If you’re a Laguna local, this might be the first week you’ve emerged from your home since the first week of June. I understand. I’ve harbored myself, too, in my South Laguna home, escaping when necessary to the south until the “all-clear” sirens began blaring from City Hall.
Come on out, you blinky little moles … rub your eyes at the bright light around you and let’s get you back into enjoying your own Laguna town. Chef Marc Cohen is one of the first to welcome you with his usual smile.
Happy Hour Menu in Honor of Locals
The Owner/Chef of 230 Forest for 24 years, and Watermarc for 9 years, Chef Marc has seen all the comings and goings of tourists and locals in this town.
If put to the test, I’m betting he could produce our own “Farmer’s Almanac” version of an entire year’s statistical traffic of our tourist traffic patterns. In fact, I’m betting he’s the one the City goes to in regard to that proverbial “all clear” siren’s date.
“Summer in Laguna Beach is still spectacular, it’s just a different energy and feeling,” says Cohen. “We see locals all year-round, but it feels like a family reunion when they all come out again in our fall and winter months.”
This year, Chef Cohen officially noted that “Laguna Locals’ Season” began on Monday, Sept. 10th. And, in honor of this seasonal change, he’s offering a brand new Happy Hour menu. Starting this week, it runs Monday through Friday, 2:30 – 5:30 p.m, excluding holidays.
“We always like to give back to our locals because we understand how important they are in our world,” says Chef Marc. “The Laguna locals have invested in us from the very beginning, and we really enjoy investing in them, too. So many people have become our family here over the years, and family is always first in my book.”
Once you try Chef Marc’s new happy hour menu, you’re going to feel adopted, too. This is culinary and pricing love at a whole new level of adoration, and this guy knows exactly what he’s doing. If you’ll remember, when Chef Marc arrived in Laguna Beach, the only real “culinary-creative” establishments were Michael Kang’s Five Feet and David Wilhelm’s first restaurant in town, Kachina. “I saw a great opportunity to serve great food in a casual atmosphere, and that’s been our mission from Day One,” says Cohen.
Cohen says he like to re-create his annual Happy Hour menu because it gives him the opportunity to try new things and start new trends. After daily work in all three of his restaurants, he admits “relaxing” at home with a stack of magazines and cookbooks. “I’m always in the markets and chatting with my fish purveyors every day to stay on top of what’s out there that’s the best of the best for the season,” says Cohen. “Consistency is absolutely key, and the only way you can accomplish that is through research, maintaining your passion and treating your staff like family,” he says.
230 Forest’s Happy Hour menu specials include custom cocktails and a full menu of snacks and small plates.
Let’s Start With the Drinks
I’m greeted first by Resident Mixologist René Karlson, who serves me a “Barrel Aged Boulevardier Martini” a custom blend of Kentucky bourbon, Aperol and sweet vermouth that’s casked for 21 days before lovingly poured, shaken briefly with ice chips and embellished with an orange twist.
For Happy Hour, a large list of select beers and wines by the glass are just $5. And, for those in the know … that being YOU because you’re reading this article … an unpublished happy hour special includes three signature (and best-selling) cocktails discounted from normal pricing of $13 and $14 to just $5. Ask for the Boulevardier, the Amalfi Coast or the Mission Fig Margarita by name (and you didn’t hear it from me).
Chef Marc recommends the Boulevardier with his blistered shishito peppers and, while the drink goes down quite wonderfully with every food item he brings to my table, I have to agree – the smooth bourbon accentuates the “sherry gastrique” of the peppers in a marvelous, soothing way.
Snacks and Small Plates Big on Taste
The 230 Forest Happy Hour Menu itself is divided into Snacks and Small Plates, with prices between $8 and $13.
For me, the “small plates” that arrive are multiple full dinners. These are hearty portions, including the purported “snack” that arrives as a mountain of steamy, melt-in-your-mouth shishito peppers.
Even if you’re familiar with Chef Marc’s affinity for true culinary food, you’re still going to be surprised and (dare I say) joyous at the arrival of these gorgeous plates and immaculate food.
A mere sampling of the menu … Crowned with smooth béchamel and micro greens, the Spinach Croquettes crowd shoulder-to-shoulder in a skillet-hot bed of just enough tomato sauce.
The Short Rib Tacos offer great hunks of buttery rib meat piled with salted lime cabbage, pickled onion, and a marvelous bite of feta cheese.
Even the Lamb Chops offer a creative flair, first rubbed in a mustard rub, and then rolled in Greek-inspired Quinoa for a light toasting. They arrive lightly nestled in a large serving of fluffy Greek Tzatziki. The chops prove sublime, and the quinoa-based Tzatziki is bursting with fresh flavors of cucumber, lemon, garlic, tiny feta bites and blistered tomatoes.
“Your happy hour food should be just as carefully crafted as your entrées,” explains Chef Marc. “Our guests – and particularly our locals – have sophisticated palates. So, I’m only going to provide the freshest ingredients in creative ways that they aren’t seeing everywhere else.
“It’s not about complicating the food … it’s about creating a unique taste and texture profile that our guests want to return for again and again,” he says.
Mission accomplished, Chef Marc. You’ve outdone yourself, again.
230 Forest is … well … at 230 Forest Avenue in downtown Laguna Beach. Watermarc, which opened in 2008, is just a couple blocks south by foot on Coast Highway. Opah, his 18-year-old, still stands as the unique indy among franchise restaurants in the Aliso Creek Town Center in Aliso Viejo.