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Waterman’s Ball was wonderful

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

On Saturday August 5, The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) honored inspirational professional surfer Bethany Hamilton as Waterman of the Year; Parley For The Oceans founder Cyrill Gutsch as Environmentalist of the Year; and all- around surf industry legend Herbie Fletcher with the Lifetime Achievement Award.  

A Special Recognition Award was also presented to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the world governing body for surfing, for its unwavering and successful efforts in getting surfing included in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

The 28th Annual Waterman’s Weekend was held at one of my favorite venues, The Ranch at Laguna Beach. This year the entire event was held at The Ranch with the Waterman’s Golf Tournament at Ben Brown’s Golf Course. The tournament took place on Friday, August 4 and featured a 3-club and barefoot format.

On Saturday, August 5 the industry gathered under the stars at The Ranch for the Waterman’s Gathering to celebrate this year’s honorees, raise money through silent and live auctions and enjoy a farm-to-table meal with friends.

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Laura Buckle with Bethany Hamilton

I was lucky enough to be invited along once again to cover this fabulous night for Stu News and as always the event did not disappoint. 

The Award Winners

Waterman (woman of the year) Bethany Hamilton: Bethany Hamilton is known around the world as the inspirational pro surfer whose determination, heart, and skills brought her back to competitive surfing after a shark attack in 2003. The attack left her without her left arm, however she overcame the odds to return to surfing at the highest level. 

Hamilton’s story has reached far beyond the surf community. Following the release of her autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board (2009), and later with the release of the feature film Soul Surfer (2011) she inspired millions with her story. Hamilton continues to be an inspiration through her pro surfing and big wave accomplishments, and as an author, wife, and mother. 

I was lucky enough to talk to her and meet her beautiful family briefly where we discussed her life and her remarkable “just get on with it” determined attitude.

My children encouraged me to ask her one question, which was “Are you afraid of anything?” her answer was not being a good enough mom or a good enough wife is the only thing that scares her. She was truly deserving of this marvelous award and it was a complete pleasure talking to her. 

Environmentalist of the Year

SIMA’s 2017 Environmentalist of the Year was German-born Cyrill Gutsch who is a designer and creative entrepreneur based in New York City. At first glance, not what one would expect in an ocean environmentalist honoree, but a life-changing meeting with Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society inspired Gutsch to commit his life to protecting the world’s oceans back in 2012. That meeting was the catalyst for founding Parley For The Oceans, a non-profit network that seeks to facilitate collaboration across the fields of business, government, activism, art and science – with the ultimate objective of conserving the earth’s oceans. Gutsch has worked tirelessly in connecting many walks of life, people, cultures and businesses in order to create change, from pro surfers Greg Long and Ramon Navarro to Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth to companies such as Adidas and Corona. Gutsch is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure the health of the earth’s oceans.

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Caption

“While he may not be widely known in the surf world yet, I can tell you that Cyrill is without question someone who is a friend of surfers around the world,” said Paul Naude, SIMA Environmental Fund President and CEO of Vissla. “Simply put, Cyrill is an agent of change, and his work to create a forum and network of others who want to protect our oceans is what the world needs right now. And the surf industry needs it more than ever. We couldn’t be happier to award Cyrill with the Environmentalist of the Year award.”

Lifetime Achievement Award: Herbie Fletcher

A Southern California native, Fletcher has continued to re-invent himself and the industry since he began surfing in 1948. In 1976 Fletcher created the revolutionary peel-and-stick Astrodeck, and went on to become an icon of self-promotion. In fact, his first foray into film in 1985 (Wave Warriors) was a self-made promotional movie for Astrodeck, and was followed by with four successful sequels. Fletcher was not only behind the camera, but also starred in several surf films in the 70s and 80s.

As the patriarch of the famous Fletcher clan (wife Dibi, sons Christian and Nathan and grandsons Greyson, Lazer and Jetson), Herbie remains as integrated in the industry as ever. His most recent projects include a RVCA + Astrodeck collaboration, and creating fine art pieces from broken surfboards.

Special Recognition Award – ISA – Fernand Aguerre

In August 2016, the announcement was made to the world that surfing would be included in the Olympic Games after decades of hard work and dedication from the ISA. SIMA honored the work of the ISA with the 2017 Special Recognition Award as the surfing community prepares itself for its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The award was presented to ISA President Fernando Aguerre who has tirelessly spearheaded ISA’s Olympic Surfing movement, a vision first pioneered by Duke Kahanamoku who is widely regarded as the “father of modern surfing” and was a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming.  

Fernando was the life and soul of the evening’s event, both he and his wife were the most colorful people in town with smiles to match their fabulous outfits.

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The Ranch provided exquisite food

Mark Christy and the team at The Ranch pulled out all the stops for this event. The venue was beautifully presented, the organization ran without a hitch and the food we ate on the fairway of hole nine was exquisite. Not only did I feel an overwhelming sense of pride for the winners but also for The Ranch, which is proving itself to be one of the most fabulous venues In Laguna Beach.

