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Dining Room With a View

From Newport to Laguna to Dana Point and San Clemente, the food is good and the scenery is better.

August 31, 2000|TOM VASICH and KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The tide pools aren't part of the $19.95 price, but they add a nice touch to brunch at Las Brisas. On a bluff overlooking Laguna's Main Beach, this restaurant is action central for the county's oceanfront brunch scene, and not only for the tasty Mexican seafood dishes, awesome vistas and relaxing rose gardens, although all three of those are reasons enough.

There are also the tide pools to consider. Come early afternoon, you can see dozens of champagne-fueled brunchers navigate a narrow path to the water's edge to splash around in them and watch crabs scurry across the rocks. It's a perfect way to end one of Orange County's most memorable meals.

Sunday brunch is meant to be special, and often that means adding a stunning view to the mix. On clear days, some hilltop sites--Orange Hill restaurant comes to mind--provide sterling views of the Southern California basin. But most of us don't choose to live in Orange County to see what the central county looks like from 1,500 feet.

No, we want to go to the beach. And for that reason, our county's coastal communities are home to an increasingly popular brunch scene, in which reservations are getting almost as difficult to find as parking.

Although Las Brisas is the best-known beach brunch spot--"People from around the world have heard about us," said Elvis Jaio, a Las Brisas manager--up and down the O.C. coast, from San Clemente to Seal Beach, an impressive collection of eateries shares one key feature: a room with a view.

The choices range from the dining rooms at luxury spots such as the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point to the Waterfront Hilton Beach Resort hotel in Huntington Beach, to stand-alone restaurants such as Chimayo, at the base of the Huntington Beach Pier. The pierside location is familiar to the beach brunch crowd, for this is where Maxwell's once thrived as the place that offered deadly Bloody Marys and unparalleled people-watching opportunities.

With its award-winning Southwestern cuisine, Chimayo is continuing the tradition, although not with the hedonistic charm that defined old downtown Huntington. According to Don Stonebreaker, Chimayo's general manager, it's only natural that we want to brunch by the beach.

"It's an extension of our lifestyles," he said. "There's a real affinity to being by the beach, a calming influence in an attractive setting."

Las Brisas' Jaio agrees, but is quick to add that there are more romantic reasons for beach brunching. "Some of our customers tell us that what makes our brunch so special is that the ocean view reminds them of the Caribbean or of the Mexican Riviera," he said. All that for around $20 . . . and an unlimited flow of champagne.

The Fisherman's

Perched at the base of the San Clemente pier, the Fisherman's offers much more than just an ocean view: Diners here can feel the rumbling of waves beneath their feet and smell the salty spume, making it one of the better out-of-the-way coastal brunch spots.

The small brunch menu features such thematic dishes as the Seafood Boat of assorted fish topped with melted cheese and served in a pastry shell, a seafood omelet, a seafood Benedict and a Pacific salmon served with eggs.

The Pacific salmon with eggs on the side is a highlight. The salmon is lightly grilled and shares a fork well with fluffy scrambled eggs. And with the seafood Benedict, the fish chunks are fine, but it's the tasty, perfectly prepared Hollandaise sauce that makes this worth ordering. As for other egg dishes, the omelets here aren't the standard fare--the seafood one is packed with chunked fish and melted cheese, and the North Beach and California omelets feature a veritable kitchen sink's worth of items. The latter melds spinach, avocado, mushrooms, tomato and feta cheese, with the cheese providing a nice snappy taste.

The one non-egg dish, the Frisbee-sized golden waffle, comes topped with strawberries and a mound of whipped cream. It looks and tastes like dessert. In addition, a tasty sparkling wine comes at a bargain of $4.25.

The Fisherman's, 611 Avenida Victoria at the base of the San Clemente pier. (949) 498-6390. Sunday brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Brunch selections range from $7.95 to $11.95.

The Regatta Grill

The Regatta Grill's midday meal is called Blue Jean Brunch because customers are encouraged to come causally dressed to enjoy the food and stroll the patio, where some event is always going on.

Brunch, which costs $21 for adults and $10 for children 5 to 11, consists of starters, breads, entrees, desserts and beverages. Pastries, bagels with cheeses and fruits are served with a salad, ceviche (lime-marinated seafood) and a pasta casserole.

On our trip, a garlicky Caesar and a delicious salmon and rotelli dish started things off on the right note. Main courses include fresh fish, tender sirloin steak in wine sauce, cooked-to-order omelets, crispy shredded hash browns and perfectly cooked eggs Benedict, French toast, sausages and thick bacon.

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