RVOC July 2010 : Page 78

Best Beach Bash In a place with 42 miles of coastline, why aren’t there more worthy beachside nosh options? AndTe Beachcomber at Crystal Cove was one of those dining disappointments. But now the historic hideaway has a renewed beach buzz, what with superstar sommelier Michael Jordan (late of Disney’s Napa Rose) adding his expertise and chef Jon Gibson’s new menu offerings (pecan- crusted barramundi, grilled rib eye with wild mushroom and truffle mac). With these additions, the sandy setting isn’t the only insatiable draw. 949.376.6900. thebeachcombercafe.com. SExIEST RESTAuRANT Night Moves Laguna’s Hush has always offered a touch of the naughty—its cool, marble interior, on-the-prowl crowd and carnivorously carnal menu harken back to the lush decadence of just a few years past. But the party’s still on at Chuck Rock’s pad. A new chef is tweaking the menu, the patio is going a bit loungier with small plates and fireside snuggling, and powerful partner Danny Reyes always makes it run just right. 949.497.3616, hushrestaurant.com. Old-School Cool Garduno’s is 23 years old. So why are we just now writing about the fave Italian joint in Costa Mesa? Because maybe we’re a bit bored with new-restaurant hype. So we’re going home—to a dozen sauces, each with its own zesty flavor, just as we remembered; to the once and always favorite artichoke chicken lasagna; and to one perfect soup—and only one—a day. Because no one can beat those meatballs with marinara, and because Mark and Julie may not be the kids they were in 1988, but it’s nice to know they’re still there every day—as comfortable as faded flip-flops and a beach chair. 949.645.5505, gardunosristorante.com. RESTAuRANT Of THE YEAR stu-stu-stuDiO! If you had to bet your inheritance on a single, price-is-no-object meal at an Orange County restaurant, which would you choose? Our money is on Montage, where Studio boasts a total- package trifecta of location (the best view in SoCal), service (try to find a flaw) and cuisine (palate-pleasing perfection). Chef Craig Strong has proven himself over the past year not just in the kitchen, but also in the community—Strong and the resort support numerous local causes. Bottom line? Any list of O.C.’s top spots that doesn’t include Studio is oh so suspect. 949.715.6420, montagelagunabeach.com. RESTAuRATEuRS Of THE YEAR Surf and Sand Resort ups its culinary cachet by hiring hot chef Jeff Armstrong. BEST NEW CHEf SplASH zONE Jeff Armstrong is just one month into his new exec chef gig at Splashes, but it only took one meal to earn this award. Plus, there’s his pedigree: Te 35-year-old chef (with perhaps the best tattoos—food and otherwise—in the county) got his SoCal start in ’97 working with the Goodells at Troquet, Aubergine, Red Pearl Kitchen and Whist, where he won Angeleno’s “Hot New Chef” award. He headed east for a spell, but Armstrong’s back in Laguna making waves. “I’ve always felt like this was home,” he says. “I kind of melt in here.” 949.376.2779, surfandsandresort.com. 78 | | July 2010 Real Big fish Call it the Big Fish effect: Some of O.C.’s top bars and restaurants have gone virtually vacant since the newest from the team that brought us Te Rooftop Lounge opened a few months back. Partners RichardHam and Chris Keller seem to have their fingers on the pulse of local dining trends. Oh, hell—who are we kidding? Teir hands are firmly gripped around its jugular! When O.C. needed a party-time place five years ago, the dynamic duo developed the rooftop of La Casa del Camino hotel (casacamino.com) into the coastal hot spot. Ten, seemingly seconds before the economy took its first swoon, they converted Casa’s K’ya Bistro Bar into a wildly varied and value-oriented small-plates place. Now, when everyone is all bubbled out and searching for a bargain-based good time, they open House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer (houseofbigfish. com), the inexpensive, sustainable seafood bar we never knew we needed in (again!) the perfect Laguna-with-a-view locale. And we haven’t even mentioned Hotel Ménage, their Disney-rrific boutique hotel, where they posted former Hush chef Ronnie Arnold to oversee K’ya Street Fare. How about a beach club next, boys? Something on the Side Every superhero needs a sidekick, and that goes for restaurants, too! Te famous Five Crowns in CdM opened SideDoor (949.717.4322, sidedoorcdm.com), a strategically located (almost speakeasy-hidden) gastropub. Down the street, QuietWoman’s little sister Te Little Woman (949.640.0551, quietwoman. com/littlewoman) churns out sandwiches and quick lunches to go. And A Restaurant’s chef Vartin Abgaryan hosts B Side Kitchen (949.650.6505, arestaurantnb.com), a monthly dinner where Abgaryan has free rein to work his magic on a secret theme. Not bad for side gigs.

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