Those of you who have read our reviews before know that I don't eat fish of any kind. Therefore I rely on my husband to provide feedback on restaurants who specialize in seafood—and he was very excited when I told him it was time for Casa Laguna to review the new Katsuya Laguna Beach. But the great thing about Katsuya is that, while they do specialize in sushi, sashimi, and a wide range of seafood, they also have something for everyone—and not just one or two items like many fish-oriented restaurants.
I first have to say that we were so lucky to have Kendall as our server. When you go to a new restaurant—especially one as eclectic as Katsuya—you sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land. Kendall immediately made us feel comfortable by explaining the way most people enjoy Katsuya's varied menu. Much of what they serve consists of small plates, and Kendall suggested that we take our time and move slowly through the menu, ordering what we want, when we want. She made a few recommendations and gauged our reaction to her suggestions, then adjusted her guidance accordingly. I started with a variety of Robata (grilled appetizers) including beef-wrapped asparagus, maitake mushroom, and grilled red onion.
On Kendall's recommendation, my husband ordered baked crab handroll and delicately sliced Halibut Usuzukuri sashimi (right). We both raved about the flavor and quality of everything we had. I have to admit that the presentation of his sashimi plate was quite beautiful.
We usually rely on our iPhone for photographs, but it was a bit too dark in Katsuya and most of the images, including an otherwise cute shot of us with Kendall, were too grainy to use.
As my main course, I chose Kobe Tobanyaki—bits of tender Kobe beef on a bed of wild mushrooms, served on a sizzling iron plate. Kendall suggested Miso Marinated Black Cod (left) for my husband, and it arrived exotically displayed on a long brown leaf. (We were so caught up in our delicious food and enjoying our conversation with Kendall that we forgot to ask what kind of leaf it was.) I'm not a big eater, but I polished off my generous serving of Kobe with no problem—it was just too good to give up. Once again my husband raved about the wonderful freshness and flavor of the seafood. He said that the miso marinade gave the cod a wonderfully intense and unique flavor that was simply amazing.
Katsuya is what we judiciously call a high-end restaurant. I say judiciously because $270 per couple for a meal in Orange County is not considered outrageous for many residents. This is not to say you have to be wealthy to go to Katsuya and enjoy a wonderful meal. And, we must quickly add that the quality of the food and service makes it worth every penny.
Every silver lining has a cloud, and for Katsuya, it is bad acoustics. We always try to schedule our review meals as early as possible in the evening so that we can experience all the restaurant has to offer in an unhurried manner. Even with no other patrons in our section of the restaurant, we had to shout at one another across the table to be heard. As more and more customers arrived, the din became insurmountable. And it wasn't just us who thought so. Everyone around us complained to their dinner partners and to others nearby. This has much to do with the beautiful but overused hardwood that lines every inch of the interior.
Bottom line—Katsuya has really, really, good food, chosen from an extensive menu of classic and unique gourmet fare. And, perhaps we've just been lucky with servers lately, but Kendall was perfection, and it appeared that those around us were enjoying the same high quality service from the mostly very young and attractive service staff. It is possible that there are sections of the restaurant where the noise is not as bad as it is in the main dining area, but Katsuya is not, as far as we could tell, a place for a romantic dinner. And, finally, this is the location where Hush used to be, and it attracts the same upscale twenty-something bar crowd on weekend nights. If you don't fit into that category, we suggest you go early, especially if you just want to sit at the bar and have a drink and enjoy some small-plate Robata, sush, or sashimi.
Overall, we loved Katsuya, and it will no doubt become a favorite place to take visiting out-of-towners. We will definitely recommend it to our guests at the inn--with caveats regarding noise level and being sure to arrive early. Katsuya Laguna Beach is located at 858 S. Coast Hwy. Hours are Sun-Wed 5:30-11pm and Thurs-Sat 5:30pm-12am; and, they are open for lunch daily 11:30am-2:30pm.
The newest item on our wine and cheese menu is Stuffed Peppadews. These small round vegetables from South Africa are like a cross between a hot red pepper & a sweet cherry tomato - and that is exactly taste you get, with a little bit of heat at the end. (The original grower, Denny Mushrooms, calls the peppadew heat "medium.") Our peppadews are gently roasted and cored, then we pipe in a herbed cream cheese mixture, which adds a cool creaminess to the experience. Finally, a small mint leaf adds a bit more flavor and color. Gaspachotinis and Stuffed Peppadews—part of your unique California bed & breakfast experience at Casa Laguna.
