Posh American Cuisine Meets Southern Hospitality with a Twist!
Fall is here and it’s finally time for boots, scarves, and pumpkin spice lattes. It is a time dedicated to family and friends, enjoying the warmth that comes from those beach bonfires, and allowing yourself to indulge in the homey comfort foods of the season (without worrying about swim suits). When I walked into Laguna Niguel’s Savannah Chophouse I felt that instant home feeling I associate with family get togethers and holiday parties. Though it maintained the upbeat ambiance of a posh Orange County restaurant, Savannah Chophouse offers that “getaway” atmosphere that took me away from the beach and into the south, where hospitality drives business and everyone is family.
Upon entering I was immediately drawn to a large firepit blazing in the center of the outdoor patio. The view from the balcony was breathtaking, the ocean barely visible on the horizon, and instantly reminded me why I fell in love with Orange County. There were couples around the veranda, contentedly sipping their wine and enjoying the views, comfortably aware of the relaxed atmosphere, knowing there was no hurry to return to their seats. The interior was that of a well-kept southern home: cozy, warm, and welcoming. The restaurant is divided into wings: the west wing featured a full bar with flat screen television, perfect for that sports fan who just has to catch the end of the game, while the east wing features a large roaring fire place, dim lights, and is designed to set a more romantic ambiance. Separating the two wings is a large dining room, which offers a just got back from a hunt southern lodge feeling: overstuffed booths, a large homey fireplace, and high wood ceilings. The booths were open facing, creating a sense of community in the room that complimented the intimacy of the lighting, allowing Savannah Chophouse to maintain a neighborly ambiance without losing the affinity of a date night out.
After wandering and admiring the décor (which took some time because both hosts and chefs alike were eager to stop and have a conversation), I returned to my table to be a served a tempura style zucchini stuffed ricotta and crab in a yellow heirloom tomato concasse. Chef Mark Anthony Pariano was excited to describe that most of his inspiration for his cooking comes from his father. In this particular appetizer, Chef Pariano reminisced about his time spent fishing with his dad and the smells of herbs that he associates with his memory. “I want to honor my dad through my food. He was the one who instilled a passion for cooking in my life, and I am where I am because of him.” Chef Pariano’s love for cooking and his passion for transforming every dish into a personal experience are evident in every bite. And it doesn’t stop there! Each dish is expressly altered to cater to a more modern (and personal) twist on a traditional southern specialty. The blackberry soup served cold with buttermilk custard was followed by an orecchiettie with fresh pea mint pesto. The intermixing of fresh fruit flavors with the savory undertones of that traditional down-home cooking made for a genius combination. The Roasted Duck Breast was served with “cheesy grits” and an apricot, candied ginger, and honey marmalade, accented with a California cherry reduction. My first bite of the fresh marmalade and cheesy grits transformed me into the heart of southern Georgia, while the cherry reduction added a contemporary twist that left my table certain to never forget Savannah Chophouse. For dessert, chocolate purses made of phyllo dough and stuffed with a nuttella hazelnut ganache and served with peach gelato and an Oregon Vin de Glace concluded the night’s festivities.
Chef Mark Pariano and Managers Megan Pakeltis and Kelly O’Callaghan are very passionate about the community atmosphere within Savannah Chophouse. Chef Pariano moves from table to table striking up conversation, explaining the different courses to anyone who asks, while managers and waiters (not just your waiter—but all of them) greet the tables and stop to chat. My night at Savannah Chophouse was a delicious adventure and I left overwhelmingly content, full to bursting, and dreaming of that delicious chocolate purse!
Chef Pariano, however, would not let this be the end. He was eager to discuss his next ideas on how to improve each dinner. “We won’t let ourselves get complacent! Next big dinner here will be a communal table,” Chef Pariano says with passion, “Lots of food, lots of wine, lots of conversation. Like a big family.” I just hope I get an invite!
- You can call ahead and the chef will make accommodations…you can request items off of a secret menu! If there’s something on the menu that you liked but isn’t on the menu anymore, you can call ahead and the chef will make these accommodations. Sweet huh? If you’re taking a girl on a romantic third, let’s get a little more intimate, date, you can call ahead and request a dish not on the menu! Can you say bonus points?
- If there is a long wait (especially during those starving hours), the chef will personally bring out cups of his delicious butternut squash and lobster bisque with truffle crème. “I want to show them that I care, I know they are hungry, and they will soon be taken care of!”
- Cold outside? If the huge fire pit doesn’t keep you warm, your server will be happy to bring you out a soft down blanket to cover you. While at Savannah Chophouse, you are family.