La Sirena Grill heralds fine Mexican cuisine

DINING OUT

The unmistakable aromas of delicious cooking are the first appealing

note one encounters when approaching La Sirena Grill, the spacious

cornerstone restaurant at Aliso Creek shopping center. When guests

take their first bites of this delectable Mexican cuisine, the oohs

and aahs that follow are final testimony to the busy lineup of hungry

guests awaiting orders from the sizable display kitchen.

The inspired creation of enterprising Scott Cortellessa, La Sirena

Grill was originally conceived exactly four years ago on sleepy

Mermaid Street Downtown. The name is a delightfully accurate Spanish

translation of the fantasy fish. The original little cafe with its

miniature kitchen and small stand-up bar, became an instant hit with

locals who recognized the fresh tastes of the superb Cortellessa

family recipes and the happily minuscule prices. Soon, to accommodate

increased business, little al fresco tables sprouted up. So, it was

small wonder when, less than three years later in March, 2002,

Cortellessa launched this second location which more than quadruples

the size of the continuing Mermaid Street locale.

Myriad multi-paned windows surrounding this attractive venue

immediately beckon to indoor and outdoor seating at simple pine

tables matched to ladder back chairs. With the added attraction of a

beer and wine license, the enticing bill of fare offers a dozen

intriguing categories. Start with a basket of tri-color tortilla

chips and dip the crisp curled triangles into cups of tangy pico de

gallo and the most memorably delectable guacamole you will ever

savor. Then peruse the inviting menu commencing with the interesting

gold-backed listing of Specialty Plates.

The Sirena Plate features grilled pasilla chiles with

herb-marinated bell peppers, onions and cheese bedded on corn

tortillas then topped with chopped pico de gallo. Succulent blackened

shrimp heads the list of half a dozen embellishments ranging in price

from $6.75 to $9.95. Included are carne asada, chicken, carnitas,

seafood plus tasty grilled vegetarian toppings. Similar ingredients

are offered for Enchiladas Plates and Taco Plates, both served with

beans, rice and a choice of red or green salsa. The Taquitos Plate at

$7.50 comprises a trio of crisp chicken cylinders sided with sour

cream, guacamole, queso fresco, rice and pinto beans. You may order

any of these singly for a mere $2.

The impressive choice of ingredients for tacos, prepared with

fresh corn tortillas, cabbage and mild salsa, includes blackened

shrimp, salmon and albacore plus carnitas (shredded pork), marinated

grilled chicken and carne asada (grilled marinated steak). These are

incredibly priced from $1.85 to $3. With the addition of

herb-marinated vegetables, similar fillings distinguish burritos made

with flour tortillas and tortas sandwiching lettuce, tomatoes,

guacamole, jack cheese, jalapenos and aioli. Quesadilla aficionados

are sure to flip over the basic filling of sauteed mushrooms, onions,

jack cheese and chipotle paste on giant flour tortillas generously

folded over any of the above and sided with succulent mounds of that

superlative guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.

A big bowl of tortilla soup topped with pinto beans, cabbage,

queso fresco and fresh salsa is all of $2.25. Add 25 to 50 cents for

meat, chicken or pork, $1 more for blackened albacore or salmon.

Salads are dinner size presentations. An avocado-lime toss of greens,

avocado, tomatoes, onions and cheese is $6.25 going to $9.95 for

blackened salmon. As this is definitely a family favorite small fry

have their own little menu featuring taquitos, tacos, burritos,

quesadillas at a kid-priced $1.50 to $3.50.

* 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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