With a touch of whimsy, executive chef Raj Dixit creates a mouthwatering menu at Stonehill Tavern.
By Allison Hata | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Despite its contemporary appeal and polished decor, Stonehill Tavern at The St. Regis Monarch Beach exudes the warmth of a welcoming neighborhood establishment. Though celebrity chef Michael Mina’s name is synonymous with the acclaimed restaurant, executive chef Raj Dixit is a star in his own right. An Orange County native, Raj returned home last fall with plans to continue in Michael’s footsteps. Like Michael, Raj is inspired by the concept that “less is more,” cultivating distinct flavor profiles by balancing the bold with the simple.
Before settling down for one of the most elegant meals you’ll enjoy in OC, relax with a pre-dinner drink at the intimate bar, which serves up everything from a classic gin fizz to intricate artisan drinks. If you don’t want to spoil your appetite, order the Chauvinist, a light, refreshing beer blend with a bite featuring hefeweizen, bourbon, fresh citrus juice and pepper.
When you’re ready for dinner, take a seat at an elegantly set table—outdoor dining is available seasonally, so if it’s warm, request a seat overlooking the beautifully landscaped grounds. For starters, the ahi tuna tartare, featuring Bosc pear, toasted pine nuts and habanero sesame oil, offers mouthfuls of tender fish infused with a spicy kick that lingers on the palate. A selection of amuse-bouche items highlight Raj’s creativity—from salted kale chips to a truffle egg salad sandwich, the bite-sized dishes are a testament to the chef’s whimsical take on food.
Moving on to more substantial fare, a must-try dish is the English pea raviolo, handmade with fresh peas and served with a dollop of spring garlic foam, aged basalmic vinegar and a quail egg. Michael’s lobster potpie is a menu staple, with tender lobster, baby vegetables and black truffle steeped in a brandied lobster cream. In addition to other mainstays like the jidori chicken, Raj creates seasonal items to keep the menu fresh and interesting.
“I am planning to launch a new tasting menu, as well as a summer ‘refresh’ for our a la carte menu,” he explains. “Some highlights [will be] an heirloom tomato ‘sundae’ with California olive oil sorbet [and] ‘cabrito’ (baby goat) Peruvian style.”
To finish, sample one (or more!) desserts, such as the wild strawberry mousse with a semi-tart cheesecake made with goat cheese. Leave the table feeling full and satisfied—but be prepared to take another culinary adventure with chef Raj when he launches a new seasonal menu later in the year. LBM