The Royal Hawaiian: the once and future king of restaurants designed to please Laguna Beach locals

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect night to try the new Royal Hawaiian. It was a dramatic September evening where the sky was 50 shades of reds pinks and purples, and the warm wind created a tropical heat, so much so that if I closed my eyes I could easily have been in Hawaii or any other tropical destination.

I was excited. The Royal Hawaiian’s reputation as being a part of Laguna’s history had long been described to me, and as a newcomer and lover of all things Laguna Beach, I really couldn’t wait to add another “Laguna experience” to my list.

The Royal Hawaiian first opened its doors in December of 1947. Harrold Hanna, a war veteran, and Francis Cabang, a previous coworker, opened it together. Harrold supplied the finances while Francis ran the restaurant. It started as a 50-seat restaurant with nine long tables and an aloha-filled crew. Quickly becoming a local hangout, a bar was soon added and the famous Lapu Lapu cocktail was born. 

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The Royal Hawaiian is famous for fabulous cocktails, including the Laguna Swizzle, and, of course, Lapu Lapus

People came from all over Southern California for the friendly service, cheap drinks, and island-infused food. It soon became a destination spot and was revered for its authentic island ambiance. Filled with paintings of the islands, an abundance of tikis, tropical fish, and island style structures, patrons claimed to feel as if they were transported to the Hawaiian Islands and dining in a hula hut.

Since then the Royal Hawaiian has changed hands a few times, Francis Cabang owning it from 1951 - 2005, followed by Douglas Cole who ran it until sadly the restaurant closed its doors in 2012. 

From 2012 it lay abandoned, a ghostly shell of what had once been the spirit of aloha in Laguna Beach. That is, until Mo Honarkar, an accomplished OC based entrepreneur, visionary and Laguna resident decided to take on the challenge of bringing the Royal Hawaiian back to life once more. 

With the help and expertise of industry veteran George Poulos (famed as the culinary consultant for and general manager of the hugely successful Mozambique Restaurant among others), this historical landmark has been resurrected, and I was honored to be invited for the first night open to the public, after a week of soft openings for family friends and consultants.

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The ahi poke was delicious in its coconut shell

The energy upon entering the Royal Hawaiian on a Tuesday September evening was electric. At 7 p.m. the place was full of diners and people who just wanted the bar experience. The restaurant décor offers a vivid, vibrant traditional Hawaiian vibe with a contemporary twist. The majority of the restoration work was carried out by local Laguna people. The building itself has high ceilings and acoustics are loud, but for me this only added to the already very energized experience. 

George was there to greet me and as always was charming, professional and clearly explained every facet of my upcoming Royal Hawaiian journey.

We were shown to our table for four in a quiet corner of the restaurant away from the bar, looking out towards an atrium full of colorful succulents and flowers. Teddy, our server, who hails from South Laguna, arrived quickly with our drinks menu and we relied on him to recommend cocktails from the Tiki drinks menu. We ordered the Lapu Lapu, a famous Royal Hawaiian delicacy made with white and black rum passion fruit, pineapple and orange. Rumor has it that after one of these huge drinks, you lose all feeling in your nose. Luckily for me, I only had a small taste, otherwise remembering the night could have been tricky.

Alongside this we ordered a “Three Miles to Mexico,” which is a spicy tequila-based drink with Mezcal, four-pepper spice, lime and guava. 

The prettiest of drinks was the Laguna Swizzle made with fresh yuzu and lime, pineapple syrup, blue Caracao and plantation pineapple rum. The Hemingway Daiquiri completed our drinks order, this being the “skinny” choice (as Hemingway was apparently diabetic) and consisted of lime and grapefruit juice, Cana Brava rum and maraschino cherry. Each cocktail proved to be a hit and I would have gladly tried more. However, I had a job to do.

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The Hawaiian red snapper dish was delish

It was on to the food and I had saved myself all day, so to say I was starving was an understatement. Between the four of us we ordered appetizers (pupus) to share. George recommended the ahi tuna poke and the shrimp and scallop spring rolls.

