The trifecta is complete as celebrity chef Amar Santana and business partner Ahmed Labbate debut their third O.C. dining concept.
The artful seafood tower
Lucky for Top Chef alum Amar Santana and longtime business partner Ahmed Labbate, the pair doesn’t need that “third time’s the charm” sort of send-off. The duo is already beloved by gourmands and critics alike for Laguna Beach’s Broadway by Amar Santana and Costa Mesa’s Vaca, and the fandom surrounding their restaurants has been earned—not given—since they first started slinging cocktails and plating dishes back in 2012. But it’s at their third concept—South Coast Plaza’s The Hall Global Eatery—where things become more adventurous than tackling a single cuisine and conquering it with that signature Santana finesse. Rather, four different ventures are now housed under one glorious 8,000-square-foot roof: a fine dining full-service restaurant and bar churning out crudo, charcuterie and hot plates paired with craft cocktails for the socialite set; a casual Mediterranean concept filled with baba ghanoush, shawarma and hummus; a charming patisserie chock-full of grab-and-go baked goods, sandwiches, salads, coffees and fresh juices; and a retail section filled with specialty items. “The concept took about four years from ideation to the doors opening. We were inspired by our many trips to Europe and Morocco, as well as our extensive relationship with South Coast Plaza since our Charlie Palmer days and our desire to work with them again,” says Labbate. “The Hall’s cuisine is reminiscent of the Mediterranean region with Amar’s unique twist. The crudo section pays homage to Italy with light, raw dishes featuring fresh herbs and spices from the region, but we also have some delicious hot dishes as well.”
Red snapper sashimi served in a grilled grapefruit with piquillo, habanero oil and crispy ginger
In the interest of luxury, our focus naturally falls on Crudo, the indoor-outdoor area of the space, where guests should request a seat on the patio. “Every table is heated. It’s a garden oasis with a relaxed, laid-back environment surrounded by olive trees,” adds Labbate. Start with the restaurant’s most popular drink and dish of the moment—the False King (H by Hine VSOP cognac, Edmond Briottet creme de mure, J. Rieger caffè amaro, lime, cardamom bitters and grated coffee) and the Peruvian scallops. “They’re completely unique, combining Amar’s native Latin flavors with a taste of the Mediterranean,” notes Labbate. When it comes to Santana’s favorite dish, it’s the Shermoula baked Chilean sea bass teamed with fennel, couscous, green and red peppers, and tomatoes. “It’s a beautiful whitefish that’s flaky and full of North African and Mediterranean flavors,” shares the chef. Cuisine arrives on artful dinnerware by Fortessa while the design of the restaurant was a collaboration between Labbate, Santana and Brandon Padron of Silicon Valley’s Studio Padron. “The rest of the decor was bought directly from markets in Morocco and brought back by Ahmed and his wife, Houda,” reveals Santana. It’s that attention to detail—and authenticity—that drives home why Santana and Labbate are a force to be reckoned with. No hall pass required. 3333 Bristol St., Ste. 1876, Costa Mesa, 714.515.5544, thehallge.com
Photography by: Sarah King