Running Orange County’s best brunch restaurant is no small feat, but for Break of Dawn chef Dee Nguyen, that distinction is no longer enough. Every couple months, he opens the Laguna Hills restaurant for special BoD pop-up dinners. In the past, he devoted multi-course menus to themes like “Raw” and “Pinoy Summer.” Nguyen invited me to his latest dinner, a thrilling, beautifully orchestrated 20-course meal that he titled “Sweet: a savory experience.”
I joined raucous regulars at the counter overlooking an open kitchen that included seasoned sous chefs like John Park, previously with Quenelle in Los Angeles; pizzaiolo Sandro Nardone, who recently left Angelina’s in Irvine; and Anais Tangie, who handles marketing for SOCO/The Mix. The seemingly frenetic experience, set to a loud hum of the crowd and clanging pans, proved to be well-oiled as the team powered through 66 servings (x20) from a spiral-patterned menu.
I enjoyed most dishes, but the meal peaked for me with Course 9: “Yam, apple, uni, ikura.” As with all BoD dishes, descriptions reveal key ingredients, but maintain mystery. A rectangular gratin that alternated layers of Granny Smith apple and Okinawa purple potato rested on rich uni veloute. Nguyen lightly smokes and cures fresh ikura, lending a briny pop. Dotnamul, a Korean herb, contributes nice crunch. This dish is typical BoD, more than the sum of its minimal parts.