Nirvana Grille Debuts Season's Best
Lindsay Smith-Rosales, an award-winning chef and self-made restauranteur, wears all the hats at Nirvana Grille. A southern California native raised by a mother who is a Doctor of Ayurvedic medicine, healing the body with nutrition has always been a way of life. At 19, she enrolled in the Orange Coast College culinary program which included Hospitality, Dietary, and Culinary 101, and loved it!
While immersed in her studies she worked as a server for LA and Orange County caterers, notably Pascal Olhats and Michael Kang. She always proved to be an asset in the kitchen which led to a full-time position upon graduation with Pascal. One year later she was recruited by the Ritz Carlton and pulled double shifts between the two employers for nine months. At Ritz Carlton, she gained all kinds of experience with invaluable mentors including fine dining chef Yvon Goetz.
Unfortunately, she suffered an injury involving a milk crate at a big event. She ripped a tendon in her wrist, and surgery was inevitable. At the time she was disheartened not knowing if she would ever get back the momentum but in hindsight the accident was fortuitous. She was able to learn the business aspects of the front of the house, event planning, catering, reservations for holiday parties, wine pairing dinners, and coordinating and executing all the things she does now. Her physical set back allowed her to be placed in departments she would never have been. A few years later she slowly got back into cooking for a few clients here and there.
Circa 2002, she met her husband, Luis, a server at the Ritz Carlton and they embarked on a journey both personal and professional. They were married and began Nirvana Catering. Needing to supplement the catering biz since they both left the Ritz when it underwent remodeling, she was hired at Z Pizza Corporate, and Luis opened the Montage Resort. A year later and with more valuable experience tucked in her apron it was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco when she got truly inspired to commit to going full time on her own. In 2005, after some soul searching the couple took a huge leap of faith and signed the lease for Nirvana Grille, Mission Viejo. The late night painting sessions to remodel the previous restaurant was a labor of love, and pre-children it was an exciting time to see their future unfolding.
Naturally, opening day nerves were expected. Lindsay had done just about everything but never actually worked on a kitchen line. They learned as they went.
With ambition running wild their second location in Laguna Beach fell into place. They beat out other applicants because the building owner’s wife was sold on Lindsay's vision and passion and the fact that she was a woman making her own destiny in a male-dominated industry. Two weeks before signing the lease she got pregnant with Diego. It was not an easy time for sure juggling motherhood and two businesses but loving what she does is what made her rise to the occasion.
Many hats are worn by Lindsay. A typical day at work involves being in the office from 10am till 4pm. Negotiating contracts, planning events with her team, sourcing the food, marketing, and fielding numerous calls. Then it’s down to the kitchen to aid in the preparation. In the kitchen, it feels like home. There is camaraderie, and she converses to her staff in English and fluent Spanish. Using smart business practices to keep costs down I witness her cutting up a 7 lb. Pismo Tenderloin. She cuts and weighs 4 and 8-ounce filet portions and sets aside the remainder for the Prime Beef Stroganoff and discards the fat. She is the very definition of multi-tasking. She's on the phone while cutting the beef, delegating responsibilities while cooking, and you should see her navigate the kitchen with a calm focus and precision. In the relaxed environment of the kitchen the staff knows their duties, and it runs efficiently and smoothly. When the prep is done at 5pm every day except Monday, then it's Lights, Music, Action!
