French 75 Relaunch photo gallery

Photos by Faye Chapman

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Nirvana Grille

Maggi H PhotoMaggi Henrikson

Lindsay Smith Photo“Local girl makes good” is just one of many stories about Lindsay Smith-Rosales.  She grew up in Laguna Beach, trained at the Orange Coast College Culinary Program, then went on to learn everything from soup to nuts at restaurant Pascal, and at the Ritz-Carlton.  She found her wings in the catering business she ran with her husband, Luis, for seven years.  When they opened their first restaurant in Mission Viejo it was a pleasant surprise to notice the accolades that followed:  “A slice of foodie paradise” (Westways magazine), “Top 10 Chefs under 40” (OCMetro magazine).

Executive chef, Lindsay Smith-Rosales has been honored with many further accolades, including “Great Chefs of Orange County” (Balboa Bay Club) and “Culinary Master” (Roosters Foundation).  Now she has her dream-come-true hometown restaurant, Nirvana Grille, in Laguna Beach.

With an atmosphere she describes as both stylish and quaint, Smith-Rosales focuses her culinary sensibility on what she defines as “Clean California”. “Our philosophy begins at the local level, working closely with local area growers and purveyors to ensure that we can source organic produce, natural meats, wild fish and free-range chicken of the highest quality possible”.

Nirvana, a word that means bliss; harmony in mind, body and spirit.  Nirvana Grille, a place to find healthy, organic dishes that delight the senses.

Smith-Rosales grew up with vegetarian parents, in the forefront of the natural foods life-style.  She remembers going to school with tofu flavored with Bragg’s liquid aminos.  She laughs now, “No one wanted to share my lunch!”  But she learned early on how to balance flavors from unusual pairings, and how to be very discerning in her taste. Nirvana Grille’s fare consists of American, French, and Asian influences.

One of the tasty and innovative vegetarian offerings is the “Blackened Seitan and Poblano Chile”, a seitan wheat protein on a bed of jasmine rice with a roasted poblano chile stuffed with artichoke, spinach, cream and parmesan cheese served with a chipotle cream sauce.

Nirvana Grille Photo

There is an amazing sea bass dish, already deemed a Nirvana signature classic: Pistachio Dijon Crusted Chilean Sea Bass. Prepared with beurre blanc and served atop caramelized leek mashed Yukon gold potatoes and asparagus in lemon oil, it is a beautiful harmony of sweet and savory.

Seabass Photo

One of Nirvana Grille’s small plate selections are great for late-night snacking or to accompany your elixer martini, on their “Bliss Rooftop”. Try the Chicken Wontons; diced chicken, pine nuts, cilantro and manchego cheese fried in wonton wrappers and served with a chipotle cream sauce, or the popular Chilean Blue Lip Mussels; sautéed in a light cream broth with tomatoes, leeks, shallots and herbs, topped with thyme paprika French fries.

The opinionated section of Laguna Stew cannot resist recommending the Blue Cheese Crusted All-Natural Angus Filet Mignon, a grilled center-cut filet topped with a blue cheese, herb and crumb crust and drizzled with a red wine reduction (served with sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes too, mmm!).  Smith-Rosales supports this, “we cut all our meat in-house, so it’s at its freshest, and you have many ways in which to use the cuts.  The center cuts are nice and thick, the flatter part of the meat is great for our small-plate brochettes”.

Martinis and elixirs plus a wide selection of wines are offered in the cozy communal bar, dining room and trendy rooftop patio.  They home-make their limoncello, and all the juice mixers are crafted with fresh fruit purees.

Nirvana Grille is having special Mother’s Day events, including a Buffet Brunch ($49 adults, $19 kids aged 2-12), with choices like salmon and potato leek pancakes, crab and lobster omelettes, French toast and fruits, and also a three-course dinner special ($45/ person).

Other specials include:

Happy Hour all night, every night, for 50% off appetizers, salads, and soup in the communal bar areas.

Tuesdays are 20% off for locals (ID required).

Wednesdays BYOB (no corkage fee) plus 20% off all bottles of wine purchased.

Nirvana Grille’s location is available for private events, large party and catered events. The rooftop is a perfect spot for private cocktail receptions.

