Watermarc Restaurant: “a dining experience at its greatest height”

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Watermarc Restaurant’s name was born from a clever play on words; it’s a nod to both its owner and chef’s first name, Marc, as well as to the word ‘watermark’, which means “a mark showing the greatest height”.  

Certainly, a “dining experience at its greatest height”—the restaurant’s maxim—would be a great dining experience. But imagine something even better than that. Imagine a restaurant where every single dish that comes out surprises you in some way. Imagine a restaurant that’s modern and yet cozy, perfect for a dressed-up or casual weekday dinner. Imagine a restaurant with a staff so friendly you might start to think that you’re eating in the chef’s living room, not at his restaurant. And that’s Watermarc. 

Chef Marc Cohen nails it with Watermarc because he’s got the pedigree, the experience, and the work ethic. 

He hails from Baltimore, and got his start on the East Coast, but couldn’t turn down an invitation to relocate to Laguna to help open 230 Forest restaurant 20 years ago. He credits the success of his first Orange County-area restaurant to his understanding of how to work with people, and to having honest conversations with his customers. 

“I don’t compromise. A restaurant is a partnership with its guests, and I offer my guests the best quality ingredients that are in season and at the best prices. It’s a relationship built on trust,” says Chef Cohen. 

He opened Watermarc in 2010 after listening closely to said guests. He’d spoken with a few of his 230 Forest regulars to find out what else they were looking for in a restaurant, and the answer surprised him. Despite it being one of the worst times our nation’s economy has seen, most of Chef Cohen’s regulars said that they were still willing to pay the price for a good meal, so long as they had options. And he took that feedback to heart. 

The result is Watermarc, which boasts an innovative menu that can be mixed and matched with dozens of cocktails and hundreds of wine options, so that no matter how often you visit, each experience is unique. 

He’s an award-winning chef who’s been continually recognized as one of Orange County’s best, and we’re lucky to call Chef Cohen—one of the greatest assets to Laguna’s restaurant scene—ours. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Chef Marc Cohen

Grazing Plates

Watermarc’s concept is centered on the idea of the Cohen-coined “Grazing Plates”. They’re not to be confused with ‘small plates’ or ‘tapas’; rather, they’re smaller portions of completed dishes, or mini entrées.

There are well over a dozen of these “Grazing Plates” on the menu, and they’re all enticing, from the Burrata Mozzarella and the Filet Mignon Pot Pie, to the Bacon Wrapped Dates and the Herb Crusted Lamb Chops. 

I opted for the Ahi Watermelon Skewers and the Sizzling Garlic Shrimp. Chef Cohen understands seafood, having grown up in Baltimore, and he explains that the menu is inspired by the Mediterranean—think Greek, Spanish, and French influences. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Sizzling Garlic Shrimp

The Sizzling Garlic Shrimp arrives literally sizzling in a skillet, and it’s served with sweet onion, fennel, and juicy chunks of citrus fruit. Next up were the Ahi Watermelon Skewers—a work of art. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Ahi Watermelon Skewers

These one-bite skewers pack a ton of flavor. The ahi is as fresh and flavorful as the watermelon, tomato, and seaweed salad it’s served with. 

Speaking of artwork, you can’t miss the Gazpacho Shooter. Made with golden tomato and cucumber, it’s served with a house-made crostini in a small martini glass on dry ice that puts on a show for you as you enjoy the unbelievably refreshing dish. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Gazpacho Shooter

Each day, there’s a different “Grazing special”, where something new and different is added to the list for anywhere from $11-$16. (There’s also Happy Hour pricing daily from 3:30-5:30 p.m., excluding holidays). 

I asked him from where he garners inspiration for the extensive list of “Grazing Plates”—which is revised and edited a couple times a year. 

“I am always trying to teach my staff new things, to come up with something that’s new and different and to reenergize our kitchen. I don’t sleep a lot,” he laughs. And he doesn’t. He has been working upwards of 80 hours a week for the past 10 years to build his successful career.

Beyond ‘Grazing’

Though I could have lingered on the “Grazing Plates” for a lot longer, the Cedar Planked Scottish Salmon, in the ‘entrée’ section of the menu, tempted me. According to Chef Cohen, the cedar is flown in from Kentucky. It’s then soaked in bourbon, soy, brown sugar and anise. Words can’t describe the flavors in this entrée—you just have to try it yourself. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Cedar Planked Scottish Salmon

I ended my meal with the Myer Lemon Pots de Crème, and I think I’ll be dreaming about this dessert for a few weeks. It has the perfect blend of flavors from the lemon, blueberry, whipped cream and crumble, and it’s served alongside a heaping basket of warm beignets. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Myer Lemon Pots de Crème 

When I leave, the first thing I think about is when I’ll be back, and who I’ll recruit to come with me to try the rest of Watermarc’s menu. And then I remember something that Chef Cohen told me at the beginning of our conversation.

“We don’t spend a lot of time advertising, or on social media, we really focus on the every day,” he says. “Every day a plate leaves our kitchen, that’s how we do our advertising.” 

Watermarc is located at 448 South Coast Highway. Lunch is served daily from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and dinner is served Sunday-Thursday until 10 p.m., and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit watermarcrestaurant.com

Project Juice: your one-stop shop for smoothies, juices, shakes and more

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Laguna’s Project Juice, which boasts local, organic and plant-based health foods, serves so many purposes. In one week alone, I found myself heading there for a smoothie to help beat the heat, a protein shake post-workout, a green juice to feel a little healthier, and a ‘Flu Shot’ (one of Project Juice’s ‘Wellness Shots’) when I felt a cold coming on. 

I’ve been a faithful customer to one of Laguna Beach’s now few juice and smoothie spots for a while, and it seems like every time I stop in they’re adding something new—lunches to go, Kombucha on tap, new smoothies and cold-pressed juices. 

In my opinion, it’s one of the easiest, most convenient stops in Laguna Beach for something healthy, be it breakfast, lunch or a quick snack. 

Once you get to know Project Juice’s mission, practices, products and their above-and-beyond-friendly staff, you’ll probably become a regular customer, too. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Project Juice’s Manager Riley Madigan (L) and an employee, Arielle 

Make Juice, Not War

Some may remember Ritual Wellness—the Irvine-based cold-pressed juice and smoothie company that first opened the doors of what’s now Project Juice’s shop. Ritual Wellness merged in 2015 with Project Juice, which at the time had five other retail locations in Northern California. 

“The thought was, let’s make juice, not war. Instead of fighting all these other juice companies, we decided to collaborate with another company that shared our same values,” explains Project Juice’s Laguna location’s Manager, Riley Madigan. 

And those values are what set Project Juice apart from other juice and smoothie spots throughout California. For example, the company is one of few juice producers that use one hundred percent USDA certified organic produce. 

The merge with Project Juice—a bigger company—meant much better, widespread access to farmers. Everything that goes into the company’s smoothies and juices is from California, so it’s all local, fresh produce grown on organic farms throughout the state. This is incredibly important, considering the fact that every juice contains about 4-5 pounds of organic produce. 

Project Juice also uses a unique process to make its juices: cold pressing, which uses low oxygen levels and low heat.  

“When you cold-press juices versus using the typical centrifugal juicers, you get about five times more nutrients, and a smoother texture,” explains Riley. 

And with the merge came better smoothie recipes, too. Project Juice has an impressive list of smoothies and shakes, which range from light and refreshing (try the Sunset Beach, which is made with cold-pressed orange, carrot, ginger, turmeric, lime juice, house-made almond mylk, mango, pineapple and strawberry) to worthy of a meal replacement (try the Chocolate Protein, which has almonds, dates, banana, raw almond butter, cacao, ultra brown rice protein, kale, vanilla bean, sea salt and stevia). 

I tried the Peace, Love and Kale, made with raw coconut water, raw coconut meat, kale, spinach, dates and cinnamon. You can add boosters to any smoothie—for example almond butter for protein, cacao nibs for energy, or probiotics for immunity. It’s delicious, and tastes like a dessert, not a green smoothie! 

Click on photo for a larger image


Project Juice’s Peace, Love and Kale Smoothie

Project Healthy

 Of course, if you stop in to Project Juice, you’ve got to try one of their cold-pressed juices, too. They’re on the pricier side—they run for about $9 a juice—but the shop has a good rewards program, and there’s usually a deal to be had. According to Riley, they’re almost always running some kind of promotion. 

Right now, it’s the Immune Boosting Defense Kit for $24, which gives you a couple ‘Immunity’ Juices—made with orange, grapefruit, lemon, ginger and cayenne—and a ‘Flu Shot’, which is a smaller-sized cold-pressed ‘shot’ of orange, ginger, cayenne, Reishi, Echinacea, and lemon.

Fun fact: Project Juice also recommends the Immunity Juice as a healthier mixer for making margaritas. The ginger and cayenne make it slightly spicy, which is perfectly balanced by the lime and grapefruit flavors. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Project Juice’s Immune Boosting Defense Kit

There are countless other options, though. For those that are wary of a green juice’s taste, Riley suggests the D-Tox juice, which is primarily fruit-based. Other fruit-based juices like the Pomegranate Orange will taste less like romaine and celery and more like coconut water and fruit. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Some of Project Juice’s Fruit-Based Beverages

If you’re not on the juice bandwagon, worry not. The shop offers a wide array of other health foods, including vegan, organic lunches and snacks to go. Try the Thai Crunch Salad, or the Veggie Spring Rolls—both tasty and filling! 

Click on photo for a larger image


Lunch at Project Juice 

You can also grab other treats to go, such as organic granola bars, chocolate, tea, nuts and cold-pressed iced coffee, which Project Juice will shake for you, adding in natural sweeteners like almond milk, dates or cinnamon.  

If you have questions about ingredients, juice cleanses, or simply need help narrowing down all your options, Project Juice’s staff is incredibly approachable, knowledgeable, and helpful. Thanks to them, it’s never been easier to get something good, healthy and fast in Laguna. 

Project Juice is located at 1100 South Pacific Coast Highway, and is open from Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit www.projectjuice.com.

Adolfo’s Mexican Food: a Laguna Beach staple

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

We featured Adolfo Vides in our Laguna Life & People section back in December. If you’re like me, you took an immediate liking to the man behind Laguna Beach’s iconic Mexican restaurant, and you considered stopping in to get to know him yourself. 

I did, and I was immediately impressed. 

Adolfo is 81 years old, and he’s been running Adolfo’s Mexican Food for decades—in fact, its Laguna Beach location (998 A South Coast Highway) will celebrate its 31st anniversary next month. 

But Adolfo has no plans to stop whipping up some of the town’s best burritos and chimichangas anytime soon. Why’s that? 

“I have to be busy,” he says with a smile. 

But it’s about more than just staying busy. 

“I’m happy here, and what I love about it is talking to people. I have a lot of friends who come in here. We have fun,” Adolfo adds with a twinkle in his eye.  

It’s that contagious happiness and Adolfo’s genuine smile that undoubtedly contributes to his restaurant’s success. The place has an upbeat, relaxed atmosphere, and it’s impossible to pop in for a meal without leaving happier. 

Plus, the food is really good. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Adolfo Vides

Adolfo emigrated from Guatemala in the 1960s, and relocated to Southern California. He worked tirelessly in the restaurant industry, starting out as a dishwasher at the Red Onion. Soon enough, he was being asked to help open restaurants and to do some cooking. After a series of significant learning experiences, Adolfo decided to do things his way. He opened the first Adolfo’s restaurant in Westminster in 1969, and subsequently opened nine other locations throughout Southern California.

Adolfo’s been working steadily alongside Connie, his wife of 52 years; it’s been a family affair since the beginning, when Adolfo cooked, and Connie worked out front. Their daughter, Peggy, started helping out as a hostess when she was only eight years old, and she’s still a big part of the team.

Today, the sole Adolfo’s Mexican Food restaurant is located in Laguna Beach, where locals, school kids, beachgoers and tourists alike can stop in for a very reasonably priced meal and—if they’re of age—an ice-cold cerveza. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Adolfo’s Bar

The menu is comprised of an impressive list of options—something for everyone. There are roughly 24 items on the “Combination Plates” section, which includes everything from Carne Asada and Carnitas to Mojarra, a whole-fish fried tilapia, and ‘Divorce Eggs’. 

“One’s red, one’s green,” jokes Adolfo about the eggs. 

Everything’s made in-house—with the exception of the tamales and tortillas—including the guacamole, which is delicious. It’s made fresh each day, and it has the perfect consistency and flavor.  

