30801 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 715-6000

“Welcome home!”
      – James Bermingham, General Manger

It's always a summer vacation in Southern California, and here’s an easy, fantastic getaway for a long weekend, or even better, treat yourself to an entire week. 
Part One:

Sometimes it’s about a sense of place.  Sometimes it's all about gracious service without the least bit of pretense.  Sometimes it’s about exquisite cuisine at every turn.  And on completely rare occasions when the sun, the moon and the earth align in a perfect astronomical syzygy, a superlative experience is born and rises to the top.  It's called the Montage Hotel and Spa, Laguna Beach. 
We’re sprawled on chaise lounges at the very edge of the spa's “adults-only” pool, hidden from the blazing sun by a parade of umbrellas, as our minds start drifting seaward with the outgoing tide.  Cushy terrycloth cushion covers feel as if we’re floating with the sounds of undulating waves and singing gulls, when all at once we are sound asleep.  A decadent deviation from the unrelenting stresses of our lives, there is no price tag too high for this luxurious moment in time--so much so that we want it to last forever and ever.

This is the magic of a visit to the Montage in Laguna Beach, California.

We awaken to the soft sounds of a musician somewhere on the property strumming “a peaceful easy feeling” just in time to see a formation of birds glide against the fading summer sun. 

No planes, no trains, no security strip checks, nor delays; no waiting around airports, and no stressing or praying your baggage will arrive.  Nirvana is so close to so many in California and The Southwestern United States.  In fact, by the time we tallied all those flights and transpiration costs together, suddenly the fare for a divine suite--the only way to go--was really not that bad and well worth every penny spent.

Our stomachs are full from lunch and yet our senses catch the aroma of something enticing, exciting us as to the possibilities of a superb culinary experience at one of the many superlative dining sections: Studio, The Loft or Mossaic.  But that’s for hours from now, as it is time for our spa appointment.

Regretting having to move a muscle, we force ourselves to get up and meander into one of the great hotel spas in the country, the first spa in America to be rated with five well deserved stars.  More of that experience in Part Two of The Dining Duo's experiences at The Montage Hotel and Spa...but first, how did we even get to this Zen-like place...

“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.  One of the many good looking and well-trained employees comes out from behind the desk with a big wicker basket full of stuffed doggie toys, bends over to our Scottish Terrier Triple and asks if he would like one. Triple would like all of them, but she doesn’t know that yet.

Freshly groomed for the simple one hour and fifteen minute car ride, Triple grabs the appropriate whale and squeaks off into the lobby as everyone coos after him.
We are handed key-cards 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, again; it's been far too long between visits and we wonder why we allow that to happen when it's just that easy to come here. Too bad we can’t make the Montage 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 that matches the check-list qualities of The Montage. In fact, we’ve heard it referred to as the first and only “6 star” resort. Exuding simple gracious, elegance, the groupings of low-rise buildings sprawl along the coastline feel as though they are cottages that have been perched above the ocean forever. The furnishings, d├ęcor, and treatments are as fresh and new as if they were just installed before we arrived.

We can’t wait to get to our one-bedroom suite, 306, on the North-West corner of the edifice so it affords us uncompromising views of the incomparable California sunset.  Once again, we take notice  that the hotel is extremely quiet. It’s not because folks aren’t here, as the occupancy always runs extremely high if not completely full, 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 seem to slither by with almost otherworldly stealth.


More than 1,000 square feet, this suite sports soothing olive green tones offset by cream and olive sofas and chairs, with windows out to the white sand beach and craggy coves of Laguna Beach.  Sliding French doors are open and a soft breeze tickles the sheers behind the drapes, making you realize how wrong people are when they say, "we don't spend money on a room because we don't spend time it."  Au contraire, we don't want to ever leave this wonderful nest of understated elegance.

And it's clear that we're not the only one who wants to stay put in suite 306.

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 per visit to sanitize the rooms for the next guest; totally understandable and fair to those coming and going).
Early California oils are thoughtfully scattered throughout the suite, lending a feeling serenity. We find more sweeping views in the bedroom, 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 down feather pillows are fit for royalty.  The en suite bathroom (in addition to the 1/2 bath in the entryway) is detailed with white Carrera marble, and the tub screams to be used. The shower has a mirror thoughtfully installed into the marble for shaving, which is a nice touch for us guys.  In addition to large, fluffy towels, also thoughtfully provided are candles and matches so that sliding into a tub full of fabulously smelling bath products (Antica Farmacacista Lemon Verbena) can be conducive for all sorts of fun experiences.

