Morsels: Seeing Michelin stars in OC and Terranea’s healthy eats

Chef Niki Nakayama and Chef Carole Iida-Nakayama celebrate as their restaurant n/naka receives 2 Michelin stars. (photography by Leonard Ortiz)

A level playing field. That’s all I’ve ever asked for. When my friends, typically cocky chefs, bragged about their Michelin star restaurants in New York, Chicago and Paris, all I could do was roll my eyes and say, “When Michelin comes to Southern California, then it’s on.” And, I was right. On June 3, Michelin presented its first all-state guide at a sunlit ceremony at Paséa Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach. During that idyllic Orange County evening, 90 restaurants were celebrated as Michelin star recipients.

Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama of n/naka in Los Angeles stole the show. The duo had a big week. Netflix had just released Ali Wong’s celebrity chef-inspired romcom “Always Be My Maybe,” which utilized the kaiseki chefs’ talents as culinary consultants for the movie. Then on that evening, the couple stood on a male-dominated stage and took home two Michelin stars. “This could only happen in Southern California,” said Nakayama as tears streamed down her cheeks, her wife, Carole, standing beside her, arms intertwined and holding her close. “We have 20 people in our restaurant – 13 of them are women. We’re so proud of that,” added Carole. “The ingredients. The freedom – we could only do it here,” said Nakayama.

Chef Carlos Salgado of Taco Mar’a in Costa Mesa jokes around and hugs the Michelin Man mascot at the star selection for the 2019 Michelin Guide California at the PasŽa Hotel and Spa in Huntington Beach on Monday, June 3, 2019. Chef Salgado’s restaurant was award one star. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Carlos Salgado titillated the Michelin inspectors at Taco Maria. “The enticing scent of meat cooking over the fire and house-made heirloom masa tortillas on the griddle set the tone for an amazing experience,” stated Michelin inspectors. Taco Maria was one of two OC restaurants to receive Michelin star nods. Hana re at the Lab took home a star for chef Atsushi Yokoyama‘s refined Spartan take on sushi reverence. In total, the 2019 Michelin Guide California features 27 new restaurants with a one-star distinction, many of which have been featured in the pages of Coast. The new guide also revealed dishes to try such as pancit noodles at Irenia, paella at Vacaand Amelia’s salad at Marché Moderne. Five local spots – chef Ross Pangilinan’s Mix Mix Kitchen and BarGarlic & ChivesHiro Nori RamenGabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, and LSXO received Bib Gourmand recognition. The evening revealed what we’ve known all along. California is a culinary hotspot. Now, we have a nifty red guide to prove it.

Chef Atsushi Yokoyama, center, of Sushi Hana re raises his glass with other chefs after his restaurant was awarded one Michelin star. (Photography by Leonard Ortiz)

Cool Cocktail

The boozy S’mores Milkshake from Slater’s 50/50 combines nostalgic flavors of camping spiked with marshmallow vodka. The adult-only concoction melds vanilla ice cream, toasted marshmallow syrup, chocolate, whipped cream, marshmallow fluff and finely crushed graham crackers into one lovely glass. If you don’t get a buzz from the booze, you’ll definitely succumb to the inevitable sugar high.

The boozy S’mores Milkshake from Slater’s 50/50. (photography courtesy of

Food Field Trip

Avocado sweet potato toast at Terranea’s solviva wellness restaurant. (photography courtesy of

This year Terranea celebrated its 10th anniversary and unveiled Solviva, a new wellness-driven restaurant. Chef RJ Dela Merced developed a plant-forward menu with resident nutritionist Navil Lorenzana. The dishes honor Terranea’s bounty: produce grown onsite, the surrounding kelp forest and honey by resident bees. Think: sweet potato toast topped with avocado and sprouts, seasonal crudite dipped in housemade hummus along with heartier hand-cut pappardelle covered in almond pesto and grass-fed lamb with fresh fava beans.

Breakfast at Solviva boasts the resort’s bounty. Terranea kelp-cured smoked salmon topped with tomato and onion jam, whipped cream cheese on half of a whole wheat bagel is so tasty, you’ll order two for yourself. The kelp is harvested in the wild marine forest that encircles the resort. The kelp serves two purposes. Bernard Ibarra, vice president of culinary experiences and executive chef, harvests sea salt from these waters. He gathers buckets of water and lets it evaporate in special beds; the result is local sea salt. The kelp imparts oceanic terroir while simultaneously purifying the water and improving the salt’s quality. The jams are made with fruit from the resort’s garden. Eggs from the on-site coop have psychedelic orange yolks.

The honey harvested from Terranea’s bees is served in many ways. My favorite was the Bee’s Knees cocktail, which combines artisanal gin with sweet honey. It’s the perfect way to toast the resort’s 10th anniversary.

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