A little bit about SIMA

The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) is the official working trade association of more than 300 surf industry suppliers. Founded in 1989, SIMA is a non-profit organization that serves to promote awareness of the surf industry and participation in the sport of surfing through public relations efforts and a variety of services, educational programs and research. 

In addition, SIMA actively supports oceanic environmental efforts through its 501(c)(3) charitable environmental foundation, the SIMA Environmental Fund. In the past 27 years, SIMA’s Environmental Fund has raised more than $7 million for environmental groups seeking to protect the world’s oceans, beaches and waves. 

The SIMA Humanitarian Fund, also a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, was established to award grants to various surf or boardsport related social and humanitarian non-profit organizations whose efforts are focused on improving the quality of life, health and/or welfare of people. Since 2004 the SIMA Humanitarian Fund has raised and donated more than $1.7 million to surf-related non-profit humanitarian organizations. For more information regarding SIMA, visit www.sima.com.


Penguin Café: a place parents treasure, and for good reason

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Back in July last year, I was lucky enough to report on the Penguin Café, if you remember rightly I took my then-13-year-old son who I affectionately referred to as the bottomless pit. From that moment my son has become a firm regular in the cafe, often having a sandwich after a morning surf.

The Penguin Café has been in Laguna Beach since 1942, and is proud to be one of Laguna’s oldest family-run businesses. They have served generations of Laguna families.

Since 2001, Sabrina McMurray and her husband Michael have owned and run the restaurant, which has been in the McMurray family since 1968. Sabrina has worked there since she was 14 years old, in every capacity, as a waitress, kitchen assistant, cook and now the owner.

The café was originally named “The Penguin Malt Shop” and served vanilla floats and iced drinks (hence the Penguin title). Over the years the menu has evolved, and now the restaurant serves famously hearty made-to-order breakfasts and lunches using family recipes.

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Pie at the Penguin!

The past few years have been challenging for the Penguin Café. All the kitchen staff left to start their own businesses, so Sabrina has been spending the majority of her time in the kitchen.  

However, with a new chef and kitchen assistants, she is back at the front, warm and welcoming and socializing with customers. Sabrina is an extremely busy lady, so when I heard that the Penguin was to open two evenings a week (Wednesday and Thursday) for dinner, I half expected her to tell me she had hired someone to help. 

It turns out, no, this was all her and her husband Michael’s idea to give Laguna Beach more Penguin hours. She specifically chose Wednesday and Thursday nights as she realized that being a mom in Laguna Beach, these are sports nights, meaning cooking dinner is always a rush and not very satisfying.  

Penguin’s new evening menu can be ordered to go, so if your family doesn’t fancy sitting, then that is an option. For this report, we decided to sit in, “we” meaning four members of Stu News staff.

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My chili was fabulous

As with the daytime menu, Penguin’s evening menu is extensive with a breakfast-for-dinner menu featuring breakfast favorites, a burger section, and hot dog section as well as sandwiches, soup and salads. The hot dog section was created with Mayor Toni Iseman in mind, who once told Sabrina there was a desperate need for a hotdog place in Laguna Beach.

Our food journey

I decided to order from the soup and salads section and chose the chili bowl, this was a deliciously light homemade chili that wasn’t overly spicy, so great for those who are not keen on spice. You know me by now though, I ordered a side of jalapenos. 

Lynette ordered the burger and it was really exceptional, homemade and huge. Really tasty, with fresh salad to garnish, as well as a side salad to start.

Dianne ordered the veggie burger and was really impressed with the vegetarian option. Like everything in Penguin Café, don’t expect small portions. 

Shaena went for the Bird Dog, a special hotdog that comes with grilled onion, bell pepper, jalapenos, a scoop of chili with cheese and fries. This was outstanding! I think everyone on the table had food order envy.

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Shaena enjoys the Bird Dog

Alexis had a grilled cheese and I was so glad she did as she was the only one to order fries, so I stole a couple and they were delicious.

It was safe to say that everyone was completely satisfied and like everything at the Penguin it filled us up without breaking the bank.

It was then on to dessert and Sabrina (who loves baking) had made two fabulous pies. One was a mixed berry, which was warm, delicious and just like my grandma used to make, and the other a chocolate mousse cake, which was decadent and naughty.

 Sabrina plans on changing the pies weekly and believe me, it is worth checking them out. 

Once again Penguin Café really impressed me, I urge you all to go visit it one evening. Hungry athletes will thank you!


Tortilla Republic will contribute 20 percent of sales on Sept 27 to help rebuild Mexico City 

On Wed, Sept 27, Tortilla Republic will support and stand with Mexico City to help citizens after the recent earthquake.

Tortilla Republic Nachos: every bite helps

On that day, Tortilla Republic will be contributing 20 perecent of its sales to UNICEF’s effort to provide food, water, shelter, protection, and health care to Mexico City after the devastation of the recent earthquake. 

Along with the other sponsors, Herradura Tequila, will be serving $8 margaritas. For more information on upcoming events, visit www.tortilla republic.com


Ivory: Unique dishes – and there’s parking!

Story by MARRIE STONE

When I entered Ivory Restaurant, my first impression was, “This place feels chic and sophisticated, trendy and beautiful, but without an air of pretention.” 

