When most locals think hotel restaurant and Orange County, they picture a massive oceanfront resort with a steakhouse.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Inn at The Mission San Juan Capistrano offers an attractive alternative. It opened this month, presenting two restaurants set inside a gem of a boutique hotel with a view of the ruins of the Great Stone Church.
Here’s a sneak peek at its decor and its restaurant menus which just might tempt O.C. residents away from the coast.
Background: Inn at The Mission is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, properties designed to offer unique experiences in smaller settings. That said, this one spreads over four acres with 125 rooms and seven luxury suites including three residential-style villas with kitchenettes, separate living rooms or terraces, and either a fireplace or an outdoor fire pit. There’s a pool with its own menu, a spa and plenty of event space, too.
The look: The decor honors the history of the neighborhood. Rather than a giant high rise, the hotel consists of three separate buildings: The main Spanish Revival building with 119 of the rooms; a secondary two-story building in Monterey style with a spa, a cafe and a ballroom; and an adobe containing the residential villas.
“The idea for that building is that it wouldn’t compete with the Great Stone Church that it resides across the street from, but just offer magnificent views that really set the stage for the whole experience,” said General Manager Pam Ryan. Feedback from villa guests has been positive. “They are just over the moon in terms of the quality of the material,” Ryan said. “And it’s a lot bigger than what they anticipate, but at the same time, it’s very intimate because of the style and the quality of the finishes. So it’s pretty spectacular.”
Stone courtyards and patios, staircases with decorative Spanish tiles, lanterns, and twinkling lights perched in silvery leafed olive trees surround visitors. The hotel has its own signature Reverence Private Label Extra Virgin Olive Oil that’s used in spa treatments and throughout the menus at the restaurants.
Designed by Kay Lang + Associates, iconic silhouettes are found throughout the property. No Hidden Mickeys, but be on the lookout for special shapes such as swallows, rose windows, bells and crowns on everything from chandeliers to furniture and even beverage napkins.
The restaurants: “The idea with Ysidora and El Café Real is we want to be a hotel inside a restaurant and not a restaurant inside a hotel,” says Executive Chef Aaron Obregon, who was most recently at Albaca at Coronado Island Marriott & Spa. A native of Mexico and a vegan, he brings both traditional and contemporary touches to the tapas, brunch and dinner menus.
Ysidora is a Spanish restaurant named for Ysidora Pico de Forster, a legendary hostess and dueña (owner) of Mission San Juan Capistrano from 1844 to 1864. Her portrait hangs in the lobby across from the dining room, where it’s balanced by a mosaic mural of a cowboy from rancho days. The menu includes tapas ($6-$13), flatbreads ($17-$19), entrees ($22-$44) and desserts ($9-$12).
There are Mexican dishes such as guacamole, wood-fired chicken and churro cake as well as recipes with Spanish flair from octopus with chorizo to seafood paella and Serrano ham croquettes. Lots of choices for the health conscious are included with items marked “gluten friendly” or vegetarian.
“For our mother sauces, everything is made out of vegetables, it’s all vegan friendly,” said Obregon. “So we have a lot of our dishes that are really easy to execute for vegans or vegetarians.”
The drinks: A stately bar just off the lobby draws in visitors like a magnet to the lounge. There you’ll find craft beer on draft, wine and flashy cocktails such as a ladylike Frozen Paloma ($13) and a Wild West style thirst slaker called La Ysidora ($16) with chorizo fat washed Los Javis Mezcal, served with chicharrones.
Coffee: Whether it’s daybreak or an after-lunch espresso, a visit to El Café Real is a must. The outdoor patio has a view of the Great Stone Church and the grab-and-go items, from a breakfast burrito to sandwiches and bottled cocktails, make for relaxed service. Beans from La Colombe Coffee Roasters are the foundation of espresso drinks like the Rose Latte ($5.75) with its heavenly, intoxicating scent.
Local traditions: During construction, the original kilns from the mission were found and left undisturbed. The footprint of the hotel covers what was once the old Mission Inn Motel, an Arco gas station and the Walnut Grove restaurant — Chef Obregon has come up with an homage to its cinnamon bun with a fancy touch, it’s drizzled tableside with nutella crème anglaise.
Find it: 31692 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano, 949-503-5700, innatthemissionsjc.com.
Open: Ysidora Restaurant and Lounge, 4-10 p.m. daily. El Café Real, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.