Nick’s Laguna Beach Restaurant: Sometimes, giving someone a second chance makes all the difference…
A while back, I ventured into a restaurant I had never been to and fell in love with the decor and the idea of what the experience awaiting me might be. The food is the kind that seeps into your mouth and leaves a lasting impression – but – the experience hadn’t quite measured up. Alas, and I rarely use the word “alas”, I knew it was worth a second chance. Allow me to first walk you through the restaurant. Entering from the alley of Peppertree Lane in Laguna Beach, as you pass by stores that invigorate your senses (i.e., homemade gelato, La Rue de Chocolat, and the sound of the crowd sitting on benches, talking and feeling particularly indulgent), you arrive to the end of Peppertree Lane and find yourself facing Pacific Coast Highway. To your right is a local pub and just past that is Nick’s.
Nick’s upon entering is ALWAYS busy. Knowing I was on the way, I was greeted by the phenomenal General Manager, Adam Castinetti, and the smiles of the gals at the front of the house. Up the steps and into the restaurant, we are taken to the patio where we get the corner table: street-side, and beautiful. Today Mother Nature provided us all luxurious weather. Once seated, our server Julie arrives. I should take a moment to emphasize that returning to a restaurant for a “Take 2” can be somewhat lackluster because no Food Writer wants to be the one anyone has to please. You simply want a restaurant to deliver in terms of quality, value, and ambiance. That said, as Julie took a moment to say hello, I watched as she left us. Every single one of her tables was greeted with the same warm demeanor. I recognized this happening throughout the restaurant with all of the servers (upon realizing it’s not possible for everyone to be on their best behavior, this was a VERY assuring sign that service here had taken a turn for the best).
Though late, we still managed to arrive in time for breakfast and as we perused the morning menu, Julie came back by with water and took our drink order. We order a Bloody Mary and a coffee. While sipping ice cold water, I sit back in that outside patio corner and begin to notice the meticulous care put into the decor. The slate-like tables, the clean and contemporary stemware, the perfectly artful worn brick walls, the tones and colors, the silverware, the open atrium-like roof over the bar, the use of space – everything had been given careful thought. I appreciate that.
As the roar of the crowd heightens, the restaurant is at capacity (at 11:15am!) and as I enjoy the people watching, my Bloody Mary arrives with an insatiable deep-fried blue-cheese stuffed olive (oh, you heard me!), salted rim, and a harness of accompanying citrus to lure me in. Sold. One sip and — !!!! This is not light on the subtext. This is a definitely drink to nurse! Julie returns to take our order. My guest chooses the Short Rib and Poached Eggs with Nick’s twist on Eggs Benedict with their own succulent “Hollandaise” sauce and I order the Spinach Omelet, egg whites only with Serrano Chiles added. I opt for their applewood smoked bacon and we both get the bowl of fresh farm-to-table fruit (mine is minus the melon). I sip on my Bloody Mary and the freshly poured ice water beside me. As we await our order, we engage in a conversation with the couple to our left. Parents of 3, they take their “date” time and come here every week. They were lovely and said if they could, they’d eat at Nick’s every day. That’s a testament to the restaurant. As we talk, Adam comes by to check on us, say hello, and soon after our plates of delicious fare arrive. He also greets several of the other tables – that kind of personal service is a mannerism always makes restaurants worth frequenting. I take one look at the Short Ribs and without hesitation, pick up my fork and sneak a bite. The sauce with a hint of Saffron (I think), the perfect texture and moist divinity of the short ribs, the eggs cooked and prepared with care – honestly, this is my new favorite breakfast. The meat falls off of the fork; the taste – explosive. Now the true test, my modified omelet with Serrano chiles. I press the tips of my fork in and and layer by layer, beautiful color is revealed: the egg whites, the deep green of the spinach, the beckoning green of the chile, the melted cream of the chèvre cheese. Yes, I have found an omelet worth eating every last bite of. The generous cut of applewood smoked bacon cooked to perfection and the bowl of berries and apple is a happy culinary marriage.
As the final bites are polished off, plates removed, and a fresh latte’ in its stead placed on the table, we had a pleasant surprise. We have the great pleasure of meeting Luis Valladares, the Director and Creator behind the menus; A man incredibly kind and full of story that lends to the culinary innovation at Nick’s. He tells us of a trip he’s going to take in search of a spice to bring back to the restaurants, shares his love of food and tells us how he grew up with cooking beside his mother playing a pivotal role. We share a wonderful conversation with Luis and Adam, and this time, I have to gleefully admit that Nick’s was worth the “Take 2”. We pause long enough to order the final polisher – the Fresh Peach Cobbler. Fresh and warm with that “fresh from your mother’s oven” kind of feel, we take a few bits and thrown in the towel. Our bellies are happily full.
As for the restaurant, while I never had a complaint about the cuisine, the service in question has vastly improved. I’d like to thank Adam and the owners of Nick’s for encouraging me to return in addition to Luis and his crew, including Carlos Murillo, who are amazing at what they do. The food prepared and the way in which it is presented is beautiful. I’m glad I came back … I encourage you to try every meal at Nick’s. It is a culinary gem in Laguna Beach.
440 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
110 North El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA.