NewLeftHeader

broken clouds

61.9°F

Laguna Beach


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Sapphire’s decadent brunch

By Diane Armitage

As my New Year’s resolution has me tucking into my 17th arugula salad with apple cider vinaigrette, I think longingly back to my last, great decadent meal at the weekend brunch at Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook. 

My “brunch buddy,” Ali North and I, decided to make our monthly brunch a New Year’s celebration, too. The day was a glorious blue as we met at Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook and were seated on the patio. 

Sapphire's patio

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook

Sapphire’s open-air patio offers a companionable view to the charm and bustle of Laguna Beach

Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook stepped in as brand new ownership at the old Sapphire location in late 2019. Despite the COVID shutdown in March 2020, Owner Russ Bendel and Director of Operations Chris Hutten were able to open The Pantry, the take-out extension of the restaurant on April 1, 2020. (Thank heavens, for that, too, as they provide the most amazing cocktails to go in small mason jars.) 

The restaurant, itself, phased in with dinner service first on May 28, 2020 with lunch service later added on June 22. Once the world really started rolling again, the team began its first weekend brunch service on July 25, 2020 and business has been cooking along ever since.   

Brunch cocktails aplenty

Joining the Patio Pounder cocktail are the “standard” Bloody Mary and Mimosa. If you know Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook, though, you know there’s nothing standard about the standards here. 

The Mimosa, alone, offers three options with the La Marca sparkling wine: Strawberry & Thyme; Passion Fruit, Orange & Guava; and Ruby Grapefruit & Sweet Basil. We both opted for the latter. Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice is always my preference with Mimosas as it cuts the sweet, but the unique basil addition gave the drink a whole new depth of flavor. 

Sapphire's mimosa

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Sapphire’s brunch mimosas come with three flavor options. This is the Ruby Grapefruit & Sweet Basil.

More than 10 options on the brunch menu

While some restaurants may opt for a “less items is more” approach on their brunch menus, Sapphire pulls out all the stops with a variety of full-plate, high-flavor meals. Choose from a lettuce salad with grilled Jidori chicken, or dive into breakfast items that range from sweet (Nutella waffles, for example) to classic (Market Vegetable Scramble or Filet Mignon with eggs) to comfort (Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits with Sage-Garlic Sausage Gray) to over-the-top, where-did-that-come-from dishes. If you’re not in the mood for breakfast, try the restaurant’s best-selling sandwiches, the towering Wagyu Beef Burger or the fabulous Crispy Chicken Sandwich. 

We were here for breakfast, though, and as it was my last decadent meal for the month of January, I thought it best to opt for the over-the-top options. 

Starting with a sweet option

First to arrive was the Meyer Lemon Crème Fraiche Waffles. Awash in the freshest berries and a thick ribbon of crème fraiche, the waffles arrived with a hearty side of bourbon maple syrup. These were melt-in-your-mouth memorable waffles. 

Sapphire's waffle

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Meyer Lemon Crème Fraiche Waffles are a perfect shareable to get the brunch party started

And startingly good savory

I opted for the Kurobuta Pork Belly Benedict because…why not? 

“It’s the best-selling item on our menu,” Owner Russ Bendel told me. “It’s definitely one of a kind!”

Truer words could not be said. The chefs start with a rosemary focaccia biscuit “because you can’t have a soggy bottom on your Benedict,” said Hutten, whose long-time talented chef skills nicely aid in menu creations. The stout biscuit held a mighty tower of ingredients, but still proved fork-friendly and fluffy. 

A double pile of crispy pork belly portions is loaded on with Champagne béarnaise sauce ladled between layers. Then, the poached eggs land (I had three on my dish) with another healthy pour of the béarnaise. The chefs finish with a sprinkle of pork belly pieces and micro greens. 

This is an insane dish, a joyful meld of creamy goodness and the crisp, salty chew of the pork belly. The dish was so mighty that I carried at least two-thirds of it home with me. 

Sapphire's benedict

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Sapphire Pork Belly Benedict is a crowning gem of happy flavors

My brunch buddy, Ali, ordered the Crispy Duroc Pork Schnitzel with Maitake Mushrooms. Frankly, I’m not sure that any other restaurant in town currently offers pork schnitzel, let alone in a brunch menu. 

Schnitzel is typically crafted from boneless pork chops, which are hammered lightly to thinner proportions, and then breaded and either sautéed or flash-fried. 

Even with its hammering, this was one of the largest pork chops I’ve seen. Here at Sapphire, the chefs add pumpkin to the spaetzle mix, which added great moistness and just a touch of sweetness to the pork. The team laid down a foundation of fava beans, maitake mushrooms (think peppery), pearl onions, yellow wax beans, blue lake beans and romanesco. 

“We basically use whatever vegetables are in season,” said Hutten. “It’s just an easy way to sneak in some veggies for breakfast!”

After a douse of Meyer lemon and tarragon emulsion, the great chop landed, followed by more of the creamy emulsion and two eggs done any way the customer chooses. It was a beautiful beast of a brunch item, and I felt somewhat redeemed in that I’d eaten my vegetables, too. 

Sapphire's schnitzel

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Sapphire Crispy Duroc Pork Schnitzel is a tender, flavorful and very rare addition to a brunch menu

A lovely way to while away a Sunday morning

Although Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook fills its extended patio first with guests before moving into the restaurant, the full patio still offers plenty of space between tables and the noise level is quiet ambient. Service was fast and friendly, and the food arrived piping hot (something I always look for). 

What an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so on a Sunday morning in our beautiful town. Sapphire’s brunch is both Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Call for reservations please at 949.715.9888, or go online to www.SapphireLagunaBeach.com/reservations to book your table. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/ and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


Subway Beach Café gets second chance at downtown location after commission continues project amid concerns about allowing franchise

By SARA HALL

After nearly two hours of discussion, a permit applicant that went “above and beyond” was still struggling for approval after planning commissioners deemed the restaurant too formulaic with its parent franchise brand, Subway, for a business downtown. 

Although, commissioners were torn considering other factors like the applicant’s strong community presence, his effort to distance the project from its parent brand and make the design fit in with Laguna Beach and the service it would bring to the neighborhood. However, it’s still a formulaic/franchise business and the merchandise (food items on the menu) isn’t unique enough, several conflicted commissioners agreed.

“There are a lot of reasons to want to feel good about this,” said Chair Steve Goldman. “The only reason not to at the end of the day: It’s a Subway. It’s the same food and the same quality, just dressed up really nicely.”

The Planning Commission ultimately voted 5-0 to continue the item until their February meeting to give the applicant more time to customize the menu. The applicant was seeking a Conditional Use Permit and a Coastal Development Permit to convert 381 Forest Ave., Suite A-100 (previously Catmosphere) to Subway Beach Café.

Sandwiches on the proposed one-of-a-kind menu would be named after local landmarks and events, including the Thousand Steps Club, the Laguna Tuna and Main Beach Marinara. 

“The makeup of those sandwiches is unique, not something you will find on a traditional Subway menu,” said applicant Daniel Riscalla. “It wasn’t just renaming certain sandwiches; it’s actually coming up with new sandwiches that will be unique (to Laguna).”

As proposed, the location would offer farm-sourced, handcrafted beverages and freshly baked pastries. The juices will include combination flavors like watermelon and cucumber or passion fruit orange guava.

The design is aimed at casual dining with couch seating and a cozy atmosphere, explained Principal Planner Martina Caron. Live acoustic entertainment would be offered on Friday and Saturday.

Specifically, the central features of the restaurant would include a bar height communal table with stools, cushioned seating, wall murals painted by local artists and a large digital display screen that would show slides of Laguna Beach and its history. The display would also be available to Laguna College of Art + Design students and local digital artists to show their work. 

The front and back counter of the store would feature a modern rustic look, Caron said. Any use of a Subway logo in the interior would be minimal and subtle, she noted, and the primary use being a brushed metal “S” logo. 

Employee attire would also be unique to this location, featuring black pants and white shirts, and aprons with a simple two-tone logo either black and white or black and green.

Subway Beach Cafe interior rendering

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the proposed interior of Subway Beach Café

“This is really a one-of-a-kind restaurant, we’re really excited about this,” Riscalla said.

They’ve worked closely with staff to customize the location for downtown Laguna Beach, he added. A non-conventional Subway like this needed additional approvals, he explained. The family also owns a Subway café in Orange, although each location is individually customized. 

