cpt-gossipgourmet25Text5G26SAM9 THE GOSSIPING GOURMET
Opening a new restaurant is a huge undertaking and getting everything to run smoothly is not only a labor of love but also a labor of Herculean proportions. Azmin Ghahreman has been equal to the task with the new Sapphire.
Before we did a review, we elected to wait a while to give them time to get their act together.
They had been working and re-working the menu and training their staff since February with lots of dinners for friends and family, trying to get everything just right before the hungry public descended. It seems to have been worth the wait.
The recently transformed Old Pottery Place complex is a wonderful spot for a restaurant. It has all the charm of old Laguna plus a courtyard with an ocean view. In addition, there is a large parking lot in the rear.
The outdoor dining area is focused around a large, inviting firepit. Umbrellas and heaters protect diners from the elements but it can still be a little chilly in the evening.
The welcoming interior still shows the bare bones of the old Pottery Shack. The two dominant elements are wood and glass. The unique bar at one end is a single piece of wood made from the cross-section of a tree root.
There are beautiful hand-crafted wooden tables and three wine alcoves that are decorated with eye-catching interwoven wine barrel staves.
The most distinctive feature of the high ceiling room is the intriguing light fixtures that range from modern to Moroccan to the wildly imaginative shapes created by the glassblower whose gallery is next door.
Comfortable upholstered chairs at the tables and the bar make it pleasant to linger in this warm and appealing room.
Chef Azmin has had an international career and the menu reflects his eclecticism. The appearance of warm cheese rolls was the first hint of good things to come. The cheese is actually in the sourdough, not just on top, and the assertive flavor is addictive.
The global cuisine concept takes us to Asia with duck saté served on a hibachi grill with green mango salad, sweet and sour chili yuzu and lettuce leaves to wrap it all up.
There is Malaysian black pepper shrimp with long beans and garlic chips; or a touch of Japan with the ocean trio of Kampachi sashimi, scallop escabeche and a tuna lollypop.
European influences are found in the veal cheek ravioli with celery root butter and red wine sauce or wild mushroom cappuccino with porcini foam.
There was one puzzling item on the appetizer menu listed as “Must-have” Caesar fondue. It turned out to be nothing more than romaine leaves with the dressing on the side for dipping the leaves. Why the pretentious title?
We are lovers of all food North African, so we were pleased to make the culinary journey with the Tunisian crab warka. Warka is a thin pastry somewhat similar to filo dough but slightly firmer.
A crab cake-like mixture was wrapped in the pastry and fried. The thin and crispy exterior provided a nice crunch against the soft crab stuffing. This was topped with a spicy tomato aioli with harissa (North African hot sauce), which gave it a lovely kick.
For balance, there was a three-bean salad with a preserved lemon dressing which was light and tangy. Another dish with a hint of Morocco was the brown-buttered skate wing in preserved lemon jus.
Preserved lemons are one of the staple ingredients of this region. These are whole lemons preserved in brine for weeks. The skin is then peeled off and used to provide a wonderfully tart and salty flavor; in this case, off-setting the brown buttery skate wing with unspeakably good results.
For those of you who prefer to stay closer to home, Chef Azmin cooks up grilled rib-eye with green peppercorn sauce and scalloped potatoes with gruyere cheese.
The beef tenderloin comes with fingerling potatoes and asparagus while the braised short ribs have creamy mashed potatoes. Lamb lovers will find a sirloin accompanied by creamed spinach and French fries sprinkled with truffle oil.
We had a hard time deciding between the crispy duck leg confit with white polenta and a cherry chocolate mole sauce and the banana curried black cod.
Terry is crazy for confit but black cod is her favorite fish. Elle voted for the cod, although she was sorely tempted by the sound of pan-seared barramundi in herbes de Provence butter.
We settled on the cod, which was presented with a garnish of coconut shreds and raisins. The fish itself was good but not great. It was well-cooked and buttery and the curry sauce was quite pleasant, especially when mixed with the little pot of stone fruit chutney served on the side. It comes with jasmine rice. Sides of vegetables are available if you ask. We had some perfectly steamed fresh asparagus.
We were in the mood for chocolate, so the dessert we ordered was a hazelnut feuillitine with dulce de leche ice cream and a citrus praline sauce.
Although there is no mention of chocolate in the title, our waiter said the pastry was covered with chocolate ganache topped with chocolate mousse. Feuillitine suggests puff pastry, which we couldn’t find.
The ganache tasted like canned frosting and the mousse was so light as to be bland. We won’t go on because we didn’t finish it and when the chef asked us if we liked the dessert, Elle said, “Frankly no.” He immediately whisked it away and said, “Let me bring you something else.” She said, “You choose.”
What he brought us was a Pavlova, the famous Australian meringue dessert with berries. Meringue can often be too hard and too sweet but this one was light as a cloud, which was appropriate because the dessert was simply heavenly.
The fluffy and lightly sweetened meringue was layered with a tart mango coulis and punctuated with fresh berries floating in raspberry puree. Divine!
Though they are still working out a few kinks, Sapphire is turning out some very good food in an appealing environment, so much so that reservations must be made fairly long in advance.