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Studio at Montage Laguna Beach, where harmony is the key to sensational unique dishes

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

It was an exciting week this week, as my time came to review Studio at Montage Laguna Beach and quite brilliantly it happened to be the week that my parents were in town from the UK to celebrate my dad’s birthday. So who better to take to one of Laguna Beach’s most celebrated and acclaimed restaurants?  

That’s right - my dear dad, David Kirkham, who looks about 45 but actually turns 60 on June 30.

I consider myself to be very lucky to have such a wonderful father. A carpenter since the age of 15, he has been the most inspirational person to me. His passion for his craft has always driven me.  

He’s the guy that can make anything out of anything, he’s the “wood guy” that can look at a piece of wood and tell you its age its origin and more. He’s also the guy that spends way too long in the DIY store (insert eye roll). 

And he is a great chef! He uses cooking as a way of chilling out after a busy day at work and makes the most beautiful food, experimenting with anything and everything. So I knew that an experience eating Chef Craig Strong’s phenomenal and imaginative food would be such a treat for him.

About Chef Craig Strong

Chef Strong has been executive chef at Montage Laguna Beach for nine years. He is known for his modern French cuisine with California influences. His love of cooking was developed at an early age. One of eight children growing up in San Diego, he was inspired by his mother and grandmother to first experiment with tomatoes and zucchini grown in the family’s vegetable garden that was his to manage.  

At age 19, he attended L’Academie de Cuisine near Washington DC, where he studied under some of the most respected chefs in the area, including Chefs Françoise and Pascal Dinot. From that moment on Chef Strong’s career took him all over the USA and then on to Europe, specifically Barcelona, before returning to California, where he gained many high accolades including Michelin One-star ratings in 2007 and 2008; Gourmet magazine ’60 World’s Best Hotel Dining Rooms,’ Los Angeles Times 3 Star Rating, Food & Wine ’50 Best Hotel Restaurants’ and California Homes magazine ‘#1 Hotel Restaurant.’ 

Strong was named runner-up Chef of the Year by Angeleno magazine and was a semi finalist in the 2009 James Beard Foundation Awards for Best Chef/Pacific.

Whether yoga, biking or food artistry: Studio’s chef is a “strong” believer in harmony

Over the past couple of months, I have been lucky enough to have a few encounters with Chef Strong. I’ve written a feature about him for another publication. I also attend the same yoga class as him and his beautiful wife Lisa. 

Anyone can Google Chef Strong and find out all of his accolades, but to know him is to really love him. I have been blown away that such an accomplished, well-traveled, successful chef could be so humble, so calm, so accommodating, and such a gentleman. He is a keen mountain biker – he bikes most mornings before work – and, like my father, he is a devoted father and family man and is passionate about his craft.

He is also a great believer in harmony: in his kitchen, his restaurant, his life and on every plate. 

With this in mind I knew that this dinner was going to be very special.

Our Food Journey at Studio at Montage Laguna Beach

Studio at Montage offers tasting menus including a vegetarian option as well as a regular menu. The tasting menu is also available with wine selections or a grand wine tasting. 

Chef Strong had arranged for me and my dad to try a selection of dishes from both tasting menus while sitting at the communal table overlooking the Montage grounds and the beautiful ocean. He came to greet us and as I imagined, he and my dad got on famously. 

Peter Koehlinger and Dylan Cloughen were our servers for the evening and they brought out a selection of amazing hors d’oeuvres. Delicious caviar tacos, which melted in your mouth; a dehydrated rice chip with a madras curry paste, garnished with micro greens and wasabi; a short rib croquet with a horse radish puree; and lastly a duck confit spring roll with orange jelly and micro cilantro – the one-bite size hors d’oeuvres were all spectacular, interesting and so full of flavor, the perfect way to start our evening.

