The Gossiping Gourmet: A breezy new Tommy Bahama

Tommy Bahama's maxim is, "Life is one long weekend." Only a fictional character could adopt this as a motto these days, but the folks behind this brand would like to make it a reality … at least when you spend a little time with them, shopping and dining. Their latest endeavor, in Laguna, is offering a more "beachy" approach to the "Bahama" experience. Rather than the faux tropical paradise vibe, they are trying to capture historic Laguna in a casual café/bistro rather than a fine dining establishment. Flip-flops and beachwear will be welcome at this beautifully renovated space located in the historic Heisler building in downtown Laguna.

Hand troweled concrete floors, hand-crafted furnishings, natural wood shutters, expansive doors and windows framed in dark mahogany, recessed lighting and abundant natural light all blend to create an open, breezy, casual ambiance. The fresh white walls are adorned with old black and white photographs of historic Laguna Beach. A large bar area dominates the front of the house where you can be served inventive special cocktails like the Cant-e-lope Tonight, as well as the full dining menu.

The clothing store, a few steps up from the dining room, features a unique line of casual wear especially designed for the Laguna Beach store (less emphasis on Hawaiian prints).

The menu is also unique to Tommy Bahama Laguna, with more burgers and sandwiches, lots of starters, fewer entrées, a selection of large salads and a some interesting sides such as lobster mac 'n' cheese.

The tempting starter menu, with dishes meant to be shared, ranges from a kicked up corn dog made with lobster to tuna tacos in wonton shells. The classic iceberg wedge is gussied up with Nueske's applewood bacon and Maytag blue cheese. Their version of a shrimp cocktail has chopped tiger shrimp, Dungeness crab, cucumber cubes and fresh tomatoes spiked with a bit of tabasco. It's served as a dip with crispy tortilla chips to use as scoops. The flavors are fresh and light. We were looking forward to the corn dogs but found them disappointing. The delicate lobster is overwhelmed with the doughy, bland batter and the two intensely flavored dipping sauces — sriracha mustard and mango ketchup.

One of the house specialties is the tasty ahi noodle salad with lemon grass encrusted, lightly seared tuna with shredded romaine, carrots, peppers, edamame and wakame (seaweed), all tossed together with buckwheat soba noodles and dressed with red miso vinaigrette and ponzu sauce. The satiny tuna contrasts with the crunchy vegetables and chewy noodles. The buckwheat gives the noodles a heartier, deeper flavor while the seaweed adds a bit of brininess. The citrus ponzu is light and refreshing and the miso vinaigrette adds saltiness and richness. This definitely deserves its place on the specialty menu, as does the very different but equally excellent shrimp BLT sandwich.

Grilled sourdough bread brushed with garlicky aioli is layered with romaine and romas, slices of avocado, sliced shrimp and finished off with thick slices of that ridiculously evil Nueske bacon …an irresistible mouthful of caloric happiness. Crispy French fries with sea salt and cracked pepper ensure that you don't go away hungry.

From the three fish entrées we chose artic char (a sustainable farmed fish from Iceland). The fish was nicely seared and moist and rested on top of a very flavorful risotto accented with sweet peas and caramelized onions. Adding a cool and crunchy element was the shaved fennel and apple slaw touched with truffle oil. The accompaniments to all their entrées can be ordered as side dishes.

The dessert that we liked best was the banana cream pie with its crunchy almond coconut crust and lush banana custard topped with caramelized bananas and white chocolate whipped cream. If sweets are not your thing, they offer a very good cheese plate with truffled honey, fig jam, fruits and nuts.

At long last, this historic corner has been brought back to life with an eatery bound to please locals and tourists alike.

Tommy Bahama

Where: 400 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday


Appetizers: $6 to $14

Entrées: $12 to $25

Desserts: $6 to $12


Bottles: $36 to $99

By the glass: $8 to $13

Corkage Fee: $15 (no fee if you buy a $15 wine bag in the retail shop)

Information: (949) 376-6886

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