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The lemon-mascarpone cheesecake

Flavor Splash

by Jamie Gwen | Photo: Andrea Bricco | Modern Luxury Orange County magazine | August 29, 2013

Beachfront dining is hard to resist—crashing waves, the ocean air, scallops. Sweet, raw, luscious scallops, thinly sliced for a toothsome bite, marinated like ceviche in limejuice, with pink peppercorns and local grapefruit. With a gorgeous sunset and a cocktail in hand, I feel like I’m in heaven. But I’m really at Splashes, the signature restaurant at Laguna’s Surf & Sand Resort. And at least some of that euphoria can be credited to the new chef, David Fuñe. He’s using fresh, local ingredients, and you should visit this dining establishment, even if you aren’t a hotel guest.

Upon your arrival, a friendly host will greet you, and then you’ll be whisked away to your table with a view. The ones nearest the floor-to-ceiling windows, which open up wide on warm evenings, are certainly the most prized.

I begin my dining experience with a cocktail from Splashes’ inviting libations list. And I choose a concoction that couldn’t be more appropriate for a foodie living on the California Riviera—La Bonne Vie. Vodka (I’m a Goose girl, but you can choose your fave), St. Germain (the elderflower liqueur from the Alps), grapefruit juice and a Champagne topper are the perfect combination to set the mood.

A quick look at the menu proves intriguing, but the chef has me hooked the moment his sundried tomato-infused tapenade arrives with a basket of crisp flatbread and fluffy rolls. The spread is bold and sweet—not overly salty. Then comes an amuse of smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and ginger—the Asian influence subtly infusing the smoke-filled fish. And now, my palate is ready.

My companion and I order a few appetizers for sharing, and the ahi tuna tartare is a hit. It’s a magnificent plate of pumpernickel lavosh that adorns the sushi-grade seafood, which is mixed simply with a hint of Sriracha for a bit of heat, fried capers, micro greens and edible nasturtiums for garnish—incredible. And then there’s the carrot and corn shrimp bisque—a heavenly concoction. The flavors of carrot and corn are perfectly matched, with a good use of shrimp stock for the broth, all garnished with sweet cornbread dust. It’s a mighty addictive harmony. The only miss of the night is the fried Brussels sprouts and artichoke starter with an heirloom tomato and red pepper vinaigrette. I love the sauce, but the dish feels a tad oily.

The wine list entices us with a bevy of nectars—reds, whites and bubbly from some impressive branded bottles, and a few rare finds, as well. We choose a Gary Farrell Pinot Noir, which pairs well with our next course: diver scallops made irresistible by the intense aroma of the dark fruit, particularly cherries and plums, that bathe the mollusk in a red wine varnish. Fresh asparagus and English pea risotto is a bright summer complement, and the mascarpone brioche croutons add a textural component that makes the dish sing. The chef’s Alaskan halibut is outstanding, as well, served with the rare, highly sought-after huitlacoche, corn risotto and tomatillo. The risotto is glorious, laden with the Mexican truffles and cut by the acidity of the green tomatillo. This is a dish to savor and one that I suspect will soon be the talk of PCH.

More food arrives from our gracious server who, by the way, has a tremendous following in O.C. He’s spent more than a decade delighting guests with his kindness and charm at Surf & Sand, and you see him during the day graciously touting his skills elsewhere. Alfredo knows the menu inside and out at the new Splashes, and he’s tasted every dish—I like that in a server. Now back to the food. The New York steak sits atop a bed of the most wonderful duo of potatoes—a creamy, luscious puree combined with a rustic, crushed version that provides for a textural explosion. And my dining partner and I love the combination of the rich steak with the blue cheese topper. Pickled red onion offers an acidic edge to cut through the depth, and we’re happy.

Dessert is a dream, too, with a homemade lemon-mascarpone cheesecake with pine nut crumbles and white chocolate—it’s supreme among the sweets. The flourless chocolate bliss is, indeed, blissful, with a beet puree for dipping and a sugared beet chip for crunch. Oh, my.

So what else do you need to be convinced? The Surf & Sand has always impressed. And with Fuñe at the helm of Splashes and the other dining destos on property (like the 15fiftyfive bar that’s even closer to the sand), the food is better than ever. Oh, and there’s a weekend brunch at Splashes, too, and I can’t wait to sample it. I’ll meet you there.

Splashes at Surf & Sand Resort
1555 S. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach

Breakfast.: 7-11am
Lunch: 11:30am-3pm
Dinner: 5-10pm

Cocktails: $15
Appetizers: $10-$24
Entrees: $24-$49
Desserts: $9-$12

Who Goes There
Beach lovers, foodies and sunset worshippers

You Must Order
The carrot and corn shrimp bisque, ahi tuna tartare and Alaskan halibut

Best Table in the House
Anywhere with a view of the sand

In the Know
The Mexican truffles, or huitlacoche, served with the halibut are a delicacy.

Insider Tip
Ask to be seated in Alfredo’s area—he’s sampled everything on the menu.