The ahi poke was delicious, served over ice, in half a fresh coconut, seasoned with ginger and Thai chiles and accompanied by plantain chips.

The spring rolls were lightly battered and cooked to perfection, the shrimp and scallops tasty, served perfectly in butter lettuce cups along with young herbs and rice vinegar papaya dipping sauce.

For our entrée, (full plate) we chose two dishes to share between the four of us. The first was the basil scented onaga, which is Hawaiian red snapper served with sweet white corn asparagus risotto and a jade pesto broth. The onaga was flaky and soft, the risotto perfectly cooked and the Jade pesto broth was a delightful surprise flavor, which worked so well.

Next we tried the Szechuan peppered rib eye steak, served with wasabi whipped potatoes, arugula, Maui onion rings and ginger bordelaise. The rib eye was huge and beautiful cooked at our requested preference medium rare. This dish was simple tasty and hearty.

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The Szechuan peppered rib eye steak is served with wasabi whipped potatoes

My experience of The Royal Hawaiian was very positive. Although this place is rich in history, I think it’s unfair to ever compare a restaurant to “how it used to be.”  Things change, people change, tastes change. And as a city we need to embrace that. However one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that The Royal Hawaiian is managed by Laguna residents with a heavy emphasis on pleasing other Laguna residents. 

With our support and feedback there is no doubt in my mind that this place is very much back, not just as part of Laguna history but also its future.


Selanne Steak Tavern gets fourth Golden Foodie Award on top of Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 

At the fifth annual Golden Foodie awards ceremony and gala held on Sunday, Sept 25 at the Fairmont Newport Beach, Selanne Steak Tavern again received Best Steak Award for the restaurant’s outstanding menu execution, service and overall program.

This is the fourth Golden Foodie Award bestowed on the Laguna Beach steakhouse and tavern. Previous awards from this organization include Best New Restaurant and Best Steak in 2014, and Best Wine in 2015.

The Golden Foodies – the People’s Choice Food Awards – honors excellence in the world of restaurants, chefs, bartenders, food and drinks. Results are culled from online nominating and voting by industry professionals, avid restaurant devotees and others. The 2016 red carpet affair was attended by many of the “who’s who” in the culinary arena, including master of ceremonies Simon Majumdar from Food Network, who presented Selanne’s Best Steak Award to general manager Joshua Buckner. 

“This year has been another great year for us as our guests and the food industry continue to recognize our hard work and passion in all we do. Receiving this fourth Golden Foodie Award, in addition to recently being given a prestigious Award of Excellence for our outstanding wine program from Wine Spectator magazine, is a great testament to Chef Joshua Severson and our professional team both in front- and back-of-the-house at Selanne Steak Tavern,” said owners Teemu Selanne and Kevin Pratt. 

Selanne Steak Tavern, located at 1464 S. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, opened in Nov 2013 and is owned by legendary former Anaheim Duck’s hockey player and six-time Olympian Teemu Selanne and local Orange County businessman Kevin Pratt. Housed in a reimagined 1934 historic home along the Pacific Coast, it’s an upscale contemporary steak house with an upstairs dining room, downstairs tavern and bar area, a wine room for more intimate dining, and two patios for alfresco dining. 

The restaurant supports local farms and fisheries that practice sustainability and humane practices. Menus feature the finest of steaks and seafood served with a variety of accompaniments enhanced by herbs from the restaurant’s herb garden. 

Along with its carefully selected California-focused wine list, craft signature cocktails are created from quality farmers’ market produce, homemade mixers and top-notch shelf spirits. 

Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m. For reservations and more information, call 949-715-9881 or visit www.selannesteaktavern.com.


Oui, there’s a little slice of France on Forest Ave

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

When Laurent Vrignaud opened the doors to Moulin Bistro Newport Beach in Sept 2014, he had one vision, to make visitors feel as though they had been transported to France: to give them an experience, not just a place to run in for a quick bite. This vision has been carried over to the new Laguna Beach location (where Scandia Bakery used to be), which has been tastefully redeveloped and restored to represent a chic yet traditional French marketplace with seating and service. 

