OC Review: Studio, Laguna Beach

Studio at Montage Laguna Beach (Photos by Leonard Ortiz, OC Register)

When the scallop arrives, I’m completely transfixed. It’s a single, glorious scallop, the perfect size, about three bites. It’s snuggled into a bed of short-grain rice that’s been infused with bamboo juice, turning the grains a lovely shade of chartreuse. Two slices of bright orange kumquat teeter precariously on top, adding a jolt of citrus to what is otherwise a creamy, decadent verse.

“Wow,” I’m thinking, as I luxuriate between the scallop and a sip of incredible German Riesling. I force myself to slow down, struggling to stretch three bites into four or even five.

The scallop is the second course in chef Craig Strong’s six-course tasting menu at Studio, the beautiful cliff’s-edge restaurant at the Montage resort in Laguna Beach. And it’s just one of many dishes that make me think, “This is amazing.”

Every meal at Studio begins with a complimentary amuse-bouche. On one of my visits, the amuse is a succession of three canapés, starting with a miniature “taco” filled with caviar and crème fraîche. This is followed almost immediately with a hazelnut-size fritter of goat cheese into which a small syringe of honey has been inserted. “Inject the honey just as you’re putting the cheese in your mouth,” our server instructs. And just as soon as we’ve done this, a third amuse arrives: a single spoonful of pearl couscous flecked with red peppers. “Wow, that was fun,” says my guest…

Over the course of several recent visits, I sample 28 dishes. Ten of these deliver the wow, while 13 make me think, “Ah, well, that’s nice.” But that leaves five that make me scrunch my brow and think, “Hmm, I’m sure glad I’m not spending my own money on this.”

Like the $65 halibut. When I’m blowing $65 for a 4-ounce piece of fish, I expect it to be extraordinary. Revelatory. Mind-blowing. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s kind of boring, like old-school hotel food…

This is obviously merely a synopsis. To read my full review and see the star rating, and to view an extensive slide show by photographer Leonard Ortiz, check out this week’s OC Register. Note: Subscriptions are required for unlimited access the OC Register online. We don’t give it away for free at the newsstand, and we don’t give away for free online, either. Anyone can receive one week of complimentary access, but after that you’ll need to be a subscriber. Alternatively, you can always buy a single day pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access. 

I invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. (My Instagram feed appears on Facebook.)

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