The former home of Mark's Restaurant, in the strip mall across from the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, has undergone a makeover. It now has a new name, Ivory Restaurant & Lounge; a new owner, Marsha Benson; a new chef, Abel Gonzales; a new décor; and a new menu.
It is a bit more sophisticated but still casual and comfortable. Light, diaphanous white curtains are draped on the front windows. The ceiling and walls are largely white, though one wall is dark gray and adorned with two giant photos of pretty female faces. The lounge area has a bar and lovely white leather banquettes. An outdoor patio is well suited for summer dining.
Chef Abel Gonzales says his California cuisine "is all about the sauces." The Patron Scampi had some big, beautiful, very fresh and moist shrimp served with garlic and tequila butter sauce and accented with spicy pico de gallo.
The restaurant's version of crab cakes had a finely minced mixture of seasoned crab, accompanied by a Thai chili aioli that lent heat and sweetness. The cakes were very good, but the flavor of the crabmeat was lost in too much filler.
Baked Brie, with thin slices of toasted bread, was a plate of oozingly delicious melted cheese, pieces of roasted pistachios and a sweet apricot fruit relish and a mildly hot jalapeno relish. It is a good dish to share.
Among the other appetizers are seared ahi with mixed greens, pickled ginger, wasabi and ponzu sauces; lobster and shrimp mac and cheese; and the signature Pomodoro meatballs.
Ivory has a number of salads, including goat cheese and beets, pear Brie and gorgonzola, and greenhouse kale. Chicken, shrimp or salmon can be added to any salad.
Meat-eaters will enjoy the filet mignon Portobello. The beef is very flavorful and juicy, a really good steak. It almost didn't need the delicious béarnaise sauce that came with it. It is served on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes that are addictive. On the side were several large, grilled Portobello mushrooms as well as grilled asparagus, carrots and zucchini, which completed the plate.
Penne rigate mia nonna is one of three pasta dishes offered. Loaded with roasted fennel, sweet peppers, Portobello mushrooms and asparagus, this tube-shaped pasta was perfect for soaking up the light tarragon cream sauce. It was very flavorful. You can also add chicken or shrimp, but my companion and I found the chicken to be a little overcooked.
Chilean seabass is appearing on more menus these days, and it is one of my favorite fishes. Two nice-sized pieces rested on top of those excellent mashed potatoes. The fish didn't quite have the exquisite silkiness that I look forward to, but it was still quite good. I also enjoyed the light, creamy lobster sauce with sweet and spicy notes. Once again, carrots, zucchini and asparagus were on the side.
Ivory features a signature house chicken curry — the chef's own recipe. Some of its other entrees are rack of lamb with a Cabernet, rosemary demi-glace, braised short ribs with white truffle risotto, seared salmon almandine with an almond lemon and wine sauce, grilled assorted seasonal vegetables over basmati rice and drizzled with a balsamic wine reduction, and the Ivory gourmet burger with smoked gouda and caramelized shallots. It is huge.
Our friendly waiter told us about the three desserts being served. One was the housemade tiramisu, another was a mango passion fruit gelato served in a white chocolate shell, and the last was a chocolate hazelnut cake, which was the one we selected.
It had layers of rich dense chocolate cake interspersed with a cookie-like layer of chocolate. The dessert was good but a bit dry. We didn't discover the hazelnut anywhere.
This is certainly a place we will visit again.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Ivory Restaurant & Lounge
Where: 853 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
Appetizers: $12 to $14
Entrées: $14 to $34
Bottles: $28 to $95
By the glass: $7 to $16
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (949) 715-0261 or http://www.ivoryrestaurantandlounge.com