Itinerant chefs are the norm in an industry that's always in search of "what's new." Marc Cohen's peripatetic travels have kept him largely in the United States, but he is forever in search of the continent's fi nest seafood at Watermarc, his restaurant in Laguna Beach, CA. Educated at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rl, Chef Cohen won a place on the Chane des Rotisseurs Culinary Olympic Team that won gold medals in Frankfurt, Germany. Then he packed his knives and headed to the nation's capital, where he was recognized as one of Washington's top chefs for his work at Blue Point Grill. In time, he surrendered to the siren call to "go West" and, in 1994, he relocated his practice to the Pacific Coast. Here, as most of his loyal fans would agree, he is doing his greatest work. First, there was 230 Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach, where Cohen's culinary emphasis ran solidly to the treasure trove of fresh seafood that literally laps at the shore. Next was Opah, named after the moonfish of the same name that's considered a fi Sherman's talisman-a prophetic symbol of the good fortune that would follow Cohen's expanding empire. "We look for future locations as they present themselves," he says. Shortly afterward, Cohen conceived of Watermarc in Laguna Beach, featuring small plates designed for grazing and accompanied by an extensive and eclectic list of wines that marry beautifully with his dishes. Joseph Guillena Jr. is responsible for maintaining the high quality of the wine list. He has run wine programs in Hawaii and California, but was drawn to Watermarc by Cohen. "It's rare to find such a dedicated and passionate chef/owner with his energy, creativity and loyal following,"Guillena says. With a menu that features multiple small bites, it's always a challenge to single out a particular wine that complements all the flavors on the dish. "Instead," says Guillena, "I strive to have enough interesting selections flanked by well- known heavy hitters and some value-driven brands." Guillena remains convinced that consumers still find the budget for a fine meal. "But to offset the cost," he says, "they are purchasing down when it comes to wine." His fondness for Pinot Noir shows best with Watermarc's White Cedar Planked Salmon. The cedar is marinated overnight in a mixture of soy sauce, orange juice, brown sugar and bourbon. The salmon rub includes highlights of Dijon mustard, brown sugar, garlic and chopped herbs. When baked, the flavors of the marinade and salmon rub mingle to produce an exotic medley of aromas and flavors. (See the complete recipe at www.tastinqpanelmaq.com.) The result calls out for a finely tuned, yet still fruity Pinot Noir, perhaps Erath, Sonoma-Cutrer, Domaine Drouhin or Willakenzie, all available on Watermarc's extensive list.
Watermarc was named in Orange Coast Magazine's "Best of 2010 Restaurants - Top Ten."
There is a new sense of luxury in our world today. The new LUX is not pretentious and is not about money. The new LUX has heart and passion - it has intrinsic value that is passed from the passion of the creator to the purchaser. The new LUX creator takes an idea or something good and makes it better. The new LUX buyer loves the sense of discovery. It is less about ownership and more about the experience, the contribution... about making a difference. We all need to splurge and when we do, we choose more carefully. We focus on authenticity, quality and experiences that deserve our time, attention and money. And great luxuries today have a story - a narrative that satisfies the emotional need we all have to share in something special. Here are examples of the new LUX on FoodPower's list that demonstrate the amazing power of food. If you take the time to read this through, you may be inspired to identify and define your own personal LUX - and, of course, I'm here to help you do that.
In FoodPower's backyard, Watermarc in downtown Laguna, CA has hit a high watermark and deserves a new LUX award. Every design detail has captured the attributes of greatness that make me think this is the essence of the new fine dining. The food is the focus and the range of options - all at affordable prices - are nothing short of amazing with Ahi Watermelon Skewers (photographed above) and Foie Gras Brulee - a dish that diners dream about. You can nibble, nosh or dive in which is hard not to do because the food is so delicious. The choices are vast - from the 26 glasses of wine available not only by the glass, but by the half glass, designed to pair with a range of perfect grazing plates. You can taste your way through the apps before moving on to burgers or chicken sandwiches (photographed above) or even filet mignon three ways. And the house-made ice cream sampler... you get to choose three, but if you find an agreeable partner you can have all six! Let me tempt you with Salty Caramel, Ginger Snap, Grand Marnier, Chocolate Cayenne, Pecan Rum and Peanut Butter. What's the saying? "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!" Watermarc makes sure of it - if you ask me, they serve the best ice cream in Orange County.
