Ocean at Main
222 Ocean Avenue
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
My birthday got a little lost in the shuffle this year due to the birth of my fourth niece, the fantastic Evelyn. She made her much-heralded debut to the world three days before my birthday. So with all of the hospital visits, first car ride, diaper changes, and sleepless nights for her parents, it's understandable that my birthday dinner with my inlaws got pushed to the end of the month. I'm definitely more than happy to share the spotlight with the newest member of our family.
Now that life is getting a bit back to normal for all of us, my inlaws wanted to know where I wanted to go for my delayed birthday dinner. I sent about five or six places I'd like to go to, and my mother in law got back to me very quickly. She demanded that we had to go to Ocean at Main in Laguna. To say that she's a fangirl of Chef Craig Strong is kind of an understatement. So we quickly made reservations at his new restaurant and waited for the big day to arrive.
For those of you unaware of Chef/Owner Craig Strong, (unlike my mother in law, who probably knows what he had for breakfast this morning), he's from San Diego, he's worked in luxury hotels and resorts for the last 25 years, the last nine at the award-winning Studio at the Montage, he currently resides in Laguna Beach with his family, and Ocean at Main, which opened last October, is his first crack at restaurant ownership.
Ocean at Main is located right in the heart of Downtown Laguna and took over the old Taverna spot. They did a physical refresh of the space, which used to be home to the Laguna Beach Federal Savings and Loan way back in the day. Entering the door, there's a ten-seat bar set off to the right, The dining room, with its high ceilings, exposed beams, and white walls exudes a carefully crafted beach elegant atmosphere. There's also a heated patio out to the left, which is where many patrons selected to sit on this gloomy late June evening.
Chef Strong has stated that he wants to serve food like he does at home for his family and friends. These are some very lucky people. His California coastal cuisine will utilize the diverse and freshest ingredients from local purveyors. The dinner menu features starters, salads, entrees, and utilizing the existing pizza oven, five flatbread options. There's also a new bar bites section of the menu, which debuted the day after our visit. Chef Strong was very excited to share it with us, which you will see as you keep scrolling downward.
Laguna is notorious for its awful parking, but Katie and I had no problem parking in the lot right in front of the restaurant. Mind you that this was before the start of the festival season, so parking might be worse now that the Sawdust Festival and Pagent of the Masters has started. Side note, Laguna Beach has released a new app that will hopefully make parking in the city easier, and you could find it here, https://app.lagunabeachparking.net/. Since we had no problem finding our spot, let's see if we had any problems with the food at Ocean at Main on this evening.
Chef Craig was very active in the dining room the evening we were here. I observed him going from table to table. When he got to ours my mother in law, of course, blurted out that I write a restaurant blog. We all talked for a while about how when I joined their family they only liked two restaurants, Mimi's Cafe and BJ's. That led to a conversation about potato skins, and Chef Craig lit up and he said he was going to send something out for us, his version of Potato Skins. What came out did not look like any potato skin I had ever had, but all the components were there, just not like you would expect. Light and airy potato pillows were topped with a creme fraiche and green onion, and then dollops of cheese and bacon dust sprinkled around the plate. Very creative, and it brought the potato skin up to a whole new level. Wish these would make it to the bar bites menu someday.
Both Katie and her mom got the Scarborough Farms Mixed Greens Salad ($10) to start off with. This was not your typical run of the mill house salad. The mixed greens come from Ventura County's very own, Scarborough Farms and are joined with some citrus segments, sliced radish, and nasturtiums, which are edible flowers that packed a peppery punch. The salad is finished off with a very well done honey-white wine vinaigrette. Katie loved this fresh and light salad. Even though it was light, it still was packed with flavor bursts from the citrus, edible flowers, and dressing.
Not in the mood for a salad, I opted to try the Oxtail Risotto ($18) off of the starter section of the menu. This ate more like a main course than a starter though. Filling with its kale puree and Parmigiano-Reggiano boosting the flavor profile of the risotto, but lighter than most risottos I have had. This made the inside of my mouth very happy. For lighter eaters not wanting a full entree, this could easily satisfy you.
