Selanne Steak Tavern
1464 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Writing this post is pretty bittersweet. As I'm starting to write this, the LA Kings are about to win their second Stanley Cup in the last three years. In this day and age in sports, that almost constitutes a dynasty. My beloved Anaheim Ducks were sent packing in a great seven game series with the Kings about a month ago. The end of that series, also meant the end of the line for the greatest player to ever lace up the skates for the Ducks, Teemu Selanne. He had announced this was going to be his last season, and he would be retiring. Lucky for all of us in OC, his legacy will live on with the opening of his steak restaurant in Laguna Beach. Would it live up to the high standards he has set on and off the ice? We will soon find out.
When Katie asked me where I would like to go for my birthday dinner, there was only one place we both had in mind, Selanne Steak Tavern. Opened in the old French 75 spot, this restaurant has been winning rave reviews from just about everyone that has eaten here. Not just relying on name recognition alone, Selanne's is co-owned by Teemu's neighbor, Kevin Pratt, who along with Teemu has put together a great culinary team at this restaurant. Manning the kitchen is Chef Joshua Severson, formerly of St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point. He's created a menu that is of course heavy on steak options, but also since this restaurant is close to the beach, it also features some seafood offerings for non-steak eaters. Also of note is the Pastry Chef here, Heather Fisher, who has gotten some notice for her fantastic desserts. I was eagerly awaiting our dinner here.
Katie had made reservations for 5PM on a recent Sunday. Selanne Steak is only open for dinner, starting at that time. When we had walked in the door, there was already a good amount of people around the small bar area, and hovering around the hostess stand, waiting to be seated. I had never been to French 75 when it was here, but from what I have heard, this restaurant is much more vibrant and lighter than its predecessor. There are four different areas of this restaurant, which was built as a single family home in the 30's; the bar area, private wine rooms, the main dining room, and the popular patio in the front of the restaurant. We were seated next to the bar, which was a great place for us, so we could watch the hockey game from our table. From this vantage point, Selanne Steak seemed to be beach elegant, but not overly stuffy. The restaurant is not overly decorated with a plethora of Selanne memorabilia. There is one case entering the tavern area which houses a replica Stanley Cup and his numerous Olympic medals, including the one he won at this years Olympics in Sochi. It was now time to see if the food here at Selanne Steak would take the gold.
As is the custom here on our blog, we always like to take a shot of the bread basket, and this one was pretty unique at Selanne's. It had a lot of varieties of bread in it. Katie was partial to the pretzel bread, while I really enjoyed these more traditional rolls. Wish they had asked if we wanted more, but maybe they saw the way we scarfed these down, and wanted to save more for the other guests.
None of the appetizers on the menu really caught our eye, so we both went for salads to start. Katie selected the salad that I would usually order, the Prosciutto Caesar ($12). As soon as this hit the table, we both knew this wasn't your average, run of the mill Caesar salad. This one of course included hearts of romaine, Parmesan cheese, and croutons, but it also featured a black garlic aioli, smoked prosciutto, and white anchovy. Not only was this presentation wonderful, but this salad won the praises of Katie as well. There were equal parts of salty and peppery notes in this salad, there was ample dressing, and the produce was exceptionally fresh. The only drawback to this salad, was that it required a lot of cutting, to help get it into bite size pieces, but other than that, it was great.
When I don't order a Caesar, I usually end up with a Wedge ($12), like I did on this night. Again, the presentation here required a lot of cutting, but I liked the look of this salad. This wedge had all of the components of a typical wedge salad, but they made it their own by tweaking little things. They used baby iceberg, instead of the typical quartered iceberg, they used heirloom tomatoes, instead of diced ones, and this salad included a bacon foam, along with some bacon bits. The salad was then finished off with a great dressing made from Point Reyes blue cheese. This salad had a lot of smokiness to it, from the bacon bits and the well made bacon foam. There were not too many tomatoes on here, but they got just the right amount of dressing on here. A very well done wedge.