“The result is a unique restaurant that is unlike any other Subway,” Riscalla said. “It will fit seamlessly into the Laguna Beach downtown atmosphere and will be tailored to all of your requirements for this area.”

They have been part of the Laguna Beach community for many years, he pointed out. The previous Subway location at 1350 S. Coast Highway opened in 1992 and they took over in 2010. At that location, they offered mobile-based ordering and delivery and, during the pandemic they created a Subway grocery plan. They also participated in a number of local events over the years. 

Several commissioners noted that Riscalla is a respected community member, as well as several public speakers who commented on the positive impact he and his family, and their previous local business, have had on Laguna Beach.

Some commissioners also pointed out the benefit of having fast and affordable food in the area for city hall employees and other workers within walking distance.

There’s a need for something like this in the downtown, said Commissioner Ken Sadler. 

“We don’t have a less expensive option, there are very few in downtown and in Laguna in general,” he pointed out. 

They provide a valuable food service to the town, added Commissioner Steve Kellenberg, who noted that he often got a quick and affordable sandwich at the old Subway location. They’re actually “quite tasty,” he added. 

“To be able to have that service downtown, I think it is a contribution to the downtown,” Kellenberg said. “There’s an unmet demand for that type of cuisine on Forest Avenue.”

But it’s hard to overcome that the project falls short on the findings they need to make for approval, in terms of the policies that have been for regulating the types of uses downtown, he added.

Click open story button to continue reading…


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Rum Social announces chef lineup & menu

By Diane Armitage

Laguna’s culinary world seems to be starting off on the right foot in 2022. 

Conflict eases over AhbA’s speakeasy

For starters, in the last week of December, the City of Laguna Beach worked with AhbA restaurateur Nick Bennett to stave off its closure. The popular SoLag eatery’s speakeasy in question – Helen’s – on the back patio, was the source of the issue. Complaints had been filed that alcohol was being served without proper permitting.

Just days before Christmas, a petition signed by more than 1,700 AhbA fans hit Director of Community Development Mark Wiener’s desk. “The petition was the first I’d heard there was an escalated problem,” he told me. 

Bennett and Wiener met in person the next day to work through the kinks, and on December 23, a Temporary Use Permit (TUP) was granted for the extended outdoor patio.

Case closed, and thank goodness, because no one makes that kind of burger anywhere in the state of California. 

Rum Social rounding to the finish line

Rum Social, the anticipated new eatery in the old Watermarc space, is nearing ever closer to its finish line. Describing itself as an “upscale Hemingway speakeasy,” Rum Social will feature a variety of Caribbean-based drinks and dishes. 

Rum Social rendering

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Rum Social

The anticipated Rum Social restaurant hopes to open by the end of February in the old Watermarc location

“We’re tentatively looking to open at the end of February,” said Co-Owner John Fisher. “We had hoped we could be open by Valentine’s Day, but there’s just too much between here and that date, and we’d like to get our feet under us before trying to handle such an important date as Valentine’s,” he said. 

While the holidays, county permitting delays and COVID outbreaks have continued to affect its construction, the seasoned Rum Social restaurateurs are nothing but persistent. The three partners, Fisher, Ken Ussenko and Stephen Sherwood, are longtime restaurateurs who’ve seen it all. They’re still plucky and enthusiastic as they note that rough electrical and plumbing is done, and kitchen equipment will begin arriving for installation next week. 

The team is also starting to close up the walls to begin final finish of both the upstairs bar and downstairs dining. 

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel’s Adams will helm the Rum Social kitchen

Meanwhile, the team continues to grow with the announcement of two well-known talents in the Orange County culinary world. 

Jered Adams, most recently with The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, will be acting as food & beverage director overall, “but I’ll be spending plenty of time in the kitchen, too,” he said. 

Adams has a long and storied career in fine dining and menu consulting, having developed more than 30 concepts, many of which were in conjunction with Rum Social co-partner Ussenko’s many restaurant concepts. 

Adams began working as the executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in 2009. Six years later, he left to take over the food and beverage direction of a San Diego restaurant group while working on several concept consulting projects, too. 

In late 2019, he returned to the Ritz family, moving to a heightened position at the illustrious Colorado Bachelor’s Gulch location in Beaver Creek. Within weeks of his move, COVID struck and he stayed there for the duration.

When restrictions lifted, Adams returned to the Laguna Niguel location to serve as executive chef of Eno Steakhouse and oversee all chefs and culinary supervisors at the establishment. 

“For a few years now, Ken and I have talked about actually working together on a new concept, so when Rum Social came together, I knew it was where I wanted to be,” said Adams.    

“The menu will be a funky, tropical escape”

The Rum Social concept menu will be making its way through the tropics with “bright fun flavors that showcase Caribbean and Asian flair,” said Chef Adams. 

rum social crispy rice cakes

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Rum Social

While still under development, these Crispy Rice Cakes at Rum Social feature fresh salmon and tuna, riceberry, dragon sauce and tangerine lace

“This menu is influenced by all things tropical; I like to think of it as a little funky, a tropical escape that is influenced from a variety of places that are familiar with the term, ‘rum’…Brazil and Jamaica to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, even the Polynesian islands,” he said. 

Rum Social will be “responsibly sourced seafood forward” with a mix of sweetness and spice. 

“The North African spice routes that plied the northern Caribbean islands had a significant impact on that culture,” noted Adams. “So, while we want to really feature many seafood options, we will be adding in those bold, full flavors, too.”

Though “sweetness and spice” may sound like danger to gluten-free diets, the Rum Social menu will be almost entirely gluten free with many vegetarian options available as well. 

While the menu is not yet finalized, the team shared a few “research and development” photos that include a Raw Yellowtail ceviche-type dish, House Noodles with shrimp, and Crispy Rice Cakes fashioned from salmon and tuna. 

rum social house noodles

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Rum Social

Rum Social’s House Noodles currently features shrimp, spinach, scallions, carrots, sprouts, radish, cilantro, peanuts and hard-boiled egg

Chef Nick of former Playground 2.0 also comes to play

Never will anyone get me to tell them what my favorite restaurant is in Laguna Beach. 

Outside of Laguna Beach, however, my go-to favorite was unquestioningly Playground 2.0, an inventive chef’s table led by Chef Owner Jason Quinn. 

One of the greatest up-and-coming talents on Quinn’s team was the young Nicholes Herrera (Chef Nick). He started first in Jason’s Playground restaurant but was then trotted “across the wall” to the 2.0 experience where he could work more closely with the immense talents there. 

When Nick left that playground in search of another sandbox, I followed him wherever I could find him. 

His initial forays included Michelin-starred Taco Maria and alongside the talented Chef Tony Celeste at Dana Point’s Whitestone. From there, Nick set off to open restaurants with two different restaurant groups (at different times). Both, however, suffered over-long renovations and opening stalls. 

While the Rum Social group was enduring the same frustrating issue, the timing couldn’t have been better when Chef Nick decided to try yet another opening concept option. 

Now the new restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine, Chef Nick says that he and Jared are working on a “more playful menu with a lot of shareables.” 

“We’ll have a larger menu with a lot of different variations on our proteins, but we’ll have a variety of smaller portions, too, so that people can try more in one sitting,” he said. 

rum social raw yellowtail

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Rum Social

Rum Social’s Raw Yellowtail might serve as a shareable plate with avocado, jicama, mango, pickled onion and micro greens

“A third of the team is already hired.”

With her own vaunted history as assistant general manager, general manager and food & beverage director at places such as the Bungalow Huntington Beach, Lifetime and Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern, Rum Social General Manager Jean Stenger says that training in front and back of house will begin in late January. 

“We’ve already hired about a third of our team, including an elevated bar team that recently made cocktails from our menu and showed us their creations,” she said. 

“When we’re ready to hire the remainder of our team, we will be posting it at RumSocial.com,” she noted.   

Stay tuned…

I’m as eager as you are to learn more about the cocktail “creations” that make it through the final round menu at Rum Social. It turns out that Chef Adams is quite a cocktail and wine enthusiast, endeavoring to create “a modern twist on the classics.”

We’re starting with at least 18 specialty cocktails, with about 50% rum-based and 50% based in other spirts,” he said. “Some drinks you expect to be rum based won’t be, and others you don’t expect to see created with rum will actually be created with great rums,” he said (somewhat mysteriously).

