Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sapphire Laguna: A Diamond in Disguise?

It stands out from its PCH location like a beacon of light for the hungry OC foodie masses. Since its opening in February, 2007, Sapphire's "global cuisine" has been silently making waves next to the tranquil shoreline of South Laguna beaches. Despite the laid-back locale, chef/owner Azmin Ghahreman isn't afraid to kick his mashed potatoes up with curry powder, or deliver mushroom soup in a paper coffee cup to be poured into an over-sized bowl tableside. The restaurant's clientele may be stepping out in sandals, but Ghahreman is stepping out in black Gucci boots. His food announces itself on the plate, and in so doing, makes a substantial argument toward the growth of the Orange County dining scene.
Mushroom Soup
My two visits to the refined, yet relaxed eatery have given me ample reason to believe that I may need to amend my belief that Los Angeles is the only eater paradise in Southern California. While the service is not as flawless as it could (and should) be, the food itself is closing in on some of the finer restaurants in LA. The aforementioned mushroom soup starter is light on the palate and comforting to the soul, and the bacon-wrapped figs that no longer appear on the menu, are craveably good -- the perfect contrast of sweet and savory. The complimentary Asiago cheese rolls, served soft and warm, are noteworthy as well. They are worth sacrificing stomach space for.

Entrees read complex on the page, but are well-executed. The too oft-dry pork chop is done justice here, as is the lamb sirloin, accentuated with the aforementioned curry mashed potatoes on a recent visit. The menu changes frequently to reflect seasonal offerings, but the popular Hawaiian Style Steamed Barramundi with Ginger-Shitake Mushrooms, Cilantro, Green onion, and Shoyu has yet to retire from the menu. The flaky white fish is served with the tail and skin still on -- a presentation that is admittedly off-putting for the delicate diner, but is immediately forgiven after one taste of the succulent fish and its Asian-inspired accompaniments. The cilantro packs a surprising punch to the subtle ginger-flavored broth that is light on the tongue, and for the image-conscious lady, light(er) on the calories as well.

Hawaiian Style Steamed Barramundi

Reservations are strongly encouraged, and diners should indicate their preference for indoor or outdoor seating. Sapphire may be a "gem," but that doesn't mean their heat lamps have magical powers. Bring a sweater and a lackadaisical attitude toward the noise of PCH traffic, or make a reservation for the stylish space inside. Either way, rest assured that the food will be good. Diamond-in-the-rough (of OC) good? Perhaps. I may need to take a few more bites before I'm satisfied with my final answer.


Alessandra said...

I want to go on an eating-vacation of the greater SoCal area. Diana, will you be my tour guide?

Jennifer said...

OK, I'll be the first to admit...the fish tail in the pic? It scares me a little.

Diana H. said...

I know - it scared me too! But I just lobbed that sucker right off, placed it on my bread plate and went in for the kill. The verdict? Fish is good.