Event - Nirvana Grille Greets the Season with a Taste of Summer
What do you get when a naturopathic doctor raises a daughter who is interested in food and cooking? Executive Chef and co-owner Lindsay Smith-Rosales, the passionate creator of Laguna Beach's Nirvana Grille. A restaurant based on sourcing as sustainably as possible, Nirvana Grille was built to be committed to responsible ingredients for its dishes. Chef Lindsay believes in feeding the body what it is supposed to have and has walked the many paths to find the balance herself, having run the full gamut from being vegan to not. As she says, "It really is about feeding your body what it deserves." I joined other food media folks one summer evening to indulge in the restaurant's new seasonal menu and got to see what a difference the ingredient sourcing makes on a meal.
I was surprised to hear that some of the restaurant's specials are sourced directly from the chef's own home. Some of the eggs come from their chickens which are GMO free, organic, soy free, heritage chickens. We spotted a few turquoise ones on our table that night as well as miniature whites from a mini Polish chicken. These beauts are collected weekly for specific limited quantity dishes. The menu itself changes in minor ways every January and June, major ways every March and October. From the outside, the restaurant looked quite small but the interior showed several tables and a charming booth in the back with newsprint-like wallpaper. As we sat in the bar area where they have several Happy Hour specials, we sipped on a Skinny Lavender French 75 (gin, lavender, lemon, and champagne) which would easily please the lavender lovers out there; there was plenty of the dried flower to enjoy.
If you are not a fan of big chairs and white tablecloth dining, a swift walk up a flight of stairs will take you to Nirvana Grille's rooftop bar and lounge area. This was a good vantage point to see the rest of the surrounding Laguna Beach buildings but sorry, no direct oceanside view. However, there was plenty of bright and garden patio-like arrangements and colors to give you a pleasant vibe. Our drinks during this visit up top were the Blackberry Bliss Mojito, a sweet and subtly alcoholic cocktail, and the Basil Ginger Lime Martini, a drink more limey than the other flavors indicated in the name.
To start that evening were Roasted Figs (honey and pepper goat cheese stuffed Turkish figs wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with balsamic reduction on top of wild arugula) that were luscious and enormous though Chef Lindsay claimed that the ones from her own backyard are typically three times the size. These barely needed any type of sauce inclusion because their natural sweetness and innards bore enough juice to whet the whole throat. I appreciated the salty prosciutto wrapped around it which cut through the sweetness of both the fruit and the goat cheese.
We also delved into her Burrata & Organic Heirloom Tomato Salad (burrata cheese, baby heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, balsamic reduction, Kalamata olives, micro arugula, and smoked sea salt) which came paired with Qupe "Y" Block Chardonnay 2012. The baby tomatoes in this rather than the typical slices of heirloom tomatoes we see were chosen for being naturally sweeter than their larger counterparts and with more variety. They were, indeed, sweet and an excellent pairing with burrata. The olives lent acidity without being overpowering and the micro arugula gave bitterness to stymie too much sweetness. I really enjoyed this one.
That evening, we had a choice between two entrees - the Pistachio Dijon Crusted Australian Rack of Lamb (rosemary demi glace, broccolini with shallot butter, goat cheese mashed Yukon Gold potatoes) paired with Lyric "by Etude" Pinot Noir 2011 or the Coriander Spiced Black Cod (saffron cream sauce, fennel, asparagus, tomato, and herbs) paired with La Crema 2011 Chardonnay. I opted for the former because how could I say no to lamb? It was exquisite and the demi glace could hold me hostage. I loved how Dijon mustard had been incorporated into the crushed pistachio before forming a juice-enclosing crust on the tender lamb. The crust was a perfect roast, and the demi glace was both herbaceous and indulgent. To pair it with broccolini proved a smart choice as the young vegetable was just bitter enough not to contribute more sweetness to the sauce, and the mashed potatoes were quite creamy.
The lamb was nearly overshadow by how tasty the next course was, unfortunately, which meant that both were fantastic. We explored Chef Lindsay's Braised Meyer Short Rib Gnocchi (potato gnocchi, braised Meyer short rib, tomato, carrot, and herb ragout) next, paired with Force of Nature Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Unlike the previous pairing which did not quite complement each other, this course showed a worthy pairing. The gnocchi was fluffy and soft, bathed in a savory, wholesome ragout that featured tender short rib and more tender vegetables. This is the comfort food that one needs on a stormy day or even just to feel better after an ordeal.
Dessert could not be skipped even after several courses but the choice was ours. Which would you have picked had your choices been Ice Cream & Gelato Trio (housemade goat cheese maple ice cream, blueberry lavender, and basil cream gelato), Grand Marnier Glazed Apricots (served atop housemade goat cheese maple ice cream), and Organic Cashew Almond Salted Caramel Pie (organic agave pink salted caramel, raw cocoa chocolate, organic coconut, cashew & almond milk custard, lecuma, almond & macadamia crust)? Hard decision, right? Luckily we were all sharers at the table, and I got to dig my spoon into every one.
The ice creams are made in-house at Nirvana Grille so the flavors will vary but still be crazily tasty. I loved the chunks of frozen goat cheese that hid themselves in the goat cheese ice cream. The basil cream gelato was refreshingly rich. My favorite from the trio however was the blueberry lavender for its floral softness and strong flavor. The blueberry barely made an appearance in this one but I'm a lavender fiend so that wasn't a dealbreaker for me. As for the apricot dish, the fruits were not as ripe as I had expected so there were bites that were too sour or hard but overall, it would be a fitting dessert for those who want a little hint of alcohol for the last course. The caramel pie was a table favorite; it had so many different flavors involved though that you couldn't quite pinpoint what made you take a forkful after each forkful. Perhaps it was the creaminess, the smoothness, or all of the above. Its decadence won many over and then surprised everyone once we realized it was vegan. Who would have thought?
Chef Lindsay's commitment to sourcing free range & organic poultry, 100% sustainable seafood, and antibiotic, hormone-free meats guides the food that makes it onto the menu. If you are interested in seeing what this can do for your plate, find the restaurant at 303 Broadway St, Laguna Beach, CA 92651.
Photography by Minerva Thai. More photos available on Facebook here.