Thyme and Space

Photo by Jeanne RiceOn one recent post card-perfect Southern California day—belly agrowl, brain in desperate need of coffee, my biggest dilemma being eating breakfast or lunch—I met my friend Mr. Laguna at Anastasia. Surrounded by a sidewalk verandah, Anastasia is two places in one: a restaurant that is funky and airy (earthy citrus colors; sleek, stainless-steel shelving; 1970s-style, plastic, egg-shaped chairs) and a women's boutique in which hippie chic meets platinum card.

We settled the breakfast/lunch question by opting for both. We started with the California omelet, a healthy, fresh and savory mix of egg whites, arugula, tomatoes and onions accompanied by sliced tomatoes sprinkled with thyme, fresh fruit and ciabatta bread ($7.95), all laid out with an artist's eye for detail. I noticed that the people at the next table were eating Eggs Laguna, a poached-egg creation. It's said we eat with our eyes, and that we did. If nothing else, Eggs Laguna is a visual treat: two poached eggs on hearty mutligrain bread rising upward with fresh basil, avocado and tomatoes, all of which is then glazed with thyme sauce ($6.95).

A wise chef once told me that thyme fixes all. Anastasia's chefs obviously agree, touching up each dish with such ingredients as thyme sauce, garlic aioli, creamy dill-weed dressing and chantilly creams. Consider Mr. Laguna's long-standing favorite, the Aubergine sandwich ($6.95): eggplant sautéed in balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, with arugula, diced tomatoes and feta cheese on ciabatta bread alongside an exotic salad blend. The menu says the eggplant is sautéed, but the graceful flavor of rustic vinegars that lingers delightfully on my tongue long after the initial encounter leads me to believe there's some careful marinating before cooking.

Whatever Anastasia's does, it's not too much to say the results are addictive. The Anastasia green salad—a mixture of baby greens sprinkled with French goat cheese, golden apples, candied walnuts and celery with nonfat creamy dill-weed dressing ($5.95)—was so attractive and yummy we almost forgot we ordered it for its nutritional benefits.

For dessert, I went completely nontraditional: the Pain Caramel Toast ($5.75), fancy French toast served with a caramel sauce, candied walnuts and powdered sugar—good stuff if you're a caramel-lover. It's richer than a bowl of Godiva chocolate and surprisingly firm considering its freight of sauce and candied molasses walnuts. Mr. Laguna went with his weekly chocolate-chip cookie that the staff save especially for him ($1.60).

Owner Amir Garavi was born in France; one of his chefs is from France, the other is Mexican-American. Don't look for a linear connection between the menu (mainly southern Italian) and the multicultural kitchen staff. But then, that's so American. Fuse and create. No boundaries here, just inventiveness.

Anastasia, located at 470 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, is open for breakfast and lunch, daily, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner, Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m. (Call to see if open for dinner due to rolling blackouts.) (949) 497-8903. Beer and wine. Breakfast for two, $16, food only. AmEx, Diner's, MC and Visa accepted.


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