There aren't a lot of new restaurant openings these days, so we thought we might check in from time to time at some places we've enjoyed in the past to see if they are still up to snuff.
Executive chef and partner Marc Cohen opened Watermarc in Laguna Beach almost three years ago, and chef de cuisine Kiel Andersen has been running the kitchen from the beginning. We are happy to report that Cohen has maintained the level of quality that we experienced on our first visit.
The menu has been tweaked a bit but some of our old favorites are still there, such as the seafood sausage, roasted cauliflower trio and the warm blue cheese pear tarts.
One notable change is that the charming upstairs terrace has been fully enclosed so that it is warm and cozy all year round, while the wall of glass still makes you feel like you are dining alfresco under the spreading branches of the venerable, gnarled pepper tree.
For those of you who have not eaten here before, the main dining room offers an ocean view, albeit across Coast Highway, and features a large bar area with a long communal table. The decor is both contemporary and warm.
Warm crusty bread comes with an unusual butter, blue cheese spread made with a red wine reduction that was quite delicious.
It is hard to decide whether to compose a meal out of the many interesting grazing plates or go with the more traditional style of appetizer and entrée. We did a bit of both.
We started off with a grazing plate of scallops, which was the evening's special. Three crispy, lightly browned, very juicy, sweet scallops arrived on a bed of feathery endive salad with julienned apples and a smattering of finely chopped walnuts.
Shavings of Parmesan on the top and a smear of raspberry reduction beneath added yet more complexity. Scattered around the dish were salty, fatty cubes of bacon. It was a lovely mélange of textures and flavors.
A wooden board was the platform for the crusty flatbread topped with figs, onions, spinach and a molten mass of goat cheese and mozzarella. We have tried a number of flatbreads at Watermarc, but this was the cheesiest. For us, it overwhelmed the other flavors, but serious cheese lovers might prefer it this way.
The menu calls the onions "caramelized," but ours hadn't achieved the browned sweetness one expects. The figs, however, provided a nice sweet touch and we wished there had been a few more of them.
We have always enjoyed the house-made seafood sausage served as a long thin link coiled into a spiral and skewered. It's attractively presented in a black cast iron pot. The sausage is mild and slightly salty with a nice crunchy natural casing.
It rests on a casserole of white beans in a luscious, fluffy mustard cream sauce. When we finished with the beans and the sausage we dunked our bread in the yummy, soupy sauce.
Jumping into the entrée menu, we chose the petrale sole meunière. The delicately flavored flatfish was lightly crisped and juicy. It was drizzled with lemon caper butter, but the "sauce" was actually the bed of incredibly rich and delicious mashed potatoes, which we used to garnish each mouthful. The layer of wilted spinach, however, was too salty.
All of the dishes we ate, and all the ones we noticed around us, looked especially inviting and had a lovely golden glaze that seemed to beg for a photo op.
The dessert special of the evening was a hot little molten chocolate cake with intense flavor and a sensuous oozing center. It was accompanied by a tiny glass mug of whipped cream, to do with as you please. Two long thin chocolate sticks and three raspberries completed the ensemble.
Watermarc is a reliable favorite that continues to impress.
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 email@example.com.
Information: (949) 376-6272, watermarcrestaurant.com
Where: 448 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
When: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. Happy hour: 3 to 6 p.m., with burger prices reduced by 50%. Dinner: 3:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 3:30 till 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Grazing plates: $6-$15
Soup and Salad: $6-$17
Glass: 1/2 glass $5-$10, full glass $10-$19
1/2 Carafe: $17-$37
Corkage Fee: $15