A slice of the Big Apple is being served in Laguna Beach, and it’s a taste you’ll soon want to savor. Enter The Drake, a fine dining hot spot that’s setting itself apart with nightly live music acts that specialize in jazz, R&B and blues. “I worked at the Drake Hotel in New York City when I was a young man, and that was the experience in the dining area called the Drake Room,” says Alec Glasser, founder and principal owner. “There was always a piano and other musicians playing jazz, blues and R&B to fit the evening. Our combination of both arts—food and music—elevates each to higher levels of experience and creates the vibe that is The Drake: enjoying a night out in a ‘New York state of mind.’”
While you won’t find the bright lights of Manhattan along South Coast Highway, the flickering flames that line the patio of the former Tabu Grill space paired with a custom metal saxophone statue wrapped in music notes near the entryway create an inviting ambiance. Glasser tapped international design firm Kenneth Ussenko Design to bring the dazzle of the art deco era to the two-sided space—a bar area accented by a wall of plush blue banquettes, a baby grand piano and a wall depicting Central Park; and a dining room filled with tables and cozy corners that are anchored by a center stage. “We wanted a ‘lean back in time look’ with a contemporary edge that gives a New York City vibe,” he says.
Executive chef Paul Gstrein with son and sous-chef Nick.
As for the best spot in the house, it’s “at the chef’s counter so guests can enjoy the music and the action in the kitchen,” says executive chef and ownership partner Paul Gstrein. A seasoned veteran who opened Irvine’s Bistango and Newport Beach’s Bayside restaurants, Gstrein is thrilled to share a performance of his own—the chef’s tasting menu, which Glasser describes as “mysterious and truly unique.” The culinary maestro and son Nick Gstrein, his sous-chef, have created a lineup centered on “new American cuisine” with a California twist that has taste buds singing as sweetly as the live music filling the air. Among the greatest hits are: hamachi tartare featuring Hawaiian yellowtail or lamb lollipops paired with spiked hummus and pickled teardrop peppers to start; followed by the main-course favorite, the wild mushroom-crusted Pacific halibut. The chef prepares it multiple ways, and the accompanying potato puree, grilled maitake mushrooms and white wine sauce elevate the dish to superstar levels.
“Great food paired with great live music is almost nonexistent in Orange County, and we’re committed to keeping both at the same elevated level,” says Glasser. Up next: a dining and show format inspired by the iconic Cafe Carlyle featuring well-known national performers. Music to our ears, indeed. 2894 South Coast Highway, 949.376.1000
Photography by: Anne Watson