Laguna Stew Exclusive

Broadway by Amar Santana set to open here in August


Chef Santana PhotoI can’t wait until late August. That’s when Chef Amar Santana, former Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza, will be opening his new restaurant in Laguna Beach. A foodie’s dream, Broadway by Amar Santana will feature an inventive menu with seasonal items that will jump off your plate – like Lobster and Shrimp Corn Dogs with Tarragon Emulsion, Pan Roasted Sea Scallops with Sea Urchin Risotto and Passion Fruit, Bacon Wrapped Braised Pork Cheek with Roasted Garlic Grits and BBQ Honey, Slow Poached Organic Chicken Eggs with Chicken Livers, Chicken Wings and Crispy Chicken Skin, Lavender Honey Glazed Duck Breast with Caramelized Salsify and Cassis Duck Jus, Chorizo Crusted Dover Sole with Boudin Noir, Purple Potato, Catalan Spinach and Piquillo Pepper, Crispy Cod Fitters with Japanese Mayo and Lime Gel, and Foie Gras Stuffed Quail in Celery Root Puree with Pumpernickel and Truffle Jus. Salivating yet?

The new restaurant will seat 88 people total – 60 in the restaurant and 28 in the bar/lounge area. It will also be open late – very late – serving food and drinks until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. Hush Restaurant ex-compatriots, meet your new “home”.

Santana 1 Santana 2

According to Chef Amar, the former Five Feet space is being transformed architecturally to take on an “Industrial New York vibe” with a “modern and simple look”. The restaurant will feature an open kitchen with six chef’s tasting/reservation only seats around the kitchen. Chef Amar will feature a new tasting menu daily – with “8 or so” signature items, each paired with a compelling “small drink” (liquor, sake, cocktails, and wine).

“The show is the food,” smiled Amar’s business partner and restaurant GM Ahmed Labbate. The cost for the tasting menu will be $120-$150 per person.

But don’t let the tasting menu prices scare you away – the rest of the menu will be affordable. “Our goal is to create a budget minded restaurant – fine dining but not with the price,” explained Labbate.

Broadway will offer small plates from $4-$10, appetizers from $10-$14, and main courses from $18-$30. “Everything will be under $30,” he added. Additionally, Chef Amar will also be offering “small cocktails” for around $7 each. “People don’t want to commit to a martini for $15 anymore. At Broadway, guests will be able to sample smaller, more innovative drinks – to match the food.”

On the food side, expect smaller,better portions with fresh and seasonal produce. “Our philosophy is one of quality over quantity,” explained Chef Amar. “If tomatoes aren’t in season, we won’t offer tomatoes. If peas aren’t in season, we won’t offer peas. We are committed to using the best ingredients available.”

Santana 3 Santana 4

Chef Amar has earned a reputation, both locally and nationally, for being a culinary visionary and pulse-setter. While at Charlie Palmer, he introduced chicken liver, bone marrow, and pork belly onto the menu. He also initiated a wildly successful late night dining campaign, extending Charlie Palmer’s dining hours to 1 a.m. on weekends.

“Nobody had the courage to do it before Amar,” proudly exclaimed Labbate – who was also the GM at Charlie Palmer during Amar’s tenure. “Charlie [Palmer] was hesitant at first,” added Chef Amar. “’Do you really think Orange County is going to eat pork belly’, he questioned. ‘Yes,’ I affirmed. And they did.”

Chef Amar is also receiving national recognition as of late for his prominent role in the NBC restaurant reality competition, America’s Next Great Restaurant. He and partner Joseph Galluzzi are one of three finalists in the competition with Joseph’s “Saucy Balls” concept – the winner of which will be announced on Sunday night’s finale.

As for their new restaurant, Chef Amar and Labbate said they had their eyes set on Laguna Beach from the start. “We believe in Laguna,” gushed Labbate.

But the building had other suitors – lots of other suitors, including high-powered restaurateur David Wilhelm with his proposed high-end Mexican concept, Diabla, a year ago.

