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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

Mesquite Food Is the Order of the Day Down at Harbor Grill

March 19, 1992|LESLIE BERKMAN

If you have a yen for mesquite-broiled seafood, one of the best places to go for lunch, Sunday brunch or dinner is the Harbor Grill at Dana Point Harbor.

This casual restaurant, open since 1984, has gained great popularity among locals, many of whom are met at the door by majority owner John Hicks, a husky, affable former police officer. Hicks loves to greet his guests and escort them to tables indoors or out on the heated patio.

Hicks also often answers the phones and will jot down the reservations--which are strongly advised, especially on weekends and during the summer, when the establishment's 33 tables fill quickly.

The restaurant is nestled among tourist shops and it does lack a direct harbor view, but it has a cozy ambience that is enhanced in the evening and during Sunday brunch with live piano music. Hard liquor is not available, but the small bar offers beer and a nice selection of California wines.

Hicks founded the eatery with Alaa Elsadek, an Egyptian immigrant and Hicks' longtime associate in the restaurant business. Elsadek is in charge of the daily operation of the kitchen.

Both men "developed a strong affinity to wood-fired cooking" during a previous restaurant experience in Texas, Hicks said. Hence the decision to offer seafood grilled over mesquite wood here. Over the years, they added the Cajun and pasta dishes.

The most popular item on the menu is the fresh swordfish marinated Japanese-style in sweet sake, lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes; the No. 2 favorite is the Cajun blackened sea bass. The sea scallops--sweet silver-dollar-size morsels on a skewer served with drawn butter--is another especially tasty entree.

Each day, at least 10 fresh seafood specials are listed on a board, with asterisks to denote the spicy ones.

Entree prices range from $7.25 to $17.95 for dinner, including a vegetable and rice pilaf or fries; lunches are $4.75 to $11.95; Sunday brunch entrees go from $4.25 for sausage and eggs to $6.95 for a shrimp and crab omelet. A dinner salad or the hearty house clam chowder (thick with clams, corn and potatoes), are extra.

Other show-stoppers at the restaurant include the New York cheesecake and the "bottomless glass" of California champagne that can be purchased at brunch for $3.25. The real maple and raspberry syrups served with the Belgian waffles are much appreciated touches.

A special treat at any time of the day is the addictive crusty French bread, usually plopped on the table promptly after diners are seated and emptied almost immediately.

Harbor Grill, 34499 Street of the Golden Lantern, Dana Point Harbor, Dana Point. Open daily 11.30 a.m to 10 p.m.; Sunday brunch served 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (714) 240-1416.

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