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La Sirena Grill in South Laguna delivers both eat-in ambience and healthy take-out

Story and photos by JENNIFER ERICKSON

As someone who likes to cook with fresh ingredients and who avoids processed foods like the plague, I tend to steer clear of take out. That said, I’m only human, and, like most people, the idea of preparing even a simple meal at the end of a trying day can be daunting. Enter La Sirena Grill in South Laguna. Open daily, they are my perpetual back-up plan for a guaranteed healthy and tasty dinner. 

La Sirena, the self-proclaimed “Mexeco” eatery, prides itself on organic, sustainable and responsibly sourced ingredients. They even have a page on their website describing where they obtain their meats and veggies and providing links to some of the purveyors. I know that when I order the blackened salmon, for example, it is either fresh and wild caught in season or wild caught and frozen at sea in the off season. Just as important, it is delicious.

Casual queries to other locals about La Sirena, revealed a number of like-minded souls. Angela LaVelle, Laguna resident and owner of the recently opened Dog Tub on Coast Highway, said that it is also her go-to place when she doesn’t feel like cooking. As a vegetarian, she raved about the veggie burritos, “so flavorful and filling,” and her “favorite” green enchilada sauce. 

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The take out line at La Sirena is always hopping

But don’t get the idea that take out is the only way to enjoy La Sirena. Angela likes to go for a sit-down experience at one of the outdoor tables with her Husky, Kona.

“There’s such a friendly vibe,” agreed local Lisa Childers, manager of Laguna Beach Books, who is often accompanied by her Labradoodle, Bindi. She prizes the calamari tacos (not technically a menu item, just ask for them), and the Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup. When you’re under the weather, “that is the soup to get,” she said. 

I have to agree. It’s just the right amount of spicy, with a deep rich broth strewn with sweet peppers and juicy hunks of chicken. Sprinkle on the crispy tortilla strips and shredded jack cheese and you have a nice little bowl of comfort food nirvana.

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Take home some Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup when you need a little TLC

For me, the dog-friendly patio is heaven-sent on a hot day when I have my two dogs with me and can’t leave them in the car. At the same time, after a long day of packing boxes and moving furniture for a temporary move, my husband and I were so grateful to sink our tired selves onto a couple of stools at the bar inside. 

I felt the stress of the day fade away as we ordered some chips and that beautifully thick guac to start, followed by a couple of baja fish tacos (crispy fish, fresh cabbage, handmade corn tortillas and tangy sauce, need I say more?). The most difficult decision was choosing from the 20 craft beers on tap.

That’s right, count ‘em, 20 craft beers on rotating taps. When keg is drained a different beer takes its place, so there’s almost always something new to try, and something for every palate. Lager? Check. IPA? Check. Stout? Check. Not sure if that new sour beer is your thing? No problem, they’ll give you a taste before you order. Or if you really can’t decide, go for a flight of four-ounce pours. What? I know!

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Choose from 20 craft beers on tap…or specialty margaritas…or wine…

Of course, there are other decisions to make. I mean, maybe you’d like to start off with one of their signature margaritas, after you’ve figured out who’s driving. Spicy mango, perhaps? Wine is another option, and with Tablas Creek wine on tap, that is a very enticing option, indeed. Not in the mood for booze? Quench your thirst with an agua fresca, horchata (organic milk, of course), soda, lemonade or iced tea.

When it comes to the food, find your own bliss. My husband often goes for a burrito, with carne asada or carnitas, depending on his mood. Sometimes he’ll pick an item on the daily specials board, which offers up tasty treats pretty regularly, including a very respectable jalapeno burger. Some people swear by the taquitos, or the enchiladas with red sauce. Others can’t get enough of the tortas.

La Sirena is amenable to mash-ups – just ask

I admit that the killer lime-cilantro dressing on the salads is so good that I often order extra to take home and use during the week. The Blackened Wild Salmon Salad is definitely a favorite of many customers, myself included. It’s packed with fresh greens, crispy sliced veggies, avocado, and a papaya salsa that pairs wonderfully with the spicy fish. And yet…the crispy onions that top the Avocado Lime Salad often beckon. Fortunately, the folks at La Sirena are amenable to mash ups and will pair it with the salmon, upon request. When in doubt, or indecision, ask (remember those calamari tacos?).

From dyed-in-the-wool vegetarians to hard-core carnivores, and from gourmets to gourmands, La Sirena has something for everyone. I bring all of my out-of-town guests there, and they all crave it for different reasons. For my nephew, it’s that salad dressing. For my brother-in-law, it’s the blackened salmon burrito. Lisa Childers says that whenever her daughter-in-law visits from Israel, it’s her first food stop in Laguna.

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Dogs are regulars at La Sirena Grill in South Laguna

If you hit La Sirena on a Friday night, you may notice a lot of families at the outdoor tables, parents happily chilling as kids romp safely in the enclosed patio area. Did I mention that the menu includes some great kid options? If you go on a Monday night right about now, there will be football on the screen above the bar. Any day of the week, at any hour, those of us who are slaves to our four-legged family members love to hang on the patio with our furry companions.

Recently, just to change things up a bit, I diverged from my usual food preferences and ordered a Sirena Fajita Plate with carnitas – herb cheese stuffed pasilla chile, herb-marinated peppers and onions, and pico de gallo served with those handmade corn tortillas. What can I say? Now, when I get to the front of the line at the order window, my decision is that much harder…

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A Sirena Fajita Plate, with carnitas here, as is, or forked into some handmade corn tortillas, is one healthy and satisfying meal

La Sirena Grill South Laguna is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 30862 S. Coast Hwy in the Gelson’s shopping center across from the Montage. Yes, they are open for breakfast. Does it get any better?

La Sirena Grill also has locations at 347 Mermaid Street in downtown Laguna Beach (its original namesake location) and in Irvine. Visit www.lasirenagrill.com for details, menus and contact info.


Kitchen In The Canyon: inspired by passion

Story and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

It’s a hoppin’ busy afternoon at Kitchen in the Canyon when I joined a friend for lunch – and met the owner, Patrick DiGiacomo. While he finished up some business with the kitchen staff and construction workers out front (they’re tending to repairs and fix-its on the Canyon complex, now under new ownership – the place is already looking better for it), we perused the menu. And the chalkboard specials. And the cooking classes schedule. And the catering menu (PT Culinary). This is indeed a multi-faceted operation!

The first difficult decision was a drink selection. Daily, the Kitchen offers a variety of fresh fruit waters, and some of the best (Kean) coffee around. They also have a nice iced tea, my go-to selection when I’m out and about.

Ordering at the counter it’s easy to get a nice view into the incredible kitchen just beyond the glass. There, Patrick and his staff work their magic and often give classes for their home-chef teaching program.

“It’s a great way for corporate team building,” Patrick tells me. Some of his corporate clients include Pfizer, Ford, and Mazda. He’s also proud to be the “only place left” with five stars on Yelp.

The reason this place attracts so many people is not only because of the food, the convenient location, the event-friendly space, and the gleaming stainless steel, clean white kitchen. It’s Patrick who’s the heart and soul, putting it all into chefdom and into helping others.  

The back story

Once upon a time, Patrick DiGiacomo was a corporate guy himself. After 30 years as a successful financial planner, he decided to pursue another passion. He enrolled in the chef’s school at Laguna Culinary, which had been located in this exact same spot. After graduating in 2008, he took that passion for cooking and added his desire to serve with purpose. He went to Orange County Rescue Mission homeless shelter and, as a volunteer, became head chef, working 3-4 nights a week for four years.

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Chef Patrick DiGiacomo

“This afforded me a way to help,” Chef Patrick says. “Cooking gives you entrée into things. When you can provide food for people, you make them happy.”

In addition to his work at OC Recue Mission, he volunteered at St. James Episcopal Church, and managed to launch his own catering business and chef teaching program. When the space in the Canyon became available, the chef set his sights on the café concept, including job training and opportunities for some of the indigent and homeless population. 

He now calls Laguna Beach home, and he feels the love. “Laguna Beach has such a sense of community,” he gushes. Kitchen in the Canyon hosts many local events in their side room, such as the Laguna Beach Business Club and the Festival of Arts Christmas party, and a bi-weekly support group for moms of autistic children. The café offers discounts to artists, and LCAD staff and students. This all makes for a continually lively atmosphere.

And back to the food

Breakfast is highlighted by such favorites as Avocado Toast, the Breakfast Burrito, and Steel Cut Oats Brulee (which should always be accompanied by their perfectly crafted cappuccino). Me and my pal, Leslie, were hungry for lunch and we wanted to try something tried and true, and something new: the most-popular “The Canyon” salad, and the new addition to the menu, “The Clubhouse” sandwich.

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The Canyon salad, with grilled steak

The Canyon salad is made with arugula, pickled red onion, pear, orange segments, candied pecans, Gorgonzola cheese and sweet basil tarragon vinaigrette. It’s a simply tangy and divine salad taken over the top with the added grilled steak option. 

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The Clubhouse

The Clubhouse is made with roasted all natural turkey, avocado spread, green leaf lettuce, roasted tomatoes and chipotle mayo on a ciabatta roll. 

