It’s just coincidence that we chose to review two Italian restaurants in a row, but these two restaurants couldn’t be more different. Ristorante Rumari (see previous blog post) is a classic family-style Italian restaurant serving classic Italian fare. The Mare Culinary Lounge is as unique as its name, in a location that seemed to us to be very unlikely—inside the Laguna Beach Holiday Inn. For those who don’t already know, the word mare as used here is not like the old gray mare. Pronounced mar-rāy in Italian, it is simply the word for “sea.” Mare is a companion restaurant to the Alessá group of Italian eateries in Newport, Huntington, and downtown Laguna Beach.
We visited Mare during their soft opening, (as of this writing they still do not have a fully functioning website) and it was clear that they still have some things to do to get ready for a grand opening. Even so, the service was good and the food was superb. Our server, Jason, was the perfect balance of friendly attentiveness and professionalism. We were first treated to a marvelous sampling of Mare’s appetizers courtesy of chef-owner Alessandro Pirozzi: Tacos “Mai” Way-- Braised oxtail, baby sweet onions, and homemade Saba in a unique Bahn bao wrap, $10.00; Olive Fritte – Fontina stuffed castelveltrano olives, lightly flash-fried and topped with sea salt and Italian parsley, $8.00; Arancini Carnaroli—A rich and flavorful risotto mini cake, with mozzarella and Bolognese, $8.00; and, Polipo Mediterranean—Delicate and delicious braised octopus carpaccio, with bell peppers, black Sicilian lava salt, and imported baby caper-berries, $14.00. All in all, the most varied, unusual, and perfectly prepared appetizers we’ve had in a Laguna Beach restaurant.
For the main course, I chose the house-made radiatori with slow-braised Colorado lamb shoulder. $19.00. The lamb was fall-apart tender, the pasta perfectly done, and the flavor profile was unbelievable. Both my husband and our dinner companion tasted this dish and despite loving their own choices, both said they would choose the radiatori next time. My husband had bronzini – a lovely flakey Mediterranean sea bass dish that was a special that evening. Our friend had superbly prepared lamb chops. We all felt that our dishes were perfectly prepared and awesomely delicious.
Mare’s lounge-bar is upscale and well-stocked—the perfect place to pop in for martinis and scrumptious appetizers. The restaurant has both inside and outside seating. We chose the outside patio, which is unfortunately in full view of Holiday Inn guests scurrying back and forth to their rooms with sandy children and grocery bags in tow. However, I don’t want to overemphasize this element. Mare is stylish and upscale. The service was excellent and the food was truly exceptional. The overall quality of this restaurant more than makes up for any perceived negatives regarding location. I have no doubt we will be back to Mare again and again, and we will certainly recommend it to our guests.
Read more about Mare Culinary Lounge and see pictures of the restaurant and food on Cathy Thomas's cooking blog.