The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s new restaurant celebrates the region’s plentiful producers with seasonal dishes that impress.
By Sharon Stello
With a roaring fireplace, natural stone wall and rustic vaulted wood ceiling, Harvest Restaurant exudes warmth—which is especially welcoming during the chilly winter months. Opened in the fall at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, a newly renovated resort tucked away in a canyon near Aliso Creek, the seasonally focused eatery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as sweeping views of the golf course’s lush, green fairway. This scenery can be enjoyed from either the outdoor patio or the expansive windows in the dining room, which effortlessly pairs elegance with an updated lodge ambience.
The farm-to-table menu features modern comfort food and other inspired dishes along with a curated selection of craft beer, wine and signature cocktails like the Treehouse, which mixes Botran aged rum, apple liqueur, cinnamon syrup and lemon juice.
The kitchen is overseen by Executive Chef Charles Imbelli, whose resume includes working with culinary masters like Danny Meyer at Union Square Events and David Waltuck at the now-shuttered Chanterelle, both in New York City. Notably, Imbelli—who entered the restaurant world as an apprentice at just 14—was named to Zagat New York’s “30 Under 30” list in 2013.
At Harvest, Imbelli’s experience shines as he layers flavors that tantalize the palate. For example, one side dish brings together sweet chili sauce, the tartness of green apple and the smoky char of fried Brussels sprouts. The hamachi crudo starter tops thin slices of fresh hamachi fish with tangy yuzu vinaigrette, pickled pear and a surprising crunch of spiced corn nuts. In the future, many of the herbs used in Harvest’s daily specials will come from a half-acre, on-site garden to be planted this spring, while local and exotic fruits come, seasonally, from an on-property orchard.
Juxtaposed with that light freshness, the lamb meatballs and pimento mac and cheese dishes are savory, comforting options. The meatballs are simmered in a spicy harissa tomato sauce with pickled red onion, preserved lemon, rye bread crumbs and micro basil sprinkled on top. For the mac and cheese, orecchiette pasta is mixed with two types of cheese—yellow cheddar and smoked Gouda—melted to gooey perfection, with a hint of heat from chilies. The soft pasta and cheese is balanced with a slight crunch from the garlic panko topping. Assuming you have room for entrees after the delightful lineup of smaller dishes, the bloody mary mussels and Harvest Burger are both popular choices. The aptly named mussels, served with a tomato-based broth, horseradish, olives, celery, fennel and bacon, taste exactly like the hearty dish’s cocktailinspired moniker. Meanwhile, the mouthwatering burger with Swiss cheese and fried onions is brightened with a zing from house-made tomato jam and horseradish-beet sauce.
Then, even when you feel too full to take another bite, order the dessert. Trust us, the popcorn panna cotta is worth it: This salty and sweet finale blends the cold Italian treat (cream that’s thickened with gelatin and served in a molded form), with drizzled caramel and the crunch of candied corn nuts, a fun end to a night of epicurean celebration. And, since Harvest’s menu is seasonal, there are plenty of excuses to come back and try a new set of dishes showcasing California’s endless bounty. (Harvest, 31106 S.Coast Hwy., 949-715-1376, theranchlb.com)