The former home of French 75 has had a complete makeover, and the new restaurant, Selanne's Steak Tavern, is quite attractive.
The front has some beautiful new landscaping. The outdoor patio with its fireplace has some wonderful new hanging Moroccan-style fixtures. The interior is painted all white but with beautiful, slightly distressed oak floors.
Interesting touches include a zinc horse head and a fossilized crocodile skull. A lounge with fireplace can be seen as one enters, and a wine bar is down a few steps to the left. The main room downstairs is dominated by the bar in the center. The upstairs is the place to go for a quiet meal.
I usually don't do a review until a restaurant has been open for a month, more or less, so that the managers have time to get their act together, but it was convenient for me to go just about a week after Selanne's officially opened. My guest and I were very impressed with the food and the service.
The wait staff was highly attentive and friendly, the food was prepared in a timely fashion and the whole operation seemed to run smoothly. We were seated in the bar area and, since we arrived early, it was fairly quiet, but the sound level rose decibel by decibel as we were completing our meal.
As we were admiring the new décor, a basket of three small breads arrived: a small baguette, a pretzel bread and a dinner roll. They were unusually good. We were also very pleased with the generous size of the wine pour. Selanne's has a top-notch wine collection, as well as a special program called The Black List with high-end, hard-to-find bottles like Screaming Eagle.
Sweet pickled onion bits and chanterelle mushrooms graced the plate of Pacific diver scallops. Two moist, lightly browned scallops rested in a brown butter sauce. All of the elements were delicious but suffered from a bit too much salt.
I am a fan of bone marrow and the presentation was a carefully considered and balanced mélange. There is very little actual marrow even in these big bones sliced in half lengthwise. This is a good thing because the marrow is very fatty and luscious but needs to be balanced.
Here, it was topped with mustard greens and red onion marmalade, which provided the perfect compliment of sweetness and earthiness. Toast points came on the side for use as a vehicle on which to spread the mixture and mellow a little of the richness.
Boneless beef shorts ribs were long braised and tender with a dark crust. They rested on a bed of creamy smooth white polenta, and a grilled cipollini onion and two long, thin trumpet mushrooms completed the plate. The soft polenta was the perfect accompaniment to the flavorful meat.
Of course, we ordered a steak, since this is primarily a steak house. The 10-ounce rib eye was cooked to medium rare and had a lovely brown exterior, just the perfect amount of char without a burnt taste. The steak was succulent and juicy, with a deep meaty flavor.
A cylinder of marrow butter rested on top and a small pool of Bordelaise sauce sat on the bottom. It was one of the best steaks in recent memory. Once again, an onion and a mushroom came with the meat. Diners can choose from a list of additional sauces for $4.
From the sides menu we ordered some delicious creamed Bloomsdale spinach that was dotted with cherry tomato halves.
As full as we were we couldn't pass up the sticky toffee pudding. The round moist cake accented with finely chopped dates came with a luscious toffee sauce with a hint of bourbon. Three segments of orange gilded the top, and a long cube of vanilla ice cream, with crumbles on the bottom, came alongside. The ice cream tasted more like ice milk.
We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of food and the lovely new décor. Anaheim Ducks player Teemu Selanne, one of the restaurant's proprietors, has definitely scored with this new restaurant.
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.
IF YOU GO
What: Selanne Steak Tavern
Where: 1464 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
When: 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays; 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays
Prices: Appetizers: $8 to $19; entrees: $28 to $57; desserts: $10; bar menu: small plates cost $8 to $16 and large plates, $14 to $19
Wine: Bottles: $27 to $765; by the glass: $8 to $24; corkage fee: $20
Information: (949) 715-9881; selannesteaktavern.com