Say you’re doing some free word association with a friend of yours (bear with me here). You say “Laguna Hills.” I can all but guarantee you that what comes out of your friend’s mouth will not, in any way, refer to such concepts as “genius chef,” “world-class eating,” or “best breakfast ever.” Unless, of course, your friend is as big a fan of Break of Dawn as I am.
Classically-trained chef Dee Nguyen is what I like to call a maniac. His drive as a cook is incredible. The menu is rather fluid with even top-selling dishes getting cut to make way for his next new idea. The space itself was decorated and furnished by chef Nguyen himself using reclaimed materials and his own two hands. While you wait, or if you sit on the patio, take a seat on a salvaged church pew and admire the arched beams overhead. They were rescued from sure oblivion during the demolition of Break of Dawn’s previous location.
The opportunity to write this review serendipitously coincided with chef Nguyen introducing my new favorite thing: a typically Break of Dawn-ified steak and eggs.
Prime Flat Iron Steak (beef cheek and onion jam, cilantro fried eggs, rice)
Oh man, that’s my jam right there. As in the beef cheek and onion jam. I’d eat a bowl of just that any time of day. Rich, lightly sweet, and mildly beefy in the way that the lesser used parts of the cow can uniquely provide. And of course the perfectly tangy, tender, and medium-rare-by-default-because-who-would-want-it-any-other-way flat iron strips perched atop. As you’re dipping your bites of flat iron and beef cheek jam in the always-runny yolks of the eggs, be sure to get a touch of cilantro sauce, which pops up at multiple points throughout the menu. The layers of flavor you get with such a bite prompt me to use a word I’ve never used before: sumptuous. I would also add to that description, symphonic. The rice, another beloved recurring character, is served here with a pinch of a soy-oregano reduction.
The above is currently number one in my Top Five Breakfasts of All Time, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like a little something extra alongside.
Eggs, like pigs, are magical. Self-contained balls of goodness, eminently useful in most every facet of cooking, easy to use… I could go on. But, what shape do they take at your neighborhood brunch spot? Well, this is chef Nguyen’s answer. One bite of these takes you through a series of textures, from the crispy outside to the liquid yolk inside. Get a side of these. Even if your plate comes with some already, get a side.
House cured! Kimchi spiced crema and house slaw, which beautifully balance the belly. Can’t not be good. This hunk of rich, pork-y goodness is the bacon analog here at Break of Dawn. I mean, differentiating between “cured pork belly” and “bacon” is like trying to distinguish between Hillary and Bernie’s campaign promises, but “bacon” implies that it’s served in slice form, whereas this is presented as seen above. So ya, that’s the difference.
French Toast Brulée
Dessert! I mean, this could be your main thing, if you want. Even I, a person with basically no sweet tooth, would love this for breakfast. This transcends what could be called simply sweet. The bread is a raisin brioche, so right off the bat you get some relatively rich fruit flavor, along with a chocolate-coconut custard and soy caramel. That sound complex enough for ya? This is just some seriously awesome french toast.
Sausage and Rice
That rice (hello again!), green papaya salad, scallion-ginger purée and an excellent sausage. One of the more straightforward things here, but absolutely of the same impeccable quality.
#SpoonTip: Ask for a bottle of the house hot sauce, made with home-grown scorpion chilis (yes, as in the HOME of chef Nguyen), which adds an excellent touch of spice.
Now, this is all from just one visit. From past visits, I can personally recommend…
A whole bunch of things that are no longer on the menu!
(Chef Nguyen if you’re reading this please consider bringing back that rabbit thing. SO GOOD. No other place around here does a good rabbit for brunch.)
But, whatever’s on the menu when you get around to visiting, I assure you that you will be utterly pleased.
Break of Dawn is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.