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The Gossiping Gourmet: Offbeat dishes will have you hooked

Break of Dawn is a unique culinary experience. It serves only breakfast and lunch, but what a breakfast and what a lunch!

Chef Dee Nguyen is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco who worked his way up the culinary ladder to become executive sous chef at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, in Dana Point. Wanting to spend more time with his family, he decided to go out on his own. In 2006, he opened Break of Dawn.

This small restaurant, located at the back of a mall, distinguishes itself by serving inventive, offbeat food with Asian overtones. About a year and a half ago, he had to relocate because of the construction of a huge apartment complex, but he was lucky enough to find a place just across the parking lot that he was able to renovate.

It has a nice sized covered patio. The theme indoors is repurposed wood, including a long wooden banquette made out of church pews and tables built from sewing machines. Directly above the banquette, a graffiti mural that displays the name of the restaurant in bright colors covers the wall.

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What is really special here is the food. My dining companion selected the corned beef. This dish featured cubes of tender, salty corned beef served with sweet-potato hash, lightly pickled cabbage that was sautéed, and two perfectly poached eggs, all accented with tarragon and a sweet whole-grain mustard sauce.

I had some of the best octopus I have ever tasted. It was tender as could be and served in a big bowl along with a mound of perfect polenta, small, round slices of Lap Xuong (Chinese pork sausage,) fava beans, fennel, pieces of sunchoke and sliced almonds, all resting on a bed of saffron tomato sauce that had a bit of sweetness and a kick. If that wasn’t enough, two more perfectly soft-cooked eggs melted into the sauce.

Small shrimp were bathed in a shellfish sauce and served on wonderful heirloom grits mixed with white cheddar cheese, a bit of coconut, thin slices of taro root and spicy, ground wild-boar sausage.

Lamb ragu was our last dish. It came with excellent spaetzle, sprinkled with feta cheese, and pepitas. Arugula was tossed on top and wilted into the other ingredients, which included cherry tomatoes cut in half, Brussels sprouts and unshelled peas. Sumac added a touch more seasoning, and the dish was finished with a 145-degree egg — which is an egg that is cooked at that temperature in water for a very long time, yet comes out even softer than a poached egg.

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Vegetarians can order the vegetable casserole of heirloom tomatoes, braised eggs, tofu, kaffir lime, seasonal vegetables and mozzarella cheese, or the goat chili, made with morita chili peppers, Mexican chocolate and chickpeas.

The mac and cheese is made with bacon, fried eggs, pumpernickel, Sicilian sausage, short ribs and Parmesan-tomato cream. How about a dish without eggs? Bison sausage comes with sun-dried tomato, peanuts, lemon-garlic confit, spinach and onyx sticky rice.

Break of Dawn has a children’s menu too.

And it serves very good fair-trade organic coffee and Vietnamese coffee. Wine by the glass, cocktails made with soju and other beverages are available.

Most of the portions are quite big, and we did what we often do — we took the rest of our food home.

I can’t wait for my next dining experience at this interesting restaurant.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

BREAK OF DAWN

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Location: 24291 Avenida de la Carlota, P4, Laguna Hills

Hours: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays

Prices: $14 to $18

Wine:

By the glass: $10

Information: (949) 587-9418; breakofdawnrestaurant.com


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