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Life of Spice


Organic Chicken

With Red Chiles, Rosemary & Garlic 

Anita 1

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All chickens are not created equal!

Today’s conventional chickens reach 5-pound market weight in 50 days. Forty years ago, chicken required 10 weeks to achieve a 4-pound weight. Fattening them fast is the result of scientific research and the result has been turning chicken into a big mass of tasteless texture. 

By contrast, organic chickens, like in the olden days, are raised for10 weeks to weigh 4 pounds. The result is a tender, succulent and flavorful treat. They cost twice the price of a conventional chicken, but if you hesitate to go organic, there is a lot to consider.

Chickens are vegetarian by nature, but the law allows “conventional chickens” to be fed animal by-products, approved drugs and antibiotics.

The USDA requires organic chickens must: 

*be fed diets free of additives, drugs, antibiotics and hormones, 

*starting at age 2 days be fed certified organic feed - which cannot contain animal by-products, antibiotics or genetically engineered grains and feed which cannot be grown using pesticides or chemical fertilizers 

*have outdoor access

As always, the result is in the pudding. Organic chicken made any style, has a distinctive taste, you may recall if you’re 40+. The taste and texture of organic chicken harkens back to a time when it was enjoyed for it a mild savoriness with a hint of meatiness - making you realize what high quality is.

The simple ingredients in this recipe allow the flavor of the organic chicken itself to come to the forefront, while the mix of spices adds an interesting background flavor.


Thoroughly wash and set aside:

4 skinless thighs with bone in, cut into 2

6 drumettes  (upper part of a chicken wing)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Pour 3 TBS cooking oil in a baking dish.

Add 1/2  tsp. sea salt, 4-6 dried red chilies, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, 8-12 garlic cloves.

Place chicken pieces in dish and bake for about 12 minutes then turn the pieces over and broil at 500 degrees for another 12-14 minutes.

The crispy yet succulent chicken can be served with steamed vegetables and fresh bread.

Laguna Chefs share the Love on Valentine’s Day


Yesterday, I was talking to one of our Laguna chefs about Valentine’s Day. 

Oddly, reservations for Valentine’s Day tend to occur well in advance, while Mother’s Day reservations tend to happen at the last minute. Imagine that. 

If you’re one of the few who’s still making your plan for next Thursday, Valentine’s Day, here’s a quick roundup from many of our local restaurants. More details are still rolling in from chefs, so be sure to check my blog at for the latest details. 

Laguna Chefs The Loft

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Courtesy of Montage LB

Valentine’s Day dessert – The Loft

Specially-Created Valentine’s Day Menus

I’m putting these in no particular order, but figure we should start with the newest chef on our block, Chef Greg Daniels, and his welcome talent at Harley. (Be sure to meet his new mixologist, Jeff, too. Awesome cocktails!) 

Harley Laguna Beach – Chef Greg Daniels is making a splash with a Valentine’s menu that starts with New Caledonian Blue Prawns, moseys through Wood-Grilled Scallops and Grass-Fed Filet Mignon, and offers up black truffle and wild mushroom risotto, pan-fried gnocchi, and quite luxurious desserts.

The cost is $90/person, including a $20 required deposit that will be removed from your final bill. 

Go to to reserve or call (949) 715-1530.

Harley’s regular menu is also available.

Wine Gallery Laguna – One of my favorite (and somewhat undiscovered) chefs, Chef Josh Mason, has returned to Wine Gallery, and he’s crafted a 4-course dinner that brings back the best of Josh. Options include Lobster Bisque, Prime Rib with Pommes Purée, and Halibut with a White Wine Tomato Brodo. 

The cost is $75/person with a $30 additional option for a flight of three hand-picked wines from Owner Chris Olsen. (I’d take the option any minute, just sayin.)

Go to or call (949) 715-8744 to reserve.

Pizza and salads from regular menu also available.

