The new Ivory Restaurant is adding a serious splash of color and vitality to the “Festival Center” commercial space between The Sawdust Festival grounds and Seven Degrees.
Most recently housing Chef Mark DePalma’s ReMark’s, Ivory has all the makings of an enduring restaurant, and that’s exactly what new owner Marsha Benson intends.
Chic & Contemporary
For starters, Ivory has solid restaurateur and business leadership, with Marsha’s vast business experience and husband Gary Decker’s equally as vast restaurant success across multiple locations. While Marsha remains the sole owner of Ivory, her husband has proven a great sounding board and consultant from the moment Marsha decided to start a restaurant back in February.
“Chef Mark is a great friend of ours, and we were here for Valentine’s Day on his last day of service,” says Marsha. “As we were all sitting together, talking about the restaurant’s amazing attributes, I made the decision right there that it was time for me to open a restaurant.”
After hours devoted to coming up with the restaurant’s name and overall brand, Marsha set to work on completely redesigning the interior to reflect a “casual but elegant sophistication with a Euro touch.” In keeping with her desire to introduce a menu of chic, contemporary California cuisine, Marsha has managed to create a beautiful, cool interior to serve as backdrop to a wide range of rich and colorful dishes. She’s even mixed her own music tracks, a combination of European electronica, ambient soundscapes and jazz.
“We want everything … from the food to the servers to the music … to be sophisticated but still warm and engaging,” she says.
A Chef-Driven Experience
On a soft open party last Friday, my friends and I got to try these new dishes firsthand. I must say it was a mighty big surprise to see Chef Abel Gonzalez manning the kitchen. I’m such a fan of his cooking that I knew upon spying him that we were all in for a treat.
As it turns out, as Marsha and her restaurant consultants began interviewing chefs and servers in late April for the new Ivory, Chef Abel heard about the opportunity and approached Marsha about the executive chef’s position. “I’ve had some fantastic positions over my decades as a chef, but this concept really excited me,” says Chef Abel. “It gives me the opportunity to expand on my favorite dishes and create some excitement around what I really love to do – the sauces!”
“Ivory is a chef-driven restaurant,” says Marsha. “Chef Abel brings a very polished and sophisticated talent to the table, and it’s time he takes more of the spotlight.”
The Ivory menu is a cornucopia of fresh meats, poultry and fish with a healthy dose of salads and pastas to boot. Our first choice was (of course) the Lobster & Shrimp Mac & Cheese, and it was a perfect way to get the evening rolling. Not a single slip in that hearty, creamy dish.
Other small plates include Blackened Ahi Tataki, a Won Ton Trio of lobster, shrimp and crab, perfectly seared Crab Cakes, and Baked Brie served with apricot and jalapeno relish and roasted pistachios.
Of the seven salads on the Ivory menu, we enjoyed Chef’s trademark Greenhouse Kale Salad, but the Pear, Brie and Gorgonzola Salad stole the salad show. Word has it that the Goat Cheese & Beet Salad is a top seller, too – that I’ll reserve for my next visit.
Entrees are extensive, from a Signature Curry dish to Filet Mignon with Portobello and Béarnaise Sauce, a Bourbon Rib Eye, Sea Bass with truffled mashed potatoes, and even Rack of Lamb served alongside a rosemary garlic tomato sauce.
We tried the Braised Short Ribs and were not in the least bit disappointed. Served with a white truffle risotto, the tender meat simply falls from the bone. The Wild Salmon Almandine was nicely seared and served with Abel’s signature almond, lemon and wine butter sauce, while the popular Sea bass featured his “Asian Lobster Glaze.”
Coddling Locals & Tourists Alike
Initially opening for dinner (Tuesday through Sunday, 5 – 10 p.m.), Ivory Restaurant will begin lunch service from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. in late June. The restaurant offers a carefully chosen wine list and a full-service bar. Chef Abel is just completing his Happy Hour menu, which will be available 5 – 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
“We know we have a busy summer season ahead, but we also want Ivory to be a go-to place for locals on a weekly basis,” says Marsha. “That’s all about delivering warmth and consistency every time they visit.”
Ivory Restaurant & Lounge is at 853 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, Ca. Reservations are now being accepted at 949-715-0261