I Second That Best Of
Note to self: Never read the Weekly at a restaurant I’m thinking of reviewing.
I was at Break of Dawn in Laguna Hills last week, enjoying R. Scott Moxley’s great cover story on convicted felon Mike Carona, when head chef Dee Nguyen sauntered past my table. “What newspaper are you reading?” he asked, in the direct tone so many Vietnamese use. I showed him the front illustration. My cover’s blown, I thought, something that has happened exactly twice in my six years reviewing the county’s eateries. We talked about restaurant criticism—how TheOrange County Register savaged Andrea over at the Resort at Pelican Hill and what main Weekly food critic Edwin Goei thought (not too pleased, either). And then he went off to check on other diners. I don’t think Nguyen recognized me despite our patter because he didn’t try to give me free food or a discount, and thank God for that.
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Break of Dawn isn’t much of a secret: Multiple reviews cover one wall, and as Edwin wrote in our Best of 2008, the beautiful place serves Orange County’s best breakfast. No argument from me, but rather an apology. I visited Break of Dawn for the first time late last year, not believing that anything truly remarkable could exist in Laguna Hills, a city whose only other redeeming value are the Bollywood films screened weekly at the city mall. Learn from me: Drop your OC provincialism and believe in the power of Edwin.
Nguyen is a former Ritz-Carlton sous chef who combines that distinguished hotel pedigree to please the masses with the flavors of his native Vietnam. The items on the menu aren’t exactly rare—omelets, chilaquiles, eggs Benedict, the kind of food you can find at almost any Southern Californian breakfast joint. Nguyen’s preparation, however, justifies the prices. Sure, you can enjoy pancakes for less, but where else can you feast on purple-corn flapjacks? Or an ox-tail cassoulet? One meal that’s near-impossible to find is linguiça, the Portuguese sausage famed for its sweet leanness. Break of Dawn is the only non-Hawaiian place I know that serves it, and Nguyen pairs it with brown rice, two over-easy eggs, a papaya salad and smear of scallion puree to create my favorite breakfast of the past couple of months (not including trips to visit Mom).
Break of Dawn, 24351 Ave. de la Carlota, Ste. N-6, Laguna Hills, (949) 587-9418; www.breakofdawnrestaurant.com.