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Wagyu beef, harmony on a plate: this would be our last “main dish”

It was then on to the first course and we were presented with Seared Ahi Tuna from the tasting menu. This is served with a fava bean puree, pickled radish which injects a little spice and heat to the dish, and it is topped with a Focaccia Tuile (tuile is a baked wafer) strawberry powder, mustard greens and micro greens. 

Alongside this dish is a beautiful and unique gazpacho. Chef Strong uses a combination of red and green strawberries to make the broth instead of the traditional tomato base and the results are astounding. This was a light dish, with the combination of flavors blending together beautifully. 

Molecular Gastronomy: when science meets food

The next dish seriously blew me away. This dish can be found on the vegetarian tasting menu and is called Crimson Beet Tartare. Crimson beets are molded onto the plate with a delicious horseradish puree and then on top is a perfect yellow yolk, except it’s not a yolk (this is a vegetarian menu after all) – it’s a faux yolk created using molecular gastronomy and golden beets. This is outstanding. 

Peter, our server, encouraged us to cut the “yolk” and allow the liquid to fall over the crimson beets. This was not only beautiful to look at but also delicious to taste.

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Beet tartare with egg yolk? Actually, no…it’s a delicious faux yolk

In between this and the next course we were presented with a variety of delicious breads, brioche, multigrain and rye, and butters including a goat milk variety, a traditional, and a lemon and garlic flavored version. Bread is one thing I tend to avoid, but I tried them all and all were exquisite.

The next dish was New Caledonian Prawns, which were pan seared and served with egg noodles tossed in a basil and garlic emulsion and served over a shrimp reduction which had been infused with Meyer lemons from Chef Strong’s garden – it should be mentioned at this point that many of the vegetables, fruits and herbs come from Chef Strong’s garden or from the gardens at Montage Laguna Beach. This dish was topped with a dehydrated black olive and orange powder – yet again another imaginative and impressive combination of flavors.

The next dish was seared Maine scallops, served with a Romanesco puree, a cauliflower salad, beurre blanc sauce and bonito-yuzu koshū butter. This was topped with a fried cracker dusted with Nori powder. The combination of the Asian flavors and the tenderness of the perfectly cooked scallop was incredible. 

The celerini alfredo was next, celery root noodles with garlic cream, brown butter crumble and dehydrated porcini mushrooms. I am a big fan of using vegetables as noodles yet have never tried celery root noodles. This was really good and the crumble in this dish really made it pop.

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Celerini alfredo topped with dehydrated porcini mushrooms

The final ‘main dish” to try was the A5 Japanese WAGYU beef. A5 is the highest grade given only to the finest beef. This was served with a Bordelaise sauce, a creamy mash and delicious micro vegetables. I’ve never had meat so tender in my life, it literally melted in my mouth, it was so rich and delicious.

To our surprise we were then presented with two delicious desserts, a banana cake lovingly decorated with a happy birthday and candle for my dad, and a dark chocolate sphere. Our server poured hot chocolate sauce over the sphere to melt it and reveal handmade salted caramel ice cream - it was decadent, rich and creamy.

Chef Strong and his people at Studio together make the best team I have ever encountered in a fine dining establishment. They work together with equal respect for each other, they create an environment that is not superior or stuffy, but elegantly comfortable for everyone to enjoy. The flavors on every plate of food that they serve are harmonious, which is how Chef Strong approaches everything: in perfect harmony.

Studio at Montage Laguna Beach is located 30801 Coast Hwy. (949) 715 6420

Big-time fun and food at Big Fish: It’s also a great place to enjoy a big game on a big screen

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Laguna Beach’s Big Fish Tavern recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. Formally known as The House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer (kind of a mouthful), this restaurant was taken over by Jim Walker and Louis Feinstein, owners of The Bungalow in Corona Del Mar, and instead of doing a complete overhaul, they merely changed the name, renovated the menu and resurrected what had already put Big Fish firmly on the map for Laguna dining.  

