by Christopher Luu | Riviera Orange County
When foodies learned that Amar Santana was leaving his post at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, the culinary community waited with bated breath for news of his next project. And we all gave a collective sigh of relief—followed by a cheer—upon the announcement of Broadway by Amar Santana.
Opening later this summer in downtown Laguna Beach, the dinner spot will feature an exposition kitchen that grants diners the opportunity to watch their food as it’s prepped and served. Choose from the community table, the bar and a few bistro tables; each and every seat boasts a kitchen view. With all attention on the food—which Santana and his business partner, Ahmed Labatte (former GM of Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s), call “modern cuisine of the Americas”—a dinner at Broadway by Amar Santana could easily rival a full-on stage production. We chatted with the duo, who gave us a sneak peek inside.
Why did you choose to open your restaurant in Laguna? Ahmed Labatte: We chose Laguna Beach because it is a small, artsy destination with great potential for dining. We would like our culinary art to be part of such a great community.
And what sort of culinary artistry will you be bringing? Amar Santana: On the menu, expect some of my classic dishes, such as bone marrow, bacon-wrapped dates and crisp pork belly, and new dishes like leek-and-coconut soup with spot prawns, razor clams, mussels and citrus gelée, tamarind-glazed lamb belly, quinoa cracklings, whipped yogurt and slow-baked black cod.
So is the exposed kitchen your idea of performance art? AS: I love the idea of the kitchen being the show, because I want our guests to be part of the cooking experience that Broadway by Amar Santana will offer.
You’re aiming for a lounge vibe; is that where the dining experience is going? AL: We think that the trend is people don’t want to hang out at the clubs anymore; they want an intimate and cool lounge where they can order some great food and enjoy their cocktails in a trendy place. We also think that the future of dining is headed toward small plates and shared dishes.
So instead of cooking behind the scenes, you’re bringing it front and center. Is that part of the whole Broadway show idea? AS: They all want me to personally cook for them, and, most of the time, they want me to serve the food as well.
Is that what you took away from your time at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s? AL: Coming from New York, both Amar and myself learned a lot about Orange County for the three years [that we spent] at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s. We were constantly evolving, however, and the one thing that we learned the most is that people don’t want to drive far. So we are coming closer to them.