Maggi Photo


Maggi Henrikson

House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer…

Big Fish Photo 1

Manager Scott Ravenscroft

Or as it is known by just about everybody, Big Fish.

Just a dolphin’s leap from the beach and serving up the day’s catch is this aerie perch overlooking the waves and serving to locals and grateful tourists alike.  One of a few value-friendly restaurants within the walking downtown, Big Fish welcomes you with a warm greeting at the door by one of their suntanned hostesses.  The sports happy bar area is the first thing you see, with high top round tables made for meetin’ and greetin’, a side bar, and several TV’s tuned in to different sports events.  Beyond are tables of four, booths, and then a bright, airy porch (the quieter quarters).

With all the sports action, the people watching and eight different beers on tap, your attention is flying around the room.  The calming influence might be that vast blue ocean view from every window.  Ah, reminder that you are hungry for some fresh seafood…

The menu at Big Fish has been getting better continuously since they opened almost two years ago.  Always bringing on daily seafood specials and hearty chowders, the newest menu additions include Crispy Shrimp Sliders (topped with coleslaw and spicy remoulade), and Salmon Piada, a flatbread taco made with pan-roasted salmon, tomato-basil salsa, arugula and garlic sauce.  These are among the eight dishes that are offered at creative happy hour pricing- the prices change every hour from 2:30-6:30!  If you order at 2:30 the price is $2.30, if you order at 3:30 the price is $3.30, and so on until 5:30.  What a deal for ocean fresh offerings, as well as turf fare such as Spicy Sausage Sliders, or a full half-pound of ribs prepared with guava barbeque sauce.

Happy Hour arises again in the wee hours, with a late night special every evening from 9 p.m. until closing.  Late Night Happy Hour drinks vary from $2 shots to $5 Mai Tai’s.  The late night menu specials change daily, with Monday bringing on All-You-Can-Eat Buffalo Wings or Sushi Rolls at $11.95 per person.  Tuesdays are $1 Baja Tacos night, Wednesdays are $1 per Oyster night and Thursdays mean All-You-Can-Eat Fish & Chips or Chicken & Chips for $9.95 p/p.  On Sundays the Late Night specials are Hawaiian style, with $5 plates of Kahlua Pork or Shoyu Chicken.  It’s a menu that captures your attention with so many good deals that are hard to pass up.

“It’s a cool vibe here”, says manager Scott Ravenscroft.  “We want you to feel welcome the minute you walk in”.  As well as re-vamping the menu selections, Big Fish is out to improve upon service, hiring staff with lots of personality, and providing proper training in food knowledge.  “We know you’re here to make the best of it.  You get good value in this economy, the food is quality, and you get this experience with incredible service”.

Family friendly as well a hot-date place, Big Fish serves up something for every palate.  The breaded Fish and Chips are a delightfully lighter version of the British staple.  The Mussels Rockefeller (green lip mussels with spinach, bacon and cheese), another Happy Hour special, are perfect for sharing.  Scott’s favorite dish is the Kalbi Skirt Steak with spicy Kim Chee.  Laguna Stew might only pass up the Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi-Mahi if the craving for Lobster Mac & Cheese takes over after working up a big appetite in the waves across the way.

Big Fish Photo 2

Been there – done that – and at Big Fish, you can buy the T-Shirts

Laguna Stew recipe of the week

Cold Lemon Chicken Soup

6 cups of chicken broth

2 cooked chicken breasts

1/4 cup long grain rice

1 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Follow directions carefully to avoid curdling


Pull the meat from the chicken breasts in bit size chunks – cover with a wet paper towel  and set aside.

Combine the broth, rice and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the rice is tender – about 15-20 minutes.

Remove from heat.

Beat the eggs until fluffy and pale.

Slowly whisk in the lemon juice one tablespoon at a time.

Slowly whisk about 2 cups of broth into the egg-lemon juice mixture.

Pour into the rice mix and slowly whisk all until slightly thickened.

Fold in chicken chunks.

Cool to room temperature then refrigerate until icy cold. The soup will thicken and settle.

Stir before serving.

Garnish with lemon slices.


Serves 6-8.

The Public Trough



Heard on the street…

Wine Gallery to open soon!

Laguna Beach resident Chris Olsen, owner of The Wine Gallery in Corona del Mar, is planning to open a second restaurant and wine store here at 1833 S Coast Hwy in the building previously occupied by Elle H, a retail clothing store.

Olsen’s Conditional Use Permit and Coastal Development Permit were approved on January 12, 2011; he applied for a beer and wine license on May 4.

In addition to dine-in food and beverage service, The Wine Gallery Laguna Beach will offer fine wines for sale by the bottle or case and wine related accessories on a retail basis.

The menu will feature a wide variety of appetizers, salads, pizzas, and entrees meant to accompany the featured wines. Patrons will be offered a selection of 10 white wines and 10 red wines by the glass with three featured wine flights a week, up to four specialty on-top beers, and a selection of 8 bottled beers. In addition, private wine maker dinners will be offered by special invitation on a monthly basis to customers interested in unique wine, beer, and food pairings. To go orders will also be offered during normal business hours – 5 pm to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 to 11 on Saturday and Sunday.

The proposed menu includes Oven Roasted Cremini Mushrooms, Bruschetta with Goat Cheese, House Braised Beef Short Ribs with Rosemary Potatoes au Gratin and Braised Vegetables, Housemade Bolognese served over Rigatoni, Roasted Halibut topped with a Chopped Baby Heirloom and Citrus Salad, Margherita, Basil Pesto, Mushroom, Seasonal Vegetable, Calabrese and Clam Pizzas. Proposed desserts include a Flourless Chocolate Tort, Seasonal Sorbettos, and Cinnamon Spiced Apple Crumble.

The Wine Gallery Laguna Beach is scheduled to open Fall 2011.


ROCK’N FISH is now Rockin’ Live Music

ROCK’N FISH, the new seafood and steakhouse restaurant that opened mid-December above Tommy Bahama, introduced live music in its bar area last night. The restaurant will now feature live music Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m., and Friday/Saturday nights from 8 to 11 p.m.

ROCK’N FISH features oak grilled fresh seafood and steaks, classic New Orleans specialties, hand shaken cocktails, ice cold artisan beers and boutique California wines in a lively atmosphere overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Their menu includes jumbo shrimp, fresh crab and oysters, a large selection of bar bites including Oak Grilled Artichoke and Buffalo Chicken Tenders, signature sandwiches, gourmet burgers, fresh tossed salads and creative pastas.


Olamendi’s new “Latin Lounge” set to launch Thursday, June 2

Olamendi’s will be launching a new late night “Latin Lounge” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. According to owner Verak Maska, the restaurant will close down at 9 o’clock for food and reopen at 10 for live music and drinks. “We are removing the tables in the lower section to make room for the lounge. It will be a whole new look and ambience three nights a week.”

Olamendi’s will kick off its new concept with an opening party on Thursday, June 2 at 10 p.m.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefTM

Business Friendly


Dennis Myers PhotoThe following is a hypothetical conversation between a “business friendly” City employee and an applicant that wants to open up a new restaurant in a vacant building located in downtown Laguna.


City Person: “I see here you want to open up a Chipotle Mexican Grill. I’m sorry but we don’t let national formula based fast food restaurants in our town.”

Chipotle Person: “Well, that’s not a problem since our industry does not place us in the fast food category. That category is reserved for the Jack-in-the-Box’s and KFC’s of the world. We are known as fast-casual dining and happen to be highly rated for our innovative food service and menu. In fact we were just rated seventh out of 100 establishment by an industry publication.”

City Person: “Our Downtown Specific Plan was written by a bunch of smart people that knew how things would be in twenty years. I say they were talking about you guys. Besides you have formulas for everything, and that’s a no-go for us young lady.”

Chipotle Person: “Well, no, we don’t use formulas for our appearance or our food. Without exception we design our restaurants to fit the scale and surroundings. Uniforms today are very close to being ordinary street cloths. And our food is hardly by formula. We win national awards for the highest quality food, and that food is served to our customer’s wishes, not by our recipes.”

City Person: “We want restaurants that bring food that speaks to the unique needs of our community. Burgers and fries or tacos are not unique.”

