hen guests consider what makes a memorable dining experience, the attributes that generally come to mind are food, service and ambiance, in that order. Naturally, you’d want the meal to take center stage. And the interaction between diner and server are just as important, if not more so. However, many take for granted the setting in which their entire brunch, lunch or supper takes place. Layout and décor are considerable elements in the greater picture that is a restaurant. Within Ocean at Main, the nautical ambiance plays a harmonious song to Chef Craig Strong’s orchestral maneuvers in the kitchen.
Seated at our table, we admire the watercolor motif of the banquette. Waves composed of earthy neutrals, plus seafoam greens and blues are “painted” along the seat backs. Distinguishing their dining room from the bar, a subtle partition crafted from rope-like material hangs from the ceiling. In front of us, the coastal theme meanders around our place setting. Netting wrapped around the candle holder, plus a boldly braided napkin ring evokes thoughts of fisherman going about their day. Our table top is an amiable backdrop for Grilled Pacific Swordfish, plated alongside fresh harissa, charred eggplant, lentils, artichokes and mint.
Situated throughout were three styles of chairs: an upholstered seat in a muted pattern echoing the banquette, one made of wicker, and a backed wooden stool that coordinated perfectly with the table tops. Upon further inspection, there is a monogrammed “OM” on the stool which is repeated on velvety accent pillows along the cushioned banquette. The attention to detail was thoughtful, as the personalized touches showed up in rather unexpected places. We believe the “OM” may also reference an inner peace the Pacific often provides from spending time along the water’s edge.
Per Chef Strong, “My goal with Ocean at Main is to blend refined dishes with a more approachable ambiance. My travels around the world and cooking at home have been my inspiration for the menus. For the décor, we wanted the restaurant to be comfortable and have a sense of place.”
As we gazed around Ocean at Main, we took in its Spanish-style architecture, reminiscent of the historic California missions populating the landscape along Highway 101. While most dining rooms conceal their storage, visible cabinetry is part of the relaxed aesthetic. It gave the impression that we were congregating in someone’s home. An aquarium view of the kitchen allows just enough curious tendencies to catch chef working over at one end, and the wood-burning oven monitored by his pizzaiolo at the other. We also spy the eye-catching triptych of a bold, under-the-sea waterscape prominently displayed; a lively focal point for the room designed by Tuvalu Home’s Laurie Alter.
Rich colors aren’t limited to the artwork, as we marveled at the vibrant green hue of our Oxtail Kale Risotto, garnished with Parmigiano-Reggiano and delicate garlic blossoms. Its immensely satiating flavor warmed us from the inside out. In contrast, subtle, almost undetectable touches to the dining room included using coral as a topper for vases. Instead of a more interesting hue, the choice to decorate with pieces of white almost blends into the walls, providing a nuanced layer of texture without detracting from other details.
The most prominent design aspect in our minds happened to be the one we almost couldn’t detect. From the medieval chandeliers to our curvy water glass, and within our chairs and even tables, they shared something in common: rounded edges. With very few exceptions, the aesthetic is more soothing all around than harsh. Our server emulates a similar calm demeanor when responding to our inquiries. She is warm, yet confidently knowledgeable; casual, but polished. Circular pizza pies and gently rolled pastas echo the preferred shape. Another well-rounded taste was Ocean at Main’s Baby Spinach Salad. A mélange of curiously-shaped ingredients included slivered Fresno chilis, marble potatoes and crisp calamari rounds in a lemon Caesar dressing.
It is Chef Craig Strong’s juxtaposition of rustic Italian with composed seafood that pleases guests. There is a balanced menu of familiar and less traditional selections, allowing your decision to be representative of his vision, regardless of choice. His appreciation for Laguna Beach’s oceanic tendencies is felt throughout, whether one realizes it or not. It is this ability to seamlessly incorporate not only a concept, but a sense of comfort and belonging that contributes to their success.
Ocean at Main | 222 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach | 949.715.3870 | oceanatmain.com