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Laguna Beach


2nd Annual Kitchen Tours to Stock the Pantry event raises nearly $9K for Laguna Food Pantry

More than 150 locals and not-so-locals attended the “2nd Annual Kitchen Tours to Stock the Pantry,” resulting in a total donation of almost $9,000 to fund Laguna Food Pantry programs. 

Five fabulous families opened their five fabulous kitchens to tour participants on Sunday, Nov 10 with a reception following at the Compass offices in downtown Laguna Beach. 

All expenses for the tour were underwritten by the Mike Johnson Group of Compass, with all of the ticket proceeds flowing straight to the Laguna Food Pantry. 

2nd Annual Group

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“Pearl of the Cove” kitchen owned by the Edington Family – (L-R) Patricia O’Brien, Mike Johnson, and Susan Thomas

Attendees visited a wonderfully re-imagined cottage kitchen, a massive contemporary kitchen in a home that formerly housed a church, an island-inspired kitchen, the re-born kitchen of a 1920’s Woods Cove home, and a classic South Laguna estate home. 

Munchies at the reception were provided by Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grilel, and Sarah of Temecula Olive Oil Company Company provided some tastings while Geoff Glass put on an incredibly beautiful guitar performance throughout the event.

Compass extends a special thanks to the White, Duensing, Edington, Nelson, and Dickinson families for opening their homes. 

--Itty Bitty White House: The re-born kitchen of a 1920s Woods Cove home (owned by the White Family)

--Holy Transformation: A massive contemporary kitchen in a home that formerly housed a church (owned by the Duensing Family)

2nd Annual Kitchen

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“The Holy Transformation” kitchen owned by the Duensing Family

--Pearl of the Cove: A classic South Laguna estate home (owned by the Edington Family)

--Brazilian Den: An island-inspired kitchen (owned by the Nelson Family)

--Grace and Style: A wonderfully re-imagined cottage kitchen (owned by the Dickinson Family)

For more information on Laguna Food Pantry and to support its mission, visit www.lagunafoodpantry.org.


Skyloft revitalizes brunch menu: they had me at fried green tomatoes 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

More than anything else, Ivan Spiers, owner of Skyloft – and Mozambique – wants residents to know that Skyloft is not closing. He says, “Many people think I owned Tommy Bahama and have assumed Skyloft is closing too.”

On the contrary, Skyloft has just introduced a new brunch menu, Happy Hour menu, special prices for Sunday Kickoff sports viewing (they have 17 televisions), and have added new items to the lunch and dinner menus. And hands down, they have the best sound system and musical venue anywhere in town, featuring incredible local bands.

Understandably, Spiers is concerned about all the vacancies in the vicinity. Now that Tommy Bahama has closed, the spaces on either side of Skyloft are vacant.

“We also lost business when Hotel Laguna closed. They could accommodate 300 guests who frequented our restaurant,” says Spiers.

Skyloft revitalizes Ivan

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Ivan Spiers and his dog Max on Skyloft’s patio

However, in the wake of these unfounded closure rumors and existing vacancies, Skyloft has reinvigorated their menus and added unique items.

My husband and I sampled two of their brunch items, and they immediately had me at fried green tomatoes. These crispy disks were panko crusted and seasoned to perfection, yet firm on the inside. Absolutely delicious. These are not an item one typically sees on local menus. They were offered as a meat substitute – a genius choice.

I had the egg white scramble with mushrooms, spinach, sweet onions, tomatoes, avocado, potatoes, and feta cheese, which added a complementary tangy flavor to the other, more mellow ingredients.

My husband had a breakfast of over easy eggs, potatoes, and fried green tomatoes, served with Texas toast, a thick bread perfect for dipping into the eggs.

Even though this was a traditional breakfast, many times, the simplest dishes are the most difficult to do well, so when they are, congratulations are in order. And of course, the addition of fried green tomatoes made it anything but traditional.

Skyloft revitalizes eggs

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Egg white scramble 

Although we didn’t try it, we were told by others that the French Toast is wonderful and has granola included for added crunch.

Spiers adds, “We’re bringing in new things and updating the menu and focusing on BBQ.” They have their own in-house smoker and Cali Smokehouse food items for lunch and dinner.

