‘More choices, more opportunities to try things.’
‘It’s formal fare in an informal atmosphere.’
“I strive to be distinctive.”
‘Food can be fun.’
Within the space of the first ten minutes at Watermarc, we’ve learned this much from owner and Executive Chef Marc Cohen: he is passionate about the food he prepares and serves.
He pays meticulous attention to detail, with an overwhelming desire to give people a true experience in dining. At Watermarc that translates into a menu filled with different items available on what he calls “grazing plates,” specifically designed to let the diner taste a wider variety of foods.
The restaurant was conceived, Cohen says, when the market took a downturn, and he went to his customers at his two other restaurants and asked them what they’d like to see.
The answer was all about choice, and resulted in 26 grazing plates and 45 wines.
‘You can build your meal,’ explains Cohen. That means moving from perfectly-sized bites of Baby Beets, with feta, shaved red onion and walnuts—enticing enough to make even non-beet eaters turn into fans—to Toasted Garlic Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass, served with a warm artichoke and asparagus potato salad, goat cheese, and roasted tomato coulis.
Try this list, for starters.
Sizzling Garlic Shrimp with sweet onion, fennel, citrus flavors mingled into a delightful dish.
Ahi Watermelon Skewers, served with a seaweed salad and ponzu.
Seafood Sausage with spicy white cannoli beans and fluffy mustard. It has salmon, shrimp and whitefish, which combine into a marvelous new flavor.
Roasted White Cedar Planked King Salmon, with a brown sugar mustard rub.
Fillet Mignon Three Ways with, literally, three different preparations on the same plate: Oscar, with lump crab, asparagus, béarnaise sauce; Wellington with mushroom duxelle in a puff pastry; Diane, with a peppercorn brandy sauce. Perfect for the person who hates to choose just one—or, get any combination you like.
Add a Watercress Salad with Manchego and Vidalia Onion Rings with a Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. Enjoy it all with sips of one of their signature waters, including one with cucumber, mint and lime.
And, top it all off with a Molten Chocolate Cake served with an Espresso Chocolate Chip mini-milkshake, or the Brown Sugar Cake with Pear and Gingersnap Ice Cream.
Watermarc also features the Enomatic wine system, offering wines by the glass. He had it built into the wall of his restaurant, and calls it “a gumball machine for adults.’ Just as with his food, the the innovative wine system is all about offering choices and opportunity.
Cohen knows you can’t taste it all in one trip, but he loves it when you try. He gets great satisfaction from the questions that come when a patron sees an unfamiliar item.
“I appreciate it when people see something coming out of the kitchen and ask, ‘What is that, what’s that smell?’” he says. ‘I want you to see something and say, ‘Oh, next time I’ll get that!’’
At Watermarc, you get ingredients that aren’t on the everyday menu. The chef uses citrus liberally, and compound butters. His spices are rosemary, fennel, garlic. ‘I strive to be distinctive,’ says Cohen, ‘with unusual flavor combinations.”
He also enjoys educating his customers and his servers, although he says he doesn’t get enough opportunities to do it personally. ‘I can’t be at every table and normally I’m not out of the kitchen,’ he says.
But he will always take the time to help build a meal. “You want the contrast of a sharp citrus with a mild fish,” he says. ‘Food should be elements, have different consistencies. You don’t want soft with soft, so you’ll notice there will be a crispness added.’
Between bites, look around. The street view keeps you in sight of the bar as well as all the comings and goings of the busy Laguna Beach shopping area.
Upstairs in the building—part of a local landmark—you get a balcony view, and in both locations you are treated to paintings and sculptures from some of Laguna Beach’s most well known artists. And, early evenings you can be treated to live jazz.
From the ambiance to the food, it’s a restaurant that wakes up all the senses. ‘We make everything in house,’ says Cohen.
And, new things appear on the menu frequently. ‘I really kind of go non-stop, so for me it’s about time of year and local ingredients. With the way travel is, I literally can have halibut out of the boat and in my restaurant the next day,’ he says.
The chef’s training and talent come through. This is a chef who trained at Johnson & Wales University. He’s young—and yet already a winner of the Silver Plate Award (2005) from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and is continually named among the Best Chefs in Orange County.
‘To win it in my 20s was a big honor for me, and very humbling,’ says Cohen—who confesses to feeling uncomfortable when someone does something as small as pouring a cup of coffee for him. ‘It showed me that hard work is noticed,” he says. “But I’m no bigger than anyone else.”
It’s an artistry combined with a work ethic earned from watching his parents.
“My dad was an artist; for myself, it comes out on the plate,” says Cohen. “My mother was an attorney. She worked long days, and still took care of us. I learned the work ethic. You don’t get to take a day off.’
And, he stresses, part of what he learned was the importance of taking care of your family. ‘’Family first, restaurant second.’ That’s the first thing I say when I hire someone. There’s always someone to step up to take the extra shift. The restaurant will be here tomorrow.’
For Cohen, that actually means several restaurants. Just down the street from Watermarc is another one called 230 Forest Avenue, which offers dishes such as Butternut Squash Soup, Sugarcane Tenderloin, Blackened Skirt Steak, Short Rib Ravioli and Buttermilk Calamari. Don’t leave without trying the Warm Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding! He also owns and operates Opah Restaurant & Bar with locations in Aliso Viejo and Irvine.
As for Watermarc, Cohen says, ‘I’m here for the long term. I want my guests to come in more than once.’
More choices. More fun.
Sounds like it’s time for another visit.
See our blog from the Los Angeles tour, here.
Hear more from Watermarc here.
Visit Watermarc when you are in the Los Angeles area:
448 S. Coast Hwy.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
This is a Raves & Faves Featured Restaurant.