The word driftwood refers to lumber that has drifted onto the shoreline. Driftwood Kitchen is well named, as it could not be much closer to the surf and sand unless it was situated on the water. Located at the Pacific Edge Hotel (also aptly named for its proximity to the beach) in Laguna Beach, the panoramic views of the ocean are a huge draw and as the view looks towards the west, timing your visit at the end of the day has the bonus of enjoying the spectacular Pacific sunset.
The décor fits the locale, with an open feel and floor-to-ceiling windows that open when weather permits and seats that overlook the ocean. And while you may come for the view, you’ll stay and return time and time again for the cuisine.
Helming the kitchen is Executive Chef/Partner Rainer Schwarz, who was born in Austria and began his culinary training at the age of 15. After working at various five-star hotels and restaurants in Switzerland, Germany and France, he continued his career in the US at prestigious restaurants such as Highland Inn in Carmel and at L.A.’s famed Patina & Pinot restaurants. He went on to create his own restaurants, including several in the Denver area, and in 2009 returned to L.A. to become Executive Chef at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, where he launched the critically-acclaimed Public Kitchen & Bar. In 2013, Chef Rainer formed the Sentinel Restaurant and Hospitality Group (SRHG), an in-house operation for the management of restaurants and hospitality venues, with restaurant industry veterans Colby Durnin and John Nye and in 2014 the group opened Driftwood Kitchen.
Executing the menu is Chef de Cuisine Randall Hane, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who has some quite impressive credentials of his own. Before coming to Driftwood he honed his culinary expertise at L’Auberge in the Park Hyatt in Monterey and at the Chateau De Brindos in Anglet, France, where he helped the restaurant earn a Michelin Star.
The small plates section of the menu is well represented by grilled Spanish octopus—extremely tender due to the fact that it is cooked for three hours in red wine and oranges—matched with a chickpea puree, tomato-capers vinaigrette and za’atar spice and lemon agrumato. Yellowtail carpaccio is enhanced with cucumber, pineapple vinaigrette and a verjus gelee made from the skins of green grapes. A tremendous feast for both the eyes and palate is the burrata cheese with tomato marinated in sherry vinegar, honey, fennel and coriander brought together with a delicious fennel-madera jam. Butternut squash gnocchi has an added level of richness compliments of sage brown butter, speck and parmesan and is topped with cookie crumbles and ricotta.
While dining seaside it makes sense to enjoy some of the ocean’s fresh harvest. Some standout large plate seafood dishes are the Alaskan halibut with sweet corn puree, sautéed mushrooms and lemon confit; and my favorite dish of our tasting: lobster spaghetti carbonara with Maine lobster, heavy cream, pork guanciali, tarragon, pecorino romano and farm egg.
Finishing touches include a sticky toffee cake with warm toffee sauce and vanilla Chantilly cream and a very unique ladyfinger banana split with valhrona chocolate, almonds, Luxardo maraschino cherries and salted caramel ice cream.
Much to my liking was an extensive whiskey, bourbon and Scotch list with more than 35 choices, such as Whistle Pig Rye, Elijah Craig 12 and Templeton Rye; and a wine list with more than 40 by-the-glass options and 70 bottles from Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Washington State, Australia and Germany.
Breakfast and lunch are served daily, with the breakfast menu featuring the usual standards like French toast and steak and eggs, but both are upgraded. The French toast is crusted with granola and comes with hazelnut butter and the steak and eggs with chimichurri sauce. For lunch, check out the salmon sandwich with heirloom tomato, rocket arugula, basil aioli and Kennebec fries. And, a weekend brunch includes “Balik” smoked salmon open faced sandwich with caramelized onion, fennel and chives.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to experience the exceptional service of Brittany Ryan, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened. It’s quite evident that she enjoys her job and she says, “This is the best company I’ve ever worked for. There is an incredible feel, with such a family environment and the food speaks for itself.”
One thing to take note of is the prices are not through the roof, as they certainly could be with such a pristine view as this location has. All aspects combined make this restaurant one of the best choices you can make on the Orange County coast. But don’t just take my word for it: Driftwood Kitchen has garnered several honors, including being named one of the OC Register’s 75 Best Restaurants, OC Weekly’s Best Waterfront Dining and Best New Restaurant by the Orange County Register, COAST Magazine, and RIVIERA Magazine.
Opening hours are Breakfast: 9 a.m.-10:30 a.m.; Lunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Sun-Thurs 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat till 10:30 p.m.; and Weekend Brunch: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Driftwood Kitchen @Pacific Edge Hotel
619 Sleepy Hollow Ln.