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Laguna Beach is Southern California's premier seaside destination, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. A year-round retreat for art lovers, nature enthusiasts and beach goers, Laguna Beach features seven miles of soft sand and surf.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The stars are shining in South Laguna

I’ve been eager to visit Starfish Laguna ever since it opened this past June. Finally this week I was able to drop in for a visit. Local restaurateur Nancy Wilhelm, whose restaurant, Tabu Grill, remains as popular as ever, recently opened her new “AmerAsian” fusion concept, Starfish, in the Aliso Creek Shopping Center across from Montage Laguna Beach. The new restaurant is completely different than Tabu, yet has that distinct Nancy Wilhelm flair. When you walk through the front doors you are instantly transformed into another world. One of rich dark corridors, amber glowing candles and Asian-inspired art. Part lounge with a large horseshoe bar and part restaurant with indoor and patio dining, the cuisine at Starfish features summer rolls, pho, udon noodles, Bhutanese rice, wok sauté, ribs, and other American renditions of classic Asian cuisine.

The menu at Starfish was created as a pick-and-choose-as-you-go menu. It is also purposefully made for sharing, so I was glad I brought my foodie friend along to enjoy the meal with me. There is no wrong or right order in which to make your selections, so we jumped around the menu as hunger led us.

When we arrived, we were starving and started off the meal with the Lemongrass skewers off of the Street Satay section of the menu. The idea of ‘Street Satay’ originated in Indonesia, and are meat skewers grilled over charcoal (These were suggested by several of our Facebook and Twitter followers). The Lemongrass skewers are made with tender filet mignon and marinated in lemongrass. The skewers were hearty, yet not an overwhelming way to start the meal.

Spicy Lemongrass Marinated Filet Mignon

We followed the Street Satays with an item from the Opium Bites section of the menu, which are similar to appetizers. Our first choice was the Saigon Spring Rolls, stuffed with tiger prawns, vermicelli rice noodles, grilled asparagus, mint, Thai basil, cilantro, carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts. These rolls were out of this world fantastic, like a virtual herb garden in your mouth. A tip for when you order these…be sure to drag your roll completely through the roasted peanut hoisin dipping sauce to add a punch of spice.

Saigon Spring Rolls

Next we jumped to the Bamboo Forest section of the menu, which are vegetarian dishes (Though if you wish to add a meat protein or tofu, you can at an additional cost.) At the recommendation of our server we chose the Wild Mushroom Garlic Noodles. This was the kind of noodle dish I gravitate toward. It was filled with veggies, including mushrooms and tomatoes and topped with fresh chives and sprouts. It was filling without giving you that overstuffed feeling.

Wild Mushroom Garlic Noodle made with shiitake, shimeji, king mushrooms, vine ripened tomato, yellow chives and sweet basil.

After the noodles, we jumped back to the Opium Bites to try the Mauna Kai Ahi Poké. Again Starfish did not disappoint with the freshness and flavors of this dish.

Mauna Kai Ahi Poké made with yellow fin tuna, ripened avocado, tobiko caviar, scallions, pine nuts, truffle oil, taro chips and micro shiso.

Throughout our meal we enjoyed two of Starfish's wildly popular cocktails, The Starfish Cooler and the Imperial Garden. What makes both of these drinks unique are the fresh muddled herbs, vegetables and fruit. There was no question that our entire meal at Starfish was worthy of a return visit, but these cocktails alone made me want to clear my calendar and head back for Happy Hour.

Starfish Cooler: Hangar One Mandarin Vodka, muddled kumquat and mint, yuzu with a splash of soda and float of Thatcher’s Blood Orange liqueur. Imperial Garden: Hendricks Gin, muddled cucumber, basil, mint, and coriander, yuzu, and a soda water float.

For me, no meal is complete until you have dessert. So we ordered the profiteroles. These are exactly what you would expect from traditional profiteroles, except with extra chocolate on the side!

With a diverse menu that is perfect for sharing and a setting that is rich, you'll find a rich dining experience at Starfish Laguna.

30832 S Pacific Coast Hwy. Laguna Beach, CA
949.715.9200 (reservations)
949.715.8205 (carryout orders)

Bar open at 4pm Daily and Dinner at 5pm
Open Until Midnight Friday and Saturday

by Anne-Marie S.

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