My father in law is a soup-aholic. He loves hearing what soup is available at just about every restaurant he visits. He predictably tried this Prawn Potato Soup ($14) here at Ocean at Main. I was a little surprised this came out green, but then I remembered this contains basil. Dennis felt this was one of the best soups he has ever had. There were not any criticisms he could muster, with the nicely tender potato, the slight saltiness of the prawns, and the creamy broth with basil undertones. He called this soup a pure delight, which I'm sure is what he thinks about me marrying his daughter.
Chef Craig had another surprise for us when he sent out these Short Rib Cigars ($14). These are part of the new bar bites section of the menu which debuted the day after we visited. These were part taquito, part lumpia, and one hundred percent delicious. Served in an ashtray with a very well done horseradish creme fraiche, the outside had a great crunch to it, while the inside revealed the delicious short rib. A definite must-try.
Our entrees made their way out next, and the first one out of the kitchen was Lynn's dinner selection, the Pan Seared Halibut ($45). This halibut had Lynn raving. She called it one of the best seafood dishes she has ever had. Very high praise. The halibut had a delicate quality to it. They did not try doing too much with it, letting the natural flavor of the fish shine while allowing the unusual, but tasty rhubarb- tarragon-buttermilk sauce to be added to each diners' desired tastes. I would have used a lot more of the sauce than Lynn. The fish was accompanied by an almond saffron couscous, which I did not try, but Lynn let me know that it rounded out this meal nicely.
Both Katie and her father got the Grilled Salmon ($34) on this evening. Always a daddy's girl I guess. The crisscrossed grill marks made this high-quality salmon aesthetically beautiful, but the subtle technique that Chef Craig used here made this dish a winner. The salmon came in a bouillabaisse sauce, which enriched this cube of seafood. Along with the salmon were a side of shaved fennel, artichokes, and squash blossoms. The squash blossoms were the best of the bunch. Katie called this the perfect meal with the melt in your mouth salmon, the delicate squash blossoms, and the delectable sauce. A meal she will not soon forget.
As is my custom before coming to a restaurant, I studied the menu numerous times zeroing in on what I wanted to have. From my initial pass checking out the menu to when I was sitting in the restaurant ordering from the server, I knew I'd be having the Short Rib ($45) for my birthday dinner meal. The first bite I had was a little on the tough side, but that must have been an apparition because the rest of this was tender and satisfying. I was not so excited about the forbidden rice when it came out, but it worked remarkably well with the short rib and the green curry sauce. Short ribs are almost always delicious, but very few are memorable. This one was unique and it has imprinted a lasting memory for me.
Since my mother in law made sure to mention it was my birthday about 83 times during our visit to Ocean at Main, we got to choose a dessert to try between the four of us. I had heard good things about Craig's Spice Cake ($12), so that would be what we ended up having. I'm not really one for deconstructed desserts, as it's always a challenge getting all of the elements together for one bite. This spice cake was good, but I really liked the banana ice cream with hazelnut crumble, which stole the show for me. A nice and light way to end this stellar meal at Ocean at Main.
After our meal here, my father in law, who has eaten at a lot of great restaurants across the country, proclaimed that this was the best restaurant he's eaten at. My mother in law is never one to back away from over-exaggeration also concurred. Katie, who has eaten almost every meal with me through the almost decade long history of this blog was over the moon about her meal at Ocean at Main. I was a little more reserved for my love for this restaurant, but that doesn't mean I was not in awe. Chef Craig has created one of the better restaurants in Laguna, and dare I say OC. Everything we consumed on this evening was well thought out, executed fantastically, and ended up tasting delicious. Sure, with prices like this it might make you think of this more as a special occasion spot, but consider that you are actually paying twenty dollars less per entree at Ocean at Main than you'd be paying at Chef Craig's last restaurant, the Studio at the Montage. It is like getting a super great deal for the same food, plus he's one of the most personable chefs that you will run across. Definitely, a birthday dinner to remember and one that we hope to relive many times over.
Out of five bank vaults, (because this location used to be the Laguna Beach Federal Savings and Loan, and of course they needed a bank vault), five being best to zero being worst, Ocean at Main gets a very strong 4 bank vaults.
For more information about Ocean at Main, head to their website here: https://www.oceanatmain.com/