K’ya Bistro: Share the good news and the good food: small plates provide big-time eating pleasure 

Photos and story by LAURA BUCKLE

Named as Best Chef in Orange County in March 2010, K’ya Bistro’s Chef Craig Connole is hailed for his creative approach to cuisine. Born and raised in Newport Beach, Chef Craig started his career at the infamous Gina’s Pizza in Corona del Mar in the 1980s. 

After making his name around Southern California with flavorful stints at the Four Seasons, Meridien, and Windows on the Bay in Newport Beach, Connole had six successful years at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua and spent some time in the modern day restaurant mecca, Las Vegas. 

He returned to his Laguna roots when the owners of La Casa del Camino lured him back with an invitation to reinvent the restaurant at their hotel. 

Connole shifted the direction of K’ya in Jan 2009, morphing the Cal Asian menu to incorporate a wide variety of worldly eats, bringing in his knowledge of Hawaiian and European dishes and deconstructing the traditional three-component meal way of thinking by creating a myriad of small plates. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Craig on a number of occasions and I can honestly say he’s not only incredibly talented, but warm, personable interesting and most of all passionate about his food and Laguna Beach.

My food journey at K’ya Bistro

As always I took a guest with me to the tasting. In K’ya’s case, this was ideal situation: after all, K’ya prides itself on small plates and sharing.

We started with K’ya’s very popular Wild Hawaiian poke, served on chips with onion seaweed avocado and spicy soy (which can be substituted for tamari for those who are gluten intolerant). This was delicious, just enough for two people to share without being overwhelmed. The tuna was really delicious and tender.

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Wild Hawaiian poke is understandably very popular at K’ya

We then moved onto another small plate sharing dish, which Craig told me was a firm favorite with customers, the seared fillet mignon tips served with horseradish cream. These were beautiful and cooked to perfection. The horseradish cream was mild but had a spice that complemented the tips beautifully.

We then went on to the garlic shrimp and bacon wrapped scallops, served with a polenta, cream corn and crunchy garlic. This dish was actually from the large sharing plate menu, but we just ordered a small plate to share between us. The shrimp was tasty, the smoky-ness of the bacon worked really well and the polenta corn combo, I could have eaten on its own. 

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Shrimp, bacon-wrapped scallops, and polenta corn: could it get any better?

After this we sampled the hibachi salmon, served with farro, portabella, a spicy coconut sauce and asparagus.  This dish was great. It was nice having farro again as I don’t think it is used enough; it worked great in this dish, as it soaked up the flavors really well.

For dessert we were well behaved and shared a banana bread pudding served with vanilla bean ice cream and bourbon sauce. This was outstanding.  My guest was not a huge dessert person, but in the end we battled for the last bit (I won).

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Bread and butter pudding might sound ordinary: it’s anything but!

All in all my experience at K’ya was wonderful. It’s not difficult to see why this restaurant has stood the test of time in Laguna Beach and has a huge local following as well as being a popular tourist attraction.

K’ya is open from 4 p.m. every day and runs a happy hour from 4.30 - 5.30 p.m., which offers incredible deals and a great menu. Chef Craig and his kitchen also offer a lunch menu up at the rooftop bar, which has many K’ya’s favorites also. So you can eat his food all day long…and why wouldn’t you? 

K’ya Bistro is located at 1287 S. Coast Hwy. Visit www.kyabistro.com for more information.

Shine on, Harvest Restaurant: every facet of Laguna’s hidden gem sparkles with innovation and good taste

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Having been given a tease of Harvest’s delectable menu on its opening night in November, I was delighted to be personally invited back to the restaurant by Jim Tolbert for a full dining experience. Understandably, Jim wanted to show off all that this “hidden Laguna Beach gem,” beautifully tucked into the curve of a quiet canyon not far from the beach, has to offer for foodies like me.

As the director of sales and marketing, Jim oversees all sales and business developments as well as account management. Now with more than 20 years of luxury resort management experience prior to being at The Ranch, Jim was formerly the director of West Coast sales at Montage Laguna Beach. Before that, he served as national sales manager for the San Diego North Visitors & Convention Bureau where he promoted business for 90 hotels and resorts represented in San Diego and Arizona.