The views from this suite are beyond fabulous and there are three balconies from which to choose your viewing pleasure.  All at once the doorbell rings and a bottle of champagne is delivered to welcome us home, and we again pinch ourselves and beg the clock to slow down as much as possible so we can savor every second of this experience.

One of the many things we love about this hotel is that it seems every suite is different, and excites our senses each time we cross the threshold.

Last time we stayed in the Aliso two-bedroom suite, room 370/371.  With approximately 1,700 square feet, it 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 on the walls and a pale yellow and beige on the floors surrounded by clean white moldings comfort our sensibilities and once again 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.

More double doors swing open to reveal the master bedroom. 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 fabulous bath amenities in which we can hardly wait to indulge.  The other bedroom is smaller than the master, but it has its own entrance, its own views, its own fabulous bathroom, and is perfect for sharing the suite with friends, and yet not sharing every moment together.
And if you truly want to live like a King, the Catalina Suite at 305 is the only way to go. Sweeping ocean views greet you from the moment you step into the dramatic foyer with its striking, inlaid wood floor.
Entertaining and family downtime  is a true pleasure in this 2,000-square-foot beachside palace with a Craftsman-style two-sided fireplace, a dining table that seats eight, kitchen, dressing area with a dry vanity, his and "his" bathrooms with intricate marble flooring, a deep-soak tub and separate showers.

The expansive parlor offers floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open onto a 700 square-foot balcony that spans the entire length of the suite.  Almost beyond description, when the Dining Duo wins the lottery, we will make this suite--styled as if it were a home--our ultimate destination!


THE LOFT at the Montage Hotel and Spa

Open 7 Days a Week
6-11a.m. Breakfast
11a.m.-3p.m. Lunch
3-10 p.m. Intermezzo bistro menu
5-10p.m. Dinner

For reservations:
(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 exuded the soft comfort ubiquitous to the hotel; the craftsman architecture is easily incorporated into this relaxed 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.
It’s such a gorgeous day that we opt to slide into our seats on the patio and enjoy the view al fresco, preparing ourselves 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 three types of French fries that are billed as a Tasting of French Fries ($15), one of their most popular dishes and we can see why as we scarfed them up without a hint of guilt. 

We loved all three varieties of fries as well as the house made dried chipotle cranberry ketchup. 

The Grilled Albacore Sandwich ($26) was bursting with flavor and so fresh it felt like the tuna just jumped on our table from the sea below.  Accompanied by sweet potato fries, it alone would have been the perfect lunch dish.

We almost didn't try the Truffle Pizza ($21) and that would have been a big mistake. It was sensational, with a hint of truffle oil so as not to overpower the fennel which was also sprinkled proportionally so as not to overwhelm the taste buds.  What a great take on pizza.

With so many selections on this menu, we also strongly recommend that you don't miss the Dry Aged Burger.  We couldn't help but immediately notice how dark and rich the bun looked, which was truly inviting, and from the first bite, there is no disappointment.  The Hook's 1000 Island dressing is the perfect partner for this perfect burger.

If you want something lighter and refreshing instead of some of the other more "filling" choices, the VR Green Farms Heirloom Tomatoes ($21) with Italian Burrata and aged Balsamic is the perfect way to go.  It was not only beautiful to look at, it was utterly scrumptious.

Our server, Eric, is not only a well trained server, he's darn handsome too!  Speaking of desserts, in addition to the sweet treats, the Loft is known for their cheese and honey selections and they didn't fail to disappoint this time either.  We ordered the Artisanal Cheese Plate ($21); the Loft has a never ending selection of cheeses and honey, that rivals the best French restaurants in the world. The idea of coming back at sunset, ordering an extensive cheese platter drizzled with exotic honeys and pairing it with some fabulous champagne, is something the Dining Duo is going to add to their list of "must-dos."

Every dessert we tried was noteworthy but the one we couldn't live without was the Sea Salt Caramel Mille-Feuille, ($13) a thin cracker pastry infused with caramel sea salt and as we are writing this review, we're craving it. Also shown the Strawberry Creme fraiche Sundae ($13), yum.

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.

COMING NEXT in part 2: 

The incomparable Studio at the Montage and the first 5 Star Spa in the country.   Don't miss it...or better yet, just book a stay and find out for yourself just how sweet life here can be!.

Appetizingly Yours,

Michael and Scott

The Dining Duo

Posted by The Dining Duo | 6:37 PM | , , , , | 1 comments »

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  1. mango // August 11, 2013 at 5:01 AM  

    I totally dig the Montage! Increrfible property and the Spa is incredible! Great call and couldn't agree more.

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