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Luxury dining at a beach bungalow

May 01, 2003|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

The new Montage resort keeps a low profile; at night it practically takes night- vision goggles to spot the turnoff of South Coast Highway. This is one Laguna Beach luxury resort that really is on the ocean side of Coast Highway.

With rooms starting at $450 per night, the surprise is the discreet decor, at least in the lobby lounge. The sofas don't look as if they're scaled for NBA players, and when you sit down in an armchair, your feet can actually touch the floor. With a drop-dead view out the lobby's French doors, it's a wonderful spot for a drink.

And better yet for dinner. A winding path leads to the hotel's high-end restaurant, Studio. (It also has a more casual restaurant called the Loft in the main building.) Set at the edge of a bluff overlooking the sea, the Arts and Crafts-style bungalow has a window for almost every table, so everybody can enjoy that incomparable view.

Chef James Boyce is a national figure, who moved to Laguna from the well-regarded Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician in Arizona. He's known for contemporary American cuisine, but his first menu for Studio seems on the conservative side. Maybe he's just feeling his way to understanding Southern California tastes.

Starters include roasted foie gras with crisp pork belly, cipolline onions and Nicoise olives, drizzled with apple-anise honey, and a pleasant Dungeness crab salad with avocado, pink grapefruit and capers. My herb-steamed braised lobster came with spring's English peas and Perigord black truffles -- except these were less-expensive summer truffles tricked up with truffle oil, and no one bothered to mention the substitution.

The center-cut veal chop from Summerfield Farm is a beautiful piece of meat, set off with fresh morels, French prunes and an unusual walnut couscous. Roasted loin of lamb comes with baby Brussels sprouts delicious enough to convert anybody who has spent a lifetime hating the vegetable with a vengeance.

For dessert, there's a cloud of chocolate souffle made from Michel Cluizel chocolate and a trio of fruit and herb sorbets.

As you'd expect, or rather fear, wine prices exhibit the usual high hotel markup. That makes toasting the sunset with a bottle of Champagne expensive. Ah, well, consider it a tax on that 280-degree view.



Where: Montage Resort & Spa, 30801 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach

When: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m. Saturday and Sunday only; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday. Full bar. Valet parking.

Cost: Appetizers, $8 to $17; main courses, $28 to $33; chef's six-course tasting menu, $95 (with wine, $150)

Info: (949) 715-6030;

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