The Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille has opened in what used to be the Ocean Avenue Brewery, giving the space a very pleasant facelift.
Guillermo Sandoval is the new executive chef, and the food is a quite refined version of Mexican cuisine.
The dining area has a long bar on one side next to a beautiful, huge copper fermenter that will soon be brewing several housemade beers. Tall black stools with red upholstery join tall tables, and a banquet with faux snakeskin seats runs along the opposite wall. The walls are gray stone, and the windows in the front are clear glass from floor to ceiling. There is a covered patio outside.
As you walk in you may notice the fire element at the back of the room behind clear glass — a long, narrow, low-level gas flame and clear rocks that change color in the light.
As my dining companion and I perused the menu, our waiter brought over two dips and a basket of chips. The chips had just been made and were still warm. They were thin and crisp and very, very good, made even better by the terrific warm bean dip and the spicy salsa. It was hard to stop eating them. We were told that the chips and dips are made fresh.
With the Back to Life seafood cocktail, we got a glass bowl filled with baby scallops, shrimp, octopus, pico de gallo, avocado, beer foam and clamato sauce. The bowl was rimmed with ground hot chile pepper.
What made it even more special was that the bowl was resting in a bowl of ice cubes, and the waiter came over to add dry ice, which made a cloud of steam over everything, creating a quite wonderful scene.
Tarasca soup was a puree of ancho chilies, tomatoes, avocado, epazote and oregano with panella cheese resting on top along with thin strips of fried tortillas. It was one of the best soups I have ever tasted, rich in flavor and texture. A real winner.
We had our choice of tacos, and I selected the Taco Rosarito, which included adobo guajillo chile, smoked paprika, black beans and lobster pieces in three small tacos accented with thin slices of red onions. The tortillas are housemade.
This selection was kind of hard to eat since it had too much going on in the filling and had to be eaten with a fork. It was my least favorite of our dishes and quite expensive for three small tacos and rice.
Our surf-and-turf dish was much more interesting. It featured three seared scallops, two shrimp, one beef-stuffed chili and one shrimp-stuffed chili, all sitting on a bed of delicious sweet potato mash.
From the "favorites" list, my dining companion chose the Guac'n Cheese & salsa, which was a mix of tasty grilled panela cheese, corn tortillas and roasted tomato sauce. Also available is a salad of corn, onions and green chili peppers with housemade corn tortillas.
Last but not least were the farm sliders, three small buns with three different fillings and served with French fries. The pork belly with green papaya was my favorite, except that it was a little overdone. The beef slider was topped with jalapeno jack cheese, and it too was overdone. The shrimp were the best — moist and juicy — but they came with a strip of bacon that was so underdone and so stringy that it was inedible. Out waiter was very apologetic.
For desert we chose the Noche Romantica, which was very good. It had chocolate cake on the bottom and flan on top with burnt marshmallows, Bailey's cream and raspberries.
This is a tasty addition to the Laguna restaurant scene.
Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille
Location: 237 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach
Hours: Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner from 4 to 10 p.m. daily. Late kitchen is 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
Prices: $10 to $48
Wine: Glass: $8 to $16; Bottle: $30 to $60
Information: (949) 497-3381