I must admit, the old menu at Claes really needed a makeover, but I was too polite to say anything when I went for a meal with my friends several months ago. The dishes were outdated, but on the positive side, it gave me a sense of childhood nostalgia, bringing back memories of food I used to eat with my parents on Sundays at the dining room of the club we belonged to.
Sentimental feelings aside, when I found out that the menu was getting a complete overhaul with Chef Paul Bauer given full control over the new menu creation, I waited with bated breath to see what was in store for this idyllic dining room with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.
I must warn you though, this review is a long one, purely because I dined with five other people and between us, a lot of food was had and it’ll take some time to go through them all. A little like how it was when we were perusing the menu and deciding on what to eat. While we were doing that, an artistic platter arrived at the table in lieu of a bread basket.
A large sesame cracker sitting atop an easel reminiscent of a large shell is served with two demitasses of dipping sauces — a tomato based chili and ginger chutney.
These delicious crackers are a take on Vietnamese banh da tom and every table gets one (or two) to munch on while perusing the menu.
As the light starts to slowly fade, once again, I started panicking and decided to take charge and order some appetizers for the table while everyone else was enjoying catching up with one another, sipping on wine and munching on the sesame crackers. I wanted to capture photos with natural lighting rather than artificial for the full effect and I couldn’t wait any longer!
Although we didn’t eat everything in the order I will be presenting them in, they will be described in the categories they are listed on the menu starting with Small Bites.
Peking Style Duck Wontons ($9) are fried wontons served in a dim sum basket with lacquered chopsticks in a box to complete the Asian feel. The duck is flavorful and even agreeable to my Chinese palate. I didn’t care for the guava sweet and sour dipping sauce though because, well, I’m just not a “fruit in my savory dishes” kinda gal — I make exceptions though with game.
This was positively one of the favorites! Hand Cut Wagyu Beef Tartare ($12) comes on an elongated plate with all the condiments separate for you to mix as you wish. Finely chopped Wagyu beef is drizzled with juniper oil and piquillo peppers, capers are placed to the side for you to add more or less of according to your taste.
I was given the task of mixing so I took the liberty to incorporate everything into it. The quail egg added a creamy component which we scooped up with crispy lavash points. I can’t even begin to explain how perfect each mouthful of this briny, tart, somewhat creamy concoction did to me. Pure bliss!
I was a little skeptical about Maine Lobster Spring Roll ($12) mainly because I’m a purist but boy was I wrong! It was deliciously crispy on the outside and the lobster was clearly visible both by the eye and also, my mouth. I could totally taste the crustacean. The second piece I ate, I incorporated the fresh Californian uni and wasabi tobiko and WOW! I mean c’mon! Like bacon, uni makes EVERYTHING taste OH SO GOOD! More please!
Moving on to the “Small Plates” section, Mano de Leon Scallops ($16) were beautifully seasoned and I was lucky enough to snag more than the one allocated because someone at the table didn’t eat seafood. Ahhh I was blissfully cutting a scallop in half and then running it through the lavender flower beurre blanc before placing it into my mouth.
The morel mushrooms on the plate unfortunately had no taste. They looked like morels, felt like morels, but lacked any flavor whatsoever. I didn’t need them anyway since the scallops alone were heaven on a plate.
If you think you could finish a bowl of the Bone Marrow Risotto ($13) on your lonesome, think again. This deceivingly small bowl packs one of the richest punches ever imaginable and rightfully so because it not only dons a crispy bone marrow atop the risotto, but the rice itself is cooked with marrow as well.
The result is an unctuousness which made me close my eyes upon tasting because it was utter decadence as far as food goes. I highly recommend sharing this with three other friends if not for the sake of allowing your stomach space for something else, but also, your blood vessels which will most probably thank you later.
Although Angus Flat Iron Steak ($16) is considered a “small plate” it is generous enough a portion for an entree. The steak is meaty and flavorful (unlike another restaurant I shan’t name where my friends and I recently ordered the same cut of steak and deemed it inedible) and not the least bit grisly or chewy. A handful of Japanese nameko mushrooms and a drizzle of Balinese pepper sauce completed the dish.
Surprisingly, when it came time to order our entrees, most of us selected red meats. Of the three, Five Spiced Lamb Loin ($28) was my least favorite. I grew up with five-spice, one of the essential staples in my mom’s kitchen and therefore a flavor I am very familiar with and I like it on meats, very much so.
What completely threw me off was the tamarind glaze which was sweet, and accompanied by sweet and sour cabbage — yet another “sweet” component, it was just too much for my palate to withstand. The sweetness overpowered the dish and the five-spice was lost underneath it all. On a positive note, the lamb was cooked to a perfect temperature and the “fried” red rice was a nice take on the original version.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of short ribs, I took a taste of the Chimay Braised Short Ribs ($22) and found it fork tender and lovely with the blue cheese broth atop — baby corn accompanies.
My choice of Natural Angus Filet Mignon ($30) was indeed the star of the entrees for me. The steak was tender and cooked at a perfect medium rare. The oxtail ragout can stand as a meal on its own with the potatoes Dauphinoise and accompanying organic carrots. The spicy Bernaise was delicious! I love the little bit of kick it had and it was just the right consistency for me.
When the time for desserts came, naturally I wasn’t as eager as everyone else. So I told them that since I ordered the appetizers, it was now someone else’s job to order the desserts.
Berry Tart ($8) with Sambuca Strawberries and a Berry Consomme served in a demitasse is great if you love berries — and they are currently in season which means they are at their finest. The berry consomme is intended for diners to ‘sip’ on and was a delightful ‘sauce’ to accompany the tart with.
I definitely didn’t care for the Green Tea and Chocolate Mousse ($8). I wasn’t a fan of the green tea and chocolate combo — sorry, I didn’t even take a photo.
I did however enjoy The Ovation Sorbet ($7) which was a trio of flavors from their sorbet selection. My favorite was the cantaloupe. It was so aromatic and flavorful with the ripeness of the fruit just wafting up olfactory senses.
It was late when we realized that it we were the only ones left in the restaurant, but when you’re enjoying the company, five hours just flew by. When you come here for a meal, make sure you allow plenty of time to take in the view and to enjoy yourselves at a leisurely pace. There is no rushing here at the Hotel Laguna!
425 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Priscilla - She's Cookin' says
What a feast! Glad to see they’re doing a finer cut on the tartare. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t missed the bone marrow risotto!