LAGUNA BEACH, CALIF., August 4, 2014 – Broadway by Amar Santana elevates the level of fine dining in Laguna Beach by a quantum leap with this fantastic addition to the Orange County culinary scene. A uniquely singular destination restaurant, Broadway transforms a night out in Laguna Beach into a dining adventure that cries out for a standing ovation.
Just celebrating its second anniversary, Broadway shines in the spotlight of critical attention, garnering well deserved acclaim with enthralling creative dishes that entice with their imaginative conception, and delight with their execution.
More than just an exceptional restaurant, or perhaps because of it, Broadway also boasts the most sophisticated night life in Laguna Beach, with an active bar scene that goes well past the dinner hour. Set in a long high ceilinged room with an arching roof, the dining tables line one full side and the back of the restaurant, surrounding the open kitchen.
A lovely bar area with tall grey enameled tables fill the front. The whole vibe is very Northern California, and the combination of outstanding original cuisine with a casually gleaming party atmosphere is lovingly reminiscent of Charlie Palmer’s flagship Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg.
That may not be a coincidence, since Executive Chef Amar Santana was the head chef at Charlie Palmer’s Costa Mesa outpost for several years before opening Broadway, as was his Sous Chef Dino Duarte, but it has certainly served him well.
Broadway crackles with an air of refined affluence, the excitement of a restaurant where you know the meal is going to be something special. It then warps that around a warm and elegantly engaging hang-out that hums into the wee hours.
The soundtrack tonight only adds to the atmosphere, mostly Stax/Volt Memphis Soul with a little Van Morrison and Sam Cooke thrown in. It is one more piece in the puzzle of taking a restaurant and turning it into an experience.
Server Tiffany Williams is brilliantly efficient as she leads the way through a multicourse dinner. Sous Chef Dino Duarte dominates the line in the kitchen, which is a beehive of precision and focused attention to detail, impervious to the cacophony around them.
The evening unfolds like a fine ballet, helped along by a wine list that lifts the heart with a depth of selection of truly superior wines. This is the result of Chef Santana’s special relationships with some of Sonoma and Napa’s most prestigious vineyards.
A white bean and watercress salad with toasted walnuts and lime vinaigrette is crisp and peppery, the watercress tart, bursting with sharpness. The contrast in texture and taste with the beans and pancetta makes for a wonderful opening act to linger over and savor.
A mascarpone tortellini with sage brown butter and a pumpkin puree is a complete triumph of rich lingering flavors. Unforgettable buttery pockets of cheese and pumpkin goodness is devoured with abandon and is then gone too soon.
Japanese Hamachi sashimi in a citrus miso dressing is brilliant enough on its own, but avocado ice cream transforms this simple dish into something otherworldly. It’s like a parlor trick so good it can’t be believed until tasted again.
Spanish octopus takes on a life of its own, tender and sweet, lovingly charred with a romesco sauce under an umbrella of potato ribbons. Veal sweetbreads are surprisingly thick and succulent, wonderfully crisp on the outside, perfectly cooked, and grounded in a truffle jus on a bed of butternut squash.
A rare and deeply cherished Kosta Browne 2010 Koplen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is a thrilling accompaniment to a fabulous meal. This is a reflection of just how deep and serious the wine list is.
Herb roasted Mediterranean branzino on a cauliflower puree with pickled clam shell mushrooms is absolutely sensational, the fish delicate and tender, the outer shell crisp, the texture perfect. Spice basted New Zealand venison in a juniper red wine jus with a pistachio and sweet potato puree is a sumptuous feast for the senses, a medium rare spectacle of sheer joy.
Appetizers are around $15, and main courses run between $30 and $40 for the most part. Portions are amply generous, with no extreme small plates sensibility here, and a series of timely spaced appetizers with a couple of entrees is highly recommended. Take the opportunity to spend more than a couple hours, ease into each course, and enjoy the full show stopping experience that Broadway has to offer.
The early evening has given way to a full restaurant with a buzzing bar area. The joy of discovering a new landmark restaurant in the firmament is happily compounded by the enticing option of hanging out at a night spot whose clientele make you want to stick around.
Broadway by Amar Santana is a new star in the heavens of Laguna Beach whose name deserves to be up in lights, and who can easily expect a very long run indeed.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles
All photos by Alison Reynolds