The new decor really does make you feel as though you are sitting in a café in Paris (but with our delightful year round California sunshine).

Laurent’s emphasis on authenticity goes above and beyond, from the Michelin logo adorned walls, to the beautiful one of a kind French sourced produce, the original French tables and chairs, and the scattering of French staff.

Originally hailing from Montmartre, just outside of Paris, Laurent created Moulin out of the love of bistro culture that he has missed every day since moving to California in the 1980’s. 

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The food at Moulin tastes good and looks good

Laurent calls Moulin “a store,” and the all-new Moulin store in Laguna Beach is part of his three-store plan, which he describes as his “small, medium and large” Moulin model Newport Beach is the largest of the stores, Laguna Beach the medium, and finally his small store will be at a location yet to be revealed. Each store will feature exclusives, available only at its location.

Moulin Laguna Beach is everything Laurent wanted when he was 12 years old. Ice cream is on menu, but won’t be available to take out. Instead Moulin will serve ice cream in a coupes glacée, an ice cream dessert placed in a stemmed glass in the shape of a tulip. It’s an ideal dessert to share, one that Laurent feels will only enhance the true French experience of Moulin.

He will also serve a French hot dog, presented on half a French baguette.  

The baguette will be cold on the outside, warm on the inside with a simple choice of ketchup or Dijon mustard.  

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Moulin offers a little slice of France on Forest

Laurent is also working on packaging, which will enable the hot dog to be held with one hand as a takeout option. In keeping with this one-handed takeout concept, Moulin will serve waffles de liege, which is a traditional French waffle created using only caramelized pearl sugar. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, these waffles need no filling, which makes them much easier to handle as a to-go option.

Alongside the specials, Moulin will also serve 14 inch crepes, which will be made to order and prepared at the front counter. The in-store display menu will feature a selection of cheeses, pates, charcuterie as well as Las Parisiens – cold sandwiches in baguette style – and Les Parigits, hot sandwiches on artisan bread. The store will also feature an assortment of salads and of course beautiful boulangerie and patisserie.

During the press event, we were lucky enough to enjoy a selection of cheeses and charcuterie and artisanal breads, served with French champagne and wine (all sold at Moulin) all of which were delicious, fresh, exciting and authentic. And of course we tried a selection of pastries, éclairs, fruit tarts and coffee tarts. All were exquisite. 

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Well, I declare, a most delicious chocolate éclair awaits Moulin’s guests

Moulin also offers a cuisine menu, food that is prepared in the kitchen behind the in-store options. The cuisine menu offers le petit dejeuner, which includes tartines, granola, and fruit salad to name but a few selections.  

Customers can also choose from a number of omelets, les croques (monsieur and madame) and from 11 a.m. onwards, a selection of Les Classiques, including soup, roasted chicken, salmon and real French fries.

Laurent and his Chef Jeoffrey Offer, who has been with Moulin since its 2014 opening in Newport Beach, were warm, hospitable and so enthusiastic about Moulin Laguna Beach. The food and drinks we tasted were outstanding. In my opinion a little slice of France is never a bad thing anywhere in the world…

Moulin is located at 248 Forest Avenue Laguna Beach. It is open 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. seven days a week and also offers catering services. Phone number is 949-474-0920.


Adventures in Gastronomy

victusandvinous.com

April Steinert

 

Since moving to California, the arrival of fall has always made me nostalgic for cool, crisp days, and falling leaves. As I write this piece, and the temperature outside is identical to the surface of the sun, never have I longed for it more. Sigh. 

Because chilly weather and falling leaves were too tall an order, I decided to eat my fall day instead. This salad contains a crisp apple, falling leaves, and it’s served nice and chilly. Not exactly the same, but it will do. 

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Serves 2 people as a side dish.

12 oz. Brussels Sprouts

1 honey crisp apple

1/3 cup hazelnuts

1 tbsp. cider vinegar

¼ tsp. Dijon mustard

3 tbsp. EVOO

1 pinch kosher salt

1 lemon

Quality/aged Parmesan cheese

 

Either heat your oven to 400-degrees, or use your grill like I did by lighting only the two end burners. Put your baking sheet between the burners and close the lid. 

