Years ago, I recall walking into one of the trendiest dining spots in downtown Laguna Beach – fondly and formerly known as “Michael Kang’s 5’0” restaurant. Upon entering the establishment a partition wall blocked my view of the dining room. A small waiting area with hostess stand and several chairs were in the foyer for patient patrons waiting to enjoy the flavors of Asian fusion style cuisine. In the dining area, was a wall painted with head shots of local loyal Laguna residents…I recognized a few faces. A fond memory for me was the “power” table in the back corner where I celebrated my 25th birthday with a gregarious group of my gal pals while we enjoyed a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne that had been sent over to my table by the gracious Donald Bren himself.
Those days when a painted wall of local faces gazed upon dining customers and where power tables were comfortably tucked in the corner are long gone. Currently, in 5’0’s stead is Broadway by Amar Santana. Of course, as is expected with a new restaurant and the personal style the owners want to convey, Broadway’s interior has experienced a major transformation - an open room with high beams and several dining areas. Corresponding with the name “Broadway”, the atmosphere conveys a lively New York scene with visuals and Broadway music to match the ambiance. An open kitchen (with a dining counter and six seats) allows patrons to witness first hand intense energy from the ebb and flow of Chef Amar as he commands with a controlled yet gentle manner his talented staff. The bar area hustles with busy mixologists blending special cocktails and customers who prefer a view of the flat screen television. Broadway musical tunes are heard through the speakers blending into the buzz of the dining crowd.
Ex-CIA graduate (Culinary Institute of America @ Hyde Park) and former Executive Chef at Charlie Palmer in South Coast, Amar Santana is no newbie to the restaurant scene. His daring creativity and deep conviction to perfection are apparent. Chef Amar is a new force to be reckoned with in the competitive culinary arena of Laguna Beach with the city’s many wonderful restaurants.
Mayan Eyes blends Corazon Blanco tequila, Xtabentun (an anise liqueur from Mexico), fresh squeezed citrus juices with herbaceous cilantro and jalapeno slices. Not too thick with a gentle spice, this cocktail is one of my favorites! The licorice flavor along with cilantro and spicy pepper slices is almost comforting. On this particular evening, I decided against ordering another drink since Mike McConnell, our waiter who also possesses a vast knowledge of wines, offered me a glass of pinot noir (I had hit my two drink maximum). A full bar with an extensive wine list and beers is available.
I always appreciate the efforts of a Chef who puts serious forethought into the amuse-bouche (bite size portions of hors d’oeuvre). Chef Amar composed an amuse-bouche of Ahi tuna in crème fraiche curry foam. It was a creative flavor combination and most enjoyable! Note: the latest trend for serving Edamame, Japanese style soy beans, is to either grill or sauté the small bright green legumes. Chef Amar serves this appetizer grilled and tossed with Yuzu (Japanese citrus). The smoky grilled flavor off-sets the tartness of the citrus - they are both “finger licking” good and addicting!
Generally, I like to dine at a restaurant on a couple of occasions before reviewing the establishment but my maiden voyage to Broadway left me feeling a bit perplexed since I heard rave reviews about the Executive Chef. Truth-be-told, I had gone to Broadway several weeks after they had opened the doors and clearly that is not a fair review on my part…the restaurant was newly opened and had a few kinks to work out. Service was lagging terribly, hubby’s duck breast was over-cooked and my Jidori chicken was rather pedestrian in flavor.
Upon my return I enjoyed the “special of the evening”- Lamb Pork Belly; Chicken Liver Mousse; Roasted Bone Marrow with Anchovies and Panna Cotta dessert. Lamb pork belly is an unusual find on any OC restaurant menu. Chef Amar cooked the meat a perfect medium-rare leaving a sweet crisp outer belly and soft, moist inside. Delicious!
The beef marrow bone is split lengthwise in two, oven roasted and topped with several small bites of marinated white anchovy fillets. Bone marrow is pure fat and has a very “heavy” taste therefore the mild vinegar-tart flavor of the white anchovies was a perfect topping to the fatty bone marrow. Kudos Chef Amar!
I am one never to pass up dessert so I ordered the Panna Cotta with a large quenelle of berry sorbet, tender strawberry quarters (they appeared lightly poached) and tiny black currants. The pretty presentation was a welcomed sight for sore eyes. On this particular evening after a heavy meal of fatty roasted bone marrow and anchovies this dessert was light and refreshing and a treat.
Laguna Beach has become a foodie destination with many restaurants seemingly opening every month. My humble opinion…Chef Amar Santana and Broadway restaurant he oversees is destined to be one of the best local restaurants and a tough culinary competitor worthy of a visit!
Open daily for dinner 5:00 pm