A new restaurant opened this month, Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach in the old Five Feet location and in my opinion, it hit the mark! It gives guests what they want in a dining-out experience today: menu and dining choices. Yes. Some guests are searching for culinary originals while others stick with the classics. Some design the way they eat and drink to their health as "food•aceuticals" while others race around the country as "gastronauts" checking out the latest fad...but there is something both luscious and comfortable at the Broadway for each of us and the positive energy is contagious.
Amar Santana is special to Orange County, CA. His skills impressed the C-Cap Cooking Competition in NY and won him a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in 2001. The LA/OC chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier is proud to support C-Cap and Amar. He did an externship at Aureole and worked his way up the ranks to become sous chef. He traveled across the country, opening other Charlie Palmer restaurants and in 2008 was named Executive Chef at Charlie Palmer's at Bloomingdales South Coast Plaza. It is the dream of most talented chefs to someday have their own restaurant - a fact that savvy restaurant owners understand.
(Manager Bobby Navarro presents us with Roasted Bone Marrow)
The team at Broadway are having fun. They predicted 80 covers and did 300+ for 3 1/2 turns their first real weekend, so who wouldn't be happy? But it's more than that...and I think a study of the menu and their use of space proves that they did it right. They did their homework. They understand their audience. They're new so they have to WOW with exotic offerings and different strokes for different folks. And they have to please the locals - many of whom are classic diners but love to be in the presence of the new energy...So how did they do it? By building a BRAND that provides the guests with plenty of CHOICES - on the MENU, and with a variety of SEATING options.
First, the MENU. They developed 3 options for the diner:
- Small plates (a bakers' dozen)
- Traditional appetizers (6) and entrees (5)
- Chef's Tasting Menu (6 courses)
Brief, but focused - each dish makes a statement.
There is a combination of classics with pedigrees, such as Kobe-style Beef Sliders - add fries paired with a spicy Chipotle aioli; Classics with a hip culinary twist and a distinct flavor enhancer for today's palate, such as hummus with smoked paprikas; and some real conversation WOWs where there's a bit of shock value for Facebook fans and the bloggers, such as the Roasted Bone Marrow cut lengthwise with marinated anchovies. Chef Amar refers to it as "primal brain food," but I say it's simply delicious. The last time I thought about bone marrow was when I had a private tour of the Hearst Castle kitchen, an amazing space that had long heated counter tops for serving giant parties. I discovered beautiful sets of long double scoop silver marrow spoons, to serve the delicacy of that era.
SUCCESS IS IN THE DETAILS
Roasted Heirloom Beet Salads are all over town but Amar's has fresh goat cheese crema, almond crumble, sumac, and argan oil. Argan Oil? Oh this is fun...research - so Amar tells us - he roams the dining room beaming - that it is from a tree in Morocco and he tells us the story of the nuts. Google tells us that there is a cooperative of 18 Moroccan women (The Argan Tree) that produce this nutty flavored oil for culinary use. O.K. so that's why the almond crumble and the sumac gives the dish a citrusy tart flavor and adds a nice red color. I'm excited to keep up to Amar and stay current with a book called the Flavor Bible. It received the James Beard Award and is touted as the "essential guide to culinary creativity" and is based on the wisdom of America's most imaginative chefs. I'm sure Amar will write his own someday. And when at Broadway don't miss the butter. WOW. When I first sat down to table I was struck by the amazing butter that came with the luscious bread service. It was a large ramekin of salted butter (mottled with light and darker yellow specs) served with a pile of assorted freshly grated pepper flakes. Now like many, I don't eat butter much anymore unless it is worth the calories - it was! Found out it is Vermont Cultured Butter with Sea Salt Crystals....and the best I've had lately. Julia would have loved it.
The Broadway BRAND
It's clear that Amar and his Partners, Rich Cadarette and Ahmed Labbate, had a clear vision: "to create an experience of classic modern cuisine of the Americas in a Broadway-inspired theater of culinary art." To this mission, the flat screen over the bar was playing a black and white movie version of Casablanca which was attracting women to the bar and the men were not watching a ball game they were watching the girls. Frank was singing Come Fly with Me in the background and Tony Bennett followed with Embraceable You and the Way You Look Tonight creating a sense of romance and sophistication. It was all topped off with beautiful artwork that transported us to New York.
Where's the best seat in the house? It depends on you: your mood, your preferences, the time of day, whether you're alone or want to be alone... Some choices include the perfect bar or an amazing table in the front window for 10. There is sophisticated banquet seating along the wall for deuces and four tops with a luxurious round table for 8 in a quieter corner, but the piece de resistance is a seat at the Chef's Bar in front of the open kitchen where all the action is. I'm going back to watch the performance although it is visible from every vantage point.
(Pork Belly, Red Cabbage, Curried Squash, and Calvados)
It's catching. His love for all things pork adds fun and flavor to many dishes including the housemade charcuterie, amazing pork chop, soon-to-be legendary bacon-wrapped blue cheese-stuffed dates, the flatbread pizza with bacon and truffle oil, Brussels sprouts with Chinese sausage, steamed mussels with chorizo and incredible Prime NY strip loin. But his attention to farm-fresh, seasonal vegetables, especially this seasons squashes from spaghetti, butternut, and acorn to his use of the onions from chive flowers and poached leeks to black garlic, are intriguing. And I predict we'll see more and more offal as the menu unfolds like the gizzards on the butter-poached Jidori chicken.