Event - Sunset Dinner at The Deck in Laguna Beach

If there is one way to live out what others stereotype as the southern California lifestyle, it is to have a glass of wine or cocktail with your dinner out on a patio beachside. If you don't own one of those, you don't have to. The beach cities are notorious for providing such a breathtaking view, and Laguna Beach is no stranger to good food. We explored the new spring menu at The Deck in Laguna Beach during a special sunset media dinner one evening and got a dose of that "SoCal lifestyle" with some great company and eats. This menu (and their others) demonstrated the luscious and fresh flavors that pop when you decide to use seasonal ingredients; for springtime's case, these included English peas, sugar snap pea vines, asparagus, artichokes, and sweet onions. Like many beachside venues, The Deck has an emphasis on seafood so we got a taste of those beauts as well from the talents of Executive Chef Rainer Schwarz.

“With my Spring menu, I wanted to showcase diverse offerings while focusing on simplicity in each dish. By utilizing the freshest ingredients, I am able to achieve complexity in flavor without complicating the dish.” - Executive Chef Rainer Schwarz
The restaurant is tucked away from the main street of PCH in Laguna Beach and involves going down a steep hill but you should not worry about parking as valet will gladly take care of your vehicle. You'll  make your way down to the deck afterwards which features a full bar, patio seating, and even a private area you can rent out (completely with private room rental) for parties and special occasions. There is a full view of the ocean and thus, it is a popular spot for diners to visit to get a perfect view of sunsets. We were situated in the private events area and treated to such a spectacular view that evening.

To start was a fanciful display of appetizers such as the Caramelized Lamb Chops with mint-caper salsa, Oysters (varieties were Fat Bastard and Kusshi with apple white balsamic mignonette), and Deck Tacos (Mexican white shrimp, chorizo, avocado salsa verde, and grilled scallions). The smell coming off of the grill from the perfectly seared lamb chops was matched only by how wonderful the meat was itself. Oysters shucked on-site were clean and great-tasting on their own, though highly enhanced by the tangy mignonette. As for the tacos, those were my favorite starter of the evening as demonstrated by my constant return to the station (I believe I ate three or four?). The avocado salsa verde was smartly slathered on the tortilla to keep all of the fresh ingredients in place and bind them into each other for delightful bites. I highly recommend those tacos if you visit.

More to indulge in were the Grilled Cheese (Vermont Cheddar, Danish Fontina, Nueske bacon, caramelized onions, and tomato soup), cocktails, and Cheese and Charcuterie Board. The crisp bread on the grilled cheese held together the salty and savory innards of this improved version of a childhood classic; with a little bowl of hearty tomato soup, it was a pleasurable bite with a slight crunch. The cocktails seemed fitting for the weather we were experiencing and certainly a little "dangerous," seeing as you could taste more of the fruit juices used instead of the alcohol. Be careful with these ones, folks! As for cheese and charcuterie, I am always an absolute fan of these boards and The Deck did not disappoint with their selection.

Surprisingly, the smörgåsbord to start barely represented the amount of menu items we would be digging into later. Generous pours of Miss Olivia Brion Chardonnay and B. Wise Vineyards' Wisdom Red enticed all of us to our dinner seats for the first course of many. We started with the Baja Shrimp Cocktail (Dungenness crab, Bay scallops, shrimp, calamari, and tortilla chips), served elegantly in a large scallop half-shell and containing a medley of cold, fresh seafood. Sweet and refreshing, this one slurp treat encompassed my favorite crab so tenderly prepared, a juicy large shrimp, and several pieces which varied from shell to shell. The next course was The Deck's Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut (fresh corn pudding, artichokes, asparagus, and sugar snap pea vines) which easily became one of the table's favorite plates for its flaky lusciousness. Barely seasoned to truly showcase the fish's flavor, of which there was plenty without herbs or spices, the morsels were great enough but atop of the fresh corn pudding akin to a more delicate polenta and paired with incredibly fresh produce, the dish was a superstar. If you are opting for only one dish during a visit, order this and enjoy the sea breeze with the worthy dish.

Once the sun set, our lighting options became limited for pictures though absolutely gorgeous for diners (romantic date here anyone?). If only we could give the Tuscan Kale Caesar (herb crouton, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and roasted almonds with Caesar dressing) justice in a shot because it was just about the best kale salad I've ever tasted. While I loved the halibut as a main dish, I would assuredly order this kale salad every and any time. I could tell that the leaves had been massaged to the perfect texture so that kale's inherent bitterness did not stain our tongues but the leaves were also crunchy enough to give bite to the salad. Pair that with a strong-flavored dressing that was lightly tossed with all of the ingredients and you have a winner. Then we dove into the juiciness of Free Range Mary's Farm Chicken (zucchini chorizo succotash and Spanish sherry-pimiento coulis) which was rife with the purity of a cared-for farm chicken. The succotash was a present in itself and again, another demonstration of the importance of sourcing good ingredients.

The over-sized platter of Seared Yellowfin Ahi Tuna (on quinoa and avocado salad with a tomato-coriander vinaigrette) made us wonder why we weren't all provided stretchy pants prior to the tasting! These slices of deep raw red tuna with the slight touch of a careful sear around the edges were so tender that a knife was unnecessary to separate the large pieces into bites. That ability to serve tenderness carried over to the Rib-Eye: Greater Omaha Angus (whipped Yukon gold potatoes, creamed kale, and a caramelized shallot & Cabernet reduction) that was cooked to just the right doneness to highlight the richness of the meat. Fatty and flavorful, the rib-eye will easily please the red-meat lovers and those wanting a really great steak. The whipped potatoes were also quite special - being whipped gave them just the right amount of airiness to help them stand out against the heavier meat. To finish, small bowls of fresh fruits thinly sliced helped settle our full stomachs.

If you're going to The Deck, they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a happy hour Monday through Thursday from 4-6 p.m. and located at 627 Sleepy Hollow Lane.

In addition to the release of The Deck's new spring menu was also the announcement of a summer opening of Driftwood Kitchen which will reside in the location of the former Beachcomber Cafe location next to The Deck. We got a hard-hat sneak peek of the site of construction slated to open soon. Led by Chef Rainer Schwarz as well, the new restaurant will showcase fresh seafood and artisan cocktails in an atmosphere modeled after a California Coastal feel. The cocktails will have a strong emphasis on bourbons and whiskeys. Driftwood Kitchen will be the newest addition to the Sentinel Development Group who also manage The Deck and Fireside Tavern (Costa Mesa).

Photography by Minerva Thai and Duc Duong. More pictures available on Facebook here.

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