The NFL Sunday Kickoff menu is available on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the main level only and features unbelievable drink specials and food such as calamari, wings, and rack ribs with fries.

The Happy Hour Menu is offered on Monday from 3 p.m. until closing and Tuesday through Friday from 3 until 6 p.m. It features specials on drinks and items such as tacos, chilled shrimp sliders, and a Cali Smoke Mix plate.

They also offer patio dining – with an incredible panoramic view of the ocean and the trails to the north. The patio and an outside section downstairs are dog friendly which is a huge bonus for dog owners.

The current chef, Matt Nagana, is not the original chef, and when asked what he looks for in a chef, Spiers says, “Consistency, control over the kitchen, and experience.” All of which Nagana possesses.

Spiers is not the only one concerned about all the closures. At a meeting recently with 12 other restaurateurs in Laguna, he relates, “They said they haven’t seen the business climate so bad here in 20 or 30 years.”

Skyloft revitalizes bar

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Traditional eggs over easy breakfast 

Spiers has been here for 25 years and said they just experienced their slowest summer ever. He’s hoping to entice diners to come back and enjoy the new menu.

Spiers has new endeavors on the horizon in other areas of the U.S., ideas that he’s been thinking about for two years. 

He has opened a Skyloft in Albany, New York, in a mall. This Skyloft holds over 1,000 people and focuses more on music and private events. Spiers is incorporating a unique concept. Inside the 18,000 square foot space, there will be food trucks with different cuisines which all will cook out of the same kitchen. Patrons can order from the various trucks and sit where ever they want. There will be bars all around. The only food service is in the VIP area.

He is also opening one in Columbus, OH, close to Ohio State in the German District, in a free standing old brewery and one in Covington, KY, outdoors in a shopping mall on the river. 

Skyloft revitalizes Josh

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Josh, our server 

But getting back to the Laguna Beach location, Skyloft has much to offer as well. 

The staff is wonderful and accommodating. Josh, who has been with Skyloft for two years, served us. 

Skyloft has so much for the community to experience and enjoy: new menu items and brunch menu, happy hour, the sports bar during the day, live music, and a dog friendly patio with views of the ocean town and hills. 

And then there’s the fried green tomatoes – don’t miss the opportunity to try them!

Spiers says, “We have such beautiful town, and it is my hope that more people start coming to see it.”

Skyloft is located at 422 S Coast Hwy.

For the menu and more information, go to www.skyloftoc.com or call (949) 715-1550.


Community invited to Holidays at the Hive on Sunday

Join together for Holidays at the Hive, a community-wide holiday event, on Sunday, Dec 15. Come spread the holiday cheer with the familiar faces of the Hive plus a pop-up marketplace featuring unique vendors for all your gifting needs this season. Enjoy a real snow sledding hill, live music, and libations from the colony at the Hive! 

The Hive will be buzzing from 12 to 5 p.m.

Community invited to

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Photo by Scott Brashier

Bring the family for a real snow sledding hill at the Hive on Sunday

Pop-up vendors include: Mago Hot Sauce, Wilding Works, Ali Rybczyk Art, Momeh Boutique, Honey Girl Grows, Raptor Jewelry, Terramar Collection, Sunari Lifestyle, Blessed Booch, Kungfu Tonic, Laguna Love, Merritt Charles, Lumion Skin, and more to come.

Participating nonprofits include Help Heal Vets, KX 93.5, and Laguna Food Pantry 

Offsite parking, trolley, and ride share are encouraged.

For more information, visit www.holidaysatthehive.com/.


Ruby’s Diner donates percentage of sales to Laguna Food Pantry through Dec 8

Ruby’s Diner Laguna Beach is partnering with Laguna Food Pantry to donate a percentage of Ruby’s sales from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. all week – through Sunday, Dec 8. 

Patrons can come dine in or order take-out from Ruby’s Diner and 20 percent of all food and non-alcoholic beverage sales will be donated to Laguna Food Pantry. 

Laguna Food Pantry is an almost completely volunteer-run enterprise that provides free, fresh, nutritious groceries to individuals and families in need.