The noise level is delightful for maintaining a civilized conversation (which I loved), yet the subtle remixed rhythms of European electronica still made for a young, cool atmosphere. 

More important, no one at Ivory is trying to be anything they’re not. They’re simply—and genuinely—delighted to be there. And that authenticity, combined with the classy coastal atmosphere, attracted my attention.

A Ukrainian Foundation

When I had a chance to talk with owners Alexander Pavlovsky and Olga Bevz, my feelings began to make sense. Both Alex and Olga grew up in the Ukraine, where eating out wasn’t just a luxury—it was nearly beyond the realm of possibility. “Ever since I was a little girl, I always loved gathering places and great food,” says Olga. “Eating out wasn’t a common thing, so I was fascinated with this concept of a restaurant.” 

Alex shared Olga’s childhood experiences. “We were friends a long time and both realized we had the same concept in mind,” says Alex. “Owning a place for people to gather and enjoy their experience.”

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Photo from website

Ivory’s exterior is attractive

Together, they began looking for a coastal location, modern and fresh. Ivory fit the bill, with a white décor and old world elements that gave the space a chic vibe. The room is small and intimate, appointed with luxurious leather couches and flowing white drapery. They were inspired to add an outdoor patio with a living wall of jasmine. “Ever since we did that,” says Olga, “it’s become a hit. Especially during the warm summers.”

Ukraine meets California for a perfect culinary union 

Did that Ukrainian influence find its way onto Ivory’s menu? Da! (Actually, in Ukrainian, it’s “tak.”) Alex and Olga strive for exclusive offerings that are difficult to find in other Orange County restaurants. Their blini, for example, is a quintessential Ukrainian dish infused with a Californian touch: Crepes filled with braised short ribs and a mushroom sauce. Alex is quick to point out these are nothing like French crepes. You won’t find this taste or texture elsewhere. That culinary homage to their homeland makes Ivory’s menu utterly unique.

This winter, Alex will expand the Ukrainian influence to include pelmeni—a Russian boiled dumpling, filled with veal. It will be presented in a way consistent with Ivory’s style, incorporating both the influences of Southern California and Alex and Olga’s heritage.

Other signature & standout plates

Chef Jesus Duran joined the Ivory team as a line cook and quickly demonstrated unparalleled creativity and passion toward food. He moved through the ranks, becoming their trusted head chef in February of 2015. “When he came in,” says Alex, “we fed off a lot of his ideas and improved the menu to provide an excellent food and tasting experience.” 

What sets Jesus apart? He’s a wizard with meat temperatures and textures, says Alex. The octopus ceviche, for example, is a very tricky protein to get just right. “Jesus has perfected the process,” says Alex. “There’s a very narrow window of cooking time to get the right texture.” Jesus knows just the sweet spot.

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Shrimp, Ivory style

Another signature favorite is the Boom Boom Shrimp (an homage to Laguna’s old Boom Boom Room), a light and crispy shrimp marinated and served with a creamy aioli. My recent visit to Ivory proved that the hype over this appetizer was justified. The flavor combinations and crispy texture tasted just right. We also applauded the goat cheese and beet hors d’oeuvres, which I hadn’t associated with Ukrainian cuisine until I spoke with Alex and Olga. Beets—of course! The fresh cucumbers and pears on the side made this a delightfully light dish.

Let me not forget the prawns in a citrusy asparagus risotto. The lemon leek buerre blanc sauce created a light finish to the heft of the risotto. Against my better judgment, warning me against eating a full serving of risotto, the plate returned to the kitchen clean. And, surprisingly, I didn’t have that overly full feeling I’m often left with after a hearty carb-rich meal. 

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Beets – of course…

Alex also worked with Jesus to create the blackberry duck. “Duck isn’t something you see on a lot of menus,” says Alex. “We wanted a standout dish to differentiate us from typical fare.” The duck is complemented by farro and a side of blackberry sauce.

“The sweetness of the port and darkness of the berries work really well together,” he says. I must return to test this for myself!

The Dirty Russian & other drinking delights

Olga and Alex wanted to ensure their specialty drink menu represented their heritage, as well as a variety of options for their guests. There’s an old Soviet Union hangover cure that involves pickle juice. Actually, maybe it is just pickle juice. Alex decided to experiment. The result is a twist on the classic dirty martini, using pickle juice and adding pickled tomato, as well as good vodka. Diners can’t get enough.

This winter, Alex will bring his own family tradition into the restaurant. For years, he’s personally made a cranberry infusion for the enjoyment of his friends and family. Fresh cranberries, muddled with sugar and vodka, infused for over a week—what’s not to love? Plus, probably some antioxidants. “It creates this amazing tasting beverage,” says Alex. “Our version of the cosmopolitan.” 

It will go on the menu in a few weeks, plenty of time to become a local favorite this holiday season.

A local advantage

A few other things make Ivory particularly palatable for locals. Free, easy and plentiful parking. All the time. If you live in town, I hardly need to tell you this is a treat. 

