Stonehill Tavern at The St. Regis Monarch Beach lives up to, indeed, surpasses, what General Manager Pallava Goenka states as their concept: “At Stonehill Tavern, the food, the staff, the service, and the ambiance combine to create an award-winning restaurant that is a consistently amazing experience for our guests – and Chef Polignano’s new menu extends this tradition. We want our guests to relax and feel at home, have a memorable, magical experience and indulge in good food, and good fun – that’s what it’s all about.”
Truly refined and elegant, Stonehill Tavern, Michael Mina’s acclaimed restaurant at the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort, is well worth the splurge. While you might expect an air of haughtiness considering the St. Regis’ Forbes 5-star status, you’ll be pleased to find an attentive, informed, and gracious staff from the moment your eyes behold the glittering wine tower and throughout the luxuriously paced evening. Whether experiencing Chef Craig Polignano’s seasonal tasting menu, as I did, or selecting from the menu of popular tavern specialities with a sophisticated twist, you’ll receive the royal treatment punctuated with beautifully presented, perfectly executed artistic dishes created from the freshest, highest quality ingredients available.
Arriving before dusk, we were seated on the patio to revel in the grandeur of the Tuscan-style architecture and expansive views of the Pacific while sipping a refreshing Moscow Mule (doubly refreshing with Stonehill’s twist of muddled cucumber, fresh lime juice, and cucumber and candied ginger garnish) and a special seasonal cocktail bewitchingly named Violet Turning Violet (Van Gogh açai berry vodka, yellow chartreuse, St. Germain elderflower, fresh lime, muddled blueberries).
A sun-kissed young lady kindly inquired as to whether we had any food allergies or strong dislikes. This is a thoughtful approach that allows guests to share their dietary restrictions without feeling bothersome – my husband and I were asked the same when dining at Craft and Eleven Madison Park in New York City, so it seems to be a matter of course in fine dining establishments. With that formality aside, it was only a few minutes before a gorgeous seafood sampler decorated with seaweed and smooth stones was presented and described in detail.
Kumamoto oyster, abalone sashimi, prawn cocktail, dungeness crab, uni flan, and giant clam ceviche ($29 pp)
Wine pairings may accompany the Chef’s Tasting Menu or there is also an alternative pairing for the more adventurous. The sommelier suggested that we try both, so I went with adventurous
CHEF’S TASTING MENU
Smoked Salmon | Applewood smoked Pacific salmon, cucumber-yogurt sauce, pumpernickel toast
Ahi Tuna Tartare | bosc pear, pine nuts, habanero infused sesame oil, quail egg
(creamy pine nuts and sprinkle of chili lend a signature touch and the table side presentation was impressive)
Three Eggs | uni custard, local chicken egg, wasabi tobiko
(a unique play of textures with a surprising sweetness from the scrambled egg layered over luscious uni flan)
Day-Boat Halibut | asparagus, green almonds, ramps, pancetta
(highlight of the evening!)
Halibut Cheeks are pan-roasted, served with asparagus spears cooked in butter and finished with preserved lemon. The Halibut is topped with green almonds, pancetta dice and fava beans, presented with a pancetta crisp and grilled ramp, and nestled in blanc (fish, white wine & cream) finished with a green ramp puree.
Maine Lobster Pot Pie | seasonal vegetables, brandied lobster cream
Chef Polignano exercised his chef’s prerogative here and chose to showcase the Maine Lobster Pot Pie, one of the upscale tavern’s most popular specialties, versus serving the lobster course featured on the Tasting Menu. Serving the Maine Lobster Pot Pie “deconstructed” is certainly an interesting idea and unique perspective on the traditional pub pot pie, but I felt it lost a bit in the translation – visually not as appealing and it’s just not the same without a taste of flaky crust in every bite.
For the meat course, guests may chose either Grimaud Farms Duck or Wagyu Striploin. Both sounded exquisite and I recommend ordering one of each and sharing tastes if you’re dining with someone who doesn’t mind sharing. Muscovy duck breast has a lean & clean duck flavor and is cured with sugar, salt and anise seed and star anise, pan roasted to medium and plated with black barley finished with a brunoise of root vegetables (carrot, celery root, onion). The duck legs are cured and cooked confit. The plate is finished with baby turnips, anisette cookie shards, crispy Swiss chard leaves, and foie gras mousse-stuffed candied kumquats and Gran Marnier sauce. If you’re like me, you may find the duck overly complex and prefer the more familiar flavors of seared and roasted Wagyu with a porcini mushroom rub, cipollini onions cooked en sous-vide with stout beer and sugar, crispy broccoli, finished with a demi-glaze finished with coffee and bitter chocolate.
Grimaud Farms Duck | black barley, baby turnips, anise cookie, confit rillette
Wagyu Striploin | porcini, broccoli, marrow, cocoa & coffee
To end the evening in high style:
Melted Camembert | pickled baby leeks, rhubarb confiture
Raspberry Curd | chocolate graham, cocoa nib, cassis, marshmallow
chef’s tasting menu $148
/sommelier’s wine pairing $95
//sommelier’s alternative pairing $65
There was absolutely nothing disappointing about our evening: an impressive meal from beginning to end, add knowledgeable servers in elegant, yet comfortable surroundings, spectacular vistas, and a 400-500 bottle wine selection and you have the perfect special occasion destination! As a reminder: Father’s Day is next weekend – if your dad or the man in your life is more of a gourmand than grill master, definitely add Stonehill Tavern’s number to your favorites!
One Monarch Beach Road
Dana Point, CA 92629
Summer Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 5:30 PM – 10:00 PM; Bar opens at 5:00 PM