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The Gossiping Gourmet: New star enters Laguna dining scene

CookingAlbertson's Incorporated

Kudos to Nancy Wilhelm! This consummate restaurateur has finally opened her dream establishment with a concept that she has been refining in her imagination for years.

Starfish is a gorgeous transformation of the former Taz restaurant in the South Laguna's Albertson's shopping center. The décor and cuisine is Asian coastal, with street satays from Indonesia to Thai curries, Vietnamese spring rolls, Hawaiian poke, Japanese shiro miso salmon and Chinese Sichuan eggplant, all created by chef Jarvis Yuan.

The dimly lit, high-ceilinged room is constructed around a large central bar where you may drink and dine while sitting on high stools under the soft lighting of the hanging Asian style lanterns. Under a mirrored wall, accented by a seascape, is a high turquoise banquette running the length of the room with tall tables and stools. The other side of the room is a brick wall punctuated by large windows fretted with a geometric wood design. Adding to the atmosphere of a Vietnamese back street at night are hanging bird cage lanterns. There is also a separate smaller dining room in the rear with decorative scrolls. The overall ambiance is exotic, warm and comfortable.

The service is as good as the food here and our charming waiter, Sonny, helped us navigate the menu by recommending some of his favorites. We started with an order of mixed satays (skewered meats grilled over charcoal). We chose green curry chicken, Madras curried roast pork and the lemongrass filet. They were all delicious. Terry's favorite was the pork, which was incredibly tender with a light Indian curry flavor and a bit of exterior crunch from the grill. Elle loved the moist, perfectly cooked chicken breast marinated in green curried coconut cream. None actually needed the excellent dipping sauces that accompanied them, as they were so tasty on their own.

Made to order were some of the best Saigon spring rolls we have ever tasted, and we've tasted more than a few. Oddly, the normally featured ingredient, shrimp, played a very secondary role in this mélange, yet was not missed. The thin rice noodles were mixed with very perky fresh tasting herbs: mint, cilantro and Thai basil, as well as crunchy carrots, cucumbers and bean sprouts. Their dipping sauce was a roasted peanut hoisin sauce, which added a sweet, salty finish, and we added sriracha (hot sauce) because we love spicy.

Sonny recommended the Thai red curry seafood stew and suggested that we order some rice to soak up the wonderful sauce. We were very glad we did! It would have been like ordering escargots without French bread to sop up the garlic butter. The sauce was rich, sweet, salty and spicy in perfect balance with added depth of flavor from the juices of the fresh seafood, white fish, black mussels and unusually good littleneck clams. Red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves and blue ginger seasoned the coconut milk stew. It can be ordered "mild, spicy or fire." We went for "fire" but found it not seriously spicy.

Wild mushroom garlic noodles can be ordered plain or with the addition of chicken, beef prawns or tofu. These sautéed noodles are mixed with three kinds of mushrooms, tomato, yellow chives, sweet basil and bean sprouts. The dish is quite tasty with soy, garlic and sesame flavors but we found the noodles to be lacking the requisite chewiness that we enjoy in this dish. Perhaps, the noodles themselves are too thin.

At this writing they have just recently opened and are only serving Dr. Bob's ice creams and sorbets. Even though Dr. Bob makes the crème de la crème of ice cream, they plan to add mango coconut panna cotta and traditional profiteroles very soon.

Starfish is an exciting addition to the Laguna dining scene featuring excellent food in a beautiful, casual setting with very good prices.

Starfish

Where: 30832 Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When: 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Prices:

Appetizers: $8 to $16

Entrées: $15 to $32

Desserts: $9

Wine:

Bottles: $32 to $225

By the glass: $8 to $18

Corkage Fee: $25 per bottle; two bottle limit

Information: (949) 715-9200 starfishlaguna.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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