Last night was my wife's birthday, and I was debating between taking her to Bluefin or Studio at the Montage Resort. A few people chimed in with their opinions in my thread here http://www.chowhound.com/topics/445155
russkar, whos opinion I value highly on this board, recommended that we abandon both those choices and instead he suggested we head over to Clae's, in the old Hotel Laguna. It is right by the main beach boardwalk. I called for reservations, and to my surprise was told that Russ had already called ahead to make sure that they took special care of us for our celebration. How cool is that? Thanks so much Russ for making the call. When I explained it to my wife, she was very grateful for your help.
The Hotel Laguna is an 80 year old building, and its age shows. As you walk in from the parking lot, it looks old and rundown. The architecture is old and gross, but walking towards Clae's something changes. Big glass doors, beautiful ocean view and wood trim everywhere inside the restaurant. The lighting was even well done.
There have been mixed reviews about the service and food here, but from my experience last night, the new Executive Chef Todd Radcliffe is doing something great since he started here in January 2007. Service was spot-on all night, and Cori the hostess was cheerfully helping us out with our wine selections and dinner choices. They had stopped putting tasting menus in the actual menu, but pulled out one out from somewhere for us tonight. It was great!
The pictures from the evening are here in my blogspace http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fus...
We started with an amuse of raw beef on a grilled cracker, with mango strips, peruvian yellow pepper sauce and chives. For my pregnant wife, they substituted roasted beets for the raw beef. The 1st course was serrano ham wrapped around a celeriac remoulade, on top of grilled bread on top of heirloom tomatoes. The saltiness of the ham matched well with the juiciness of the tomatoes, the crisp bread adding a crunchy texture to the dish.
2nd course was crispy halibut cheeks. Cooked perfectly, the crispness of the cheeks revealed a moist inner layer of firm whiteflesh fish. The acid in the sauce brought about a balance to the dish, and the porcini mushrooms were just plain good.
An intermezzo arrived next, tempura king crab and house cured salmon crab maki. The tempura was chewy and delicious, as opposed to the crispy greasy tempura you can often find at other places. My wife loved the crab so much, I only got one small nibble of mine! Luckily, I was able to eat both servings of the salmon. House smoked and wrapped around the crab maki like a strange california roll, it was amusement for my mouth, to get ready for our next course.
3rd course was Australian Lamp Chops. Mine was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and was so good I was gnawing on the bones to extract all of the wonderful baked on flavor at the end. It was served on top of spinach and a tomato confit with potatoes.
For dessert we had a special S'mores. Chocolate fondant topped with toasted marshmallow, with a chocolate stick and vanilla gelato on top of a cookie on the side. A great way to end the meal.
Chef Todd came out and spoke with us for a while after the meal. It was nice to speak with him, learn of his background and just get to know him. We have never had that opportunity before, as we usually just get in, eat and leave. If you ever get a chance to be down in Laguna Beach, you must sample his food. He does suggest that you call ahead a couple days to let him know, and he will also make a custom menu for you!
Much thanks to russkar for the recommendation and also the call to the restaurant.