After some research, I also discovered their happy hour is nearly unmatched in Laguna. Served from 5 to 6:30 p.m., you’ll enjoy 50 percent off appetizers and well drinks. They also have a reasonable prix fixe menu—four courses for $35. 

But, more than that—at least for me—are all the benefits that come from its location off the beaten and overcrowded Laguna path, nestled in the Canyon near the Sawdust Festival. This means the beach bikini crowd isn’t strolling by the front window looking for a seat. This intimate setting makes Ivory a perfect choice before a night at the Laguna Playhouse, with whom they partner often for various events. 

“Unlike other places in Laguna that get continuous walk-by clients,” says Alex, “we’re a destination. We work harder to provide a better experience. As a result, Laguna locals love us. We have a loyal support-base, and don’t rely on drop-in business.”

For those who want a place where they can relax, away from the frenetic crowds and beach scene, Ivory fits the bill.


Golden Foodie Award for “best service” honors Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach

For the fifth time in Golden Foodie’s six-year history, Selanne Steak Tavern has been recognized in an outstanding category.  On Sept 24 at the Annual Golden Foodie Awards ceremony, emceed by Food Network celebrity Simon Majumdar and held at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, an audience of 250 people was on hand as Selanne Steak Tavern was presented a Golden Foodie Award for Best Service.

The other four awards that Selanne Steak Tavern has received include; Best Steak for the restaurant’s outstanding menu execution, service and overall program in 2016; Best Wine in 2015; and Best New Restaurant and Best Steak in 2014.

The Golden Foodies – the People’s Choice Food Awards – honors excellence in the world of restaurants, chefs, bartenders, food, drinks and hospitality. Results are culled from online nominating and voting by industry professionals, avid restaurant devotees and other influencers.

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Sommelier Vito Pasquale and Chad Sisco

 “To be recognized again by the Golden Foodie Awards is an ongoing testament to the devotion and professionalism of each member of our outstanding staff,” said Selanne Steak Tavern’s co-owner Teemu Selanne. “Kevin Pratt and I are thrilled our restaurant has won this industry validation especially on the heels of being recognized by Wine Spectator magazine for our wine program.” 

Selanne Steak Tavern recently garnered the “Best of Award of Excellence,” granted to only 1,168 restaurants globally from the prestigious magazine. Located at 1464 S Coast Hwy, Selanne Steak Tavern opened in Nov 2013 and is owned by Hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and local OC 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. 

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


Driftwood Kitchen: Peaceful ocean-close oasis with plentiful delicious dishes

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Larry Tenney

My recent visit to Driftwood Kitchen took place shortly after hurricanes – spawned by the Atlantic Ocean and whisked into monsters by the warm tropical air – devastated Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. 

By contrast, here in Laguna Beach, the Pacific Ocean was living up to its name, peacefully lapping the shore just yards from the table where I sat with long-time friend and social media whiz Larry Tenney, who was going to take photographs of our dinner. 

The sun slipped down the sky, settled Humpty Dumpty-ish on the horizon for a brief moment, then fell slowly from view. 

We sighed contentedly, and focused on the menu.

Would we try the grilled Spanish octopus to start, or the yellowtail carpaccio with pineapple vinaigrette?  

Instead we chose the yellowfin tuna tartare and squash blossoms, then ordered and sipped our cocktails – mine called Livin’ on a Pear.

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What to do about the leaf in my Livin’ on a Pear?

I don’t usually drink cocktails, I’m boringly Chardonnay, so this was quite an adventure for me. I had to ask Larry how to cope with the leaf floating on top of this deliciously mint-fresh drink with cucumber undertones. At least it wasn’t an umbrella. I could have injured myself.

“How lucky we are,” Larry said, “to have jobs like this.”

For a while we mused about the randomness of life – how tranquil the setting was right now, and how quickly things could change: Laguna knows tragedy, knows wildfires, knows floods, knows mudslides. What did our respective futures hold? Was this all too good to be true?

And then we forgot about all that, because our food had arrived, and we were hungry.

Larry and I both loved the yellowfin tuna tartare: the crunch and crush of the sesame taco, the cool smooth contrast of tuna on the tongue, the pop of spicy mayo, the dollop of avocado mousse (you can never go wrong in my world when you add avocado) and the colorful sprinkle of topeka caviar titillating the taste buds.

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The four tacos arrived upright in a line, rather like expectant rollercoaster riders

“What’s great about this,” Larry had commented when the tacos arrived, firmly upright like expectant rollercoaster riders, “is the way it is presented. So often poke dishes are plonked onto the plate from a circular mold. Like cat food from a can. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Indeed, though now that image is going to be hard for me to shake. But he was right. This dish looked wonderful and tasted fantastic. 

(Later I would learn from Chef Rainer Schwarz that he had once tried to take the yellowfin tuna tartare off the menu. But hordes of angry villagers had stormed the restaurant, carrying placards and torches, demanding the dish be restored, and so he complied. No, I made that up, but local enthusiasm for this particular dish cannot be exaggerated.)

