Oct 17, 2011 · 3 Comments

Reviewing Asada Laguna -- First of Two

When it comes to successful restaurants, the oft-repeated axiom "location, location, location" is usually well applied. However, many restaurants fail in great locations, indicating the real maxim should be, "location, good food, good service, and good management." And there is no question that "consistency" should be part of that equation as well.

Laguna's newest Mexican restaurant, Asada, unquestionably has a good location—in the heart of downtown Laguna at 480 South Coast Highway. Asada was busy the night we were there and got busier as the night progressed -- with a clear mix of locals and out-of-towners. Javier's, arguably Orange County's premier Mexican eatery, was extremely successful in the same location for many years. Javier's successor, El Callejón, did not fare so well, although we personally liked El Callejón's true "south-of-the-border" atmosphere and dishes, and the guests we sent there always seemed to return happy and satisfied.
 
Unfortunately, our first visit to Asada got off to a bad start....twice. We are quite aware that things can go wrong in any service-oriented business, and we try not to hold it against a restaurant when we encounter minor glitches, knowing that these little hiccups are probably not typical. You can't judge a book by its cover and you can't judge a new restaurant by one visit. So when our Cadillac Margaritas arrived with what was quite obviously far more Grand Marnier® than tequila, we courteously brought it to the attention of our server and she politely took them away and brought back better versions – although I will say here that their Cadillac's are far from the best we've had. I cannot speak for the rest of their extensive margarita menu, which may contain some gems. (I should mention here that Las Brisas makes our favorite Cadillac, although that popular (read "touristy") Laguna Beach "view" restaurant is not our favorite place to eat Mexican food.)

I ordered Asada's Braised Carnitas, described on their menu as "crispy tender pork shoulder with a mild ranchero sauce, crema fresca, house-made black beans, and cilantro rice." My husband ordered Enchiladas Francesas, described as "tender short rib in house-made crepes with a rich negra modelo demi sauce, horseradish crema, and seasonal roasted vegetables." When my dish arrived, we both stared at it for a second and my husband immediately asked, "Is that what you ordered?" Since this was my first time at Asada, I wasn't really sure what the dish was supposed to look like, but it was clear that this was beef, and the sides didn't match the menu description. This time our server was nowhere to be found, so we hailed the nearest employee and brought the error to their attention. I insisted my husband continue with his meal, and he was about half-way through when the manager returned with the correct dish and apologies. By this time, my enthusiasm was understandably dulled and my palate was no doubt following suit. The Braised Carnitas dish was just ok. The beans and rice were definitely ordinary. My husband tasted the dish as well, and agreed on all counts. His crepe-wrapped short rib looked interesting, though a bit thin and insubstantial for supposed enchiladas. He said that the enchiladas were "good" and the roast vegetables were "ok."

As we enjoyed the last of our "better" Cadillacs, and a large slice of "Batch Carrot Cake" (brought by the pleasant and accommodating manager as an extended apology), we chatted with a nearby patron of Hispanic descent who said this was her second time at Asada and that she "loved" her first visit. Glancing around us throughout the meal, we did not see anyone who, observably, was not enjoying their meal, or who had obvious problems with service. Thus, we are prepared to give Asada a second chance in the near future. Perhaps this time we will ask them about their most popular drinks and dishes, and give those a try.

Bottom line: Our first visit to Asada was not the best experience we've had at a Laguna Beach restaurant, and certainly not the worst. Based on what we saw and heard from the patrons around us, we don't think our experience was typical, and we plan to review Asada again in the coming weeks.

1. Jill Blake said:

Asada Laguna is just plain bad from drinks to dessert. They really lack in the area of attentive service and catering to the customer needs. Very Loud music reminded me of a dive bar in Cabo during spring break. Food is mediocre at best, some items even taste the same, as if cooked in the same pans or fried in same oils?? Hostess with nose ring was a real %^&$^. Sad because nice location and decor, just not well run at all.

On Nov 25, 2011 at 07:43 pm

2. Jill Blake said:

Asada Laguna is just plain bad from drinks to dessert. They really lack in the area of attentive service and catering to the customer needs. Very Loud music reminded me of a dive bar in Cabo during spring break. Food is mediocre at best, some items even taste the same, as if cooked in the same pans or fried in same oils?? Hostess with nose ring was a real %^&$^. Sad because nice location and decor, just not well run at all.

On Nov 25, 2011 at 07:43 pm

3. Nathan said:

I've been twice now and it's just not good. Drinks are but food and service quality is lacking.

On Nov 2, 2011 at 09:13 am

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