Dizz's As Is has been around since 1977, and that kind of longevity for a restaurant indicates it has been doing something very right, for a very long time.
Upon entering this cottage-like building, you feel as if you have been transported into the past. The atmosphere, the décor, the menu, even the dishware, hearkens back to another era. The walls are pink with black beams. The windows, looking out on Coast Highway and the ocean, have heavy flowered drapery. Tablecloths, too, have floral patterns, all reminiscent of another time. Black and white photos of old Hollywood movie stars and Art Deco flamingo prints in mirrored frames decorate the walls, and there is actual carpeting on the floor. Ceiling fans whirl softly overhead. Plates and cutlery are completely (and intentionally) mismatched.
Somehow, it all works together to create a homey and comfortable atmosphere. There is also a bar area in the front where people gather to eat and drink. In the warmer months, you can dine on the large outdoor patio.
The menu follows suit with selections that easily predate the era of Julia Child. The actual menu consists of many sheets of pink plastic-covered paper, each one describing a single entree. All of these are complete dinners, which include: a small aperitif of vermouth with a twist, then the house pate with sourdough toast, followed by your choice of salad or the daily soup. The entrées range from filet mignon, rack of lamb and veal piccata, to fish, chicken and jumbo prawns. They also offer a small-plate menu with lesser-sized portions of some of the entrees.
Most everything we ordered was tasty. No frills, no foams, no foie gras, just old-fashioned good food. The pate and the vermouth made a lovely beginning. We chose the Caesar salad, and a small plate of romaine arrived topped with a few croutons and some Parmesan but no visible dressing. Our very sweet waiter noticed and returned quickly with a little crock of dressing and some crusty sourdough bread. The salad was the least interesting thing we ate.
Much better was the cioppino. Clams, giant mussels, a small lobster tail, shrimp and some wonderful, fresh and tender white fish chunks, swam in a subtly spicy, thick tomato sauce seasoned with garlic and herbs. It was served in a Le Creuset crock and came with a side of plain pasta. There was so much sauce that we tossed it in the spaghetti and took it home for another meal. All the entrees seem to come in huge portions.
The baked Rock Cornish hen was large as well. It had been de-boned and stuffed with rice, cubed apple, currants and nuts, then brushed with a sweet potato, orange, currant glaze. It came with a garnish of a canned peach half, stuffed with a prune, very retro. The bird's flesh was succulent, but the combination of sweet stuffing and sweet glaze was a bit of overkill. Less would have been more in this case. Still, it was quite good. The hen rested in a nest of rice, and broccoli florets topped with cheese came on the side.
We couldn't help but look lustfully at the jumbo prawns on pasta that the lady across the way was enjoying. They were beautiful and a must for our next visit.
In keeping with their size requirements, the Belgian chocolate Kahlua cake was big enough for four people. It was a dense, moist cake studded with pieces of excellent dark chocolate. A hefty mound of lightly sweetened whipped cream adorned the top, and fresh blackberries surrounded the plate. It was a memorable dessert, but some of it, too, found its way into the doggie bag.
As we sat and enjoyed our coffee, we remarked that no one in the place, since we arrived, had taken out a cell phone or a Kindle or any other electronic device. Weird.
Dizz's is a Laguna institution, serving both the locals and the tourist crowd with good food and good times for decades. It's nice in this rapidly changing world to find a genuine oldie but goodie.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[For the record, 3 p.m. Aug. 6: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that the restaurant Dizz’s As Is opened in the 1930s. The restaurant opened in 1977.]
Dizz's As Is
Where: 2794 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach
When: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Complete dinners: $19.95 to $45.95
Small plates: $13.95 to $19.95
Desserts: $7 to $9
Bottles: $15 to $215
Half-bottles: $15 to $22
By the glass: $7 to $12
Corkage fee: $20
Information: (949) 494-5250 or dizzsasis.com