Ruby's Diner Sgt Cota

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From archives

Sgt Jim Cota at Ruby’s during the annual Tip-a-Cop fundraiser

Laguna Food Pantry collects and distributes 5,000 lbs. of food every weekday, serving 500+ families a week in South Orange County, and more than half the shoppers have babies and children to feed.

Ruby’s Diner is located at 30622 So Coast Hwy. For more information, call (949) 497-RUBY (7829)

The fundraiser is good on all purchases for dine-in and to-go orders.  Excludes the sales on alcoholic beverages. 

Please mention the promotion when ordering.

For more information about Laguna Food Pantry, go to www.lagunafoodpantry.org.


Las Brisas hosts holiday pop-up with award-winning bartender Scott Baird on Dec 12

Las Brisas, the Laguna Beach landmark restaurant, and Scott Baird, renowned bartender and owner of the famed San Francisco cocktail bar Trick Dog, will host a holiday pop-up with Ancho Reyes on Thursday, Dec 12 in Las Brisas’ bar and lounge. 

Handcrafted cocktails prepared by Baird will be served, there will be Ancho Reyes merchandise and liqueur sample giveaways, live music from 6 - 9 p.m., and more. 

Las Brisas Baird

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Renowned bartender Scott Baird will host holiday pop-up with Las Brisas on Dec 12 

Having earned several accolades since its opening in 2013, Trick Dog was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for an Outstanding Bar Program in 2014 and 2016, and a finalist for the prestigious award in 2015 and 2018.

Making a special appearance at Las Brisas, Baird brings his talents to Laguna Beach, crafting holiday-themed cocktails available for one-night only. On the menu, cocktails will be paired with Ancho Reyes liqueur and agave spirits including:

--Hot Buttered Toddy – Ancho Verde, Patron Anejo, lemon, honey, hot chamomile tea, organic grass-fed butter on top

--Navidad Aperitif – Ancho Reyes Original, Campari, soda, fresh passionfruit, cinnamon foam

--Clarified Ancho Coquito (Holiday Coconut Punch) – Ancho Reyes Original, reposado tequila, pineapple, vanilla coconut cream, lime, sugar, spice and everything nice, organic milk

--Las Brisas Poinsettia – Patron Silver, Ancho Verde, lime, ginger beer, hibiscus float

For more information, visit www.lasbrisaslagunabeach.com

Las Brisas is located at 361 Cliff Dr.


The Ranch debuts Grill ‘N Glow fire pit rentals at Lost Pier Café 

Savor quintessential California beach days year-round with new Grill ‘N Glow fire pit rentals at The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s Lost Pier Café. The new program includes portable fire pits and specialty Grill Packages with ingredients for burgers, s’mores, and more, providing everything needed for a fun, convenient, and safe grilling experience on Aliso Beach.

The new Grill ‘N Glow program at Lost Pier Café allows locals and guests of The Ranch at Laguna Beach to legally rent and operate portable fire pits on Aliso Beach, which is the only beach in Laguna to allow fire pits. The portable grills are available for $85 for 3-hour rentals and accommodate up to six people per grill.

The Ranch grill

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Guests can now rent and operate portable fire pits on Aliso Beach 

Patrons can bring their own ingredients or purchase specialty Grill Packages with top quality ingredients selected by The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s Executive Chef Kyle St. John. The Grill Package ($55) includes four burgers and four hot dogs, as well as burger buns, hot dog buns, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and chips. The S’mores Package ($24) includes ingredients for four s’mores, including chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallows, and roasting skewers. Beach chairs are also available to rent for $7 per person.

The Grill ‘N Glow fire pit rental program is the latest amenity from Lost Pier Café to enhance the dining experience on Aliso Beach. The restaurant added a beer and wine list to its menu this summer, and recently earned an “Ocean Friendly Restaurant” designation by the Surfrider Foundation for sustainable practices.

Grill ‘N Glow fire pits at Lost Pier Café are available by reservation only on a first come, first served basis. 

To make a reservation, visit www.lostpiercafe.com/firepit or call (949) 715-4210.

