“Coto Voice – Food Finds” – December Issue 2011

Tabu Grill, Laguna Beach                        

The holidays are upon us and an adventure down Pacific Coast Highway through Laguna Beach is a great way to see how this Orange County artistic community celebrates in their casual, yet sophisticated, beachy style.  December is a perfect month to treat someone special to a wonderful unique dinner experience there.   Our recommendation:  make a reservation for a romantic or “special occasion” dinner at Tabu Grill (located on PCH, between Hinkle Street and Nyes Place).  There are many restaurant options to choose from in Laguna Beach, but not everyone has food complimented by their service.  Arrogant, or ungenuine service leaves a long lasting, bad taste in my mouth during my dining experiences; it’s, should we say, taboo (defined as “proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable”).  On the contrary, at Tabu Grill, I was impressed with meeting the new Executive Chef, Joshua Hasho, who creates beautiful, high quality “refined rustic meals, with a global influence”, and, I’d like to add, “with a beautiful tropical flair”.  As the definition describes, Tabu Grill is set apart as “sacred” or a truly special dining experience.

The Ambiance

Once the sun sets over the Pacific horizon, the candles are lit one by one, the accent lighting is turned on underneath the parasols on the bamboo ceiling, and beyond the exotic plants on the front patio, the doors are opened.  You will enter into a colorful, hip, yet sultry environment.  In the background is relaxing “Buddah Bar” music playing.  Deep, oceanic blue walls are decorated with unique tiled Moroccan mirrors and collectables from distant places.  A beautiful painting of “CoCo” – the beautiful Tahitian woman who represents the look, tone and feel of Tabu Grill – has a special place on a main wall.  We were greeted by a lovely hostess – (Note:  hostesses and receptionists are always called the “director of first impressions” in my book, and she set the tone beautifully) and the gracious and very accommodating Michael Digiovanni, the General Manager.  We were seated close to the grill, against a stone wall, accented with more candles.  The aroma coming from the masterwork of Executive Chef Joshua and his team were as settling and relaxing as the environment.  Maile, our server, took excellent care in educating us on the restaurant’s history and the evolution of the food.  Maile, who had just come back from a trip home to Hawaii, described the staff at Tabu Grill as Ohana – family.

Owner – Nancy Wilhelm

Tabu Grill was created by the owner and entrepreneur, Nancy Wilhelm nine years ago.  In 2009 and 2010, Tabu was rated as one of the best restaurants, overall, noted by receiving a 29 Zagat rating.  Nancy just opened another unique restaurant in Laguna this past summer, located across from the Montage, called Starfish; Maile described it as “sexy Asian”.  Already I’m intrigued and am adding it to our review list.  Ms. Wilhelm is one to keep an eye on as she was recently named one of Orange County’s “Hottest 25” by OC Metro (November 2011 issue) – the only restauranteur to be honored!

Executive Chef – Joshua Hasho

Another person to keep our eye on is Executive Chef Joshua Hasho, whom Nancy hired to fulfill the Tabu Grill legacy.  Having recently come from the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey where he held the position of Chef de Cuisine, as well as stints at BLT by Laurent Tourondel in New York City, and The French Laundry in Yountville, Chef Hasho brings a refined level of quality to Laguna Beach and Tabu Grill.  His experience will bring changes to Tabu’s delicious offerings.

The Food

After reviewing their carefully selected wine list and making our choice, we started our culinary adventure with Hawaiian-Style Ahi Poke, grilled Scallops done just right adorned with avocado, cilantro, grapefruit emulsion, chared onion aoli, and their signature Short Ribs with goat cheese polenta, kale, rosemary crunch, and lemon tempura – all rich in exotic, complimentary flavors, but not too overbearing.  Next we had Ribeye with mesquite smoked bacon and brussel sprout hash, celery root, whiskey braised onions and horseradish butter – highly recommended!  We also had tender, fresh Swordfish, caught off the seas of Australia, with a sesame butter and ginger carrots, AND amazing Halibut with cranberry, edamame, and hari coverts beans, prawns, and blackened hollandaise – oh yeah…  Another tropical choice was Seared Pork Tenderloin, paired with slow cooked pork belly with root vegetable mash, fennel, watercress, and orange.  Chef Hasho knows what he is doing and we were honored to share in his culinary gift.

Chef Hasho says, “As for the direction of the food, I like to describe my style as a refined rustic cuisine with influences brought by the changing of the seasons and multi-cultural flavors.”  On that note, we experienced a different sort of dessert, but one I would have again, especially around the holidays.  We sampled not only a lovely Pumpkin Brownie with milk chocolate & sour cream, ice cream, banana rum anglaise, pistachio brittle, but an unforgettable Carrot Cake accented coconut panna cotta, espresso ice cream, roasted pineapple, and madras curry caramel – are you kidding me?!  Yes, it was beyond warm and delicious, to say the least.

The Reviews

As I was doing my research for Tabu Grill, I found people’s comments quite flattering and worthy of a top rated restaurant:  “notable wine list”, “special occasion”, “romantic”, “neighborhood gem”, “late night find”, “fit for foodies”, and “top shelf staff”, just to name a few.  I would like to add “a beautiful and delicious experience”.

Pricing

Compliments, Salads and Desserts starting at $10.  Entrees starting around $32.

New Year’s Eve

Tabu Grill is taking reservations for three different seatings for New Year’s Eve:  5:00pm, 7:00pm and 9:00pm.  I’d call sooner than later as I know they will book up.

In Closing…

Instead of a tropical vacation to a faraway place, experience an evening at Tabu Grill this next new year, and let the locals take care of you and share their gifts of hospitality and high quality food.

Mele Kalikimaka & Hauoli Makahiki Hou!

n Christie Lynch

Visit Tabu Grill on their web site:  www.TabuGrill.com (under reconstruction at time of publication)

2892 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA  92651

(Located between Hinkle Street & Nyes Place)

949-494-7743 (Reservations Recommended)

If you’ve eaten at any of the places we’ve reviewed or have a place you’d like to recommend, please let us know on our blog:  http://www.dinendesign.wordpress.com.  We’d love to hear from you!

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