Click on photo for a larger image


Chips and Guacamole 

The burritos are among the restaurant’s most popular items, and that section of the menu continues to expand. Adolfo’s recently added the Laguna Burrito (your choice of meat, onion, cilantro, salsa and guacamole) and the Vegetarian Burrito (black beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, covered in Spanish sauce and topped with guacamole and sour cream). Burritos run anywhere from $5.50 to $9.30. 

I followed Adolfo’s advice and tried the bestselling Verde Pork and Bean Burrito—an unbelievably flavorful (and mildly spicy) burrito that’s filled with a homemade ‘verde sauce’: celery, green chile, jalapenos, green onions and bell pepper. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Verde Pork and Bean Burrito

Other popular dishes include the restaurant’s newly added meatball soup—a homemade chicken-broth-and-veggie-based soup with house-made chicken and shredded beef meatballs. And, interestingly, the restaurant’s Burgers and Fries section does pretty well, too. 

Adolfo knows, after all, what his regulars want. He tells me with a smile a story about a local who would come in and order his own plate: a hamburger patty with rice and beans and a fried egg. 

“I said, ‘Sure!’ and then everyone was looking at his plate going, ‘Hey what’s that? I want one of those,’” laughs Adolfo. 

He’ll keep on making Lagunans happy until the day he stops working—which isn’t happening anytime soon. 

Adolfo’s is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 497-2023.  

Hotel Laguna’s Andersens extend their family ‘vibe’ to new culinary gem in Dana Point – Two Left Forks


Photos provided by Andersen Hospitality

Laguna Beach-based Georgia Andersen and son, Stefan Andersen, are extending their hospitality reach from Hotel Laguna to Dana Point with the opening of their new restaurant, Two Left Forks, on March 3, 2016.

The redesigned restaurant and menu concept is located at 34212 Pacific Coast Highway in what was formerly Tavern On the Coast. Hours will be 4 – 11 p.m. nightly, with a capricious happy hour menu from 4 – 5:30 p.m. daily that features high-level wines by the glass at happy hour pricing. 

Upscale Uniqueness

Two Left Forks will be a new culinary adventure for Dana Point, offering “upscale uniqueness with a friendly, value-driven vibe.” The restaurant offers traditional, classic cuisine with a progressive California twist.

Click on photo for a larger image


 Two Left Forks, in Dana Point

Georgia Andersen explained, “We love being in the heart of Laguna at the Hotel Laguna, and will continue to add new services and culinary events at the Hotel as the years go on. The Two Left Forks restaurant in Dana Point is just a focused extension of one thing we really like to do and have the team to expand upon – great culinary excursions!”

Executive Chef Rob Hines, who has methodically transformed the menu at Hotel Laguna’s OceanView Bar & Grill these last two years, will be offering a modernized take on sophisticated dishes at the new Two Left Forks restaurant. Each dish is designed to meld beautifully with crafty cocktails and an ever-changing (and surprising) “Most Wanted List” of wines by the glass.

The name, Two Left Forks, harkens to classic cuisine roots as General Manager Stefan Andersen explains, “When you find two left forks next to your plate, you know your dining experience is going to be a step above the one-fork experience!”

Says Georgia Andersen, the new restaurant’s Operator & Owner, “We wanted to bring a new sophistication in culinary to Dana Point while, at the same time, offering real value and a fun experience.

“We’ve designed this entire concept around being the go-to neighborhood restaurant destination that welcomes you with familiar warmth,” she continues. “You’re part of the family here at Two Left Forks. It’s really an extension of the family ‘vibe’ we’ve worked to keep in place at Hotel Laguna …  that feeling of being welcomed and befriended … everyone needs more of that these days!” 

A Pampering Menu That Pampers Your Wallet, Too

Since acquiring the restaurant in December, the Andersens have been busy revamping the restaurant’s look by adding in rich burgundy leather seating and bringing in chairs, tables and lighting throughout the bar, dining and patio to create a welcoming, comfortable bistro setting.

Figs in Prosciutto

Most welcoming, though, is Chef Rob’s pampering menu of creative culinary. On the introductory side, the Two Forks menu features “Bites” such as Hazelnut Crusted Goat Cheese Croquettes and Bone-In Short Rib, while the “Shares” offers decadent items such as the TLF Short Rib Poutine and a Jumbo Lump Crab Stack.

