Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefΤΜ

Save the Restaurants Tax Plan


Dennis Myers PhotoFrom time-to-time in Laguna Beach we have a few restaurants that fail, which usually ends up sticking the landlords and suppliers with unpaid bills. Well it seems to me this is a terrible fate for well intending folks that were just poor at running a business. Just because they were unqualified and had poor judgment doesn’t mean they should lose everything they own and end up being penniless. It is just not fair!

The success of Laguna restaurants is very important to the economy of our fair village. We taxpayers should be concerned. There should be some way that we could make a bad situation better. After all it doesn’t feel good when a business goes under, even if they were stupid to go into business in the first place!

And then it struck me, the blueprint is right in front of my nose. It is so simple.

We need to circulate a petition to all Laguna taxpayers telling them we are going to set up a special fund for unsuccessful restaurants. Each taxpayer will be levied $120/year for 20 years to create a fund. The fund is to be administered by self-appointed folks who don’t know anything about restaurant operations, or for that matter, managing money. They only need to be caring and concerned about everyone’s wellbeing.

Then, when a restaurant gets in trouble, the owner and landlord can come to one of the board’s meetings and ask for enough money to continue operations. Just until they get back on their feet, mind you—not forever. Perhaps to make their need more clear, they could cater the meeting with food that had gotten them into this precarious situation. This should seal the deal. The restaurant is saved, the landlord get’s his money, and the restaurant can continue on serving bad food with poor service and lousy surroundings unchanged!

In addition, four percent of the fund would be set aside to care for all these worthless businesses on into the future. That is a real “seal the deal” clause I know everyone would like.

Now perhaps you are thinking to yourself that is a big expense only to pour taxpayer’s money down the drain chasing bad ideas. It is not! Consider it would only amount to $10/month, which is what you would pay for a glass of fancy chardonnay in one of our more successful restaurants. You could give up one glass of wine a month for such a good cause, couldn’t you?

Just think how great you would feel going back to one of the failed restaurants that your hard earned money went to saving and having a meal—even an early bird special. Just knowing that your sacrifice of a glass of wine went towards saving this restaurant should ease the stink (oops typo, I meant sting) of the tax bill you paid every year.

To get started, I want to get a “Name that Board” contest going. Please submit your idea along with something you have personally cooked. The winner will get a $5.00 gift certificate to the Mobil gas station “deli”, and can be chairman of the board for the first year of operation of the “Save the Restaurant” Fund.

A gift and a title, what could be better for such philanthropy?

Maggi H Photo242 Café Fusion Sushi…

Sushi BarNature + Art = Cuisine

Chef Miki Izumisawa presides over the fusion of art and cuisine at this slip of a restaurant on N. Coast Highway.  With a counter of nine chairs overlooking the chef at work, and four artfully presented tables, diners are at once aware of the creative nature of chef Miki.  Her sculptures hang on the walls, while her culinary sensibility is like the palette from which she pulls colors and flavors to create upon the plate.

“Nature is the most important to me.  My art, my menu reflect nature”.

Miki designed a menu to remind people of nature, with titles such as Volcano Sizzle, a seared tuna dish, with soy, onion and garlic sauce.  The plate is served hot so that it sizzles and sputters like a volcano.  Some of the other evocative dishes are entitled Canyon Lands, Monument Valley, Gives You Energy, and Feather in the Sky.  The M45 (Pleiades), a Fusion roll, combines succulent white fish and cucumber with marinated purple cabbage and ginger sauce on tuna, yellow-tail and smelt eggs.  All are original designs from the creative flow that Miki embodies.

Wall PhotoOne of a very few female chefs of the classical sushi school, Miki Izumisawa has enjoyed critical acclaim in the press (2010, “50 Hottest Restaurants, Chefs and Eatery’s in OC, Riviera Magazine) and respect among her peers.  She studied under the famed chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, and after many years in Las Vegas she thought it was time to unfold her own wings.  “I don’t want to be like a copy machine.  I’m going to express through my food”.

