On the Table

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More than a view?                                                             

By Eileen Keighley
By Eileen Keighley

Moving here from England over six years ago, we were keen to experience everything California had to offer. I remember doodling on a napkin, all the “c’s” that were most exciting: climate, coastline and cuisine.

Over the years, my family and I have tried many local restaurants; they weren’t all fancy, and included everything from street food, to high end. We’ve had some fun times, even great meals, but few have been truly outstanding; and many would get a “c”, for complacency.

Recently we’ve been to some award winning and highly innovative Mexican restaurants around the U.S., so imagine our excitement on hearing Las Brisas, one of Laguna Beach’s oldest and most beautifully positioned restaurants, has a new executive chef, Lawrence Lopez, as well as new management.

We booked a table with a view (almost everyone gets one) and looked forward to some of the “luscious simplicity” Las Brisas promotes on their website.

But first, you can’t beat a drink on the patio; complete with the promise of a stunning Laguna sunset. Sadly, my perennial search for the perfect Cosmopolitan was not going to be met at Las Brisas; a little too much pre-flavored vodka in lieu of triple sec for my taste.  But my companion’s specialty margarita was beautifully presented with home-made sweet and sour. We watched the colorful plates of food pass by from the patio kitchen and they looked so inviting we wished we hadn’t booked the more formal dining room.

After walking through the newly renovated bar area, we were greeted by our waiter, who was efficient, well-informed and friendly and effortlessly stabilized our rocky table. The menu (mine had the remnants of a previous diner’s meal stuck to it) was “inspired by Mexico’s West Coast cuisine and prepared with California freshness and innovation.”

With over 3,000 miles of coastline to cover, the menu looked in part Mexican –  tequila cocktail sauce on the grilled shrimp, Queso Fundido, a sort of Mexican cheese fondue – but mixed in with familiar crowd pleasers like a charcuterie and cheese plate and South Pacific ahi poke tower.

We shared a ceviche starter, a perfect balance of fresh mango, chunks of sea bass, shrimp cured in citrus juices with chili and cilantro. The portion was huge; we could have shared with the next table, too.

For the entree, I went with the waiter’s suggestion, the fresh catch, Santa Barbara swordfish which sounded delightful in its simplicity: fresh swordfish, grilled to perfection with a light citrus sauce and served with savory rice and sautéed vegetables.

The fish was perfectly cooked but the plate included an unscripted large seafood enchilada swimming on a rather acidic green or was perhaps brown sauce; you couldn’t tell because the plate was black and on dimming the lights, disappeared from view. All I know is it had no place there.

You needed the sauce though, because the vegetables and rice were very dull and did nothing for the plate.  If we “eat with our eyes,” then I was blind to this dish.

My husband’s entree, the Especial de Mexico, was huge again, but at least there was no pretense to being anything but authentic. The two enchiladas tasted the same as the one in my fish dish, ditto the sauce.

We shared dessert, the crème brulee cheesecake.  The dish arrived, elegantly plated with two forks. The vanilla cream wasn’t overtaken by the indulgent and generous layer of caramelized sugar. Totally yummy!

 

We both agreed it was a real shame that this simple perfection hadn’t been delivered consistently throughout our meal.  We weren’t looking for a wow factor – and they didn’t promise one – but the meal hadn’t lived up to the restaurant’s claim of “luscious simplicity.”

The view didn’t disappoint though.

 

Eileen Keighley, of Laguna Niguel, loves to eat out, trawl food shops, is an avid home cook, has taken many cookery workshops across Europe and even entered TV’s “Masterchef.”

 

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