Search Modern Luxury

The artfully plated heirloom tomato salad


The Main Attraction

By Jamie Gwen

Photography by Jay Reilly


Chef Craig Strong makes waves in Laguna Beach with his coastal-cool restaurant debut, Ocean at Main.

Chef Craig Strong is welcoming you into his new home with brilliant flavors in a striking space—and it’s a really good invite. Ocean at Main has arrived. After nine years as executive chef at the acclaimed Studio at Montage Laguna Beach, Strong has brought to life the moment he’s waited for throughout his two decade-plus career.

Designed by Laguna Beach-based Laurie Alter of Tuvalu Home, the space is filled with wood-beamed ceilings, oversize wrought-iron chandeliers and hand-distressed tables. Seaside air permeates the dining room and fabulous outdoor patio as feasting takes place a stone’s throw from the sand on Ocean Avenue. The vibe is fresh, beachy and beautiful, and the cuisine embraces its California coastal roots.

Make a reservation—Strong’s popularity has locals near and far clamoring for a spot at a banquette table or near the 1940s fountain on the patio—then begin with a burst of California citrus in the form of a cocktail. The bar is a pinnacle place to toast, and sommelier Kristin Morgan has crafted a spirits and wine menu overflowing with exceptional pairings. Take The Boardwalk: The combination of gin with grapefruit juice and bitters, topped with an egg white float, is too delicious to drink just one.

Charred Spanish octopus

 Then, you must get to eating. Strong possesses an impeccable flair for gorgeous plating that delivers on taste and texture. From the first bite of his delectable bread service, you’re in for a treat. Locally baked artisan bread with a killer crust is teamed with a lemon-garlic sweet butter that I can’t get enough of. Don’t skimp on starters, though. The marinated tomato salad offers an intense tang from the dehydrated balsamic vinaigrette crumbles that adorn the plate and make the heirlooms pop. The charred Spanish octopus is toothsome, tender and radiantly paired with a cauliflower ratatouille and a garlic-herb emulsion, and the spicy tuna boasts a brilliant contrast of fresh bigeye and fermented black garlic. Each dish is a work of art, a painting of artistic excellence and gastronomic delight.

The vibrant Lover’s Beach Retreat cocktail

Onward to entrees! At lunch, partake in a pork belly “PLT” sandwich enlivened with pickled shallots (chef’s take on a banh mi) or indulge in a housemade turkey Bolognese sausage pizza straight from the brick pizza oven. In the evening, order the impeccable roasted beef tenderloin. Served on a bed of sunchoke puree with maitake mushrooms and a raspberry bordelaise sauce, it’s luxurious enough to make your taste buds sing with delight. By sea, the grilled Pacific swordfish is elegantly dressed with fresh harissa and artichokes, and sits atop minted lentils—an extraordinary combination that will make you swoon. Oh, and did we mention the lobster fettucini bathed in a truffle bisque sauce? It will make your head spin, it’s so good. And if you can possibly spoon another morsel, make it a Strong family favorite from the dessert menu: spice cake bursting with holiday warmth and a scoop of creme fraiche ice cream.

It goes without saying that Strong is a supreme talent who puts heart and soul into every dish he preps. Celebrate the talent and take it all in; Ocean at Main is quintessential Southern California dining, and it’s elevating Laguna Beach with every order.

Ocean at Main
222 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach,
Starters and salads, $12-$24; pasta and pizzas, $16-$18; entrees, $28-$48; dessert, $5-$12