Filet Dish

Main Entrées feature hearty Seafood Paella, Pistachio-Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb and organic options in Shetland Isles Salmon, Local Halibut, and Creek Stone New York Strip, to name a few. Innovative entrée salads and daily made soups join specifically designed vegetarian alternatives on the Two Left Forks menu as well.  

The Andersens Bring Family Owned Success to Dana Point 

Even before taking over Hotel Laguna operations in 1985, Claes and Georgia Andersen had made a name for themselves in several hotels and restaurants across the country and in the L.A. basin. Five years ago, when Claes passed away, Georgia stepped into a larger management role at Hotel Laguna and, in September 2015, their son, Stefan, officially stepped in as the Hotel’s General Manager.

With Georgia and Stefan at the helm, the hotel’s restaurant, OceanView Bar & Grill, and the onsite events and catering divisions have seen considerable and exciting growth. Of the many improvements, the decision to bring Executive Chef Rob Hines into the hotel’s kitchen was a “game changer,” says Stefan.

“Chef Rob is a very down-to-earth guy with an amazing culinary talent and he’s been able to ramp the kitchen to higher-level quality production at much larger numbers,” Stefan continues. “He and his staff can easily handle 1,600 or more covers a day, and that’s been a huge improvement for us.

“While he will still be overseeing the hotel’s culinary, Chef Rob deserves a bigger spotlight for the kind of food he’s able to innovate. He’s going to be a perfect fit for Two Left Forks,” says Stefan.

Reservations for March 3rd and beyond are now being accepted at the website, TwoLeftForks.com/Reservations

And - be sure to reserve your seating for March 17th, too, when Two Left Forks brings in a nationally renowned live jazz music quartet with jazz and R&B vocalist phenom Andrea Miller.

“We thought the live jazz would be a more fun and sophisticated take on the usual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations,” says Georgia. “We probably won’t be serving green beer, but we’ll definitely be offering the finest in Irish whiskeys!”

Take a stroll down La Rue du Chocolat this Valentine’s Day

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Laguna’s Peppertree Lane is a charming little pathway, straight out of a fairytale. It’s tucked away and dotted with whimsical shops and décor that transport you to another time and place—far away from the hustle and bustle of Coast Highway and Glenneyre Street, between which the alleyway is nestled. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Laguna’s Peppertree Lane, where La Rue du Chocolat can be found

You can access Peppertree Lane from both sides, but either way, be sure to notice an image of a trio of mouthwatering chocolate-dipped strawberries that rests enticingly on Peppertree Lane’s gates. 

Follow your instinct—and your nose—and venture past a few of Peppertree’s storefronts until you’re enveloped by the incomparable aroma of homemade chocolate inside La Rue du Chocolat. There, you’ll find a seemingly infinite assortment of beautiful truffles and candies—most of which are handmade and hand-decorated by the shop owner herself. 

And if you need another excuse to sample some of the quaint shop’s out-of-this-world delicacies, well, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. 

Creative chocolate with a unique history

According to Cosima Qazi, La Rue du Chocolat’s owner, there has always been a chocolate shop on Peppertree, dating back to when the lane was constructed in the 1930s. Cosima, who was raised in Laguna Beach, and started working at La Rue du Chocolat when she was in high school, took over as its owner seven years ago. 

When she took over, Cosima decided to take the chocolate shop in a new direction, and she hired Maggie Hernandez—who remains a steadfast employee—to help her. 

“People always come in and say ‘I used to come here when I was a little kid!’ and now they’re bringing their grandkids in with them, and that’s what has always made this shop so special,” says Maggie. 

Though it remains, at heart, Peppertree’s classic chocolate shop, its greatest change came when Cosima decided that she’d start making her own product; prior to her ownership, the shop’s management would, for the most part, order chocolates from specialty shops nationwide, and sell them in-house. 

Today, it’s safe to say that Cosima has mastered the art of making chocolate herself.

“Cosima is very hands-on and involved, and she’s always coming up with new creations and recipes. It’s really a creative outlet for us here,” says Maggie. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Cosima’s famous hand made and hand-painted meltaways

With the help of a chocolatier friend, Cosima honed her skills, and expanded the shop’s offerings to include nearly every sweet item under the sun. She whips up everything from chocolate-dipped pretzels and oversized chocolate kisses, to peanut butter cups and her very own take on a heavenly s’more. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Homemade peanut butter cups and s’mores

Today, La Rue Du Chocolat makes over three-quarters of its products, including its bestselling turtles—available in milk, white and dark chocolate. 

