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Many reasons to go to 230 Forest. Ave.

May 14, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz

With Marc Cohen’s culinary empire expanding, we were curious to see if his first venture, 230 Forest Ave., has been able to maintain its quality, as many restaurateurs these days have been stretching themselves too thin, like Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Bouloud. With Opah in Irvine and Aliso Viejo, and now Watermarc in Laguna to claim his attention, he’s got a lot on his plate. Yet, he still seems to be cookin’ with gas.

Mark Singer’s contemporary architecture still retains its hip, cool vibe. Starting with the welcoming sidewalk patio and the glass wall that reveals the happening scene inside, one is tempted to enter and enjoy. The sleek décor with its cement and wood elements is accented with a rotating exhibition of art.

David Flores has been cooking with and for Marc since the restaurant began in 1994. Since our last review four years ago, the menu has had only a few changes. What hasn’t changed is the warm crunchy baguette served in a paper bag with olive butter. However, on the night we dined, it tasted better than ever, punchy with olives and particularly “buttery.”

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The nightly special appetizer, which really isn’t a special because they have it all the time, is the bang-bang shrimp, lightly battered rock shrimp in plum sauce. The generous mound of fresh, juicy “popcorn” shrimp, drizzled with sweet sauce, came in an attractive bowl. What was hidden below was a salad of shredded red cabbage, carrots, green onions and thin, crispy rice noodles. Unfortunately, we were halfway through before we uncovered this nice accompaniment. The presentation in a deep bowl hides the rest of the goodies.

Truth to tell, we were getting bored with the one-note shrimp but once we tossed everything together, the combination of flavors and textures was quite delightful.

If you like your dishes spicy, do as we did and request their excellent house-made chili oil (actually a zippy puree), which adds gentle heat and also makes a great dipping sauce for the shrimp.

Ahi tuna tartar is a layered construction of flavors and textures. The beginning is a foundation of sweet chopped papaya, the second layer is chunky, creamy crabmeat salad followed by a layer of very finely chopped ahi tuna and the finish is a film of wasabi infused caviar. Perched on the very top are shavings of pickled ginger and micro-greens.

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