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Nick's Laguna Beach: food and drinks and sun

Nicks Laguna Beach

If Nick's Laguna Beach was in my town, I'd be living in Laguna Beach, and that would be pretty awesome. I'd also be going there as much as possible.

In fact we did go to Nick's twice in one week when we were visiting the sunny (and grid-locked) town of Laguna Beach. Would have went a third time, but my dopey friend insisted that we eat at some place on the water. What a waste of a meal that was. But let's not think about that.

Let's think about this a place with big skylights, a good-sized rectangular bar, fun, well-executed food, and cocktails to match.

The cocktails are made with fresh citrus juices, as they should be, by very competent bartenders. The short and concise cocktail is represents my friends whiskey and tequila quite well.

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Like more than a few places in Laguana Beach, Nick's offers a prime rib dip, "until we're out" as the menu says. Well I didn't want to be left out, so I ordered it even though I didn't particularly want it. It turned out to be a well-balanced sandwich, with just enough bread, a pile of sliced beef, and a ramekin of a red wine jus. Served with a choice of fries, vegetables, or what they call a "bistro salad." I was feeling quite fat and out of shape, what with being around a lot of southern California types, none of whom seem to have jobs, and all of whom seem to spend their days at the beach and going to the gym. So I got the salad.

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Well this salad just blew me away. Side salads are typically an afterthought, with wilted lettuce, under-seasoned, and unexceptional. This damned thing had bits of bacon, egg, maybe some sort of dried fried, kale, I don't know what else. It was outstanding. I can't remember the last time I even noticed a side salad, much less found myself drooling over the thought of it weeks later.

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We were in the mood for seafood and Nick's pulled through with an excellent shrimp ceviche with mango and serrano chili, and tuna sashimi, served with ripe avocado, cucumber, and thinly sliced red onion. Onion and raw tuna are a great combo, as any lover of the Hawaiian dish poke will tell you.

During another meal we started with deviled eggs. At Nick's they flash fry the whites--something which I've never seen, but liked. This adds an interesting textural contrast to the creamy yolks.

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Nicks Laguna Beach-7

The buttermilk fried chicken was crispy and moist, as you'd hope. It was served with grilled corn, mashed potatoes, a hearty gravy, and a biscuit. We thought the gravy and the potatoes were overkill, with everything making the chicken a bit soggy. I understand what they are going for with this preparation, but my taste leans more toward bright and light with fried chicken sides, so I would have preferred something like a slaw and some pickled vegetables. Especially in the heat of southern California. Or just that damned salad.

Nick's Laguna cheeseburger

The highlight of all of the dishes was the burger.  I've had many burgers from chefs who are trying to make a grown-up Big Mac, or who are at the very least taking some cues from it. Few are very exceptional. But this one nailed it, whether on purpose or by accident. All of the notes were there. Special sauce, shredded lettuce, pickles, sesame seeded bun, one big patty, and raw (rather than sauteed) onions. And some tomato.  Served with that side salad again. This was one of the best dishes of the year for me. Really enjoyable.

The service is tops at Nick's. The bartenders were swamped each time we visited, but managed to take care of everyone. The place is bright and open (with some outdoor seating on the sidewalk) and just great all around. The next time I'm out in Laguna (or where any of their other restaurants are), we'll being stopping in.

Nick's Laguna Beach : 440 South Coast Highway : Laguna Beach, CA : 949.376.8595