Larry had chosen the squash blossoms in part because of their likely aesthetic appeal, but they also delivered on taste, he said. They were served with soft ricotta and shallots, in a tempura batter with a chunky heirloom tomato sauce.

I asked the Chef whether much had changed for Driftwood since it opened its doors not that many years ago. 

“Not really,” he said. “What we planned originally has worked out well. Of course we adjust the menu seasonally but we like to keep it simple and very good. Restaurant concepts are always changing, but for now? Why change, we are doing great and people love Driftwood.”

I can attest to that, having on many occasions tried and failed to get a last-minute reservation.

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The wild king salmon sat on a raft of carrots atop a puddle of creamy kale

Schwarz says that tourists make up 70 – 80 percent of summer diners, with the opposite in winter. Tourists love the ambiance and choose the more conventional dishes, he said, while locals are more inclined to be adventurous. (He doesn’t sell a lot of his Seared Hudson Valley foie gras in the summer.)

Well, Larry and I weren’t that adventurous, I must admit. I chose the wild King salmon. Thing is, I’m not really a foodie, I’m just an eater who knows what she likes. And I like salmon. My husband cooks it often. So I thought I’d test out a new version which he might like to emulate.

The salmon arrived, interestingly perched on a raft of carrots atop a tasty puddle of creamy kale.

Well, it was delicious! I ate it all. 

Larry’s butcher steak and pork belly joined us with an air of pomp and circumstance, unabashedly meaty, with the pink and amber colors of the steak, pork, crispy red onions and chimichurri sauce reflecting hues of the sunset. 

“This,” Larry said, “tastes as good as it looks.” 

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Larry’s butcher steak and pork belly dish came in sunset hues

Between happy bites, we chatted about a long-ago sandcastle-building event in Daytona Beach that we’d worked on during our years at a PR agency, back in the nineties. About our adventures with the Party Smart campaign, an NFL quarterback, and the Talking Pump at the 76 gas station on the Grapevine. (It’s a long story.)

Conversation flows at Driftwood; it’s the kind of restaurant where you feel very much at ease, with the noise level – at least outside – is low and the ambiance peaceful. (Except when Larry roared with laughter, sending sea gulls into panicked circles. He has that kind of laugh…)

Finally, dessert. Which I never eat, because calories, except I did, given that it was sticky coffee cake with Chantilly cream, and who can refuse that? Plus I was on assignment. I had to eat it. 

My taste buds thanked me.

Before paying the bill, we chatted to our server, JR, who loves working at Driftwood Kitchen. He told us that the staff are very close-knit and often all dive into the surf together (fortunately not while we were there, that would have been a bit of a shock, but of course they only do that in the downtime – and apparently the Chef is a very good belly-boarder, though he doesn’t surf). 

Then we found out, just before we left, that JR had worked for FEMA in the past.

Once again Larry and I contemplated the sadness of the devastation to our east, and our good fortune, to be here, in this place, at this time – because who can live in Laguna and not feel immensely grateful for the sun, the sea, the wilderness, our friends, and good food?

And so the evening ended at this magical ocean-close oasis, as the lights of Laguna homes turned the purpling hillsides into artwork, crickets began to chirp, and the ocean grew dark and secret. 

Driftwood Kitchen is located at 619 Sleepy Hollow Lane. Phone 949-715-7700.


Fun, German food, and rollicking festivities at Anneliese School’s Annual Oktoberfest on Oct 14

Anneliese Schools is proud to announce its annual Oktoberfest celebration taking place on Sat, Oct 14, at Willowbrook Campus, located at 20062 Laguna Canyon Road, from 12-5 p.m. Last year, over 1,000 people attended the event. 

The celebration takes place in the Willowbrook Campus’ gorgeous gardens, where attendees can sit beneath the grape arbor and enjoy German fare while listening to live music performed by professional musicians, including Heinrich Martin, Kallie Forester, and Adam and Roberta Haines.

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Kids enjoy rides at Anneliese’s Oktoberfest

Guests will be able to dine on delectable traditional Bavarian food, including bratwurst, potato salad, sauerkraut, pork roast, goulash with dumplings, pretzels, along with delicious festival favorites such as organic cotton candy, organic sno-cones, and more.

A mechanical bull ride has been added to last year’s favorite bungee-jump. Professional face painting and balloon art may be enjoyed by children and grown-ups alike.

Free trolleys will be shuttling passengers from City Lot 16 to the Willowbrook Campus. Parking is free.


Word about our breakfast toast taste test has spread like, well, avocado

A little more on the subject from Lynette

Turns out that when you tell people you’re doing an avocado toast taste test, the word spreads like, well, mashed avocado, and all at once yesterday Dianne Russell and I were inundated with stories about really, really good avocado toast, told where we should have gone, and we were urged also to break out of our comfort zone and try pumpkin toast. 

Sadly, deadline day prevented us from experimenting with the pumpkin option. But we offer Project Juice’s version below for the avocado-averse. (And Project Juice has avocado toast too.)

Diane Armitage, who writes our Laguna Beach Best column, strongly recommends Skyloft’s avocado toast, available all day, and on weekends for breakfast as well. (It was a weekday when Dianne Russell and I scoured the town for the right toast to taste-test.)

