It’s easy to be seduced by the St. Regis Monarch Beach. If the drive down PCH doesn’t whip your senses into a frenzy of delight, then pulling up to the stately entrance, where the lobby opens out onto a glorious view of the pool, and beyond, the Pacific Ocean, certainly will. It’s a property fit for the most romantic and hedonistic among us – a reminder of why we live here (especially if you just got off the 405) and why we keep coming back to this resort over and over: Because we can’t get enough of the beachy-but-not-too-beachy vibe, the world-class service and the resort itself, where the only thing to do, really, is celebrate luxurious living.
During a recent sojourn to the St. Regis, this emphasis on the luxe life came into crystal clear focus at the resort’s main restaurant, Stonehill Tavern (which is not, by the way, a tavern at all). Styled by renowned designer Tony Chi, the look is rustic-chic, with fireplaces scattered throughout; private dining areas; and an open dining room that feels social in a see-and-be-seen way, but that’s never loud or intrusive.
Not being intrusive is a signature of Stonehill Tavern and the larger St. Regis. Servers glide up to the table shortly after arrival, delivering bread and rosemary salt-sprinkled whipped ricotta with honey and olive oil; they (and the bread and ricotta) disappear like phantoms. The sommelier, a young, friendly guy who insists that wine is meant to be “fun” and attempts to gauge our capacity for experimentation, has us sold immediately on his favorites, which tended towards an oxidized style. The executive chef, Raj Dixit, originally of Mission Viejo, may be the foil to this understated theme, however, having established himself as a wunderkind who, by the age of 34, has lived and worked in vast swaths of Europe, including France and Spain, as well as Japan and New York City. A strong believer in minimalism and in finding inspiration from his surroundings, his trademark has become a less-is-more philosophy, demonstrated over five courses in Stonehill Tavern’s Chef’s Tasting Menu.
The experience begins with an Araucana hen egg, which is served in the shell with pieces of black truffle and woodlands ham, and decorated with edible dandelion. It only took a spoonful or two of this liquid-state egg, which comes from the blue-egg-producing Chilean Araucana hen, to demonstrate Chef Dixit’s obsession with minimal ingredients and a clean approach. Mild flavors were made more exciting by large bits of ham and truffle – a touch of luxury fitting for the St. Regis.
Building on flavors, the chef’s next dish consisted of black sea bass steamed in white tea and accompanied by broad beans and aromatic dashi (Japanese cooking stock). Our fish was slightly undercooked, which gave it a rubbery texture in the middle, so we ate the edges with the rest of the dish. Delightful as these accompanying flavors were, it was disappointing to leave such a large piece of delicate sea bass behind.
We forgave and forgot with the next in line: Barbary duckling with Balinese peppercorn, kohlrabi, Medjool dates, and hibiscus. Served in unison by a flock of synchronized waiters, the duck was ceremoniously placed down in front of us, its rich aromas wafting upwards with promise. This time, the meat was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and sweeter flavors brought out the duck’s best attributes.
Between the next two dishes – a fourth course with a choice of either pork or beef – the latter was the decisive victor. Fantasy of suckling pig, as the dish is called, consisted of a variety of preparations, accompanied by orchard apples, moonshine and rye. But it fell short of the mark; the apples were overwhelmingly spiced, which gave them a potpourri effect, and the pig itself tasted unpleasantly pork-y. The côte de boeuf, on the other hand, was fresh and simple, with garlic roots, field asparagus and pistachios, all surrounded by a cloud of comté cheese. Despite its somewhat complicated description, this was the height of simplicity – seasonal ingredients and basic preparation – that best showcased Chef Dixit’s propensity for minimalism while staying true to the luxury implicit in the surroundings of the St. Regis.
Of the dessert course, a somewhat incongruous assembly of tempura gianduja, marshmallow fondue, Thai basil, and kumquat ice cream, the ice cream rose as the favorite. Although we tried to mix the various parts together, we found that they were actually better when savored individually.
Our say: Go to the St. Regis for a taste of OC’s good life, but stay for the food and the atmosphere.
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