Friday, November 5, 2010

Tommy Bahama comes to Laguna Beach: Opening Tomorrow

You may be most familiar with Tommy Bahama as a retailer of men’s island inspired clothing. Whether with their Hawaiian shirts or swim trunks, the Tommy Bahama brand has been all about the island lifestyle. However you may not be aware that they have opened restaurants in a number of their stores, and tomorrow Laguna Beach joins existing Southern California locations in Palm Springs and Newport Beach as the latest Tommy Bahama store and café.

The Laguna Beach location is located in a historic building across PCH from the water; in fact you can see the ocean through the glass front door. If you have been to either of the other locations, you will notice that the Laguna Beach restaurant is significantly smaller and is also more gently priced, to reflect the beach community and the scale of Laguna.

The café is just a couple of steps down from the clothing store in the same storefront and there is a glass window into the open kitchen so diners can see the chefs cooking but not be distracted by kitchen noise. There are large windows out to the street to capture the ocean breezes and views. The restaurant fits unobtrusively in the historic 1930 building it is located in. Kyle Zitek of Tommy Bahama said, “We wanted it to feel like we’ve been here since the building was built.”

The menu is composed of comfort foods that have been elevated and foods inspired by the boardwalk, such as Lobster Corn Dogs. There is also a full bar including their own custom made premium rums (above), made out of pressed sugar cane, making them Agricole Rums. They have four beers on tap, all legit: Old Speckled Hen, Allagash White, Kona Long Board and the Optimizer. The wine list is small and eclectic with varieties such as Gruner Veltliner, Albarino and Tempranillo on the tightly edited list.

I was invited to preview some of the dishes last weekend during a visit to the restaurant. By far my favorite item I ate was “Ahi Tuna Tacos” ($8) which is sushi grade tuna served in a crispy wonton shell with Asian slaw and wasabi-lime infused avocado. The flavors are so clean and the wonton shell is crispy without a hint of grease. The quality of the fish is evident and the sauce was flavorful. This is a must order dish. (below)

Arctic Char is served on a sweet pea risotto with an apple fennel slaw. ($22). The pink fish was cooked nicely with seasonings and had a firm texture. The risotto tasted strongly of the sweet peas, and the apple fennel slaw rounded out the flavor. Fennel can often be too assertive and take over a dish, but thankfully that did not happen here.

The desserts were impressive, both for their size and their tastiness.  I particularly enjoyed both the Triple Chocolate Cake ($10),  which had three types of chocolate and alternated between layers of ganache and cake, and the Old Fashioned Root Beer Float ($8), made with Abita Root Beer (from New Orleans) and Ciao Bella Ice Cream.   The chocolate cake is monster sized; it is available in a half portion for $6.  In general all the desserts are sharing sized; it would take a very hungry person or a true sugar fiend to finish any of them all by themselves.

The small menu is focused on beach and comfort options and care has been taken to use quality ingredients to enhance the experience, whether La Brea Bakery bread in the Shrimp BLT to give the sandwich a crunch while still remaining soft inside, or the custom rums to offer a distinctive cocktail experience. Tommy Bahama serves food til 11 pm and drinks until Midnight, making this an attractive option for a late dinner or drink in Laguna. Yes, it is in a clothing store, but that just gives you an excuse to buy some swim trunks after lunch and head to the beach across the street.

Tommy Bahama Laguna Beach: 400 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach (corner of Laguna Ave). Phone: (949) 760-8686. Website:

Parking available in a metered lot on Glenneyre Street behind the restaurant. ($2/hr, credit cards accepted)

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