Taste of Beauty’s new menu pays homage to the Earth’s landscape

"The Garden" from Taste of Beauty's seasonal eight-course vegan tasting menu.
“The Garden” from Taste of Beauty’s seasonal eight-course vegan tasting menu.
(Courtesy of Taste of Beauty )

Thirteen years ago, chef George Guo spent a year living on a tiny island called Dasha Island in Lake Tai in China with two dogs, several cats, pigs, sheep, turkeys, geese and hundreds of chickens and ducks. Guo spent a year caring for the animals, and by the time the new year rolled around, he felt a special connection to all of them.

“The Chinese tradition of celebrating the new year means they will become food on the table,” said Guo. “That’s when I realized I could no longer bear the thought of eating animals. They have become my pets. Since then, I could only choose vegetarianism.”

Guo is the executive chef and co-owner of Taste of Beauty in Fountain Valley, a plant-based fine dining restaurant where his vegan lifestyle informs the menu. The restaurant is also influenced by his Chinese heritage and his training as a tea master in China. In fact, the name itself is borrowed from a Chinese idiom used to describe a beautiful feast for both the eyes and mouth.

Collections of Chinese tea sets decorate Taste of Beauty in Fountain Valley.
(Courtesy of Taste of Beauty )

“We have also fallen in love with the English saying ‘You are what you eat.’ On a surface level, our body reflects the nutrition we take in. The health benefits of a plant-based diet have been well established,” said Guo.

The food and its physical taste and benefits are not the only things he considers when putting together a menu.

“Merely eating to satisfy hunger fulfills only our most primitive physiological needs,” Guo said.

All five senses are engaged in a dining experience at Taste of Beauty. The restaurant recently debuted its spring/summer tasting menu with new dishes under the theme “we are all earthlings.” The eight courses represent eight geographical landscapes on earth: the island, the grassland, the hillside, the dunes, the desert, the ocean, the garden and the rainforest.

“As each course represents our planet’s diverse landscape, it also blends flavors from cuisines worldwide. Just like every culture and cuisine are connected, we are all earthlings sharing the same responsibility for our mother nature,” said Guo.

The landscape-inspired menu is completely vegan and priced at $99, while the other menu option is a classic eight-course vegetarian tasting menu priced at $89.

Eggplant served with aji verde and crispy shiso leaf at Taste of Beauty.
(Courtesy of Taste of Beauty)

When you enter Taste of Beauty, you’re greeted by the scent of incense burning, and the soft chatter of other guests dining in the different rooms can be heard as you move to your own table. The collection of tea sets that decorate the restaurant become conversation starters that sometimes end with guests adding a traditional tea ceremony to their dining experience.

While there is certainly Chinese influence on the menu, the seasonal menu also borrows from Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Japanese and Italian cultures.

The hillside course, for example, is eggplant sliced and fried in the style of a blooming onion, with its curls meant to evoke a blooming chrysanthemum. A green shiso leaf on the side contributes to the flower imagery, and the dish is completed with vegan cheese and aji verde, a green sauce typically found in Peruvian cuisine.

The dunes course is another favorite; a sushi duo that wraps nopales and aloe vera, mango, yuzu and fresh wasabi in nori for bite that doesn’t miss the mackerel. The nopales are marinated in sea salt to diminish natural acidity, while the aloe undergoes a six-step process to preserve the succulent core and is infused with mango, and the sushi rice is mixed with house-made fruit vinegar.

The experience is quiet, almost meditative, and each dish is presented with a story that connects the dish with the terrain it is designed to represent. Guo said he has always thought of food as much more than just a meal.

A vegan sushi duo from Taste of Beauty's seasonal tasting menu.
(Courtesy of Taste of Beauty)

“It’s a story on a plate and a bridge between cultures. Every dish tells a story, turning dining into an immersive experience,” said Guo. “It’s why people might fall for a restaurant over a single dish or embrace vegetarianism inspired by a compelling tale.”

Guo recognizes that not every person who visits Taste of Beauty is a vegetarian; in fact most of them aren’t. Yet he hopes his dishes can introduce people to the possibility of getting acquainted with plant-based food and give diners a chance to experience what a climate-conscious diet looks like.

In addition to the tasting menu, Taste of Beauty has also launched a tea service, a popular trend among Orange County restaurants. But this version is not of the tea sandwich variety. Instead Guo offers a two-hour traditional Chinese tea-tasting experience on weekends, one of the few places in Orange County to offer the Chinese tradition.

The seasonal spring/summer menu is available now through the fall, but sometimes favored seasonal dishes make it to the classic menu, and the seasonal menu is refreshed twice a year with occasional new dishes added to keep things fresh and exciting. However guests choose to experience Taste of Beauty, Guo said he hopes diners leave feeling fulfilled.

“On a spiritual level, good food nourishes the soul,” Guo said.