For additional information about Lost Pier Café, including menus and beach rentals, visit www.lostpiercafe.com

For more information on The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s farm and sea to table culinary program overseen by Executive Chef Kyle St. John, visit www.theranchlb.com.


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Wine Gallery’s Tasting Tuesdays offer great tips with tastes

Story and photo by Diane Armitage

For several months now, Wine Gallery’s Chris Olsen has been uncorking great wine-oriented events called “Tasting Tuesdays.”

Normally scheduled a couple times a month, “Tasting Tuesday” offers inexpensive entrée into a generous flight of lesser-known wines. And, just as any wine tasting at any winery, if you like what you try, there are bottles available to buy. 

Neighborly, chatty fun

It’s always a fun, chatty evening as locals tend to dominate the seats. The restaurant’s full menu is available, but the staff is happy to help with suggested food pairings and Chef Josh always drums up a few spectacular specials for the evening. And, although you always have a printed menu of what wines are to come, Olsen still moves from table to table, explaining each selection for that evening’s theme. 

Last week’s Tasting Tuesday focused on the best wines to choose for your Thanksgiving table. As an added Thanksgiving bonus, well known Master Sommelier Michael Jordan played host…and played the guitar, too. (Who knew we had a Singing Somm?)

Wine Gallery's wine

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Tasting Tuesdays at Wine gallery offer great, inexpensive tastes of lesser-known wines

Hollywood tends to profile sommeliers as somewhat stuffy or arrogant. Michael Jordan is the furthest thing from it. He ambles to the various tables, tells great stories about wine and grapes and where their dirt resides, and breaks off to sing another set of songs as he plays guitar. 

At Tuesday’s Tasting, we enjoyed six of Jordan’s top picks, two of which hailed from my favorite Willamette Valley in Oregon. (My family lives there, so I might be slightly biased.) Nearly three hours later, I said my goodbyes to my Wine Gallery buddies with Thanksgiving-designated bottles tucked under my arm.   

December’s dates still pending

With just a tiny window of options for Tuesdays in December, Chris says that he hopes to put at least one Tasting Tuesday in place, but the date is still undecided. The events will definitely return in January, so check in at www.winegallerylaguna.com and RSVP well in advance as Tasting Tuesdays are gaining significant momentum!

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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


Royal Hawaiian launches “12 Days of Christmas Cocktails”

To kick off the holiday season, Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill has announced a “12 Days Of Christmas Cocktails” event that features its best-selling and new-to-the-menu tiki cocktails between November 26 and December 11.   

The 12 Days of Christmas begins on Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, Nov 27 with doors opening a special hour early at 4 p.m. to celebrate Mixologist Sean Melia’s holiday cocktail, The Reindeer Express. It’s a perfect holiday cocktail welcome to everyone loaded up with visiting friends and relatives and (quite possibly) displaced from your pre-Thanksgiving kitchens. 

Get out of the kitchen and into the welcoming arms of Royal Hawaiian’s tiki totems to celebrate the start of the holiday season. 

Royal Hawaiian is closed on Thanksgiving Day, but “12 Days of Christmas Cocktails” resumes on Black Friday with each daily cocktail priced at $12 throughout the evening.

Royal Hawaiian drink

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Cheers to 12 Days of Christmas Cocktails with the Royal Hawaiian 

--Fri, Nov 29 –  Mellow out from your Black Friday frenzy with the best-selling Blue Hawaiian. 

--Sat, Nov 30 – Sprint into holiday mode with Pele’s Punch crafted with Mezcal and house-made clove-honey syrup. 

--Sun, Dec 1 – Keep calories low and energy high with our zippy new cocktail, the Lemon Ginger Daiquiri. Doors open at 2 p.m. for 4 hours of Happy Hour love. 

--Tues, Dec 3 – Swim in holiday spirit with Navy Grog: three rums blended with spice and citrus juices. 

--Wed, Dec 4 – Melt away early holiday stress with our best-selling Mai Tai, served tall and generous. 

--Thurs, Dec 5 – Toss on that tiara and sashay in for our famous Royal Basil, a refreshing blend of Pau Maui Pineapple vodka with mulled basil. 

