Partake in pickled perfection around Laguna Beach.
By Ben McBee
What do swimming in the ocean and a jar of pickles have in common? Lots and lots of salt, of course.
As summertime crowds flock to Laguna Beach’s surf and sand, many find themselves craving a salty snack to pair with the salt on their skin—especially after a long day by the sea. Pickles, and other pickled ingredients, are an excellent way for chefs to incorporate a bit of tang to a recipe without completely overwhelming it. Though pickling may be meant to make things last a little longer, with these dishes, it will be difficult not to gobble them up right away.
Cooked to perfection and packing a bit of kick, the 14-ounce Double R Ranch prime rib-eye steak is exactly the kind of rich dish that benefits from the finesse of pickled ingredients. In addition to pickled pearl onions, the cut is topped with an ancho chile glaze, sweet garlic and a creamy puree. “The pickled onions complement the spice from the chile sauce and brighten the sunchoke puree with a tanginess that brings the dish together,” says Rainer Schwarz, executive chef at Driftwood Kitchen. “They are made in-house and not only add flavor, but also a beautiful pop of color to the dish.” Here, guests can certainly expect a multisensory masterpiece, only made better with a glass of fine red wine and someone to enjoy it with. (949-715-7700; driftwoodkitchen.com)
Fermenting and pickling ingredients is a foundational practice of Asian cuisine and, at Starfish Laguna Beach, it’s been a cornerstone to the menu for more than a decade. One of the restaurant’s most popular small plates utilizes pickled ingredients to mouthwatering effect. “The Korean Tacos are an experience for the palate, incorporating diverse flavor profiles layered into a single dish with a traditional twist for a modern palate,” says Kayli Day, manager and event planner at the restaurant. Prime flat iron steak is marinated in soy sauce and michiu (a rice wine), then cooked for a savory flavor. It’s then placed on corn tortillas before being topped with pickled vegetables (for a slight acidity) and a sweet-and-smoky gochujang aioli that elevates the dish. “We proudly pay homage to the reverence for balance in cuisine through our menu,” Day explains, “and this dish in particular … perfectly captures what we strive for with our menu, in business and in life—balance and excitement.” (949-715-9200; starfishlaguna.com)
Another Kind Cafe
Those looking for a vegetarian dish that still packs plenty of flavor should head to Another Kind Cafe, where Vietnamese-inspired delicacies are made fresh with locally sourced ingredients. The Oodle Noodles dish is an exquisite medley of sprouts, shredded cucumber and mixed greens, as well as grated carrot and daikon, both pickled. Atop a bowl of rice vermicelli, their sourness provides a wonderful contrast against the subtle vegetal sweetness; roasted peanuts and green onion add another layer of texture and complexity. Multiple protein options are available in addition to tofu, including crispy pork belly, lemon grass chicken or pulled beef. Served cold, it’s the ideal meal for a hot day—plus it won’t leave you feeling weighed down afterward. (949-715-9688; anotherkindcafe.com)
Oak Laguna Beach
When it comes to flavor pairings, nothing accentuates the piquancy of a hot chicken sandwich better than the tartness of sliced dill pickles. With Oak Laguna Beach’s rendition on the classic, both dill pickles and fried pickled onions take the stage, dancing atop a hefty piece of chicken that’s crunchy on the outside, yet juicy on the inside. A slathering of ranch brings the mouth temperature down to just right. (However, if you enjoy the warmth, consider sipping the restaurant’s Heatwave cocktail alongside the sandwich; made with Milagro Tequila, jalapeno, cucumber, celery and lime, it’s the perfect spicy accent.) Lastly, airy brioche buns elevate this comfort food even more, making each bite an invigorating experience. (949-940-3010; oak-lagunabeach.com)