Laguna Beach has long been known as the artsy and creative place to be as you make your way up and down the West coast. Owner and executive chef Azmin Ghahreman opened Sapphire Laguna in early 2007, and has come up with a menu that matches the creativity of the many galleries that line the streets of Laguna Beach.
The beach, the sun, the fresh air and a stunning view, all go hand in hand with being located in Laguna Beach. The Sapphire is far from your typical beach restaurant. You certainly do have all of those ingredients with the Sapphire, but they have gone way beyond the norm, even for Laguna Beach. Located on what was formerly the “Pottery Shack,” Ghahreman hired Si Teller to create the Sapphire. Teller kept the restaurant design in line with historical look of the building while adding some inventive twists, such as creating a wall that is made up of 500 oak wine barrel staves. Although the restaurant is fairly new, it has a very historical, Laguna Beach feel about it.
As you peruse the menu, you are likely to find some items and ingredients you might not be familiar with, but the great thing is that the staff knows the menu inside and out, but Ghahreman does not hide in the kitchen, he is out and about talking to customers and will certainly assist you with any questions you might have regarding the menu. I certainly could begin and end with the pan-seared barramundi. Ghahreman has created what might just be the best fish dish that I have ever eaten. The barramundi, an Australian fish, is a very delicate and light piece of fish that is one of those rare pieces of fish that does not overwhelm you with a fishiness flavor; it really separates itself from other fish. Ghahreman does a fabulous job of allowing you to really taste this fish, pairing it with a tasty caponata relish.
For an appetizer or even a meal in itself, the ancho chili rubbed chicken quesadilla is a surprising flavorful event in itself. Ghahreman really shows his talent by taking this everyday snack and turning it into a gourmet experience. As you taste this dish, you really get a sense of each flavor beginning with the chicken that was spicy and flavorful, while not overpowering your taste buds. To pair with the chicken, Ghahreman chose Oaxaca cheese, which melted perfectly, avoiding that stringy texture of some cheeses, while giving you a very subtle flavor that is the perfect compliment to the overall spicy flavor of this dish. After trying this, you are going to seek out Oaxaca cheese to add to your own kitchen. You are given three different sauces with the quesadilla, make sure to go with the fire roasted tomato sauce, not overly hot but it has a lot of flavor.
The previous dishes were all from the Sapphire weekend brunch menu. Keep in mind that Ghahreman does a few separate menus, weekend, lunch and dinner and each has an individual feel. The dinner menu is a bit different than the weekend brunch menu with a few more classic dishes that Ghahreman of course puts his own signature on. A few of the dishes include; Chianti braised prime short ribs, onion dusted lamb sirloin and crispy Tasmanian ocean trout just to name a few.
At this point you would expect nothing less than a spectacular dessert to finish off your meal and Ghahreman delivers. If you enjoy coconut you are in for a true treat as the Almond “Joy” dessert is just spectacular. By the name you can imagine this is a take off of the candy bar, not only in appearance, but in taste. What you don’t get in your candy wrapper however is a mouthwatering Amaretto chocolate sauce. If you don’t like coconut, don’t worry there are plenty of other choices including a brilliant choice for a sunny day at the beach, the Australian fruit Pavlova with fresh berries a very light and fruity dessert.
The other noteworthy item about Sapphire is the drink menu. The Sapphire has done a nice job with the wine menu. They offer a large assortment of affordable wines while also giving you a wide range of beers from many different regions. If you are looking for a great way to spend a relaxed afternoon on the patio, check out the list of original mixed drinks. They are just as inventive as the food on the menu.
Once you are finished with dinner, make sure that you go right next door to the Sapphire Pantry. The Pantry offers a lot of great items you can just run in and grab and take home or take out to the beach for a picnic. If you are a cheese fanatic, this is also the place to go as the Sapphire has its own cheese monger, Starr Cornwall, who can guide you through the wide assortment of cheeses and make recommendations with her expertise.
Some items might change on the menu as the seasons change and different items are more readily available, the one thing that won’t change is that regardless of the time of the year or day of the week that you go to Sapphire, you are certain to enjoy one of the most original menus in all of Orange County.
For more information on Sapphire Laguna, visit: www.sapphirelaguna.com and for reservations call: (949) 715-3300