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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE
| Sunday Brunch

Regatta's Secret: an Expert Crew

Attentive without intruding, the staff works a miracle--fresh, moist food from steam trays.

May 28, 2000|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Regatta Grill in Dana Point is a celebration of sailboats. Giant models, sailing flags, posters and photos enhance the marine motif. But other forces are at work on the buffet table, which could be dubbed "Mission: Impossible."

The Regatta chefs have accomplished the nearly impossible by offering fresh, moist entrees from a series of steam trays. My heart usually sinks when I see a buffet table full of aluminum tubs, but Regatta manages to keep steaks tender, fish moist and bacon crisp under these punishing conditions.

The restaurant's secret is an attentive staff that keeps eagle eyes not only on the food but on the customers as well. Drink glasses are filled quietly, special requests are handled with a smile and you won't have to search for a waiter. The service is efficient yet invisible; don't worry about them swooping in to steal your plate before you're done.

Sunday'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 something is always going on. Last week half a dozen kites took to the sky like giant birds, dipping and bolting on the sea breeze. A company picnic was held down the hill, and farther out near the water a blues festival unfolded. From the dining room, with its huge French doors overlooking the brilliantly colored flowers in the garden and patio, there is plenty to watch.

Regatta is also a destination restaurant for special occasions. As part of the Marriott Laguna Cliffs Resort (formerly the Dana Point Resort), the restaurant and grounds are often the scene of weddings, showers, bar and bat mitzvahs and First Communions, where dressy guests mingle with hotel visitors ready for the beach.

Brunch, which costs $21 for adults and $10 for children 5 through 11, consists of starters, breads, entrees, desserts and beverages. Freshly squeezed juice is served, along with coffee, tea and soft drinks. Follow your favorite beverage with a trip to the buffet table. 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 salad and a delicious salmon and rotella dish started things off on the right note.

Entrees change from week to week. Main courses the day we visited included fresh and juicy swordfish, tender sirloin steak in wine sauce, made-to-order omelets, crispy hash browns and perfectly cooked eggs Benedict, French toast, sausages and thick bacon.

Sun-dried tomato linguine, the pasta of the day, was the only bland note on the buffet table. My other criticism is that for $21, more seafood should be available. A platter of oysters, clams and smoked fish would have raised the restaurant's grade from a B to an A.

The desserts, however, get a gold star: chocolate cake, carrot cake, eclairs, giant cookies and large frosted petit fours. We were so full from the plentiful meal, we could only pick at the scrumptious sweets. It was all I could do not to stash a cookie for later.

But do try to control yourself--doggy bags at all-you-can-eat buffets are considered bad form.

*

Regatta Grill, Marriott Laguna Cliffs Resort, 25135 Street of the Park Lantern, Dana Point. (949) 661-5000. Prices: $21 for adults; $10 for children 5 to 11. Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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