The story behind Watermarc: Marc Cohen, a Johnson & Wales University grad and transplant from the East Coast, knows his fish. He has continually tapped into the dining mood here. First with 230 Forest and the need for socialization and patio dining; then with Opah, bringing us new varieties of fish lest we think Ahi and Salmon are it; and now, once again, he has captured the essence of what we are looking for. My first experience was with my 14-year-old granddaughter Alivia, who enjoyed tomato soup and a grilled-cheese sandwich. My next experience was a grown- up lunch with friend and associate Nancy Feightner of the Spectrum in Irvine - a truly unforgettable meal, as we are still talking about it.
Watermarc was voted "Best Of" Orange County in 2009 by Juli B from Modern Luxury Magazine.
Times are tight and restaurants need our business. This could be a golden era for them, a time when they could crank up the hospitality and grant our wishes with enthusiasm. Yet, at too many restaurants, patrons still wait for a greeting as the barkeep tends to his shift-change duties, $25 is the going rate for a corkage fee, and reservations aren't given for parties of fewer than five.
So it's with giddy relief that I commend Watermarc, a Laguna Beach newcomer skilled in the art of accommodation. Reservations for two? Sure. Corkage fee? $15. Curious about that malbec with a weird name? Here's a taste.
Better still, Watermarc's food is vibrant in flavor and texture, and the chef treats diners to occasional surprises. The new American menu is affordable, with plenty of flexibility. And the service is spirited, but solicitous.
Open since May, Watermarc is the somewhat eponymous creation of executive chef-owner Marc Cohen, founder of the Opah twins (Aliso Viejo and Irvine) and 230 Forest Avenue around the corner In Laguna's village center. It replaces the departed Partner's Bistro, an enviable two-story site on Coast Highway inside the quaint Peppertree Lane compound that once housed the original Javier's.
Perhaps the desirable location and Laguna's offbeat mettle play muse to Cohen this time out, because his New American menu feels fresh, creative, and canny. Organized into categories such as "Grazing Plates" and "Sweet Endings," the choices are so enticing that our table of first-timers takes a tortuously long time to make selections. Looking back, I confess we labored needlessly. The menu is smarter than we are. With so many small plates from a field so wide, order-as-you-go is the best way to take in Watermarc's relaxed beachy flow. Select a few items, taste and share, then repeat. And repeat. No need to rush. No palate or appetite goes wanting with this lineup of 26 choices, with many between $6 and $10.
A soft breeze wafts through wide-open windows beside our table in the downstairs main room. The sidewalk serves as a foyer for pedestrians who peruse the menu posted at the teensy check-in vestibule. We watch the show and catch a glimmer of ocean view while Coast Highway traffic supplies the soundtrack. Chilled filtered water, garnished with a choice of citrus, fresh mint, or cucumber slakes our thirst until the house flatbread ($6) arrives. Its thin crust, almost a cracker, oozes with fontina cheese over roasted cipollini onions, red pepper, and kalamata olives. Drinks arrive while we obliterate the savory pizzette.
As with the food, drink options are plentiful, intriguingly classified on a bar menu that calls out cocktails as up, rocks, muddled, and sparkling. Scores of classic and newfangled concoctions range from an excellent Jack Daniels mint julep to a nuanced Sazerac jazzed up with absinthe. Wines are sanely priced-many less than $50-and more than two dozen "house" wines are dispensed by the half or full glass, or even half carafe. Pairing a wide swath of wines with a varied selection of dishes couldn't be easier. Better yet, the servers know most of the wines, and if they don't, they say so.
