Setting a New Standard
Montage Resort and Spa
30801 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

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Montage Resort and Spa Vista The Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach is setting the pace for the high-end traveler in the artsy beach town about 60 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Already catering to high-end clientele, this prime property features a 262-room hotel that includes 51 suites and 37 beach bungalows. The suites range in size from 800 to 2,800 square feet, and each room has a private balcony and an ocean view that is spectacular, even for the traveler that has seen it all. The hotel is the first venture of a new company, ands since opening the doors in February, business is moving at a brisk pace following a torrent of high profile publicity praising amongst other things, the elegance of the resort. In keeping with the general theme of Laguna Beach, the resort is dotted with original paintings by the plein air painters. This was the group who first discovered the Laguna Beach artist colony, and their California flavored paintings cover the era from the turn of the century until about 1930. .

What also helps is the hiring of a "celebrity chef", James Boyce, to run the signature Studio restaurant. James was handpicked for the job from the world class Phoenician in Scottsdale, and the buzz his arrival has caused already has the resort off to a fast start. The Classically trained chef describes his food as a Mediterranean-style with clean, distinctive flavors. Trained by Daniel Boulud, like most top chefs I have met, he strongly believes in utilizing the fresh produce of the immediate area such as daily-caught seafood, local cheeses and farm raised meats and game. Such examples are the pan-seared John Dory, and the Jamieson Farm lamb. The special purveyor, or "the forager" as he is widely known is the man who scours out the top quality produce, a luxury only top notch chefs can afford. He is apparently very meticulous, particularly with fish. .

Montage Resort and Spa Room The kitchen at the Studio was designed by Robert Marshall of San Francisco and features a Molteri range from France, one of only two in the United States. This staple of top Michelin Star chefs in France gives the Studio a distinct edge in preparing the high quality Mediterranean style food chef Boyce previews six nights a week. The restaurant boasts not one, but five sommeliers of varying levels of accomplishment, and a wine list of over 900 wines with an obvious emphasis on California and French varieties. In fact, 75% of the wines sold are from California, and not just those from the well-known wineries. Many smaller Napa wineries can thank the Studio for introducing their varieties to a brand new audience. Pick their brains when you go to the Studio, they love to impart their considerable knowledge with an eagerness and freshness you will appreciate.

A chef's tasting menu with the wines will cost just about the same as a night out at Spago in Beverly Hills, and the Studio should have no trouble in building up the same kind of reputation over time as the word gets out. The atmosphere at the Studio is very relaxed despite the seemingly never ending stream of waiters, servers, pourers that come to your table. The interior is very muted with a sweeping view of the Pacific. A turn of the century bar stained in rich wood tones features a communal table where guests can wait for their table while sampling various wines and an assortment of tapas dishes.

Montage Resort and Spa Hall I went for dinner on a recent Sunday evening and selected the chef's tasting menu, reflecting a nice cross section of the ever-changing menu, and quite an eclectic selection of wines to accompany each dish. I started with the Seared Maine diver sea scallop, with white corn nage, roasted cauliflower and cascade mountain morels. They tasted as good as they sound, suitably tender and accompanied by a 2001 San Vicenzo by Anselmi from Veneto in Italy.

One of the specialties of the house showed up next - Roasted Hudson Valley Foie Gras with a ham and cheese sandwich style and a crisp pork belly. Extra succulent, we tried a surprisingly good Hungarian 5 Puttonyos from the Royal Tokagi wine company.

The great stuff continued with a marvelous Curry Poached White Sturgeon with a Mcgrath farm stonefruit fricassee in a sangria jus. The introduction to new wines continued with a Tori Mor Pinot Noir from Oregon. The stand out dish for me however was the Snake River Kobe Beef (two styles), two outstanding portions of beef, grilled rib eye and braised rib. Making this dish even better was the surprisingly good Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stags Leap district, rich and fruity and a likely addition to my wine cellar.

A trio of cheeses followed-roaring forties blue, Gouda and epoisses suitably accompanied by a Tikal Malbec 2001 from Argentina. After such a feast, dessert had to be light, so I went for Red Banana Split mini-pastels along with a South African Landskroon "Cape Vintage Port" from Paarl. A fitting end to a memorable dining experience, and I plan to be back soon.

The Loft restaurant on the other hand is far more traditional, serving seasonal American food, simply prepared in generous portions. It also offers panoramic views of the lush Pacific Ocean, and in Chef Gregory Short, they are grooming a star in the making. He arrives at Montage from no less a restaurant than the legendary French Laundry in Napa. He worked there for five years, and at the Loft, he is helped by award-winning Pastry Chef Richard Ruskell. The Loft is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is an excellent way to start the day whilst staying at the Montage.

How about some lightly toasted Almond Crepes with ricotta cheese and a choice of seasoned berries or orchard fruits, or the "Loft Omelette" with young asparagus, fromage blanc, a petite herb salad and pomme frittes. If you are feeling a bit flush, then $85 will get you the 1 Ounce of Caspian Sea Golden Osetra Caviar with scrambled eggs, crme fraiche, chives and brioche toast.

At dinner, I tried an inventive puree of sweet parsnip soup, an underrated treat in America, with oven-roasted roma tomatoes and caramelized parsnips. For a main course, I went for the Roasted Double Chop of Mid-Western Pork with caramelized root vegetables and dry vermouth lemon sauce. Two for the price of one, and beautifully prepared, succulent and tender to the taste.

There you have it then. A classy hotel that takes its food seriously. What more could you ask for.

Montage Map

Tel: 949.715.6000
Fax: 949.715.6100

Lunch Sat - Sun 11:30 - 13:45
Dinner Tue - Sun 17:30 - 22:00

Corkage fee $15
Valet parking.

Book Montage Resort & Spa Tell a Friend. Mike Hepworth, July 2003

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