Day 80: Mozambique
Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Saturday night with Mr. Meatball and our friend Laura, I begin thinking about what exactly I’m learning about the culture of Mozambique by driving to a steak house in upscale Laguna Beach called “Mozambique”. Their website claims that the two owners are South African brothers who used to go to Mozambique on holiday with their family and fell in love with their time spent eating per-peri prawns and peri-peri chicken on the beach. So the two men decided that they needed to open a restaurant on the beach that offered things cooked in a sauce made from those small, fiery peri-peri chilis (sometimes called African red devils). Thus, Mozambique Restaurant was born— offering up peri-peri prawns, peri-peri chicken, peri-peri chicken livers, peri-peri steak— and allowing me to break the record for most times ever using the term “peri-peri” in a single paragraph.
After about an hour and a half of driving, we head down a fancy looking stretch of South Pacific Coast Highway, finally arriving at our large, Mozambican destination. It looks very upscale, at least for my normal, divey standards, and when we walk through the front, we find tropical birds and a fire installation with two flames dancing out of the top. Either we’re all about to eat some prawns, or we’re going to fight to the death in some sort of Thunderdome. Both options sound promising. We ask for a table, telling them we don’t have a reservation, as they offer up the “…fun, casual section of the restaurant” to which Laura mumbles under her breath, “But I wanted to sit in the miserable, stuffy section…” We’re seated in the upstairs bar area at a small table in the corner, as Mr. Meatball points out that there is a live band playing on the other side of the bar. The lead singer even looks like Lisa Bonet, which I find oddly comforting. Mr. Meatball and Laura get beers and I order a bottle of New Zealand white wine (for the table…kind of). I learned a few days ago that New Zealand whites can be good, plus it is one of the cheapest bottles at the restaurant ($36), so it seemed like an easy choice. Both the wine and our server turn out to be very nice, as we order a lot of things for dinner which involve “peri-peri”.
Our peri-peri mixed grill (now I’m just going for the all-time record for “Most Times Putting Peri-Peri In a Written Document”), peri-peri prawns and peri-peri chicken livers come out as Laura and Mr. Meatball decide that it’s a good idea to start telling the server why I would drive all the way down here from Los Angeles and only order things with peri-peri sauce on them. Our server then gets very interested in the story and writes down the web address. So now I have to try to not act like a total schlub. Luckily, the food is pretty tasty. The peri-peri adds a nice kick to our assorted proteins, giving it an interesting change from normal steakhouse fare. I like the idea of taking a marketable concept, like a casual/semi-upscale steak house, and adding an ethnic twist. It seems to be working well here, as business is looking pretty good, but I wonder how successful the restaurant would have been if it were called Republic of Congo or Equatorial Guinea instead. I guess I’ll never know. But nonetheless, they’ve taken quality ingredients, added a twist and executed them simply and properly. The steak and chicken aren’t overcooked (though still a little shy of perfect), the prawns have a nice char and the livers are a quality addition, cooked with caramelized onions, pancetta, pomegranate molasses and served with toasted crostini.
Once the plates are cleared, our server brings us a Portuguese hot butter pudding, on the house, and Laura says “See? It’s always good to tell people why you’re here.” I still don’t agree, but the dessert is pleasant— as it is packed full of liquor and caramelized butter. Laura, adding herself to the list of incredibly kind people who have joined me on this journey, then picks up the bill, refusing money from everyone around her. “Your website helps keep me from getting bored at work. Don’t worry about it.” We drive back, now without traffic, while Mr. Meatball shows off his impressive collection of Kobe Bryant rap songs on his iphone (he only has two, but that’s still pretty impressive). Meanwhile, I relax in the back seat, thinking about how, while this wasn’t exactly an off-the-beaten-path, hidden, divey African restaurant in the middle of nowhere, that also may not be such a bad thing. You can’t expect most people to go out of their way to try something different or interesting, so I’m all for sneaking it into their food in the guise of a trendy looking restaurant in Laguna Beach. Sure, peri-peri may not be the most outlandish ingredient in the world, but maybe it’s a start. Hopefully that annoying lawyer a few tables down from me will say “Wow! That Africa sauce is frikkin’ awesome! Maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of Chinese food anymore!” Okay— it may not do anything at all, but it sure couldn’t hurt, right?
1740 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Food Breakdown: 2 beers, 1 bottle of wine, three entrées, 1 dessert
Price: $111 (Thank you Laura)
Distance From My House: 59.6 miles