With no fuss and little expense, I happily wash down my first-rate Steak Tartare and hot truffle potato chips with a half glass of juicy Martin Ray Central Coast '07 pinot noir. We nosh on creamy blue-cheese tarts laced with port syrup. And we nearly sprain our taste buds trading sips of two malbecs and two cabernets while sharing the Fillet Three Ways-bites of filet oskar, peppercorn fillet, and a deconstructed beef Wellington ($34). Next is a grilled coil of house-made seafood sausage. Deftly seasoned, it does not overwhelm the ground sole and shrimp, and is delicately backed by braised white beans. We exercise restraint only when faced with the prospect of the night's selection of Spanish artisan cheeses. Moving on to dessert seems the most we can manage.
No afterthought here, the nifty sweets are great fun and confidently prepared. A laudable bananas Foster creme brie is heightened by three nuggets of ripe banana, batter-fried to a golden crunch. Though a waitress confesses the frozen Grand Marnier and pistachio souffle isn't her top pick, our stubbornness pays off: The layered pastel custards are dense and velvety. Still though, I can't wait to return to try the cheese plate, which I'm told switches countries monthly.
A tasteful, restrained makeover of the landmark digs brings the outdoors in with large windows, bare tables, and tailored leather chairs that encourage lolling. The ground-floor bar in back puts the focus on customers, not passersby. Bar patrons can order the full menu and there's a lovely communal bar table just outside on the cozy brick-lined patio. Upstairs is airy, comfy, and best for quiet conversation. Next time, I'll request one of the two balcony tables tucked into the tall limbs of the gnarled pepper trees that add so much charm to this address.
Not that I need another reason to return. With a menu this big, plus the eventual seasonal change-ups, Watermarc could be in heavy rotation on my Laguna playlist. For those outside the neighborhood, now's the time to be a regular during the quiet months before tourists arrive.
As his previous successes prove, this is hardly Cohen's rookie season, so Watermarc feels more together than its youthful age suggests. How nice that the wisdom he brings to the table here is so much at play. It's enough to make a diner feel appreciated.
Of this I am now certain: No good restaurant in Laguna Beach stays undiscovered for long. In this dining crucible where competition is fierce and customer expectations run high, if you're good, crowds will precede buzz.
And Watermarc is very, very good. Helmed by chef/owner Marc Cohen, who'd previously built a solid reputation in town with his 230 Forest, his newest restaurant seems to have earned the approval of this city's discriminating palates faster than most. It debuted a month ago, and it's already a hit.
Had Watermarc been located anywhere else-say, Irvine—it'd need at least a year to attract more than looky-loos. But on a recent Friday night, even with reservations, my friends and I were denied entry for a good half-hour, twiddling our thumbs while on the Pacific Coast Highway sidewalk. In the meantime, we saw what seemed like every member of Laguna Beach society swigging wine and nibbling on Watermarc's grazing plates on tables so tightly crammed that designer perfumes mixed and privileged elbows rubbed. Any giddy notions I had about breaking this story to Laguna Beach? Gone. By the time this goes to press, the restaurant won't be news to anyone in town.
When our table was ready, we were led upstairs to a less hectic scene, elevated above the hubbub in a secret den that looked like a members-only treehouse. Insist on a table here if you can, especially near the open balcony, where the scent of Gelato Paradiso's waffle cones will waft up from the alleyway below.
If you're lucky, Alex will be your server. The guy did everything right: He apologized for the wait, stooped down to eye level to talk to us, looked genuinely happy to be there and volleyed every question I lobbed at him. I asked, "How long will it take for the flatbread?" Eight minutes, he said, noticing the ravenous glint in my eye. Eight minutes later, he followed through, arriving with a crisp-crusted, oblong pizza bubbling with fontina, garlic, onions, roasted pepper and piquant kalamata olives.
Our other grazing plates came shortly after. The nuggets of fried Laura Chenel goat cheese sat on sticky puddles of honey and were wedged between tart slices of green apple. Biting into the hot, crisp, thin breading released the funky, rich, cheesy ooze.
Although the Yellow Fin Tuna Two Ways was fresh and executed with sushi-bar precision, I'd skip it. It doesn't tell you what you don't already know about sashimi and tartare. For the cost, you could order another round of that fried cheese-or, better yet, the brandade de morue, a hot dip of salt cod and pureed potato. Slather it on the supplied, business card-size lavash rectangles, and the warm, off-white paste will soothe like an upscale tuna melt.
