Tuesday


PART II  -- The Incomparable Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach

The perfect Suite, Spa and Foodie experience right here in Southern California
 


STUDIO at the Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach: where divine food meets a heavenly setting.

30801 S. Coast Hwy.,
Laguna Beach,
(949) 715-6420
www.studiolagunabeach.com
 


Open for dinner Tues.-Sun., 5-10 p.m. Starters, $25-$28; entrées, $55-$65; chef’s tasting menu, food only, $125-$175 per person; with wine pairings, $200-$250. Full bar.  This is truly one of our favorite dining experiences where cuisine, aesthetics and service are all wrapped up into an unforgettable evening.  The tone is set from the moment you enter and the gracious hostesses invite you in to dine.


Perched superbly at the end of the bluff overlooking the ocean and with all of humanity behind you,  we can think of no finer spot in America to enjoy the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean than one of Southern California's finest dining establishment, headed by the handsome Chef extraordinaire, Craig Strong.

 
When Jimmy Boyce (Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician in Arizona) moved on from Studio a few years ago to open his own restaurant in the south, the always incredibly well dressed Food and Beverage Director, Vittorio Gonzalez, who originally hails from Mexico City, sought to create the next incarnation for this modernistic craftsman masterpiece. Stealing Craig away from the The Langham, the former Ritz Carlton Pasadena, the hotel gave him the liberty of designing his own menu that is both whimsical and fabulously beyond reproach.   Chef strong continues to match the unique architecture and setting of this venue with equally unique servings.

 
The main room is lofty, yet warm at the same time. It is filled with wood and glass, with dynamic views every direction, and the beams up and over your head create dimensions and shapes that keep the eye amused. The bar is in the center of the room, creating both a visually beautiful and romantic space. The tables are set at a comfortable distance so they are not on top of each other.  No matter where you sit, you feel as though you have the privacy to share a meal with a loved one.

 The Captain, Miguel, is as handsome as the restaurant is attractive, and certainly made for a good start to the night.
 
Despite the fresh-faced model-like good looks of the entire staff, there is not an ounce of attitude, a welcome relief from so many metropolitan fine dining establishments.  Their sole goal is to please their patrons and resonate a wonderful dining experience. 


Every course we enjoyed was paired with a new and interesting wine, and the som's 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 strongly suggest trying the tasting menu, or asking him to cook for you with taste sensations from his imagination. 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 partook in the superb tasting menu of six course which at $125 ($200 with wine pairings) is a relative bargain for all that you enjoy in this experience.
 
 

Starting with their heirloom tomato salad (locally sourced, of course) with aged balsamic and baby greens (some fruits and veggies are grown right outside Studio's doors in their own garden), we followed this with seared diver scallops.  Scott is not a fan of scallops but he devoured each one as if they were a new food group. 
 
 
The orange powder and the coconut curry sauce was the perfect combination to make these scallops unique and delectable.
 
 

From here we launched onto the sautéed sea bass with a checca sauce, light and mouth watering and subtle but still bursting with hints of flavor from the oregano and accompanied by the Swiss chard-potato gratin.  In fact, the sea bass tasted so fresh, we could almost imagine the fishing dories floating up on the Montage's beach with their catches of the day.
 
 

We have to admit the press roasted Guinea was our favorite served with pickled cherries au jus and we had the perfect pairing with the hen, 2009 Soliste Pinot Noir, which brought out the pungent flavors of the hen.
 
 

There was a perfectly prepared cheese course between our hen and dessert.  For those of you who are unaware, the Montage in Laguna has an almost unparalleled cheese program and the triple cream Vermont cheese was a wonderful way to (almost) end the meal. 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 desserts off perfectly.
 
 
The light coconut hibiscus meringue with coconut sorbet accompanied by a late harvest wine of our choosing was truly the ultimate ending and we cannot wait to return to see what else Chef Craig has up his sleeve.
 
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.   Don't rush this dining experience, come and spend the evening feasting on all things Studio.

 


THE ART OF SPA  -- one of the country's best spa experience!

 
Start with the private quiet pool where we sat on the edge of the world and watched the sea birds fly in sync with the sound of the crashing waves.  Then move indoors for continuing solitude.


The spa at the Montage is not so much a destination for massages, but more a personal journey in relaxation.  Going way beyond massages, we started with mani/pedis that proved experienced and unrushed.  Distinctly missing was the chatter of a foreign language with rows of chairs and foot tubs.  Here, the service was individual and with real personal care.  We felt like we were having time with an old friend. 