If you came to this blog via the website, this may seem a bit redundant. But many of our blog readers come directly from Facebook and Twitter, so bear with me.
Welcome to Casa Laguna's brand new website. This is only the fourth website design in the inn's 11-year history, and it replaces an all-Flash version that was cutting edge when introduced just six years ago. But, today, technology advances at the speed of nano-gnats and all-Flash-based websites are quickly giving way to clean, well-organized, and easily accessible HTML5 sites like the one created for us by Azaris Studios.
The concept of "below the fold" is gone. iPads and iPhones took care of that. You'll see that the pages are once again "page-like." Hey....that's what that scroll wheel on your mouse is for. Scroll up, scroll down, it's all there with a flick of the thumb.
The current version of our site is fully mobile-capable, and looks great on our iPhones, as is. However, a simplified, dedicated mobile version of the site will be up and running in a few weeks.
The first thing you'll notice about the new site is the big, bold photographs. Even if you know nothing about Casa Laguna, you'll quickly get a feel for our grounds, rooms, and amenities, in less than one minute, by watching the automatically repeating slide show on the home page. Like what you see? Scroll down just below the slide show and click one of the three representative photos that will take you to pages full of information about our comfy rooms, highly-acclaimed food, and soothing spa services.
If you're more of a visual person, just skip to the gallery page. Then sit back and watch the show. Within minutes you'll have a perfect picture of Casa Laguna's style and beauty. Ready to pull the trigger on a reservation? Just about anywhere you are on the site, there's an obvious "Check Availability" bar or button. Need directions to the inn? Click on over to the Contact page and type in your address. One click more and you have a map and detailed directions.
We sincerely thank Robert, Darryl, and the Azaris Team for giving us the opportunity to work closely with them on the design of the new site. They could not have been more obliging and open to our suggestions. We are already using their superb Vortex dashboard to make little tweaks, add photos, write this blog, and add even more personalization. (No, Vortex is not WordPress. Check out the link.)
We should also again recognize Matt and Mark, a.k.a. Jumping Rocks Photography, for the bulk of the photographs you'll see on the website. I wish we could give them specific credit for the individual photos they took, but that's just not possible. Check out this YouTube slide show to see the entire Jumping Rocks Casa Laguna Portfolio.
We hope you have the time to browse through the site and give us your feedback. If not, we know that you will make use of the site again and again in the coming years as you select your rooms, schedule a "Special," and/or make a reservation. Now, it's easier than ever to become part of the Casa Laguna family.
Let’s be honest, not every restaurant that sits on the beach or has a magnificent ocean view puts a lot of emphasis on quality of food and service—after all, they have that beautiful view. We are pleased to say that The Deck on Laguna Beach has somehow managed to include all three—a sea spray-close beachfront view, great service, and delicious food and drink—and all for a reasonable price.
So what’s the catch? If you think about it a minute, you’ll quickly figure it out. A restaurant with all that going for it has got to be very, very popular. Having heard that Friday and Saturday nights are super-busy, we visited The Deck on a Tuesday night and arrived early enough to try their Local’s Only Grog & Grub specials. (Not a local? Don’t worry, everyone’s a local Monday-Thursday.) This “kinda-happy-hour” menu–served 2:30 to 5PM–includes selected $4 beers, $6 wines, $5 well/rocks drinks, and $7 Mai Tais and Margaritas.
The $8 Grub menu has a nice variety of nine items ranging from a huge, luscious cheeseburger to chicken pasta pomodoro, and a wide variety of seafood dishes. After seeing the size of these dishes being served at nearby tables, I opted for Pita Bread with tapenade and hummus from the regular appetizer menu, while my husband went for the coconut shrimp special, which included Asian noodles and sweet chili sauce. (As I said, for small eaters, a meal onto itself.)
But what about on weekends, when the local menu isn’t available? Many of the appetizers on the regular Deck menu are essentially small plates, perfect for light eaters or an early hold-me-over. And the appetizer prices ($6-$14) are still very reasonable for what you get. Entrees range from a $14 Burger to $39 Paella for two.