Roast the hazelnuts until fragrant. Be careful not to burn. Chop the nuts into pieces once they’re cool.

Cut off the end of your sprout and peel the leaves. Put the leaves in a medium sized bowl. 

Mix the cider vinegar, EVOO, Dijon mustard, and pinch of salt in a small bowl. 

Add the dressing to the Brussels sprouts, toss, and let sit.

Cut four sides of the apple off. Slice those quarters into thin strips. Cut the strips into matchsticks. Squeeze lemon over the apple sticks to keep them from browning. 

Add the apples and nuts to the sprout leaves and toss. 

Shave some Parmesan cheese over the salad to taste. Enjoy.

Eat well!

April

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns.” – George Eliot


Take your taste buds on a tantalizing trip around the world without leaving Laguna: visit Sapphire  

Photos and Story By LAURA BUCKLE

Sapphire Chef Azmin Ghahreman is a citizen of the world. Born in Iran and educated in Geneva, Switzerland, he attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, with a concentration in French cuisine. Since then, he has lived all over the world and has served as an executive chef in many places.

Chef Azmin’s international-oriented cooking styles and avid interest in utilizing the best ingredients available distinguish him on the culinary map. His talent and world experiences have given him the prestigious opportunity to cook for more than 40 kings, presidents, heads of state, prime ministers and other world leaders. 

In addition to his commitment to provide world-class cuisine, he is also passionate about bettering childhood nutrition. In 2008, Chef Azmin founded Sapphire at School, with the vision that every child deserves a healthy start.  The lunchtime program prepares fresh and wholesome meals to more than 5,500 students daily from pre-K to high school.

Sapphire’s Chef Azmin travels far and wide to bring fabulous international dishes to titillate our taste buds

As well as running these fabulous programs and a very successful catering company and restaurant, for the past few months Chef Azmin has been on his extensive travels yet again, visiting various locations to develop Sapphire’s exciting new fall menu.

Along with a handful of other invited guests, I was lucky enough to be asked to sample the upcoming fall menu, available as of now. We were not disappointed. 

To start we were offered a selection of cocktails, including Pumpkin Spiced Martini, made with Sapphire’s spiced rum, fall spices, and a lemon twist; Jalapeno & Rye, made with Masterson’s 10-year rye, jalapeño jelly, chocolate bitters, and orange essence; Apple Old Fashioned, a mix of apple infused bourbon, fresh lemon, lemon bitters, and a brown sugar cube; and finally their Pure Passion Martini, consisting of vanilla-infused Ketel One vodka, Lilikoi puree, and cayenne sugared rum. 

These were all outstanding. If you read my column every week, you can probably guess which one was my personal favorite. Yes, the spicy one! The jalapeño and rye was really delicious.

From a cornucopia of cocktails to eclectic appetizers and international entrees

From here it was time to move on to the appetizers. Chef Azmin explained that we would be served family style, meaning we would be tasting a sample of each one. And as promised, Chef Azmin took us on a global journey, beginning with his Burmese Fermented Tea Salad, made of peanuts, sunflower seeds, crispy garlic, romaine and lemon-sesame dressing. This was such a beautiful salad dish. The fermented tea worked so well. It’s something I had never tried before, and I would definitely order this again.

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From Burma with love: fermented tea salad

Then off we went to Afghanistan on our international tasting trip. We sampled Afghan Ashak, which consisted of buttered leek dumplings, split peas, tomato-meat ragu, and garlic yogurt. This dish was incredible, not as heavy as it sounds at all. The tomato and meat ragu was cooked beautifully and the leek dumplings were light and tasty. I actually thought that this dish would be perfect as an entrée for my children if I were to bring them here for dinner.

Next, our taste buds traveled to Italy with Sapphire’s Braised Italian Tripe served with potato gnocchi, and parmesan and tomato broth. This dish was the one I was hesitant to try. I am not the biggest fan of tripe, but I was surprised at how tasty this was. It is usually the texture of tripe that puts me off, but this was not as chewy as some tripe dishes I have tried, and the gnocchi was really outstanding.

