Update posted at the end of this article.
Nick’s may have the best salads, but their public relations needs a swift restructuring.
Last summer I was walking around downtown with lifelong Laguna resident, Joe – Uncle Joe – an elusive man who treats everyone kindly. I was hungry and the heat was tiring me. All I could dream about was a salad. “Who has the best salads in town,” I asked.
Without hesitation, I was directed to Nick’s Laguna Beach on South Coast Highway across the street from Hotel Laguna near Laguna Avenue.
Nick’s, like almost every summer day, was packed, but I managed to find a seat at the bar – my favorite place to sit in restaurants, especially when I am alone. The bar feels less formal and conversations are more intimate. Perhaps it’s the martinis.
I’ve tried all the salads at Nick’s, but I most frequently order the 17 dollar California Ahi served with lightly seared sesame crusted ahi tuna, crisp greens, shishoto peppers, soy beans, jicama, mango, cucumber, pickled onions, and sesame dressing.
I order the California Ahi salad sans the jicama because the Mexican yam is devoid of any nutritional value in the amount served, and it tastes like a raw potato – not exactly offensive, but what’s the point unless it’s really cheap and Nick’s uses it as filler to broaden their profit margin?
To complete the Nick’s salad experience, go on a hot day when the patio windows are wide open and the sun is streaming onto the bar; and order a 12 dollar Blood Orange Cosmo made with Hangar One, X Rated (blood orange liquor), Cointreau, cranberry juice, and fresh lime. No matter when you go, though, the vibe is always upbeat and sophisticated.
As with all my food reviews, consistency over time is the deciding factor in placing them in a best-of category. I’ve probably eaten Nick’s ahi salad eight times over the past year. The last time I was there, I sent the salad back to the kitchen because the ahi tasted like it sat on the dock too long. I reluctantly agreed to allow them to try again. When they brought me a new salad, they explained they took the cuts from another fish, and it tasted fresh-off-the-boat as usual.
After giving Nick’s the best salad award, I should also inform you of a couple of issues that bring me concern. First and foremost is their lack of transparency. I wanted to give credit to their head chef in this article. I telephoned their restaurant and I asked for the name of the head chef. ”You have to call our media office,” Justin said, refusing to provide just one bit of information.
Irritated with their lack of respect for my time (I wasn’t asking a difficult question), I telephoned their media office. They refused to provide the name of their head chef on the telephone, “Our policy is that all inquiries must go through email and they will only be answered through our email,” Oliver said.
This is Laguna Beach folks, corporate media policies is not what this community is all about. Federal government agencies provide me more information on the telephone. I didn’t email them because I no longer cared.
I’ve seen this same abruptness carry over into their staff on numerous occasions. Once they refused to serve me breakfast because their breakfast hour was closing in 5 minutes; another time they refused to provide me with wifi access so I could work while eating, even though my server acknowledged they have wifi.
Given the prices and abruptness of Nick’s Laguna Beach, I hope I find a better salad somewhere in town.
Nick’s Laguna Beach
440 SOUTH COAST HIGHWAY
LAGUNA BEACH, CA 92651
Update: After this article was published, Hailey Cox, Director of Nick’s Administration Services, offered her most sincere apologies for the manner in which they handled the above described situations. I’m certain change is in effect.
Omar Gonzalez is the executive chef for Nick’s Laguna Beach.