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I’m on a work trip. That means I’ll probably eat out. You’d think that would be a great thing for the 101 project. I used to think that too.

It turns out that I’m usually just in and out of airports and grabbing and go-ing most of the time. So at best, my work trips add an airport eatery or two to my 101 collection. Airport eateries are not, more often than not, hidden gems or rare finds. Not a thrilling addition to this growing list really.

This trip is turning out to be a little bit of a wayward child of work trips. At least gastronomically speaking. The flight out was in the afternoon, and I had made time for a real lunch earlier on in the day. When we landed, we were in a rush and did not end up getting a quick bite to eat at the airport. Instead, we reached our destination hotel, finished setting up for the next day’s work, and then agreed to meet back at the lobby for a light, late dinner.

We’re staying at the Laguna Cliffs Marriot Resort and Spa. Did I mention that this trip was a wayward child of all trips? Normally we stay at the airport Hilton. One could get used to the luxurious settings atop a hill and overlooking the Orange County coast. Not bad at all. A mild evening breeze, the post-sunset dimming of the day over the shimmer of the lagoon, and the promise of a half-moon in the skies.

OverVue is the lobby-level lounge area, and turned out to be an amazing tapas restaurant. Menu options are plentiful, and a harmonized balance of the creative and the familiar. Just enough exotic to excite, and enough comfort to dare you to experiment. Or not. I ordered the calamari. My colleagues ordered the kobe beef short rib sliders. What can I say, we’re super creative diners.

The food itself was remarkably well executed. The calamari was fresh and evenly breaded with an extremely light hand. The crust was pretty dense and strong, but at the same time, not at all heavy. It stayed crispy past the half hour to an hour that we lounged over our late dinner fare. I normally don’t douse my calamari with lemon – I worry about the moisture turning the crisp to sog. But today, I dared. And surprisingly, the coating held up. I’m really curious as to what they did to the calamari to get it to turn out like that.

The accompanying dipping sauce was also interesting. Keep in mind, we’re talking post-moonrise tapas dinner on an outdoor patio under the skies, and overlooking the ocean – so dim lighting. I could still tell that there was a green dot of sauce island surrounded by a creamy red-hot sauce pool. I ran through the entire plate of calamari dipping first into one and then the other sauce trying to figure out what the flavors and the kick and punch were from. I have to return and try again. Suffice it to say that the sauces were incredible – and had I been alone, I’d have slurped up the rest of the sauce even after the calamari were long gone. The mystery sauce and their mild carress on my taste buds is something I’ll definitely be dreaming about tonight.

The kobe sliders also looked well executed. Two mini buns, well toasted and buttered to a golden perfection. Shredded kobe rib meat on a bed of what could have been lettuce shreds or even slaw – I tried not to stare. On the side was a heap of reddish brown fries – I’m leaning on calling them regular fries, but I must admit that I did wonder whether they were sweet potato fries or not. Probably not. Did I wince just a little when I saw the delicate kobe ribs smothered in ketchup and the fries slathered in the same ketchup? Maybe just a little. I try not to judge.

The highlight of it all, though, was the ambiance. The setting. The lounge. The backdrop of the ocean sounds, the deck awash in the pale moonlight, and the amber glow of the fire stands all around us. They sure did not skimp on the fire stands – there was literally flames all around us. The flame right next to me was a tall, conical fire stand, with flames slithering vertically, licking its way up into taller spires to counter the cool breeze before it can give you the chills. We had walked past another fire ensemble that actually defies description, but let me try nonetheless. Imagine a rectangular glass case, with a stone waterfall of sorts inside it, with water flowing up along a central, long “crevice” and flowing over black rectangular stone blocks onto the outer edge of the glass box – kind of like an infinity pool concept. Edgeless. And now imagine flames emanating from the central crevice, rising tall, majestic in its yellow, ochre, orange and blue. So flames, flanked on both ends by infinity pools. Water, fire. And of course the cool breeze of the night that makes the flames dance and twirl, and the water gurgle. Ah.

OverVue was an oasis – a relaxed hour over some good conversation and even greater moonlit, breezy ambiance, and decked out in the glory of the elements of water and fire.

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