“We came across the space for the first time at the end of January. The realtor told us we had a 5% chance of getting in – and that he had three other outstanding offers,” explained Labbate. But the next day, Chef Amar and Labbate received a call from the owner of the building, who is also a foodie. “We explained to him our concept over the phone. A week later, we signed the lease. Clearly, it was something meant to be.”

The restaurant was approved by the Heritage Committee on Monday night and is slated to open in late August, if not earlier.

Fasten your dining seatbelts, Laguna. We are about to embark on a culinary adventure together.

The Public Trough


Heard on the street…

sbe makes it official

sbe made it official on Wednesday, issuing a press release to confirm that Katsuya is coming to town – and to elaborate on their plans for the new restaurant.

“The expansion of Katsuya by Starck to Orange County has been years in the making and answers an overwhelming demand from the local community,” said sbe Founder, Chairman and CEO, Sam Nazarian. “It’s an honor to share the Katsuya by Starck dining experience with Laguna Beach residents and we’re looking forward to being an active member of the community for years to come.”

Katsuya by Starck Laguna Beach will occupy the former Hush building at 858 S. Coast Hwy.

“The goal is to enhance what’s already known as one of the most culturally engaging communities on the West Coast,” added Behzad Souferian, Vice President of sbe Real Estate.  “After an extensive market search, we discovered a location ideally suited for Katsuya by Starck that brings an entirely new dining experience to Laguna.”

The Katsuya by Starck restaurants comprise a collection of top Zagat rated sushi restaurants, offering a menu of innovative sushi and Robata dishes uniquely adapted for the American palate.  Special for Laguna Beach, the restaurant will also offer a unique kids menu.  Complementing the cuisine, Katsuya by Starck’s award-winning cocktail program focuses on balanced and approachable drinks made from the highest quality ingredients.

“The addition of Katsuya by Starck to the Laguna community is a very natural fit and underscores the undeniable popularity of the brand,” said Matt Erickson, Vice President of the sbe Restaurant Group.

“And to honor Laguna, Chef Katsuya has created a couple of signature menu items inspired by the community and its distinct culture.”

Katsuya by Starck Laguna Beach is set to open in mid-June.

More on Broadway by Amar Santana

Sources close to the new Broadway by Amar Santana have indicated that Amar hopes to open as early as late summer. Santana describes himself on his official twitter page as “Chef/Owner of soon to open Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach CA” (

Amar Santana Photo

Chef Amar Santana

Plans submitted to the City on March 10 include the construction of an “exterior sign with façade letters with decorative only mini-lights built into the face of the letters…a special type of period lighting that [will promote] the significance of the building style.”

The building on Glenneyre formerly occupied by Five Feet is zoned as a historic “K-rated” building and thus requires additional approval from the Heritage Committee. Local architectural firm Lance Polster & Associates will present plans to the Heritage Committee on April 25; a Planning Committee Hearing is set to follow May 11.

French 75 Grand Re-Launch on May 2

French 75 Bistro has extended an invite to the community of Laguna Beach to its Grand Re-Launch on Monday, May 2 beginning at 4:30 p.m. – and going ‘til close.

A complimentary selection of hors d’oeuvres from Chef David Shofner will be showcased throughout the evening in the lounge and patio and Chef Pascal Olhats will be providing a live cooking demonstration. Drink specials featuring Agave Underground brand tequilas and Happy Hour will be offered all evening long.

Live music will be performed on The Garden Patio as well as inside French 75’s historic building featuring the musical stylings of Michael Hamilton and Johnny Hawthorn.

“The Ambassador”, Mark DePalma, will be mixing and mingling with guests – and Stu and I will be in the house!

The Public Trough


Heard on the street…

New steak and seafood concept to be launched in former Five Feet space

Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza, Amar Santana, plans on launching a new steak and seafood concept called Broadway by Amar Santana in the former Five Feet space. Architectural and design plans have been mapped out and submitted – but the project is still pending approval from the City.

