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Selanne Steak: 10 Years, New Accolades

There’s a charming bungalow along Coast Highway in Laguna Beach that dates back to the 1930s.

The bungalow has been both a home and a restaurant, most notably French 75 for 15 years until it was sold to an investment group that included Anaheim Ducks hockey legend and NHL Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and local Orange County businessman Kevin Pratt.

Selanne Steak Tavern opened in November 2013 and was a hit from day one. This upscale contemporary steakhouse has an upstairs dining room, downstairs tavern and bar area, a wine room for more intimate dining and two patios for alfresco dining.

Menus feature fine steaks and seafood served with a variety of accompaniments enhanced by herbs from the restaurant’s herb garden.

The restaurant is known for its excellent California and French wine selections and has been awarded the prestigious Best of Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator for seven consecutive years.

This year, it received a new accolade: it was one of six new California restaurants added by the Michelin Guide to its list of “new discoveries.”

Selanne Executive Chef Vincent Terusa said the Michelin designation lit a fire under everyone at the restaurant.

“It makes you want to push even harder, push for that Michelin experience. It’s hard to keep consistent, but we have an amazing staff and service and ambiance. Everything needs to fire on all cylinders.”

Terusa was at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort (now Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club) before coming to Selanne as the opening sous chef. He took over as executive chef six years ago.

“We take care with what we are creating for our guests,” Terusa said.

“People are expecting something remarkable, and we give it to them. It’s a testament to the team, we have people that love the craft. We have a professional service staff. This is their career and it really shows. The service is the best I have worked with.”

Anniversary

The restaurant is celebrating its 10th anniversary and continues to evolve.

Selanne recently added The B8kery by Selanne, adjacent to Selanne Steak Tavern. It features an array of pastries and breads created by Rebekah Eastman, who is also the new pastry chef at Selanne Steak Tavern.

Previously, Eastman worked as pastry chef at Bourbon Steak, Chef Michael Mina’s restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.

The OCBJ Review: By Christopher Trela

The 10-year anniversary marked a perfect time to return to Selanne Steak Tavern and rediscover what made the restaurant as great as its namesake.

My friend and fellow foodie Jim Owen and I dined at Selanne Steak Tavern on a Tuesday evening in November. The restaurant was busy for a Tuesday, a tribute to its continued popularity.

We nabbed a prime table and perused the menu until our server, Rafael, arrived and we asked him for recommendations. He walked us through the menu, explaining in detail many of the dishes.

I asked to start with the black pepper and thyme loaf that came with sundried tomato tapenade and a flight of seasonal butters.

The loaf came ready to pull apart and enjoy, which we did. The bread was warm, and the soft butter melted into the bread. We were in bread heaven. This is a must to start any Selanne experience.

Next came oysters, but not any oysters. These were Moon Rock oysters from Oregon.
“These were harvested no later than two days ago,” Rafael stated. “They arrived today. They have a buttery finish.”

The oysters came with a variety of accompaniments including vinegar sauce, cocktail sauce, horseradish, tobacco and lemon.

I had a bad experience with oysters several years ago and have avoided them since, but took the plunge and was rewarded with—as Rafael said—buttery oysters that tasted like they just swam in from the ocean and plopped onto my plate.

Next came Scarlett beet “ravioli” with artisanal goat cheese, hazelnuts and golden beet vinaigrette. This is a brilliant dish, a lovely combination of flavors and textures with a creative execution.

Our next dish Rafael said was “my favorite thing on the menu. This is a signature dish. This is sushi grade scallops, pan seared, with cauliflower puree, porcini powder, pickled shimeji mushrooms, and fermented black garlic on top.”

Rafael suggested we turn the garlic into a paste and have some with every bite.

“It’s the Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze dance on your palate—it’s just the right amount of dirty,” he said with a smile, referencing the movie “Dirty Dancing.”

He was right. Like the oysters, the scallops ditched the ocean and hitched a ride on a Laguna Trolley to arrive at my table. These were stellar scallops, and the mushrooms were the perfect accouterment.

But there was more to come: Jerusalem artichoke soup with Bosc pear gel and smoked pumpkin seeds with sunchoke chips and micro cilantro with a touch of brown butter.

“I suggest using the spoon, take it for a dance and enjoy everything together,” Rafael said.
Again, his dance metaphor was on point. My spoon provided a pas de deux on my palate.

This was a redefinition of soup—more like a brilliant bisque bath with artichokes taking the spotlight.

Then came a chef’s special: 60-day aged steaks accompanied by grilled onions and mushrooms with truffle butter and garlic chips plus a fennel crust and granny smith apples.

Wow. That says it all.

We ended our gastronomic experience with a lovely strawberry souffle, a nice change from the typical chocolate soufflé.

Chef-Driven Menu

As Jim and I wondered who would carry us to our cars after all that food, Selanne Executive Chef Vincent Terusa came and sat with us to discuss the menu.

I told him we started with the bread, which he said was “a fun way to start. We often change the butter daily. It shows our skill in a subtle way.”

Not so subtle were the scallops, which Terusa said are a fan favorite.

“They have been on the menu since day one. We have tried to move away from that dish but got a lot of pushback from customers, so we give people what they want.”

As to the artichoke soup, “I love artichokes. We use pear gel here. We sauté pears. Most people don’t put those together but it’s one of my favorites.”

