enoSTEAK at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Inventive dishes, award-winning cuisine and stellar service make this intimate OC steakhouse a standout

Whether your tastes run to dishes influenced by exotic culinary spices or dishes that tend toward simpler, seasoned fare, there is certainly no shortage of diverse dining destinations from which to choose here in South Orange County. But if you’re looking for inventive cuisine coupled with exemplary service in the spirit of a time-honored classic American steakhouse, there are but a handful worth writing home about.

The elegant enoSTEAK (located in the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel) harkens back to an earlier era - a time steeped in tradition and attention to detail in everything from its interior design and decor to its exquisite culinary offerings and expansive list of highly-rated California vintages (on impressive display as the centerpiece of the dining room is a floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar). The restaurant’s interior is defined by rich wood, marble flooring, upholstered furnishings and accented by artwork by critically acclaimed painter Sandra Jones Campbell.

On a recent date night, my husband, Tim, and I reserved a table next to the crackling fireplace to indulge in a glass or two of fine wine and each course of beautifully presented, delicious dishes made from the highest quality ingredients … including what are arguably among the best steaks in Orange County featuring prime and grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. The organic produce is locally grown and harvested at the peak of the season. The majority of the herbs used to enhance each specialty appetizer and entree are gathered from the resort’s organic garden. The fish is sustainable and either farm raised or pole/troll caught. enoSTEAK also highlights artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and of course, the aforementioned selection of fine wines.

The menu changes are based on the essence of the season. enoSTEAK’s spring menu - which debuted the night we visited last month - features noteworthy starters, including the decadent crispy brie accompanied by a jalapeño bacon jam, strawberry and pistachio lightly drizzled with balsamic, the Cali onion soup was flavorfully rich with sherry, crouton, San Geronimo, Sonoma Jack cheese and topped with crispy shallots.

Our server Christian recommended that we sample with the chef’s signature spring pea salad. Now I fancy myself somewhat of a salad connoisseur and as such, was expecting it might fall short of expectation. But I have to say, Chef nailed it with what is now be my new favorite salad - which combines micro greens and fresh-from-the-garden peas with toasted almonds, feta and carrot atop an aromatic arugula pesto.

A meat-and-potatoes man, my husband chose the filet mignon and while I typically steer toward seafood selections, opted instead for the Wagyu NY steak prepared Oscar-style with dungeness crab, asparagus and bearnaise – again at Christian’s suggestion. Both of our steaks were grilled to perfection and literally melted in our mouths.

Showcased entrees range from a dry-aged prime ribeye chop, grass-fed filet and coffee-rubbed Wagyu NY Steak (a more marbled cut than the filet) to pan-seared sea bass and Mary’s farm fried half chicken. Accompanying the handcrafted meats and seafood are a selection of five signature compound butters including creamy horseradish, garden herb and garlic/truffle butter, cognac green peppercorn, béarnaise and enoSTK sauce. Enhancements to the entrees include sherry cream sauteed mushrooms, truffled white cheddar cavateli (the chef’s inspired spin on “mac and cheese), Yukon potato mash and creamed corn.

With enoSTEAK, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has certainly raised the bar for destination dining in the region and for our part, we can’t wait to visit again and experience what will undoubtedly be an equally-inspired summer menu.

Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, enoSTEAK is located in The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel at One Ritz Carlton Drive in Dana Point. For more information or reservations, please call (949) 240-2000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/lagunaniguel