560 Bliss Bar ext - Nirvana Grille Lindsay Smith-Rosales might very well be the only chef in Laguna Beach who actually was born and raised in our fine town. For this very fact we should all be extremely grateful, as Lindsay is serving up one of the finest menus at our own Laguna beach-based Nirvana Grille. (Note: Chef Lindsey also offers an ongoing 10% giveback to the charity of your choice on Sunday evenings. See details here … ) Even though Lindsay was born and raised in a cookin’ kind of family, she tried a couple other paths after high school before enrolling in the family tradition … another factor we should all be grateful for as Nirvana isn’t just one of the finest menus but one of the most creative in town. “We grew up cooking everything from scratch and using sustainable foods long before the word “sustainable” was even a word anyone knew,” says Lindsay. While Nirvana Grille boasts all sorts of meats, poultry and fish, even Chef Lindsay’s richest sauces and preparations are normally gluten free, and refined sugars are kept to the barest minimum across the board. Nirvana is also one of the few restaurants in town that produces an entire gluten free menu (see their website), and Chef readily accommodates vegetarians, pescetarians, dairy-free folks and vegans. “We’re very conscious of what we’re feeding people,” says Chef Lindsay. “We’re all about taking sustainability and healthy eating awareness to a gourmet level.”   Nirvana To Be Back in Hometown Laguna After graduating from culinary school, Lindsay quickly routed her way to the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, where she not only improved her chef skills but also met her soon-to-be husband, Luis. The couple opened their first successful Nirvana Grille in Mission Viejo in 2006 and, after ongoing discussion about returning to her Laguna roots, Lindsay and Luis signed papers for their new location in early 2008. “We signed papers and found out a few days later that we were pregnant,” she says. “But this was such a perfect location, we told ourselves we’d just figure it out somehow.” Even as the economy rocked their Mission Viejo restaurant (they closed it in 2012), the Laguna Beach Nirvana Grille continued to experience high levels of business, which … well … is a nirvanic experience. In 2010, the couple added the Bliss Bar to the rooftop to allow for added dining and happy hour. On March 15th this year, the restaurant will celebrate its 7th year anniversary.   Truly Innovative Appetizers & Salads The nirvanic experience isn’t just limited to the close-knit restaurant team. Chef Lindsay has worked from Day One on creating a warm, approachable environment that mirrors the same in its menu offerings. “We want people to feel like they’re dining in a good friend’s home … a good friend who cooks really well,” Chef says with a laugh. 560 Chile - Nirvana Grille Nirvana’s best sellers include the Roasted Poblano Chile in the appetizer section. Never one to pass on spice, I had to try this unique (and rather monstrous) chile.   “My chefs suggested I add a spinach artichoke dip to the menu, and I wasn’t very excited about that,” says Chef. “So, I came up with this idea of making something that was less ground up and with less cream involved and then stuffing the chile with the concoction. The “concoction” is downright yummy. An entire chile is served open face, stuffed with fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, shallots, a bit of cream and Parmesan cheese. It’s served with homemade cheesy bread, a take on neighbor Cindy Gray’s great cheese bread form childhood. 560 - Heirloom Salad - Nirvana Grille Of her many creative salads, I choose Chef’s Burrata and Organic Heirloom Tomato Salad, which also shows up at the table constructed completely differently than any other similarly named salads I’ve tried. I’m treated to a beautifully arranged rabble of Kalamata olives, small puffs of gorgeous burrata cheese and cherry-sized heirloom tomatoes tossed in a basil pesto and balsamic reduction. Micro arugula finishes the dish perfectly.   Entrees Break the Usual Mold For me, I could have left at this point completely satisfied – Chef Lindsay’s dishes are plentiful, assuredly. But, as I’m so very committed to you, my dear reader, I press on. Chef’s best-selling Vegetable Plate is a big consideration. The popular dish is offered on its own or with any number of proteins that can be herbed, blackened or grilled. Given that I’ve already downed quite a few vegetables, though, I pass on her also-famed Whole Loup de Mer Sea Bass in favor of 14 Ounce Australian Rack of Lamb. 560 - Surf n Turf - Nirvana Grille While nearby regulars assure me that I’ve missed out by not trying the Sea Bass or, at the least, the Surf and Turf specialty, I’m more than blissful with my lamb dish. It is perfectly done and all around heavenly. Sadly, there are few chefs who treat Rack of Lamb with the respect and love it deserves. Chef Lindsay, though, is all about big love on this dish. “It’s sort of a take on the rack of lamb I learned to prepare at the Ritz with a few added whatevers,” Chef says. 560 - Rack of Lamb - NIrvana Grille Whatever they may be, the “whatevers” definitely make it. Chef coats the lamb with a mix of finely chopped pistachio nuts, white wine, Dijon mustard and a small bit of panko. She finishes the rack in a rosemary demi glace. To complete the composed place, Chef recently shifted the starch to a great goat cheese mashed potato and perfectly steamed broccoli with shallot butter sauce.   All in the Family I’m entirely too stuffed for dessert, though Chef tells me that her sister is largely responsible for the entire dessert menu. Even here we have gluten free servings, which is a feat for even the most experienced baker. Even 6-year-old son, Diego, is working is way into the restaurant mix. “Normally, Luis and I arrange our schedules so there’s always one of us with Diego,” says Chef. “But on New Year’s Eve we both needed to be here. We gave him a bunch of different, fun options, but he wanted to be here with us. So, he was my co-host all evening and everyone just loved him. I think he has a great future here if he decides to choose it for himself.” For me personally, I’ll definitely be choosing Nirvana for myself in much greater frequency. After all the many restaurants I’ve enjoyed in this town of ours, it’s one of the few that provides a high level culinary experience with so much inviting warmth and friendliness. Then again, what else would you expect from a Laguna Beach native?   303 Broadway Street, Laguna Beach. Call (949) 497-0027