“I’ve never been a fan of the current trend of ‘avocado toast,’” Diane A tells us. “It’s usually a bland attempt at finding another way to use a stale piece of bread and an over-ripe avocado.” 

(Methinks being a regular food reviewer must lead to a little cynicism sometimes, Diane A?) 

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Skyloft’s Avocado toast

Diane A goes on to say, “Skyloft’s Avocado Toast, though, is a robust, confident entry that you can actually pick up with your hands.”

(This is an interesting angle that we neglected to mention in our feature, the handiness or otherwise of the dish in question. I appreciated the Zinc version very much, but it’s true that I feared it would topple over in my hand, so generous was the serving of the glorious green fruit – but I found that a good problem to have.) 

“Chef Arthur’s choice for fresh-baked, thick pumpernickel is a happy anomaly that holds its own and blends beautifully in taste to the creamy, spicy, blistered-tomatoe-y goodness,” Diane added.

Here’s how the menu describes the delicious dish at Skyloft:

“Seasoned crushed avocado with lemon dill aioli, spicy avocado dressing and a creamy hint of queso fresco. Topped with blistered cherry tomatoes and micro cilantro. Served on fresh baked pumpernickel bread with a simple side salad.”

I’m sold. See you there tomorrow, Dianne Russell?

And in other news…

Project Juice Laguna Beach also offers avocado toast, described as follows: 

Gluten free toast spread with fresh avocado, microgreens, and black sesame seed seasoned with sea salt and black pepper with a touch of lemon. Top with Bee Pollen Booster for an extra dose of vitamins, minerals and protein.”

But it’s the pumpkin toast that sets Project Juice apart. The company’s board certified nutritional consultant, Marra St. Clair, says that Project Juice Laguna Beach is pumped for fall, and they’re introducing their favorite pumpkin flavors with its new Pumpkin Spiced Protein Oats and Pumpkin Butter Toast.

“The flavor of the season is more than just delicious - with its fiber-to-calorie ratio, pumpkin can help us feel fuller, longer,” St. Clair says. “It’s also heart healthy, with the prevalence of phytosterols that studies have shown can reduce bad cholesterol.

“Pumpkin also has more potassium than bananas, making it a phenomenal choice to help repair the muscles pre- and post-workout.”

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Project Juice’s pumpkin toast

Hence the pumpkin toast option, described thusly in the press release:

“This perfectly toasty-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside gluten-free vegan toast is everything that’s right in the pumpkin world. Combining bee-free honey, spiced pumpkin butter, and almonds, the Pumpkin Butter Toast is a great source of fiber, protein and healthy fats, and is well-suited for a quick breakfast or as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. 

St. Clair adds that pumpkin is also a tremendous source of vitamin A and is rich in beta-carotene, which aids in eye health, and is also loaded with antioxidants. They say that pumpkin can also help boost the mood, with amino acids that have been shown to aid in the production of serotonin. 

This strongly suggests that I should indulge in pumpkin on deadline days. 

And that maybe the saying should be “a pumpkin a day keeps the doctor away.”

Especially, of course, if used as a doorstop.


You have guac to be kidding me: Avocado toast was harder to find in Laguna than we thought 

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL and LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Dianne’s musings…

An avocado a day keeps the doctor away, well, not really – although maybe they are better for our health than the proverbial apple: according to the California Avocado Commission, one-third of a medium avocado (50g) has 80 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it a great nutrient dense food choice.

 Wouldn’t matter anyway, I just love them, and truly do eat them every day, in any way, shape, or form. Once during a party mixer game, in which the guests wrote down the one thing they couldn’t live without, I scribbled avocados, (unfortunately not my husband, kids, or dog, though the dog would have come in a close second). 

But then my family loves avos as well, so much so, that my 22-year-old grandson has an avocado tattooed on his arm. That’s a life-long commitment. 

So, not surprisingly, when given the scrumptious assignment of sampling some of the avocado toast offerings at local restaurants, I was giddy with anticipation.

Although Lynette’s love affair with avocadoes began on a different continent (South Africa), we share a similar passion for this tasty fruit, which is sometimes called an alligator pear, so we decided to put our heads together, prime our taste buds, and collaborate.

Lynette’s musings…

Way back in the seventies, before avocado toast was a thing, I loved hot buttered toast (slightly burned) upon which I’d place avocado, mashed with a hint of vinegar and sprinkled with a decent amount of salt. 

Little did I know I was ahead of my time, and that avocado toast would become a gourmet breakfast of choice in the 21st century. 

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Photo by Lynette

Zinc serves it lavishly and chunkily

Turns out there are many varieties of avocado toast. Each has its own style, appealing to purists and innovation-seekers alike.

For my son Dylan, an avocado junkie (I was addicted while pregnant with him), I’ll be recommending Zinc Café when he next comes west for his fix. The avocado is lavishly and chunkily served on a bed of julienned radishes and topped with chives. 

A poached egg (if desired) is served in a separate little bowl. This prevents any yolk, no matter how delicious, from invading and compromising the integrity of the perfectly toasted base. 

