2011 - Asada restaurant in Laguna Beach for Gossiping Gourmet food review

Hostess Ashley Brown welcomes with a smile at the at the new Asada restaurant in Laguna Beach. (STEVEN GEORGES, HB Independent / October 4, 2011)

Yet another Mexican restaurant rises in the spot where Javier's and Callejon once stood. Asada has been many months in the making with a renovation that had Lagunans peeking through the plastic with great curiosity.

Finally unveiled, the space is dominated by a prodigious tequila bar where you can munch on snacks or have a full meal while sampling your beverage of choice. The rest of the dining area is cozily divided into four separate spaces, which keeps the noise level fairly tolerable (the bar scene is something quite different).

The food is advertised as "American Mexican." Although we are not sure what the exact definition of that term is, we would call it "Laguna Mexican" because it's a style of Mexican cooking unique to Asada.

The chips are very thin and very good, not the familiar fat triangles. The regular salsa has a nice little bite with plenty of flavor, but if that's too tame for you there is a salsa diablo that will blow your head off, so handle with care. Guacamole is made to order and you may choose ingredients to add such as cilantro, onion and tomato. They also have a diablo guacamole to try (at your own risk).

Their version of spicy chicken tortilla soup was more like a thick bean soup with vegetables, rather than a tomato broth. It had a minuscule amount of chicken and no heat, but it was very tasty even though not what we expected.

Baja crab and shrimp ceviche was also a different take on the classic, which is seafood marinated in lime juice. This was more like a generous shrimp cocktail with tiny shreds of crab. The sauce was a sweetened, smooth tomato salsa with no heat or acidity. The shrimp were nicely cooked, tender and sweet, while big chunks of very good avocado rounded out the dish.

From the "Mexican Especialities" we chose the chicken enchiladas de casa. They also can be ordered with cheese or vegetables, fish, steak, shrimp or crab. These were definitely American Mexican, as the enchilada sauce was extremely mild and lacked complexity or depth. There was just a tiny bit of shredded cheese and a drizzle of sour cream for decoration only.

This entrée comes with black beans and rice. The beans were a bit oversalted.

Our favorite dish was the roasted prawns and grapefruit salad. Although not exactly a Mexican classic, it was quite delicious. Served on a long, narrow platter, the beautiful presentation featured three thick baby butter lettuce cups, topped with more chunks of the excellent avocado, pine nuts, chopped tomatoes and lovely peeled grapefruit segments that were pink and super sweet. The giant roasted prawns were succulent. Only the overly sweet citrus dressing was a bit of a miss.

Tacos del mar are warm, soft flour tortillas that can be ordered with fish shrimp or crab. We chose the fresh, well-seasoned halibut, which was quite good. Also very tasty was the tomatillo salsa that came on the side. It was nicely spicy and multifaceted. A sprinkling of pico de gallo, chopped tomato, lettuce and cabbage added texture.

Some interesting side dishes not found everywhere are roasted corn with chipotle butter and camoté (Mexican sweet potato) with butter honey brown sugar and ancho chile.

We ended our meal with a wonderful dessert called a sweet apple chimichanga. Stuffed in a crunchy, deep-fried tortilla roll were excellent tart, spiced apple slices drizzled with yummy caramel sauce and served with vanilla bean ice cream. The crust was really good and surprisingly not at all greasy.

Asada also bills itself as a steakhouse, and indeed there are three cuts of steak and a prime rib. They have sandwiches and tortas at both lunch and dinner, and a kid's menu with six entrées for los niños.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Asada

Where: 480 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Monday

11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Prices:

Appetizers and salads: $5-$15

Sandwiches and tortas: $9-$14

Entrées: $7-$38

Desserts: $6- $7

Wine:

Bottles: $19-$65

By the glass: $6-$18

Corkage Fee: none

Information: (949) 715-5533; asadalaguna.com