Local architectural firm Lance Polster & Associates will present plans to the Heritage Committee on April 25; a Planning Committee Hearing is set to follow on May 11. Santana is hoping to open his new restaurant by next winter…

Katsuya set to open in June at old Hush location

Currently under construction at the former Hush location is the newest project by hospitality, restaurant, and nightlife mega-brand sbe, owners of such landmark LA haunts as XIV by Michael Mina, The Bazaar by José Andrés, Gladstones, Cleo, SLS Hotel, The Abbey, Hyde, and of course, Katsuya. The Laguna Beach outpost will be the first foray by sbe into Orange County.

Image courtesy by sbe

Katsuya ImageThe new Katsuya by Starck Laguna Beach represents the sixth collaboration between sbe, world-renowned designer Philippe Starck and Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi.

While the sbe brand of restaurants and nightclubs in LA is often associated with the young celebrity lifestyle, sbe will aim to create a neighborhood atmosphere in Laguna Beach with an expansive, family-friendly indoor-outdoor dining space – more similar to their Katsuya concept in Brentwood.

Katsuya by Starck Laguna Beach plans to open in mid-June.  A formal announcemen from sbe will be forthcoming shortly.

Maggi Henrickson

Construction of Asada Laguna, upscale Mexican restaurant, ramps up

The old El Callejon space (more memorably – the old Javier’s space) is being converted to a new upscale Mexican concept, Asada Laguna. It will be headed up by restaurateur Scott McIntosh – former founding partner of Nick’s (with Nick Nickoloff) – and will feature fine Mexican cuisine, prime steaks, and a vibrant tequila bar.

Construction is currently underway by ITX Construction and local architecture firm Morris Skendarian & Associates.

“We are gutting the whole inside,” commented ITX Construction President Tom Penna. “The space will undergo a complete transformation.”

La Sirena to expand in South Laguna, begin serving margaritas

La Sirena in South Laguna is taking over The Photo Lab space next door to expand its indoor and outdoor seating, and install a full-service bar. The restaurant’s new CUP will allow for the service of beer, wine and Margaritas. It will also allow the restaurant to stay open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Construction is anticipated to be completed by end of summer.

Chipotle wants to come to town in Food Court!

Chipotle has submitted plans to take over the former Crab Shack store in the Food Court on Broadway near Main Beach and install a 97-seat (61 interior and 36 on a private outdoor patio) “fast-food formula-based” restaurant that will include the service of beer, wine and pre-mixed Margaritas.

The Denver-based company’s concept is to offer a simple menu of fresh, healthy, organic Mexican fare with natural, quality ingredients. Proposed operating hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Cucina Alessá

Maggi H PhotoMaggi Henrikson


Cucina Alessá may be the fastest opening restaurant ever.  With the help of a big family, it took six and a half days to remodel and re-open in the old spot of Pomodoro, on Forest Avenue.  What evolved was a melding of the designs from their two other locations, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, and a continuation of a family restaurant tradition that began in Naples, Italy.

Chef and Owner, Alessandro Pirozzi, trained under the guidance of his uncle’s restaurant in Naples and brought the authentic flavors of that region with him to Southern California.  The stunning décor and lighting create an atmosphere of Old World meets new.  There is a Sorrento mosaic fountain bubbling on the front patio where diners can people watch along Forest Avenue, Laguna’s version of a piazza.

Alessá Laguna Beach opened five months ago, with traditional Italian dishes in six courses; Per Iniziare (appetizers), Dal Giardino (salads and vegetables), Pizze (pizzas), Primi (First Courses), Paste Fresche (Fresh Pastas), Secondi (Second Courses).  It is a feast for the senses.

Alessa Photo

In addition they have introduced a “Prosciutto and Mozzarella Bar”.  Flown in fresh from Italy, sliced on their own dedicated slicer and served on small cutting boards are Salamis, Speck, Sopressata, Tartufotto and Parma Prosciutto, accompanied by a variety of Mozzarellas and olives.

