The Gossiping Gourmet: Menu change makes a big 'splash'

Even on the June "gloomiest" of evenings, it's still beautiful to sit in Splashes and watch the waves crashing on the beach at the descriptively named Surf & Sand Resort. Dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows look out to the Pacific. On our chilly night, the interior is warmed by a fireplace surrounded by attractive, glass tile work. A dramatic modern light fixture of wavy glass sheets echoes the theme of the sea. Soft beige walls and wood elements provide a background for comfortable, contemporary indoor-outdoor wicker furniture. On a warmer evening, you can dine on the terraces, as did several guests, who we presume were visiting from Scandinavia.

The menu has changed completely since our last visit and is definitely more sophisticated, although the dress remains very casual. New chef Jeff Armstrong is putting out some interesting and tasty creations. On Mondays and Wednesdays, you can sample a number of different items on the menu by selecting the special Chef's Choice called "flights and bites" that features two small appetizers, three entrée samplings and a simple dessert, all for $45 or $60 with wine. This is a more affordable way to experience this rather expensive menu. The gorgeous view doesn't come cheap.

A tall wrought-iron cone stuffed with bread and crackers comes to the table with a small crock of zesty sundried tomato olivada, which we nibbled while awaiting our first appetizer — grilled shrimp in a chipotle, jicama, saffron, yogurt broth. Three good-sized shrimp were nicely seasoned and grilled, then served in a very unique broth with lovely hints of orange and saffron. The yogurt added a slight creaminess and a touch of acidity, while the shredded jicama provided sweetness and crunch. The aftertaste developed quite a bit of heat from chipotle pepper, which intensified all the other flavors.

We were intrigued by the sound of sweet corn ravioli, as we had never encountered ravioli filled with corn. As it turns out, maybe there's a good reason why. The pureed corn filling is too delicate a flavor to stand up to pasta, much less enhance it. The sauce, a very thin pistou (basil sauce), didn't add much flavor, either. However, the very sweet corn kernels sprinkled on the top provided a lot of taste. This dish was just too subtle for our palates.

Five nicely browned buttery scallops nestled beside a faro "risotto." (Faro is an ancient cereal grain belonging to the wheat family but with more protein. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a dense, chewy texture. ) The juicy scallops were bathed in a delicious sweet orange glaze with an undertone of ginger. The simply prepared faro was kicked up a notch with the addition of the avocado mash that was served on the side. This creamy little puree was so good that we stirred it into the grains. The final fillip, reflecting the flavor of the sauce, was some orange segments that had been macerated in liqueur.

Dessert chef Ryan Velilla turns out some inventive takes on classic desserts such as cheesecake with pink peppercorn-braised pineapple and rum caramel sauce. The cheesecake was not overly sweet; rather, it was cheesy with a soupçon of sour. The bits of pineapple had been braised in a delicious rum caramel, and it was accompanied by a creamy avocado sorbet. More mundane but quite nice is chocolate pot de crème with a lovely raspberry topping that had an intense raspberry flavor without being overly sweet. The chocolate pudding was silky smooth and left a lingering taste of dark chocolate on the tongue. The only caveat is that it is not always on the menu.

We would like to welcome Chef Armstrong to Laguna and suggest to locals who haven't been to Splashes lately to join the tourists, who are benefiting from the talents of this creative chef, and enjoy an excellent dinner in a spectacular setting.

If You Go

What: Splashes at the Surf & Sand Resort

Where: 1555 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When:

Breakfast: 7 to 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday

Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Brunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday

Prices:

Appetizers: $9 to $19

Entrées: $28 to $42

Desserts: $9

Wine:

Bottles: $22 to $775

By the glass: $7.50 to $20

Corkage Fee: $20

Information: (949) 376-2779 or http://www.surfandsandresort.com.

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