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Grilled porterhouse steak

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by Jamie Gwen | Photo: Andrea Bricco | Riviera Orange County magazine | May 29, 2013

I love intimacy. I’m referencing dining rooms, of course. Small, cozy rooms, dimly lit, with leather chairs, fireplaces and dark wood. A tiny, lovely, cube-like space with tables and chairs surrounding a glass-enclosed wine cellar—a sight to behold and beautiful from every angle. And when a bevy of cutting-edge steaks are offered on the menu, along with compound butters strewn with truffles and roasted garlic, plus a few impressive apps, indulgent side dishes and a superb wine list, I fall in love. I bet you wouldn’t believe that this setting just so happens to be enoSTEAK, the signature restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. Pretty impressive.

I’m a Ritz-Carlton fan—sweeping ocean views, crashing waves, a super cool bar. And who isn’t fond of our priceless waterfront properties? This toddler brasserie that used to house the wine and cheese bar has much to offer, and on my visits, the level of service and consistent quality of cuisine delighted me. When you go to a steakhouse, the most important aspect (in addition to the food, ambience and attention to detail) is the ability of the grill chef to prepare a steak to perfection. And every time, the chef hit his mark—juicy, tender, meaty goodness, perfectly pink, and warm and flavorful.

All-natural, grass-fed or prime—your beef is waiting. enoSTEAK’s prime beef comes from Vintage Natural farms, and it’s raised naturally, with no hormones. The in-house butcher at The Ritz-Carlton, whose 25-year tenure is most impressive, hand-cuts the steaks after aging them for 25 days in the private aging room. (I want an aging room in my house!) Sounds good so far, right? Keep reading.

During a recent dinner, we’re welcomed by the manager and host, and promptly escorted to our table. When the staff realizes that we four culinary snobs are going to eat way more food than a four-top would hold, they add a table to accommodate. Now that’s service. I’m going to be gluttonous, and you’re going to help me. Fabulous. And just like clockwork, the server arrives to introduce herself and to grant our cocktail wishes. A bottle of Stags’ Leap Petite Syrah is ordered, and later decanted to allow the wine to breathe, and my basil gimlet follows soon after. I love the herbaceous quality that herbs add to cocktails—a subtle green profile, freshness and feel. Balanced with Hendrick’s Gin, fresh lime juice and a hint of agave, it’s the perfect palate teaser. Now, onto the food.

The amuse-bouche arrives—a gift from the chef, its direct translation is “amusement for the mouth,” and I’ll take a present from him anytime. Sauteed chicken liver pâté, topped with a layer of rendered duck fat with honeyed balsamic shallots, alongside grilled bread—I’m in heaven. Next, the Introduction course, as it’s stated on the menu: Local burrata cheese is layered in a brioche stack with housemade pesto and vine-ripened, blistered tomatoes. The flavors marry beautifully, albeit a small-sized portion, and it leaves me wanting more of the fresh, sunshiny summer flavors. The tuna and tomato tartare is clean and delicious—small cubes of sushi-grade ahi combine with locally grown tomatoes and a lemon oil that coats each morsel. Citrus-dusted wontons adorn the tartare to create a textural explosion, and the local watercress adds a bitey finish. The wedge salad is simple but satisfying, lightly bathed in buttermilk dressing and sprinkled with a bit of bacon (need more bacon, chef) and Point Reyes blue cheese. The roasted bone marrow is the standout of starters, though. The fat that fills the bone is roasted to perfection, and garnished with gray salt and perfectly pickled onions—indulgent and a fundamental necessity to any meal at enoSTEAK.

We pause to taste the wine, plucked from an impressive list of worldwide offerings. Opus One and Dominus grace the menu, as does BV’s Tapestry and Shafer’s Chardonnay. Any oenophile is guaranteed to find a favored crush on the list. And, of course, Stags’ Leap always delivers. This petite syrah was juicy, with black cherry and strawberry notes, along with a touch of vanilla and an ounce of spice—powerful enough to pair with bold steaks but equally elegant to slow dance with the sides.

Now, bring on the meat! The grass-fed tenderloin arrives first and, upon contact with the knife, slides onto each of our plates—tender and flavorful, and absolutely supple in texture. Next, 22 ounces of grilled prime porterhouse goodness, cooked to meticulous precision and so full of flavor—gnaw near the bone and you can taste the aging. It’s a superb steak. And finally, the grilled prime rib-eye, my personal favorite. It’s the food lover’s ultimate combination of flavor, fat and texture, all mixing into bite after bite of steak sensation. Complement your cow with enoSTEAK’s signature compound butters—the black summer truffle, and the roasted garlic and garden herbs reign supreme. On an analytical note, I would refrain from the temptation of halibut or duck. Disappointingly, the alternative protein offerings do not measure up to the steaks, which are tremendous. You have to try them. Enough said.

For Enhancements (aka sides), don’t miss the Toma white cheddar and truffle mac and cheese. It’s killer but petite, and I wouldn’t share the little cast iron crock if I were you. The organic California Yukon potato mash is blissful, silky and airy, and the sauteed organic mushrooms are impressive (sans the peas). The veal demi glace they’re finished with adds a rustic, umami compliment to the rich meat.

More wine, more steak, more wine, more steak. Service that’s present but discreet. A delicious experience. And then, there’s dessert. Only two offerings are shared from the kitchen each night. (I would add more variety.) The superior of the two: a salted caramel ice cream pie with chocolate ganache, peanut butter powder and a chocolate crisp. It’s scrumptious, but I’m not sure that it matches the theme of the rest of our meal. Cappuccinos with baby biscotti are a charming ending, and the conversation continues.

It’s hard to find a virtuous steak in a quaint setting with impeccable service, a notable wine list and a magnificent ocean view from the window nearby. enoSTEAK exemplifies the discerning taste of O.C. patrons today, and I’m sure you’ll feel the love.

enoSTEAK
The Ritz-Carlton,
Laguna Niguel
1 Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point
949.240.2000
ritzcarlton.com/lagunaniguel

Tue.-Sat.: 6-10pm

Introductions: $12-$15
Meats and seafood: $38-$65
Enhancements: $9-$12

Who Goes There
Savvy foodies, steak lovers and couples on romantic dates

You Must Order
The bone marrow, the rib-eye and the Yukon potato mash

Best Table in the House
Any table, but especially one near the fireplace

We Suggest…
Arriving early and enjoying a cocktail at Bar Raya while drinking in the ocean view. (Order the basil gimlet.)

It’s Only Natural
enoSTEAK procures its prime beef from Vintage Natural farms, which raises hormone-free cattle.

One More Thing About That Meat…
It’s aged 25 days in The Ritz-Carlton’s on-property private aging room.