Just relaxing on an islet in the Caribbean

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Fellow foodies out in blog land, I have unanimously decided that “Tabu Grill” in Laguna Beach is arguably one of the best restaurants in Orange County…if not in all of California! Yes, my friends, you heard it here! I am well aware that this statement is a matter of opinion but the well-recognized Zagat national restaurant rating guide has given Tabu Grill a rating of 29 out of 30 two years in a row (the highest rating was given to star Thomas Kellar’s French Laundry in the beautiful Napa Valley). Located on the hillside of Pacific Coast Highway in South Laguna Beach (near the Nyes Place intersection), Managing Partner and Laguna Beach resident Nancy Wilhelm oversees all the magic that is Tabu Grill. Nancy has guided the restaurant into utter success for the last six years and brings over 30 years of restaurant experience to Laguna Beach having assisted in putting Sorrento Grill (formerly Cucina) of Laguna Beach on the map. Along with the Executive Chef of Tabu, Kevin Jerrold-Jones, she is a breath of fresh air in a town where restaurants can easily become stifled due to lack of creativity, imagination and the sluggish economy. Laguna Beach is very lucky to have Nancy and Tabu Grill to tantalize our taste buds!

Upon entering Tabu Grill, with its Pacific Rim theme, I instantly felt a sense or warmth and coziness. The restaurant’s interior color hues of royal blue and dark green painted walls and the golden glow of the soft lighting created a cozy mood beckoning me to sit, rest and enjoy what was to come. The sexy lit umbrellas which hang upside down from the ceiling along with a lovely painting of a Polynesian goddess made me think of the tropics on a toasty summer evening. As quickly as I entered the restaurant I was at ease and ready to enjoy a lovely repast.

If you are interested in meeting new people and observing the kitchen staff perform their magic then request or reserve a seat at the counter. It is also a great way to chat up Chef Kevin or his staff asking them any questions you may have regarding your meal. Heck, you may even walk away with a few culinary tricks you can use in your own kitchen!

At the helm and doing a wonderful job of navigating Tabu Grill through the tumultuous rough waters of these economic times is Executive Chef Kevin Jerrold-Jones whose knowledge and experience range from the St. Regis to the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach. While most restaurants are struggling to attract and keep loyal customers, Chef Kevin does not seem to tussle with keeping his customer base due to his create innovative dishes and use of fresh ingredients which are always seasonal.

In my most humble of opinions the best dish on the menu is the 16 oz. “Angus Bone in Rib Eye Steak” plated on a bed of “Forbidden Rice Risotto”. A sexy concoction of firm yet creamy Black Bali Thai Rice (while dry, the rice is black in color but when moisture is added it cooks to a deep beautiful purple color), exotic mushrooms, caramelized onions and a creamy sauce, this entree had me begging for more (I am a glutton for a delicious grain dish). The steak was seasoned very well and cooked to perfection for my picky palate.

Seriously fellow foodies, it is extremely difficult for me to decide on a favorite dish at Tabu Grill since I find them all to be rather delectable. The seasonal soup of the day was the “Corn and Lobster Bisque” and it was better than good, it was great! The consistency was a velvety cream base that included smokey flavored lobster chunks, crisp sweet corn, tiny diced ham hock and purple potatoes. My mother-in-law with her sophisticated palate (she cooked for James Beard and Julia Child in her day) said the bisque was “ambrosia”…and yes, I must agree with her whole-heartedly.

Although I felt there were too many different flavors going on in my palate, the “Ahi” was interesting but very tasty. A compilation of Dungeness crab, avocado and stir-fried veggies is served atop a mound of sticky rice. What makes this dish very different is that the accoutrement's are little balls of “frozen dipping sauces” in the flavors of Soy Sorbet, Wasabi Frozen Yogurt and Pickled Ginger Ice Cream. I must admit that eating the Ahi with the frozen sauces created an interesting explosion in my mouth! I will definitely try this entree again upon my return to Tabu.

A light and refreshing starter is the “Tabu Style Yellow fin Poke”. The Poke was yummy and delicate with fresh diced mango, small chunks of avocado, mint and soy ginger essence. Although I have yet to savor it, the “Three Cheese Macaroni” is a favorite among diners along with Tabu Grill’s signature “Caesar’s Salad”.

Chef Kevin has just changed his menu to the new summer menu and one particular dish that perked up my senses was the “Colorado Double Lamb Chop” with oven dried strawberries and a champagne strawberry-mint gastrique. I have yet to try this dish but it sounds amazing with a combination of complex flavors and based on the many dishes I have had at Tabu Grill, this entree will be amazing I am sure!
To celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary (after all these years of matrimony they still like each other!) hubby and I took my in-laws to Tabu Grill. My spousal unit dug into his wine cellar and we all shared a 1999 Kistler Chardonnay and a 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild….they were absolutely exquisite on my taste buds (enough boasting)! In any case, Gretchen Andrews is Wine Director at Tabu Grill and I was pretty impressed with her nice variety of wines from many different countries (from Italy, Spain, France to the Russian River and Napa Valley in California). There is also a multitude of wines available by the glass including split bottles as well as various beer and ales.

I was assured by Nancy that Tabu Grill accommodates vegans and vegetarians alike with fresh made to order dishes. And, for those who are looking for great food at a great price from Sunday to Wednesday, Tabu offers a four course fixed price menu for a mere $35….reservations required.

Do not experience Tabu Grill without savoring some dessert! I have had many yummy taste treats at this fine dining establishment but one of my favorite desserts is the "Valrhona Chocolate Cake" with white chocolate ganache and house made ice cream. My dessert came with house made caramel ice cream and fresh berries...lovely!

With great food, a lovely setting, excellent service and a wide range of wines from countries all over the world, Tabu has earned every point Zagat has awarded them. I look forward to my return to Tabu Grill to experience the many other tantalizing items on the menu.


Tabu Grill on Urbanspoon
Open nightly from 5:30 p.m.
$25 Corkage fee

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