Click on photo for a larger image


La Rue du Chocolat’s homemade chocolate turtles

The shop does continue to sell some of its old, faithful brands, like Moonstruck Chocolates, which is based out of Portland, Oregon and which boasts unique flavored truffles such as matcha green tea and chai caramel brownie. But the shop’s own chocolates and creations steal the show. 

Something for every Valentine

If you—or your loved ones—aren’t keen on truffles or rich chocolate treats, worry not. La Rue du Chocolat sells an impressive collection of dried fruits, such as cherries, apricots and figs, which are hand-dipped in a light layer of dark chocolate. And, of course, the shop is well known for its fresh chocolate-covered strawberries. 

The store has plenty of creative, seasonal options—like ornaments, cards, trinkets and gifts—especially around its busiest holiday of the year: Valentine’s Day. I was particularly in awe of Cosima’s chocolate frog creation, pictured below, which is crafted from white chocolate with mint flavoring. 


Click on photo for a larger image


One of Cosima’s creations: a handmade white chocolate frog

Right now the shop is teeming with Valentine’s Day goodies, from chocolate liqueurs and sauces, to heart-shaped boxes made out of chocolate and stuffed, you guessed it, with more chocolate. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Valentine’s Day Display at La Rue du Chocolat

But La Rue du Chocolat’s doors are always open, and it’s not just around Valentine’s Day that Lagunans should venture into the shop to see what chocolate creations Cosima’s got up her sleeve that day. 

La Rue du Chocolat is located at 448 South Coast Highway, and is open from 12-8 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. For more information, call 494-2372. 

Active Culture: wholesome food that’s happy, healthy (and ready in a hurry)

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Faye Wickland and Katrina Hoye, who grew up in South Lake Tahoe, were raised in a health-conscious household that valued good, clean eating, and an active lifestyle. And for the two sisters, that mindset fortunately carried over into their adult lives, too. 

Today, they run Active Culture—with Faye’s sister-in-law, Jennifer Clapp, too—which first opened in Laguna Beach in 2010. The restaurant’s concept started with a yogurt shop called Velvet Yogurt in San Clemente, which enabled the women to get a foot in the door and gain some experience. 

Once they started adding menu items like acai bowls to the menu and experimenting with breakfast and lunch recipes, they realized how successful they could be, and decided to add a full-blown breakfast and lunch menu. And when Active Culture’s current location opened up (on the corner of Anita and S. Coast Highway) they ran with an idea that’d been a long time in the making.

“It’s actually funny because our dad had talked about opening a health food café, and we used to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could have our own restaurant and serve all the foods we love?’ Ever since we were younger, we loved being in the kitchen,” says Katrina. 

And that passion for preparing meals made with simple, healthful and whole ingredients has translated into a hugely successful venture that’s constantly evolving and growing, and that now boasts a second location in San Clemente. And their mission is simple: to prepare good, healthy meals for families on the go, and to give locals a nutritious ‘fast food’ alternative. 

But Katrina, Faye and Jennifer have done something truly magical with Active Culture: they’ve created an insanely healthy breakfast, lunch, and frozen yogurt option in Laguna Beach that’s also insanely delicious. No matter your tastes, budget, age or diet, there’s something good for everyone at Active Culture. 

Smoothies and Shakes

Some of the best—and fastest—breakfast and lunch options at Active Culture can be found on its smoothies and shakes menu. Here, you’ll find a diverse array of concoctions that are filling and nourishing. Most of the smoothies are raw, vegan, and gluten- and soy-free, but they taste like decadent indulgences (which I love). 

One of my favorites is the Blue-Green Envy Smoothie, which makes me blue and green with envy because I’ve never been able to replicate it at home. It’s made with banana, blueberries, kale, almond butter, maca powder, cocoa nibs, chia seeds and almond milk, and it’s sweet and satisfying.

Click on photo for a larger image


Active Culture’s Blue-Green Envy Smoothie 

Other excellent smoothie options include the Pick-Me-Up Smoothie, which is made with Active Culture’s homemade, raw and organic almond milk, as well as kale, watermelon and pineapple. The Detox Smoothie blends watermelon, grapes, lime, sea salt, and cayenne mix. 