The menu is still primarily seafood, with raw bar options such as poke and oysters, and features starters such as coconut shrimp and glazed calamari, seafood chowders, various lobster dishes, salads, fresh fish of the day, burgers and sandwiches and a specialties section, as well as lots of ice cold beer, yummy cocktails and a great wine selection. 

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Surprise! Even though the focus is on seafood, meat-eaters will enjoy the filet

Big Fish offers a great range of weekly specials to entice customers. Monday nights, locals can enjoy 25 percent off the menu; Tuesday they offer Taco Tuesday all night long (and the fish tacos are really good) and on Wednesday, guests get half off all bottled wine.

The restaurant itself has a comfortable local Laguna Beach feel, with a great open bar area with communal tables – and then, as you head further into the restaurant, the seating area is really well proportioned, with a semi-outdoor seating area, where on a sunny day (as on the day I recently ate there) you have the most beautiful ocean views.  

Big Fish also sports large TV screens and has a reputation for being the place to go to watch any big games in Laguna Beach. 

This place is also incredibly popular for families, as it has a very kid-friendly vibe. The offer of coloring pencils and puffer fish cartoon characters offers parents a much-needed two minutes to eat their food in peace. 

My Food Journey at Big Fish

We decided to start with a couple of appetizers from the raw bar menu. 

First was the ahi poke, consisting of ahi, onion, seaweed spicy soy, and avocado served with crispy wontons. This was delicious, very fresh and a really good-sized portion. We were splitting the dishes family style, and this was more than enough.  

We then had the oysters, blue point oysters, which came in fresh that morning from Acapulco. They were great, served with all the trimmings including a house made mignonette, horseradish and a cocktail sauce.  We also decided to add a little Laguna Beach made, and our favorite hot sauce, Magu hot sauce. Yummy.

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The oysters are great

It was then time to order the entrée courses. We ordered an array of dishes and split them so we could taste as much as possible. Our server Lily recommended we try the fish of the day, which was yellowtail. We chose to have this pan-roasted with a lemon buerre blanc sauce and kale and roasted mushroom risotto. This dish was really very good, my favorite of the night. The yellowtail was perfectly cooked as was the risotto, which I can never get right myself. It was very more-ish and just so tasty. 

We chose the kale salad to accompany our dishes: organic kale, pepitas, almonds, quinoa, parmesan and avocado tossed in a delicious lemon vinaigrette.  This salad is huge and a meal itself. It was great, and lucky for me, I was able to box some up to enjoy the day after for lunch. 

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The kale salad was delicious

Having tried a steak in the restaurant, I decided to opt for the grilled fillet mignon, cooked medium rare and served with mashed potato spinach and mushroom with a béarnaise sauce. This was a great dish and the mignon was cooked perfectly. We really enjoyed it.

We rounded our feast up by trying a dessert and naturally I chose the Crème Brulee (you all know I can’t say no) and as expected it was great, tasty and light, served with seasonal fruit. 

As far as drinks go we had a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon, which was half off as it was a Wednesday, and we shared a Big Fish lapu lapu, which I have to say was a particularly delicious lapu lapu, and very pretty to look at.

This was not my first Big Fish rodeo, I’ve visited this restaurant many times with my children to watch big games and I’ve always really enjoyed the food. The jambalaya is 10/10 as are their famous fish and chips, which are breaded and prepared in-house every morning.  

It’s a great place to take the family and the staff are always so gracious, knowledgeable and friendly.

Big Fish is located 540 S Coast Hwy #200; (949) 715-4500

Laura’s Restaurant Updates

Brussels Bistro is now open for lunch

Exciting news for Brussels Bistro Fans: Brussels will now be open for lunch from 11 a.m. every day of the week.

Thomas Crijns opened Brussels Bistro in 2004 and it has firmly been established as one of the most celebrated restaurants in Laguna Beach, renowned for its authentic Belgium cuisine and of course its huge selection of Belgium beers. It most recently won Open Tables February Diners Choice award, alongside many other accolades since it opened. 