It was then time to try the entrées; again these would be served family style. Yikes, it was a lot of food!

One of the best dishes turned out to be Oven Roasted Whole Loup de Mer. I loved the addition of the butternut squash, which made it a real “fall” fish dish.

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Fall in love this fall with a Whole Loup de Mer with butternut squash

Off we went to India, where we tasted Baked Indian-Spiced Buttered Monkfish, served with basmati rice, mint chutney, tomato-cucumber relish, and mango raita.

Monkfish is always a favorite of mine, and this dish did not disappoint. It was also really great to enjoy an Indian spiced fish entree as there seems to be a lack of good Indian fish dishes in Laguna Beach. 

The Lamb Shank Tagine was a delightful dish of chickpeas, baby carrots, medjool dates, and toasted almond couscous.

Lamb shank for me is such a “fall/winter” dish. There is something so comforting about slow cooked lamb: the texture and of course the smell. This dish was really delicious, rich and tasty. The almond couscous was so wonderful that I’ve already tried to replicate it at home.

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Rich and tasty lamb shank tagine delights the palate

Russian Zharkoe, which consisted of braised beef cheek, root vegetables, potatoes, and sour cream, is a traditional Russian beef stew. It’s said that Zharkoe was always on the Czar’s menu and he would have it directly after soup.  This dish would be perfect on a rainy fall day, but worked really well on a warm September night in Laguna also. It’s an outstandingly simple dish. There were no leftovers when this dish had done its rounds.

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Dine like a Czar: enjoy Russian favorite, Zharkoe

It was time for dessert and I’ll be honest, I was pleased we were not doing family style. I was “full to bursting,” as my dad would say. Instead each of us was presented with our own individual Butterscotch Pot de Crème with brown sugar, Chantilly and salted caramel sauce. This was really delicious and even though I thought I could eat no more, somehow I managed to finish the whole thing… 

My overall experience of Sapphire’s new fall menu was that it contained outstanding, intriguing choices. I loved the vibrancy and how eclectic the new dishes were. Chef Azmin’s description of his travels and inspiration was so informative, and it was also great to hear about his loyalty to his staff and vice versa. Many of his staff have been with him for 10 years. 

Sapphire has a lovely family atmosphere that is as comforting as its delicious food. The restaurant is located at 1200 S. Coast Highway. For more information or reservations, visit www.sapphirellc.com or call 949-715-9888.


Mozambique’s new “Speakeasy” experience can be found in The Durban Room: it’s a warm sanctuary

Story by DIANE ARMITAGE

Photos by Diane Armitage & Mozambique

It’s often said in the restaurant industry that a restaurant has to reinvent its brand every 6-8 years to stay “relevant” in the marketplace. 

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Mozambique fits right into the Laguna Beach vibe

 

Mozambique Steakhouse owner Ivan Spiers sees it a slightly different way: Build the foundational brand, and then add new experiences from there. 

When Spiers first opened Mozambique 11 years ago, he offered two levels of dining along with live music several nights a week. 

His menu, based on his South African restaurant origins, focused on generous dishes of wood-grilled meats, poultry and fish, with a variety of seafood options, too. His signature Peri-Peri spices subtly flavor empanadas, “chicken pops,” his best-selling prawn dish (the only prawns I eat in town), and more.

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Peri peri sauce is very very good served with chicken or prawns

As the Mozambique kitchen crew adjusted to its tiny kitchen, and as more servers and bartenders were added to Spiers’ roster to handle the fast-growing crowd, Spiers shifted his attention from creating the “foundation” to creating the “experience.” 

Multiple experiences in Mozambique

First, Spiers created a light and airy Garden Patio on the ground floor, normally dedicated to special events and groups. Then, he added an extensive happy hour menu, the largest in Laguna Beach. 

Then, it was an upgraded professional audio/video build out and recording studio for live music bands. Then, he added a weekend brunch menu. 

