I knew I was in for a good meal at Mare Culinary Lounge in Laguna Beach, but I didn't expect to find one of the best dishes I've ever had. The venison filet mignon, two cubes the size of a baseball sitting on opposite sides of an oblong plate, was red meat epitomized: the outside burnished close to char, the inside a sinew-free crimson soft enough to be cut into by the dullest spatula. And then there was the way it was served: each piece perched atop a warmed, halved peach in which a sweet/tart port wine reduction pooled into the wells left by the pits. Who knew that peaches are to deer meat as apples are to pork chops? Or that amarena cherries, which Italians preserve with sugar for topping ice cream, work even better in a game meat-centered main course? In the middle of the plate, cupped in a rigid basket made from deep-fried pasta sheets, were the golden, home-style potatoes I remember fondly from Alessandro Pirozzi's other Laguna Beach restaurant, Alessá. These home fries, I admit, made it even easier for me to use the words "best ever." I've always been a sucker for crispy, buttery, fried potatoes, and these were pretty damn... More >>>