If you’ve been reading my columns this summer, you know that I’ve begun to lean somewhat heavily on our great restaurants in town whenever I have a small dinner party to pull off.
A couple weeks ago, it was a special birthday dinner party for a neighbor. I invited exactly four people. And then I called Chef Maro Molteni at Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill, because this guy knows how to cook in a special way.
Different Location, Same Great Cookin’
Most Laguna residents know Chef Maro for his first restaurant, Maro Wood Grill, which he sold completely – hook, line and sinker – in June 2017. He trotted off to Argentina with his family, and I thought we’d never see this great Chef again. Fortunately, he returned a year later and chose to take over the ownership of Royal Hawaiian in January 2019. He and his brother, Martin, officially opened the Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill three months later.
Eleven months thereafter, when the pandemic hit in early March this year, Chef Maro was one of the first to voluntarily close out of concerns for his staff and dearly-held patrons. He re-opened at the very end of March for take-out operations with daily family dinners at super low cost.
Over the next five months, official decisions were made about re-opening for indoor dining, and then moving back to take-out with outdoor dining and, as of last week, opening again for indoor dining to just 25% capacity.
IThroughout, Chef Maro has rolled with the punches. He first added cocktails for on-site and take-out dining, including the famed Lapu Lapu. He then expanded his regular menu significantly, while still continuing his daily family offerings for those of us who still preferred take-out scenarios.
Not Your Normal Chicken Dish
On that family meal note, I chose to order – of all things – chicken for my friend’s birthday dinner.
As a rule, I don’t think many restaurant columnists order chicken as a priority option. Most people, in fact, will bypass the chicken dish at their favorite restaurant. There is no better chicken in the world, however, than Chef Maro’s Free Range Rocky Sonoma Chicken Breast. Although I can safely say I’ve tried and loved everything on his regular, extensive menu, the chicken dish ranks in my top three.
On the Royal Hawaiian wood grill, the chicken takes its time, grilling for at least 25 minutes, which is longer than any other cut of meat Chef Maro serves.
Aside from the tenderest chicken you can imagine, the plating is the game changer. In my take-out pack, the chicken came with its own nursery of care, including Pumpkin Puree for the base and cobbled bits of wood-grilled bacon, charred onion and Shitake mushrooms for the chicken’s crown. Finally, the lemony herb provençal sauce is drizzled all around or ladled on top, whichever you prefer.
I was greeted at the door by Chef Maro with two giant to-go bags and two bottles of Chef-chosen Malbec wine that I’d also ordered in advance. (Believe me, you want Maro to do the picking when it comes to your Malbec. He has the best selection in Orange County.)
Unloading the fine fare was quite a party, in and of itself.
While my birthday party attendees munched on Chef Maro’s famed wood-grilled edamame, I popped the chicken breasts in a slow oven and warmed the sauces to a scant warmth.
The family meal arrived with a giant organic green salad, this time tossed with cherry tomatoes, beets, mango, carrots, pistachios and who knows what else. I call it Maro’s “Kitchen Sink” salad as it can change on a daily basis.
There were also three large to-go boxes neatly stacked with grilled vegetables.
In addition to the Shitake mushrooms, we discovered grilled cauliflower (white and cheddar in color), baby carrots with their leafy tops intact, yellow squash, zucchini and heirloom tomatoes. A sizable serving of oven-baked fingerling potatoes came along for the ride, too, with a brisk shake of salt their only seasoning.
Gourmet in Your Backyard
After walking my guests through the veritable art project of plating ahead of us, my friends turned out great photos before devouring everything on their plates. Insert plated chicken
Needless to say, Chef Maro knocked it out of the park once again at this tiny birthday party.
There is nothing more gratifying than knowing you can rely wholly and completely on a Laguna beach chef whose first priority is you. We’re extremely fortunate to have such inventive, generous chefs in our midst. Be sure to check out Chef Maro’s To Go Menu and place your order 24 hours in advance of the day.
Tuesday offers Wood-Grilled 12-ounce Pork Chops, Wednesday features Wood-Grilled Sausage, Thursday offers the Wood-Grilled Chicken Breast, Friday features Chef Maro’s most popular family meal seller, the Wood-Grilled Salmon, Sunday features Wood Grilled 12-ounce Petite Tender Steak and Sunday’s menu offers Herb-Marinated Wood-Grilled Shrimp (1 pound for two diners and 2 pounds for four).
Go to RoyalHawaiianFireGrill.com or call direct, (949) 715-1470.