The two dishes were wonderful, and really big sized. We would have taken some home except that it was just too delicious.

Chef Patrick is effusive about the Kitchen burgers, too. “Best hamburger in Laguna Beach, in my opinion,” he says. “It’s the bun and what we put on top of it – everything is made from scratch. We use the best (and most expensive) bacon.”

The Kitchen in the Canyon is open just for breakfast and lunch, but chef has plans for doing “pop up” dinners soon – with guest chefs and wine pairings. He tells us that there will be one sitting for about 30-35 people. “That could be so fun!” he says, enthusiastically. 

Chef Patrick can probably be counted on to make his favorite dish. “My lasagna is so good!” he says with a smile. “New York style – with the best ricotta!”

Information, reservations, and cooking class info can be found on their website: www.kitcheninthecanyon.com.

845 Laguna Canyon Road   949-715-5388


Another Kind: it’s a family affair

Story and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

One of the delightful newer additions to Laguna’s dining scene is the Vietnamese café, Another Kind. Located in the canyon, between the Sawdust and LCAD’s south campus, the place attracts a clientele that is artsy, academic and, get this – vintage car enthusiasts.   

This self-described “Crossed-Culture Canteen” is a local’s shop, owned by Thinh and Vy Nguyen. Helping out is Vy’s sister, Vy Quan, and she described some of her favorite things that make Another Kind unique.

“All the recipes are my mom’s,” she said, with pride. “She taught us to make everything fresh from scratch, even our own Sriracha sauce.”

Vy Quan Nguyen

While she walked me through some of the amazing dishes, she also raved about driving. Yes, she’s the reason for the vintage car aspect. There is a gathering at Another Kind early every third Saturday of the month, of classic car fans. Vy Quan is not only passionate about the food prepared by her family, she’s also nuts for cars. She divides her time; waiting on tables one minute, and studying to be an auto mechanic the next. 

“I covet Steve McQueen’s Porsche!” she says with a big smile.

The classic car group comes in to enjoy the specialty coffees and chai, and perhaps a bowl of Pho (chicken or beef served with fresh basil, sprouts, chili, lime, and chili sauce).

About family – and food

I remember Vy Quan, as she was at LBHS in the same class as my son. She was in the dance program for many years. At Another Kind, her sister and brother-in-law oversee the business, and the family lends a hand. Her mom’s recipes rule the roost. The café opened in October of 2016, and is styled with funky, vintage school chairs, tables and decor.

It’s interesting to watch the food preparation at Another Kind because Vietnamese food is nothing if not labor intensive. There are a lot of ingredients, and lots of chopping involved. There’s always the scent of lemongrass in the air.

…And now, a few menu favorites to mention, beginning with their classic spring rolls. The Cha Gio is a fried spring roll prepared with shrimp, minced pork, carrot, shallot, jicama, and wood ear mushroom. It’s served with a lightly spicy sauce. This could surely be a meal in itself.

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Cha Gio Spring Roll

On the side I totally enjoyed the Sai Thanh Slaw, a tangy and citrusy-sweet salad of finely minced red and white cabbage, onion, peanuts, fried shallots and fresh mint.

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Sai Thanh Slaw

Special no. 3, the Bun Cha Ca, is one of their most popular dishes, and I’ve had it every time I go. It’s fantastic – but, of course, you must allow time for the preparation. It’s made with turmeric marinated white fish, pan seared, and served over rice noodles with sautéed scallion, baby dill, mint, red onion, mixed greens and peanuts.

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Special no. 3, turmeric spice marinated white fish

The newest menu item is now my newest favorite, Grilled Lemongrass Chicken. (All their poultry comes from Mary’s, organic and free-range.) The chicken is marinated with lemongrass, then grilled and served with jasmine rice, and Another Kind’s home made citrus garlic chili sauce on the side. 

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Grilled Lemongrass Chicken

For a sweet finish, there’s the Chilled Organic Coconut Pudding. I love how it’s served on a vintage metal tray, adding to its appeal. 

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Chilled Organic Coconut Pudding

This family-run and family friendly café is a treat, first time and every time. We’re really happy this complex of shops and restaurants is improving in many ways, under its new ownership. And we’re extra happy that this local-run café has brought the authentic flavors of Vietnam to Laguna.


Good things come in threes: A trio of Happy Hours has Laguna covered in more ways than one

By DIANNE RUSSELL

No matter where you live in Laguna, there is a Happy Hour within walking distance; North, The Village, and South, each with titillating libations and swoon-worthy fare. The Huffington Post says, “Happy Hour is a euphemism for that secret and festive hour.” I don’t know how secretive Happy Hours are (and we don’t want them to be), but the three we visited—Royal Hawaiian, Lumberyard, and Wine Gallery—were all festive, but distinct. Same town, different vibes.

Mellow out with a visit to the islands right here in Laguna

In North Laguna, Royal Hawaiian, which marked its 70th anniversary the end of last year, hails the return of the “Aloha hour.” And they make the most of it. One of the advantages of their Happy Hour is that it starts earlier than most, from 2:30-5:30 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday. An obvious invitation to make the most of the lazy afternoon hours.

General Manager Glenn Norton, commenting on the early start of their happy hour, says, “We have access when other don’t.” 

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Photo by Lynette Brasfield

Western Sour, refreshing with just the right amount of sweetness

The island décor transports one to the “Lei’d” back hours, soothing and mellow enough to relax tourists and locals alike. The afternoon Lynette and I visited, patrons trickled in, and slowly began to populate the seats. 

To begin, Lynette sampled the Western Sour (with the prerequisite umbrella, orchid and pineapple chunk), an almost-forgotten classic with bourbon, falernum, and lime juice. She said it was delicious and not too sweet. My sauvignon blanc was fruity and very cold, which always gets kudos from me. Drink prices during Happy Hour are $3 off tropical drinks and $2 off house wines, beer and well spirits.

Glenn served up a combination of four appetizers, a bargain at $28; Ahi Tuna Poke, Shrimp & Scallop Spring Rolls, Coconut Shrimp, and Smoked Salmon Flatbread. The Ahi Tuna Poke was some of the best I’ve had (Lynette concurred), the papaya added just the right amount of sweetness to the silky Ahi, clean and fresh, and the Ponzu sauce and won tons were a superb accompaniment. 

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Photo by Lynette Brasfield

4:28, Four appetizers for $28

A twist on traditional, the coconut shrimp wasn’t breaded, but coated with coconut, crispy but not overwhelming. The spring rolls, served with a lovely papaya rice vinegar sauce, were crunchy without being oily. And the smoky salmon was served on a thicker than usual herb-crusted flatbread, which was a great foundation for the cream cheese, capers, and chives. Creamy and salty, what goes together better?

As we feasted, Glenn filled us in on what’s happening at their Happy Hour. They’ve upped their mixology game with a bar consultant and incorporated a more Asian (Pacific Rim, Chinese and Japanese) inspired menu. The Hoisin ribs, with house BBQ sauce, are the most popular item on the Happy Hour menu. 

And they are soon to have a new draw for locals and visitors alike. A tiki torch-lit patio in front will be open for business, a great stopping place for locals taking an afternoon walk.

Lumberyard is right in the middle of the summer action

As the sea gull flies, The Lumberyard is only 0.6 miles from the Royal Hawaiian and right smack dab in the middle of the village and action, especially during the Art Festival. During the summer, if one is attending the FOA or the Pageant on a weekday, this is the ideal spot to fuel up at Happy Hour before heading over to the Festival grounds.

The Lumberyard’s bar (the Happy Hour menu is available only at the bar) is a cozy and comfortable atmosphere with San Francisco cocktail bar vibes (and flat screen televisions). Happy Hour is offered Monday through Friday from 3:30-5:30 p.m. with $6 well drinks, chardonnay, cabernet & champagne, $4-$10 appetizers, salads and small plates, $5 draft beers, and $8 specialty cocktails. 

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Photo by Lynette Brasfield

Lumberyard Planks and ceviche

The Lumberyard is housed in a charming historic building, and its fare is described as American dishes with a contemporary flair. And the Happy Hour plates reflect this mastery. I love zucchini, and The Lumberyard Planks presents it in the best possible way, panko crusted and without the grease and sometimes mushy texture of cooked zucchini. With a dip into the lemon aioli, every bite is perfect. We decided to stick with wine and ordered the house chardonnay, which was a nice choice for Happy Hour.

Lynette raved about the Lamb Meatballs, ample orbs mixed with rice, cumin and parsley, atop cauliflower puree. “These are fantastic,” she said, scooping up a little puree with each bite. 

Although based on Lynette’s compliments, I would have thought the meatballs were the most popular item, our waiter said that the most ordered dish during Happy Hour is the BBQ Pork Sliders. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

BBQ Pork Sliders, most popular item on Lumberyard’s Happy Hour menu

Wine Gallery, a Happy Hour with a unique and inviting vibe

Heading down south, the atmosphere at the Wine Gallery is cozy and inviting with a focus on satisfying wine aficionados as well as foodies. Not only does Wine Gallery succeed in pleasing the palates of their patrons, it also displays a selection of art pieces on its walls to please the eye. It’s not called Wine Gallery for nothing.