--Fri, Dec 6 – Hospitality Night – The Reindeer Express cocktail returns with doors opening early at 4 p.m. Warm yourself all the way to your bright red nose before descending into downtown’s holiday festivities. 

--Sat, Dec 7 – Royal’s famed Lapu Lapu makes the scene on what is probably the busiest holiday event day of the month. 

--Sun Dec 8 – They’ve made it a Lapu Lapu weekend to see you through from stem to stern. Doors open at 2 p.m. for 4 hours of Happy Hour love. 

--Tues, Dec 10 – YOU decide your 11th Day of Christmas Cocktails. Vote on Royal’s website and social platforms.

Wed, Dec 11 – And, the quintessential end-all to 12 Days of Christmas Cocktails - our new Fog Cutter with FOUR ounces of liquor that come together like the Brady Bunch - Jamaican aged rum, Pisco (brandy), gin and sherry - with fresh juices. Here’s the story: simply fabulous. 

An iconic “grand dame” since its opening in 1947, the Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill recently enjoyed a renovation with her new owners, internationally renowned chefs, Chefs Maro and Martin Molteni. 

The Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill is located at 331 North Coast Hwy.


AhbA’s dinner menu introduces Laguna to a new realm of tantalizing and unique tastes

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

What’s the best recommendation anyone could give a new restaurant? How about – dropping in for lunch and then coming back for dinner on the same day. That’s a pretty solid endorsement.

On Friday, Tina and Brian Steincke, their son Cole, and Brian’s mother – who was visiting from New York – did just that. Evidently, they live close by and dine there frequently. Tina said, “We love AhbA, we go all the time. It has such a great atmosphere, delicious food; they’ve made it so you don’t want to leave!”

I couldn’t agree more. AhbA, which features Mediterranean cuisine with an Israeli influence, has been open three months for breakfast and lunch (six days a week, Tuesday - Sunday) and started serving dinner three weeks ago. 

AhbA's dinner couple

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Frequent AhbA diners Brian and Tina Steincke

Owner Nick Bennett says, “We’re offering seasonal dinners and keeping it fresh. What’s exciting to us is introducing the area to new tastes, so we’ve added more techniques and innovative flavors. At night it is a more complex style of cuisine. We also want the menu to be value driven to bring in people, so they feel they can come back a couple of times a week, instead of just on a special occasion.”

It’s apparent that the creative collaboration between Bennett and Executive Chef Jayro Martinez brings an entirely new dimension of taste sensations to our town, one that keeps people coming back. According to Martinez, 80 percent of their business is return customers.

Ahba means father in Hebrew, and it seems an apt name for this intimate and warm little hideaway. It’s as if the restaurant is the home of a family member or friend, one where the host welcomes you with open arms. This is the dining room I always wanted – furnished with a long communal table that invites conversation and offers comfort via blankets hung on the back of the chairs (just in case you get cold). 

AhbA's dinner dining room

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Community table anchors inside dining

Bennett graciously welcomes guests, and it’s obvious that he’s proud of this endeavor, and rightly so. “I fell in love with this building,” he says. And it’s easy to see why. It has seating both inside and outside on the front patio and along one side of the building. With the dining room doors open to the front patio, it offers an intimate and relaxed vibe with views of the sunset. Including outdoor seating, AhbA accommodates 70 people.

It seems a match made in culinary heaven that Bennett and Martinez, who are both self-taught chefs, met and eventually blended their culinary visions. Although they are both from Los Angeles and were part of the restaurant scene, their paths didn’t cross until three years ago. Martinez opened a friend’s restaurant Mh Zh in Silverlake and met Bennett there.

Martinez came to Orange County two years ago and became Chef de Cuisine at the acclaimed Social in Costa Mesa, staying there from June of 2018 to May of 2019.

AhbA's dinner Nick and Jayro

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Owner Nick Bennett (on left) and Executive Chef Jayro Martinez 

When Martinez left Social, he realized Bennett was here and they ran into each other again. “Nick happened to be opening here and was on the edge of creating something unique. Our styles complement each other. He gave me a lot of influence in creating the dishes, which are seasonal and suited to the lifestyle here. We put the menu together. It came together organically, according to the vision, and we ran with it. It was a big collaboration. 