 Stay tuned for details and drink photos from me in my social channels and at my website as the opening date draws closer. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news and favorite events at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/ and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


Slice Pizza & Beer releases new artist-designed box created by Lauren Howell

By DIANNE RUSSELL

In Laguna Beach, art is often found in unexpected places. Yet who would imagine that a pizza box could be a work of art? The Redfearns.

Slice Pizza & Beer, owned by Suzanne and Cary Redfearn, has just released its fourth Laguna Beach artist-designed box. “In keeping with the concept of promoting community, we decided when we opened to have local artists design our boxes,” said Suzanne.

Their fourth pizza box features the work of local artist and designer Lauren Howell. To access her website, click here

“Two things inspired me for the design,” said Howell. “One was my favorite quote by Maya Angelou I used on the box flap, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ The second was community. That feeling and sense of place that is Laguna, our community, which is what Suzanne and Cary’s Lumberyard and Slice are all about. A spot where everyone is welcome at the table, this feeling, this was my inspiration. Incorporated on the box are words about songs echoing thru the hills, and how every now and then, with a gentle breeze, the world sits right. So, I got out of the way and let the process take over!” 

slice pizza holding box

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Lauren Howell holding the fourth artist-designed pizza box

Based on Suzanne’s initial prompt “community,” Howell further explained, “I instantly thought about the community tables at both her restaurants. And how the Redfearns created this friendly local vibe at Lumberyard for as long as I remember. And I am always aware of how a space makes a person feel, to me this is more important than how a space looks. I knew I wanted to design the box art around the warmth and feel of a community table.” 

According to www.behindthecanvas.net, Howell also tried her hand at acting, and appeared in film and on stage for a period of time. However, she soon discovered that she was more interested in the stage sets than in the acting. This interest segued into painting interior murals in residences in Laguna Beach, being commissioned to paint, and ultimately, interior designing.

Eye-catching detail is the soul of her design philosophy and that translated to her design for the pizza box. 

“For over 30 years I have been an artist and for 18 years, a local Interior designer, so I am drawn to clean lines, balance, scale, texture and the need for negative space,” Howell said. “To me, all of those elements are in the collage. And I am also a voracious reader, so I love the power of words and the way our memory holds on to a favorite quote.”

slice pizza trio

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Suzanne Redfearn

Previous three pizza box artists (L-R): Sharon Hardy, Lisa Mansour and Cynthia Fletcher

The inaugural box was designed by local painter and screen printer Cynthia Fletcher. It’s a depiction of two clasped hands and represents kindness and unity. The quote that accompanied the design (printed on the inside lip of the box) was by Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Ceramicist Sharon Hardy designed the second box. Hardy used to live on Cerritos Drive and would wake each morning to the golden hills of Laguna and the soaring hawks. Her box quote was by Langston Hughes: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird.”

Slice’s third pizza box featured a mother-daughter collaboration. The art on the face of the box was created by local artist and Sawdust exhibitor Lisa Mansour and the quote on the inside flap was written by her daughter Chloe Mansour: “Without red flag days, there would be no waves of change.”

To get a closer look at the new design, stop by Slice Pizza & Beer, order a pizza, and get the fourth edition of their artist-inspired boxes.

Slice Pizza & Beer is located at 477 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach.

For more information, go to www.slicelb.com, or call 949.715.3993.

Follow Lauren Howell on Instagram @laurenhowelldesign.


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Updates for Laguna Christmas dining

By Diane Armitage

“Since Friday’s column, I’ve had more than 30 changes in availability reported by restaurants in Laguna Beach. Here is an updated list. If your favorite restaurant is missing from the list, there’s a good chance it’s either fully booked already or is closed for the holiday.

Please check my BestofLagunaBeach.com column for all listings, including all closures.   

Christmas Eve & Day feasts for take out

Brussels Bistro – Order by Wednesday, Dec. 22 to pick up on Christmas Eve (Friday) between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. at the Laguna Beach or San Clemente locations. Choose a la carte options that include 24-count oysters, Norwegian Smoked Salmon and three options of entrées that include Christmas lobster, Beef Wellington and Christmas turkey with all the trimmings. 

If that doesn’t suit you, scroll through their many a la carte options for your own Christmas feast. 

Order Take Out: www.BrusselsBistro.com (scroll down for their Christmas package.)

Updates Brussels apple tart

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Brussels Bistro

Brussels Bistro offers a Christmas Feast To Go, which includes four Apple Tarts. Choose a la carte items as well.

Nirvana Grille – Build your own feast with Chef Lindsay Smith’s Mix & Match for Christmas. Order by Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. Pick up Christmas Eve (Friday), between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. (designate your pickup window when ordering). Choose from two pages of Christmas a la carte options at their website. Shop ‘til you drop, and don’t forget the house-crafted desserts.
Order Take Out: www.NirvanaGrille.com

Three Christmas Eve prix fixe menus

To date, just three restaurants have reported specialty menus, but they’re all quite memorable: 

C’est La Vie – Christmas Four-course Prix Fixe Menu, 12-9 p.m. $69 per guest, $16 for kids under the age of 12.

Chef Antonio starts the meal with an amuse bouche of wild mushroom cappuccino and fennel pollen foam. From there, it’s salad options and four entrée options that include Barramundi, Scallops & Shrimp Pappardelle, Grilled Ribeye and Duck Leg Confit with a Pan-Seared Breast.

Reservations: www.CestLaVieRestaurant.com

Larsen at Hotel Laguna – Chef Craig Strong is offering both A La Carte items and a Christmas Four-course Prix Fixe Menu, which is $150 per person, $25 for kids under 10 years of age. (This same menu is served on Christmas Day, too.)

A la carte items include items such as chilled oysters, Grilled Spanish Octopus, his famed Short Rib Cigars and the Hotel Laguna Burger. 

The Prix Fixe menu includes salad, Butternut Ravioli and entrée choices of Sautéed Salmon, Roasted Prime Rib or Oven Dried Tomato & Eggplant Terrine. 

Dessert options include Craig’s Spice Cake, Lemon Tart and more.   

Reservations: Go directly through OpenTable for LARSEN.

Updates Larsen lemon tart

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Larsen is offering both prix fixe and a la carte menus on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which include Chef Craig Strong’s famed Lemon Tart recipe

Christmas Eve restaurant options – closing early

The following restaurants will be serving their regular menus and closing early. Reservations are recommended at all wait service restaurants. 

Closing in the afternoon: 

Avila’s El Ranchito – The kitchen closes at 4 p.m., bar closes between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. 

G.G.’s Bistro – open 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Gina’s Pizza & Pastaria – open 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Laguna Beach Beer Company – open until 4 p.m.

McClain Cellars – open until 3 p.m.

Papa’s Tacos – open 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Poké Tiki – open 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Rasta Taco – open 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Ruby’s Auto Diner – open until 3 p.m.

Sergio’s Empanadas – open 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Starbucks – open 5:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Sueños – open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Cliff Laguna Beach – open until 4 p.m.

The Stand – open 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Wharf – open 12- 5 p.m.

Urth Caffé – open until 6 p.m.

Wild Taco – open until 4 p.m.

Z Pizza – open 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Zeytoon Café – open until 4 p.m. 

Zinc Café – open 7 a.m.-12 p.m.

Open through evening (though closing earlier than regular hours): 

Domino’s – open 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Mandarin King – available for take-out only until 7 p.m.

Nirvana Grille – open 5-9 p.m.

Ristorante Rumari – open until 8 p.m. 

Salerno by Chef Pirozzi – open 3-9 p.m.

Slice Pizza & Beer – open until 7 p.m.

Thai Bros – open from 4-8 p.m.

The Deck Laguna Beach - open 3-8 p.m.

Christmas Eve restaurant options – regular hours

These restaurants will be open on Christmas Eve, too, serving their regular menus and staying open through standard operating hours: 

Closing in the early afternoon:

Anastasia Café 

Heidelberg Café

Orange Inn

Tippy’s

Open through evening:

BJ’s Restaurant 

Carmelita’s

Las Brisas 

Lumberyard

NEA Pizza

O Fine Japanese Cuisine

Pizza Bar

Romeo Cucina

Skyloft

South of Nick’s

Thai Brothers 

The Rooftop at La Casa del Camino

Wahoo’s Fish Tacos

Christmas Day dining room & outdoor dining options

Closing in the afternoon: 

Lost Pier – Certainly good news for beachgoers, their crafty beach hut at Aliso Creek is open regular hours, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

South Swell Donuts – SoLag’s go-to for the best donuts in town is open Christmas Day until they sell out. The owners will be doubling up on favorites that day and are open from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. (or closing earlier if sold out).

