A Night Out On the Town

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Live music, scenic vistas and creative cocktails combine for bustling nightlife in coastal Orange County.

By Sharael Kolberg

MACY GRAY at MOZAMBIQUE

Whether a night out involves sipping a
signature cocktail on a veranda with unparalleled ocean views, lounging to live music or wine tasting with friends, there are scores of restaurants, bars and music venues open after the sun sets in coastal Orange County. From relaxed and loungey to high energy, the area’s nightlife offers enough options for visitors to enjoy a distinctive experience every evening.

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Ocean Vistas

With a South African and Portuguese flair, Mozambique Steakhouse, Bar and Lounge in Laguna Beach offers an exotic night out. Guests are greeted by a toucan and macaw in the entryway and can choose to wine or dine on one of three levels. The ground floor, with private dining rooms, is best suited for private parties or business events. The Coastal Lounge boasts a $1 million, state-of-the-art sound system on the second floor where visitors can dance the night away during live weekend concerts.

The newest and most impressive part of the restaurant is the third-floor veranda with 180-degree unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean—a romantic spot to watch the sun go down while sipping a signature cocktail such as the African Sunset Martini (citrus vodka, pineapple juice and guava juice) or the Xai Xai (light citrus rum, Zaya rum ultra, fresh guava and passion fruit nectar). Take advantage of happy hour on the veranda from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and bring your canine companion along, too, since the veranda is pet friendly.

Throughout the entire restaurant, many dishes are flavored with a spice called peri-peri, native to Mozambique. For example, the menu includes items such as peri-peri chicken and peri-peri prawns. Other options: roti wraps (African-style burritos), wood-fired steak, Maputo platters, samoosas and more.

After enjoying a delicious meal as well as entertainment, take advantage of Mozambique’s “Safe Ride” complimentary car service within 3 miles of the restaurant using professional chauffeurs and a fleet of luxury vehicles including a BMW 745, GMC Limo Van and Bentley.

For more panoramic patios, check out The Cliff and Las Brisas, both in Laguna Beach, and Javier’s in the Crystal Cove Shopping Center. Las Brisas, which overlooks the coastline, serves up a long list of specialty margaritas and singular dishes based on the region’s abundant seafood and recipes from Mexico’s west coast as well as innovative Californian cuisine. Among the menu’s inspired dishes are the Snapper Veracruzana, lightly breaded red snapper filet stuffed with shrimp, with a spicy tomato, caper and cilantro wine sauce. Or try the day’s fresh fish with mango relish and a savory seafood enchilada.

At The Cliff restaurant, enjoy unsurpassed dining on the oceanfront multilevel patio and watch the waves roll in. A wide-ranging menu offers seafood, salads, burgers, Mexican food and more. Sit back and relax with a creative cocktail such as The Cliff Hanger, made with Cruzan mango rum, strawberry puree, blue curacao and a squeeze of lime. Live music is offered several nights a week.

Javier’s, which sits off the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, directly across from the Pacific Ocean, features a menu that boasts regionally-influenced home-style Mexican cuisine and a large selection of premium tequila. While taking in expansive views of the Pacific blue, try the Cabo Azul, a Maine lobster enchilada in light, creamy pasilla sauce served with a shrimp taco and a grilled chile relleno stuffed with shrimp and Dungeness crab in a light relleno sauce.

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Raise a Glass

If wine tasting is on the night’s agenda, The Wine Gallery in Corona del Mar—with nearly 1,000 wines—is the perfect spot for connoisseurs to indulge in their favorite vintage or try something new. Founded in 1999 by longtime local residents Jeff Schroeder and Chris Olsen, the Gallery specializes in handcrafted, limited-production wines, which can often be sampled at the tasting bar.

“It’s a great place to meet people or bring a date,” owner Chris Olsen says. “It’s a good spot for the young or old.”

Wine tasting has a featured theme every Tuesday evening, and flight tastings are available daily with three selections in each flight. Part wine bar, par retail wine shop means visitors can take home a bottle of their favorite sampling or try wines such as Mile 216 and Schroeder, made by the owners. Join its wine club to receive two bottles of exceptional wine and discounts on additional purchases.

