For years, people have been driving south from L.A. to Laguna Beach for the art galleries, beaches, alternative culture, beachfront vacation lodging and events such as the Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Festival. Recently, there has been a culinary explosion in Laguna Beach, making it one of the most exciting places to eat in Southern California. At the forefront of this revolution is Broadway, the restaurant created by Chef Amar Santana. Chef Amar got his start in the food industry a few years after his family moved from the Dominican Republic to Queens, New York. By the age of 16 he was interning at New York’s famed Chanterelle and shortly thereafter spent time in London’s Le Cordon Bleu. Fast forward a few years and Chef Amar honed his skills with Chef Charlie Palmer, eventually opening several of the Charlie Palmer’s and becoming Executive Chef at his South Coast Plaza restaurant. In 2012, a dream was realized as he opened his own restaurant, Broadway by Amar Santana.
Dining at Broadway by Amar Santana should be planned as an evening’s event. There are three different areas to dine in. First, there is a nice bar, where a talented mixologist creates several excellent cocktails, including ones designed especially for the restaurant. This is a great place to hang and enjoy a few cocktails and some amazing small plates of food. There is a selection of tables to relax at, able to accommodate anything from couples to groups. The scene is lively, with lots of spirited laughter and talk.
The hot place, however, for anyone who is interested in the creativity of food, is the dining bar at the demonstration kitchen. Here, you are able to sit at the chef’s counter while the they cook the food and put together the plates. It’s exciting and extremely interesting—picture sitting across from one of the Iron Chefs as they put the dishes together. It’s high energy and fun to figure out which of the plates they are making is yours. As Chef Amar told me, “This is the first time I’ve built a restaurant with an open kitchen; and I would never do one without it again. People want to see they way things are prepared, they want to experience it”. He added, “I named it Broadway because I want people to come to the restaurant just like going to a Broadway show. I want them to sit down, enjoy and have a good time. They should enjoy the show—that’s the scene I want to create”. He added, “this is the stage; this is where we perform”. Make sure to order a nice cocktail such as their “If I Ruled the World”, a tasty mix of Scotch and liqueurs, or a classic “Moscow Mule” and enjoy the show. A large wine and champagne menu is also available.
The menu is broken down several ways. The main menu has first, second and dessert courses. There is also a Chef’s Tasting Menu, a Monday $39 Prix Fix Menu and a Tuesday Small Plates Menu. The first courses consist of items such as Roasted Shiitake Mushroom Bisque, Spanish Octopus a la Plancha, Olive Oil Poached Tiger Shrimp, Balsamic Glazed Duroc Pork Belly and Roasted Bone Marrow. As Chef Amar said about the bone marrow, “The bone marrow is one of my favorite dishes. It’s been on the menu since day one. Beefy butter, you can’t go wrong with that!”.
The Roasted Shiitake Mushroom Bisque is a great way to start off a meal. It is light, with the shiitake taste complemented by just enough chili oil to add a little warmth to the soup. The peanut foam adds even more lightness, making this soup something to get your taste bud’s attention without filling you up. The Pork Belly sets the standard for this most popular of porcine treats. Under Chef Amar’s deft hand, the pork belly is crisp on the outside yet meltingly tender on the inside. The crisp, deep fried persimmon is an unusual part of this dish but so brilliant you wonder why you haven’t tasted it before—-and wish you could order a plate of these sweet little beauties. A crisp pig chicharron, hen of the woods mushrooms and a delicious sauce finish the dish, which should be on everyone’s Top 10 Favorite Pork Dishes.
As Chef Amar described the Olive Oil Poached Shrimp, he said, “It’s basically my take on a shrimp cocktail. What I wind up doing is making a sorbet with the sauce, so it’s nice and cold and then making a cocktail. Basically, I took a gin and tonic drink and made it into a gelée. For fun, then I tell people to try the shrimp with the sauce and they say that it’s spicy, then they try the refreshing gelée and then the pickled celery. The whole dish is excellent!”.
Main courses at Broadway by Amar Santana cover a wide range of tastes. Chef Amar’s Signature dish is the Herb Roasted Mediterranean Branzino. One of the most popular dishes at the restaurant, it consists of a thick slice of Mediterranean sea bass, roasted so the flavorful skin is crisp and the delicate flaky meat is perfectly cooked. Pickled clam shell mushrooms add texture and the truffle jus a big dose of flavor. A cauliflower puree serves as the perfect side dish.
A Grilled Marinated Prime Skirt Steak shows what can happen when the right person gets a hold of a skirt steak, known for great flavor but also as a tough and easily overcooked cut. Chef Amar’s version takes a prime piece of skirt steak and cooks it so it turns out as tender as more expensive cuts of meat, while maintaining the beefy flavor that puts skirt steak on the list as one of the most delicious pieces of beef around. A house made chimichurri sauce adds flavor from South America, while a caramelized onion jus and fingerling potatoes round out the dish.
One of the most ordered dishes is the Grilled Smoked Kurobuta Pork Delmonico, a delicious 16 ounce chunk of pork that seems like it is simply grilled until it is tasted, when you realize there is a lot more to the prep then meets the eye. In fact, to create this one dish, the pork is first smoked, then cooked in a sous vide for tenderness and finally grilled to order. Honey Glazed Apples, a Cider Pork Jus and Chestnut Spaetzel add a homey touch to the dish, a plate worthy of the Delmonico name. Other dishes include a Pan Seared Scottish Salmon, a Grilled Prime New York Strip Steak, the unique Mary’s Farm Free Range Chicken and an excellent, Dry Aged Sonoma Duck Breast.
For vegetarians, the dish called Simply Grilled Vegetables adds a roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette and couscous to the tender vegetables for a delicious meal. There are also several vegetables as part of the side dishes portion of the menu. Not to be missed is Chef Amar’s version of his favorite vegetable, Brussels Sprouts. These are fried along with slices of Chinese sausage and cilantro and covered with a light sweet and sour sauce. This dish shows how good Brussels Sprouts can be when made by the right chef.
Also of note is the Japanese Eggplant Agrodolce, with capers and basil. A simple preparation but full of flavor, with the eggplant having the perfect chewy-tender consistency and the sauce adding just a hint of Asian flavors. One, or both of these sides is a necessity with any meal to add a nice accompaniment to your main course.
It is a must to save room for dessert at Broadway by Amar Santana. Lemon Ricotta Fritters look like simple doughnut holes, but the first bite is one of those “AAHHHH….” moments. The tender balls of batter, perfectly fried, are extremely light. Bits of candied lemon add a brightness to the flavor.
Another dish that is a home run is the Bourbon Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta. The contrast of the creamy, flavorful panna cotta, a fresh strawberry sorbet and crunchy chocolate pearls along with fresh strawberries and tarragon leaves is a delight to the senses. A visually stunning dish, it shows the mastery that Chef Amar and his team have brought to every dish they create. As the Chef pointed out to me, “We don’t consider this work. We love what we do!”.
Broadway by Amar Santana
328 Glenneyre Street
Laguna Beach, CA 92651