Summer is coming to Laguna Beach in fits and starts, tempting us with a beautiful sunny day followed by a gray cloudy one. On one of the lovely warm evenings, my husband and I decided to enjoy the upstairs terrace at Mozambique called the Shebeen.
In the 1950s, Irish immigrants to South Africa introduced the term Shebeen, and it was adopted in the townships for many of the makeshift bars springing up around the country as well as in neighboring Mozambique. They were often run by elderly women, known as Shebeen Queens, who competed with each other for customers by increasing the strength of their brew.
Climbing the stairs, you enter the lounge through the bar area where the scene begins early and live music adds to the merriment. The L-shaped Shebeen is really a large outdoor terrace with banquettes along the walls, tile floors and an adobe fireplace. Keeping it cozy are glass panels along the low walls that hold back the ocean breezes while allowing you to view the treetops, the blue sky and the prismatic sunsets. The black and cream striped retractable canvas ceiling creates a tent-like atmosphere.
We hadn't been back here since they started calling themselves a steakhouse, but we were interested in the small-plates menu, so we could have lots of different tasting experiences. There are several menus available upstairs, including the steakhouse menu, which also offers small-plate versions of their entrees. You can get some very inexpensive dishes and drinks during Happy Hour from 3:30 to 6 p.m., and then there is a small-plate appetizer menu as well, but be forewarned — those small plates are quite generous in size.
We ordered a few things at a time, beginning with fried calamari served with sweet potato fries. The calamari was in thin strips that were a bit rubbery and too thin to have any taste on their own, although the nicely fried batter was good and the Peri-Peri sauce on the side added a nice bit of heat. Peri-Peri sauce is a spicy concoction of lime juice, vinegar, garlic, paprika and dried fresh chilies. If you like something milder for dipping, there is also a cilantro lime aioli.
The accompanying sweet potato fries were some of the best we have ever had. They were really sweet and very crisp, just the way we like them.
"Samoosas" can be ordered filled with beef, chicken or vegetables. We went for beef and were pleased with well-seasoned ground beef filling and the thin layers of crackly crust. They also came with Peri-Peri sauce. In fact, one could say that the seasoning at Mozambique is very, very Peri-Peri.
Chicken pops were large skewered pieces of grilled chicken breast that had been brushed with…you guessed it…Peri-Peri sauce, then served with more of the ubiquitous sauce on the side. The three skewers were served sticking in a thick slab of grilled pineapple topped with a small vegetable slaw. They were rather bland without a big dose of the sauce, but it was a very generous portion.
Our surprise favorite of the evening were the Peri-Peri chicken livers, which had been sautéed with caramelized onions, a bit of pancetta and that sauce, which was at its very best in combination with the tender and subtly flavored livers. A real winner!
Another not-small "small plate" was the sliders. Three different types, chicken, beef and vegetable, were stuffed into big buns, more than half the size of a regular bun. The beef would have been good had it not been overcooked. The chicken was the same that was in the chicken pops and was equally bland. The best was the veggie version: red peppers, grilled onions, cucumbers and zucchini.
Portuguese hot butter pudding was like a very rich bread pudding, caramelized with butter and brown sugar, cream and brandy. A big dollop of whipped cream completed this yummy dessert.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: 1740 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday; 3:30 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Prices: Appetizers: $8 to $15; entrées: $8 to $89; desserts: $8
Wine: Bottles: $32 to $95; by the glass: $8 to $20; corkage fee: $20
(Free cab rides home within three miles; $20 each way four to nine miles; $30 each way 10 to 15 miles)
Information: (949) 715-7777 or http://www.mozambiqueoc.com