Up Front | Wine & Dine, February 2011

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FRESH CATCH

Laguna reimagines fish and chips. – By Brett Callahan | Photos by Jody Tiongco

A simple fare imagined up with the working class in mind, fish and chips used to come wrapped in newspaper to prevent grease blotching and provide insulation. Nowadays, it’s ditching the ink and making its own headlines.

While fish and chips may have tried on a variety of shapes since the dish’s origination in Great Britain, the combo still hangs its hat on two unchanging elements: good fish and hearty potatoes. Here are eight Laguna locations to bite into some of your own.

Beach House

Taking advantage of the views for which Laguna is famous, Beach House restaurant combines sunsets and coastal cuisine. Its daily brunch menu offers a take on the fare from across the pond with an Alaskan cod dipped in Surf City Red Ale batter, accompanied by truffle Parmesan fries and a jalapeño tartar sauce. Seats are at a premium for brunch, so take the time to make a reservation. (619 Sleepy Hollow Lane; 949-494-9707; thebeachhouse.com)

Lumberyard

A restaurant that prides itself on comfort foods and comfortable dining, Lumberyard serves its fish and chips on both the lunch and dinner menus. “The key to a good fish and chips is frying in good quality oil until the batter is crisp, while maintaining a moist fillet inside,” owner Cary Redfearn says. The kitchen uses a Stella Artois-based beer batter for the Alaskan white cod fillets after the fillets are both seasoned and dredged in flour. Cary calls their 3/8-inch fries the “perfect foil” to the fish. A lemon garlic aioli is served as a complimentary dip to both. Diners can choose from an outside patio or two indoor dining rooms, one of which features a fireplace to warm up to the reliable dish. (384 Forest Ave.; 949-715-3900; lblumberyard.com)

Mosaic Bar and Grille

Located at Montage Laguna Beach, Mosaic Bar and Grille lets diners soak up one of the best views available while dining on California cuisine. “It’s a simple dish that uses the finest ingredients,” public relations and marketing manager Lauren Burdon says of the fish and chips. The 4-ounce local halibut is served with delicious thyme fries, homemade tartar sauce and malt vinegar, and a coleslaw concocted from green and red shredded cabbage, julienned carrots, golden raisins, macadamia nuts, mayonnaise, honey and rice vinegar. A priceless sunset and a well-done twist on a traditional favorite gives patrons an experience of all things oceanic at this luxurious spot. (30801 N. Coast Hwy.; 949-715-6020; montagelagunabeach.com)

Sapphire Laguna

Chef Azmin Ghahreman claims that dining at Sapphire Laguna is like “traveling through the world’s markets with your palate, and you don’t even need a passport.” The trip across the pond for a fish and chips plate begins with fresh ingredients. The selected fish is seasonal, with halibut from March to November, and a white flakey fish such as cod for the other months. The fish is fried in a homemade batter, ensuring a crispy outside and moist interior. French fries come with the plate, featured with homemade tartar sauce and real malt vinegar. It remains a staple on the lunch and weekend brunch menus because, as public relations manager Jenny Campbell says, “You can’t beat home-style comfort food.” (1200 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-715-9888; sapphirelaguna.com)

Royal Hawaiian

“What more can I say than people love them,” owner Doug Cole says of Royal Hawaiian’s take on fish and chips. Locals apparently love Royal Hawaiian too, as the place has been around since 1947 and is a veteran of the Laguna community. The restaurant’s Icelandic cod and fries are served with lemon, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce or balsamic vinegar (and ranch for the fries upon request). Diners can also find fish and chips with the appetizers or on the happy hour menu for just $5. (331 N. Coast Hwy.; 949-494-8001; royalhawaiianlaguna.net)

Nick’s

Halibut is served with Nick’s Honey Blonde batter, fries, homemade tartar sauce and Thai peanut coleslaw—and this dish fits right in with Nick’s easygoing, modern ambience. The front patio is one of the best spots in town to enjoy a beer and people watch, as it is located near galleries, bars and shops. Fun appetizers such as the asparagus fries or fried deviled eggs are a creative warm-up before getting down to the fish and chips, a regular winner. (440 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-376-8595; thenickco.com)

Greeter’s Corner

Perhaps one of Laguna’s more touristy spots, Greeter’s Corner is known for paying homage to the historic “greeter,” and for its epic location. With a sprawling patio that lends itself to nearby sand and surf, Greeter’s Corner has all the usual markings of a diner, but with some Laguna flair for the nautical. Battered cod, fries and coleslaw compose the simple dish that remains one of the better mainstays of the lunch menu for this landmark dining spot. (329 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-494-0361)

House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer

The newest venture of Casa Resorts restaurants—of K’ya Bistro, La Casa del Camino and Rooftop Lounge fame—House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer conveniently serves its namesake. “The place definitely has a bold name, but they live up to it in my book,” visiting customer Michael Peyton comments. The big fish on this plate is tilapia, breaded and served with tartar sauce and french fries. The item is also available on the children’s menu at a discounted cost. With the fish purchased daily from Santa Monica Seafood, the restaurant’s fish and chips is also one of the most affordable offerings available. (540 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-715-4500; houseofbigfish.com)  LBM

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