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CHEF DU JOUR

Purist Is a Natural for Laguna's Sorrento Grille

February 11, 1993|MIKE SPENCER | Mike Spencer is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff.

Rosanne Ruiz is back, and a lot of food lovers in Laguna Beach and surrounding areas are mighty glad to hear it.

After spending the past two years at Robert Mondavi's in Costa Mesa, Ruiz has returned to Sorrento Grille in Laguna, the restaurant she helped found in 1988.

And after only four weeks, the Sorrento Grille menu already shows her imprint--California cuisine with heavy Mediterranean influence surrounded by organically grown fruits, vegetables and herbs, much of it from back-yard gardens in Laguna Canyon and elsewhere in the county.

"You'd be surprised at the number of small farmers still in Orange County growing things right, without chemical fertilizers and pesticides," she says, "and I'm a great believer in supporting the community anyway."

She's also a purist when it comes to meats, buying only free-range veal and poultry from a breeder that certifies it uses no hormones or other unnatural fattening processes.

Ruiz literally grew up in a restaurant--her uncle's steakhouse in Guadalupe near Santa Maria, which her mother ran. After learning the basics there, she moved on to the Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang.

"I bounced around a bit after that," she says. She worked at Alioto's on San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, the Reel Cafe in San Diego and the Fish Market in Phoenix and San Mateo before coming to Laguna the first time.

As her resume--and the new Sorrento menu--would indicate, Ruiz is big on fresh-fish dishes, such as the following hearty seafood stew.

It's a mixture of prawns, mussels, clams, squid ("Call it calamari if the word squid bothers you," she says) and white fish served over linguine and spiced up with an aioli of mayonnaise and chipotles chilies.

The clams and mussels are cooked with the shell on, so you'll need a spoon and a cocktail fork to get at every morsel. And, you'll want to, too.

SPICY SEAFOOD STEW

12 Manila clams in shell

12 black mussels in shell

8 prawns, peeled and deveined

2 pounds white fish

1/2 pound squid, sliced in circles

24 ounces tomato sauce

12 ounces chicken stock

1/2 pound dry linguine

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 seven-ounce can chipotles chilies

Salt and pepper to taste

*

Make aioli first by mixing mayonnaise and chilies in bowl. Put aside and in pot, bring tomato sauce and chicken stock to boil. Whisk in half of aioli. Add all seafood except squid. Simmer until shellfish start to open (about four minutes), then add squid and cook an additional minute or two. In separate pot, cook linguine according to package directions. Drain pasta and place equal portions at the bottom of large soup bowls. Add stew and garnish with dollop of aioli. Serve with hard-crusted bread. (Serves 4.)

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