Alessandro’s nephew, Giovanni, is helping to manage the restaurant.  He shared with Laguna Stew some of Alessá’s favorite dishes, “Everyone loves the ‘MamaMia’. It’s three meatballs served with focacetta, and covered with Burata - a mozzarella with cream in the center.  We melt it over the top and it is so delicious.”  Another popular dish is the Pappardelle al Sugo D’Annello, hand-made ribbon shaped pasta, with braised lamb and a salted ricotta sauce. And Giovanni is quite sure they make the best Tiramisu in the world.

The bar area has a corner seat with a small plaque on the wall dedicated to its frequent patron, “Lucky Lippa”.  Says Lucky, “I am Italian, and this is, by far, the best Italian restaurant I have ever known.”

Lucky was also on hand after the mudslides swept down Forest Avenue this past winter. The Pirozzi family raced to the restaurant before dawn and started cleaning the mud and debris that threatened their space.  By the afternoon they had it all cleaned up, but no customers.  Lucky came in and bought gift cards to give out to local charities. “Now you’ve had your afternoon business”, he told them.

While you wait for your table to be ready at Alessá, you may stroll about town too.  Cleverly, they take your cell phone number and ring you when your table is ready.  Who doesn’t love walking and browsing the shops and galleries, or heading to the beach for sunset?  You have the freedom to roam while Alessandro Pirozzi and his staff prepare your place at the table - on the piazza.

Alessá has an extensive wine selection, and will have a full liquor license next month. 234 Forest Avenue – 497.8222

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing Chef

“Fast Food, Formula Based” - The Curse


Last week I was fascinated reading Shaena Stabler’s notes about new restaurants preparing to locate in Laguna Beach. In particular, the Chipotle submission for a CUP at the Food Court on Broadway caught my eye. Really? A company with an award-winning menu, a reputation for quality locally grown fresh ingredients, and outstanding service wants to locate in Laguna Beach? OMG!

Are they crazy? They want to spend $250,000 to open a restaurant on sacred ground within Downtown Specific Plan territory? These Chipotle people must have fallen off their SUV and hit their collective heads as they passed by the location.

And the location they picked is a hot bed for culinary dining. We already have two fast food markets disguised as gasoline stations. Also a Healthy Chinese fast food establishment, a fast food burger and fries plus pizza shop that also sells beer and wine, and a fast food taco stand. Oops, I didn’t mean fast food, because the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) specifically says that fast food is not welcome within the territory – only slow food.

They also must not be able to read, because the DSP specifically states: “The business offers merchandise and/or services that serve the current unmet needs of the resident population.” Here’s a news flash Chipotle people, I have already pointed out that we have plenty of fast food in the Food Court! Well, most of the time – a few recent failures, well maybe years of failed businesses. Regardless of the facts, we can still get a sub sandwich at the gasoline station. Our needs are met – get out of here with your fancy ideas about quality locally grown ingredients! Local is our middle word.

Now that I think of it, you Chipotle big shots probably have some sort of plan worked out, including marketing. Well, let it be known that we don’t want people with plans. Just check the DSP. Rather we would take someone with no plan and no marketing experience, along with no idea how your store might look or how your merchandise would display, décor, signs, and employee uniforms might look. We just want you to show up with money to pay the fees and a willingness to move into some wrecked, termite infested building that was never built to code where a dozen or so tenants milked it for years trying to eke out a living.

Also, before you bring it up smarty pants executives, we will tell you how many tables you can use to seat your customers, not to mention how much service you can provide. No fast food, just like it says in the DSP. Slow food, slow service, limited employees and restricted hours of operation are what it takes. Employees can’t wear matching uniforms, just street clothes. Plenty of examples walk by on Broadway every day. We can show you real style.

That’s what it takes to get by us here in Laguna, you Chipotle outsiders. Success is not important – just get by. Besides, you are way too much in a hurry to get this deal done. It is not the Laguna Beach way.

So chill out. Take a couple of years to think on it while we push papers and have meetings to work out the details! In the meantime, take a look at our sister city Detroit – I hear they have plenty of deserted real estate available cheap! And, if you fail there, the government will bail you out. You cannot beat a money back guarantee, something you will not get from Laguna Beach.