Chipotle Person: “But I read a couple of studies the city did of the wants and needs of the residents and they rated high on their list moderate priced family-style restaurants. That’s just what Chipotle brings. We offer casual dining at moderate prices where the customer gets to customize their burritos to what they want. Our typical customer is someone working or living locally that has little time for a full restaurant experience but wants a quality meal. In fact our company is known for “food with integrity”. That extends to vegetarian food and our new vegan offerings.

City Person: “That may be what you say, but you big shots will bring in everything from outside and will screw up our pristine environment with litter and consume all kinds of power and water with your fancy equipment.”

Chipotle Person: “On the contrary, we use 100% recycled materials and use sustainable materials where we can. We even install solar panels to decrease our environmental impact. We hire locals to work in our restaurants and are committed to purchase our food from local suppliers.”

City Person: “Sounds too slick to me, but you have a lot of convincing to do to our City Planners, our Heritage Committee, the parking consultants, and Design Review Board. Then you have to go before the Planning Commission and likely the City Council. You’re going to have a lot of explaining to do before this application can be approved. I would suggest your people evaluate what I have said and read our regulations before you come back. As it stands right now, your application is denied. Good luck next time.”

Chipotle Person: “Thank you, we will take everything you have given me into consideration and decide if we really want to locate here in Laguna. We certainly thought it would be a quality place to locate one of our stores, because we value our image too.”

City Person: “Have a nice day, and the next time you come in would you arrive in the morning? That’s our new policy. We are open 8-5, but our preference is that you show up before our lunch break. Also, we are out to prove we are a business friendly town. Could you fill out this survey card and rate your experience today? We are having an employee contest about how we welcome business people here at City Hall! The winner gets a free lunch at one of the gas stations we have downtown. They are special places in the eyes of Laguna residents that really know their stuff!

zReal Burgers in Laguna - 101


Comfort Food Correspondent

Jumbo Jack PhotoAs I teased (that’s a journalist’s word for making you come back) you last Friday, I love burgers – really love a good burger and thank goodness this burg has a plethora of tasty examples of the burger art – a festival of patties and buns.

I have eaten a ton of burgers in Laguna (and away too!) and I will eat many more.

Now please understand that I ain’t sittin’ up here pro or con about anybody’s religion, but there are a lot of people – worldwide – who believe tomorrow will be the day when the righteous Christians will be taken up into the clouds as the rapture begins.

I think I’ll hedge my bet tomorrow at either 3 or 6 p.m. (not sure which one it’s supposed to be – guess the time zone thing has that 89-year-old preacher confused) by standing outside of Jack-In-The Box in the parking lot. If I see a bunch of people vanish all of a sudden and I’m still there…I think it’s likely that I would be staying put…I’ll order a Jumbo Jack with cheese (pictured) for $2.09, eat it and then walk across the street.

Sapphire Laguna Pantry - Kobe Beef Havarti Cheeseburger - Caramelized Onion, Wild Arugula, Tomato, Garlic Fries - Available for $10 in the Sapphire Pantry from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (normally $16.75). One word: delicious. I pop for $2 more and get the Truffle Fries – they’re fried in truffle oil and have a great flavor!

Those are two of my favorite Laguna burger places. Here are some more…

Husky Boy – Husky Burger Just a cheeseburger the way it was meant to be topped with sliced pastrami! I like mine with mustard and a little raw onion. Oooh – I’m talking taaaastyyyy here. This is Maggi H’s favorite burger in town.

Maro Wood Grill - Maro Burger 8 oz. Grass Fed Ground Beef, “bread” Potato Bun, Aged White Cheddar, Organic Little Gem Lettuce, Yellow “On The Vine” Tomato, Nueske’s Bacon, Pickled Onions, House Made Aioli, Irene’s Potato Salad ($12)…Hons, you’ll love this! It’s a new place in town – go find it fast!

Nick’s Laguna Beach - Classic Burger ($10) Pickles, Onion, Lettuce, Mustard, Mayo, Sesame Seed Bun – Add Thick Cheddar ($2) Choose One: Fries, Warm Potato Salad, Seasonal Roasted Vegetables, Thai Peanut Coleslaw. Good eating for the buck and it feels like San Francisco when I eat inside.

