Tucked randomly between a Chinese restaurant and a running store in a sleepy, run-of-the-mill, suburban strip mall is Break of Dawn, a legendary breakfast/brunch spot known endearingly by regulars as “B-O-D.”
Most first-timers get lost trying to find it since it’s only marked by a vanilla storefront. But once you walk in, your eyes are transformed.
One side is a wood-lined open kitchen kept spotless and tidy despite entertaining countless patrons a week. The opposite side features a custom, graffiti-lined wall that creates the perfect juxtaposition between a modern, edgy, Asian-infused interior that houses menu creations borne from a classically-trained-chef-slash-artist-extraordinaire.
As you peruse the menu, you immediately realize you are about to experience something special. Nowhere else will you see lamb, goat and bison on the same breakfast menu as cinnamon bun and french toast brûlée.
First bites. Mind blown.
Every hand-crafted dish is meticulously devised with surprising combinations of ingredients that send you to culinary nirvana as they fill your belly.
Adding to the intrigue of Break of Dawn is the backstory of how it came to fruition. After graduating from the California Culinary Academy and spending years as the Executive Sous Chef at the esteemed Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Chef Dee Nguyen decided to leave his prestigious position and open up his own place, serving breakfast and lunch only, so he could spend the rest of the day with his beloved family. As a result, his diverse and unique menu reflects his years of training and refinement and his love of food, flavors and the basic principles of simple cooking done the right way.
Scroll on to learn about some of my favorite dishes.
Cinnamon Bun is a must. Baked in a cast iron pan, the pillowy soft swirled bun is bathed in espresso syrup and topped with a generous dollop of orange-rosemary whipped cream. It’s the perfect appetizer to keep all for yourself.
Sausage and Rice, a popular order, is sectioned into three distinct parts: rice topped with a pickled green papaya salad, two perfectly cooked fried eggs, and a spicy Hawaiian sausage atop a scallion-ginger-garlic purée. My husband likes to cut up and mix all the elements together to create a giant pile of yumminess that he licks clean every time.
Curry Stew is a hearty bowl of chicken, mushroom and veggies in an intensely simmered South East curry that gives off just enough heat to balance the creamy golden yolk of a soft poached egg. Paired with a stack of locally baked toast and you feel satisfied as you devour the stew and polish the bowl.
Hokkaido Scallops is the star ingredient of a dish that is ladeled on a silky, soft omelet filled with butternut squash and apple, partnered with a cherry tomato confit and a phenomenal uni sauce.
Smoked Salmon features an oatmeal pancake, an herb poached egg, and preserved kumquat. Aside from the creative blend of ingredients, the most impressive part of this dish is the way it’s artfully presented.
Another popular item, Pork Belly, is highlighted by a generous slice of house cured belly that props up a perfectly fried tempura egg, with a refreshing and light napa slaw to balance out the plate, and a swirl of kimchee spiced cream to give it a kick.
The newest item on the menu is my latest favorite: Crab. A dreamy concoction of crab meat, creamed corn, spinach and fava bean is married with two parmesan fried eggs and buttered toast. The result is out of this world and unlike any breakfast item I’ve ever ordered.
Not to be outdone by the savory dishes, the French Toast Brûlée is an indulgent plate of raisin brioche slices stacked on top of a bed of Mexican chocolate-coconut custard, torched and garnished with dulce de leche. It’s a sinful combination.
Never to be forgotten, Break of Dawn also caters to the little ones with two “Children Only (this means no adults)” items that cover a savory and a sweet: The Scramble with bacon and potatoes, and the Griddle Cake with a generous drizzle of chocolate and sprinkle of powdered sugar. Pay attention and you’ll always notice adults stealing bites of their children’s scrumptious plates as they enjoy their own savory dishes.
The restaurant’s name represents a new beginning for Chef Dee, a new take on his life with his family by his side. Once you experience the vibrant energy within the walls of Break of Dawn — with its strong ties to the spirit of generosity supported by its local community — you will understand why this moniker fits Dee’s vision so perfectly. He folds you into his BoD family by offering insanely creative combinations that keep you coming back for more.
Visit once and you’ll immediately feel at home and wonder what life was about before you discovered the Break of Dawn.
Break of Dawn Restaurant (Oakbrook Village Shopping Center, 24291 Avenida De La Carlota #P-4, Laguna Hills, CA // 949.587.9418)
Lisa Hu Chen
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