Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Whichever Fork You Choose, Make Sure It Goes by Here

Two Left Forks
34212 Pacific Coast Highway
Dana Point, CA 92629

It has become a tradition that before the chaos of Christmas, that we go out with Katie's parents to a nice dinner, just the four of us. It's become a nice respite from the craziness that I experience at work, the running around that we do on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and the last minute gift buying that we inevitably have to do every year. Last year we went the Italian route, but this year I scoured my list of restaurants to hit up and ended up picking one that I've been wanting to try for awhile now, Two Left Forks in Dana Point.

Two Left Forks took over the space vacated by Tavern On the Coast in early March of last year. They are located just past where PCH and Del Prado split, and across the street from the new BevMo. Two Left Forks comes to us from the mother and son duo, Georgia and Stefan Andersen, who also own and operate the Hotel Laguna. They wanted to fulfill a dream to run a restaurant outside of the hotel, and when this spot became available, they jumped at it. They did not have to look too far for an executive chef to run the kitchen, as they tapped the Hotel's Executive Chef, Robert Hines to run the show at Two Left Forks. They feel this will be a bigger stage for his innovative cuisine, and a place where he will be able to bring the food here to an even higher level of culinary greatness. I have to admit I was intrigued.

We got here on a cold and rainy Wednesday evening and were met with a full and lively restaurant. The long and narrow restaurant is broken up into three parts. A pretty cramped bar area, an indoor dining space, which allows for glimpses into the very active kitchen, and then an enclosed patio, which overlooks the cars whizzing by on PCH. We were seated in a comfy booth, in the pretty loud indoor dining room. The clientele here on this evening seemed to be middle to late aged people, out for an evening celebrating the holiday season.

Chef Robert's menu is divided up into small plates, appetizers meant for sharing, salads, vegetarian offerings, and main entrees. There seems to be a little bit of everything listed here, so finding something that you like should not be a problem. Prices for entrees range from $16 to $32, which did not seem too outrageous to me. Let;s see if our lofty expectations were met on this evening, by checking out the food.

Right after sitting down, Katie was immediately drawn to this Crab Stack ($12), which was listed under the shareable plates part of the menu. Katie did not want to share too much of this. When the OC Register's Restaurant Reviewer, Brad Johnson came here, he said of that this appetizer was, "a beautiful reminder of the 80's". I guess this in reference to a time when tall food was a thing, but we all loved this retro look, which photographed beautifully. This tower was layered with mango, cucumber, avocado, sweet Thai cilantro, and of course fresh crab. It was surrounded by a pool of vinaigrette. Katie loved this, as it really let each item shine in its own right. The crab was really fresh, and the mango really came through in major flavor boosts, which made Katie's mouth happy.

Katie's mom Lynn went with the Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad ($9) on this evening, much to the chagrin of her husband. Katie's dad apparently has some deep rooted animosity towards this red vegetable, which a few years of therapy might help cure. Lynn loved this salad, which also included spinach and tatsoi, candied walnuts, and a wonderful citrus vinaigrette. The flavors and textures worked well together and kept her entertained while consuming this salad. She'd definitely get this again.

I'm a Caesar Salad ($8) fiend, and this is one of the best I've had in a long while. A pretty traditional presentation here, it had the chopped romaine, shredded parmesan, herbed croutons, a crispy baked parmesan crisp, and a very tasty house-made Caesar dressing. What made this for me was the very fresh produce, the inclusion of plenty of cheese, and the liberal amount of dressing used here. My only gripe would be that the parmesan crisp could have been bigger, but that's the only thing I have in the way of a critique with this very good salad.

Entrees were up next, and we'll start with Katie's, Roasted Chicken Breast ($20). I usually shy away from chicken in restaurants, due to the fact that a lot of places over cook it, but that was not the case with this poultry at Two Left Forks. This bird was tender and juicy and was made even better with the well done brown butter beurre blanc sauce. Katie was also a fan of the truffle risotto, which was not overpowering with truffle but had just the right balance achieved. Rounding out this plate was some roasted mushrooms and white asparagus.

Proving that Chef Robert could do seafood, just as well as chicken, Lynn ordered up this Local Halibut ($27). This halibut came with the same brown butter beurre blanc sauce that was used on the chicken dish. The fish came out nice and seared, with an enjoyable flakiness to it. I liked the parmesan risotto that came with this, better than the truffle version that came with the chicken. The garlic spinach was good and garlicky, which is always a plus in my book.

Dennis is a real meat and potatoes kind of man, and lucky for him, both were offered on the same plate. This Grilled Petite Filet ($30) was called one of the better ones he has had recently, and I know he means it because he did not offer me any. The beef was accompanied by a veal demi glaze, which was used pretty sparingly, but no complaints from Katie's dad. This filet was joined on the plate by potato gratin and grilled asparagus, both of which won praise from Dennis, who claimed that this was a well-rounded plate, and one he would have again.

I don't order lamb nearly enough, and I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass me by at Two Left Forks. This Pistachio Crusted Rack of Lamb ($30) helped confirm my love of lamb. I was a little disappointed by the serving size of this, but it ended up filling me up rather nicely. The lamb here was not very gamey and ate more like a good prime rib. Yes, there were a few bits of fat included here, but I'm not averse to the fat, which is just extra flavor. I did not get a lot from the pistachio on this, but the self-named Robert sauce that came with this picked up the slack. The garlic spinach and the mashed potatoes were also pretty solid.

Dessert time at Two Left Forks and we went with two to split between the four of us. Kate and her mom selected the TLF Espresso Tart ($8). Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of coffee, so I was out of this dessert right away. This was made up of a cocoa cookie dough tart, with an espresso creme brulee, orange brandy espresso, chocolate cream, and a hot chocolate shot on the side. I did not get the sense that either Katie or her mom were wowed by this. The same held true when I tried the Banana Butterscotch ($8). The description of this had me very excited; banana Brulee, a flour-less chocolate cake with butterscotch mousse, but I was let down by this. I thought it should have been better based on the ingredients here. The chocolate needed to be a little more pronounced, and I wished more flavor from the banana. I think I'm kind of over deconstructed desserts now. It's too hard to get everything in one bite.

With the exception of the desserts, I was pretty impressed with Two Left Forks. The food was pretty traditional but prepared very well, and everything tasted great. I'm definitely intrigued by their cod entree and their good looking burger, but those will have to wait for future visits. Service was pretty stoic but professional. We did not really get the vibe that the management was very hands on with guests, but their staff had things handled, so there was no reason for them to be. Two Left Fork is named this because they figure that when a diner sees two forks in a place setting, it means an extra special meal is on its way. Although this is not true in some cases, it's definitely true here.

Out of five vampires, (because the setting for the Twilight movies was set in Forks, Washington, and that movie included lots of vampires from what I'm told), five being best to zero being worst, Two Left Forks gets 3.5 vampires.

For more information about Two Left Forks, head to their website here:

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