The folks working in the entire spa facility are friendly and welcoming, and clearly enjoy their work. The massage therapists are taught to combine a knowledge of indigenous botanicals derived from the ocean with the purpose of inspiring positive change “inside and out”. It’s not just rhetoric. Both the men’s and the women’s sides (nearly identical) provide a peaceful setting, with a cozy quiet room with fireplace, teas and edibles. The Jacuzzi is more like a small pool, and a waterfall cascades into it in such a fashion that we couldn’t wait to have it run over our weary, tired shoulders.

 
Inhaling the fresh ocean air, we could feel our calm and inner peace slowly eclipsing the rat race of L.A.'s fast paced life. The therapy rooms were welcoming (with both indoor and outdoor areas) and within minutes, we faded into the oblivion of masterful hands.

 
 There is a romantic couple’s room, and three specialty suites with outdoor gardens.

 
Back to the Jacuzzi, we finished our time at the spa with some moments in the eucalyptus steam and redwood sauna. There was a cold plunge for the brave, but we were too relaxed to try it.  The Dining Duo gives this spa high marks and can't wait to come back for more.


FITNESS FOR EVERYONE

 
We are constantly asked: how do you guys eat like this all the time and not weigh 500 pounds. The answer is easy, we are at the gym…a lot. When we go on vacation, “gym time” is not usually a part of our regime. However, this is the exception to the rule for the Dining Duo. Light streams into both the adult (no one under 16, thankfully) fitness center, yoga and movement studio.

 
You can enjoy a group fitness class, yoga, T'ai Chi, the Montage’s signature lecture series or a private life coaching session against the backdrop of those brilliant shiney waves. 45 minutes on the treadmill whilst looking over the adult pool and the blue Pacific proved to be divine for both the body, and the soul.

We didn’t have enough time for other services at the full-service salon which also offers highly personalized programs.  The boutique had a tremendous amount of lotions and potions, and other items to take home as souvenirs of this moment in time.

 
At the end of the day, we sat on the chairs at the edge of the quiet adult pool, after fabulous treatments, and watched the sun, a big ball of fire, melt into the sky. Could there really be anything better than this? With all of life’s tedious troubles, it turns out that a long weekend at the Montage in Laguna Beach is all it took to make us realize just how good life really is.



SERVICE, SERVICE, SERVICE

 
It’s all about the service here and we understand what it feels like to be pampered and luxuriated, without pomp and circumstance. It’s said that “the Devil is in the details” and it’s details that are covered in every corner of the hotel. Scott had started up a converstion with one of our housekeepers who was from the Philippines and when we were leaving, she presented Scott with a hand crafted souvenir that she had brought home from her last trip.  We have it on our shelf at home and this small touching gesture is just typical of the biggest asset at this hotel: it's people. 


From the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, it feels like family (from the good side, that is) is taking care of you.

 
When we arrived, we couldn’t seem to hook up our computer to the wireless. Within minutes of calling the front desk, we were walked through the steps to get us on line. It was simple, and accommodating, two things we find lacking in the IT area of many high-end hotels.

 
The pillows provided are big, fluffy feather pillows. However, we found them too large. Upon requesting “smaller” fluffy feather pillows, the housekeeping woman said, “yes, many guests ask for those”. We doubt that to be the case, but it was her way of certainly making our request feel reasonable. And right next to the pillows, each night, is placed a homemade chocolate wrapped in a little gift box.  Yum.

 
When picking up the car one day, there was a note in it from the Captain of the Loft, saying how much he enjoyed serving us, and that he hoped we would return soon. We were already planning on coming back, but the note was definitely a nice touch that went above and beyond. They seem to think of everything here.


It’s all of these things and many more that moves this Hotel and it’s restaurants into its own exceptional category. We’ve already listed our house for sale, and sent for our belongings so we could move in here permanently. Oh wait, all we really need is a few pairs of shorts, some bathing suits and a few toys for Triple Dog, and they sell all those at the hotel gift shop.

 
We were not the only ones who had a superlative experience at the Montage and didn't want to leave.
 
 
As the sun set over the Montage Hotel in Laguna, we vowed to return again to this magnificent spot sooner than later.
 
 
Appetizingly yours,
 
Michael and Scott
The Dining Duo

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