303 Broadway (at the corner of Beach)

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefΤΜ

The Perfect Storm


Many interested citizens, including myself, spent quite a few hours of our life a couple of years ago working on the City Council mandated Business Task Force. The goal was to conduct a comprehensive examination of the downtown business area and develop recommendations that would enhance and improve business conditions in the city. What meaningful changes came from all this well intended effort?

Nothing, nada, zilch, zero.

Oh yes, there was one outcome. An “Open for Business” forum was started where prospective new businesses could get early advice on how to avoid glitches in their applications for a permit. None of the barriers were altered, just early warning. And I might add early discouragement for quality business people that have plans to be successful, not just survive. Also, the City is working to get the front desk in City Hall to be a kinder, gentler operation. So much for real reform.

The Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) is the 5,000 pound elephant in the living room. But there are more thorns in the sides of the business climate, like the old bugaboo called parking. There isn’t enough, so instead of adding parking for employees and customers, a business’s capacity to generate revenue is restricted.

Also a large number of the buildings are classified as “historical”. There is nothing wrong with having a few historical buildings, but forcing extraordinarily high building expenses and crippling use restrictions puts a serious damper on attracting quality businesses that want a return on their investment, not a trip through nostalgia.

Take a look at how the system works.

A business with national presence and a high ranking for providing quality food buffet style in a casual dining environment desires to locate in a vacant restaurant location in the downtown. Service is fast, and prices are moderate, something that appeals to most families that want to go out for some food. It also appeals to working people that want to have a quick breakfast or lunch, and beachgoers that don’t want to dress up to eat inside a formal restaurant. Sounds like a perfect match, right?

Immediately the Downtown Specific Plan barriers go up. By their definition it is a “formula based fast food” restaurant. That is unacceptable in our beautiful downtown business district. Hypocritical? Yes, because they would be replacing a defunct oriental food establishment and would be surrounded by a hamburger joint, a taco stand, and two gasoline stations that sell submarine sandwiches and pizza.

Next the building! It’s a K Rated historical building and all modifications are subject to unique standards of maintaining the historical significance of the building. The exterior is the primary focus and the comparison between the original building’s characteristics and the submitted architectural plan found two major problems. The new window and doorframes must be wood, not metal common in today’s energy efficient products. Secondly, the door cannot be relocated from the middle to the one side of the storefront. Never mind that the building once used as an auto dealership in the ‘30’s is “butt ugly”, the applicant’s revisions are rejected. History, if that’s your thing, has been preserved.

And then comes the knockout punch. The applicant wants seating that will serve the customers they expect to attract, but according to city ordinances they need to come up with more parking spaces, which don’t exist thanks to a city that has avoided building additional parking for years. They will have to pay a consulting firm to conduct a traffic and parking study that simply states the obvious—Laguna Beach does not have enough parking in the summer to support businesses that draw large numbers of customers.

So there you go—a perfect storm. You call them a fast food restaurant, which they are no more than their predecessors. Then you don’t allow upgrades to the building that would enhance the curb appeal of the place, and then you squash them for not having parking that the city has never provided. Exit another quality business leaving a building sitting empty until someone comes along with lower standards to take up business on an “as is” basis.

And this all happens before the application gets to the Planning Commission. The PC bragging that very few CUP applications get turned down by the PC is a hollow victory, because there is no measure for the ones that quit before arriving on the agenda.

Quaint over quality. Mediocre over award winning. Financially capable over marginally funded. That’s the way to run a business friendly city…so I’m reminded by people that have never signed the front of a paycheck.

Laguna Beach vintner releases new Napa Valley wines

Laguna Beach resident and Napa Valley vineyard owner, Steven L. Contursi, has released the first production of his Arrow&Branch wines: a 2008 red wine that emulates Napa’s version of a right bank Bordeaux wine made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec, and a beautifully layered Sauvignon Blanc from the 2010 vintage that also shows the complexity that can be created by making a Napa version in the white Bordeaux style.

Wine Label

The main source of grapes for the red wine comes from the Napa estate vineyard formerly known as Tony Soter’s “Little Creek” that was acquired in 2007 by Contursi and his wife, Seanne.

“Our production of red wine in 2008 was limited to only 62 cases due to critical crop selection and final blending decisions.  Our 2010 Sauvignon Blanc production is only 204 cases.  Our intent is always to make the best wine possible, not the most,” said Contursi who is also President of one of the country’s most prominent rare coin dealerships, Rare Coin Wholesalers (, in Irvine.

