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Ben Brown's Is Still Afloat, Despite Aliso Creek Flooding

February 27, 1992|BEVERLY BUSH SMITH | Beverly Bush Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly covers restaurant news for The Times Orange County Edition. and

John Lopes, former manager of Pronto in South Coast Plaza, has opened Sweet Basil Trattoria in Irvine with partner Manny Costa, owner of the Steer and Stein restaurant chain. Their concept: health-conscious contemporary Italian food and attentive service at reasonable prices.

Pizzas ($5.95 to $9.45) from the wood-burning oven include a spicy chicken with red and green peppers, red onion and mozzarella, and an unusual combination of shrimp, fresh tomatoes, Greek olives, sun-dried tomatoes and a sweet basil cream sauce. Pastas ($6.45 to $9.95) include Cajun linguine with chicken or shrimp and spinach fettuccine with chicken in a tequila cream sauce.

Some entree options: citrus grilled chicken served with linguine, and marinated sliced steak with mushrooms and Marsala wine sauce over fettuccine. Sweet Basil Trattoria is at 17575 Harvard Ave. (at Main Street). Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 3 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 10 p.m. Reservations: (714) 752-3033.

"I'm not sure if the restaurant business gets in the blood or damages the brain," says Randi Masotti. In any case, it wasn't long after she left her partnership in Longhi's restaurant in Hawaii that she began looking for a new restaurant location in Orange County. She found it in Newport Beach, at what was originally the site of Cafe Lido, where last month she opened Cafe Looma.

Masotti has created a light, airy ambience, which is both sleek and comfortable with its granite floors, mirrors, white walls, contemporary art and teal carpeting. And she approaches French and Italian cuisine with a light, California touch that's "innovative but not scary; not cutting edge," she says. Some examples: rock shrimp risotto with spinach, peppers, tomato and basil; chicken breast with raspberry Cabernet sauce on grilled fennel; grilled ahi tuna in macadamia nut and sun-dried tomato crust. Pastas and dinner entrees (a la carte) range from $8.50 to $19.95. Lunches are $5.50 to $13.75. Cafe Looma serves lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 10:30 p.m. 2900 Newport Blvd. (714) 673-2900.

Although much of Ben Brown's Aliso Creek Inn resort, including the golf course, was devastated by the flooding of Aliso Creek during recent heavy rains, part of it weathered the storms. Rita Michel, director of sales and food and beverage reports that the restaurant, built on higher ground, was not affected by the raging waters and it continues to serve meals Wednesday through Sunday. (The resort itself is closed and, with much restoration to be done, is not expected to reopen until May. The golf course will re-open July 1.) Ben Brown's restaurant serves lunch Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Wednesday through Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m. Also, Saturday and Sunday breakfasts served 8 to 11 a.m.; Sunday brunch menu offered 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A la carte dinner prices range from $14.50 to $22. Entertainment continues in the cocktail lounge Fridays and Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Ben Brown's is located at 31106 Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. Reservations: (714) 499-2663.

Mardis Gras comes to Laguna Beach Tuesday, when Monique presents another international night from 5:30 to 10 p.m. For $28 per person, you can feast on seafood gumbo and Cajun popcorn with creole mustard dipping sauce. An entree choice of blackened Louisiana redfish or boneless breast of chicken creole will be followed by bread pudding souffle with bourbon sauce. A Dixieland band will perform.

Also at Monique, on March 9, winemaker Patrick Campbell will introduce five Laurel Glen vintages, including two unreleased wines: an '85 Cochino D'Oro and a 1990 Pinot Noir Blanc, developed for his personal consumption.

The 6:30 dinner will begin with a sparkling wine reception, and the menu includes Maryland crab cakes with Dijon and tarragon, medallion of beef Provencale, double lamb chop with roasted garlic sauce and hazel nut creme brulee . The cost is $65 per person, not including tax and tip. Reservations: (714) 499-5359. The address is 31727 S. Coast Highway.

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