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Photo by Laura Buckle

Lunch is served!

Seven months ago Crijns’ best friend of 40 years, Nicolas Servais, moved his family over from Belgium to partner up with him, a partnership that has only enhanced this already popular and successful bistro.

Lunch fans will find all the favorites from the weekly menu as well as Belgium waffles served daily. 

Brussels prides itself in its weekly evening specials and these specials will also be available on the daytime menu.

For more information, visit their website or call (949) 376 7955.

Laura Buckle’s Restaurant Updates 

Wine Gallery will now be open every day of the week

Exciting news for Wine Gallery Fans – the Wine Gallery in Laguna Beach will now be open on Mondays. That means the restaurant will now be open seven days a week, offering Happy Hour Monday through to Sunday between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m.  


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Photo by Laura Buckle

Delicious burrata

And as if that wasn’t enough exciting enough, The Wine Gallery is also opening for weekend only lunch 11.30 a.m. – 4 p.m. starting Saturday July 23. You can sit in and keep cool or order to-go food (their pizzas are phenomenal) to enjoy on the beach – but remember to pick up your trash… 

The Wine Gallery is located at 1833 South Coast Highway Phone (949) 715 8744.

Need a cure for lunchtime blahs? Head to Okura, perfect for lunch meetings (and dinner conversations)

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Six weeks ago marked the arrival of Okura Laguna Beach’s new manager Chad Abell. Managing restaurants is in Chad’s blood. Originally he hails from northern California, where his father worked in fine Italian dining all of his life before going on to run a selection of Fiore restaurants in the region.  

Chad moved to southern California and began to manage the Marbella Country Club in San Juan Capistrano, before moving onto the St Regis where he obtained his Fine Dining training. A shift in the management of the St Regis saw him leave there and take up a position at Mozambique, where he worked as the banqueting captain for three years before moving to Okura to become the manager of the restaurant.

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Yum, oysters

And Chad has big ideas. Okura is Laguna Beach’s largest sushi restaurant, located where many businesses have sadly struggled, due to the size of the space. However Okura seems to have been ticking along nicely since 2015. 

As with most businesses, there is always room for growth and improvement, especially during the quieter winter months.  Chad is already working on a new cocktail menu, which will incorporate Japanese inspired cocktails such as a green tea martini and an alternative Bloody Mary. They have also introduced happy nights on a Monday and Tuesday, where the regular Happy Hour, which is 4-6 p.m. every weekday, has been extended until closing time. This is one of the best happy hours available in a sushi establishment, with many dishes and drinks being half the price.  

Chad explains that the food in Okura sells itself (more on that from me later): he is eager to focus on the regeneration of the bar area.

The next step is to try and obtain a live music license (pretty please to anyone on city council reading this). It’s surprising that such large space does not have this feature, but Chad is confident and determined to get this passed. Their recent sponsorship and collaboration with our local radio station KX 93.5 means that if and when they do get a live music license, you will be sure to see some great local artists performing there.

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Sashimi and sushi is fresh and delicious

In the meantime, Okura offers a phenomenal lunchtime menu. I regularly use Okura for business meetings and hopefully by the end of reading this report, I will have convinced any business owner out there to do the same.  

As mentioned previously Okura is a large restaurant, with the capacity to seat many big parties, perfect for a large business lunch or meeting. It is also very well arranged, so that the spacing of the tables allows for intimate conversation, should there be just a couple of people.

The tables themselves are also large, accommodating laptops, notepads or any other equipment you may need for a working lunch. The restaurant is air conditioned, which is a must (especially over the last week).

The lunchtime menu is a colorful array of salads, lunch combinations, bento boxes sushi sashimi rolls and specialty rolls. It also offers a wide range of Gluten Free alternatives. There’s truly something for everyone.

