At these Laguna Beach eateries, the flavors of autumn are in full effect.
By Ben McBee
Whether you’re outside, soaking up mellow rays of sunshine, or inside, warm and toasty by a fireplace, dining around Laguna Beach during the fall is an outing anyone can enjoy.
Autumn flavors, much like the season itself, sit in that sweet spot between summer and winter, when chefs can wow guests by carrying over a subtle lightness and vibrancy, while hinting at the rich and hearty recipes so beloved as the temperature drops. What it’s really all about, though, is exploring the delicious selection of appetizers, entrees and desserts that capture the essence of a bountiful harvest. So throw on your sweater and get ready for some fabulous fall feasting.
There are certain foods that so effectively capture a sense of time and place, they bring back memories every time you eat them: delectable squash, earthy vegetables, robust meats and poultry, paired with visions of falling leaves, glasses of pinot noir and smiles around a table. It’s always possible that digging into these dishes will create even more traditions.
A great way to start is the sweet potato fries at Nirvana Grille. Cut thinly and dashed with cinnamon and paprika, these morsels are served with a tangy creme fraiche sauce. They are basically the candy of vegetables, so don’t overthink it, just order them.
Incorporating elements from across the Pacific, Starfish Laguna Beach’s grilled white miso black cod takes your taste buds on a journey. “This dish boasts complex and traditional flavors,” says General Manager Kayli Day, mentioning the savory, scratch-made misoyaki marinade, roasted sweet yams, squash and enoki mushrooms. “These ingredients lend a depth of flavor almost imperceptible to the eye, but absolutely craved by the palate.” Two traditional Japanese seasonings, togarashi and furikake, combine to present a pleasing spiciness that will have you coming back again and again. And, she adds, “Savory miso layered with roasted vegetables perfectly complement the fish’s flaky texture, guiding the dining experience towards the warm and inviting flavors of fall.”
Tasty and timely, the turkey pot pie at Reunion Kitchen & Drink will have you giving thanks a little extra this year. “Our organic turkey breast is roasted in house,” says Scott McIntosh, restaurant co-owner with his wife, Rosemary. “We then make a rich and savory cream filling with fresh rustic vegetables. We fill each bowl with pastry and bake until golden brown.” Each pie is made individually and nothing ever comes pre-made or frozen. “The texture is thick, and the flavor is bold, as we use all the drippings in the roux when making the filling,” McIntosh says. You’ll dig through a hodgepodge of celery, onion, carrots and mushrooms until you hit the bottom, where the crust is good to the last bite.
The calendar flips and, all of a sudden, summer vacations are over, the kids are back in school and everything falls back into a routine—not to mention, the holidays are on the horizon. There are gatherings with friends and family, full of laughter and conviviality. It’s heartwarming, it’s comfortable, it’s familiar and much of the cuisine that sounds so appetizing during the fall checks a lot of these same boxes.
That’s certainly the case with The Deck on Laguna Beach’s grilled cheese. At first sight, this decadent sandwich may seem a bit of an outlier on a menu swimming with spectacular seafood dishes, but don’t be fooled—there is a reason it has become a favorite with the regulars and newcomers alike. Oozing with Danish fontina and Vermont cheddar, this is the ideal pick-me-up on a gray sky day. Pieces of crispy applewood bacon and caramelized onions contribute additional salt, sweetness and crunch that’s accentuated between two slices of buttery French bread. It also comes with a bowl of satisfying tomato soup, which surely warrants a dunk or two.
Over at Driftwood Kitchen, another sumptuous soup for the season is waiting—the Creamy Roasted Chestnut and Squash Soup. Savory, softly sweet with a bit of umami, this is autumn in a bowl—in flavor and presentation, too. The velvety, yellow base is just the right consistency and, laden with chunks of chestnuts, toasted brioche croutons and finely-chopped chives, the texture is artfully balanced and slurpable.
When asked if you have room for dessert, the right answer is always “yes.” Fittingly, September marks the onset of apple picking season, so there’s no better time to dig into a fresh apple cobbler a la mode. “Our cobbler is a cross between American apple pie and Italian crostata with a crumble topping and a pastry that partly covers the caramelized fruit filling,” explains Cary Redfearn, owner of Lumberyard. Derived from a former chef’s grandmother’s recipe, it blends a few unexpected ingredients to make a treat that’s both modern and gratifying. Tender, caramelized apples, mango and dried cranberries compose a medley of tartness and tropical fruit, with a slightly bitter finish. Oh, and the whole thing is dripping in vanilla ice cream, of course.
Don’t let anyone ever convince you it’s too early to have sweets, especially if you’ve set your sights on Urth Caffé’s bread pudding breakfast. At this quaint little European-style bakery and cafe, brioche varieties including seasonal pumpkin bread gets slathered in a decadent, syrupy glaze and steamed milk, with an option of caramelized bananas on top. And on the way out, grab a slice of the creamy, old-fashioned pumpkin pie, baked with a signature graham cracker crust; it’s everything you’ve been craving and more.
These seasonal sips will warm you up.
This time of year, we often crave a hot beverage—or at least one that’s filled with fragrant, warm spices that are reminiscent of fall. Take for example, the Black Magic Woman at The Drake, which is crafted with Elijah Craig bourbon, Frangelico and walnut bitters, imparting a pleasant, nutty profile that’s spiced up by a toasted cinnamon stick garnish. On the nose and in your belly, the sensation of this libation is warm and cozy.
And you’ll forget all about pumpkin spice lattes when you try the hazelnut cream coffee drink at Nick’s Laguna Beach. Packing caffeine and a bit of buzz, this concoction of Nespresso, whipped cream, Frangelico and Five Farms Irish cream liqueur feels like snuggling up by the fire with a blanket.