It's funny, when we were driving to Selanne's Steak, Katie had mentioned maybe trying one of their fish dishes, or going with the chicken. As soon as she asked the waitress for her recommendation, Katie was all about this Beef Short Rib ($34). This ten ounce, Brandt Farms short rib was served with a white polenta and a Gouda fondue. The meat on this plate was as tender as could be, with a great flavor to it from the mild Gouda fondue and the natural juiciness of the beef. This was the perfect size for Katie, as she did not feel overly stuffed by finishing this. The polenta kind of had a cheesy grits kind of feel to it, which worked well here. I could tell it was pretty hard for Katie to share even a few bites of this with me, as she wanted it all to herself.
If I had a quarter for every time that I pulled out my phone and showed someone a picture of this Ribeye ($46), I would have enough quarters for this one and another one. This 14 ounce ribeye was probably one of the best ones I have ever had. Now even two weeks later, I still find myself marveling at it. I always love the flavor of ribeye, but usually there's so much fat on them. This was not the case with this one. Very good beef to fat ratio, and the chef's truffle butter and borelaise negated the need for any extra sauces. It was cooked to my desired medium rare, and was rendered almost fork tender. Good sized, and I could tell this was a prime cut of beef. It was served simply with a mushroom of some sort and a single pearl onion, so the ribeye could be the star of this plate. Simply amazing, and worth the price.
Not to ruin the suspense for the rest of this review, but the Selannes Mac and Cheese ($13) was the only minor misstep of our evening. Not that it was bad, but we just expected a little more. It's made with Rustichella d'Abruzzo pasta, which I learned is a brand of pasta that has been around since 1924, and is known for it's denser and superior texture. We had no problem with the elbow shaped pasta here, which stood up very well to the five cheese fondue and bread crumbs. I just expected a little more pop from the cheese sauce, which had a good creaminess to it, but was kind of boring after the first bite. I'd probably go with a potato side or maybe the risotto on my next visit.
We decided to splurge with two desserts on this night, the first of which was Katie's choice, Pie in a Jar ($10). I learned it's very hard to take a decent picture of desserts in jars. Sorry, I did not get a good shot from the side, as I was preoccupied by my dessert. This jar was filled with mixed berries, rhubarb, vanilla bean ice cream, and a brown sugar streusel. I'm not really a fresh berry lover, but Katie enjoyed this dessert very much. She liked that it was not overly sweet, there was plenty of ice cream, and the berries were farmers market fresh.
Pastry Chef Heather Fisher knocked this dessert out of the park, and it's definitely worth having three pictures here. This Monkey Bread ($12) could be the best dessert we have had in a long time. For those of you that do not know what monkey bread is, it's little balls of sticky buns rolled in butter, cinnamon, and sugar, then stuck together. At Selanne's it's then topped with caramel pecans, banana ice cream, a caramel sauce, and then garnished with caramelized bananas. Wow, just like it pained Katie to share bites of her short rib, I was very greedy with this dessert. It was that good. The banana did not come through as much as I would have liked in the ice cream, but the rest of this dessert was great. The monkey bread portion was nicely baked, the caramel sauce was not overly sweet, and the bananas almost fooled me into thinking this dessert was good for me. I am actually considering coming back here for just this dessert sometime, it was just that good.
If you have made it to the end of this review, and have not made a reservation to go to Selanne Steak and Tavern yet, go do it now. Having this restaurant in our own backyard is a real blessing. The little touches that they have made here, as well as the food is definitely worth your time. They even had mints and a thank you card placed inside our car when it was brought from the valet. I'd expect nothing less from a restaurant that has Teemu's name on it. There are just a few things here that would make this restaurant even better. When you make a reservation, they should ask where you would prefer to sit. We were in the louder bar area, which is fine for us because we wanted to watch the game, but I could see how some people would rather sit in a the quieter dining room. It worked out fine for us, but I can see how this might rub some people the wrong way. Also, they could have had a few more chicken or pasta options on the menu, but I get it, this is a steak focused restaurant, and these are some great steaks at Selanne's. The service we encountered on this night was very cordial and relaxed. The staff was right on top of everything, the busboys were some of the hardest working ones we have seen in a long time. Eating at Selanne Steak Tavern has even softened the blow of the Kings eventually winning this years Stanley Cup (almost).
Out of five race cars, (because Teemu is a big auto racing fan), five being best to zero being worst, Selanne Steak Tavern gets 4.5 race cars.
For more information about Selanne Steak Tavern, go to their website here: http://www.selannesteaktavern.com/