Mouth-fillingly marvelous, is all I can say.

Those who prefer their avocado as a palate-pleasing accent rather than a full-on avalanche of taste may wish to visit Jan’s Health Bar. Here, the presentation of avocado toast is so stunning, I considered framing my breakfast instead of eating it. 

The avocado is generously applied to the toast, but in a much more understated fashion, and, if ordered with a boiled egg, the dish arrives with pretty ovoid ovals topped with chili flakes. This breakfast will appeal to those who like a bit of spice in their lives. 

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Photo by Lynette

I considered framing my breakfast at Jan’s instead of eating it

Kitchen in the Canyon serves avocado on a toasted brioche topped with jalapeno-cilantro aioli, avocado spread, sliced avocado, tomato salsa jam, topped with an egg, poached or fried.

“What?” I exclaimed upon reading the menu. “Avocado spread and avocado slices?” Talk about heaven!

And it was good. The jalapeno and tomato salsa jam contrasted interestingly with the smooth coolness of the avocado. The cilantro-averse should avoid this dish, though. 

I must admit I’m mystified as to the difference between mashed avocado with added ingredients, and guacamole. Why don’t we call it guacamole toast? It’s a puzzle. 

But anyway, now I am feeling the urge to make some guacamole just in case guests should drop by. (You never know!) Back to Dianne.

Dianne continues to muse…

Unlike Lynette, I didn’t have an egg at Zinc, although the dish was a delight without it too. Served on sourdough toast with a slight slathering of butter, then sprinkled with lemon tinged radishes, and finally topped with more than ample mounds of creamy avocado, this serving is so generous that part of this offering ended up in to-go containers. 

Jan’s Health Bar also offers a bagel with avocado, and this has a more down-home appeal. The bagel was a great alternative. The perfectly seasoned avocado was a nice change from the traditional cream cheese, more health conscious, and an option for those who love bagels, but must avoid dairy. 

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Photo by Lynette

Bagel with avocado is a great alternative for those who must avoid dairy

And yes, the age-old guacamole versus avocado question! With the presentation at Kitchen in the Canyon, we got a taste of both – we hit the mother lode. The brioche was a nice touch, lighter and a bit sweeter than toast, and the tomato salsa jam and jalapeno-cilantro aioli added a tasty blend of sweet and spicy to the richness of the avocado. An interesting twist. 

Evidently, the popularity of avocado toast has been overstated, because on Wednesday morning, Lynette and I walked the streets downtown trying to find another version to sample. No luck. We tried The Grove, Anastasia, Moulin Bistro, and C’est La Vie (all of which have delightful breakfasts, some of which incorporate avocado but none that gives it star billing). The White House and The Cliffs were closed. 

After a brisk walk, we agreed that at least we were getting some exercise, an unexpected benefit for adamant avocado-seekers. Then, starving, willing to give up the Great Avocado Chase and just eat whatever else might appeal, we ended up at The Greeters, which has a spectacular view of Main Beach. 

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Photo by Lynette

Build your own avocado toast…

Although they too didn’t have avocado toast on the menu, we decided to Build Our Own Breakfast, and each ordered an avocado with an egg (Lynette had bacon on hers) and a side of toast. This wouldn’t be the first choice if a diner were looking for a more gourmet version, but it had the vital ingredients, half an avocado, egg and toast. 

In sampling the Avocado Toasts available in Laguna, there was such a variety, it is difficult to compare them – each had its unique attributes destined to please someone somewhere.

And now, bring on the Super Bowl – just five short months away … the king of guacamole events.

According to the Haas Avocado Board, fans eat an average of 278 million avocados that day. With the politically divided state of the country these days, it’s good to know that so many of us have at least one thing in common: a deep and abiding love of avocados. 

Or is it guacamole?


Bounty dinners at Bluebird Canyon Farms: A unique dining experience at a magical place you won’t want to leave

Story and photos by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

So when I was about ten years old, I read a book called The Faraway Tree by author Enid Blyton. Every week, a new land would arrive at the top of the Tree, and three lucky children would climb up the trunk and enter a new dimension. 

Some of the lands were magical and some of the lands were terrifying – but in every case, the children had to leave before the land moved on, or they’d be stuck within that world forever. 

For different reasons, some lands were harder for the kids to leave than others. 

This was the experience that awaited me at Bluebird Canyon Farms. 

My Uber climbed the short but steep driveway off Bluebird Canyon Drive. I emerged from the car and looked around, breathed in the scents, heard the soughing of leaves in the breeze. 

And I knew immediately that I had arrived at a truly magical place, a serene and wildly lovely oasis floating a mere ten minutes above Laguna’s downtown. 

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The tables are set with beautiful flowers

After a tour led by Farmer Leo, aka Ryan Goldsmith, it seemed to me that the bees danced more giddily here than most bees, the chickens were happier and cluckier here than most chickens, and the vegetables more saturated in color here than most vegetables.

Soon I was to enjoy a dinner that would taste more delicious than most dinners I’ve enjoyed in my long eating life. 

