(Note: Additional photos from this visit can be found by clicking the link below.)
The closest I have ever been to Africa is Italy. Although I would love to know more about the continent, my knowledge of that great land is through Discovery Channel and the National Geographic issues at my doctors office.
What I do know, however, is scant and sparse. I wish I did know more by first hand knowledge, but I dont. However, what sort of surprised me was that the nation of Mozambique is that its cuisine is influenced by the Portuguese and one of its main staples is maize, followed by beef and seafood. One indigenous item, though, is a spice called peri peri.
It was with this limited knowledge that I took J. out for date night to a restaurant in Laguna Beach called Mozambique. It is right on the Pacific Coast Highway and occupies the corner of a large city block.
J. and I arrived just past sunset and were pleased to discover they had a large parking lot complete with valet service ($5.00). Laguna Beach parking is horrendous, so I was very thankful I could simply turn the car over and let someone else fine a secure place for the rental.
We entered the courtyard of the restaurant and were greeted by two cages holding four large, beautiful parrots of varied plumage. We walked through the rest of the courtyard and into the reception area where we were greeted by two very nice hostesses, one of which immediately ushered us to our table.
The interior of the place was dark and clubby with lots of dim lights and plenty of seating. We bypassed all of this and were led up a set of stairs and then through a door into a small private dining room holding about six tables. Long and narrow, the room had a wet bar at one end and a gas fireplace at the other. We were seated at a four-top and the large chairs were very comfortable. Like the rest of the restaurant, the place was dark and clubby, but between the decorations and the mood, I felt like was sitting in the study of a professor of East African studies at some university. It was a wonderfully romantic room, especially with the fire place.
The first thing brought to our table was a basket of two breads. The first was a sort of twisted white bread with sesame seeds and the second was a potato starch bread that was soft and slightly sweet. Both were very good. The butter was a mix of butter and honey and pecans. It was a nice change of pace.
J. and I were handed menus and a cocktail list. We reviewed that first and decided on two choices: I went with something called Passion ($8.00) and J. had the Drunken Elephant ($10.00). Our server departed and let us review the menus.
She returned about five minutes later and served us our cocktails. My Passion was quite delightful. A small cocktail glass was filled with a mixture of rum and passion fruit juice and garnished with a slice of kiwi. One drink and it not only cleansed my palate, but warmed me from top to bottom. It was slightly sweet, strong, and acidic. I was very pleased.
J.s Drunken Elephant was a martini glass painted with chocolate syrup and then a concoction of vodka, Amarula fruit liquor and Frangelico. J. said it was smooth and creamy, slightly sweet, but was quite strong. I had a sip and concurred that the alcohol content was quite high.
We then placed our orders. J. had been eyeing the Durban Curry ($24.00) while I wanted to see what a Mozambique-style Rib Eye Steak ($36.00) would be like. To enhance our meals, we thought we would start with the Peppadrop Salad ($12.00) and the Vegetable Napoleon ($8.50). I also got a side of Macaroni and Cheese ($6.50) and a Diet Coke to wash it all down ($2.50).
About 10 minutes passed before our server returned with our beginning items. We decided to split the items, although it was I who suggested the Napoleon while J. chose the salad. Oddly, it would turn out that we preferred the opposite of what we ordered.
The Vegetable Napoleon was a towering feast of grilled vegetables layered with some wonderfully gooey mozzarella cheese and fresh spinach. The pomegranate dressing and tomato and onion topping only enhanced the dish. I thought it was good and loved the dressing, cheese and overall taste of the dish. The eggplant, I thought, was a bit mushy. J. truly loved this dish and was enjoying every mouthful.
Next up was the Peppadrop Salad that featured a mix of field greens and arugula topped with some red cabbage and peppadrops (a hybrid of teardrop tomatoes and bell pepper). It was drizzled with a very simple dressing of oil, vinegar and peri peri spice. I loved the salad. The greens were very fresh and the peppadrops were amazing. They were slightly spicy, but exceptionally sweet and tasted like candy. The dressing was a nice change as it caused our lips and tongues to do a nice burn. J. liked the salad, but preferred the Napoleon.
We sat backed and talked for a bit before our entrees arrived. Our server returned carrying a large tray and place before us our meals.
J.s Durban Curry was served in a huge circular plate that sat at an angle above the table. The dish was filled in the center with a large serving of the curry and rice. The curry itself was a delicious mix of a medium-spiced red curry surrounding lamb pieces and fresh vegetables.
The Curry was served with a side of two chutneys, one hot and one sweet. The mix in the middle of the side dish was a mixture of tomatoes, onions and bananas used to cool the mouth if things got too hot. J. dove in and was very pleased with the dish. The curry was very satisfying and the lamb and vegetables tender without falling apart. J. said the rice was good, but was clearly there for background. The chutneys were a great addition, but J. said that a medium spiced dish with the hot chutney would have been a bit much. I tasted a bite and loved it.
My Rib Eye Steak was an 18 oz. bone-in slab of meat that had been coated with peri peri spice and grilled to a medium rare. It was served with a peri peri steak sauce. Strangely, J. and I both remember me taking a photo of my dinner, but it never appeared in the download. Be that as it may, the steak was excellent. It was cooked to order and the peri peri spice gave it a nice kick that really enhanced the meat. The steak sauce was a little too sweet for my taste, but did give a nice rounding finish to the meat.
The macaroni and cheese looked delicious, and, on its own, it would have been grand. The problem was that with the high level of spice to the dishes we had, the mac and cheese got washed out pretty quickly and J. and I both agreed that it came across as boring. Perhaps if a sharper or more pungent cheese had been used, it would have accented our main courses. Unfortunately, it just seemed rather bland.
We finished our meals and still had some food on our plates. We did want to leave some room for dessert. Perusing the menu, we opted for the White Chocolate and Banana Bread Pudding ($8.50).
Another 10 minutes passed and our dessert arrived. It was a beautiful mixture of a complex bread pudding topped with fresh berries, whipped cream and chopped Macadamia nuts. The bread pudding was very hot, but the cream helped to cool things down a bit. The texture was perfect and the taste was very good, but both J. and I only detected a hint of white chocolate. That needed to be played up and it just sat in the background. Other than that, the dessert was very good. The berries were fresh and that really brought a nice contrast to end our meal.
We were brought our bill and the total was $124.99 including tax. We thought it was a good deal considering the freshness of the food and the complexity of the meals. The service was attentive and friendly, although our server clearly didnt know what to think of the camera being pulled out every time she set down a plate.
We exited the restaurant and waited for our car. J. was thrilled with the restaurant and I was very impressed.
Exotic spices, hearty food, romantic atmosphere, and the most beautiful fiancé ever and you couldnt help but have a great time.
1740 South Pacific Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Dress: Business Casual on up.
Notes: Use the valet and save yourself some stress.