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Sushi can be ordered gluten free

During the lunch menu drinks are available at happy hour prices, but this was a business meeting with my other boss Tyler Russell of KX 93.5 FM and I needed to keep a clear head. 

I ordered a surprise, but specified I wanted the gluten free option, eager to see if it would be as good as the rest of the menu. I was not disappointed. I was presented with the shitake beet salad, crispy shitake mushroom, goat cheese, and walnuts with marinated beet. Alongside this was an array of sashimi served of course with wasabi and ginger and tamari (gluten free) sauce. This was light, tasty and felt so incredibly healthy. It was just the right amount of food for me at lunchtime, without leaving me with an overly full feeling.

Tyler also ordered a dish to be surprised but this time not gluten free…in fact, he ordered extra gluten ha ha! He was presented with a variety of sashimi served over sticky rice and colorful special rolls. It was all perfect and a delightful accompaniment to our working lunch. 

Chad then treated us to some Kumamoto oysters, these were the cream of the crop, delicious tasty oysters, with a magnificent kick. I would highly recommend these if you can cope with a little spice.

All in all my experience at Okura was, as always, really great. The food is consistently spectacular and if you take advantage of the weekly happy hours and specials, it can be a cost effective place to eat.  

Okura is available to hire as a private venue and it also offers outside catering. (949) 793-4320 · 858 S Coast Hwy

Zinc is a vegetarian restaurant with dishes certain to whet the appetites of carnivores too

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Opened in 1988, Zinc Laguna Beach has been a favorite among the locals for more than 28 years.  Zinc Cafe was inspired by the quality food movement initiated by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Since Zinc opened its Laguna Beach location, Zinc has gone from strength to strength, opening in Corona del Mar and Los Angeles. And by that I mean, it really does crush any myths that a vegetarian restaurant leaves a non-vegetarian person feeling less than satisfied. 

Zinc food is beautifully fresh, tasty, with generous portion sizes and adventurous ingredients. It offers and breakfast and lunch menu seven days a week, changes its soups daily and offers fantastic specials. It also serves brunch cocktails, beer and wine. 

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Start with a delicious latte

I decided to report on breakfast (as its one of my favorite breakfast venues in Laguna Beach) and took my best veggie friend Cottie and her puppy Flounder (yes that is right, Zinc is dog friendly).

Our Food Journey at Zinc

When we arrived at Zinc, it was (as always at 10 a.m.) very busy, luckily we managed to grab a table for two.  There is no table service at Zinc, but cold water is available on a self-serve system and there are staff on hand to clear tables and keep guests comfortable.   

Diners are required to go inside the bar to order food, where drinks are made and then you are given a device which buzzes when your food is ready for collection.  

I ordered a large almond milk latte and a Zinc Mimosa, the drinks came quickly. Zinc coffee is great coffee, pretty strong in taste but very smooth. The Zinc mimosa was really delicious, sparking wine, orange juice, peach juice and raspberry puree. It had the look of a sunset and tasted just as sweet.

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Dill’s what does it

It was then onto the food, the breakfast menu consists of an eggs section, specialties section, fruit yoghurt and sides as well as cereal and a selection of baked goods.

My friend Cottie ordered the avocado toast from the specialties menu and it really is special, consisting of smashed avocado, dill, lemon dressed radish salad, chives onion and lemon zest, and she added a poached egg.  This is one of my favorite things on the menu at Zinc, the combination of the dill and chives in the smashed avocado make it so tasty. You can have this with wheat toast or gluten free.

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Breakfast bowl: it’s delicious and fresh

I decided to go for the breakfast burrito bowl, which included delicious scrambled eggs, vegetarian sausage onion sauté, white cheddar, avocado, pico de gallo and fire roasted salsa. This is a fabulous dish and is available as a burrito wrap also. What I love about this dish as it feels like a hearty breakfast and definitely something that you could give the token carnivore that may be in your group. 

