By Jason Sanford | May 02, 2012 12:47 PM
Photos by Jody Tiongco
When Rayne Frey and Moriah Robison took over for their acclaimed former chef, and Nancy Wilhelm went half a mile down the road to throw open the doors to Starfish, Tabu Grill was hit with the proverbial double whammy—a challenging crux at which most restaurants run around with their heads cut off, while the vultures impatiently circle overhead.
Fast forward to today, and after being greeted by Nancy herself, this writer will gladly call you a fool if you are to pass up an open table or a canceled reservation at this 21st century Laguna icon.
So you’ve been to Tabu before? Great, then you already know about the intimate, whisper-in-her-ear environment that makes this easily the most romantic restaurant for miles. Tall seats at small tables and close quarters at cozy booths with a single lit candle make for the ideal setting to share bites and naughty glances—Tabu’s a place where conversation topics could easily drift from tannins in merlot to long walks in Molokai—so proceed with caution when your cuter half’s in tow; the candle-lit island décor can and will get her.
Nancy opened Tabu because, as she put it, “Laguna needed a steakhouse, and there wasn’t one when I opened Tabu.” So Nancy filled this void with a gorgeously marbled, prime cut of rib-eye sitting atop a bed of her signature “forbidden rice” black risotto, fire-roasted corn, whiskey-braised onions and accents of tangy bleu cheese in a pinot noir reduction. The accoutrements don’t distract either; it’s all about the fantastic cut of meat that you will finish, whether you filled up on crisp focaccia or not.
The Colorado lamb chops are hearty cuts of red meat prepared so deftly that you’ll leave quietly crossing your fingers you find a lost lamb wandering PCH so you can run it back to the kitchen for more—perhaps it’s best they’re raised in Colorado.
The mero sea bass is beyond flavorful in its taste and is prepared beautifully with truffle soy yuzu subtly holding its hand the entire way—roll your eyes if you’ve heard this before—truffle is strong stuff and Nancy’s crew knows this and nails it. The chocolate mousse is light and sneaky good, with its crumbles of hazelnut and Nutella accompanying some fresh and ripe raspberries—yes, Nutella does come in crumbles, so save room.
This “new” Tabu seems just like the “old” Tabu, hmm …
And while Mark Twain may not always come to mind when you hear Nancy’s name, one of his sharp quips provides a nail-on-the-head quashing of the derisive whispers of Tabu’s sudden demise: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Tabu Grill, 2892 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-494-7743; tabugrill.com; Hours: Nightly, 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Price: $11 to $46 (entrees)
TIP: Parking can be found (meter-free) in the adjoining neighborhood streets around Nyes Place.