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Orange County, California might conjure up visions of augmented Housewives and buff beach bodies frolicking in the sand. But more LGBT visitors these days are coming to the seaside towns to taste, not tan. Creative chefs from around the world cook up "green" gourmet dishes inside luxe hotels that offer up Pacific views. Here's a roundup of spots -- most within a five-minute drive of each other -- to dine, drink, and sleep it off in the O.C.
Along with sustainable, seafood-centric fare (sauteed Alaskan halibut with parsnips, roasted apples and Marcona almonds), the posh beachfront hotel's pair of restaurants offer education while you eat. The Studio's wine program boasts a collection of more than 45,000 bottles and 2,100 labels and eight sommeliers to lead you through the list, and the Loft's trio of fromagiers offer customized tastings from selection of more than 200 cheeses. There's also an assortment of honeys from near and far, including a rare little number harvested from a cave in Iraq. (www.montagelagunabeach.com)
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
At just 27 years old, chef Marissa Gerlach has taken the Ritz's Raya restaurant into creative "comfort food" territory, serving an assortment of tacos (like smoked swordfish with pickled chilies and mango salsa, and pork belly with habanero coleslaw and kabayaki). Chefs partner with local purveyors and fisherman on menu selections, and following the farm-to-table trend, the outdoor kitchen garden just past the pool provides produce and herbs to punctuate the menu. While the garden is too small to serve the 109-seat restaurant, that lemongrass in your cocktail was likely grown out back. (www.ritzcarlton.com)
Balboa Bay Club & Resort
Like the name suggests, the First Cabin Restaurant is a few feet way from Newport Beach waterfront and close enough to see inside the docked multi-million-dollar yachts. The menu highlights steak and seafood (including slow-roasted beef short ribs and sea scallop and shrimp curry) and Austrian-born chef Josef Lageder adds some European fare with the paprika rahm schnitzel with veal scaloppini, spatzle, and braised red cabbage. There are 600 wines for pairing, from local vineyards to French champagne. (www.balboabayclub.com)
Terraced 25 feet above the beach, Splashes pairs ocean sounds with seafood eats, including barbecue octopus and sea bass crudo. Pastry chef/mixologist Ryan Vellila rotates drinks and desserts with the season, with a lineup that includes vanilla and green tea creme brulee and a caramelized white chocolate "Kit Kat" with banana sorbet. All 154 guestrooms face the Pacific for sleep-on-the-beach sounds sans the sand. (www.surfandsandresort.com)