By Jason Sanford | October 17, 2011 2:50 PM
Chef Marc Cohen has created a buzzing Laguna landmark that has withstood the test of time in the heart of the downtown village.
By Jason Sanford | Photos by Jody Tiongco
When Executive Chef Marc Cohen first set out to create a place where quality ingredients are delivered at fair prices and come with great service, he must have envisioned (with a couple dashes of restaurateur optimism) something along the lines of 230 Forest Avenue, but he could not have possibly imagined its resounding longevity and enduring success in the rapidly changing Laguna foodie scene.
“It’s a face and a name you can count on,” Marc explains. “We really believe and understand that it’s about building a relationship and consistency.”
To build a culinary relationship in a tight-knit, food crazed place like Laguna, there needs to be just enough “I’ve had something like this before” mixed with “This is new, and I’m enticed to try it” to get people in the door, and get them talking about the cool décor and new menu with stomachs rumbling. 230 Forest Avenue has accomplished just that over its 17-year existence, and it continues to pack ’em in with consistently delicious food, a lively downtown atmosphere and one of Laguna Beach’s most prolific chefs.
“One of the most important things is consistency, but we also strive to be new and innovative, and we maintain a guest-first mentality,” Marc says. “The quality of products, the seasonality of products and the sustainability of seafood—they keep our customers coming back.”
Marc is a Baltimore native and has brought his love of local seafood from the Chesapeake to Laguna, insisting on a seafood-first modern American menu that artfully delivers what’s in season, pleasing the eye and the palate simultaneously.
And while it is a menu heavy on the ocean’s fresh bounty, it also offers a judicious amount of meat from the land as well—a little lamb here, a little prime rib there, likely delicious as well, but they are supporting actors on a stage built for acclaimed seafood and seasonal accompaniments.
But really, why would anyone come to Laguna Beach, a city perched on cliffs and overlooking the Pacific, with their mind set on top sirloin? No less a crime than going to a Memphis barbecue joint with swordfish on the brain—so naturally, the fresh seafood is the unapologetic star of 230 Forest Avenue’s menu, and everyone that eats there is better off for it. If turf absolutely can’t be skipped, you’d best talk your date into ordering (and sharing a bite of) it—prudence and chivalry can always tango together during a great meal.
The prosciutto-wrapped shrimp sitting atop a fresh-sliced caprese salad and served with herb pesto and aged balsamic is a flavorful beginning. The quality of the shrimp is evident, even wrapped in the sweet prosciutto, which goes surprisingly well and makes the next bite happen even faster than the last. Short of being drowned in olive oil, caprese is always a winner as long as it’s fresh, and this is no exception; it’s a great savory treat with the balsamic.
Day boat scallops are lightly pan seared and presented nicely on a bed of butternut squash risotto, then drizzled with white truffle oil. The use of potent truffle oil is done right, as some places treat it like water, and here it selflessly accents a very tasty dish instead of stealing its thunder. The scallops themselves are terrific, just the right amount of time over a flame makes these stand out immediately, and the risotto that comes with them brings both great savory and sweet flavor components to the table and adds some real body to the dish. This place will not leave you with restaurant remorse—the seafood is as advertised, and then some.
Marc says that his aim is to be “not just a special occasion restaurant” but instead, a vital culinary cog in the Laguna community.
“The reviews and the awards are great, but we don’t do it for that,” he comments. “We just want to make sure that we continue to honor our local community.”
The consistency, the presentation, the insistence that it’s served fresh or it’s not served at all—it’s a winner and has been for quite a while now.
230 Forest Ave.; 949-494-2545; 230forestavenue.com
Hours: Monday – Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Friday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Price: $6 to $34
Tip: Make reservations early if going during peak times.
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