In addition to an extensive wine list that includes whites, reds, dessert wine and craft beer, the Gallery also offers hors d’oeuvres to accompany the wines. Or, for something more substantial, choose from boards of salami and cheese, flat breads, plates of short rib tacos or shrimp ceviche and dessert such as caramel apple tart a la mode. And don’t miss the live music on Sundays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

For those who prefer ice-cold draft beers, check out the modern comfort of Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern in Dana Point, where industrial lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows complement dark floors, walls and booths. The establishment, which opened in August 2013, offers beer and wine on tap in a relaxing environment. It’s a lively place to grab a bite with friends or saddle up to the bar for a beer and conversation. Jimmy’s also offers creative cocktails such as the Cucumber Cooler with American Harvest vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh cucumber and lemon juice. Enjoy happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Marketed as “comfort food for the foodie,” the menu includes items such as the Jimmy burger with applewood smoked bacon, spicy jalapeno jam and Southern pimento cheese, the Nest of Jalapeno (deviled farm-fresh hen eggs) or the fire-grilled flatbread with pear, black fig jam, Gorgonzola and fontina with prosciutto and arugula. Jimmy’s focuses on locally raised, organic and sustainable ingredients in addition to sustainable and properly harvested fish.

The restaurant is also a certified green restaurant—administered by the nonprofit Green Restaurant Association—which involves water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, using both sustainable construction materials and food, and reducing chemicals and pollution.

For more wine or beer tasting, head to SideDoor in Corona del Mar or Laguna Canyon Winery in Laguna Beach. SideDoor, an English-style gastropub, features a comfortable atmosphere with cozy fireplaces, plush couches, banquettes and a communal table. The pub also offers wine and artisan craft beer by the glass or flight. For those who are unsure where to start, the staff is ready and willing to recommend a beer that will pair well with a dish on the menu ranging from traditional pub fare to cured meats and cheeses, salads and Lawry’s duck confit and prime rib sandwich from Five Crowns next door.

Meanwhile, Laguna Canon Winery pours award-winning wines and also offers barrel tasting and wine and cheese pairing for groups. In late September 2013, the winery debuted its new Bordeaux style blend, called Canyon Cuvée. This full body red, perfect for cold winter nights, fuses together cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec, and boasts berry flavors balanced exquisitely with French oak. Oenophiles also will love the winery’s monthly tasting party, which takes place on the first Friday of every month from 6 to 9 p.m., with wine, food and live music.

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Follow the Beat

For those seeking music in a vibrant setting, live piano, 1980s tunes and modern rock are on rotation at Mastro’s Ocean Club in Crystal Cove, considered the place to see and be seen.

“Many prominent Orange County residents … and celebrities can often been seen enjoying the lively atmosphere at Mastro’s,” manager Hannie Darwazeh says.

The chic restaurant has stunning ocean views, while its O Bar features a large selection of wines and spirits in a space with high cocktail tables, booths and seating at the grand piano against a backdrop of sophisticated dark decor accented with lighting in warm hues. “In the bar, you can have just a drink or dessert, or eat a five-course meal,” Darwazeh says. The menu includes items such as Alaskan red king crab claws, seared albacore with black truffles, rack of lamb, vanilla-battered sole and spicy mambo salad as well as 150 wines and more than 30 featured cocktails such as the Spicy Señorita made with Patrón silver tequila, fresh lime, simple syrup, Cholula hot sauce, cucumber and salt rim served over ice.

For a mellower, yet still melodic night scene, visit The St. Regis Monarch Beach’s Lobby Lounge, which offers an elegant atmosphere with live piano music from Thursday through Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight. From a terrace with views of the pool, golf course and ocean, to a cozy couch by the fireplace and classy contemporary bar, the Lounge provides the perfect spot for unwinding while enjoying five-star service and an extensive drink menu with light fare. Indulge in the signature drink, the Agave Maria made with Herradura silver tequila and green jalapeno or nibble on a lobster fritter with citrus creme fraiche or American Kobe sliders with white cheddar and secret sauce on a sesame seed bun.

Several other venues also host live music, including Mozambique Steakhouse, Bar and Lounge, which offers weekend concerts in its second-floor Coastal Lounge with its state-of-the-art sound system. Additionally, The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano is the perfect local establishment to hear a wide variety of musical performances as well as stand-up comedy acts. The venue presents a wide range of bands and genres several nights a week. Patrons may make dinner reservations, which come with priority seating closer to the stage. Out of 480 seats, 300 are set aside for diners. Coming up on the concert calendar: Dishwalla on Dec. 12, Tower of Power on Jan. 5, Los Lobos on Jan. 11 and Desperado (an Eagles tribute band) on Jan. 31, among others.

Whether a night out means dancing the night away to live music, sipping a signature cocktail overlooking the ocean, enjoying a sumptuous dinner or tasting wine and beer, coastal Orange County offers plenty of options. With such a long list, the most difficult part will be choosing where to start the evening’s adventure.