocktails are for the locals,” says Director of Operations John Nye, who partnered with chef Rainer Schwarz to open Driftwood. “We’re all about the locals.”

Rainer crafted the menu as a return to simplicity, featuring seafood highlighted with seasonal produce. From the small plates menu, the squash blossoms served with local ricotta and heirloom tomato sauce are a light way to start, while the lobster bisque incorporates large chunks of lobster balanced with a cognac Champagne cream. There’s also the entree-sized heirloom tomato salad served with mozzarella, basil and plum wine vinaigrette with grilled plums, another simple yet effective dish.

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The rocky road dessert, a deconstructed take on a classic

John and Rainer anticipate the menu changing with the seasons. Seafood sourced from Santa Monica Seafood will be a mainstay. The halibut filet blends land and sea with local fingerling potatoes and a delicate English pea sauce. There are also heartier options, such as steak, pasta and duck breast. And dessert is presented with panache, here. Pastry chef Rene Baez puts a modern twist on classics like rocky road—a dish that deconstructs the traditional flavors in a crunchy minefield of chocolate, nuts and marshmallows.

After dinner, the Stateroom Bar makes it easy to linger. Yet another nod to the past, the dimly lit, speakeasy-style room is best experienced with an Old-Fashioned in hand.

On the surface, Driftwood is another restaurant with ocean views, coastal fare and strong cocktails. But the new decor and fresh menu infuse the place with the history of the building and local community—a blend of young and old that’s uniquely Laguna. Oh, and the view’s not bad, either.

 

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