Months ago, when the Monarch Beach Resort underwent its renovation and updating, its downstairs dining room enjoyed a plush update as well. Now the AVEO Table + Bar, it offers a light, breezy sort of feel that is both relaxed and beautifully sophisticated. It’s new “happy hour” is as equally the same. Each afternoon of the week, from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., and again in the evenings from 9:00 p.m. to midnight, AVEO delivers a happy hour that takes you well beyond just that “happy” place.
Aptly named “Apertivo Hour,” the AVEO happy hour serves up a delectable assortment of Italian-styled tapas, bites and cocktails that arrive so beautifully packaged and plated that you have to take a moment to simply admire the handiwork before you.
When I visited, Bartender Justin Shapleigh greeted me with a smile and a handshake, considering me for a moment before recommending my cocktail. He suggested the Laguna Verde, and then added, “If, however, you’d like to match your cocktail to the day we’re enjoying here, I’d suggest the White Sangria.” I suggested, in turn, that I give a taste test to both.
The Laguna Verde arrived first, a refreshing and sassy drink that offers both muddled cucumber and a carved floret of jalapeno. The Verde is concocted with organic agave, fresh lime, tequila and a splash of Ancho Reyes, a chili liqueur, that emboldens this “skinny” version of a margarita with flair. As a self-proclaimed margarita aficionado, I have to say that Justin’s Laguna Verde is unabashedly a big, big winner.
The AVEO Apertivo Menu offers a host of $9 bites, most of which focus on fish and seafood in the form of Pacific Blue Crab Bites, Grilled Octopus, Oysters on the Half Shell, Snapper Ceviche and more. I opted to start with the Orange County Bruschetta Trio, a veritable hearty dinner, in and of itself. Three thick slices of fresh-baked bruschetta arrive shoulder to shoulder, each piled high with delectable toppings. On one slice, simple quince spread on the rustic bread adds a sweet touch to peppery arugula, salty manchego and marcona almonds. On a neighboring slice, it’s a dark, sweet paste of lemon vincotto that sets off the fresh heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. And, not to be outdone, the third serves up cirspy pancetta, charred eggplant and confit tomato aboard a caviar spread. Absolutely flawless.
At this point, Justin recommends that summery drink, a White Sangria, and it arrives with a wink and a come-hither look. This is a lively Sangria, not too cloying or sweet, with fruits that meld perfectly. The bartenders explain that the Sangria changes daily to ensure its fresh, bright flavor, and fruit additions vary as well. Today’s serving with apple, pear and tiny bits of orange and tangerine is probably the best Sangria I’ve yet tasted.
Six Oysters on the Half Shell arrive, accompanied with a champagne-based mignonette and two darling pipettes of hot sauce. They pair quite nicely with the Sangria, and are gone in a whoosh.
Finally, Justin surprises with a Mediterranean Trio of Dips & Spreads. Again, I’m faced with three neighborly dips, each of which offers sublime and bold flavor. The Artichoke Asiago is mellow with just a tang of salt, while the Roast Garlic Hummus is robust. My favorite, the Smoked Swordfish, is so mild in its flavor that it’s hard to believe that it’s actually fish.
For the AVEO happy hour, choose a stool at the bar, or wander out to the AVEO patio for sweeping views of pools, golf course and ocean sparkling in the sun beyond. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it’s an added plus with live acoustical music from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Certainly becoming one of the most popular “happy hours” in all of Dana Point (for residents, too!), you’ll discover every reason why. AVEO Table + Bar serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; reservations for dinner can be made here: AVEO Reservations.