Starbucks – open 7 a.m.-2 p.m.

Open through the evening: 

C’est la Vie – The regular menu is available throughout the day, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

Reservations: www.CestLaVieRestaurant.com

Domino’s – open 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

GG’s Bistro – Enjoy the full menu fare from 11:30 a.m. to an early close at 7 p.m. 

Reservations: www.GGsCafeBistro.com

Greeter’s Corner – Holding down the south corner of Main Beach Park, Greeter’s is offering its regular menu, regular hours, 8:15 a.m.-9 p.m.

Larsen at Hotel Laguna – Chef Craig is offering both A La Carte and a Christmas Prix Fixe menu, see details above for Christmas Eve. 

Reservations: Go directly through OpenTable for LARSEN.

Las Brisas – Christmas Brunch is available at 11 a.m. with dinner options available thereafter. 

Reservations: www.LasBrisasLagunaBeach.com

Taco Loco – open until 9 p.m.

Thai Bros – open 4-8:30 p.m.

The Wharf – open 12 p.m.-12 a.m. with live music

Z Pizza – open 12-9 p.m.

For confirmed Christmas Day closures…

Please see my website at TheBestofLagunaBeach.com for the complete list of closures. Thank you, again, for your continued support of our great Laguna Beach restaurants. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/ and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Christmas dining options for merrymaking

By Diane Armitage

“Christmas Eve dining is like the 4th of July in Laguna,” said Chef Rainer Schwarz of Driftwood Kitchen. “Most of us here in town don’t want to miss Christmas Eve, but it’s always great to take that break on Christmas Day.” 

Indeed, many of Laguna Beach’s restaurants are open on Christmas Eve, but the vast majority of our restaurants close on Christmas Day. If you’re planning to take the family out, get rolling on those reservations now! (For the record, Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach and Splashes at the Surf & Sand Resort are fully committed and not taking any more reservations.)

Remember, too, there are many Christmas Dinner take-out options, which I’ll note below. 

 Let’s get started with the most wonderful time of the year’s dining opportunities. 

Early Christmas brunch to get you in the mood

Selanne Steak Tavern starts the season in the best of ways with its Holiday Brunch on Sunday, Dec. 19, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Specialty items include Kevin’s Banana Fosters French Toast, Chicken & Waffles, Selanne’s Benedict, egg dishes, salads, raw/chilled seafood dishes and, of course, Gingerbread Spice Sticky Buns. Reservations: www.SelanneSteakTavern.com.

Christmas Selanne Sticky Bun

Courtesy of Selanne Steak Tavern

The return of Selanne’s Holiday Brunch includes popular favorites such as the Gingerbread Spice Sticky Buns

Getting the party started

Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill is leading the Christmas Party Parade with a Thursday, Dec. 23 DJ party. This time, it’s Alaskafornia Misster (sic) Earthwave & Hot Jamale + Square. The party starts at 8 p.m.

Chef Maro shutters the RoHi on the 24th and 25th, so if you’re looking to order those amazing empanadas for crowd hunger control, place those orders soon. 

Stock up on fabulous wines

As a reminder, too, Chris Olsen’s Wine Gallery is offering a cornucopia of bottled wine options for your holiday tables. They too, are closed on the 24th and 25th, so be sure to trot in for your locally purchased wine selections in the week ahead. 

Christmas Wine Gallery bottles

Courtesy of the Wine Gallery

Wine Gallery’s endless varieties (including Owner Chris’ own Mile 216 wines) are ready for your holiday table

Christmas Eve & Day feasts for take out

Last year I relied on my Laguna chef friends to provide sides and desserts, and I’m never going to cook an entire Christmas Day meal again! Here are two great choices: 

Brussels Bistro – Order by Wednesday, Dec. 22. Pick up on Christmas Eve (Friday) between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. at the Laguna Beach or San Clemente locations. Choose a la carte options that include 24-count oysters, Norwegian Smoked Salmon and three types of entrées including Christmas Lobster, Beef Wellington and Christmas turkey with all the trimmings.

If that doesn’t suit you, scroll through their many a la carte options for your own Christmas feast. 

Order Take Out: www.BrusselsBistro.com (scroll down for their Christmas package).

Christmas Brussels Beef Wellington

Courtesy of Brussels Bistro

The Christmas feast menu at Brussels Bistro includes classics like this stellar Beef Wellington

Nirvana Grille – Build your own feast with Chef Lindsay Smith’s Mix & Match for Christmas. Order by Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. Pick up Christmas Eve (Friday), between 3:30-5 p.m. (designate your pickup window when ordering). Choose from two pages of Christmas a la carte options at her website. Shop till you drop, and don’t forget the house-crafted desserts.
Order Take Out: www.NirvanaGrille.com

Christmas Nirvana Grille Ravioli

Courtesy of Nirvana Grille

The Christmas Mix & Match options at Nirvana Grille include favorites such as the Butternut Squash Ravioli

Christmas Eve: dining room & outdoor dining 

Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been able to collect so far. Reports are still rolling in from our Laguna chefs, so be sure to check my short list of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day closures at my website or call first before driving around in circles. (Please note: Tax and gratuity are in addition to any posted pricing. Please tip these people well. They are, after all, working the Christmas holiday.)

Three Christmas Eve prix fixe menus

To date, just three restaurants have reported specialty menus, but they’re all quite memorable: 

C’est La Vie – Christmas Four-Course Prix Fixe Menu, 12-9 p.m. $69 per guest, $16 for kids under the age of 12.

Chef Antonio starts the meal with an amuse bouche of wild mushroom cappuccino and fennel pollen foam. From there, it’s salad choices and four entrées to pick from that include Barramundi, Scallops & Shrimp Pappardelle, Grilled Ribeye and Duck Leg Confit with a Pan-Seared Breast. Reservations: www.CestLaVieRestaurant.com.

 Larsen at Hotel Laguna – Chef Craig Strong is offering both A La Carte items and a Christmas Four-course Prix Fixe Menu, which is $150 per person, $25 for kids under 10 years of age. (This same menu is served on Christmas Day, too.)

A la carte items include delectables such as chilled oysters, Grilled Spanish Octopus, his famed Short Rib Cigars and the Hotel Laguna Burger. The Prix Fixe menu includes salad, Butternut Ravioli, and entrée choices of Sautéed Salmon, Roasted Prime Rib or Oven Dried Tomato & Eggplant Terrine. Dessert options include Craig’s Spice Cake, Lemon Tart and more. Reservations: Go directly through OpenTable for LARSEN.

Christmas Larsen lemon tart

Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Craig Strong’s fabled Lemon Tart is available as an a la carte item on his Christmas holiday menu

The Loft, Montage Laguna Beach – From 5-10 p.m., guests can enjoy a Four-Course Tasting Menu. Pricing is $160 for adults with a children’s menu offered a la carte. (This menu is also served on Christmas Day.) Choose from salads, Shrimp Bisque or Butternut Squash and Bay Scallop Risotto for starters. Entrée options include Roasted Duck Breast, filet mignon or Branzino. Don’t miss the Milk Chocolate Yule Log or Gingerbread Semifreddo for dessert. Reservations: Call Montage Dining at 949.715.6420.

Christmas Eve restaurant options

The following restaurants will be serving their regular menus and closing early. Reservations are recommended at all wait service restaurants.

230 Forest – open until 8 p.m.

Avila’s El Ranchito – kitchen closes at 4 p.m., bar closes between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. 

G.G.’s Bistro – open 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Gina’s Pizza & Pastaria – open 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Laguna Beach Beer Company – open until 4 p.m.

Mandarin King – available for take-out only until 7 p.m.

Nirvana Grille – open 5-9 p.m.

Oak Laguna Beach – open until 7:30 p.m.

Poké Tiki – open 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Ristorante Rumari – open until 8 p.m.

Selanne Steak Tavern – open 4-8 p.m.

Slice Pizza & Beer – open until 7 p.m.

The Cliff Laguna Beach – open until 4 p.m.

Urth Caffé – open until 6 p.m.

