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The Gossiping Gourmet: Sapphire chef keeps menu fresh, worldly

May 18, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Sapphire Laguna is serving Australian passion fruit Pavlova with fresh berries and mango coulis.
Sapphire Laguna is serving Australian passion fruit… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

It's always fun to go back to Sapphire Laguna because the peripatetic Chef Azmin Ghahreman continues to travel throughout the world seeking new experiences in food in order to continually refresh his eclectic menu.

On other occasions, we've dined on coconut banana fish wrap from the Philippines, Tunisian crab warka, African red curried swordfish, chicken martabak (an Indonesian spring roll), Oaxacan duck mole quesadilla and Chinese Szechuan pork and tofu with egg noodles. You won't find any of these dishes on the current menu because Azmin is always moving on but rest assured, there will always be a panoply of new items to try.

In addition to the regular menu there is a spice plate menu served at the bar, ranging from the unique pastrami quesadilla with Oaxacan cheese to the more prosaic kobe beef sliders. This menu is also served in the dining room, on request, during the week.

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People love to eat alfresco and yet there are so few places in Laguna that take advantage of the mild California climate and offer outdoor dining. Sapphire's large patio with its dramatic fire pit is practically a reason in itself to visit this interesting restaurant. The interior dining space is also pleasant with comfortable upholstered chairs and artisanal wood and glass elements.

From the spice plate menu, we began our meal with the mezze platter, a trio of Middle Eastern favorites. They get high marks for toasting their pita bread and serving it hot from the oven. We used it to scoop up some excellent hummus that wasn't the usual smooth creamy dip but had texture from small bits garbanzo beans, which made it more interesting. It also had a perfect balance of lemon and garlic. For contrast was a little Greek salad with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sweet onions, mint and parsley, finished with a light lemony dressing. The third element was some very mild baba ghannouj …perhaps too mild. It needed some punch.

From the Mediterranean we move to the Far East for Vietnamese fried spring rolls. Azmin's take on them is to substitute crab and lobster for the more usual pork and shrimp. The truth is that the filling in this is so finely minced it could be almost anything. In this case, there was a back taste of seafood but the dominant flavor was the very good, crispy, fried wrapper dipped in the lime, fish sauce dressing, nuam muoc. It was accompanied by a spicy but acidic cabbage slaw that could have used a little sweetness.

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