Mark's — renamed ReMark's — recently reopened in Laguna Canyon on the site of his original restaurant that has been shuttered for two years. Mark DePalma tells us proudly that his 11-year-old daughter Ashley suggested the clever new moniker.
What remains the same is Mark's inimitable charm, the original dining room and the patio. What's new is the remodeled bar area with its tall tables and high stools. This time, he's focusing entirely on small plates (although we found most of them to be quite generous).
Also new is the Saturday night lounge with a DJ and dancing after 10 p.m. Comfortable lounge furniture on the heated patio provides a warm, cozy spot to nibble on goodies from the late-night menu. Short rib sliders with blue cheese on brioche, crispy chicken burgers served with fried green tomatoes, chilaquiles and chicken Caesar salad are a few of the tempting items offered.
Seated in the small, cozy dining room, decorated with large, mutedly colored, abstract paintings, we perused the new menu while munching on excellent hot, crusty wheat bread and selected a number of appetizers.
Accolades and encomiums go to the roasted tomato soup; it was the best we have ever tasted. It was a light and delicious puree with some texture as well. The roasting of the tomatoes seems to make all the difference, adding depth of flavor. Delicious small leaves of basil throughout contributed an herbal spark.
We were also impressed with the filet mignon tacos made with chunks of high-quality beef, stuffed into small, thin flour tortillas that were very tender and tasted freshly made. The excellent garnishes included a tart, lime tomatillo sauce, sour cream, tomato salsa and chopped avocado. Put it all together and you've got some tasty eating.
Less successful was the ahi stack. The fish itself had no flavor. Mixing together the accompanying wasabi, soy sauce and a squiggle of seasoned mayo perked it up. The advertised jalapeno was nowhere in evidence. It did come with some good flour tortilla chips for scooping.
Since we all know that tomatoes are generally lousy in winter, fried green tomatoes make a nice alternative. These were made from slightly riper tomatoes with a bit of juiciness. They had a crisply fried panko crust and were served with a very flavorful, zippy, ranch, smoky chipotle dipping sauce.
Main courses are a little smaller than a regular entrée and priced accordingly. They run from $9.75 to $14.50 and include a four-ounce filet mignon with spinach, grilled Portobello mushroom and Gorgonzola risotto…a very good deal.
We really enjoyed the very tender short ribs, well seasoned with a slightly sweet, meaty sauce. However, the accompanying Gorgonzola risotto, although quite rich, lacked any cheese-y taste at all and badly needed salt.
Chicken curry is English style with tender breast-meat chicken in a very mild, pleasant yellow sauce dotted with raisins and served with sweet chutney on the side. The rice was a ginger risotto but once again, we found it very bland.
A tower of vegetables was nicely stacked with layers of zucchini, eggplant, carrots, red and yellow bell peppers — all grilled to a perfect al dente texture. Cooked fresh tomato chunks provided a tasty sauce.
We sampled several desserts, including the best flourless chocolate cake ever. The chocolate was rich and dark, the cake was lightly sweetened, but it was the incredibly light texture that distinguished it from all others of its genre.
In contrast, we found the Mexican chocolate cake, made with beverage chocolate, to be an interesting idea but unsuccessful in execution. The thin tart-like cake retained the gritty texture of this kind of chocolate.
We are happy to see Mark back in business, offering tasty food at reasonable prices.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 853 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
When: 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 4:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday
Appetizers: $5 to $11.25
Entrées: $9.75 to $14.75
Desserts: $6 to $7
Glass: $6.50 to $10
Bottle: $20 to $100
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (949) 715-8700 or remarkslagunabeach.com