Chef Miki PhotoChef Miki has a spiritual sense just as strong as her other five.  “My mind goes outside by itself, to watch myself”.  She made the mirror wall sculpture “My Eye”, hanging in the restaurant, to echo her good feelings toward people, “I see them.  People are colorful”.  Much as her people might like to talk with her while she’s creating the evening’s fare, Miki is totally focused on the food at hand.  Both here in Laguna and at her new place in San Clemente, Sushi Gallery Miki, you can enjoy this creation within close steps of the sizzling action.

Miki’s sixth sense may also have been her good fortune in coming to Laguna Beach back in 2000. “I study chakras, the seven energy lines of the body.  I am the seventh owner of this restaurant space”.

Each chakra also has a corresponding color, the heart chakra being green and pink.  The heart chakra is most important to Miki, “I try to put those colors into my work, the art and the food”.   When she came to see the site available for her restaurant, she had a surprise.  The tattoo she has on her neck, a yin-yang symbol surrounded by sunrays, was also on the outside of the building!

Kismet?  Karma?  Come and try one of Miki’s inspired creations and you decide.

242 Cafe Fusion Sushi

242 N. Coast Hwy, 494-2444, they don’t take reservations

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefΤΜ

Census Data Explained


Dennis Myers PhotoLocal printed media have been doing a great job announcing the statistics for Laguna Beach compliments of the 2010 US Census. Regardless, I was particularly disappointed with the lack of dialog regarding what the statistical changes meant to the Laguna business scene, especially restaurants. Let’s take a look at a few of statistics---yes, I know numbers are boring, but just like medicine; you have to take it once in a while. Consider it my public service.

The good news is that Laguna Beach is an attractive location for outsiders, what with the beaches, the art venues, and the restaurants. People can change, but the appeal for Laguna Beach remains strong.  Thank goodness we are not burning down blocks of buildings to clean up vacant buildings like they do in Detroit.

The census indicates locals are cashing in their homes to investors that want a piece of paradise, if only for part of the year. (I have three on my street of twelve homes). Most of the investors are older. Pile on top of this the fact that the median average age of a Laguna resident increased from 43 to 48, a 10% increase. This is significant if for no other reason than to say that the resident population is aging faster than the changes in the way the City approaches oversight and approval of businesses.

An older population has considerable discretionary money to spend entertaining themselves (instead of their children). They like to spend it drinking and dining in our restaurants and bars. The good news for the restaurants and bars is that they will have a solid future of demand, which should bring with that demand, more new restaurants. As taxpayers we should say hallelujah because restaurants and bars pay more sales taxes than most other retail businesses! Off the point for just a second, that also means the older ladies will not likely be shopping in the shops that feature skimpy size 0 dresses or the sexy lingerie. Sorry, back to the subject of restaurants.

It is a fact that as people age they eat out more often, but often seek lower cost locales. With this change in demographics the transit system and pedestrian accommodations in the city will need constant continual expansion and modernization. City regulations need a hard look for policies and ordinances that limit seating capacity of the restaurants even when there is room. Restaurants cannot operate profitably with lowered seating capacities and reduced hours and at the same time keep prices down. Public transportation and ease of access to popular restaurants can be critical for success.

Again the Downtown Specific Plan as it stands limits the types of businesses that can operate in Laguna. The DSP needs updating to be increasingly flexible for more establishments and a greater variety of lower cost restaurants that may be formula chains.

Consider Polly’s Pies. It is a chain, but you can get a great lunch for under $5 if you skip the glass of chardonnay. Most don’t, but the point is that some chains that have business formulas that produce good food at affordable prices.

A terrific cafeteria may be in the future for Laguna residents that are aging but want to eat at an affordable venue. Hometown Buffet is a good example. We are talking large portions with small prices at the register!

Souplantation is another national restaurant that offers a great salad bar and buffet of food that really attracts large families as well as senior citizens. We are talking serve-yourself, all-you-can-eat (and take home). For example, this may mean the City may have to accept change in the usage of the commercial building across from the Glenneyre parking structure to make room for this or a similar establishment. Use formulas and regulations need to be examined.

The census data can be helpful in charting the path for new and innovative restaurant services for its residents. The pressure is on to see if the City can understand the changes and accept revisions to the agency policies that block entrance of some types of restaurants that will appeal to our changing demographics. Change can be good if the right kind is encouraged and not summarily dismissed because of some obsolete City regulation. Senior power is a beautiful thing, especially if you are one!

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.

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