 “It feels for us like family. We wake up, come in early, start cooking breakfast as if it’s home. It has a really organic feel. In the evenings, it’s like we’re at a dinner party waiting for guests to arrive. We have a lot of locals coming in, they’ve heard about us by word of mouth. We believe in what we’re doing and the vision. We’re very community driven and we’re getting a following. We’re now on a first name basis with our regulars.” 

AhbA's dinner hummus

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Hummus Dukkah

Once the food arrives, it’s easy to understand why they’ve developed a following.

The first dish we tasted was Hummus Dukkah. It’s made with olive oil, tahini, pickles, including pickled fennel, pickled celery root, cauliflower and carrot, dukkah (which is a middle Easter spice mix), and parsley. 

I love hummus, but this Hummus Dukkah is like no other you’ve ever tasted, rich and beyond creamy and served with the most scrumptious bread – bread to die for – on the side. It comes from Rye Goods Bakery in Costa Mesa and is grilled to a delectable crunch and serves as the perfect scooper for the hummus. My husband, who is not as much a fan of hummus as I am, loved it! Of course, we had to order extra bread, it’s a must! 

In addition to Rye Goods Bakery and Sea Greens, where they get the garnishes, Bennett says, “We work with as many local people as possible “

AhbA's dinner cauliflower

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Cauliflower 

Not surprising, the quality of the libations matched the quality of the fare.

My husband had a wonderful citrusy beer from Off Shoot Brewery in Placentia that specializes in hazy IPAs.

I tasted an orange wine – the 2017 Malvasia onward Suisun Valley, CA, which was light and fruity and a 2016 Pecorino de fermo from Abruzzo, Italy. They were the perfect accompaniment to the bold flavors of the dishes. Lucid Wines curates their wine list.

Bennett says, “We’ve been really excited to add craft cocktails to the menu.” 

Next we had the cauliflower, which is marinated in shallot vinaigrette, roasted and charred, then finished with crispy shallot, fennel purée, and Fresno oil.

The Fresno chili pepper oil adds just the right amount of heat and flavor. Charred on the outside, and perfectly tender on the inside, it doesn’t get much better than that.

AhbA's dinner sweet potatoes

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Photo by Dianne Russell

Sweet potatoes

The gnocchi, with an added garnish of edible flowers, was like nothing else I’ve ever tasted. Martinez explained, “It not the traditional gnocchi made with potatoes, these are made with mushrooms and reggiano.” 

As a result, the little gnocchi pillows are flavorful and cheesy (but with a light touch), bathed in a subtle sauce and not at all doughy. Unbelievable.

Each dish they served had a depth of flavor that started with one taste, then blossomed into another with each bite. 

In an ingenious twist on sweet potatoes, AhbA’s sweet potatoes are salt baked in a spice mix (there is espresso in the mix, however, not an overwhelming amount). They are then flash fried and served with a smoked onion purée and lightly sprinkled with sumac, creating crusty potato edges that are tangy and slightly sweet.

Although one would imagine being business partners is difficult on a friendship, Martinez says, “We’re open minded with each other and both have the same vision, so we do what’s best for the restaurant.” 

Expanding their vision

Martinez and Bennett will be expanding their vision in December when they add more root vegetable dishes and as mentioned above, craft cocktails.

AhbA hits all the points one desires in a restaurant – high quality food, a true dining experience, ambience, and great service (Kelly was wonderful). Most of all, AhbA offers unique and innovative fare – with an emphasis on unique.

Do your taste buds a huge favor and introduce them to the incredible realm of new flavor sensations at AhbA. Without a doubt, you will return again and again.

For more information, go to www.eatahba.com/ or call (949) 549-4556.

AhbA is located at 31732 Coast Hwy between 3rd Ave and 4th Ave. 

Breakfast and lunch are served Tuesday - Sunday. Happy Hour is from 3 - 5 p.m., Tuesday - Sunday. Dinner is at 5 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.


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Scott McIntosh’s two popular restaurant concepts are expanding (in more ways than one)

Photos and story by Diane Armitage

Eleven months ago, restaurateur Scott McIntosh was ready to leap into action with two large expansions of his restaurant brands, Reunion Kitchen and Asada Cantina + Kitchen, at the San Clemente outlet mall. 

At that time, he trotted me around the vast expanse, pointing to this wall for this and that space over there for that. As I marveled over all those parking spaces, he made plans to begin construction at the start of this year. 

And then…a whole lot of everything changed. 

A Zen approach to planning & review

Aside from development changes at the mall itself, Scott’s outdoor patio plans for the Asada restaurant were scrapped for what he now calls an “open air pavilion,” a more enclosed environment. Meanwhile, the Reunion restaurant got caught up in theater expansion plans as well as combined use plans for four neighboring restaurants, too. 

Precious months ticked away as plans were submitted and altered with the city’s planning & review board, but McIntosh was hardly impatient. 

“It looked great on paper before but now it looks fantastic,” said the ever-optimistic McIntosh. “We’re starting demolition for Asada now and it’s going to be spectacular. It was definitely worth the wait.”

Scott McIntosh's Asada

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Asada Cantina + Kitchen will be a much larger take on Asada Tacos + Beer at the San Clemente mall

Asada Cantina + Kitchen began demolition last week with hopes for a Cinco de Mayo opening in 2020. 

Just a few doors down at the same outlet mall location, Reunion Kitchen will begin construction next summer with hopes for completion by next year’s holiday season. 

Hundreds of seats for hundreds of parking spaces

If you thought McIntosh was moving to a smaller restaurant mentality with his latest restaurant, Asada Tacos + Beer in North Laguna, think again.

McIntosh’s rambling new plans resemble the much larger restaurants he initially cut his teeth on as a restaurant developer with Claim Jumper. The new Asada will weigh in at 5,700 square feet with 1,200 of those feet serving as the open air pavilion with ocean views.

Scott McIntosh's blueprint

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Restaurateur Scott McIntosh plans for greatness with two new oceanview restaurants (and lots of parking spaces!).

Reunion will be a massive 7,000 square-foot, two-level restaurant with 180-degree ocean views. 

Go big or go home

Even when McIntosh decided to step into his own restaurant ownership a few years ago, he didn’t start cautiously with a small space. Instead, he opened Asada in the old Javier’s location in central Laguna Beach, one of the largest restaurant spaces in town. 

After closing Asada here, he opened his first Reunion Kitchen in Anaheim Hills, again going big with more than 4,000 square feet. 

Then, it was back to his roots in Laguna Beach with the 2,000-square-foot Reunion Kitchen in North Laguna. The last to join the portfolio was a smaller rendition of Asada and just a pipsqueak in comparison at just 1,200 square feet. 

“Fully rounded experience”

While “fast casual” restaurant concepts have been trending in the last few years, McIntosh remains resolute about providing a “fully rounded dining experience.”

“People still love the experience of going out to a great restaurant and becoming part of its community,” said McIntosh. 

“I believe in what’s good for the patrons coming in my front door. I want them to look forward to being here. I want the experience to be the reason they come here.”

Swank in the dining room, swank from the kitchen

While the new Asada in San Clemente will not be a throwback to the original launched in Laguna’s old Javier’s space, McIntosh says that “some of its DNA” is definitely in the new space.

“We’ve added more depth and texture this time around. The design elements are more advanced and swankier,” said McIntosh.

Scott McIntosh design

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Asada Cantina + Kitchen is all about swank 

“It’s really going to be something to see.”

And, while many Mexican menus can feel a bit limited to stock dishes, McIntosh will be shaking it up with plenty of grilling, an al pastor for freshly shaven meats, on-site tortilla making, and greater variety in steak and seafood options. 

“The Tequila Bar is going to be offering a lot more depth, too,” said McIntosh. “In just the last few years, tequila has become so much more popular and it’s gotten much more refined. We’ll be offering plenty of sipping tequilas and creative margaritas,” he added. 

Happily, the existing Asada in North Laguna recently received its full liquor license. “It’s a great place to start trying some new tequilas, maybe narrow in on a few of your favorites so you can order it at both locations,” McIntosh said with a grin. 

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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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