Wild Taco – open until 4 p.m.

Zeytoon Café – open until 4 p.m. 

Zinc Café – open 7 a.m.-12 p.m. on Christmas Day.

These restaurants will be open on Christmas Eve, too, serving their regular menus and staying open through standard operating hours:

Alessa by Pirozzi

Anastasia Café

BJ’s Restaurant

Carmelita’s

Comedor at La Casa del Camino

Driftwood Kitchen

Heidelberg Café 

Las Brisas 

Lumberyard

Mosaic Bar & Grill at Montage

Nick’s Laguna Beach

O Fine Japanese Cuisine

Orange Inn

Romeo Cucina

Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook

Skyloft

South of Nick’s

Starfish 

Thai Brothers 

The Deck Laguna Beach

The Drake Laguna Beach and

The Rooftop at La Casa del Camino

Christmas Day brunch

Most surprising was my discovery that the shuttered Studio, Montage Laguna Beach will be enjoying a Christmas miracle of its own when it opens for Christmas Day Brunch. 

From 10 a.m.-3 p.m., it’s $175 per adult and $55 per child. The brunch buffet offers a selection of appetizers, salads, cheese, charcuterie, raw bar, breakfast items, a carving station, desserts and a festive Bellini and Bloody Mary bar. Reservations: Call Montage dining at 949.715.6420 

Christmas Day dining room & outdoor dining options

Other welcoming restaurants on Christmas Day include:

C’est la Vie – The regular menu is available throughout the day, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations: www.CestLaVieRestaurant.com

 –GG’s Bistro – Enjoy the full menu fare from 11:30 a.m. to an early close at 7 p.m. Reservations: www.GGsCafeBistro.com

Greeter’s Corner – Holding down the south corner of Main Beach Park, Greeter’s is offering its regular menu, regular hours, 8:15 a.m.-9 p.m.

Larsen at Hotel Laguna – Chef Craig is offering both A La Carte and a Christmas Prix Fixe menu, see details above for Christmas Eve. Reservations: Go directly through OpenTable for LARSEN.

Las Brisas – Christmas Brunch is available at 11 a.m. with dinner options available thereafter. Reservations: www.LasBrisasLagunaBeach.com

The Loft, Montage Laguna Beach – The Christmas Four-Course Prix Fixe Menu is also offered on Christmas Eve. See the menu details above. 

Reservations: Call Montage dining at 949.715.6420.

Lost Pier – Certainly good news for beachgoers, their crafty beach hut at Aliso Creek is open regular hours, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Mosaic Bar & Grill – Enjoy the usual a la carte menu from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. for lunch and 5-9 p.m. for dinner.

Moulin – Just to be on the safe side, you might want to stock up on Moulin’s popular pies and tartlets before Christmas Day hits, but Moulin will be open on Christmas Day with breakfast pastries, breads and more. Regular hours are 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

South Swell Donuts – SoLag’s go-to for the best donuts in town is open Christmas Day until they sell out. The owners will be doubling up on favorites that day and are open from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. (or closing earlier if sold out).

For confirmed Christmas Day closures… 

Please see my website at TheBestofLagunaBeach.com for the complete list of closures. Thank you, again, for your continued support of our great Laguna Beach restaurants. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/ and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


Food Village plans for fresh look, improvements include dining pavilion and community plaza

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week unanimously approved a number of proposed improvements for the Food Village, including a new dining pavilion and community plaza. 

Commissioners voted 5-0 Wednesday (Dec. 1) in favor of the project, which includes a detached pavilion with natural gas heaters, outdoor fireplace, fencing, lighting, hardscape and landscaping. 

The action included approval of required permit and signage program amendments to allow the conversion of a portion of the shared food court to a fenced dining area with alcohol service operated by Carmelita’s. Commissioners also added a condition that an additional tree be placed in the corner planter (as the project calls for removing the existing palms and adding a Mexican sycamore).

Most of Wednesday’s discussion revolved around the location of the proposed fireplace, a potential water feature on a wall slated to be an artistic mosaic design, the loss of the trees and the narrow pathway to the other restaurants in the Food Village. Consensus was that the water feature might be a nice addition, but would go against the city’s conservation efforts, and that the fireplace might be better situated between the dining pavilion and the community plaza to be enjoyed by more people, but neither were dealbreakers for the project.

Commissioners enthusiastically agreed that the project overall will liven up the area, something that’s very much needed in the space they described as uninviting and uninteresting. 

The plaza has been fairly run down for many years, Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin pointed out, and agreed that this project will be a much-needed improvement for the very visible space.

“It’s going to be a much better aesthetic for the front row center of Laguna Beach,” Dubin said. 

This space has always been underutilized and unattractive, agreed Commissioner Ken Sadler. 

“It never really enticed me to want to go sit in that outdoor space at all,” he said. 

The project will create another courtyard space in the downtown, a priority in the Downtown Specific Plan, which encourages outdoor spaces for people to dine and gather, added Commissioner Susan Whitin. This project begins to distribute some visible, outdoor activity on the main streets, she said. 

“This is really an important project,” Whitin said. “It’s fresh, it feels current … I think it’s going to be very successful.”

Commissioner Steve Kellenberg also noted his excitement for the project. 

“That has been a sad space for as long as I’ve been in this town … there’s just been something about it that just hasn’t been very inviting,” Kellenberg said. “The idea of activating that street frontage on Broadway, that’s fantastic.”

Seeing life in that space with the fireplace and outdoor dining will completely change the character of that part of the street, he said. 

Food Village plans concept design Coast Hwy view

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering by SWA/Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering view from Coast Highway of the concept design proposed for Food Village 

Located at 217 Broadway St., near the corner of Broadway and Coast Highway, the highway-fronting site is developed with a Mediterranean revival style commercial building, Food Village, consisting of three restaurant tenant spaces: Full service Mexican restaurant, Carmelita’s; take-out seafood establishment, Slapfish; and a vacant space most recently occupied by Chinese restaurant Kaowok Asian Bistro. The restaurants flank an outdoor patio area with 60 seats shared by all three tenants.

The property has been significantly modified over the years since its construction around 1935, explained Senior Planner Anthony Viera.

Originally, the building incorporated an additional leg which extended from the rear of the main structure to South Coast Highway, Viera said. This leg was later removed and replaced with the on-site food court, as well as a gas station and convenience store on the adjacent parcel. The properties remain under common ownership.

Plans approved by the commission include converting approximately 1,100 square feet of the shared food court to a 32-seat fenced dining area with alcohol service operated by Carmelita’s. The balance would be reserved for a community plaza providing 28 seats, with seating shared by the other restaurant tenants.

Approximately two-thirds of the Carmelita’s outdoor dining area would be sheltered by a 12-foot-high freestanding pavilion. The metal beam structure would support an inverted gable, butterfly roof finished with grey standing seam. The detached structure would maintain approximately two feet of separation from the existing building.

The landscape plan includes a statement Mexican sycamore proposed to anchor and shade the plaza. The existing palm trees are proposed to be removed. 

The proposed lighting plan would replace all existing ground-level light fixtures with string lights at the pavilion, a wallwasher to illuminate the tile wall, downcast bollard lights for path lighting and selective use of uplights within the proposed planter areas. The proposed light fixtures share a minimalist design and black finishes for design continuity.

Existing planters, landscaping, fencing, lighting, awnings and a flagpole will be removed to accommodate the planned improvements.

Food Village plans dining pavilion

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering by SWA/Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the dining pavilion concept 

Carmelita’s owner Marcos Heredia opened the restaurant in 2012 with his brother. Over the past decade, he learned more and became part of the community, he said during the meeting on Wednesday. 

Heredia described meeting with Commission Chair Steve Goldman, who said he’s never been inside Carmelita’s because – as Heredia recalled the conversation – the outside is unattractive. It is a bit of an eyesore, Heredia noted. 

Goldman clarified that he called it “nondescript.” 

“There was nothing to draw me in,” Goldman said. 

That’s exactly what he would like to change, Heredia said.

“I would really like to give the people that enjoy Laguna Beach a new destination,” including longtime locals like Goldman, Heredia said.

He would like to get better use out of the plaza area more, he explained.

“It’s not being utilized to its full potential at all,” Heredia said. “It’s incredible to me because it’s right in front of the main beach.”