During the spring, summer and fall, the farm hosts twice-monthly Bounty Dinners of five to six courses, each of which is true to the season and exquisitely prepared.

Ninety percent of the vegetables served are grown on the farm. Farm to table is a literally true here – the distance between the two minimal.

Farmer Leo and Chef Jen Alvarez espouse a philosophy about food that echoes the Native American belief that every part of an animal that has given its life to provide sustenance for others, should be used as completely as possible.

Chef Jen recalls, “Recently we served slow roasted duck, freshly brought in from [a place in] Lake Elsinore. We rendered the fat to cook dumplings; we made stock from the heart, liver and bones and served consommé; we even created crackling that we sprinkled on the salad.” 

(Maybe there’s also a new down pillow or two on the farm? I forgot to ask.) 

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Welcoming cocktails in a genial atmosphere

Dinnertime. We sit at beautifully decorated tables under a string of lights. A guitarist plays in the background. Stars sprinkle the night sky. Candles glow.

After a pink cocktail incorporating grape jelly, mint soda and vodka, which started a gentle buzz that I happily maintained throughout the evening by imbibing wine brought by guests and willingly shared by all, we were served our first course.

Lusciously plated, the corn squash tortellini was accompanied by creamy sage butter, a perfect accompaniment to the rich texture of the squash and satiny pasta.

Conversations began among strangers, commonalities found. “You too?” “Oh, I agree.” “No, really, how funny.” 

A dreamily good arugula and pea shoot salad with pomegranates, persimmons, spiced walnuts, Nicolau Farm goat cheese, and honey then arrived. The dish made my mouth strike up a band, the peppery arugula a great contrast to the sweeter ingredients, harmony on a plate. 

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Lynette’s iPhone cannot possibly convey the fabulous look and taste of each dish: hence the salad will be the only food photo you will see in this article

The arugula reminded me of the aquaponics system we’d seen earlier, and the chicory, among other vegetables, it was nurturing. Chicory, the farm believes, may be the next trend after kale.

Aquaponics was a new term for me: it combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) into one one integrated system.

Back to the dinner: the soup was rich and tasty and earthily good, incorporating free-range chicken broth and farm greens with new onions and crème fraiche. 

The chatter grew louder, with more introductions made across and around the table, without any of the acoustic issues that happen in the best of restaurants.

“Each dish is so good, I feel that we should be standing up and applauding after every course,” said the diner across the table from me, Don Meek, formerly a top executive with the Tribune media company, dining with his wife Summer Meek.

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Summer and Don Meek, fellow diners, were great conversationalists

Founders of The Soul Project in downtown Laguna, the Meeks explained the goal of their company, which started as a way to build a sustainable company that could support their family while also making an immediate and positive contribution to the world around them.

Well, they made an immediate and positive contribution to my enjoyment. Several anecdotes about cousin Sli Dawg and his tendency to steal spoons were hilarious. I guess you had to be there, though…(so go!)

And then I was served my very first rabbit. (I have eaten a Patagonian hare, I have to confess, or at least part of one.)

After walking the trails that very morning, and seeing bobtail bunnies happily be-bopping in the brush, I was a little more conscious than I normally am about being a meat-eater, especially with a vegetarian sitting to my left. (She was served an amazing squash dish instead, and was reassured that none of it had touched the rabbit or vice versa. She said her dish was “amazing.”)

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Chef Jen loves her kitchen – I get a preview of the magic to follow, though I did not personally see the rabbit

The Da-le-Ranch rabbit was good, very good indeed, the flavors of the dish encouraging each other to be their very best selves. The meat was braised with wine, mushrooms and thyme, served with baby turnips and dandelion greens. 

“Is it wrong to lick the plate?” someone asked, rather longingly.

By now, conversations had grown funnier and funnier – time, wine and good food tend to have that effect – and I was enjoying myself immensely. The evening felt like a Thanksgiving dinner but with new stories instead of the usual oft-told anecdotes (which of course have their own charm).

The evening was topped off with a Kabocha squash cake with cocoa nib cream, cinnamon meringue and chocolate ganache sauce. 

Guest Kim Narel said, “This was like a lava cake marrying a carrot cake (with chocolate too). Not too sweet, and the ingredients mixed together so well,” she said. “Yet they could still be individually tasted and savored.”

A hot toddy ended the evening and warmed the stomach as well as the soul. 

To stay or to go?

Then I had to leave. Given the choice, I might well have wanted to stay in that happy land forever, but that would not have gone down well with my husband Bill and family (or with Shaena, most likely). And the truth is, I was happy to be transported to home by Uber, with no climbing down a Faraway Tree required.

Because that’s the great thing about Bluebird Canyon Farms. The Farm is not moving on. It’s here to stay. I can go back, and I will.

Bluebird Canyon Farm’s next Bounty Dinner will be on October 26, the final dinner before a winter break. Dinners will resume in spring. Visit www.bluebirdcanyonfarms.com for more information. They’re also available for private functions.

Be warned, Bluebird Canyon Farm is not an easy place to find…do not take that first steep driveway on your right, take the second steep driveway to find this magic land.

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