The 2008 Arrow&Branch red wine is priced at $125 per bottle and is limited to one three-bottle set per customer. The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is $35 per bottle.

In a recent tasting at benu restaurant in San Francisco, Head Sommelier Yoon Ha made these notes about the high quality of the Arrow&Branch wines: “2008 Red Wine: A truly unique wine from a tiny, historical site in southeastern Napa. Layers of sweet blue fruits, fresh tobacco, black currant leaf and violets.

“The Cabernet Franc, on which this wine is based, is impressively versatile at the table.  I took great pleasure in pairing this wine with Corey Lee’s braised beef with daikon, ginkgo nuts and pear.

“2010 Sauvignon Blanc: Citrus notes of Meyer lemon that expand to curd and rise to verbena.  The small amount of oak is discreet on the nose, as its real purpose is to lend a silky texture.  Within this luxurious mouthful lives a beam of acidity, creating balance and harmony.”

Steven L Photo

“Since purchasing the vineyard from Mr. Soter in 2007 we have spared no time or expense in further improving the quality of this unique, organically-farmed vineyard.  We have created beautifully layered Bordeaux style wines,” Contursi added.

Contursi was featured as a wine collector of the month by Wine Spectator magazine in 2005.

For additional information about Arrow&Branch wine, (707) 927-3640 or visit online at

Laguna Stew recipe

Bleu Chicken Breasts

This is an easy, tasty blend that can be served to guests and family and is sure to please everyone who loves chicken.

6 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

6-Tbs butter

1 Pint sour cream

8-Oz bleu cheese, crumbled

1-Ibs Worcestershire sauce

3 small cloves of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease 9” x 13” baking dish

Melt butter in large skillet over med heat

Add chicken and brown well – 4 min per side

Transfer to the greased baking dish

Mix sour cream, bleu cheese, Worcestershire sauce and garlic in a small bowl. Spoon this mixture evenly over the chicken breasts.

Bake uncovered for about 50 minutes. Juices will come out clear when the chicken is pricked with a fork.

Garnish with parsely

Serve over freshly cooked wild rice

Serves 6

Laguna Heritage Cookbook

The Public Trough


A note from Shaena

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank our newest dining partners – K’ya, Big Fish, French 75, Nirvana Grille, and El Ranchito – as well as our “oldies”, Mozambique and Penguin Café. Without your support, this section would not be possible.

Stu and I value your partnerships very much – and plan on going the extra mile to support you.

A self-proclaimed foodie, I dine out 3-4 nights per week in town. When my grandmother came to town last fall, I treated her to a different Laguna Beach restaurant every night – Dizzs, Zoolu, and Tabu! “This is the best restaurant I have ever been to,” she raved about one.

Grams went home to my Coastal Oregon hometown and raved about Laguna’s world-class dining.

Look for compelling new dining editorial every Friday – and for more new sections to be launched in the near future. We love Laguna and we love what we do.

Heard on the street…

Would you like salt on your margarita glass or not?

Looking for a great local spot to celebrate next Thursday’s Cinco de Mayo? Consider these five:

El Ranchito – Open until midnight this year, owner Michael Avila’s sole goal is to create a “fun place for locals to hang out.”

Olamendi’s – Matriarch of the Olamendi family, Rosa, will be in the house to celebrate, along with a mariachi. Rumor has it Rosa knows how to throw a good party…

Coyote Grill – Featuring tequila tastings and shot specials throughout the day, $4 Margaritas and well drinks, $3 Domestics, and Happy Hour all day/night long.

The Rooftop – Serving a $9 Fish Taco Plate (3 Fish Tacos) all day/night long, and offering one of Laguna Beach’s best ocean views as its backdrop.

House of BIG FISH and Ice Cold Beer – Featuring live music by folk/Americana artist Andrew Corradini, $1 Blackened Fish or Chicken Tacos, $3 Pacifico Drafts, $4 Well Tequila Shots, $5 House Margaritas, and a $20 bucket of Corona Light.

I realize the last two picks aren’t Mexican restaurants at all. But we’re “equal opportunity partiers” at Stu News Laguna – and welcome all who plan on donning their best mariachi hat.


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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