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3-HOUR TOUR

Lake Shore 'Nuff Offers Tranquil Spot

July 29, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Should you find yourself near Lake Mission Viejo, a quiet, calm man-made lake situated well away from the San Diego (5) Freeway and urban noise and just under the parched but proud Santa Ana Mountains, you are in for a treat.

The lake is visible from many public vantage points, most of which afford views of the opulent lakeside homes, couples paddling under an eternally azure sky and the relentless developing that this area has undergone in recent years.

The one catch is that access to the lake itself, a favorite place for sailing, sunning and paddle boating, is open only to the 18,000-odd members of the Lake Mission Viejo Assn. and their guests; any Mission Viejo resident is eligible to join. So you might need to cajole an invite from a friend who belongs to the association if you care to sail, paddle or row.

But if not, you can still enjoy most of this tour in the delightful restaurant and shopping area known as Market on the Lake, where most businesses have stunning lake views and restaurants have lovely lakeside patios.

Noon to 1: Lakeview Chinese Restaurant has both good food and a charming brick patio. Tables overlooking the lake's edge sport large parasols to protect hungry guests from the noonday glare.

I would describe the cooking here as mildly Americanized northern Chinese, leaning to spicy. Beware overly sweet and ponderously sauced specialties, anything with the word sauce in the dish description. You can get around this by ordering simply, in which case you should be delighted by what you eat. Don't miss the restaurant's exemplary pot stickers, eight bite sized meat-filled dumplings with a fine, fatty pork filling.

Sauteed spinach comes up fresh and delicious, a huge pile of greens shot through with tiny nibs of minced garlic. A lunch special, Mongolian lamb, is a bargain at only $5.75 with soup, appetizer and rice. If you feel like splurging, try the restaurant's good roasted duck (half order, $10.95). Unlike most local Chinese restaurants where duck is thrown unceremoniously into a deep-fryer, this one is crisp-skinned, nicely perfumed and relatively lean.

1 to 2: Lake Mission Viejo was annexed in June, 1978. It took nearly two years to fill in.

You can rent a paddle boat, sailboat, party boat, even kayaks and lowly rowboats, all from the sales office at Playa del Norte on the northern side of the lake. Boat rates are $2 to $15 per hour. There are also life jackets, and generally lifeguards on duty during the summer. You'll need an association member to sign you in. Nothing is more peaceful than an afternoon jaunt on a lake; the Santa Anas look almost mystical in the background.

2 to 2:30: Back at the Market on the Lake, there are a variety of fun shops, including Design Design and LMNOP, to browse under trellises with flowering grape vines.

Design Design is a one-stop interior-design store, specializing in home accessories such as crystal, lamps and wall art.

Proprietor Sherri Zaic will be glad to consult with you for free about your home, and show you wallpaper, fabrics and children's items. The second week of every month, Zaic holds classes on wall techniques like glazing, ragging and sponging, extremely popular and dramatic ways to improve your home. The next classes are Aug. 10 and 12. The cost is about $35.

LMNOP is chockablock with gifts from A to Z, according to owner Deborah Gryske. She calls her shop a specialty store; lots of greeting cards, designer stationery, bath soaps, gift papers and picture frames.

For kids, Gryske has a huge inventory of stickers. The younger set goes wild for stickers, incidentally, and if you happen to be with a restless one, there are enough to keep him or her busy for days.

2:30 to 3: Now repair to Truffles for coffee, pastry or chocolates, the only bona fide espresso bar in Orange County that sells candy, makes up gift baskets, plays new age artists like Enya and Denny Wright on their stereo and has a lake-view terrace on which to take it all in.

Good cookies baked on the premises include ones like chocolate-chunk amaretto, and there are specialty drinks like frosted almond mocha and others, made with imported Torani syrups from Italy.

Lake Mission Viejo

* 1. Playa del Norte

22555 Olympiad Road

(714) 837-3172

Rental Hours: Weekdays 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Weekends 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

* 2. Lakeview Chinese Restaurant

27782 Vista del Lago

(714) 586-2878

Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

* Parking: Ample parking around Truffles, Design Design and LMNOP, which are all on the Market on the Lake.

* 3. Market on the Lake

27772 Vista del Lago

Design Design: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. (714) 707-5000

LMNOP: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (714) 472-4033.

Truffles: Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (714) 588-8353.

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