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Photo by Marrie Stone

Art and French Fries pleases palate and eyes

“We are excited to bring our depth of knowledge and passion for great wine and food to Laguna Beach. Our goal is to give locals and visitors alike a place to relax and enjoy the area’s one-of-a-kind charm in a warm and comfortable setting,” states Wine Gallery. And they achieved their vision. Seating areas (a long table on one side and secluded more private tables on the left) surround the bar, which anchors the inviting space. 

Chris Olsen, the co-founder/owner, is a warm and gracious host and makes sure he gets around to all the tables to see how everyone is doing. Casey, our server, was welcoming and attentive.

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Photo by Marrie Stone

Oven Roasted Meatballs

On this outing, Marrie Stone joined me. Although we’re close friends, in some areas of food we differ. I’m a vegetarian and she is a serious carnivore. She orders the meatballs and red wine, and I order the cheese pizza and white wine (but I did steal some of her French fries, not on the Happy Hour menu, and she wanted to steal the picture behind us on the wall). 

Winter Happy Hours are Monday-Saturday (an advantage since it goes through Sat) from 5-7 p.m. Chris explains that the hours are going to change and Happy Hour will soon run from 4:30-6 p.m. The menu includes: $2 off all wines by the glass, $8 keg wines red & white, $5 Pilsner on draft, $8 Margherita & Calabrese Pizzas, 1/2 off pizza of the Day, $5 Off Oven Roasted Meatballs and WG Burger.

Marrie and I were both happy with our wine selections. She commented on the Alamo Creek Happy Canyon, “It’s deep and complex with an easy finish.” 

I had the Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc, and it was crisp, fruity and wonderful!

The Oven Roasted Meatballs are wood-fired with a red wine tomato sauce and made with mozzarella, parmesan, and served with the house bread. Marrie described them as, “spicy and awesome,” with more than enough sauce for bread sopping. 

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Margherita (on left) and Calabrese, two Happy Hour pizzas

My Margherita pizza was heavenly, thin-crusted with house made mozzarella, organic tomato sauce, basil, tomato, olive oil, and The Wine Gallery offers full size pizzas for Happy Hour, enough for two (or one very hungry person).

This appears to be a place locals and visitors have taken to heart. Although Marrie and I arrived on a Wednesday just after 5 p.m., and were some of the first customers for Happy Hour, when we left, the restaurant was filled with a lively crowd, clearly enjoying all the Wine Gallery offers.

Happy Hours, something for everyone, and where to go

No matter what your mood, food hankerings or libation desires, this trio of Happy Hours has it all. It’s just a matter of which part of town strikes your fancy.

The Royal Hawaiian, 331 N Coast Hwy, www.royalhawaiianlb.com, 949-715-1470.

The Lumberyard, 384 Forest, www.LBLumberyard.com, 949-715-3900.

The Wine Gallery, 1833 S Coast Hwy, #110, www.winegallerylaguna.com, 949-715-8744.


Five Crowns is a royal treat, and not just for Brits

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

I remember vividly the first time I saw the Five Crowns, part of Lawry’s, an upscale gourmet restaurant chain, in Corona Del Mar. It was our first family vacation to California in 2012.  

As Brits, our eyes are always drawn to anything representing the UK and as we approached the mock Tudor building with the red telephone box outside, I remember thinking “oh, it’s the American take on a British pub,” and I kind of dismissed it.  

When we eventually moved to California two years later it was the last place I wanted to go, I wanted to eat Americana, Mexican and anything other than the type of food I had lived on my whole life, and honestly? I didn’t think anyone could ever cook British food as well as the Brits.  

After a year here, I began to crave the pub

About 12 months after we moved here, I was actually craving what we Brits call “The Pub” and my husband Jonathan (also British) suggested we visit the Five Crowns. Hesitant, I agreed, and from that first meal I became hooked.

When you walk into the Sidebar, which is a separate eating area, where more smaller plates and a bar menu is served (I will be reviewing this at a later date) you are automatically transferred to a very accurate representation of a good old-fashioned Pub.

The décor, the lighting, the atmosphere makes you feel you have just stepped inside from a blustery rainy walk in 30 degrees F to a warm cozy place complete with a fireplace to warm your Wellington boots, when in fact, you have just driven down PCH with your top down in 80 degrees listening to Tu Pac, but you get what I’m saying. It’s like going home for me and that is why I am such a fan, but that’s not the only reason.

Five Crowns was one of Stu’s favorite places to eat of Laguna

As many of you loyal readers know, I am limited with regard to food reports nowadays for health reasons, but when I met with Shaena and she suggested someone review Five Crowns, I immediately volunteered. We rarely review for Laguna Beach beyond Laguna Beach. However Five Crowns was our darling Stu’s favorite place to eat, he was the prime rib guy and I know he would have loved that we have featured it.

I took Jonathan with me for the purpose of this report (how could I not) and we arrived there on Tuesday February 13 the day before Valentine’s Day, but still tables were as full as if it were the night itself. 

The manager, the server and the chef were all great

Andrew Germann, the restaurant manager, greeted and seated us and explained that Valentine’s week is busy for them, not just the night itself, so I was very grateful we were able to dine that evening. Andrew has been at Five Crowns for 18 months now, moving here from Oahu where he was a manager in the restaurant industry.  

Our server was an amazing young lady called Linda, who literally knew everything about everything, she was funny, warm and attentive and I can honestly say in my years of food reporting, I’ve never had a server as knowledgeable about her food as she. It made the evening flow along so nicely and her recommendations were spot on. She was assisted by the lovely Juan who made sure our iced water kept coming.

Our Food Journey at Five Crowns

What I love about Five Crowns is that the menu is not “overwhelming” – as a reporter I honestly don’t enjoy seven-page menus. I’d rather have a one page full of outstanding dishes to choose from. 

The meal started with their selections of warm breads, which came with a side of traditional English butter, served with some rock salt. A perfect start, along with a cold glass of Kim Crawford Rose for me. 

We then ordered a salad to share from the Soups and Greens section of the menu. The salad we chose was the Pride Of The Crowns salad, butter lettuce, with bacon, toasted walnuts, shavings of gruyere cheese and herb de Provence dressing. This was simple and delicious. We enjoyed every bite. The butter lettuce smelled and tasted so fresh and the dressing was just right.

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The butter lettuce smelled and tasted so right

It was then onto then mains and to my surprise, I’m joking – it wasn’t a surprise at all - Jonathan went for the Crown Cut prime ribs – this dish originates from 1965 and it was the dish that launched Lawry’s fame.  

The prime rib is served with au jus, a Yorkshire pudding and creamed horseradish. You can choose two sides with this dish. Jonathan went for Lawry’s creamed spinach and the mashed potato.  

Jonathan hails from Lancashire, which is very close to Yorkshire. And one thing he is very picky about is Yorkshire Pudding. Chef Alejandra has them perfected, very authentic, very well done, light, fluffy and not greasy. This whole dish was fabulous.

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The prime rib that launched Lawry’s fame

I chose to go for the Mediterranean seabass, this was accompanied by white beans and prosciutto and served with a butternut squash puree. I couldn’t help myself, I also ordered truffle fries as a side to accompany it. It was an exquisite meal. Tasty but light on my tummy and I didn’t leave a bit.

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Seabass: It was an exquisite meal

Feeling very full, but knowing I had to try a dessert, I took the opportunity to rest and have a talk with the Chef Alejandra Padilla. Alejandra has been at the Five Crowns for just over three months and is loving it. She has been a chef for 15 years, previously with the Houston group. Her favorite dish on the menu right now is the Beet and Citrus Salad as it reflects the season beautifully. She and her purveyors select the best ingredients for the menu based on seasons. 

As always, I like to ask my chefs little bonus questions. I asked Alejandra if she was stuck on a desert island with the ability to fish, what would be the five ingredients she would take with her. Her answers were salt, lemon, chilli arbol, rice and squash. Squash features heavily in her menu right now, so I expected that one.

The chef was great, chatty interesting and we spent a long time talking about British pub favorites. Who knows? Maybe our ideas will feature on a menu in the future!

For dessert we allowed Linda to choose for us and we had a magnificent dark chocolate soufflé with cream and a side of vanilla ice cream. It was the best soufflé I’ve ever had in my life. Perfect in every way.

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The best soufflé I’ve ever had in my life

Just as the button was about to pop off my pants we were presented with another dessert, warm sticky toffee pudding with persimmons. This was spectacular, but I couldn’t eat it all. However the Bucklings took a piece to school the following day.

I absolutely adore the Five Crowns, they really do have everything right. The food, the building, the staff, it’s all fabulous. All they need is a big grey rain cloud over the entire building ten months of the year and they will be the most authentic British restaurant in the OC! 

Five Crowns is located at 3801 Pacific Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. Phone number: 949-760-0331. Menu: www.lawrysonline.com.


Maro Wood Grill entices guests with an intimate setting and smoke-kissed food – but don’t worry, the smoke won’t get in your eyes

Story and photos by JENNIFER ERICKSON

There is much to be said for ambience, for walking into a warm, softly lit space on a chilly evening and feeling the stresses of work and the world begin to melt away. This was my sensation upon entering the well-enclosed patio of Maro Wood Grill on a recent evening. 

