We’ve provided our “take” on ocean view restaurants in this forum before. It seems that it is impossible for the management of most “view” restaurants to have any concern for good service and good food. “You got this beautiful view….what more do you want?” There are a few notable exceptions – the Ocean View Bar & Grill is not one of them. However, it is far from being one of the worst offenders.
Laguna Beach regulars and residents remember when the Hotel Laguna had two restaurants. Claes’ Ovation was the indoor “fine-dining” dinner venue, and breakfast and lunch was served in the bar or attached outside patio. After the passing of Claes Anderson in 2010, the hotel and restaurants fell into a bit of limbo. The bar, deck, and dining room were combined as the aptly named Ocean View Bar & Grill last year, and since that time overall reviews from all sources have been mixed, with complaints centering more on mediocre food than anything else.
We arrived at the OVB&G early on a Wednesday evening and found that we had the place to ourselves. One jolly gentleman served as our host, waiter, and bar server. I wouldn’t call the service “snappy,” but it was adequate and, most importantly, accompanied by a smile. We took a seat on the outdoor patio and ordered martinis and two appetizers – some tasty but overly charred crab cakes and a generous order of steak nachos. The martinis were well-made and correctly shaken to arrive well-chilled. The sauce on the crab cakes and the cheese on the nachos were both low quality but not off-putting.
As the sun began to set and the temperature dropped, we moved inside to what used to be Claes dining room. Perhaps my memory had faded with the years, but it seemed very little had changed from when we were last there in 2009. (Alas, our review blog of Claes was lost in the website upgrade.) Like the bar and deck, the view in the dining room is commanding. There isn’t a bad seat, but you’ll want one by the window. We were the second table to be seated, and only two more were occupied before we left about 90 minutes later. Actually, “seated” is a misnomer. Everyone was simply advised to pick a table.
The OVB&G lunch menu serves as the dinner menu as well, with the addition of a selection of “sunset menu” items. Pricing is a matter of opinion, but we found the prices to be quite reasonable for a view restaurant. I chose the 9 oz. New York Steak served with Demi-Glace, Fingerling Potatoes, and Garlic Green Beans, $23.00. The generous-portion (9oz.++) steak was reasonably tender and tasty, but the glace was applied a bit too generously for my taste. The green beans were oddly tough and I ate very few of them. My husband ordered the Atlantic Salmon with Citrus Beurre Blanc, Steamed Rice, and Broccoli Rab, $22.00. He felt the salmon (again, a very generous portion) was slightly overcooked and—like all of the sauces we had that evening—the beurre blanc almost seemed canned or at the least made well in advance. (In retrospect I wish we had asked if the sauces were freshly made.) Also, his broccoli rab suffered from the same odd toughness as my green beans. He actually borrowed my steak knife to cut it up.
All that seems like a lot of complaining, but we didn’t hate our dinner. We just felt there were some problems. The bottom line is that no one should go to OVB&G thinking they are going to a fine dining restaurant. Service is generally good and the food, for the most part, is acceptable. You will likely leave with your tummy filled and the memory of a beautiful view, but it’s unlikely you will brag about how great your meal was.
If you didn’t know before, you now know that Ocean View Bar & Grill is located overlooking the beach in the Hotel Laguna. Menus and photos can be seen on their website. Arrive a bit before sunset and bring your camera.
Laguna Beach has always had its share of Mexican Restaurants and it probably has more now than ever before. Some are good. Some are not so great. But we’ve always felt that there is not enough difference between them (other than price) to make any one stand out from the others—until now. I’ll be honest….when Carmelita’s opened last September in the old Crab Zone location, I said “Just what we need, another Mexican Restaurant.” And, therefore, we did not rush to check it out until we started seeing the customer reviews, which have been about 90% five-star.
We don’t believe in reviewing restaurants on their busiest night. For that matter, we just don’t go to restaurants on their busiest night whether we’re there for a review or not. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that we almost always visit a new restaurant on a weeknight, and therefore your experience on a busy weekend will very likely be somewhat different from what we experienced. We visited Carmelita’s early on a Monday evening in January and we were the first table patrons of the evening. A few barflies had already attached themselves to the bar and most were still there when we left. Let me tell you right off the bat, the service at Carmelita’s is alarmingly attentive. There is certainly no shortage of staff and you could very well end up with your own personal waiter. Our waiter Mario spent his first five minutes with us giving a brief history of the “chain” and describing their most popular dishes in great detail. Some customer reviews have dissed this service model as annoying. We found it refreshing and efficient, making our selection process quicker and much easier.
Mario took our order for two house margaritas, and chips with salsa and a wonderful bean dip came almost immediately thereafter. We also ordered Carmelita’s popular guacamole. We’re not big fans of guacamole as a rule, but Carmelita’s version, with bits of plantain and mango, was exceptional. Despite attempts to limit ourselves, we ended up eating way too much of these appetizers.
As usual, my husband chose a seafood dish for dinner, Wild Mexican Prawns, and I chose what I thought would be more classic Mexican fare, pork Carnitas. Both of these Carmelita’s dishes have received high marks on the customer reviews sites, and we soon found out why. My husband said the prawns were fresh and tender, with a wonderful garlic butter sauce. He was given the choice of a more spicy style sauce, but he is not a fan of heat and even found the mild garlic sauce a bit too spicy (which greatly confused Mario). The pork Carnitas were unlike anything I’ve ever had, super tender with a crisply carmelized outer coating. I ended up eating it more like pork roast, dipping forkloads of shredded meat into the spectacular Salsa Quemada it was served with. (Definitely too spicy for my husband, but right up my alley.) About half of the huge portion came home with me. Although we were both stuffed, Mario tempted us with Carmelita’s Tres Leches dessert, which we planned to just taste and take the balance home. We ended up finishing it off with a second margarita (which went surprisingly well with the sweet cake).
Bottom line: We felt the service was flawless and the food was exceptional. We can’t guarantee that everyone will have the same experience, but unless we just got lucky that Monday night, we think Carmelitas Laguna Beach is the best Mexican restaurant in the area. Does it have the atmosphere or people-watching qualities of Javier’s or Las Brisas? Of course not. But for quality of food and service, it beats those popular high-end establishments hands down. The menu is so varied and extensive I won’t attempt to discuss it in detail here. Check out the website menu to get a general idea.
Carmelitas Laguna Beach is located at 217 Broadway St. just east of the intersection with Pacific Coast Highway. Parking is where you can find it. We always have luck in the lots or street parking on Ocean Avenue. Carmelitas is a family owned chain, with additional restaurants in Rancho Santa Margarita and in the Sacramento area. They have a number of websites, which can be confusing. The site for the Laguna Beach location is Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico.