We knew about two or three new places in the works; or newly open– depending on when you read this. But when we sat down and checked, it turns out there are (or will be) five new spots in South County’s resort-friendly community within a four month span. Need proof? We’re happy to oblige in chronological order. Full disclosure: Catmosphere was originally part of a dedicated story.
Terra at Festival of the Arts
While only in operation during Pageant (of the Masters) season or for a private event, our first entry made its debut in early July. Helmed by Chef Jenny Messing, a C.I.A. graduate, the focus is on California cuisine that is vibrant in flavor and locally inspired. We appreciate a distinction between lunch, dinner and tapas/bar menus. A nod to California wine and beer is also a nice touch. The former Tivoli Terrace spot is best utilized when you seek a drink and simple flatbread or charcuterie board before the show. 650 Laguna Canyon Rd, (949) 494-9650; www.terralagunabeach.com.
Lost Pier Cafe
Named after a structure knocked down by El Nino in 1986, the Lost Pier is a casual eatery found at the South end of Aliso Beach’s parking lot. Behind the scenes, it’s also linked to the Ranch resort across the street from it. Currently serving fare daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., expect amped up versions of familiar eats, like a brekkie burrito featuring Nueske’s bacon, three bean salad in a lemon vinaigrette and blackened fish tacos with chipotle slaw. Bonus: they also offer beach chair and even umbrella rental, if you’re forgetful/lazy like that. 31131 S. Coast Hwy., (949) 715-4210; www.lostpiercafe.com.
If you’re wondering exactly how a cat cafe works, then you know how clueless we felt entering the bright and airy space. A self-proclaimed dog-lover, we weren’t even sure we were up to the task, so we invited a cat owner for moral support. There are three actual spaces in the cafe: where the humans eat, where the cats play, and where the cats stay. Visitors are only allowed in the dining and play areas. Upon check-in, you decide whether to dine before or after playtime (a third option being having a non-alcoholic beverage with the kitties). We chose to eat first, play later.
Since a glass wall was the only thing separating us from Catmosphere’s play room, we had front row seats to all the action. A bit voyeuristic, but nearly as entertaining as being inside. They also have kitty cams available online. The modest menu of toasts and salads was conceived by Consulting Chef Caroline Smile, and we appreciated how there was variety without being fussy. For instance, the trio of salads all utilized different lettuces, fruits and dressings. Our preferred was the Tabby, with its diced strawberry and mango, dressed with a red onion and lime vinaigrette on a bed of spinach. Their Sunset toast had a bright hue of beet hummus, topped with cumin, arugula and avocado. Next time, we’re ordering a Sunrise version, with almond butter, apples, almonds and honey. Oh, and another birthday cake macaron from Bunjour Bakery!
As far as beverages go, wine and beer are always a good plan. Color Wine out of Newport Beach pours a fruit-forward pink of tangerine, white peach and strawberry. There are even a few cat-themed varietals, such as Chilean Gato Negro Chardonnay or the 9 Lives Reserve Cab, both by San Pedro Winery. Happy “Meowr” is from 4-6:30 p.m., and features $2 off all beer and wine. Non-drinkers have a selection of hot and chilled sips to choose from. Plus, seniors 65 and older receive free coffee or tea while there. Entry for children six and older is $12 per hour; adults 18 and up are $22 per hour. However, we did overhear a half-hour option. Reservations are recommended to guarantee time with the furry residents, but are not required. 381 Forest Ave., (949) 619-MEOW; www.catmospherelaguna.com.
Ocean at Main
Con: The talented Chef Craig Strong departed Studio at Montage Resort over the summer. Pro: He is literally days away from opening his very own storefront in Laguna Beach, successfully cancelling out our con! Expect the same superior quality and attention to detail Strong and his team were known for in a lovely setting, mere steps away from PCH. Per Chef Strong, “Coaxing the true flavors from exceptional products is always my goal.” You’ll taste the end results of his Coastal California concept in dishes such as Oxtail Kale Risotto, Grilled Pork Belly “PLT” and Sweet Potato Panna Cotta with poached pear. Offering indoor and patio seating for over 100 guests, the former Laguna Federal Savings and Loan has been transformed to an upholstered and wood beamed dining oasis. 222 Ocean Ave., (949) 715-3870; www.oceanatmain.com.
A few blocks over from Ocean at Main, Chef Greg Daniels proudly holds up his sign declaring Public Notice of Application for Ownership Change at the former Three Seventy Common spot. They are now one step closer to meeting their quoted October opening. Focusing on seasonal menus and warm hospitality (like how he felt at his Grandfather Harley’s home), Daniels and his team will work with local purveyors on creating the best possible dining experience from start to finish. Expect great things from this talented trio. 370 Glenneyre St., (949) 494-8686.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.