Since most of Maro’s seating is on the terrace in front of the restaurant, my friend and I had brought layers, fearing a chill. We needn’t have worried. Thanks to efficient heat lamps and an absence of any drafts, a lovely warm glow enveloped us and the other diners. No one needed to shift seats because of an overbearing heat lamp or a cool air current. 

We might have opted to sit inside, perhaps at the small bar offering front row seats to the grill, with its glowing red embers of charcoal and mesquite, where most of the food is cooked. But we opted instead for the magical glow of the patio. Here the background music filled the gaps in our conversation without overwhelming it, and the intimacy of the space encouraged the exchange of a few casual observations with nearby diners, who seemed as delighted as we were to find this haven.

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Hard to believe this intimate setting is an outdoor terrace where diners will soon find a warm haven

If the atmosphere enticed us, the food kept us enthralled. What’s amazing is that even though most cooked menu items are grilled, and even though the grill is plain sight, the only place you encounter smoke is in the delicate flavor it imparts to the dishes. Rest assured, you will not leave Maro smelling as though you’ve been sitting around a campfire. However, from the first juicy bite of a sweet-smoky grilled green bean, you will know that the cook is, indeed, playing with fire. 

Yes, I used the adjective juicy to describe a green bean. Somehow the flames lick the beans enough to char them and seal in the moisture, rather than drying them out. The crunch came not from an overly crisped bean, but rather from a wonderfully fruity salt.

That would be Sonoma coarse sea salt, according to Alex (who preferred not to give his last name) who has owned Maro Wood Grill with his partner Chris since last May (the restaurant has been in operation for eight years). Alex informed us that their aim is to provide an organic, farm-to-table menu with grass-fed beef and other sustainable proteins and, as much as possible, locally sourced ingredients. Hence this ethereal Sonoma, California sea salt. 

That said, quality rules, which is why the organic wines on the menu are Italian. According to Alex, they tried to find organic wines from California and Argentina (since the menu is loosely based on Argentinian cooking principles), but ultimately the Italian organic wines most closely met the flavor profile they were seeking to match their menu.

Our meal started with a couple of the empanadas for which Maro is rightfully known. We tried the beef and the chicken, which both had moist and flavorful fillings with just enough crust to seal in their goodness and to eat them without making a mess when dunking them in an slightly tangy aioli dipping sauce. (Vegetarians will be happy to note that spinach- and mushroom-filled empanadas are also on the menu.)

A sampler plate of the grilled vegetables followed (usually they are separate menu items), and we made quick work of the (aforementioned) green beans, shishito peppers, mini bell peppers and okra, often forgetting to swipe them in tasty a trio of horseradish, sriracha and ginger aioli. Honestly, those mesquite-kissed vegetables were fruity, smoky, juicy and so full of their own natural flavors that the sauces were almost an extravagance.

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The grilled vegetables get a nice char but remain succulent

If you’re in the mood for leafier greens, Maro offers a number of substantial salads that could easily be shared as a side or serve as a first course or a light meal. The couple next to us, visiting from Sweden, said they’d had their fill of meat earlier in the day, so they started with an assortment of empanadas (I mean, if you haven’t tried them, it’s almost an imperative), and then finished with a duo of salads – one with burrata, tomatoes, beets, micro arugula and truffled balsamic vinaigrette, and another with kale, carrots, candied walnuts and house pomegranate dressing.

Beef, pork, lamb, seasonal fish and poultry are all accounted for in the proteins offered for entrees. For this meal my friend and I shared a seared ahi tuna and a grilled rib eye steak. You will find steak and tuna at myriad restaurants in Southern California, but will they be this fresh? Will they play with smoke and fire just enough to sear their outsides, leaving their insides rosy red? More important, will you be this glad that the other components of the dish complement, rather than mask the innate flavors of the beef and tuna? You owe it to yourself to find out. 

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Maro’s signature empanadas are crusty on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside - to dip or not, that is the question!

And what were those julienned vegetables with the tuna that looked a bit like peppers and onions, but were earthy as well as sweet and velvety rather than shiny and slick? That would be rutabagas, turnips and parsnips, said Alex, solving the mystery for us. “That’s how we turn ugly into beautiful,” he said, referring to the trio of root vegetables as they appear in their natural, rather hoary state.

A bright, housemade chimichurri provided an herbal and acidic counterpoint to the rich, but lean rib eye, and grilled mushrooms and asparagus complemented its grassy profile. At Maro, the meat provides its own decadence, no need for extravagant sauces. A lovely Argentinian Malbec, however, paired quite nicely with the beef.

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Don’t be fooled – the meringue underneath this charred surface is as light as air, floating above a delicate lemon curd and light crust

Admittedly, dessert was not really on our radar by this time, but when faced with a surprisingly light and decidedly not too sweet lemon meringue pie, we rallied. This is not your grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. No gummy, dense neon yellow layer of overly sweetened lemon, and no dense, almost springy meringue on top. Here was a delicate crust smeared with a layer of lemony custard and topped with pillows of barely set meringue. 

Oh, and did I mention that your well-behaved dogs can join you on the patio if they are joining your party for the evening?

Maro Wood Grill, located at 1915 S. Coast Hwy, is open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, and from noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It is closed Mondays. For more information, call 949-793-4044, or visit www.marowoodgrill.com.


Asada: A beachside vibe with tacos…and then some

Story and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

Asada “handmade tacos + beer” offers more than their handmade tortillas and craft brews. How about a sip of spicy sangria and a roasted veggie salad? Sounds like a nice afternoon!

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This Boat Canyon nook is like an open concept taco stand. They make 11 varieties of soft or signature crispy tacos, which are the classic surfside snack. I stopped by for lunch with a couple of friends who make this place a habit, regularly going for the crispy tacos and the huevos rancheros.

Photo by Chloe Cunningham

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All Day Breakfast – Huevos Rancheros

I went out on a limb toward alternative Mexican fare and enjoyed the Barbara’s Roasted Veggie Salad with added grilled chicken. It’s a romaine lettuce salad loaded with grilled zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and avocado, with crispy onions, cheddar and jack cheese on top. The warm veggies were nice and crunchy, but the chipotle ranch dressing was a bit heavy so next time I’d ask for that on the side.

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Barbara’s Roasted Veggie Salad

There are five “Asada Favorites” on the menu, and my two favorites in this category are the Short Rib Crepes, and the Carne Asada Plate (but I really like the Stuffed Chile Relleno too – it was a tough decision!). The Short Rib Crepes are just delicious with tender, demi-glace short ribs (prepared with Negra Modelo beer) served with a horseradish cream, roasted veggies and crispy onions. The Carne Asada Plate – great for sharing – is a nice, juicy steak marinated with citrus and plated with grilled onion, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, rice, beans, tortillas and Asada’s famous bacon wrapped jalapeño.

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Carne Asada Plate, great with the green citrus salsa

The menu has a little fun, too. Somebody named Raymond got over his hangover with a burrito stuffed with scrambled eggs, pico de gallo, poblano chiles, jack cheese, spicy potato tots, jalapeño smoked bacon and salsa Diablo. The eponymous Raymond’s Hangover Burrito sounds like a good solution to a pitcher of Asada’s house-made margaritas!

Asada’s newest incarnation is a lighter version of the former restaurant that was in downtown. There’s a casual vibe and options of take away – even six-packs of beer. I love the idea of party trays the next time I’m invited to a potluck (taquitos, mini burritos or tamales). Yes, bonus points to Asada for the plentiful parking in the Vons lot, and that you can order big platters to take to the beach or your home party.

610 N Coast Hwy   asadatacos.net


Five top chefs in Laguna Beach tapped for renowned OC Chef’s Table

By DIANE ARMITAGE

If you’re a foodie (like me), you probably dream that someday you’re going to have a great chef host a custom, never-seen-before and never-seen-again dinner for you and your closest friends.

With the Illumination Foundation’s return of its phenomenal OC Chef’s Table event on Sunday, March 18, your dream just came true. And, here’s the topper to the best dream ever – aside from rubbing shoulders all evening with your own table’s Chef and 32 of Orange County’s most acclaimed culinary wunderkinds, the proceeds raised go to Illumination Foundation’s mission to end homelessness in Orange County. 

Presented by Disneyland and brought to you by KPMG, Orange County’s most prestigious culinary fundraiser takes place again at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. A few tables and individual tickets for OC Chef’s Table are still available at: ifhomeless.org/occt2018.

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OC’s Top Chefs Join Mickey Mouse

Presented by Disneyland Resort on Sunday, March 18, the prestigious OC Chef’s Table culinary event features 32 of the county’s top chefs raising funds for Illumination Foundation’s mission to end homelessness in OC

The event includes a cocktail reception, live entertainment, a silent auction and even table décor that jostles for first-place pageantry. Joined by L.A.’s Celebrity Chef Jet Tila, each chef is responsible for his or her own 10-top table of patrons, creating an encapsulated “atmosphere,” from table décor to lavish courses and cocktails prepared tableside.