Then it was a massive construction project on the Mozambique rooftop with his extremely popular veranda (he even moved telephone poles on the sidewalk to improve patrons’ view.) And then he came up with jazz brunch every other Sunday, which is finally taking hold in the media’s eye as having potential to be the next House of Blues Gospel Brunch success.   

And now? 

Now it’s time for The Durban Room

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The Durban Room combines a South African vibe with supper club charm

 

Several months ago, Spiers completed a stem-to-stern update and renovation of a narrow enclave tucked beneath Mozambique, which had been used previously as a spare room for group events.  

“Granted, it was a beautiful room, but I’d go in and look at this place and think about how it could be something really timeless and sexy,” says Spiers. “Laguna really hasn’t had a classic, super-sophisticated, old-school lounge since French 75 closed its doors,” he adds. “So, we renovated this room – The Durban Room – to look and feel like a first-class hideaway … really, it’s a throwback to the classic speakeasy.” 

Speakeasy, Supper Club

Even the entry door to The Durban Room is a smoky glass sheath that requires you find the button before the door silently whisks open. Step down into The Durban Room and you’re stepping into another place and time as rich burgundy walls, luxurious upholstered seats and a long stretch of high-polish bar greet you.   

All of the highest-end cognacs, whiskeys and wines in the Mozambique storehouse are here in The Durban Room, but patrons also have access to the full Mozambique cocktail, wine and dinner menus, too. 

Popular appetizers and shared plates (including the Seafood Tower) are ordered regularly here in The Durban Room, but Spiers is seeing an uptick in rich entrees such as the Chilean sea bass, the 20-ounce New Zealand rack of lamb, and the sizable rib-eye, too. 

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Supersize a sea bass – or a rib-eye steak – or choose a smaller fish or steak

The sea bass is an enormous 10-ounce filet, seasoned with Moroccan spices and ladled gently aboard pesto-infused mashed potatoes, then drizzled in a beurre blanc saffron sauce. For me, sea bass can quickly cross the line to “fishiness,” but this cut is super fresh, mild and beautifully grilled.

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Thankfully, Mozambique provides those really big steak knives as anything smaller would simply cower at the 22-ounce prime bone-in rib-eye that arrives. Wood grilled to medium rare, I can handle about five bites (with yummy mashed potatoes on every forkful) before I have to wave the white flag. It is glorious, but I’m as equally thankful that Mozambique offers a variety of steaks, chops and fish that range between eight and 14 ounces. 

“A Comfortable Gathering Place”

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The Durban Room is ideal for a private business meeting

“The Durban Room has an old world Africa kind of feel,” says Spiers. “Dark woods, old pictures of the city on the walls, a warm fireplace, even a patio fireplace outside to pull a chair up to.

“It’s a warm, comfortable place where good friends gather and business associates can tuck in to talk business deals in privacy … it’s the perfect kind of place for Laguna.”

Next experience? A baby grand

In the next few weeks, a baby grand piano will be added to The Durban Room, and well-known pianists and jazz/blues singers are being scheduled to perform in the months ahead. “We’ll always have our signature live music upstairs,” says Spiers. “But The Durban Room is where you go to just get away and unwind. It’s a sanctuary, really, and who doesn’t need that these days?” 

Durban Room info

The Durban Room is open weekly from 5 p.m. – close. Reservations are recommended Thursday, Friday and Saturday, (949) 715-7777. 

Group bookings and holiday group party reservations are also welcome at The Durban Room – it seats 50 for dinner, and handles 80 in a cocktail reception format. (Mozambique event coordinator Kathy Reck says that groups are finding the Durban Room’s inclusive private bar and bathroom amenities a significant plus.)

Mozambique Restaurant is located at 1740 S. Coast Highway. Watch the www.MozambiqueOC.com website for announcements of the upcoming piano lounge live music schedule.

P.S. Look for a Durban Room coupon in next week’s StuNews!

A published writer and marketing agency owner for 30 years, Diane Armitage authors the popular blog, www.LagunaBeachBest.com and the newly revised: The Best of Laguna Beach: The Travelers’ and Residents’ Guide. She is a regular contributor to StuNewsLaguna

Kya

 

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