Tommy Bahama - With Prime Angus Smokehouse ($13) Toasted Brioche, Roasted Garlic Aioli, Sharp White Cheddar, Red Onion, Nueske’s Applewood Bacon, BBQ Ketchup, French Fries. Just had this last week and I was pleasantly surprised (especially since someone else treated me!). Seriously, try it!

K’ya Bistro - Petite Burgers - Grilled Beef ($5) American cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle or Caramelized onion, blue cheese, tomato, Cabernet demi glace. They also have the best Grilled Lamb burger I know of in town ($7.50).

Sorrento Grille – Chef’s Burger ($16) White Cheddar, Green Chiles, Bacon, Mushrooms, Grilled Onions, Fries…it even looks great!

GG’s Bistro – Bistro Burger ($10) Grilled 1/2 lb. Beef Patty, Mustard, Mayo, Dill Pickle – this simple burger is always a treat. I especially love sitting inside with a full setup and linen tablecloths – feels so bistro-ie!

Johnny Rockets – Rocket Single ($7.59) Cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce, fresh tomato, white onion & special sauce. They have a whopping 14 burgers on their menu – it’s like burger paradise!

There are so many more great burgers in Laguna Beach. I haven’t mentioned them here because I haven’t eaten them! I plan to get to ‘em soon and I’ll let you know what I think.

Just remember – there ain’t no such thing as a bad burger!

Forget the beach – this summer it’s all about the eats


With four new restaurants opening this summer – including sbe’s Katsuya, celebrity chef Amar Santana’s Broadway by Amar Santana, Scott McIntosh’s Asada Laguna, and Nancy Wilhelm’s Starfish – Laguna Beach is about to catapult itself to new (national!) culinary heights.

I had the great pleasure of sitting down with restaurateurs Scott McIntosh and Nancy Wilhelm this past week to discuss their new restaurant concepts, Asada Laguna and Starfish, both scheduled to open in Laguna Beach this summer. McIntosh, former President/COO of Claim Jumper and co-founder of Nick’s Laguna Beach, and Wilhelm, owner of Laguna’s Tabu Grill, the highest Zagat-rated restaurant in Southern California two years running, combine for over 50 years of exceptional restaurant experience together.

Asada Laguna

Scott McIntosh PhotoScott McIntosh is no stranger to restaurant openings – this is the 40th of his career. Former President/COO of Claim Jumper and co-founder of Nick’s Laguna Beach, he has worked in restaurants his whole life. “I started when I was 15 when Craig [Nickoloff] hired me as a dishwasher at the original Nick’s in Long Beach. I’m a restaurant guy,” he explained. “This is what I do.”

McIntosh spent 26 years with the Nickoloffs, rising all the way to the top of the family’s Claim Jumper chain to President/COO. After leaving Claim Jumper in 2003, he spent three years as COO of Culinary Adventures where he “…learned a lot from David [Wilhelm],” before rejoining the Nickoloffs (Nick this time) to launch Nick’s Laguna Beach in 2008.

It was while working at Nick’s Laguna Beach that Scott first met the Fongs, owners of the former Javier’s building (most recently occupied by El Callejon). He often served them breakfast.

After El Callejon closed down in late 2009, the Fongs received over 100 signed letters of intent for the building. “This place is like sacred ground,” McIntosh explained. “Javier’s did the best business per square foot in all of Southern California.”

But the Fongs had their sights set on Scott, eventually approaching him about creating a new restaurant for the space. “They came to me and said ‘You’re our man.’”

In Asada Laguna, McIntosh plans to deliver a fun “polished casual” Mexican restaurant with great food, a vibrant bar scene, and ocean views from every seat – even the kitchen. “I love what I do and it’s really going to show when we open this place. I plan on being here for the next 25 years.”

The menu will be “craveable and simple” – with items like Fire Roasted Jalapenos, Chipotle Prawns, and Prime Carne Asada to choose from. It will also feature high quality and reasonably priced steaks and seafood to compete with Mastro’s and Morton’s – including filet mignon, prime rib, short ribs, Alaskan crab, and Baja lobster – and an extensive children’s menu. “I have five daughters,” Scott smiled. “I know what they love.”

