BeachFire is Roaring Back!May 25, 2022 03:07PM ● By Mary Colarik
Edgar Carbajal, who took over the spot September 3, 2021, is working hard to put the “fire” back in BeachFire.
by Mary Colarik
It’s wonderful to see ... our town’s main drag, Avenida Del Mar, bustling once again with tourists and locals, restaurant owners and shop proprietors surviving the ups and downs of a worldwide pandemic. And in the second block, BeachFire Bar & Grill’s new owner Edgar Carbajal joins the excitement, enthusiastically greeting customers while keeping tabs on the kitchen and bar.
Carbajal, who took over the spot September 3, 2021, is working hard to put the “fire” back in BeachFire. He brought live music back the very first day, and kept the existing staff; exchanging the black uniforms with Hawaiian shirts, generating a beach-casual, “aloha” vibe. Local artwork remains hanging on the long walls in the middle of the restaurant depicting the pier, surfers, bicycles and VW buses in the beach scenes. And while much of the menu remains the same -keeping the local’s old favorites – he is adding new items, calling the menu “coastal cuisine.”
Dining at BeachFire four years ago, I ordered takeout from the restaurant during the pandemic. My initial feeling was that the food was average. Recently I was introduced to the new owner’s cuisine at my friend’s birthday party celebrated at the restaurant on a Taco Tuesday in early March. The atmosphere was lively, there was music and the tacos were absolutely delicious. My friend told him I was a writer for the San Clemente Journal and would like an interview. He handed me his card asking me to contact him, that he wanted to tell me his story … and does Edgar ever have a story to tell.
It begins with a young man who decided to leave his native Mexico in 1997 at age 18 to follow his dreams and passion for a career in hospitality in America. He had never before crossed the border and did not speak English. As a child growing up in Mexico his family owned liquor stores exposing him to a social environment and allowing him to experience the hospitality service industry at a young age, telling me that, “Hospitality is what I live for, it’s in my blood, it’s about the people.”
Arriving in Dana Point, he acquired a job as a dishwasher at Hennessy’s, where he stayed for 15 years. Learning the business from the ground up, he worked as a prep cook and bar back eventually becoming a bartender. In 2012, he took his life savings and realized his dream of becoming a restaurant owner. Along with a couple of partners he purchased the old Renaissance restaurant, a historic building in Dana Point. They renamed the restaurant, Stillwater Spirits and Sounds, renovating and revamping the place with locally sourced food and a slate of drink offerings reminiscent of the ‘20s - ‘40s; keeping the historical spirit alive. Stillwater, with its lively music scene easily evolved into a destination venue in Dana Point, constantly filled with people enjoying good music, food and cocktails crafted by Carbajal himself.
Carbajal also had a stint working at Sushi, Izakaya, and Ramen restaurants in the Belltown area of Seattle for three years where he learned a lot from a talented chef. He also managed an upscale Mexican restaurant in the greater LA area, in Playa Vista. However, he has always been drawn to Dana Point and the surrounding area - where he feels most connected and at home. He says he has made his mistakes in the past yet is always looking for an opportunity to pursue his passion of doing what he loves. So, when the opportunity to own BeachFire Bar & Grill arose he was primed to return to the local restaurant scene.
His current goal is for BeachFire to become a place for locals - the location is ideal as people meander up the street from a day at the beach or after watching the sunset over the pier. He imagines his establishment as a neighborhood hangout, “a go to place” like the bar on the iconic TV show, “CHEERS,” - “where everybody knows your name.”
When meeting on a Friday afternoon for the interview, Carbajal had just been notified that a large group of 40 were coming in, and he was scurrying around to get everything ready. Although I offered to come back another day he said, “no this is the nature of the business.” Settling me into a booth with a glass of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay (California red and white wines are featured on the wine list) and a set of his various menus for Happy Hour, Taco Tuesday, dining and specialty drinks; he planned to join me later.
I ordered the Spicy Tuna Bites, served on wontons and a ponzu sriracha cream sauce off the starters menu—the flavors melded together making the ahi tuna bites a yummy appetizer to accompany my wine. As the restaurant began to fill with couples, families and small groups of friends I waited for Carbajal, and once he joined me his enthusiasm and engaging personality was contagious as he detailed his vision and plans for BeachFire.
In Mid-March he added some new entrees to the menus, including Cider Braised Pork Osso Bucco, Macadamia Crusted Mahi and Grilled Citrus Shrimp Salad with romaine greens and avocado. He feels his coastal cuisine menu, with lots of fresh ingredients, often locally sourced reflects an eclectic selection of the foods “of the globe.” And at the end of the interview, he sent me home with another item off the Starter menu, Ribs Hawaiian Style, so tender “you will never use a knife.” The ribs are slow cooked overnight and served with house made Hawaiian sauce, tavern slaw and fries—a generous portion with enough leftovers for lunch the next day.
Upon returning on another night with a friend for a meal and drinks to fully test out the specialty drink offerings and entrees, Mack, the bartender, finished his day shift, pulled up a stool, and joined us at our table. While giving us details of the different drinks and favorite entrees, a young man stopped by with a tray of small samples of the Finnish, “Long Drink” “Legend of 1952,” a low alcoholic beverage made with grapefruit and juniper berries, that he was promoting to Carbajal. It was quite refreshing.
Next, we sampled the frozen margarita and frozen Huckleberry Lemonade made with Blue Ice Huckleberry Vodka, both were tasty. We finally ordered the Hibiscus Margarita, made with Madre Mezcal, homemade hibiscus syrup and fresh lime juice. Carbajal insisted on making our drinks himself, presenting works of art exquisitely colored a pretty reddish pink. After much discussion about the entrée offerings, we decided to split the Grilled Citrus Shrimp Salad with Jumbo shrimp, and the Macadamia Crusted Mahi served with jasmine rice, seasonal vegetables, and mango salsa in a coconut creamy sauce, enjoying every bite.
Carbajal checked back with us a few times—he stays active talking to customers, making sure the kitchen is running smoothly and that hot food is expediated promptly to the waiting patrons. He insisted we try one of two desserts - the s’mores or the piece de resistance, cream filled churros, served surrounded with cinnamon sugar, whipped cream, vanilla ice cream and cajeta (a slow cooked Mexican caramel sauce), we opted for the churros—amazing! I highly recommend splurging on dessert. BeachFire Bar & Grill offers Happy Hour from 3- 6pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The Happy Hour menu offers five mouthwatering starters, four specialty cocktails, ($7), well drinks, ($6), house wines, ($6) and draft beer ($6). On Tuesdays it’s Taco Tuesday from 4 pm - close, with a taco selection for every taste—chicken habanero, veggie, ahi tuna, carnitas and al pastor, plus several margaritas, tequila shots and four different Mexican beers. Everything is made from scratch, including the specialty drinks featuring fresh juices, mashed fruits, like mango and the secret ingredient, agave.
Big plans this summer include a 20-year Anniversary Celebration coinciding with the Summer Solstice as the restaurant first opened on the Summer Solstice in June 2002. The first band that performed there will be back for in-house entertainment. Live music is on tap, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, often with a theme band; i.e an Irish Band on St. Patrick’s Day.
Carbajal lives in San Juan Capistrano with his wife, Nina Scarnici, their dog and cat. The couple is expecting their first child in September. He enjoys cycling and stand- up paddle boarding in his free time. While living in Washington he participated in the Seattle-Portland Bicycle Classic Ride—one of the top 10 biggest recreational rides in the country. His goal when he turns 50 is to paddle board from San Pedro to Catalina Island.