Event features 32 of Orange County’s acclaimed chefs

OC Chef’s Table has tapped top talent from 18 cities, representing every section of “the orange,” from Brea to San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

This year, Laguna Beach had a record five invitations to the event, with returning chefs Ron Fougeray (Splashes) and Andrew Gruel (who established Slapfish’s second restaurant in Laguna Beach after his founding restaurant in Huntington Beach). 

Chefs Rainer Schwarz (Driftwood Kitchen/The Deck/Hendrix), Azmin Ghahreman (Sapphire) and Arthur Ortiz (Skyloft) are newcomers to the event.

The OC Chef’s Table Hosting Chef is, again, Disneyland Resort’s Culinary Director of Signature Restaurants, Andrew Sutton. A longtime friend of Chef Schwarz, Sutton personally reached out to ask that Schwarz get involved in the event. 

“It’s always great camaraderie when chefs are able to get together,” said Schwarz. “But when Andrew explained the cause and introduced me to what Illumination Foundation was doing, we were absolutely in.

“I like knowing that we’re all doing something together here that causes such significant change,” he explained.  

“It’s just such an honor to be a part of this circle of chefs,” said Skyloft’s Chef Arthur. “And, there’s really no better reason for us to all join together. Homelessness is all around us, in every city of Orange County. We can look to government or agencies and expect them to help these people or take care of the issue, but nothing’s really going to change until we all take on this responsibility with an understanding that these people are our people.”

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Chefs prepare and cook all food tableside at OC Chef’s Table

Another first-time entry, our new neighboring success story, Trevor’s at the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano, echoes similar sentiment. “We’re definitely seeing more homeless people here in San Juan,” says owner Trevor Baird. “It’s heartbreaking and it can seem overwhelming, but here’s our chance to act locally, from a grass roots level, and change this - permanently. That’s what our restaurant’s mission is all about. Illumination Foundation’s invitation is perfect timing and a perfect combination for what we’re committed to doing here in our own town.”  

Alarming statistics on homeless children

Illumination Foundation primarily focuses on helping homeless families. Today, there are more than 32,000 Orange County children living in “tenuous” housing (i.e. cars) or homeless shelters. 

“The most vulnerable homeless population is that of families,” says Illumination Foundation CEO & President Paul Leon. “We receive about 55 to 60 calls per week from families asking us for help. This week, we were able to take in 10 babies with their parents, but we had to say ‘no’ to 15 others who asked.” 

The County’s first emergency housing for struggling families

Last year, the Chef’s Table event raised more than $650,000, which allowed for the completion of the Illumination Foundation’s first Theriault Emergency House, a beautiful Stanton-based home that takes in homeless families with at least one child or pregnant woman. 

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The Theriault Emergency House for homeless families with children

Built from the ground up in just seven months, it houses up to nine families at a time with large private bedrooms and baths for each family, new laundry facilities on both floors, a rambling community kitchen and living room, and a fenced, grassy yard for children to play in. 

Most families stay for about a month, working daily with case workers, doctors and local hospitals to get their lives – and health – back on track. At month’s end, families are helped into permanent housing solutions or bridge housing while they seek out permanent residence.  

Proceeds from this year’s OC Chef’s Table 2018 will go to the construction of the country’s first Recuperative Care Housing Site for children. Working hand-in-hand with CHOC Children’s Hospital, Illumination Foundation’s recuperative care program will be a safety net for unstably housed children who are recovering from an illness or medical procedure.

“Our goal is to build at least five emergency houses in Orange County, each with our foundational pillars of service and resource attached,” says Leon. “At that point, we will be helping more than 1,200 families each year get the footing they need to stabilize their lives.”

The one visit that resulted in creating Illumination Foundation

Celebrating its tenth year, “accidentally” came into being when Paul Leon crossed the bridge from “those people” to “our people” thinking.

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Illumination Foundation CEO & President Paul Leon

While completing his MBA at UCI, he began working in the hospital as a qualified nurse to determine mother/baby risk for at-risk mothers. In the process, he made a visit to the OC Armory Emergency Shelter, which provides hot meals and sleeping quarters to at least 200 people nightly during cold weather months. He was astounded and appalled to see so many children in the facility, and took it upon himself to immediately find housing for a couple families whose children were extremely sick.

“In the weeks that ensued, I was consumed with trying to find housing for homeless families and realized it was tougher than I thought it was going to be – there simply was no housing,” says Leon.

“I took this issue back to my classroom and we began working on it as a class project. In short order, we had organized a medical team that began making ‘house calls’ to the homeless,” explains Leon.

From a classroom project idea, the Illumination Foundation has quickly grown to become a national example and leading advocate for breaking the cycle of homelessness. It addresses the issue in multi-pronged fashion, from establishing resource centers and children’s “after school” tutoring centers, to providing emergency and recuperative care housing, all while directly addressing vastly improved healthcare that includes substance abuse and mental health issues.

Perhaps the most telling statement of Illumination Foundation’s success: 30 percent of the Foundation’s staff is made up of people who were once homeless and helped by the organization. 

“Our only mission is to protect these people and treat them with the compassion, dignity and respect they deserve,” said Leon. “We have no other agenda.”


Award-winning Gourmet Chef teaches tricks of the trade at Spring Cooking Class Series at Montage LB 

This spring at Montage Laguna Beach, attendees of special cooking classes will learn tricks of the trade, start mastering go-to recipes and have fun with acclaimed Chef Craig Strong, who has earned the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Rating for Studio for the last nine years. 

While overlooking the Pacific Ocean at this iconic luxury resort, cooking class students will participate in “Loving French Classics” in April, “Saucing It Up” in May and “Spices of Life” in June. To complete the experience, at the end of each cooking class, guests will enjoy a wine-paired lunch.

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Chef Craig Strong teaches Spring Cooking Classes 

Since 2009, Strong has helmed the kitchen at Studio with its highly acclaimed modern, French cuisine with California influences. Under his leadership, Studio has achieved a Forbes Five-Star Rating for the last nine years and has earned Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Strong is the force behind the ever-changing à la carte menus, multi-course chef’s tasting menus and private dinners at the elegant Chef’s Table. He is also responsible for Studio’s 1,000-square-foot raised bed garden and uses its bounty in his every day cooking, especially in his innovative gourmet vegetarian tasting menu.

Details follow for current classes:

 Loving French Classics: Sat, April 21, 11 a.m.

For those not traveling to Paris this April, they can instead attend Loving French Classics to experience French favorites at home. Participants will start with composing French onion soup, followed by coq au vin and ending with impressive éclairs.

 Saucing It Up: Sat, May 19, 11 a.m.

This class will reveal the prized secrets of sauce making, so students will have go-to sauces in their repertoire to deliciously top meat, seafood and vegetables. Participants will focus on basic meat sauces such as béarnaise and bordelaise, learn how to make beurre blanc for seafood and prepare the ever-popular hollandaise for vegetables and egg dishes.

 Spices of Life: Sat, June 9, 11 a.m.

Learning how to choose and use spices in cooking favorite dishes is what Chef Craig Strong will be sharing at the Spices of Life cooking class. Participants will create their own version of a spice blend for shrimp, make a Thai green curry fish soup and prepare spicy chipotle chicken.

The cost for each class including a wine-paired lunch is $150, plus tax and gratuity. Class size is limited. Reservations are available by calling (949) 715-6520.

Studio is located at 30801 Coast Hwy.

For more information, go to www.montagehotels.com/lagunabeach.


Who were the penguins dining at Penguin Café? If you know their identities, email us…

Something fishy was going on at the Penguin Café the other day. Two penguins, identities unknown (mystery shoppers?) sat themselves down at a table and ordered their meals.

We’re sure they must have been satisfied, otherwise there would probably have been a flap.

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Photo by Barbara Corman

Two penguins check out the menus at Penguin Café

Did climate change drive them here, or just the chance of a great breakfast?

We may never know.


Roux redux – the return

Story and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

Not rising from the ashes, but more like emerging transformed from its cocoon, Roux is beaming in its new incarnation.

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Roux owners, Cindy and Michael Byrne

Yes, it was closed for a time after the well-publicized split with the former chef. Now, we’re not looking back, we’re looking forward. I know I was looking forward to the new chef’s approach to the Roux theme – classic, yet understated New Orleans style.

I’m happy to report that Chef Robert Villanueva has brought his own spin on the essentials at Roux, and has also leaned a little more toward seafood. The classics including shrimp, and catfish Orleans remain in Creole style, but seasonal fish, and killer Red King Crab Legs have moved in too.

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Chef Robert Villanueva

Chef Robert says he puts his Asian spin on the French here, and I think it’s a global win. “Spicy Garlic Shrimp is really Thai Green Curry,” he says with a smile. “It’s all about fresh ingredients, and treating every ingredient properly.”

Owners Michael and Cindy Byrne have re-opened the restaurant just three weeks now, and they wanted to make sure to get everything right. “We’re only going to have so many things on the menu, so it has to be good,” said Michael. Being careful to get the menu right, and honoring the space properly is important. “It took 14 months to get a 39 seat restaurant opened, I’m not going to let it fail,” he said. “I have to do the right thing here.”

