30801 South Coast Highway

Laguna Beach, CA 92651

(949) 715-6000

“You’re never late at the Montage Laguna Beach”

      – James Bermingham, General Manger

Spring has sprung: here’s an easy, great getaway for a long weekend, or treat yourself to an entire week. 
Part One:

“Welcome Home” the front desk clerk chimes as we walk into the beyond gorgeous craftsman style Montage Hotel, the preeminent address in Laguna Beach, California. The good looking woman comes out from behind the desk with a big wicker basket full of stuffed dog toys, bends over to Triple and asks if he would like one. Triple would like all of them, but she doesn’t know that.
Our Scottish terrier, freshly groomed for the simple one hour and fifteen minute car ride, grabs the pink plush heart and squeaks off into the lobby as everyone coos after him. We are handed key-cards with lots of other greetings and as soon as we look out the Hotel’s great room to the sparkling blue Pacific beyond, we realize that we truly are at home. Too bad we can’t make it our home permanently.

The Dining Duo has stayed at all the hotels in Laguna—and north and south of it—and there simply isn’t anything in the category of The Montage. In fact, we’ve heard it referred to as the first and only “6 star” resort. Exuding simple elegance, the groupings of low-rise buildings sprawl along the coastline and feel as though they’ve been perched above the ocean forever. That said, the furnishings, décor, and treatments are as fresh and new as if they were just installed before we arrived.

We can’t wait to get to our two-bedroom suite, 370/371, and notice all at once that the hotel is extremely quiet. It’s not because folks aren’t here, as the occupancy always runs extremely high, but it’s because there is a distinct absence of maid’s carts, slamming doors, and luggage racks. The bellmen carry the luggage to the room (poor guys) and the housekeeping staff seems to slither by with almost otherworldly stealth.

The Aliso suite--with approximately 1700 square feet-- has double doors that swing open to a luxuriously large living room, anchored by a large fireplace, a big comfy sofa and writing desk. Tones of olive green on the walls and a pale yellow and beige on the floors surrounded by clean white moldings comfort our sensibilities and draw our eyes to the star attraction, the Pacific Ocean beyond. A giant balcony complete with inviting outdoor furniture sweeps from the living room to the bedrooms situated on each side. Just inside the front door is a powder room for guests, a thoughtful touch for a hotel suite with two other large bathrooms. Early California oils are thoughtfully scattered throughout, lending a feeling serenity.

More double doors swing open to reveal the master bedroom. Triple has already charged ahead of us, discovering the dog bed thoughtfully left inside, along with two silver dog bowls (doggies under 25 pounds are welcomed, but there is a slight fee of $100 per visit to sanitize the rooms for the next guest; totally understandable and fair to those coming and going).

Following Triple inside, we find more sweeping views, more comfy furniture and a bed perfectly made with Egyptian cotton four hundred thread count Fili D'Oro linens just waiting to be slept in.

The closet is almost bigger than ours at home, and the bathroom is filled with volumes of marble. Gracing this simple elegance are big fluffy towels and fancy Agraria (http://www.agrariahome.com/) products in which we can hardly wait to indulge.     

The shower has a mirror thoughtfully installed into the marble for shaving, and a little marble bench for shaving one’s legs, assuming that’s something either of the Dining Duo does; or maybe it’s just a little shelf so we can admire our legs whilst showering. The other bedroom is smaller than the master, but it has it’s own entrance, it’s own views, its own fabulous bathroom, and is perfect for sharing the suite with friends, and yet not sharing every moment together.

THE LOFT (for lunch…dinner at this delightful restaurant comes later)

6-11a.m. Breakfast
11a.m.-3p.m. Lunch
3-5p.m. Intermezzo
5-10p.m. Dinner
For reservations call
(949) 715-6420

All this luxury was making us hungry, so we rushed off to the Loft for lunch. More muted colors of olive green and shades of yellows and soft gold; the craftsman architecture is easily incorporated into this comfortable and elegant room. Surrounded by polished wood paneling, and dotted with equally polished wood tables, the accompanying chairs are sewn with crewel fabrics that echo a simpler time gone by.

At the rear of the room, a fire blazes in a wood-burning oven, and over 150 cheeses are displayed, teasing our senses.

We slide into our seats and prepare for a scrumptious lunch. A plate of select warm homemade breads, including our favorite, the warm and crispy pretzel, is rushed to the table. We started with the Shrimp cocktail ($19), which includes six gigantic shrimp with perfectly spiced horseradish cocktail sauce. Scott had the Halibut sandwich ($24) that was so uniquely tasty and included some mystery spices that made the sandwich practically slide down his throat in a single gulp. The accompanying fresh fruit was so fresh it seemed like someone just picked it outside the restaurant.

Do not miss their grass fed burgers here. They are a force to be reckoned with and at $25, Chef’s Black Bistro Burger with truffle butter and hints of garlic, are one of the best combinations that we have experienced in all of Orange County.

It’s the little things that make a restaurant a great experience. There was a little salt spilt on the table, and a busboy rushed over to clean it. The breadbasket emptied rapidly, and it was replaced without asking. This place invented service, and it’s a microcosm of the entire hotel. Clearly the omnipresent General Manger, James Bermingham’s motto that one is “never late” for anything here is meant to convey the philosophy that we are the boss, no matter what we want or desire.