As well as a fabulous café, Zinc also has a wonderful take out café and coffee shop for lunch or brunch on the go.  I often buy their full cakes for parties and palm them off as my own (oops maybe I gave the game away..)

There’s a reason Zinc has been busy since 1988 – it’s great quality and value vegetarian food done so incredibly well. I don’t know one person in Laguna who has never visited.

Zinc is located at 350 Ocean Ave.

Selanne Steak Tavern’s executive chef is named Culinary Visionary for Flavors of Orange County

Award-winningJoshua Severson, who has served as executive chef of Selanne Steak Tavern since its opening in 2013, has been chosen to be the Culinary Visionary for the 2017 American Liver Foundation Flavors of Orange County gala fundraiser. 

On Sunday, October 15, at The Duke Hotel Newport Beach, Chef Severson and Selanne Steak Tavern will be recognized for ongoing dedication, support and commitment to the research, education and advocacy efforts of the American Liver Foundation.

Flavors of Orange County is a special culinary experience that showcases the signature dishes of area chefs who are invited to participate in this distinct evening featuring a cocktail reception and fine dining. Each participating chef will create a unique five-course dinner to be served tableside for one table of 12 guests. In addition, the glamorous evening hosted by celebrity chef and lifestyle expert Jamie Gwen will feature exciting silent and live auctions.

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Executive Chef Joshua Severson

“I am highly honored to be designated as the 2017 culinary visionary of Flavors of Orange County,” said Severson. “And, I look forward to working on this important American Liver Foundation fundraiser. It is my goal to help invite and lead a team of outstanding OC chefs who want to show off their culinary talents to discerning guests. I am pleased to do all I can to promote such an amazing evening of giving.”

Owner Kevin Pratt noted, “From the beginning, it has always been our goal at Selanne Steak Tavern to offer the highest level of food, drinks and hospitality to our guests from far and near. Also, co-owner Teemu Selanne and I always strive to support important causes that affect the health and wellness of children and adults in Orange County and beyond.

“Being a part of the American Liver Foundation’s Flavors of Orange County is a meaningful way we can help others,” he added.

The 14th Annual Flavors of Orange County event takes place on Sunday, Oct 15 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Duke Hotel, Newport Beach, 4500 MacArthur Blvd.

Ticket cost is $355. To buy tickets, visit

For more information: Visit

The mission of the American Liver Foundation is to facilitate, advocate and promote education, support and research for the prevention, treatment and cure of liver disease. For more information, visit

Selanne Steak Tavern, located at 1464 South Coast Highway opened in November 2013 and is owned by Hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and local Orange County businessman Kevin Pratt. Housed in a reimagined 1934 historic home along the Pacific Coast, it’s an upscale contemporary steak house with a downstairs tavern, bar and wine library, a loft upstairs for more intimate dining and two patios for alfresco dining. 

Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner only, nightly starting at 5 p.m. For reservations and more information, call 949-715-9881 or visit

Ruby’s is a great diner for kids with delightful options for the determined adult dieter

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

In two weeks’ time myself and 11 other Laguna Beach moms head to Mexico to celebrate one of our party’s “Big Birthdays” – cue many group photographs and postings by a luxurious infinity pool.  

Therefore like most women (those of us who admit it) my calorie intake has reduced and my workout rate has dramatically increased so that I don’t represent a beached whale in Cabo San Lucas.

So imagine my horror when my food report schedule brings up Ruby’s Diner. Not the place (or so I thought) I should be eating at so close to this impending vacation.

Ruby’s Diner is a legacy, with more than 35 years of experience and over 35 restaurants in the USA. This American diner has stood the test of time in delivering a diner inspired vibe and an enormous menu in keeping with that. 