For now, the restaurant is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, with Saturday and Sunday following shortly.

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Red King Crab with clarified butter & lemons

Tweaking the menu items, Michael asked the chef to give the oysters “more zip” – and he did it the very next day. “We made sure people left saying, ‘That’s good… Wow!’”

The oysters are amazing. 

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Fried Cornmeal Oysters with Lemon & Cornichons

Chef will also listen to customer’s requests. While I was there, he made a gorgeous catfish dish for a customer who didn’t want the creamy sauce – chef made it with his version of a marinara.

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Catfish Orleans, dusted with flour, sautéed in olive oil with lump crab and chef’s custom-ordered marinara, served over herbed rice

The atmosphere is still warm and romantic, and I would call the menu sexy, even. Nothing like a nice glass of red wine, some juicy oysters, and…what? I opted for the New York Steak, grilled to perfection and glazed with a red wine peppercorn demi glace. It was absolutely tender and flavorful, and left me wanting more even though I couldn’t finish it, the 12 ounces being enormous.

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New York Steak 12oz with red wine peppercorn demi glace

The other half of this romantic dinner was my husband, Richard. He chose the Atlantic Salmon. It was nice and moist with a crispy seared top, and served with spring green vegetables.

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Atlantic Salmon 8oz with cilantro & lime crème fraiche and radish

Chef Robert is making these dishes three nights, and Michael anticipates adding to the chef repertoire with other fine chefs making weekly appearances. He’s also talking about doing pop-up dinners with guest chefs once or twice a month.

“We’re trying the idea of a “house band” of chefs who can pick it up right away, like a music house band.” 

Sounds fun. We’ll stay tuned for all that’s deliciously shaking up at Roux.

860 Glenneyre St | 949-715-3707


Construction on Red Dragon Restaurant ramps up, the Chinese government reportedly owns Montage Laguna Beach, Gail Duncan sells The Art Hotel

By SUZIE HARRISON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For four years, the owner of the property at 680 S. Coast Highway, a location that once housed the popular Mosun Sushi & Sake and Club M, has kept the place dormant.

Luckily for Laguna Beach, the new property owner, Enshan Zhao, has plans to open an upscale authentic Chinese restaurant called Red Dragon Restaurant in the once hopping place. 

While the site has been mainly vacant for seven years, Zhao started construction in January, according to local architect Jim Conrad.

Red Dragon Restaurant

“It’s under construction finally. It started about 60 days ago. We’re primarily just working on the demolition right now,” Conrad said. “We hope to open spring or summer of 2019.”

The cost of the property was more than $3 million. Plans are to include a two-story, 213 seat restaurant with approximately 8,000 square feet of restaurant space and 2,000 square feet of outdoor terrace space, according to the restaurant’s website.

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Red Dragon Restaurant will replace Mosun and Club M with a five-star authentic Chinese dining experience, specializing in Cantonese and dim sum

“It would have been easier to just to build a whole new building but we have to work with the existing building due to city regulations. We have some grandfathered parking that we’re hanging on to,” Conrad said. “The hardest part is really working around the old building.”

The project will feature a fine-dining restaurant with private rooms, a terrace, an indoor bar and lounge, a rooftop bar and lounge, exterior patio dining area, and a parking lot with160 surface spots, per their website.

“It’s not going to be like what was there at all. It’s really going to be a five-star restaurant, where chefs are coming in from Hong Kong. It will be a fine-dining Chinese restaurant,” Conrad said. “That level of finish for the restaurant takes time.”

He said once the building is pretty much completed, “It will need four months of finish to get it to that level that we’re shooting for.”

The new upscale Chinese restaurant will serve authentic Cantonese cuisine, a passion of the entrepreneurial owner, who is a self-described hardcore food enthusiast.

“I have a lot of Chinese clients and they all tell me there is no real Chinese food in Orange County. The sort of Chinese American food that the restaurants serve is very different than the authentic cuisine,” Conrad said.

Zhao, a Laguna Beach resident, is in the process of building a second home here.

Montage Laguna Beach

It was recently reported that the Chinese government now owns Montage Laguna Beach, among other real estate assets, after it seized control of Anbang Insurance Group. 

According to a statement by China’s Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), Chinese officials arrested Anbang’s former chairman and general manager, Wu Xiaohui, on suspicion of economic crimes in June of last year. The commission has found that Xiaohui’s actions threatened the insurance giant’s solvency. He is expected to be prosecuted for financial crimes.

Besides the purchase of Montage Laguna Beach in 2016, Anbang also purchased Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point and Loews, Santa Monica, as well as 15 of 16 hotels owned by Strategic Hotels & Resorts. 

It has been reported that CIRC plans to run Anbang under the supervision of the regulatory authorities and its $315 billion in assets for at least one year to help stabilize the company and improve operation and management. 

Ownership of Montage Laguna Beach has changed three times in just two years, which is reportedly not uncommon for luxury resorts. 

Kacey Bruno, Vice President, Communications, Montage International said, “We have no comment.”

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The Chinese government has reportedly taken ownership of Montage Hotel & Spa, Laguna Beach among other luxury resorts and including over a dozen hotels

Opening in 2003, the 250-room Montage Laguna Beach was sold to Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc. for $360 million, equating to $1.4 million per room. Situated on a 50-foot seaside bluff, the 30-acre property includes 60 suites in addition to the ocean-facing rooms. 

In addition to Montage Laguna Beach, Montage Hotels & Resorts includes a collection of ultra-luxury hotels, resorts including Montage Beverly Hills, Montage Deer Valley, Montage Kapalua Bay, Montage Palmetto Bluff. 

Each resort’s architecture and decor is unique to its surroundings, as exemplified in the Montage Laguna Beach’s Craftsman-style design, reflective of the Laguna’s artistic heritage. This year the company plans to open its first international destination, Montage Los Cabos.

The Art Hotel

It has been a sweet 16 years for owner of The Art Hotel, Gail Duncan. The collection of memories and the relationships she’s built over that span have become as precious to her as the art by local artists that adorn all the rooms.

Now that the hotel has been sold, as of Tuesday, March 6, these invaluable experiences are even more valuable to her, as she also had to leave the place she’s called home for all these years.

“I just left the apartment on Monday (March 19),” Duncan said. “The beauty of it is everyone knows it was my baby. I just fell in love with it and with being of service to people.”

Only a couple of weeks ago, Duncan had to give a presentation to the City Council on the Housing and Human Services Committee that she chairs. 

“From the bottom of my heart that night, it was about at the end letting them know how much they meant to me,” Duncan said. “At the tail end, I really wrangled saying something personal in front of the Council, but I said to them The Art Hotel was sold today.”

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Gail Duncan owned The Art Hotel for 16 years

Most important to Duncan was to express her sincere gratitude for three particular City employees that changed her life.

“If it wasn’t for Gavin Curran, Maggie Lotolc, and Laura Parisi assisting me in the beginning and holding me up at certain points, I wouldn’t be standing here today, just being so thankful,” Duncan said. “I wanted those City employees to be called out. If I didn’t have those City employees shaping me from my foundation, helping me businesswise, I couldn’t have been as successful without their wisdom.” 

It was hard for Duncan to encapsulate and share just a few of the many wonderful experiences.

One of her greatest memories was during the height of the festival season in the summer of 2012. The water heater broke down in her sold-out hotel. She said it was such an amazing example of humanity and kindness. Instead of people getting upset it brought them closer together, and rather than complaints, she received hugs and flowers.

 “It was just an incredible example of human nature at its finest holding each other up. It was one of the most special situations that I had been through,” Duncan said. “I couldn’t believe how it was the reverse, with people caring so much, helping me get through it.”

The art community and local artists were central to Duncan – after all, she named the hotel, The Art Hotel.

“Twenty-eight rooms each with a different artist. They were kind enough to lend me five or six pieces. There is a little story about them at each of the desks in the room. It was about exposure of the artists. If someone was interested, I would be the bridge to the artist,” Duncan said. “They all trusted me with their pieces. I just had in my heart I am The Art Hotel, I’m going to honor them and give them 100 percent of the sale.”

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The Art Hotel lived up to its name

The hotel had two unveilings in 2016 by the muralist Randy Morgan, who recreated the pool area. Not only was the mayor there but to Gail’s sheer surprise someone from another hotel was there to support her too.

“The murals weren’t about downtown or what’s across the street. They told a story. We ended up having four Art Walks that year and brought the community to the hotel for the first time,” Duncan said. “Randy is the one that mentored different artists, brought them in and exposed them. It just really took The Art Hotel to the best level before I sold.”

Those examples capture the essence of great memories and the many people she grateful for.

Anyway, it was a great ride. I learned a lot. I feel very connected to Laguna Beach. We all end up being family in town in some way or another,” Duncan said. “I will end up going into community service and will work even harder on Housing and Human Services.”

New Ownership of The Art Hotel…the next chapter

The new owners of The Art Hotel Rick Mangu and his wife Vicki are no strangers to Laguna Beach. They’ve lived in various parts of Orange County most of their lives. Nor are they new to hotel ownership. But they are very excited about this particular venture.