If you’re looking for something even more substantial, turn to the shakes menu. The Protein Dream Shake tastes like a peanut butter milkshake, but without the calories and fat. Rather, it’s made with almond milk, organic hemp protein powder, organic almond butter, organic agave nectar, organic vanilla, and bananas. 

I also love the Piña Colada Shake, which, again, tastes like it shouldn’t be labeled ‘healthy.’ It’s got almond milk, bananas, pineapple and an organic frozen coconut base. Paradise in a cup! 

Good To Go

The healthy, simple, and homemade theme is carried throughout the entirety of the restaurant’s menu. Because the Laguna Beach location doesn’t have an oven or grill, almost everything is prepared with fresh, raw ingredients. And everything is homemade—from salsas and salad dressings to sauces and hummus. 

“What’s important to us is starting with a healthy base, like quinoa, rice, or beans,” says Katrina. ‘We can build any recipe from there, and there are so many options,” she adds. 

Katrina, Jennifer, and Faye often explore and taste-test recipes at their home kitchens together, and the menu changes every six months or so, depending on their new creations and data they collect from customer orders and preferences. 

Their Bowls menu is a testament to the ‘start with a healthy base and you can create anything’ mentality. Take, for example, the restaurant’s bestselling Wholesome Bowl, which is made with organic brown rice and black and red beans, and tossed with cheddar cheese, cabbage, homemade salsa, avocado, cilantro, and Active Culture’s special vegan OG Sauce. 

Click on photo for a larger image


The Wholesome Bowl

The Quinoa Lentil Bowl is another fan favorite, and it’s made with its titular ingredients as well as garbanzo beans, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, onions, sunflower seeds, lemon vinaigrette, and another Active Culture recipe I wish I could recreate at home: the Slammin’ Sauce. 

The bowls are large, brimming with fresh, healthy ingredients, and they’re as filling as they are delectable. 

The salad portions, too, are large—great for sharing—and chock-full of bright, crisp vegetables and tossed with Active Culture’s house vinaigrettes. I love the Simple Salad, because it’s just that: simple. You’ll get some organic greens, organic garbanzo beans, carrots, red cabbage, cucumber, red onions, tomatoes, avocado, sprouts, and sunflower seeds. 

Click on photo for a larger image


The Simple Salad

Tasty Fare for the Whole Family

For Katrina, one thing that really changed the way she looked at Active Culture’s menu was having her first child. She, Jennifer and Faye really wanted to create a restaurant where the whole family could dash in and get something really nutritious. And so, in addition to adding menu items such as wraps, bagels, acai bowls and soups, they created a litany of kid-friendly healthy favorites, too. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Active Culture’s Self-Serve Frozen Yogurt

Active Culture’s ‘Kids Page’ boasts many options, including small-scale bowls like the Beach Bum Bowl (organic brown rice, organic beans and cheddar cheese) and the Blossom Bowl (Greek yogurt, organic granola, strawberries, blueberries, and banana topped with a squeeze of honey).

The Kids Menu also includes shakes and smoothies, Apple Dippers, and the Itsy-Bitsy Bagel. 

“We’ve had so many parents come in and say, ‘Thank you for giving me options that I feel comfortable feeding my kids, and that my kids love.’ We’re really a family-owned, family-oriented business,” says Katrina. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Organic non-fat vanilla frozen yogurt topped with fresh berries

Of course, when you pop into Active Culture, you can’t help but notice the line that is constantly forming around the self-serve frozen yogurt machines. There are 10 self-serve flavors available at any given time, with over 25 toppings—also self-serve. And the yogurt is certified organic, and available in multiple nonfat, gluten-free, low-sodium flavors.

The best part about running a successful, healthy Laguna Beach health foods café is the positive feedback from the community, according to Katrina.

“We love that we’re providing something good to the community, and we’ve had people tell us that we’ve helped changed their lives by introducing them to foods like quinoa and kale, and showing them that healthy can be really good, too,” says Katrina. 

Active Culture is located at 1006 South Coast Highway. For menu and delivery information, visit www.activeculturecafe.com.



Shaena Stabler and Stu Saffer are the co-owners. Shaena is the Publisher and Stu is the Editor-in-Chief.

Lynette Brasfield is our Managing Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Dianne Russell, 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.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising


Email: StuNewsLaguna@Yahoo.com with news releases, letters, etc