Each spring and fall Lindsay debuts a new menu offering up to 50% off for the first week. As the seasons shift there are slight changes, but the new fall menu is brimming with the freshest seasonal produce and comfort food recipes to take you through the winter months. I sampled the following new menu items:
Line cook Aracely fixed a Trio of Greens Salad; immune boosting spinach, arugula and endive, poached pears, roasted beets, blue cheese, and candied pecans. At the stove, Lindsay maneuvered four pans and a giant steamer to prepare the magnificent Nirvana Veggie Plate. The Veggie Plate runs the gamut of earthly delights separately steamed then sautéed and arranged on an elongated plate. The plate features roasted butternut squash with sage butter, root vegetable puree with Yukon Gold potatoes, parsnips and turnips, balsamic caramelized onions, wilted Swiss chard, sautéed french lentils with leeks, wild mushroom ragout, jasmine organic grain blend, rice, heirloom colored glazed carrots, zucchini and broccolini with herb butter, and traditional mashed potato. Some share this entree as an appetizer. As with any entree or small plate you may add on your choice of Loup de Mer sea bass, Steelhead salmon, scallops, prawns, chicken breast or filet mignon either herb coated, blackened or grilled. They are proud to serve free range and organic poultry, 100% sustainable seafood, meats free of antibiotics and hormones, and grass-fed ground beef.
Rounding out this meal and featured as one of the new small plate menu items is Raclette. I feel the intense heat of the oven as it melts this aromatic French-Swiss cheese to be immediately poured over the prosciutto di Parma, boiled Yukon potato slices and blanched green beans plated with side cornichons (mini pickles), and a dollop of Dijon mustard. The epi French baguette served warm with soft butter is heavenly. The dessert menu exudes the flavors of fall with a Pumpkin Mason Jar Cheesecake or Streusel Apple Pie.
Happy Hour is offered all night every night at the bar. Bartender Rufino has created a special fall cocktail menu including his signature Rufino Lychee Martini, a Bloody Moon Mojito, Blackberry Sage Mule, Spicy Guava Margarita, and a Thyme, Cran, Orange Gin & Tonic.
After paying many dues and achieving eleven years of success with Nirvana Grille, I asked Lindsay what is on her agenda for 2019 and beyond. A Foundation is in the works she is going to call Summer’s Thyme. Named after her sister Summer who has been battling breast cancer and a play on the word Thyme/Time to address the responsibility and now the influence she feels she has to mentor women in the industry. This includes hiring women to work in every capacity including the front and back of the house. She says there are still so few women in this industry who work in the kitchen. She wants to see women cooking together, empowering each other, collaborating with other chefs, teaching and mentoring, and moving each other forward in the culinary industry. The Foundation will lend support to women and help them achieve their goals.
December's focus is off-site catering for corporate events, weddings, and private parties. At Nirvana Grille the upstairs Bliss Bar and Dining overlooks gorgeous Laguna sunsets and is equipped with heaters for private events.
In January, Lindsay will be introducing Sunday Brunch with CBD infused cooking, wine tasting dinners featuring some of their favorite vintners, and Nirvana cooking classes.
Where does she find the time to be the mom to two young boys? With less sleep, which she has grown very accustomed to, and Sundays and Mondays are her days off work. Admittedly, her life is a balancing act and though she has a team of helpers things end up on her plate, so to speak. "When you are inspired by something and enjoy what you do it does not stress you," Lindsay says. She really loves when people come in and she can talk with them. “When they get to experience what we do and how it makes a difference, that’s the high, the adrenaline."
She lets go of a lot of things. "Not everything is going to get accomplished in a day" she affirms. She's learned to be okay with that and not to make too many apologies or excuses for things that are sometimes beyond her control. She knows by failing at something she grows more as a result. "Best to learn what is working and what isn’t rather than enjoying a smooth ride every day."
As I leave, Lindsay is beaming, engaged in conversation with a local doctor and his wife at their table.
303 Broadway St.
Reservations (949) 497-0027
About the Author: Lisa Farber is the Publisher and Editor-in-chief of Laguna Beach Vibe — Laguna’s locally-owned arts and entertainment publisher & media services provider. By delivering unique media services to business owners interested in reaching locals and visitors alike, Lisa and her team help businesses rise above the noise. Under Lisa's direction, Laguna Beach Vibe's mission is to inspire people to take full advantage of the variety of arts, entertainment and hospitality options in Laguna Beach.