Another one you shouldn't miss is the house-made seafood sausage, for which crab meat and fish mousse are piped into natural casing and served over a bowl of stewed white beans-an appetizer invested with more thought and care than is required.
Cohen met our new-heightened expectations with his entries. The roasted white-cedar-plank king salmon was cooked pink and perfect, topped with bitter slivers of blood orange and sitting on an actual cedar cross-section. I asked Alex about the plank, which retained some of its bark. "He sources it from a grower in Kentucky, and then soaks it overnight in star anise, garlic and other spices," he said proudly. Wow, I thought. Now that's commitment.
Even Cohen's chicken breast wasn't half-assed. It's sauced almost too boldly with a salty, fontina-laced sage butter and encased in a thin, crispy prosciutto shell masquerading as rendered skin. And the filet mignon (Cohen's most expensive entre)? It's done three ways. Each measured morsel was sinew-free, broiled exactingly and literally wore different hats: The Oscar was crowned with a chapeau of lump crab, asparagus and bearnaise; the Wellington, a puff pastry cap hiding a mushroom duxelle toupee; and the peppercorn-crusted Diane, a beehive stack of onion rings.
I do have some tips for my fellow out-of-towners who've yet to discover Watermarc: starches and veggies, like his generously portioned trio of roasted cauliflower, are served la carte. There's no bread service; it's replaced by a water service, which means you get your choice of water with either a slice of orange in it, cucumbers and mint, or plain. And also, if you park in the structure on Glenneyre Street, between Laguna and Legion (as you should), you don't have to feed the meter after 7 p.m.; it's free. You Laguna Beach residents, of course, already know this.
Chalk up a quartet of hits for award winning chef/owner Marc Cohen who threw open the door on his latest venture with nary a word nor hint to anyone. But it was virtually no time at all before locals caught the fire and Watermarc was immediately in full swing starting with the unobtrusive May 11 debut. On site of the long vacated Partners Bistro and Terrace, the totally reconstructed restaurant sports a busy bar set back from entry tables and more intimate dining awaits upstairs.
Peruse the menu briefly and it is the Grazing Plates which immediately set taste buds in motion, no less than 26 tempters on tap. Except for a $12 artisan cheese plate, $7 to $11 will garner such imaginations as clams casino, lobster cognac bisque, filet mignon pot pie, crab filled tomatoes, crab louie salad.
Opting for black mussels anointed with saffron lemon cream scented with shallots/leeks, and seafood sausage with spicy white beans and mustard, my guest and I shared a tasty experience with a side of the garlic infused house flatbread smeared with fontina, cipolini onion, roasted pepper and kalamata olives, a flavorful alternative to the once ubiquitous bread basket some restaurants have recently precluded economically. There are a quartet of burgers, $12-$15; half a dozen seafood entrees and as many meat and poultry dishes $18 - $34, all available at lunch and dinner. A la carte accompaniments are 56 each. Among Cohen's innovations come smoked paprika bay boat scallops & shrimp nestled atop saffron orange couscous, the delicately scented grains soothing the pepper's sharp pungency. Among provocative sweet endings, tempura banana caramel creme brulee tops the list of $8 delectable enhancements.
By: Juli B
you love marc Cohen's OC institutions, you give Opah standing ovations and keep 230 forest avenue to yourself (don't want the intimate spot too crowded, right?), his latest, and the only one to sort of bear his name, Watermarc, is the newest laddish to Laguna's sizzling dining scene and proves that three is definitely no crowd.
Cohen's always been fascinated by pairings from flavors in each dish to unusual food and beverage combos, so don't be surprised when you crack open the drink menu and see it's divided into "up," "muddled," "rocks" and "sparkling" instead of the usual red, white and blah, pair your pour (or sip) with a few of the 26 different grazing plates which blend classic american faves with Cohen's signature refinement and artistry, and if it's a nice day out (and when isn't it?) ask for a seat on the upstairs terrace, where all of Laguna and the blue pacific stretch out for you to feast your eyes on. fab food and a view that's as sweet as your cockatil (try the fire and ice, a mix of citrus vodka, jalapeo, cucumber and lime)? that's a pairing that can't be beat.