Studio at the Montage,

30801 S. Coast Hwy.,
Laguna Beach,
(949) 715-6420;

www.studiolagunabeach.com. Open for dinner Wed.-Sun., 6-10 p.m. Starters, $23-$29; entrées, $43-$53; chef’s tasting menu, food only, $125-$175 per person; with wine pairings, $200-$250. Full bar.

Perched at the end of the bluff just overlooking the ocean, we can think of no finer spot to enjoy the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean than this fine-dining establishment, headed by the handsome Chef extraordinaire, Craig Strong.

When Jimmy Boyce moved on to open his own restaurant in the south, the constantly dapper Food and Beverage Manager, Victorio Gonzalez, who originally hails from Mexico City, sought to find the next incarnation for this modernistic craftsman masterpiece. Stealing Craig away from the The Langham, the former Ritz Carlton Pasadena, they gave him the liberty of designing his own menu that is both whimsical and fabulously beyond reproach.

The main room is both lofty and warm at the same time. It is filled with wood and glass, with views every direction, and the beams up and over your head create dimensions and shapes that keep the eye amused. There is a long communal table for those wishing to share, and the bar is in the center of the room, creating both a visually beautiful and romantic space. The tables are not on top of each other, so no matter where you sit, you feel as though you have the privacy to share a meal with a loved one without being disturbed.

The Captain, Miguel, is as handsome as the restaurant is attractive, and certainly made for a good start to the night.

Despite the model-like good looks, he—and the rest of the staff—does not have an ounce of attitude, and their sole goal is to please their customers and create a wonderful dining experience. The sommeliers, a group of six, are young and very knowledgeable. Ours was en route to becoming one of the few master sommeliers around the globe. Every course we enjoyed was paired with a new and interesting wine, and his description and enthusiasm for the wines he was pouring was inspiring, increasing the anticipation of trying that particular selection.

Chef Craig will accommodate anyone with any tastes, allergies, likes or dislikes, and all with a smile on his face. We were told that the night before we dined there, a table of vegans came in wanting just vegetarian meals, and he whipped it up to their total satisfaction. We strongly suggest trying the tasting menu, or asking him to cook for you anything he desires. We did the latter, and told him what we didn’t care for (low salt for Scott, no shrimp for Michael, for example) and he took it and ran with it, with beyond scrumptious results.

We started the superb tasting menu, with six courses, each perfectly prepared, paired with wines for a reasonable $200 per person. We are tremendous soup fans and although pea soup is not one of Scott’s favorites, he savored the sweet pea soup,
 which was lightly flavored with organic mint. John Dory followed this dish accompanied with semolina gnocchi, spring onions and mussel nage. It was light yet flavorful and turned out to be the perfect starter for our meal. 

Scott loves foie gras in any form and Chef Craig informed us that his foie gras (French for “fat liver”) comes from a much friendlier Hudson Valley farm where the geese are treated substantially more humanely, and not force-fed. The foie gras was accompanied with Sea Scallops and sunchoke soup with tangerines and pecans, a combination of subtle flavors, which enhanced our ability to devour this course.

Next we were treated to “Lobster Egg” which is a lobster bisque served inside an eggshell, alongside a lobster spring roll. Considering Michael’s Maine background, he knows excellent lobster dishes and this one was delicate, flavorful and unique to the palette and the eyes.

The coup de grace turned out to be Craig’s Superior Farms Lamb Chops with oven dried tomato and artichokes. You have heard us rave about lamb before and interestingly that was at the Muse at the Montage in Beverly Hills. Well, here we go again. Michael who is not a lamb fan ate every morsel of this tender lamb, which was tasty and so delicate it practically melted in our mouths. We find that a true chef can prepare lamb devoid of any hint of gaminess.
All of the wine accompaniments were stellar, but since the Dining Duo craves dessert, the Uroulat, Jurancon, 2001 proved to be the standout, setting the three desserts off perfectly. Speaking of desserts, our favorite was the warm strawberry shortcake, which proved to be a total “wow” even though it wasn’t the mandatory chocolate.


Even Michael, not a lover of Strawberry shortcake agreed this dessert was a unique take  with a superb finish.

There is a private dining area for 12 just off the kitchen, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Secure it for a minimal food and beverage fee, and you can have a private party that will be remembered for ages.

Chef Craig can and will pop in and out of the dining room, more fully describing the evening’s events than he could do in the main dining room. Set with a stunning long wood table and fine, and interesting china (such as the “sea foam plates” that look just like it sounds), the room is anchored by a large fireplace and a rack of rare wines. This is where the Dining Duo is going next…does anyone care to join us with the other 10 seats?

Drooling for more?  Watch for Part Two:  Montage Laguna Beach: 
 The Loft for Dinner, The Art of Spa, Fitness for Fun & Service Galore

Posted by The Dining Duo | 9:11 AM | , , , , | 1 comments »

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  1. Unknown // September 25, 2013 at 12:47 AM  

    This is a lovely place especially for honemooners. I will defnitely take note of this. Thanks a lot!


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