Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefΤΜ

The Perfect Storm

Op/Ed

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 (www.rcw1.com), 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 www.ArrowandBranch.com


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

By SHAENA STABLER

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.


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


Lumberyard

Maggie H photoMaggi Henrikson

 

We waited hungrily to see what would replace the iconic Cedar Creek Inn.  So did Cary and Suzanne Redfearn, owners of the establishment that transformed into Lumberyard.  There were months of structural and design refurbishments, but Lumberyard opened to a happy clientele.

Stop in any weekday and you will find it filled with many of our local business people: Council members, ladies-who-lunch, and those who just want a quick and luscious burger at the bar.

In the evening you will find regulars with family in tow, romantic couples, a lively bar scene, and everything in between. Don’t be surprised to find a charity event in the midst of the customer mix on a given evening. The Redfearns have graciously hosted Laguna’s community non-profits since they opened in October of 2008.

Cary Redfearn reflected on the move to Laguna Beach.  “I live in Laguna.  I wanted to have a restaurant in my hometown.  We were excited when this location became available.  I looked at it back when it was ‘The Ivy’ and wanted to be here”.  Formerly owner of Oysters in Corona Del Mar, Redfearn made the jump when the right spot opened up.

Lumberyard Photo

Staff photo by Maggi Henrikson

“This location is more local in nature, because it’s further from the tourist spots on Coast Hwy”.  At the corner of Forest Ave and Third Street, across from the firehouse, Lumberyard enjoys a central location for all the comings and goings of Laguna Beach.

Lumberyard is a symbiotic relationship of comfort and style, with a menu perhaps best described as nouveau comfort food.  There are specialty dishes reflecting what’s in season, and mainstays like meat loaf and chicken pot pie. “One of the best compliments our guests give is that we are consistent,” Redfearn noted.

Having been with Redfearn for more than fifteen years, Chef Armando Ortega’s favorite dish is the Short Ribs.  Every day, Ortega braises and cooks the seasoned ribs, hours of slow cooking until they are flavorful and tender enough to fall off the bone.  One of Laguna Stew’s favorites is the Roasted Tomato Bisque soup, and even the LA Times came a-callin’ for that recipe. (Come back on Tuesday for the Lumberyard’s recipe!)  Pair that with the Wedge Salad; ice cold iceberg lettuce topped with tomato, scallion and bleu cheese dressing and finished with Nueske applewood-smoked bacon from Wisconsin, and you have a match made in heaven.

Lumberyard Bar Photo

Inside there are two levels of seating, with spacious booths and a large horseshoe-shaped mahogany and granite bar.  Redfearn talks about the intention of the design, “We wanted to create environments for interaction.  Both the booths and the shape of the bar create convivial social situations, in which guests can look across at one another”.

A full menu is available at the bar as well as eight draft beers and more than twenty different wines by the glass.

The outdoor patio is delightful on these warm afternoons, the comfort of a fire is welcome on chilly nights, and the Sunday Brunch is not to be missed, including a make-it-yourself Bloo dy Mary bar.

With an atmosphere of comfort and style, Lumberyard has truly become a heart of Laguna.

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.

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising

949.315.0259

Email: Lynette@StuNewsLaguna.com with news releases, letters, etc

949.715.1736