Sometimes you just need to pig out


Comfort Food Correspondent



Before you start, I am not always health un-conscious. Sometimes I’ll try to cut back and have just a short stack of pancakes or have them hold the whipped cream on my chocolate-banana milk shake. I just try to maintain – as long as I can sit comfortably on one stool at the counter, I’ll be just fine, thank you!

If you love to eat then you know that sometimes, you just need to pig out.

Adolfos PhotoWhen that urge hits this lady, there’s only one thing to do. I drive down to Anita Street and South Coast Highway and head into Adolfo’s Mexican Food as I have been doing ever since they opened here in 1985.

What’s not to love about a place where everything is fresh and homemade and the most expensive entrée is $9.95?

You know they’ve done something right when you realize that high school kids that were going there after school in the 80s are now eating there with their own little guys. It’s also a good probability their parents are still eating at Adolfo’s too.

It’s a family restaurant – and Señor Adolfo, Señora Connie and their daughter Peggy are there to take your order and see to it that the quality is always top notch.

Connie remarked, “We make sure that kids who come in here after school or from the beach are treated courteously and never discouraged. Many of our menu items came from a kid’s suggestion. Surfing kids asked for our California Burrito. They order it with whichever meat they like – bacon makes it a breakfast burrito!”

The salsa bar is a great place to start…as I said, everything is fresh and homemade and their salsa with chips will stir your taste buds and get you in the mood for the rest of your fare. They even have Super Nachos on the menu.

My favorite thing on the menu is, of course, the most expensive thing at $9.95.

It’s a combination plate called Mojarra, a special recipe of Connie’s. They start with a cleaned, fresh, domestic farm-grown tilapia, which is scored with a cross pattern with a knife then deep fried, head and tail intact and served over shredded lettuce alongside Adolfo’s beans and rice, mild jalapeño, sliced tomatoes and tortillas. I like the flour ones with this dish.

Before I’m served, I waddle, err, uh…hustle over to the salsa bar again and get lots of that fresh salsa, extra lemon and lime wedges and hot peppers and grab a bottle of Tapatio if there isn’t one on my table.

Your plate will have the whole fish on it and guarantees that you’ll attract attention (and that’s why I order it, Honeybunch!). That scoring I told you about lets you pull off bite size chunks of the tilapia that will melt in your mouth! You can eat it with your fingers but I recommend using a fork with the rice and beans.

The best thing is that just when you’re feeling disappointed because the bite size chunks are gone and all you see are the bones, you can flip the fish and the other side let’s you start all over again!

Did I tell you to ask for extra napkins?

One more thing girls, be sure to wash your hands if you use your fingers to eat jalapeños or put Tapatio on the tilapia! It’ll burn your eyes!

Connie says their top selling burrito is the Grande Burrito ($6.25) – beef or chicken, bean, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, guacamole and rice! Adolfo’s has 20 burritos for you to choose from.

Of course they sell tons of their popular tacos and I love the fresh fish soft tacos loaded with that fresh fish ($2.20) or the shrimp taco (2 for $5).

Other combo plates that are really popular are Machaca ($8.50), the Verde Pork Plate ($7.75), Carnitas and Carne Asada (both $8.25).

Adolfo’s has nine quesadillas from $4.50 - $7.75 including a veggie filled with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and grilled bell pepper ($5.92).

Enchiladas, chimichangas, tostadas and tamales are also on the menu.

Connie tells me their tortas are becoming big sellers. The bread is toasted with mayo, beans, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, tomato and onions with a choice of carne asada, carnitas, chorizo, chicken or bacon and egg.

Everything on the menu is available to go. Call in your take home order – 497.2023 – then drive down to 998 S. Coast Hwy between 9 and 9 and enjoy!

Oh, and their burger (yes burgers!) are said to be the favorite burger of lots of Lagunans. I wouldn’t know because I go to Adolfo’s Mexican Food for just that!

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Lynette Brasfield is our Features Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Cameron Gillespie, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers and/or columnists.

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