In an interview last week Mangu explained that they’ve only owned the hotel for a week. “We took it over last Tuesday, March 6.We used to live in Southern California before, so we know the area well. My daughter was one of the first graduates of Sage Hill High School on Newport Coast. We have family that lives in Crystal Cove and friends here,” Mangu said, explaining that they had to leave the area to take care of his elderly parents. Family is extremely important to Mangu.

“I am very happy that we are back in Orange County, and I am very honored actually to be in Laguna Beach,” Mangu said. “It’s amazing, you know, you go all over the world and to end up back in Laguna Beach, I dream of those things.”

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The Art Hotel is in good hands

As for owning other hotels, Mangu said, “It’s a friends and family type of deal. We try to do it as a small group of family and friends invested. That way I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I have been there and done that and now I am back again.”

The new owners are working with a design firm to make improvements to the exterior and update it to 2018, Mangu explained.

“We’re thankful to Gail. She is a great lady. I am very happy with her; she has helped us out quite a bit,” Mangu said.

Duncan stayed on the property to help the new owners transition and will continue through the summer. She feels the same and appreciates kindness of the new owners. 

“I get to still be there through the transition period. I get to experience enjoying the guests for at least a day or two through the summer, through the transition, and then let them have their dreams,” Duncan said.

The community is so vibrant and healthy there’s a lot of different activities. I think Laguna, I just find it kind of peaceful,” Mangu said. “I am very happy to be here. You don’t get a second chance all the time.”


Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine director, Vito Pasquale, earns advanced sommelier designation 

Selanne Steak Tavern, the upscale steakhouse and tavern housed in a chicly transformed historic 1934 home on Pacific Coast Highway, is proud to announce that Wine Director Vito Pasquale has earned the coveted advanced sommelier certification from the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, the premier international examining body for the wine industry.

To attain advanced sommelier status, Pasquale had to pass the accrediting body’s five-day extensive wine service program, which includes lectures and interviews and two and a half days of blind tastings, a service test and writing a theory paper.

“We are extremely proud of Vito’s recent accomplishment,” said Kevin Pratt, co-partner of the restaurant with Teemu Selanne. “He has been an integral force in helping us gain recognition for our carefully selected and cared for wine collection. And, under his direction, Selanne Steak Tavern has earned Wine Spectator magazine’s “The Best of Award of Excellence.”

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Vito Pasquale earns advanced sommelier certification from the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers 

Pasquale has worked at Selanne Steak Tavern since it opened in 2013. His responsibilities are to curate, manage and maintain the restaurant’s wine inventory of over 2,750 bottles of global selections. In addition he directs the restaurant’s ongoing sommelier education and training program, working in tandem with Executive Chef Joshua Severson for the wine list to complement the chef’s contemporary steakhouse menu.

Prior to joining the Selanne team, Pasquale held positions at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, AnQi Crustacean at South Coast Plaza and at the former Two 40 South Restaurant & Bar in Brea.

Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner only, nightly starting at 5 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation call (949) 715-9881 or visit www.selannesteaktavern.com.


Selanne Steak Tavern kicks off spring and brunch season with Sunday Brunch on Sunday, April 8

Spring kicks off “brunch season” in Southern California, and beginning Sunday, April 8, Selanne Steak Tavern brings Chef Joshua Severson’s crave-worthy gourmet fare to be shared with friends and family for the first time to this award-winning Laguna Beach restaurant. Severson’s newly created brunch menu is inspired by classic brunch favorites infused with his own creative twists using seasonal, local and regional ingredients. 

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Avocado Toast

 Brunch fans can enjoy such sweet and savory dishes as Pancake Soufflé with Vermont maple syrup, California berries, sweet vanilla bean cream cheese; Selanne’s Benedict with Nueske’s ham, poached egg, avocado, tomato marmalade, house hollandaise and croissant; andTeemu’s Brunch Burger made with Kobe beef, kurobuta pork belly, fried egg and tomato jam.

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Bananas Foster

Other soon-to-be favorites include: Bourbon Caramel Pecan Sticky Bun; Chicken and Waffles; Steak Bacon and Eggs; and Cured Salmon Scramble. Lighter selections feature Strawberry Salad, Shrimp & King Crab Cocktail and Avocado Toast. Hearty sides like Hash Browns Au Gratin, White Grits and other choices are also on the menu. A kids menu will also be offered.

 Guests can dine alfresco on the veranda or the upstairs patio with indoor seating available in the cozy tavern and wine bar. 

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays beginning April 8.

Selanne Steak Tavern is located at 1464 South Coast Hwy.

For more information, go to selannesteaktavern.com or call (949) 715-9881.


Laguna Beach Beer Company is opening in the Canyon soon, crafted by two lifetime locals

By SUZIE HARRISON

Perhaps, it’s an only in Laguna Beach kind of phenomenon, but the forecast looks good regarding the question, “If April showers bring May flowers what do May flowers bring?”

Beer, and lots of it, in the form of tasty microbrews via a 24-tap draft system. Yes, beer fans will be able to say cheers at the opening of Laguna Beach Beer Company sometime in May, if all goes according to plans. 

With a passion for craft beer, Laguna Beach Beer Company was co-founded in 2014 by lifelong Laguna Beach residents Brent Reynard and Mike Lombardo. Now it’s time to bring it home.

“The original vision was to open a small brewpub in Laguna first, build up the brand, then open a larger production brewery somewhere outside of town,” Reynard said. “However, before we could solidify a location in Laguna, an opportunity to purchase a production facility in Rancho Santa Margarita popped up. So as they say, we put the cart before the horse, but it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

Laguna Beach Beer Company found its local home in the canyon’s Civic Art District. Located at 859 Laguna Canyon Road, formerly Serra’s Bar & Grill, the restaurant and brewery will not only fill a void in that space has been vacant for a decade, it also provides Laguna with a much-needed local microbrewery, made by locals, for locals, and well, tourists obviously too.

“When we started looking a few years ago, it [the canyon] was one of the only places with the square footage we needed that was available,” Reynard said. “We really liked the proximity to the festivals, the visibility from the canyon, the parking, and having a trolley stop right in front isn’t bad either.” 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach Beer Company will serve cold, delicious craft brews from 24 taps 

The total space is 2600 sq. feet with seating for 80 and about 350 sq. feet of patio space with polished concrete floors and open ceiling with wood paneling for a beachy feel. 

 “The corner location also gives us the ability to create the open-air feeling we wanted with roll up doors on two sides giving it a breezy, light and airy feel,” Reynard said. “The lease gives us control of the space for 12 years.” 

Wendy Jung, City of Laguna Beach, Senior Planner, said, “The CUP was approved by the Planning Commission on Feb. 15, 2017 for microbrewery and restaurant use with outdoor dining areas.” 

“We have been working on this space for about two years. We had to get the normal permits including city, state and federal. We hit hurdles around every corner,” Reynard said. “I don’t recall a time when there wasn’t a seemingly insurmountable issue in our way. I attribute our success to perseverance and the lack of a ‘Plan B.’ This was it, I had no back up plan, so we had to make it work.”

“Conditions of approval were included in the CUP Resolution,” Jung said.

The layout will include a section with about ten 55-gallon oak wine and whiskey barrels, where they age some of their beer, along with high top and low top tables with a few large wood tables for groups. And for sports fans, they will have six 65” TVs to show sports.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Construction is ramping up at the new Laguna Beach Beer Company brewery and restaurant site, with an anticipated May opening date

“We will have a menu of flatbreads and sandwiches and a 24 tap draft system. The beer list and menu items will be similar to the RSM location with a few additions unique to Laguna,” Reynard said.

Currently, the Hazy IPAs are the rage and top of the Beer Company’s best-seller list. 

“I love the Hazy IPAs and our Thousand Steps IPA. For me, its hard to go wrong with a hoppy IPA. However, I love our darker beers such as the one we call ‘Scotchman’s,’ which is a Scotch Ale,” Reynard said. “It’s a style that you don’t see every day, strong dark and delicious.”

The idea for Laguna Beach Beer Company started brewing for Reynard while he was in college.

“After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2000, it was 2008 during business school while earning my MBA that I began homebrewing,” Reynard said. “I developed a passion for brewing and by the time I graduated from UCI in 2010, I knew beer was going to be in my future. I have always pursued entrepreneurial ventures.”

He wrote a business plan in 2013 and when his partner jumped on board in January 2014, the dream began to take shape.  

“We started by brewing The Greeters Ale at a friend’s brewery, a recipe we developed while homebrewing, and selling kegs of it to bars and restaurants. We sold our first pint at Hennessey’s in Laguna Beach in October 2014,” Reynard said. “By the end of 2016, three beers, The Greeters Ale, Second Reef Blonde Ale, and Canyon Road Red Ale were being poured at around 100 locations in Orange County.” 

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Courtesy Laguna Beach Beer

Company Facebook

What I love the most is watching families having fun together and groups of friends sharing an experience over a pint,” said cofounder Reynard

Laguna Beach Beer Company will have happy hours, specials, and events that will be posted on their website, https://lagunabeer.com. The hours will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. As for parking, there are 75 parking spots in the parking lot shared by the tenants, plus metered and street parking right out front.  

