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.

Maggi Photo

Maggi Henrikson


Just the name evokes an exotic and sultry image of towering palms on unspoiled sunny beaches, as well as towering mosques, fruit and spice markets in small villages.  Also native to Mozambique is music made for dancing, with a blending of African, European and Caribbean styles.

Mozambique Steakhouse Laguna Beach has become as renowned for its music scene as it has for its South African-inspired dishes.

Managing partner George Poulos was on hand to walk Laguna Stew through the rhythm of Mozambique, Laguna Beach.  “Music is an art, and Laguna Beach is a very welcoming art city”.

He told us the story of owner Ivan Spiers, “The live music at Mozambique evolved through Ivan’s long-time passion for music.  He played in a band, growing up in South Africa - guitar and piano.  He was instrumental in sponsoring new artists including The Flames, a multi-ethnic band, some of whose members became employed by the Rolling Stones”.

They take their music to heart, and the heart is serious at Mozambique.  There is a full recording studio within the performance area, capable of putting out high quality CD’s and DVD’s of their live bands.  The line-up of talent in the coming weeks includes Nick I & A.D.D., Space Oddity - a David Bowie tribute band, the Jason Sinay Band, and Sunday Jamaican-style and reggae bands, like Wailing Souls and Andrew Bees of Black Uhuru.


Bartender Jen-Ryan Childs

With a first-class performing area and crowds accustomed to the best, Mozambique has a steady beat of musicians hoping to play there.   Says Poulos, “Music affects people differently.  Bands are meticulously selected to attract the right crowd of people”.

Who are those people coming to Mozambique to get their groove on?  Think Sunday afternoon, your toes still have sand in them.  You doff your bathing suit in favor of something slightly hip and sexy, and head over to the afternoon Jazz scene.  Linger, and you may shake out your dreads and get down with Jamaican-style kettle drums and reggae in the evening.  At four o’clock you will enjoy good-sized portions of tasty fare at happy hour prices ($10).  The “Sampler Plate”, a mixture of chicken, prawns, and South African sausage is perfect paired with their Pear-Lychee Martini (see recipe).

The crowd on a Friday or Saturday night includes a mostly 30+ age group whose tastes give a nod and a wink to the 70’s and 80’s.  Poulos recognizes this following of musical inclinations; “We remain consistent so people know what to expect.  We feature Jazz and Island-inspiration on Sundays, and weekends will include everything from rock and tribute bands to Pink Floyd type and Santana-style Latin bands”.

There is a singles scene too - calling to mind the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song, Mozambique:

There’s a lot of pretty girls in Mozambique

And plenty time for good romance

And everybody likes to stop and speak

To give the special one you seek a chance

Or maybe say hello with just a glance

ParrotsJust for a moment, let’s talk about the food, and that spice so good they named it twice; Peri-Peri.  (Factoid: It is made from an indigenous red pepper native to South Africa.  Explorers from the 16th Century named it for the birds continually eating it, dropping the seeds and re-propagating the plants.  Legend has it that the birds made the sound “ Peri peri”).  And, guess what?  It’s not that spicy!

Jeez, will Americans stop being afraid of the word pepper?

Peri-Peri is prepared with olive oil and lemon as an enhancement to the flame-grilled chicken and prawn dishes for which Mozambique is most proud.  They also use it in aioli dipping sauce, and it is so popular they sell it by the bottle.  Give it a taste along with another favored South African cocktail, Pimm’s Cup. (Factoid II: Pimm’s Cup is a very popular British drink, light and summery.  At Mozambique, they serve it with cucumber, mint, and a splash of ginger ale).

The sunny terrace, draped in swoops of fabric, and garden patios with fountains and resident parrots evoke the laid-back beachside essence of the South African nation for which it is named.  Expect to be swayed by the beat of something alluring at Mozambique.

I like to spend some time in Mozambique

The sunny sky is aqua blue

And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek

It’s very nice to stay a week or two

And fall in love just me and you


Pear-Lychee Martini:  Pear flavored vodka shaken in ice with dash of St. Germain liqueur, ginger liqueur, lychee puree garnished with peeled lychee fruit


Mozambique offers free transportation within five miles – call for details

A Note from


Comfort Food Correspondent


I was a bit under the weather this week – and couldn’t get out among ‘em to deliver my usually hard hitting and in depth review.


The way I eat, my tummy can be miserable now and again. I may have been able to get out there, but I’d rather send Stu into a stew by not doing it!

I need to be ready for next week and I will make sure by sneaking into the Penguin for some corned beef and cabbage and a huge piece of whatever Sabrina makes for desert and I won’t come close to dropping twenty bucks!

Breezette’s Winemaker at GG’s Bistro on May 12

GG’s Bistro and Turquoise Life will present an evening with Breezette winemaker, Remy DeVictor, of Domaine de la Sangliere Winery in Provence, France, on Thursday May 12. The event will kick off at 6:30 pm – and will include delicious Mediterranean and Turkish appetizers paired with the elegant Breezette rosé wine, as well as an open buffet for $25.

On the matter of rosé wines

Pink wines are making a strong comeback. After languishing for decades, rosé wines are the fastest growing sector of the American wine market. “Pink is returning and in spades,” explained a sommelier friend of mine. “American wine consumers are rediscovering the charm of old world styled rosés and New World winemakers are putting their own spin on them. Rosé wines are the fastest growing segment of the American wine market—and with good reason.”

Brezette Photo

RSVP 494-9306. GG’s Bistro | 540 South Coast Highway

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