Most people drive right by the space either coming or leaving Laguna, he noted. If longtime locals like Goldman aren’t going in because of how it looks, there are probably a lot of visitors who avoid it for the same reasons, Heredia said. 

He’ll do everything possible to ensure people will be enticed to come enjoy a margarita in front of the ocean and have a good time, he added. 

The plaza design was inspired by Heredia’s passion and they hope it will encourage both residents and visitors to enjoy the space, added Andrew Watkins, a principal at SWA Architects, the firm handling the project. 

“(They) want to create an iconic piece on the street,” Watkins said. “A landmark, a beacon within Laguna.”

The pavilion is designed as a lightweight structure that’s transparent to the rest of the plaza, Watkins explained. It also acts as a bit of a buffer from Broadway Street, he added, and creates a room-like feel sheltered by the nearby Mexican sycamore. 

They plan to replace the pavings in the plaza and design a “rug motif,” drawing from the cultural heritage of Carmelita’s and create a fresh canvas for events and gatherings, Watkins said. 

Food Village plans plaza and wall view

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering by SWA/Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the plaza concept featuring the mosaic wall design 

Commissioners were split on the idea of a water feature on the back wall of the plaza (rear wall of the convenience store), something that was suggested in the staff report and discussed at length during the meeting.

The stucco wall is set to receive a Mexican-inspired tile mosaic that overlooks the community plaza and serves as the rear building wall of the convenience store at the adjacent property.

The big blank wall is kind of asking for something creative to be done with it, Watkins said. 

The idea of a water feature was discussed, but there were some concerns with maintenance and upkeep, Watkins said. 

“I’m not sure that we’re fully on board,” with the water feature, Watkins said. “We like the idea in terms of a white noise effect, but we also really like that wall in terms of an art piece.”

He’d like to give the opportunity to a local artist to use the space as a canvas, Heredia added. A water feature could cause maintenance issues and kids might disturb it if the restaurant staff can’t easily keep an eye on it, he said. 

As a city of water conservation, a water feature might not be a good idea, Dubin noted. 

Whitin didn’t support the water feature, it’s an outdated idea, she said. 

Other commissioners liked the water feature idea as “white noise” to cover the traffic noise, but weren’t adamant about including it in the plans. 

Location of the outdoor fireplace, which will be open on both sides, was also discussed quite a bit at the meeting. 

Dubin said the proposed fireplace location is in the view corridor of the beach. He suggested possibly moving it between the dining pavilion and the community plaza so that people on both sides could enjoy it.

“I get hung up on aesthetics,” Dubin said. “It just seems like more people would enjoy it that way.”

That’s the other location option they explored, Watkins said. They decided on the proposed location as a way to draw people into the plaza, he explained. Although a few commissioners noted that the suggested “location B” would potentially be more inviting.

They could definitely consider the alternative location, Watkins confirmed. 

A majority of commissioners seemed to lean toward the alternative location for the fireplace, but agreed it wasn’t a dealbreaker for the project. Either location is acceptable, several said. 

Although moving the fireplace to the second suggested location would open up the walkway a bit more, something Kellenberg noted as a concern. 

The passageway from the street to the other two restaurants is fairly narrow, Kellenberg noted. 

Part of what the Planning Commission should consider is to maintain the viability of businesses, he said. Carmelita’s is being “a little greedy” taking up space and not leaving much of a corridor for the other tenants, Kellenberg said. 

The monument sign will be redesigned and relocated to a more prominent location, near the new entry area, which will alert pedestrians to the other businesses on the property, Viera pointed out.

The only public speaker on the item, Catherine Jurca, pointed out the historic status of the property as well. That should be considered with the project, she said. 