“Five years after starting the company, finally opening the Laguna Beach location, the goal that has been on our minds since day one,” Reynard said. “It’s incredible to say the least. It has always been a dream. What could be better than living and working in Laguna Beach?”


Harvest: It’s The Ranch’s fine dining side

Review and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

The Harvest vibe is one part earthy and downhome, and one part refinement and elegance. It’s a nice mix as you sit in the big lodge space and look out at all the green surrounding this pristine canyon location. The chef’s creations reflect that mix too, as locally sourced ingredients blend with Asian, European, and Americana influences.

I love visiting The Ranch at Laguna Beach and feeling like I’m on vacation, even if it’s just for lunch. And, of course, lunch at their Harvest restaurant is a perfect topper to a round of golf. Last weekend, I enjoyed a full two days (and nights) there and was delighted to partake of several meals worth noting.

My second favorite fish in the whole world is branzino, which is a European sea bass. (My first favorite is fresh-caught Atlantic striped bass, but that’s for home cooking, and a whole other story). I’ve seen branzino as a special at only a few restaurants, so I was very happy to find it right there on the menu at Harvest.

The thing about branzino is that the whole fish is mild and sweet, right down to the skin. It’s roasted or grilled and served whole, with head and tail, as is more customary in Europe than in California. Chef Kyle St. John has interpreted the Whole Branzino dish at Harvest served with spiced lentils, chorizo, blistered tomatoes, and salsa verde. So good, I had it two nights in a row!

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Whole Cyprus Branzino

Accompanying the branzino, we ordered another amazing seafood special – Hamachi. It was light and citrusy, and just melted on the tongue.

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Hamachi Special

The menu changes seasonally at Harvest, and right now I’d beat the doors down to have the Wild Mushroom Pappardelle while it’s featured. They make the pappardelle pasta in-house and gently toss it with white wine, garlic, truffle tremor cheese, and the most delicate and fresh assortment of wild mushrooms. You just have to say “Aww!” when you see the teeny littlest ones, and OMG when you take a taste of that wild, earthy and sinfully rich flavor.

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Wild Mushroom Pappardelle

On the lunch menu, my skinny selection – due to low carb count – goes to Harvest’s fabulous Grilled Salmon Salad. The perfectly medium-rare chargrilled salmon is served with mixed baby greens, artichokes, Greek olives, pickled onions, and feta cheese drizzled with red wine vinaigrette.

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Grilled Salmon Salad

Go ahead and work up an appetite on the lovely Ranch golf course, then feast on fine dining with a view at Harvest. You will be happily satisfied with a day well spent.


Brunch made better: Sunday mornings may become Selanne’s favorite time of week – or at least mine

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photography by Jeffrey Rovner

Selanne Steak Tavern has long been on my short list of special occasion spots in town. Since its opening five years ago, it’s the place where I’ve celebrated birthdays, Father’s Days, anniversaries and “just because” evenings out. Life’s too short and uncertain, I’ve decided, to delay gratification. And Selanne is one of those places that make indulgence worth every bite.

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Brunch is served with style at Selanne

So imagine my delight when I heard they’d begun offering my favorite meal: Sunday brunch. It’s the one meal that dares you not to spoil yourself. Sensible salads are for weekdays. Brunch is for elaborate benedicts and sticky desserts masquerading as breakfast. And, if you’re not holding a cocktail before noon, there’s a feeling you’re missing out on something. 

Consistent with our calorie conscious town, however, there are plenty of light and healthy options on Selanne’s menu. And enough mocktails, French pressed coffee, and assorted teas to make you feel part of the festive crowd.

Now that the brunch is entering its seventh week, Chef Joshua Severson and his team of creatives, including a dedicated pastry chef and masterful bartender, have had time to perfect every dish, and the results are delicious.

Eating in style

If you’re familiar with Selanne, you’ll know its warm cottage charm. The building is beautiful, the architecture straight from high-end magazines with well appointed furniture, dramatic chandeliers, and cozy nooks and corners. What I love about the space are all the options – their rooftop deck and spacious outdoor veranda, that wonderful European bar and statement staircase, the quiet wine cellar. I love the outdoor fireplace. I love the entry wishing well. Whatever your mood, whatever the weather, they’ve created an intimate setting that accommodates it.

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Brunch is better this way…along with warm cottage charm

Because I’ve never met a breakfast dish I don’t like, I allowed our server Stephen Ronnow to design my meal. I watched Stephen work over the menu like a composer arranging a symphony, mixing sweet and savory, crunchy and smooth. I started with an amuse bouche and pastry basket, moved to an avocado toast, and then onto the main meal – chicken and waffles and “Kevin’s” Bananas Foster French Toast (“Kevin” is co-owner, Kevin Pratt, who was dining at a table nearby. Hats off for designing this creative dish, Kevin). As almost an afterthought, Stephen added hash browns au gratin, a dish I haven’t stopped thinking about since. 

The beauty of breakfast drinks

In addition to a full bar, there are a few creative cocktails on Selanne’s menu. The Diablo is a specialty of bartender Neil. Casa Amigos Blanco Tequilla, lemon, crème de cassis, and ginger ale. I’m going back for that one.

I opted for my usual breakfast drink, the “Breakfast of Champions Bloody Mary.” As the name implies, it’s more than a drink…it’s a breakfast. Garnished with a jumbo fresh shrimp, a plump olive, a tiny pearl onion, and a thick slice of lime, I could have been happy drinking my brunch. Thankfully, though, this time it was only an add-on. 

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Breakfast of Champions Bloody Mary and pastries – so good

My favorite thing about Selanne’s drink menu is their offering of a mimosa flight. Selanne’s serves an array of fresh flavors – blood orange, peach, cherry, mango – and allows guests to mix and match. If you’re dining with a large party, or you’re up for drinking a bottle of champagne on your own, the table can try all the various flavors. Assuming you have nowhere to be on a Sunday afternoon, this isn’t a bad way to while away the morning.

The sweet…

Selanne’s pastry chef is a master of whimsy. Her creations are seasonal, using fresh and local ingredients. The artisan breadbasket included a blackberry scone, lemon Danish, bear claw, blueberry muffin, and a chocolate croissant. The mixture of fruit against chocolate, crumbly muffins against flaky croissants, all of it light and airy, made for a wonderful way to wait for the main course. 

My eye wandered to the next table, enjoying the Bourbon Carmel Pecan Sticky Bun. It comes in a cast iron skillet, hot from the oven, and looking over-the-top. It’s rich, thick, and gooey. And, Stephen promises, beyond belief.

But Kevin’s Banana Foster French Toast took the prize for me, and I’m rarely a fan of the overtly sweet dish. The bananas were marinated in Kahlua. The French Toast was thick, crispy and perfectly soaked. Best yet, Selanne’s uses mascarpone whip that acts as the ice cream, creating a gooey sandwich of spiked flavors. I haven’t tried anything like this one.

And the savory

I gravitate toward the savory, and Selanne’s has plenty of options to accommodate – the brunch burger (with wagyu beef and pork belly, topped with an egg), the Selanne Benedict (with Nueske’s ham), and my usual favorite – the cured salmon scramble with crème fraîche.

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Avocado toast – it’s really all about the bread and the combination of flavors

I consider myself a kind of avocado toast connoisseur. For me, it’s all about the bread, which can make or break this breakfast staple. Anyone can smash an avocado on a piece of toast. Here, it’s the combination of flavors – lemon, espelette pepper and slices of pickled radish – that make it something special. The citrus and spice is a wonderful blend. Not to mention the sunny-side egg that tops the dish. 

I don’t know whether chicken and waffles fall into the sweet or savory category, but the perfect blend of both is made better by the preparation of the chicken. Even though it’s fried, the batter is so light and airy that it lacks the heavy grease I usually associate with fried chicken. Better yet…the meat inside. It’s a tender, juicy rotisserie chicken breast. A single bite remained that I absolutely couldn’t finish. I shamelessly asked to take it home, knowing it wouldn’t make a meal, but it would still make a memory. 

But, for some reason, the dish I continue to return to in my mind is the hash browns au gratin. Perhaps because by the time I got to it, I was far too full to finish it. It was “the dish that got away.” The few forkfuls I had make this side alone worth coming back to finish. The Yukon gold potatoes are topped with a thick layer of crucolo cheese and scallions. It’s a perfect combination of potatoes au gratin and hash browns. How this is done, I couldn’t possibly tell you, but the result is magnificent. 

An evolution of flavors and creations

Selanne’s is committed to constant evolution—with the seasons and with their own creative energy. The addition of Sunday brunch is a great example of their willingness and ability to stretch their menu and meet new culinary trends, all with their own artistic imagination.

Co-owner Kevin Pratt says, “We’re extremely happy to add Sunday brunch to our offerings, and I’m proud of Chef Josh and his team for delivering creative twists on classic brunch dishes. We’re having fun with the menu and it will continue to evolve.”

And I’ll continue to be a loyal recipient of that evolution.

Selanne Steak Tavern      1464 S Coast Hwy