Adam and I drove to Orange County, California on the Monday after Thanksgiving to join my mom, sister, step-dad, and his side of the family to enjoy the rest of the holiday. After we took some family photos on the beach, we went to The St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point to watch their Christmas tree lighting. Excited about the Christmas tree lighting, I also did a little research and found that celebrity chef, Michael Mina, had a restaurant at The St. Regis, Stonehill Tavern.
Adam, my sister and I went to Stonehill Tavern that day without a reservation, went up to the hostess table and asked to just sit at the bar to enjoy their desserts. Unfortunately the bar top was full, but their wine sommelier, Paul, graciously seated us to a table and served us himself. When I explained to him that I work in the pastry field and came to solely experience their desserts, he informed me that their pastry chef, Maren Henderson, was working that night and would have her come out to meet me. Honored and delighted, Chef Maren came to speak to me, and I was able to play 20 questions with her 🙂 Speaking with her brought me so much inspiration and drive to be better in order to achieve my pastry goals. While I waited for our desserts to be brought out to the table, I started to wander the restaurant to take in the entire experience. Paul approached me and asked if I wanted a tour! He proceeded to showed me the kitchen and I met their executive chef, Raj Dixit, as well as his team. When I arrived back at my table to join Shelby and Adam I found my parents had joined us for the fun! Briefly after, Chef Maren brought out almost every entree on her entire dessert menu! As you can see, their hospitality goes over and beyond.
Now that I have talked about their generous hospitality I will go into their desserts! In my lifetime I have dined and enjoyed plenty of desserts, and when I come across a dessert that touches every sense in my body I remember it forever. I remember the experience and taste; but more importantly to me, I remember the feeling that inspires me to create something as beautiful as what the chef prepared. I do not feel this way often which makes these moments that more special to me. Maren Henderson’s desserts at Stonehill Tavern achieved this for me and opened my eyes and taste buds to a whole new level!
Cinnamon Bark Souffle
I previously stated in my first post that I LOVE soufflés! So when Paul said this soufflé is like cinnamon toast crunch Adam and I were sold. A warm cinnamon soufflé in a ramekin with maple butter ice cream and apple confit on the last day of November…mhmm, all I needed was a fireplace with my spoon and dessert. The soufflé came out beautifully risen with a quenelle of maple butter ice cream on top that melted into the soufflé. Inside the soufflé was apple confit, (apples slowly cooked in butter and probably cinnamon). All of the components were outstanding! The cinnamon soufflé was light and had the perfect amount of sweetness from the maple butter ice cream and apple confit.
This was Adam’s favorite so I only had a few bites, but of course they were good ones! When I first spoke to Chef Maren I brought to her attention that I admired her use of savory produce, such as squash in her desserts. You do not see that often, and when you do it reveals a chef’s creativity and well-rounded experience. I learned that Chef Maren is a versatile chef and had some savory experience prior to mastering her pastry skills. The Kabocha Beignets were delightful with pecan pieces inside. The beignets were plated on top of a macallan scotch sauce with diced spiced quinced surrounding the beignets and squab ice cream. This dessert was balanced well between its savory components and its slight sweetness from the beignets, sauce, and quince. I am not surprised this was Adam’s favorite dessert with its macallan scotch sauce and all 🙂 Another great fall dessert.
When Paul first raved about this dessert it did not really catch my eye; however, he had said the pears were so fresh because they came from a local market. Further, Paul explained that the pears were delicately prepared in order to let them shine. Oh did this dessert shine! These pears were amazing! I believe Paul had said the pears were either cooked sous-vide or poached; either way, I would actually eat more fruit if all pears were prepared this way. Plated with the pears was a light ricotta creme, buckwheat crisps, fresh pomegranates, and grated hazelnuts. Now forgive me as I was having too much fun and was overwhelmed with all the desserts at our table that I do not remember the ice cream paired with this plated dessert, but it may have been hazelnut. This plated dessert was so refreshing! The fruit shined with its natural flavors and sweetness plus there was a little crunch from the buckwheat crisps and a nutty finish with the grated hazelnuts. This was my moms favorite dessert and my second favorite of the night. A very surprising and successful dessert!
I will admit this was not the prettiest plated dessert, but it was my sister, Shelby, and I’s favorite dessert of the night. Shelby had ordered it, but had to fight me for more bites. This was a moist black velvet cake with sea salt toffee and dulcey creme which makes the plate look unpleasant, but you forget all about that because it tastes so good! I believe the two quenelles on the center and the left are the caramelia mousse (caramel flavored milk chocolate) and on the right is an amazing coffee ice cream quenelle – that I definitely remember. This plated dessert has all of my favorite flavors, chocolate, caramel, and coffee. The chocolate cake was perfectly baked, the caramel mousse and dulcey creme were sweet, there was a perfect amount of salt from the toffee, and finally a little bitterness from the coffee ice cream. This was amazing from start to finish, every bite of every component, separately, together, was flawless.
As if the team at Stonehill Tavern was not enough, they gave us these cute, petite ice cream cones. This might be a small version of the Calamansi Creamsicle. They were chocolate cones and when I took a bite I was instantly brought back to my childhood of when my mom would buy and eat the orange dreamsicles. Calamansi is the hybrid of a mandarin orange and kumquat. The ice cream was definitely citrus and orange, as well as a delicious and perfect surprise to top off our Dessert Tour at Stonehill Tavern.
Monarch Beach Resort
1 Monarch Beach Resort N
Dana Point, CA 92629
W – Su: 5:30pm-10pm