Viera confirmed that the historian stated that the project would not impact the property’s historic character. 

~~~~~~~~

Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.


Sandwich shop coming soon to HIP location

By SARA HALL

A HIP new sandwich shop is slated to move into a historic location following a City Council decision this week.

On Tuesday (Nov. 16), council unanimously approved the necessary permits and a requested 50% historic parking reduction to convert an existing retail store to a sandwich shop/deli restaurant use with outdoor seating and alcohol service at 1802-1816 South Coast Highway, on the corner of Pearl Street.

The property, which also houses the historic Spigot Liquor and a Quonset storage hut, is in the HIP (Historic and Interesting Places) district, which covers South Coast Highway from Thalia Street to Bluebird Canyon Drive.

Councilmembers enthusiastically supported the project, which will help revitalize that corner, several agreed. 

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf said she gets her hair cut nearby and has been looking at the building for more than a decade.

“Every time I’m looking at it, I think it could look a lot better,” Kempf said. 

The renderings look great and it’s good for the neighborhood, she noted.

“I think it’s super cool, I think it’s going to look great,” said Kempf, who said she’ll be a customer when it opens. 

Applicant and lifelong resident Zac Cornwell plans to launch the sandwich/deli restaurant, Wigz, with outdoor dining and the service of beer and wine in an existing retail suite with a total of 12 indoor seats and 15 outdoor seats. The outdoor seating will include railing along the sidewalk of South Coast Highway.

Cornwell’s father, Kelly, is in the process of purchasing Spigot. He’ll return at a later date with interior design changes and other improvements for the historic liquor store. He previously stated his plans to rebuild and install the actual spigot on the Spigot barrel, which has been missing for decades. 

It’s great to see a young entrepreneur opening the sandwich shop and a local taking over Spigot Liquor, Councilmember Peter Blake said. 

“I love everything about it,” Blake said. 

Sandwich shop coming soon Wigz rendering

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy City of Laguna Beach/NBC Architect Inc.

A rendering of Wigz Sandwich Shop and the remodel of the historic Spigot building

Cornwell has been working on this project for the last 17 months, he said. 

“My goal with this project is to create a place that carries affordable food for the community, local workers, a great vibe and serves great sandwiches,” Cornwell said. 

Quoting Planning Commission Chair Steve Goldman’s comments, Cornwell said they received the most community support they’ve ever seen without any opposition. 

“I’m very proud of that,” Cornwell said. 

On October 20, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the plans for Wigz sandwich shop and deli, which includes exterior modifications to the historic C-rated building. Modifications to both the South Coast Highway and Pearl Street elevations will aim to restore and enhance the building, as well as several changes proposed to restore the exterior of the building as recommended by the historian.

A new six-foot wood fence is also slated to be built along the Pearl Street elevation with eight-foot-wide double swinging gates to provide access to the rear of the building. 

The project also calls for removing a 300-square-foot attachment at the back of Spigot. A bicycle rack for eight bikes is also included in the plans. 

The proposed hours of operation are from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. 

There was a little concern about parking, but overall councilmembers thought it would be adequate considering how many people will likely walk to the shop from the neighborhood and nearby businesses.

The proposed change from retail to restaurant constitutes an intensification in use because the restaurant requires more parking than the previous retail use, Senior Planner Martina Caron explained.

 To entitle the parking spaces required for the change, the applicant is proposing to construct one new parking space, a 50% historic parking reduction, and five outdoor dining credits, resulting in adequate parking for the site. 

There are four on-site parking spaces and private storage (i.e. Quonset hut) located toward the rear of the property.

In addition to the four on-site parking spaces provided, a new parking space is proposed at the rear of the property, Caron noted. To accommodate the new space, a retaining wall between three to 4.5 feet tall will be constructed.

Parking may be a bit difficult, noted Councilmember George Weiss, because in addition to the new sandwich shop, there’s need for parking for the liquor store, Mozambique restaurant and nearby shops. 

“You’re going to have a challenge; how do you see that working?” Weiss asked Cornwell. “Just hope for the best?”

Cornwell noted that the parking lot is actually fairly big and, if allowed, they could easily fit another four spots with tandem parking.

“We would love to be able to tandem park, that would be the goal,” Cornwell said. 

Ultimately, council approved up to two tandem parking spaces. 

There will likely be a lot of locals walking to the sandwich shop, as well as nearby employees, Kempf noted, so parking shouldn’t be an issue. 

The renderings look great, said Mayor Bob Whalen, but the Quonset hut is a “little funky.” Other councilmembers and planning commissioners agreed, noting that the black paint is a bit of an odd choice. 

“I don’t know if there’s a way to make that a little more in tune with the building,” Whalen said. 

Cornwell, who noted that they’ve gotten that feedback earlier in this process as well, said they are completely open to suggestions. 

“The goal with it was to try and hide it, not make it stand out as much,” Cornwell said. “It’s a cool building, but it kind of stands out like a sore thumb right now.”

It’s storage for the building owner, he noted. 

Commissioners and councilmembers recommended trying a copper or another warm and rustic hue.

Project architect Nancy Balmer-Csira said the black should help the hut disappear. It’s a current trend with garages, she noted. They favor leaving it as presented, she said.

Caron explained that the parcel is a 7,500-square-foot building that was constructed in 1930 and is occupied by two commercial suites: Spigot Liquor store and the subject suite that is currently occupied by the Annalise Pop-up retail shop. 

Spigot Liquor has been located at 1802 Coast Boulevard South since 1933. Past tenants of the 1816 storefront include Charles’ Wigs, which was the longest running tenant, from the early 1980s until closing in 2020.

The project includes displaying a historical/cultural exhibit inside the sandwich shop. A historic plaque will also be placed on the property to identify its historic status.

Kelly Cornwell said they’ve had an outpouring of support and, as locals themselves, they’re looking forward to improving the corner.

“We’re very, very excited about what we can do for this corner,” Kelly Cornwell said. “I’ve walked by this corner for 34 years and there’s been a broken window for 20, I plan to get that fixed.” 

He’s also proud of his son, who gave up a successful career in financial planning to start this new venture. 

“I think this is exactly what our city needs,” Kelly Cornwell said. 

Local resident Wyatt Colloty commented that he is in the area often and fully supports the new sandwich shop. It will benefit the entire community, Colloty said. 

“I think this is going to be a huge business in the area,” he said. “It’s going to be amazing for Laguna.”

Councilmembers agreed about the project benefits and several mentioned that they will soon be shopping at Wigz Sandwiches. 

A sandwich shop makes a lot of sense and he’ll be a customer, Weiss said. 

“I like the project, you’re revitalizing that corner,” Weiss said. 

Spigot will likely look a lot better as well, once the senior Cornwell starts his project.


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Favorite Foodie Forays

By Diane Armitage

In case you aren’t privy to my social media platforms @bestoflaguabeach, I thought I’d use this column to share some of my favorite single items that you definitely want to follow up on. 

Before I explain all these beautiful food and drink items, let me answer those questions that have already arisen in your mind:

1. Yes, I do try all of this food and drink, but I take hearty friends with me that allow me to steal a couple sips or bites from their chosen fare. 

2. No, I never finish my entire plate … well, actually, I did finish the entire Lost Pier Balboa Bar but you just can’t let something like that just melt away. On the average, though, I’m lucky if I can eat one-third of what our generous chefs put in front of me. As noted in previous columns, you can just call me the To Go Container Hoarder as that’s clearly what my refrigerator reveals.

Start with dessert first

Favorite foodie Lost Pier

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Lost Pier fathomless Balboa bar

As many of you know, The Lost Pier Café´ is little sister to the Harvest restaurant at The Ranch Laguna Beach, and the owner of said resort, Mark Christy, was a giant fan of the Balboa Bar in Newport Beach as a kid. He asked to re-introduce this luscious treat, and the chefs have done a marvelous job with soft-whip ice cream swirled in fresh chocolate and rolled in optional salty chopped peanuts. It is an undiscovered gem here in Laguna Beach. 

And speaking of Lost Pier Café … 

This little beachside café at Aliso Creek Beach puts the old-school beach stand to shame. The menu is loaded with fresh, fun sandwiches, salads, tacos and a significant breakfast line-up that includes this Breakfast Croissant Sandwich. While their hearty smoked bacon breakfast burrito is still my favorite, you can’t go wrong with this deluxe version with one of the best cups of coffee and views in town.

Favorite foodie Lost Pier

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Lost Pier Breakfast Croissant Sandwich

The largest and freshest Shrimp Ceviché around

Our SoLag Coyote Grill serves up three kinds of ceviche. I’ve always been preferential to the Crab Ceviche but this time I ordered the Shrimp Ceviche after a week of rather uninspired dishes bearing the same name elsewhere. The Coyote Ceviche arrived on a full-sized dinner plate with an entire basket of chips on the side. It’s a full-sized meal of the freshest shrimp around at nearly half the cost of other places I tried (which shall remain unnamed). 

Favorite foodie Coyote

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Coyote Grill’s Shrimp Ceviche

A giant’s take on taco salad

Yet another item I hadn’t yet tried, a couple weeks ago I opted for South of Nick’s El Gringo Taco Salad for lunch. The enormous entrée arrived, far exceeding the size of an average loaf pan. I have no idea how or where they bake up this crispy shell goodness (I picture these shells stacked to the ceiling in the kitchen). It came loaded with lettuce, Spanish rice, refried beans, shredded jack cheese steaming taco meat and all the fixings. Opt for chicken (tinga de pollo), carnitas or ranchera beef if you prefer. 

Favorite foodie South of Nicks

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

South of Nick’s El Gringo Taco Salad

Picturesque tuna tartare

The Drake Laguna Beach’s Ahi Tuna Tartare is so beautiful, you may be inclined to just stare at it in wonder. This work of art is a beauty to the palate, too, with fresh ahi tuna and crushed avocado ladled carefully on cucumber slices in such a careful ring that they look like a troupe of synchronized swimmers. The wonton chip stands stalwart as the backdrop while wasabi emulsion dots the plated finish. It is a showstopper. 

Favorite foodie Drake

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Laguna Beach’s Tuna Tartare starter

A real deal steak sandwich

When my Philly-born buddy asked me if there were any steak sandwiches worth their mettle in Laguna Beach, I had the answer: the Prego Steak sandwich with Peri-Peri sauce at Mozambique

He was very pleasantly surprised.

Tender filet mignon is lathered with caramelized onions (and a host of pile-on options if you prefer) in a squishy brioche bun. You can pick it up and bite into it without it falling apart as most giant sandwiches do; it’s that tender. The dipping sauce of Peri-Peri on the side is Mozambique’s signature item, and well worth new memory making for any steak sandwich you’ve had in your past. 

