By Anita Lau | Contributor
SPRING 2023 ISSUE
BURST INTO SPRING AT 608 DAHLIA
Photos credit courtesy of Michael's on Naples
Nestled along PCH in Corona del Mar is Sherman Library & Gardens, founded in 1966 by Arnold D. Haskell, a successful businessman who was deeply passionate about education and gardens. After purchasing the beautiful cultural center in the 1950s, he had another wing added to the property in 1956 and started landscaping the surrounding area. Named after his mentor, Moses H. Sherman, this oasis hidden away behind brick walls is now home to a display of fantastic gardens and a research library with collections related to the history of the Pacific Southwest.
If you’re lucky, you might be greeted at the entrance booth by Julius Caesar, Sherman Library & Gardens’ resident cat. There is a $5 entry fee for visitors, which goes toward the maintenance and upkeep of the grounds. (If you’ve ever visited a botanical garden, you’ll know how tranquil and peaceful they are — it is no different here.)
Visiting this sanctuary is a relaxing and serene experience, but the best part is sitting down to a leisurely lunch at 608 Dahlia, the restaurant situated within the gardens. Surrounded by flora, the restaurant offers a menu that goes hand in hand with its environment. While there is indoor seating, it is best to snag one of the tables on the patio in order to experience garden dining to its fullest. There is nothing more pleasant than the panoramic views of the Central Garden, watching all the visitors meander around, taking in the splendor of spring, and relaxing with the sounds of nature and water splashing in the nearby fountain.
608 Dahlia Executive Chef Jessica Roy has a fresh, interpretative style enhanced by daily pickings from the gardens and local farms. Her menu is dotted with compelling seasonal offerings, highlighting ingredients at their peak. In her picturesque creations, expect to find striking edible blooms and herbs right from the Sherman grounds.
Having worked in some of the best kitchens in the country, including the Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago, chef Jessica’s talent and passion are clear the moment dishes start hitting the table. How many times have you encountered a dish where it is visually pleasing, but does not live up to expectations upon the first bite? Here, each plate is a vibrant palette of colors, and the aesthetics and flavors are perfectly in sync. Dishes are thoughtfully curated, allowing the star ingredient to shine while supporting flavors do their job without ever overpowering.
While small batch buttermilk chive and gruyere biscuits may seem too long to wait for — they can take up to 25 minutes — don’t let that dissuade you. It is absolutely worth the wait. From a recipe handed down from chef Jessica’s grandmother, these made-to-order biscuits arrive tucked in a basket and scorching to the touch. Impatient hands might try to grab one right away, but they are too hot to handle. Break off a piece and slather with either whipped butter or orange blossom honey. The prominent flavor of aged French gruyere permeates; pair each morsel with a different condiment to generate a new experience with every bite.
Even though it might be tempting to continue noshing on those delectable biscuits, control that impulse — you can always take them home to enjoy. You don’t want to fill up before all the other marvelous menu items ahead, like heirloom garden beets, a gluten-free offering of sweet beet cubes paired with seasonal orange, local avocado, picked garden leaves, farmers market watermelon radish, dollops of whipped herb goat cheese, puffed sorghum, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. If one could describe a season in a bite, this is absolutely spring! It’s the epitome of California cuisine.
For entrees, there are options to satiate any appetite. Being partial to fish, crispy trout was an obvious choice. Beautiful fork-tender trout is served alongside accoutrements of whipped basil potato and a medley of beautiful seasonal farmers market vegetables, including Thumbelina carrots tied together with a toasted almond butter herb sauce.
If you are a fan of salmon, try the pan-seared option for a perfectly executed piece of fish atop a silky citrus emulsion, served with braised lentils and a melange of petite farmers market vegetables such as haricot verts and courgettes. The sprinkling of pomegranate seeds not only adds a splash of color to the mix, but also a pop of texture and sweetness.
On the day of our visit, veal osso buco was offered as a special of the day. The succulent veal was rich and lavish, melting in our mouths with a bed of luscious pea and asparagus risotto beneath. Of course, every dish at 608 Dahlia features some sort of seasonal vegetables, and here, bright purple cauliflower makes its striking presence. The crispy kale garnish was a fantastic touch, adding an element of textural contrast to the dish.
Leave some room for dessert because, well, you must! Spanish Basque cheesecake was creamy and luscious, topped with fresh marinated berries and whipped cream. Chocolate lovers will marvel at the decadent house-made flourless torte; it’s rich like ganache and oh so sinful, but truly magnificent.
Whether it’s before or after lunch, make a day of your visit by spending some time traversing Sherman Library & Gardens. You can take in the splendor of the beautiful space and relish in the best seasonal garden-to-table cuisine Orange County has to offer. 608dahlia.com | IG: @608dahlia
608 Dahlia is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is a $5 admission fee to the gardens for non-members when dining at the restaurant. Reservations are highly recommended.