At the bar, enjoy great draft and bottled beer selections – including Negra Modelo, Asada Blonde, Dos XX Amber, and Blue Moon on draft; killer hand shaken margaritas like the Lemon & Grapefruit Margarita with organic tequila, fresh lemon, grapefruit, and cane sugar; Latin and South American-inspired cocktails like the Tijuana Lemondrop, Hot Chick Martini, and Brazilian Caipirinha; tequila flights; fresh sangria; and high quality, high value wine selections.

Other things to look forward to include Asada Laguna’s open-air patio overlooking South Coast Highway, its comfortable booths and horseshoe shaped bar, its “Red Room” lounge in the back – with a big screen TV, built-in red couches, privacy screen and private entrance – its approved operating hours (open until 1-1:30 a.m. on weekends), and expanded restrooms.

McIntosh aims to open Asada Laguna between Father’s Day and the Fourth of July. He is currently hiring for all staff positions – and encourages all interested candidates to apply online at



Nancy Wilhelm PhotoDown the road a bit – in the Aliso Creek Shopping Center across from Montage Resort & Spa – Nancy Wilhelm plans on opening her new “AmerAsian” fusion concept, Starfish, by the second week of June. It’s a project she’s been working on for a couple of years now, she says, and it will be “totally different from Tabu.”

In Starfish, expect an affordable price point, vibrant bar scene, and family style servings – with summer rolls, pho, udon noodles, Bhutanese rice, wok sauté, ribs, and other American renditions of classic Asian cuisine (like Mochiko Chicken Teriyaki Skewers with Roasted Sesame Seeds and Scallions) to choose from. Drawing inspiration from Thailand, Vietnam, China and India, Starfish’s new menu will feature tastes of Ginger, Lemongrass, Thai Basil, Jasmine, Daikon, Curry and Soy. The restaurant will also offer an extensive take-out menu, late night bar scene (open until midnight on Friday and Saturday evenings), as well as lunch and outdoor patio dining starting in the fall.

Expect the same great service you’ve grown accustomed to at Tabu Grill – but from brand new faces. “I made it a point not to hire anyone that’s ever been with me before [with the exception of management], because this is a totally different style of service.” With over 300 applicants to choose from, Nancy and new Starfish GM Gretchen Andrews interviewed over 150 candidates – eventually settling on 12 servers and 6 bartenders for the launch.

“We’ve got an incredible staff,” Nancy gushed. “The best bartenders I’ve ever seen.” Leading her bar staff will be veteran Michael Guerrero, who’s been with Nancy since Sorrento Grille, and former French 75 mainstay Neil Skewes. Serving as GM will be Andrews, who has worked with Nancy for the past seven years as wine director at Tabu Grill, and who also played an integral role in launching Starfish “every step of the way”.

Chef Jarvis Yaun and Chef David Abella will command the kitchen. Before accepting a position at Starfish, Yaun ran the kitchen at Straits Restaurant in San Francisco, while Abella spent 22 years as the executive chef for Chef Roy Yamaguchi, of the famous Roy’s.

Starfish’s horseshoe shaped bar will take center stage with stadium style seating on one side and black lacquered tables and chairs on the other. Additional seating will be available in the back near the kitchen, offering a view of the culinary action. The restaurant will be highlighted by luminous soft turquoise tones – as well as Asian art deco and antiques.

On the name Starfish, Nancy draws parallels between the sea creature and herself. “They [starfish] can regenerate themselves. I’ve had to reinvent myself a couple of times.” Nancy started at Kachina in the early ‘90s with then husband and business partner David Wilhelm, moved on to Sorrento Grille, worked at the Balboa Bay Club for a few years, launched Tabu Grill in 2004 and is now launching Starfish in 2011.

“This is a great industry,” she smiled. “I’m an entrepreneur and I love what I do.”

Nancy will host an invitation only fundraiser to benefit Pacific Marine Mammal Center as her launch party.

She anticipates opening to the public the second week of June.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie, Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

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