I chose the flatiron steak with warm potato salad and green beans. It was well-prepared and delicious—and arrived at the breezy table still surprisingly warm. There’s lots of seafood to choose from of course, but this time my husband surprised me by selecting the Surf & Turf Kebob—comprised of filet mignon, shrimp, and veggies on a bed of cous cous. He also loved the flavors and presentation, and only had a small complaint about one of the pieces of filet that was a bit chewy and ended up being the only thing left on the plate.
Our server, Jackie, was perfection—not only because she was friendly and attentive, but also because this tall, tan, blond in a sea-blue beach dress looked like she just came up from the sand to take our order, which added to the atmosphere. All the staff are dressed in casual but identifiable resort-style “uniforms” (for lack of a better word), and you’ll see patrons in everything from t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops, to dressier sportswear and deck shoes. The equally friendly and accommodating manager on duty, Stephanie, stopped to chat for a moment, and told us that those who want to get a good seat need to arrive early, especially on weekends. Those who arrive at 7:30 for the 8:00 sunset are probably going to be disappointed. Sorry, no reservations after 4:30.
The Deck on Laguna Beach is open for lunch from 11:00 A.M. Lunch, dinner, and cocktail service is also available in the beachfront cabanas that can be rented for gatherings, meetings, or private rendezvous. The Deck website is still a little sparse on information, and clicking to make a reservation will get you the Open Table link for the Beach House, so call the restaurant directly at 949.494.6700 with questions or reservation requests. The clearly marked entrance to The Deck is just past the Beach House at 627 Sleepy Hollow Lane, one-half block off Pacific Coast Highway.
We give this beachfront deck restaurant two suntanned thumbs up for getting it right in every way.
Casa Laguna management was saddened to learn that one of our favorite restaurants, Sorrento Grille, will be closing on August 31, 2011. Sorrento has been a favorite of locals and visitors for more than 23 years, and was our favorite “watering hole” on Tuesday nights (that’s Friday night for Casa Laguna management). With bad news comes good–the space has been sold to Sorrento’s Executive Chef, Ryan Adams, who plans to open a new restaurant that is–hooray Ryan–not like anything we already have in Laguna Beach. Per early press, Chef Adam’s upcoming Common Table–Kitchen & Drink will be based on the concept that “no matter where you come from or what happens during your day, you always find yourself around a common table, sharing a meal with the ones you love.”
The Common Table’s preliminary menu shows that Chef Adams has retained a few of our Sorrento Favorites, like Mushroom Risotto, Daily Flatbread creations, Rib eye Steak, and the luscious Crème Brulee Bread Pudding; but, for the most part, the menu will undergo a major change. Small ($2-5), medium ($6-15), and large ($14-28) plates will be offered. We’re particularly anxious to try the Veal Cheek Shepherd’s Pie, and the very Southern-sounding Pork Deckle, served with greens and black-eyed peas, and cider-mustard gravy. All in all, the menu we saw was eclectic, with a good balance of familiar and unique dishes. No bar menu was included and we have to say (with tongue in cheek) that our favorite martini not being available could be a deal-breaker. The Common Table should open sometime in September—we’ll keep you posted.
Summer is always wonderful in Laguna Beach, with often cool mornings and sunny, warm afternoons. July and August is Festival Time–the most popular time of year for visitors–which means that Pacific Coast Highway can get a little busy, and parking becomes even more premium. But Laguna Beach has provided a way to get “around” those problems–quite literally–with a free trolley system that makes regular round-trip runs throughout the day, every day, from downtown Laguna south to Crown Valley Parkway; north to Cliff Drive; and east to the Festival Parking lot on Canyon Road. There’s a trolley stop within 10-minutes’ walk from just about every popular Laguna Beach destination. Guests who stay at Casa Laguna during July and August can leave their cars parked throughout their stay and catch a free open-air trolley just outside our door from 9:30 AM to 11:30 PM every day. At least three trolleys stop at Casa Laguna each hour–sometimes more on weekends. So that prospective visitors can get an idea of what a Laguna Beach Trolley ride is like, we’ve put together a YouTube video showing some of the restaurants, views, and activities that you can access along the way. A printable Trolley route map can be found at http://lagunabeachcity.net/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=7353.