I was mortified when I discovered the Prego was no longer served on the lunch menu (it’s only on the dinner menu), but the team is happily willing to bring you this magnificent treasure at lunch if you just ask nicely.

Favorite foodie Mozambique

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Mozambique’s super tender Prego Steak Sandwich

  Soup for the season

I was remiss in not taking a photo of the Drake’s featured Garlic Soup the other night. It was such a surprisingly mellow taste that I managed to wrench the main ingredients from Chef Nick for my own Thanksgiving try. It was delectable.

I did, however, snap a shot of Chef Rainer Schwarz’s classic French Onion Soup at his Ocean Ranch location, Hendrix. The urn it arrives in is sizable and it’s filled to overflowing with long-basted, caramelized onion soup and a thick slab of melty gruyere cheese toast. It is definitely a meal in and of itself, and a perfect solution to the cold and foggy days of California’s winter.

On a last note, if you’re a french onion soup fan, be sure to also try Chef Marc’s best-selling Maui Onion Soup at 230 Forest Avenue. Slightly sweeter and milder, it’s loaded with Provencale-seasoned croutons and stringy, beautiful gruyere cheese. 

Favorite foodie Hendrix

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Hendrix French Onion Soup

Looking for last-minute inspiration? Watch for my ongoing food and drink posts @BestofLagunaBeach in both Instagram and Facebook. Direct message your photos to me; I’d love to see what you’re trying around town!

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/ and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


Local team brings the Bianchi Winery vision to unique North Laguna building

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The recently opened Bianchi Winery and Tasting Room is the stunning result of what happens when talented and creative people collaborate – all with a singular vision in mind.

In 2017, when the historic building on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Myrtle Street went on the market for the first time in 20 years, Laguna resident and General Partner of Bianchi Winery, Beau Bianchi, already had a concept for his winery and tasting room. 

Raised in Laguna, Beau’s family moved here when he was 6 years old, so he’s familiar with every nook and cranny of the town. “I grew up driving by this property,” said Beau. “For a couple of years, I’d been looking around for a space – not necessarily in Laguna – but it had to be one with the feasibility for creating what we wanted. This building had been vacant for a while.”

History

A third generation family business, Bianchi Winery was started by Beau’s grandfather Joseph Bianchi. Beau, along with his father Glenn, who is managing general partner, carries on the 47-year tradition. 

The family’s long history began with Joseph Bianchi’s first foray into California winemaking in 1974 with an investment in a winery and vineyard on the banks of the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley of California. There the Bianchi Winery quickly grew to become an industry leader, producing award-winning wines using the most advanced farming and production technologies. 

local team Glenn and Beau

Click on photo for a larger image

(L-R) Glenn and Beau Bianchi

Glenn worked to continue building upon his father’s legacy with his own lifelong ambition of producing ultra-premium wines, searching throughout California to find the finest terroir to meet his high expectations and requirements. 

“In 2000, when we were looking around for property in Napa (and a few other places), I told the Realtor to show me all the listings,” Glenn said. “We found the 40 acres in Paso Robles. I had already visualized it, and then I needed to find a winemaker. You have to have great grapes.” 

According to www.EnoBytes.com, Bianchi Winemaker Chris Stanton embraces a hands-off winemaking style; with little human intervention, he allows Mother Nature to showcase what the region has to offer.

Now, Beau has brought the Bianchi tradition to Laguna in a captivating space to be enjoyed by wine lovers from far and near.

“It’s been a long project,” Glenn said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Looking to the future, he added, “We have three varietals now and when we replant 15 of the 40 acres, we’ll have five to six varietals.” 

The vision 

Built in 1926, the corner space at 496 North Coast Highway was a rare combination of residential (in the rear) and retail components housed at various times: an MG dealership in which there was a ramp leading into the building for cars to be driven in, a photography studio, a kitchen design store and an insurance company – among others. At the time of sale, it was described as an iconic mixed-use Laguna Beach trophy property. 

local team exterior

Click on photo for a larger image

Bianchi Winery & Tasting Room is located at 496 N. Coast Highway. The landscaping was done by James Dockstader Landscaping.

Beau had a clear idea of what he wanted, but he needed to enlist a team of brilliant and experienced people to bring his vision to fruition. And he found them right here in Laguna.

Thus entered a series of well-known local experts in their fields – Architect Todd Skenderian; Al Olignio and Michael Laux of Oligino Laux Construction; Lisa McDennon, owner of Lisa McDennon Design and Nuance Home Store; and Landscaper James Dockstader – each one passionate about bringing the dream to life.

In 2018, the designing process began. 

“I knew the Skenderian name and stellar reputation,” said Beau. “Initially, Todd and I met several times with the city to make sure what we had in mind was viable. We knew it would be challenging, because it was a non-conformist use of the space, but the Design Review Process went well. The city was cooperative.”

The building begins

However, once they started construction, there were a few bumps.

Founder and partner of Oligino Laux Construction, Oligino has spent his professional life of more than 50 years bringing ideas to life. He launched Oligino Laux Construction more than two decades ago. Michael Laux, president and partner, has more than 30 years in the construction industry.

“We do about 25 percent commercial and 75 percent residential projects,” said Laux.

“During the building process, it was a delicate dance due to the pandemic,” said Oligino. “We tried to keep one trade on site at a time and not mix them, and they had to adhere to masking mandates.”

“We were afraid we were going to be shut down, the city was a ghost town,” Laux said. 

local team group

Click on photo for a larger image

Back row (L-R) Adam Genre, Beau Bianchi, Michael Laux; Front row (L-R) Al Oligino, Lisa McDennon, Todd Skenderian and Mehwish Shoab

“Once we got deep into the project, we realized we could take our time,” Beau added.

“We left the façade,” said Skenderian. “It was a challenge architecturally due to the disjointed components. It was a series of small disconnected rooms. We had to change the elevation to marry them together to create a flow. When we demolished the house in back, we could see remnants of old rail from the ramp from the MG dealership.”

It is now a combination of fluid spaces – a ground floor retail area for wine tasting, a series of office spaces, a residential area and a patio event space in the back that opens onto a garage with a television and a few sporting elements.

“We’re taking baby steps with the events,” said Beau. “We’re not sure how the flow will work.”

“We left the original ceiling and trusses,” said Oligino. “We embraced them. They hold the ducting.”

“They were stained wood and we painted them black,” said Laux. “From a building perspective, it was very collaborative. It was a real team effort. We had a pretty good idea early on how flow would work and the materials.”

“Not every project has a team like this,” Skenderian said. “Everyone knew how to get things done.”

local team tasting room

Click on photo for a larger image

McDennon custom-designed elements – from the sofa, wallpaper, chairs, bronze and onyx bar and lighting (The Lisa McDennon Collection) create a welcoming space

The ceiling and trusses add to the “urban industrial” style as McDennon describes it. 

McDennon founded her Laguna Beach-based interiors firm, Lisa McDennon Design in 2000. Nuance, her trend-setting home and lifestyle boutique in Laguna Beach, showcases her style with custom furniture, lighting and linens. The Lisa McDennon Collection for Hinkley lighting debuted January 2017. 

“I design mostly residential properties, but I do a lot of commercial too,” McDennon said. “This is the first winery I’ve designed.” 

The tasting room is a compact 400-square-foot space and McDennon made full use of her design skills to maximize the space and include one-of-a-kind design touches. 

“It’s like a little jewel box,” she said. “We wanted to really brand the Bianchi Winery with an inviting environment. The sofa was custom made with brass railing and a low back. We gave it the crush test. It’s very comfortable. The room has a street presence, so it had to be low, and the chairs and tables are easily movable.”

Custom-designed wallpaper adorns one wall. Behind the wine displays, the lights change color – altering the mood as they switch. The lower bar top is made of brass and combined with onyx which seamlessly blends together. “We worked with the artisans to get the right patina,” McDennon said.

local team patio

Click on photo for a larger image

Patio for events with a garage has sliding doors that open onto the outdoor space

The space is filled with eye-catching details, such as metal handles on the doors, and the custom wallpaper on the walls and ceiling of the restroom with swirls that resemble red wine. The light fixtures are exquisite and give the space a warm inviting glow. “The lighting comes from my line with Hinkley,” said McDennon.

The walls are composed of brick with over grouting which adds to the urban industrial feel. 

“Lisa understood the project and how it could most reflect the architectural elements and be reflective of Bianchi Winery through a series of design selections,” Skenderian said.

Custom design elements

Designer Mehwish Shoab has been with Lisa McDennon Design for a year and coordinates on-time deliveries. “Since everything is custom, it was a challenge during COVID due to delay in shipment,” said Shoab, who also coordinated the brass work. 

Nuance Retail Director Adam Genre joined McDennon in April. He selected the accessories for the tasting room – glassware and smaller pieces. “For availability, I had to pick what was in stock,” he said. 

“We’ve gotten a lot of community support,” said Beau. “Ninety-five percent of our patrons have been from a five-block radius. People will turn their chairs and bar stools around and chat with the people on the sofa.”

Very much into supporting local artisans, he features their work in the bar. 

“We focus on local designers,” he said. “The custom wine bags and bottle tags are from an OC leathermaker, the cheese boards and coasters are created by a local company, Don’t be Basic. We also partner with The Butchery in Crystal Cove Shopping Center. It’s a nice community project to bring everyone together.”

local team Beau

Click on photo for a larger image

Stop by for a tasting

The Bianchi family is firmly rooted in the community and has been for decades.

Beau went all through Laguna schools, and his three children are following in his footsteps. He also spent a lot of time at the Boys & Girls Club and is a staunch supporter of their organization. 

His son Geste is a sophomore at University of California, San Diego, Lucas is a junior at Laguna Beach High School, and Ivy Lee, an eighth grader at Thurston Middle School.

Of Beau’s three children – who have wines named after them – is it possible one of them will follow the family tradition?

“My daughter Ivy Lee seems to be the most interested,” Beau said. “She helps out around here, and she has a ‘great nose.’”

It’s possible that one day in the future, Bianchi Winery might be a fourth generation family business.

In the meantime, drop in and have a glass of wine, and enjoy the warm and inviting atmosphere in this extraordinary spot.

Bianchi Winery and Tasting Room is located at 496 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach.

They are open Monday, 4 p.m.-8ish; Tuesday CLOSED; Wednesday, 4 p.m.-8ish; Thursday 4 p.m.-8ish; Friday 4 p.m.-9ish; Saturday 1 p.m.-9ish; and Sunday 1 p.m.-7ish.

For more information about Bianchi Winery, visit www.bianchiwine.com.

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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

949.212.1499

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising

949.315.0259

© 2022 Stu News Laguna - All Rights Reserved.