Restaurateur Salvatore S. D'Abbusco was born in Naples, but traveled to the United States at the age of 24 to marry a woman from Philadelphia, with whom he'd fallen in love on a cruise. He wanted to bring the tastes of Italy to his new home and founded Salvatore Cucina Italiana more than 20 years ago.
His chefs toss pasta dishes made from traditional Italian recipes with italian cheeses, shellfish, chicken, and lamb. They handcraft tiramisu and blend, cut, and fold their own dough for manicotti. Sommeliers complement the extensive menu with an array of white and red wines from Tuscany, Sicily, and California, for a greater blend of international flavors than UN potluck parties. Each meal begins as servers lay complimentary bruschetta, in lieu of traditional bread, onto white-clothed tables arranged under ornate gilded lamps and pasta-covered walls.
The skilled chefs at Spike’s Fish House grill a rotating cast of 8–10 daily fish specials to fill salads, rice bowls, and other entree options. A freshly cooked fillet can play hide-and-seek with forks in a salad’s nest of field greens, cucumbers, and roma tomatoes or bounce on the bowl’s bed of white or brown rice to the consternation of babysitters who insist it’s time to sleep. Chefs drizzle each dish in homemade sauces such as lemon-pesto aioli or chimichurri to infuse a final spark of flavor.
Cannons Seafood Grill, perched atop a picturesque cliff overlooking the Dana Point Marina, has delighted diners since 1972 with its menu of fresh, savory seafood. Dive into meals such as the signature lobster bruschetta, a layer of melted blue cheese covering fresh tomato, tarragon bruschetta, and pieces of lobster clinging to one another atop a grilled-sourdough-bread dance floor ($12.95). The grilled swordfish steak Mediterranean brandishes red and yellow tomatoes, sweet red peppers, and artichoke hearts ($25.95), and the sizzling New York sirloin arrives tableside ready to be seared and sporting a rakish derby (29.95). A wide selection of cocktails, such as the Thin Mint, made with Absolut Vanilla, Bailey's Irish Cream, and DeKuper Green Crème de Menthe ($11.50), helps ease first-date jitters.
Seafood staples and baja barbecue standbys are awash with Pacific flavor on The Fish Bucket's sun-drenched menu. Take flight with a pound of island chicken wings, doused in a tangy szechuan-style sauce, bedazzled with sesame seeds, and served with ranch dressing and a black box to document the experience ($9). The california burger plants a cheddar-laden beef patty beneath a garden of avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and ranch dressing with a haystack of fresh-cut french fries ($9). Transpacific tastes are tempered with two baja-style tacos bursting with beer-battered cod, melty pepperjack, cabbage, and tartar sauce ($7). Sweetly cap off the meal by basking in the glow of the bonfire brownie, served warm with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and toasted marshmallows ($5), an ideal compliment to a spooky ghost story or pathologically sentimental sing-along.
Laguna Florist's arrangers heft more than two decades of experience crafting nature into art by assembling seasonal bouquets and meticulous custom arrangements. Each of the three freshly cut Christmas bouquets measures 12.5"x9.5" and is set in a square, red glass vase that can later be reused as a lantern to guide Rudolph back to homes in the off-season. Other floral arrangements ($20–$25 average) can be purchased as gifts or to brighten living spaces. Customers can collaborate with the shop's resident floral artists to invent imaginative custom arrangements from handpicked flowers. The shop's helpful staff is also happy to explain helpful plant-care tips used by the pros to increase rose longevity and to train venus flytraps to belch the alphabet.
Named after a French WWI airplane, Nieuport 17 pays homage to aviation, displaying a dense collection of flight-themed artifacts and artwork amid dark-wood panels, low lighting, and crackling fireplaces. The food, however, is just as impressive as the decor. The restaurant's tuna tartare was one of OC Weekly's 100 favorite dishes of 2013, and CBS2 named the lemon sour-cream pie one of its best summer desserts. And those are just a few of the dishes that come out of Nieuport 17's kitchen, headed by executive chef Cody Storts.
A Culinary Calling
In 2013, OC Metro magazine named Storts one of the best chefs in Orange County. The graduate of LA's Le Cordon Bleu began his journey in the front of the house, though. It was only after bartending and managing at various area restaurants that he realized the kitchen was his calling.
A self-proclaimed "kitchen ninja," Storts relishes the challenge of unusual ingredients and unexpected pairings. This approach helped him craft the menus at a number of celebrated eateries. After appearing in several guest-chef events at Nieuport 17, he eventually took the helm.
Here, he holds weekly tasting events, testing ingredients and recipes before adding them to the menu. At his side are the self-titled Culinary Militia, Storts' trusted band of chefs, pastry makers, and mixologists.