Orange County has many epic views. Some of our beach scenes can draw a crowd, generally around sunset, when what happens in front of the eventide can be just as beautiful, like seeing an Instagram influencer’s husband patiently snapping pose after pose until landing on just the right one or, if you’re lucky, witnessing some poor guy drop to one knee and propose with waves crashing in the distance.
If you’ve ever dined at Las Brisas in Laguna Beach, it’s likely you’ve watched a parade of this activity throughout your meal, as though it’s dinner theater. The panoramic, cliffside, coastal view is one of my favorites; there’s something about the cove that unfolds like a modern version of the famous Georges Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
When it was built in 1938, it was the Victor Hugo Inn; the historic building was converted to Las Brisas in 1979. I’m sure everyone reading this has gone on a date, battled through a Valentine’s Day dinner, or celebrated a birthday at this iconic spot. I haven’t been in a while, and on a recent visit, I found a lot had changed. The bar and lounge area have been revamped to bring in a modern coastal bohemian vibe, but perhaps the biggest change is the new culinary program driven by executive general manager Michael Gaines, who returns to Orange County after several years in the Bay Area.
Arguably, the best part of Las Brisas remains the same: getting paired with a hilarious server. “Let me give you a Spanish lesson,” offered Ricardo while popping a cork on a green bottle of bubbly. “What is ‘Anita Lava Latina’ spelled backward?”
“I might be drunk, but I think it’s a palindrome,” I replied.
“Nope, it’s ‘Anita Lava Latina’ front and back!” he says as we all laugh.
I guess you had to be there.
Ricardo, who is as good at cracking dad jokes as he is at keeping the bottomless mimosas flowing, used to be a server at the (unrelated) Las Brisas in Acapulco, a resort where each beachside casita has its own private pool.
Among Gaines’ changes is switching brunch from a buffet-style affair to a four-course prix fixe. First up is a basket of fresh, warm bread; a silly amount of straight-from-the-farmers’-market berries; and drinks. I went with the Dante, named after Las Brisas’ most tenured server, who still works there; it’s an ultra-refreshing pink, margarita-style cocktail with Casa Noble Crystal organic tequila, pomegranate and fresh lime.
The starters include pozole, caesar salad, even shareables for the kids such as yogurt and granola. My pick was easily the salmon tostada, which is ultra-vibrant with smoked salmon and pickled pink onion.
The entrées are rounded out nicely with coastal Mexi-fusion such as the filet and lobster enchiladas, omelet al pastor, and baked eggs with chorizo. There’s also a lobster Benedict and, for those with a sweet tooth, French toast coated in all things yum, including cocoa nibs and macadamia nuts. We chose classics: huevos rancheros topped with rich, red guajillo sauce and chilaquiles, both made with house tortillas.
As if that’s not enough, there’s a choice of dessert. I highly suggest taking any scenic selfies before you eat; otherwise, your fam might think you’re announcing a baby on the way.
Las Brisas, 361 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5434; www.lasbrisaslagunabeach.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!