Experience matters, and Jim Tolbert has what it takes

Jim has also held sales management positions at The Island Hotel in Newport Beach, as well as La Costa Resort and Spa and Four Seasons Resort Aviara, both in Carlsbad. His early career was spent in high-level directorship positions at prestigious golf resorts throughout Arizona. 

With his vast experience and knowledge of the industry, I was given the crème de le crème of tours: Jim showed my guest and me the many event and conference spaces, the amazing hotel rooms, pool and spa. It is safe to say that the property is one of the most beautiful and unique spaces Laguna has to offer. 

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The perfect blend of sharp and sweet, soft and crispy: these Brussels sprouts were exceptional and a great example of Harvest’s innovative cuisine

It was then on to Harvest for dinner, where we were introduced to our delightful server Haylie, who was attentive, witty and charming in every way. We were greeted by a beautiful cold glass of Kin Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Instantly I knew this was going to be a delicious experience.

We were presented with a couple of smoked Gouda gauche, served with marmalade butter. These were so delicious, a perfect light bite to start our evening. 

We then ordered the Brussels sprouts, which were served fried and crispy with sweet chili sauce, pecans, green apple and radicchio. This was not a starter, but a side dish, and the serving was huge. These were quite possibly the nicest sprouts I’ve ever tasted as the sweetness of the chili sauce cut through the sharpness of the sprouts.  

Both my guest and I couldn’t get enough of them, and in the end we had to tell our server to take them away (and box them, of course) as we were worried we would fill up on them.

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Hamachi crudo, served with yuzu vinaigrette, was oh so good

We ordered hamachi crudo from the starter menu, consisting of slices of hamachi with yuzu vinaigrette, served with pickled red onions, spicy corn nuts and mint. The flavors of this dish worked well together and the crispy texture of the pine nuts alongside the softness of the hamachi was a beautiful combination.

At this point in the evening, it was only polite to try one of The Ranch’s handcrafted libations. Being a gin lover, I decided to try the Harvest Moon cocktail, which consisted of Hendricks Gin, lime juice, St Germaine, cucumber, rosemary and tonic. It was an easy drink, a light, tasty cocktail, not too sweet yet not too sharp. Perfect, in fact.

My guest chose a Three Clubs cocktail, consisting of Ketel One vodka, hibiscus syrup, limejuice and ginger beer. This was the prettiest cocktail I have ever seen, bright pink in color, served in a Moscow mule cup. And it tasted just as stunning as it looked.

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Cocktails (this one the Three Clubs) were uniquely presented, typical of Harvest

Harvest regularly offers a special menu and we decided to go with the special entrée of the evening, which was the New York Centre cut steak, served with creamy mash, large shallots, a mixture of root vegetables and delicious gravy. This was an exquisite meal, rich but not heavy. I asked for medium rare and that was exactly the way it was done. The steak was velvety in texture and the vegetables that accompanied this dish were cooked to perfection.

My guest ordered the Skuna Bay salmon, pan seared salmon served with red pepper tzatziki, dill pickles, wild rocket and Marcona almonds. As I do with all tastings, we swapped halfway (so I can taste it all) and it was really good. Salmon can be so hit and miss, and this was a hit – not as rich as the steak, but just as delicious.

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Skuna Bay salmon: the dish looked and tasted fabulous

Just when we thought we couldn’t fit any more food in, we were directed to the dessert menu. We chose two desserts to share, the chocolate pot de crème, which is espresso whipped cream, cocoa nibs and chocolate mint, and then, on Haylie’s recommendation, the apple fritters, which are cinnamon sugared fritters with orange whipped cream, served with an apple cider reduction. 

These were both gorgeous desserts. I took the remaining fritters back for my children and they loved them.

My experience at Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach was nothing short of spectacular. Jim was such a professional in his tour of this magical property, and the food was just as magnificent as the setting. With its location, ambience and food, this place has all the right ingredients to be the hottest hidden gem in the OC.

Harvest Restaurant at The Ranch Laguna Beach is located at 31106 Coast Hwy. For more information, visit www.theranchlb.com or call 949-715-1376.

Another day, another favorite, Another Kind Café: Cool “cross-culture” cuisine is close by in the Canyon

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

As a huge lover of Asian Cuisine I was delighted to be invited to sample Laguna Beach’s new and only “cross-culture” canteen, Another Kind Café.

Located at 793 Laguna Canyon Road, next to the Sawdust Festival, this canteen looks and feels as eclectic and clean as its food. What was once a “pop up” gallery space has been transformed by Thinh Nguyen and his team into a contemporary cool looking sit-down space with canyon views, ample parking, and a very appealing take out service (a perfect pick-up point for people who come through the Canyon on their way home from work).

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I wasn’t slow to finish the colorful crunchy slaw

Open 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. seven days a week, Another Kind Café offers a breakfast menu, small plate menu and larger dish menu as well as specials, which are changed weekly. Alongside this are a variety of soft drinks and teas. 

At the time of my report the restaurant offered no alcoholic beverage license, but a license is on its way.

Another Kind Café prides itself on being MSG free and offers a wide range of “cross-cultured” pan-Asian dishes, many gluten-free and vegetarian.

My food journey at Another Kind Café

To start I tried the Sai Thanh Slaw, a Vietnamese dish. This was a gluten free option consisting of red and white cabbage, peanuts, onion, fried shallots and herbs. There is an option to add poached chicken. This was so delicious: fresh, colorful, crunchy and light, a great starter or side to a main dish.

We then moved onto the Spicy Pulled Pork French Fries, delicious French fries crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, served with a generous portion of spicy pulled pork and topped with a delicious spicy mayo, green onion and chili. These were naughty but nice! A stark contrast from my healthy-feeling salad, but so delicious – a great option to share on a cold winter’s night when you leave the Sawdust Festival.

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The Vietnamese-style stew, the claypot fish, was my favorite

Next was the claypot fish, which is a Vietnamese style stew, served in the pot in which it is cooked. This dish consists of white fish in a caramelized sauce with cilantro, chili and organic jasmine rice. I have to say, this dish was my favorite of the evening. It was rich tasty and the fish fell apart (in a good way).

We then tried the Beef Pho, absolutely delicious bone broth, served with fresh basil, sprouts, chili, lime and chili sauce. It was a huge bowl, so I took the contents home with me and feasted on the dish for another couple of days.

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The Beef Pho was oh so good

It was then time to try “a special.” The special menu is changed weekly.  We decided to go for No. 4, which was a chicken curry with chickpea, ginger, onion, potato, egg and served with organic jasmine steamed rice. This was delicious also (although at this point I was very full). 

Thinh very kindly gave me a portion of Soi48 Wild wings from the small menu to take home for my children. The kids said they were the best chicken wings ever.

I really enjoyed my time at Another Kind Café. I love the location and hope that this will be the start of many cool little food places to be developed in our beautiful canyon.

The timing of the opening is also genius. This place is great to visit pre- or post-Sawdust Winter Festival. From a price point it is very reasonable, the most expensive dish being the claypot fish at $11.95.

I think I’ve found “Another” favorite take out – and eat-in…

Visit www.anotherkindcafe.com to check out their menu, or call 949-715-9688.

The Loft’s brunch at Montage: the magic of the setting is equaled by the mouthwatering food

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

When you get an invite to attend Montage Laguna Beach for a food report, the first thing you have to consider is who on earth you would take as a companion. As you can imagine, being a food writer makes you pretty popular. And as soon as friends got wind of a Montage invite, I knew they’d all be getting in touch. When my good friend called me with some sad news, it seemed only right to invite her along to cheer her up. And I think it worked.

The purpose of my Montage visit was to sample the new brunch menu at The Loft. Inspired by the elegant yet tranquil environment of Laguna Beach, The Loft presents a unique dining destination to enjoy the scenic beauty and relaxed atmosphere of the beach while sampling inventive yet familiar cuisine. The menus have been carefully created by Chef de Cuisine Michael Campbell using familiar ingredients and re-introducing them in a way that is imaginative but also memorable and consistent. 

Located on the fourth floor of the resort, The Loft overlooks the grand swimming pool of Montage, ornately decorated with a colorful sun motif, and in the distance, the sparkling horizon of the Pacific Ocean.

The Loft introduced weekend brunch beginning in November, the day I sampled the food for this report. After previously only offering brunch on select holidays, the Laguna waterfront restaurant will now offer an a la carte menu every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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The Loft’s brunch offerings are unique: take this pastrami hash, for example (do, you’ll love it), with sunnyside up eggs

“The Loft’s picturesque setting makes it the perfect weekend getaway for those wanting to enjoy a relaxing brunch, whether they are Orange County locals or guests of Montage,” explained Chef Campbell. 

“My weekend brunch menu offers something for everyone, from more traditional brunch dishes, to more eclectic offerings to excite the palate,” he added.

As Chef de Cuisine, Michael Campbell leads a winning team of chefs, sommeliers, servers and fromagiers. He brings an excellent eye for the culinary arts and an unrelenting commitment to the integrity and seasonality of every ingredient. Chef Campbell is passionate about inspiring his team and bringing an enthusiasm to every aspect of the cuisine and day-to-day responsibilities of the restaurant. 

The Loft strives to actively involve guests in their dining experience – from highlighting artisanal ingredients on the creative American menu to pouring hard-to-find boutique wines and serving rare cheeses with the perfect accompaniments from an interactive cheese gallery.

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The mortadella Eggs Benedict were amazing

Chef Campbell brings 20 years of experience in culinary arts. Prior to joining Montage, Campbell moved to Southern California to open Pueblo in Costa Mesa as the executive chef. At Pueblo, he designed a Spanish tapas menu that focused on seasonal SoCal ingredients. 

Before his relocation, Campbell worked for the Mina Group in San Francisco as the executive sous chef at RN74, where he developed weekly programs such as Sunday suppers and weekly wine dinners. His culinary career took him to Europe, where he worked in Avignon, France at Numero 75, and Barcelona at Arrel Del Born, a fine dining Catalan fish house. Campbell began his career at Wildwood Restaurant in Portland, under the leadership of Chef Cory Schreiber, a true mentor in the Pacific Northwest culinary scene.

Every experience at Montage Laguna Beach is pretty special. When we arrived we were presented with two wonderful cocktails, a blood orange mimosa, which contained Piper Sonoma sparking wine and St Germain Elderflower Liqueur with blood orange juice. Also available was a Traditional Bloody Mary, made with Ketel One vodka and house-made Bloody Mary mix. All drinks were fabulous.

It was then onto food and, as with the drinks, we were not disappointed. We were served family style. The meal started with a huge and very inviting seafood platter, consisting of oysters, shrimp, lobster and crab claws, accompanied by a variety of condiments. This dish was the perfect start to our brunch. 

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The shellfish platter enlivens a delicious seaside brunch

Following this we were presented with the Montage Eggs Benedict, served with crispy mortadella, poached eggs and hollandaise breakfast potatoes. This dish was perfection, a stunning combination of flavors. The eggs were amazing. 

Next came the pastrami hash, served with sunnyside eggs, horseradish and chile caramelized onion. This dish was heavenly: the saltiness of the pastrami and the spice of the horseradish gave this much-loved traditional breakfast dish a uniqueness that worked perfectly.

The salad served to us was a brunch Caesar, served with braised bacon and chopped egg. It was fresh, crispy and tasty.

It was then onto some sweet treats, and wow, they were sweet in every way. First up were the apple and mascarpone crepes, served with vanilla and bourbon caramel and candied pecans. These were out-of-this-world good, as good as any of the crepes I’ve eaten in France.

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Holy crepes, this was good…

Next was the bananas foster waffle, a delicious large yet light waffle, served with peanut butter cream and salted peanuts. This was also delicious and I know I need to take my daughter to try this. 

My experience at Montage was, as always, exquisite, luxurious and beautiful, with the food complementing the magic of the resort.

The Loft is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is located at Montage Laguna Beach, 30801 Coast Highway. To reserve, call (949) 715-6420.

It’s ale good: Skyloft offers terrific Tastes and Taps menus, pairing a range of beers with delicious dishes

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Skyloft proudly boasts one of the largest selections of beers I’ve witnessed in Laguna Beach (and I’m English, so I’m pretty good with beers). Beverage director Louie Palmerin has skillfully crafted one of the most innovative selections of craft beers locally, and when I was invited to a “Taps & Tastes” event, there was zero hesitation.

Having tasted Skyloft’s Chef Arthur Ortiz’ delicious fall/winter menu a few weeks earlier, I was already really impressed with Skyloft’s commitment to their food and the management’s intention to change people’s opinion that it is only “a drinking bar.” 

I’ve been delighted to hear that people have been visiting based upon my Stu News recommendation, and everyone has been so impressed.

Palmerin and Chef Ortiz are raising the bar even further with monthly craft beer dinners, entitled “Taps & Tastes.” Set for the second Wednesday each month, the price is $55 (tax and gratuity not included). Reservations are required at (949) 715-1550.

At this first Skyloft beer dinner, the great Stone Brewing Company was in residence, with brewery representatives educating us on six six-ounce selections with a six-course paired dinner menu from Chef Arthur. 

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Summery Citrusy Wit proved a wonderful companion to fried green tomatoes

To begin with, we were given fried green tomatoes coated with a light herb breading and accompanied by lemon dill aioli, spicy avocado dressing with rock salt, pink peppercorn and micro cilantro. This was really tasty. To accompany this dish, we enjoyed a light ale called Citrusy Wit, which had hints of lemon and orange and was a perfect pairing to a light summery dish.

It was then on to the gumbo, consisting of pulled chicken and chicken Andouille sausage served with bell peppers and including okra, garlic sticky rice and cilantro. This had been a favorite of mine at the fall/winter tasting. It was accompanied by the Ripper, an English style pale ale, very malty in flavor, reminding me of sitting in a cold public house back in England with the rain hitting the windows outside. It had a comforting warmth about it that sat beautifully with the gumbo.

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Small dishes, including the smoked salmon, were perfectly proportioned

The third course was smoked salmon, served with tomato lemon dill aioli and chives. This was a very nice, simple dish – great flavors and beautiful salmon – served with the Stone Cali Belgique IPA, which is made with dry hops (for those of you that don’t know, dry hopping means soaking hops in fermented beer rather than boiling them into the wort). This beer was my favorite of the evening, not too pale not too dark, with a slightly more amber taste.

We then enjoyed ribs (which were served with gloves so you didn’t get your hands sticky - perfect touch, chef!). These were black cherry glazed St Louis ribs, exceptional in every way. They were served with the Stone 222 Vertical Epic Ale, which is a bumped-up Belgium style wit, made all more alluring thanks to an infusion of orange peel, coriander, black pepper and a healthy dose of centennial hops. This beer tasted strong and rich. It was a firm favorite with the table.

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If you enjoy wit (beer), think about indulging in Stone 222 Vertical Epic Ale along with St. Louis ribs – served with gloves to avoid sticky fingers

Following this, we went onto the sprouts, charred, with Cajun seasoning and served with bacon and maple syrup. This was a great dish, served with Stone Enjoy IPA – the concept of this IPA is that it is not meant to last. The big bold date emblazoned on each vessel is the 35 days (five weeks) you have to find and enjoy this ale. Different from the others, this was fresh and crispy, complementing the vegetables beautifully.

The final dish was the delicious key lime cake square, a phenomenal dessert that I was happy to try again (I sampled it at the fall/winter tasting). The pie was served with Stone Coffee Milk Stout. I’m not a stout fan and didn’t enjoy this drink. However the stout fans on the table assured me that if you like stout, this is incredible. The roasty character comes from adding coffee beans and is balanced out by milk sugar to add a sweetness and creaminess, perfect with the cake dessert, if you like that kind of thing.

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The pairing of Stone Coffee Milk Stout with key lime cake received raves

Taps and Tastes should be a great hit. The Taste part is perfectly proportioned, with small plates of great food. The beer tasting is interesting to hear about and I feel that even if beer is not your thing, the explanations and the knowledge you gain regarding brewing is really interesting.

I think it would be a great idea for small businesses to give it a go as either a holiday party or a team building experience. Just watch it though… those beers creep up on you… I had a bit of a fuzzy head the next morning.

Skyloft is located at 422 S. Coast Hwy. Visit www.skyloftoc.com for more information or call 949-715-1550.

Mozambique’s Durban Room, with piano bar, is sure to be the LB speakeasy “where everyone wants to be” 

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Mozambique Restaurant has just launched the opening of their new “Durban Room,” modeled on the speakeasy culture of old.

One year ago Mozambique owner, Ivan Spiers had the restaurant’s lower rooms (which had been used primarily for group dining events) fully remodeled, along with the addition of the full bar, and chose to call it the Durban Room, a nod to his South African past. (Durban is a large port city on the country’s east coast.)

Spiers’ vision was to create an evening and late night lounge for people who might not be interested in the larger crowds and louder music on the second floor of the incredibly popular Mozambique.  

Cocktails by the sea: could life get any better?

The Durban Room was beautifully redone with this vision in mind. Then Ivan asked for the creative input of Laguna’s wonderful marketing guru, Diane Armitage. With her input, it was decided that the Durban Room should be marketed as its own distinct personality, given that it had all the makings of a classic speakeasy – but it needed to reflect more of that gritty, old school image.  

The “speakeasy” concept has origins that date back to the first decades of the 20th century, in the city of New York during Prohibition. During that era, New York  was governed by the dry law, a controversial measure that prevented the manufacture and consumption of alcohol. Demonstrating that all law is born to be broken, hidden bars began to appear behind closed doors, which over time evolved into night restaurants.

Generally, speakeasy bars are bars behind closed doors that offer exclusive cocktails and food menu items in an environment that is only accessible to a few. 

The speakeasy-style bar will feature entertainment three nights a week

A few years ago when speakeasy-style bars started popping up around Los Angeles, the trend may have seemed destined to be short-lived. But now with secretive watering holes opening nearly every month -- each with an entrance more elaborate than the last -- it’s clear we have an obsession with drinking in hidden places. 

And while LA has long been full of exclusive bars and clubs that demand you be on the “list,” these clandestine spots offer a fun and often low-key alternative to the velvet ropes and only require a bit of curiosity and resourcefulness to get in. 

With this in mind, Diane enlisted the help of a good friend (who just happens to live here locally) to take a look at the place for ideas on how they could make this concept happen here. He is one of Hollywood’s top production designers and Diane says, “He immediately started talking about how simple tweaks could be done to really transform this lounge into that sexy, everyone-wants-to-be-there kind of speakeasy.” 

At the same time, they decided to start a piano lounge and bring in truly great national and regional talent including pianists, renowned singers and acts including top-of-the-line jazz, blues and classic talent for weekend performances.

The chicken peri-peri is very very good

The dining menu is changing as well as the cocktail menu and will include many more high-end wines by the glass and true mixology-type cocktails. Wines and champagnes by the bottle will include very popular brands as well as those higher-end luxuries such as Louis Roederer Cristal, Moet & Chandon’s Dom Perignon, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Opus One, Cain Five and Lokoya Mt. Veeder.  

With champagne served on arrival at the restaurant, highly motivated staff, craft cocktails to sample and delicious appetizers to tease us, as well as spectacular musical accompaniment from the fabulous Tommy Benson and Addie Hamilton, my experience of the Durban Room was exciting and tantalizing. I cannot wait to see how it is transformed over the next few months.

Right now, the Durban Room is open every evening for dinner and late night, with entertainment on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Each week, people will be seeing more changes occurring.

(There is also a little whisper that there will be a launch of the full Durban Room Speakeasy experience on New Year’s Eve, but that the party will be an invite-only event, complete with unique passwords that interested parties might have to vie for in hopes of being added to the list. But that’s just a whisper...  I’m not one to gossip…)

The Durban Room at Mozambique Restaurant is located at 1740 S. Coast Hwy. For more information, visit www.mozambiqueoc.com or call 949-715-7777.


Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie, Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

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