Terusa noted that Selanne is a chef-driven steakhouse, so when he was preparing our steak entrée, he decided to add a side of mushrooms because “we can source really good mushrooms.

Most steakhouses give you one type of mushroom, here we have six mushrooms. We give them a hard sauté and then glaze with Madeira wine.”

Based on my experience at Selanne Steak Tavern, everything is humming at high gear and shows no sign of slowing down. This is truly one of the best restaurants in Orange County.

Selanne Steak Tavern: 1464 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, (949) 715-9881, selannesteaktavern.com

Authentic Texas BBQ at Holé Smokes

Barbecue restaurants abound in Orange County.

Some are restaurant chains; others are solo endeavors. Now you can add one more to the list: Holé Smokes, a new restaurant boasting authentic Texas-style barbecue with a catchphrase “brisket smoked right” that opened in October in Costa Mesa.

The Holé Smokes concept was created by Ian Bascon, head of operations for regional Mexican fast-casual chain Holé Molé, and Chef Dan Ramon, a San Antonio native and barbecue enthusiast.

The Holé Smokes menu features such barbecue classics as brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, smoked chicken, marinated tri-tip and smoked shrimp. All meats are smoked low and slow using a 50/50 blend of pecan (the Texas state tree) and oak logs imported from Texas and Oklahoma.

Holé Smokes’ sides include favorites such as creamy mac and cheese, broccoli slaw, fries and homestyle potato salad, although Ramon has been adding more dishes including Big Daddy’s sweet beans.

Taco Pivot

The full-service concept seats 50 guests in the dining room, 18 at the bar and 30 on the patio.

The interior features Texas barbecue-themed décor like chalkboards, oak and pecan logs stored under family-style tables, and a long oak bar-top serving wine, low-proof cocktails and beer.

According to Bascon, his family’s seven Holé Molé restaurants were doing brisk brisket taco sales and he realized they had a killer product, so he thought about trying a full barbecue restaurant business.

He met Ramon during the pandemic and learned he was a barbecue master. After a series of meetings, Bascon decided to pull the trigger on the concept.

About that time a former sushi restaurant at the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Adams Avenue became available, and happened to be in the same strip mall as a Holé Molé location.

It took more than a year to get the concept from idea to execution, but once Holé Smokes opened, there were lines out the door. They were so busy that the first weekend they ran out of food.

What makes them different than other barbecue restaurants?

“It’s the wood and the actual time and process that we put into smoking the meat that you won’t find in most other barbecue restaurants,” Ramon said.

“They use liquid smoke or they boil their meats, which makes it sound like barbecue but it’s not the process we use. Instead of pellet smokers, we use real hardwood. The brisket goes for 16 hours, the ribs and chicken four to six hours. We don’t take shortcuts. You have to put in the time and dedication and commitment to the execution of it.”

That includes the smoked shrimp, which Ramon said gets the least time in the smoker.

“It absorbs everything quickly,” Ramon noted. “It’s not a typical barbecue meat, which is one of the things that differentiates us.”

Ramon, who was born and raised in Texas, grew up driving around the state seeking out authentic barbecue from mom-and-pop spots on the sides of local highways, out of the back of pickup trucks and at hole-in-the-wall gas stations.

Now as a chef specializing in traditional barbecue methods himself, Ramon’s Holé Smokes menu honors the “true-to-Texas, low-and-slow meat smoking method.”

To achieve that cooking style, Ramon brought in large 4,000-pound smokers.

“We broke the floor tiles getting them in—they barely fit through the door,” Ramon recalled.

The result was worth it. The response from customers has been positive, although Ramon said people unfamiliar with smoked meats can be intimidated, especially if they are used to other styles of barbecue.

“We make brisket the way it’s supposed to taste, from the smoke to the flavor of the bark. Lean or fatty, you can enjoy it for what it is.”

The OCBJ Review: By Christopher Trela

On my initial visit to Holé Smokes, I took one step inside the restaurant and exclaimed “it smells good in here.” Translation—it smelled like smoke and love tickling my senses.

As I perused the menu wondering what to get, my server Vivian walked me through the menu and made some recommendations. I settled on the pulled pork sandwich, which for me is a litmus test for barbecue.

The giant sandwich arrived accompanied by french fries. I took a bite and immediately took another. The pulled pork came with a pile of broccoli slaw and barbecue sauce smothered atop the pulled pork. Definitely one of the best pulled pork sandwiches I have had anywhere.

The fries were fabulous, cooked perfectly crisp on the outside and soft inside, with seasoning that elevated the fries from good to great.

2nd Trip

I went back a second time to interview founders Ian Bascon and Dan Ramon, and tried another menu item.

This time I went big and ordered a two-entrée plate with two sides. I had to try their famous brisket, and also the shrimp, which I have never seen on a barbecue menu. My sides were mac and cheese and Big Daddy’s sweet beans.

When the food arrived, I noticed they forgot to give me a knife. Then I learned why—no knife needed. The fork sliced through the brisket like butter.

This is damn good brisket. The shrimp was smokey goodness, the mac and cheese divine, and the beans were terrific.

I’ll be going back soon to try more Holé Smokes dishes.

Holé Smokes: 500 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 677-0531, holesmokes.com

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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