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Mark’s offers international tastes

DINING OUT

The spirit of Christmas is happily alive in Laguna, and no more

colorfully so than at Mark’s restaurant in the heart of town.

Created some dozen years ago by magnanimous principal Mark De

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Palma, the handsome establishment is festively decorated to the

rafters in holiday glitter. From the exterior pine tree draped in

holiday crimson to the entire building and parking area, everything

is splendiferously aglow in cascades of tiny white lights.

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The theme continues inside this enticing dinner house, setting a

festive pace for celebrating guests.

The magic of Christmas enhances stately palms punctuating the

elevated terrace overlooking the lights of Coast Highway, the

spacious dining room where grandiose still-life paintings grace the

walls and the bustling cocktail lounge, too.

But it is the delicious cuisine of chef Martine Gonzalez and the

gracious welcome and attentive service that makes Mark’s a favorite

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dining destination all year for knowledgeable tourists and longtime

locals.

Gonzalez, who has worked with DePalma for 17 years, starting with

his first restaurant in Los Angeles, revises the menu three times a

year in collaboration with his enterprising mentor. A new menu is

expected by year’s end.

International flavors are typified by such appetizers as mango

brie quesadillas, for a taste of Mexico; vegetable spring rolls, for

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a touch of Thailand; and succulent steamed mussels imported from New

Zealand.

The last are redolent of lemon, garlic and cilantro. They offer a

briny taste of the sea described by one appreciative guest as

bringing to her palate a “burst of crashing waves.”

A taste of Italy comes via gnocchi with shrimp, risotto with

chicken, rigatoni in a saute of chicken breast and fresh and

sun-dried tomatoes livened with pine nuts, sage, marjoram and a

creamy garlic wine butter sauce, not to mention luscious tiramisu,

among an octave of yummy desserts.

Entrees also offer a diverse range of international flavors, from

Cajun chicken topped with mango ginger salsa; chicken curry with

coconut, mango and raisins; and ahi tuna with wasabi, avocado and

grapefruit.

Toothsome accompaniments are equally innovative -- mashed sweet

potatoes and fresh cut corn with a thick slab of

cranberry-chipotle-drizzled pork prime rib, tender green beans and

creamy mashed potatoes with Roquefort, shallot-topped filet mignon,

wild rice pilaf and sauteed vegetables with peppercorn-crusted salmon

tournedos.

The prices -- $5.75 to $11.50 for appetizers, soup and salads;

$10.95 to $13.25 for pastas; $13.50 to $22.95 for entrees -- take a

huge tumble on Monday nights. That is when locals in-the-know jam the

place to enjoy many of their favorite dishes for about half the usual

cost.

DePalma hosts frequent buffet presentations at the Laguna Art

Museum and many in-house fund-raisers for such charities as AIDS

Services Foundation, Acres of Love for children and many

cancer-related events. For these, he credits the dedicated assistance

of his very beautiful wife, Melinda.

* GLORI FICKLING is a longtime Laguna Beach resident who has

written restaurant news and views columns since 1966. She may be reached at 494-4710 or by e-mail at ghoneywest@aol.com.


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