The St. Regis resort at Monarch Beach is undergoing extensive renovations, but StoneHill Tavern, the Michael Mina restaurant inside the resort is firing on all cylinders. On a recent visit to Dana Point much to surprise, an actual red carpet was rolled out, which we were happy to dine upon.
Originally opening in 2006, Stonehill is a Forbes Four-Star restaurant, featuring an epic wine program – the recipient of a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 2015 on over 900 selections.
Menus were elegant, but seemed a mere formality as we were given the option to undergo the service industry tasting. It seemed foolish to do otherwise, especially after Paul Coker, friend, wine director, and advanced sommelier appeared with likely the sexiest flute I have seen and a beautiful bottle of 2004 Champagne Paul Bara Special Club.
Our server was particularly fun and engaging, almost like he knew what we were in for, excellent food. I often find a strong correlation with how happy a server is to the quality of food being served. Unhappy service stems from problems in the back of the house, and if things are delicious on the line, everyone smiles.
The arrival of snacks heralded the beginning of the food courses. We particularly enjoyed the chicken wings, which were delicately frenched. Our favorite though, was the soft buckwheat pancakes with salmon with ikura. I could’ve eaten far more than one of each.
A special occasion for a special person turning twenty six again always warrants multiple courses. Paul did an outstanding job of moving through regions of the world, as well as dancing back and forth with the interplay of weight on the palate, residual sugar, and ripeness.
Paul’s selections did well to evolve and build upon each successive layer, yet they did so in step with the meal not to overshadow any flavors. When not only a personal favorite, but the oldest and most celebrated producer in of Savennières reached the table I felt comfortable falling asleep at the wheel. Chenin Blanc is a favorite of the birthday girl, so points were certainly scored here.
It would be hard to call any wine the standout, as I wanted to do when the 2013 Seville Estate Pinot Noir whisked me away unsuspectingly to the soft tannins of the damp and earthy 2012 Burgundy vintage.
Recently back from an excursion down under, Paul mentioned his time in Victoria was full of interesting and exciting producers such as Dr. Peter G McMahon, who first planted Seville Estate in 1972. This reserve bottling from sustainable, all estate Yarra Valley fruit was excellent.
Hard to top the next few wines that came to the table along side several beautiful plates and excellent plating. The Chateauneuf du Pape from Domaine de Pignan was a delicate monster, so well integrated with mature fruit in this Rhone wine, and a kiss of tobacco smoke danced on the nose.
The food runners came out in rapid succession, delivering some delightful sauces with deft hands. Naturally, I started forgetting what they were saying in line with drunken euphoria. If what looked like bordelaise sauce here was available in a to-go cup I might have ordered one for the trip home.
As we reached the threshold of gluttony, we were brought back down to earth with an epic bottling of Madeira. 1907 D’Oliveiras Malvasia Reserva Vintage Madeira was a stunning bottling. I always remember the year 1907 for the Panic of 1907 in the U.S, where J.P Morgan saved the financial system with his own money after a 50% drop. The first bail-out which led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System; finance trivia comes back to haunt you in the wine world. #FeelTheBern
Anytime I can stay at a hotel with a bathtub large enough for me to fit in, I am happy. If there’s a great meal attached, solid – this was an epic meal. Deserts were small and tasteful.
Wine was the co-star of this birthday dinner, and we can’t wait to go back when the renovation is complete. The sunset over the Pacific Ocean will be much nicer when we can get closer, so the soft waves will drown out the hordes of tourists taking pictures with their phones on the balcony. Don’t get me wrong, this is behind the orange curtain and I did feel slightly out of place without an orange glow on my skin, a pair of tesla keys, or golf shirt. However the beauty at this resort and restaurants like Stone Hill makes it easy to see why so many people want to live in Laguna Niguel and desire to visit Dana Point.