Run on the beach inspires Ruby’s

The idea for Ruby’s Diner was born in 1980 after a run on the beach. Doug Cavanaugh had just returned to his native Southern California after successfully restoring and running a restaurant on Nantucket Island off Cape Cod. One evening he was brainstorming about business opportunities with his father, and remembered that he had seen a dilapidated building at the end of Balboa Pier while jogging along the beach. Although the building was in pretty bad shape, Cavanaugh noticed its architecture really lent itself well to that of a 1940’s diner. With his father’s encouragement, Cavanaugh started to make the restaurant a reality.  The restaurant’s name came from his mother Ruby, as did the logo of the brand.

The location I visited was in South Laguna. It is a bright white and red building (as are all the diners) with an array of vintage vehicles located outside, it reminds me of a scene out of Happy Days, and delights visitors (especially children) daily. In fact, I always make sure that when families visit me from the UK and they have children that this is where we bring them for a true “diner experience.”

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Ruby’s Laguna Beach

For this report, I took along two children, one of whom doesn’t enjoy red meat and one who is burger crazy.

We were greeted by the manager of the Laguna Beach location, Victoria Douglas, who has been with Ruby’s for 15 years (although she doesn’t look old enough!). Victoria took us upstairs to our table, where we had a beautiful ocean view. 

The menu is large and takes some reading, there is a full page dedicated to Ruby’s famous 16 different flavor shakes so obviously that’s where the girls decided to start.

 They chose an Oreo child’s milk shake and a chocolate banana milkshake. Each milkshake is handmade to order, so don’t expect these to be rushed out, but believe me it is totally worth the wait.

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The shakes are great

As I mentioned before Ruby’s menu is vast, there’s a kids menu, appetizers and sides, fresh salads, chilis, soups, shakes, premium burgers, extraordinary burgers, all American sandwiches, big plates, classic burgers, turkey burgers, all day breakfasts and desserts.

As I scoured the menu, I was amazed at all the options and then I felt I had struck gold, Ruby’s really does cater for everyone. There is a full section of DE-LITE-FUL dishes to choose from all under 650 calories! All of a sudden the Mexico swimsuit anxiety lifted.

The children ordered, one child going for the chicken fingers with fries. Ruby’s fries are completely trans fat free and there is an option of a fries refill upon request.  The chicken fingers were tasty, succulent white chicken in a crispy breadcrumb coating. Just to make sure we got our greens that day, we also ordered a side Caesar salad, which was very tasty. 

The other child ordered a kid’s cheeseburger, fully loaded with added Ruby’s sauce, which tastes a lot like a Thousand Island dressing, but has added spices. This was delicious and a large burger for a child. 

I decided to go for the DE-LITE-FUL garden burger, a garden burger patty served on a whole wheat (or gluten free) bun with non fat mayo, half cheese, crisp lettuce and tomato accompanied by a side salad. This was seriously good, and felt much more naughty than 650 calories! 

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The garden burger was less than 650 calories

The children decided not to go for the dessert option, way too full from the shake and the main meal. And I obviously did not want to spoil my healthy momentum. 

Ruby’s Diner is really great, its food is good, the atmosphere great and for children it’s a little bit magical.

The restaurant offers weekly promotions and on a Tuesday evening kids eat free. It really is fun for the whole family and there is an option to be healthy if you’re under a little pressure.

Ruby’s Laguna Beach 30622 S. Coast Hwy, is open 7a.m  – 9 p.m. Call (949) 497 7829 or go to for more information. 

Waterman’s Ball was wonderful

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

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

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

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

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

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Laura Buckle with Bethany Hamilton

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

The Award Winners

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

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

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

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

Environmentalist of the Year

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

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

Lifetime Achievement Award: Herbie Fletcher

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

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

Special Recognition Award – ISA – Fernand Aguerre

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

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

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The Ranch provided exquisite food

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

A little bit about SIMA

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

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

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

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

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

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

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

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

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

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Pie at the Penguin!

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

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

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

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

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My chili was fabulous

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

Our food journey

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

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

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

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

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Shaena enjoys the Bird Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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