Our experience there on the first night (Saturday) was as good as it can get in even a long-standing restaurant. Perfection is not expected on the first night, but that is what we received. This restaurant is going, no, it is right now, one of the best in Orange County, and maybe Southern California. What about just Laguna Beach as a starter? No question they are #1 right out of the gate!
What made it so great? Well, consider this. We arrived about 8:30 pm, without reservation. We were greeted by Ahmed Labbate, General Manager and immediately seated us at the bar. After a few minutes of tasting a beautiful cabernet served by an experienced and hospitable bartender, we were summoned to our table adjacent to Amar’s domain, Kitchen Central. There the waitress took over and provided some of the best table service I have ever received.
The décor, the energy, the enthusiasm made us feel like we had been transported to New York City, without the harrowing taxi ride! Many fine dining establishments that have the atmosphere about as exciting as a mortuary should take note. We felt we were participants in something bigger than just “dinner for two”, reveling in the excitement, aromas, and bustle in the establishment.
The food from appetizer to desert was perfection in presentation, innovation, and of course flavor. Right down to the beautiful plate used to serve a generous pad of butter topped with course sea salt. You see, I look for the little things that had to be thought out very carefully that makes dining not only delicious, but interesting. Last time I was impressed with a butter serving was in Aguascalientes, MX when I was served hot black coffee and freshly baked breakfast rolls along with butter in a sea of honey while listening to a stringed trio playing classical music. Now that’s waking up in style! Each dish was special not only because it was delicious at first bite, but also there were little details added letting you know that you were experiencing something that had been prepared with thought and care.
The real clincher was my wife’s order of chicken breast prepared sous vide. She ate every morsel on her plate and didn’t share but one bite with me. She doesn’t like chicken, so a clean plate for her is the ultimate compliment. I complimented Chef Amar on the menu, and the delicious preparations. Humble but completely serious he simply replied that this menu was just the start. I believe him!
I also had a chat with the remaining partner Rich Cadarette. He complimented everyone on the city staff and Planning Commission that were very helpful in completing approvals with minimum delay. Their experience was not perfect, but they recognized that they were lucky to hum through the approval maze with little difficulty. I guess when you are prepared with a great restaurant concept, innovative décor, a unique menu, and an award winning chef, novices have to yield to competency.
My compliments to the Planning Commission for getting the job done right, with minimal interference, and bureaucratic roadblocks.
Visitor’s Bureau and locals take note. With the arrival of Broadway by Amar Santana on the heels of several other recently new culinary establishments, and the promise of more in the near future, Laguna will be able to lay claim to being the premier artistic and culinary destination in the country. As my three-year old grandson once proclaimed amid all his Christmas presents, “I so happy!”