The Gossiping Gourmet: K'ya remains a top contender — and packed

May 02, 2012|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Flash fried calamari at K'ya Bistro in Laguna Beach.
Flash fried calamari at K'ya Bistro in Laguna Beach. (DON LEACH, HB Independent )

K'ya Bistro in Laguna Beach is a top contender for the noisiest restaurant in Orange County, but it has some of the most reasonably priced and tastiest food around. This may be why it's always packed and therefore so noisy.

The restaurant is off the lobby of La Casa del Camino hotel. While upstairs, there is an outdoor rooftop bar serving drinks and tapas. It is one of the hippest scenes around.

Downstairs, the softly lit main dining room has a bit of a Spanish feel, with arches along one wall separating the main room from a cozy little alcove.

The menu is chock-full of interesting choices, and because everything is served small-plate style, you can try a variety of dishes, especially if you share them with others. They are called small plates, but are not that small.

We over-ordered, but it didn't matter. We were still far under budget, and that evening there were three of us, rather than the usual two.


We were careful to order only two dishes at a time to avoid having everything arrive at once. This way, we were always eating food at the proper temperature.

Our grilled flatbread had a very thin, cracker-like bottom that got soggy from the toppings. However, the combination of toppings was perfection. Excellent smoked salmon was accented with flavorful pesto and dotted with tomato relish, capers and little cubes of creamy goat cheese. If only the crust had held up, it would have been dynamite.

The menu advertises lobster crab cakes, but in small print it says "organic corn cakes with lobster butter." We were expecting a traditional crab cake with a bit of lobster, but in fact it was three very delicious, well-seasoned, moist, corn cakes, and although we couldn't see pieces of the seafood and didn't know exactly what we were eating, they tasted really good.

We think that chef Connole may have been the first to offer the Thai-style fried calamari, which now appears on menus everywhere.

We loved the dish when K'ya first opened, and it's still good. The crispy-coated calamari rings are tossed with peanuts, shredded carrots, mung bean sprouts, cilantro and green onion in a sweet and lightly spicy Thai glaze. It is definitely a great take on fried calamari, but with more texture and layers of flavor.

The so-called "petit burgers," which make you think of sliders, are sliders on steroids. They are served in tasty, slightly sweet buns that are about two-thirds the size of a regular hamburger bun and overstuffed with goodies.

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