Nirvana Grille – I had the pleasure of having dinner with Chef Lindsay last Friday evening. It’s lovely to see her restaurant still filled with happy diners after all these years. She just signed a new 10-year lease, so be sure to keep Nirvana on your list. This year’s Valentine’s menu offers up options such as House Made Salmon Chowder, Grilled Center Cut Swordfish, Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon, Portobello Mushroom Risotto and more. Finish the evening with a decadent dessert trio. 

The cost is $79/person. Add Drew Barrymore Rosé for just $8 a glass or Bottomless Jean Phillipe Champagne for $25 per person.

Call quickly as she’s almost reached her reservations limit: (949) 497-0027 or go to

Splashes at Surf & Sand – Seats are almost sold out for Chef Ron Fougeray’s Valentine’s treat. Choose from menu options such as the Oyster Trio, Salsify & Frangelico Soup, Colorado Bison Duo, Bronzino, Roasted Veal and more. Rumor has it that the resident Pastry Chef has gone all out with equally as decadent dessert options. 

The cost is $135/ person or $185 with wine pairings. Call (888) 281-3502.

Broadway by Amar Santana – Chef Amar has come up with an inventive menu that features colors and flavors to entice the senses. Enjoy a “red-for-passion” course of beet-cured Wild King Salmon, a “green-for-vitality” course of Herb-Crusted Lamb Loin, and a black course for “power, decadence and sexiness” featuring Porcini Dusted Filet of Beef with black truffle purée and more. 

The cost is $135/person. Credit card is required at reservation. Call (949) 715-8234.

Broadway by Amar Santana’s A la carte menu is also available. 

Laguna Chefs Broadway

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Courtesy of Broadway by Amar Santana

Decadent dessert at Broadway by Amar Santana

Mozambique – Always a believer in music + great food for the most memorable Valentine’s days, Chef Braulio has created a menu that includes 11 entrée options featuring Chilean Sea Bass, Filet & Lobster, New Zealand Rack of Lamb, Cioppino and more. Live music on Valentine’s features special guest Louis B. Middleton in the Durban Room and the Neil Diamond tribute band America’s Diamond on the main stage. 

The cost is $79/person. Call (949) 715-7777.

Driftwood Kitchen – Chef Rainer Schwarz is pulling out all the stops with items such as Pan Seared Crab Cake, Double R Ranch Petite Filet with Maine Lobster, European Branzino and more. The meal includes a champagne toast and dessert for two. 

The cost $89/person. Call (949) 715-7700.

Note: For those of you who would rather whisk somewhere other than Laguna, check out Chef Rainer’s great Hendrix Restaurant in Ocean Ranch by Cinepolis. He’s created a very similar menu to the Driftwood Valentine menu, with pricing at $69/person.

Call (949) 248-1912.

Studio, Montage Laguna Beach – You know you can’t go wrong for romance at the renowned Studio. Chef Ben Martinek’s amuse bouche starts with a Shigoku Oyster on the half shell, and the menu rolls from there with Smoked Red Abalone, Roulade of California Petrale Sole, Duck Breast and more. 

The cost is $175/person, $270 with wine pairings. Call (949) 715-6420.

The Loft, Laguna Beach – New Chef Joosung Lee is offering a 4-course menu with items such as Steelhead Trout Tartare, Cauliflower Flan, Catalina Island Striped Bass, Sweet Potato Gnocchi and more. 

The cost $150/person, $210 with wine pairings. Call (949) 715-6420.

The Loft’s egular menu is also available.   

Valentine Specialty Items Served With Regular Menu

These restaurants are featuring specials along with the nightly regular menu: 

Sapphire Laguna – Any time Chef Azmin comes up with specialty items, you can be assured it’s going to be one of a kind. Opt for items such as Lobster & Shrimp Bisque, Oven-Roasted Steelhead Salmon, Raspberry Almond Tart and more. Call (949) 715-9888 for reservations.

Lumberyard – Always a local favorite, Owner Cary Redfearn and Chef Armando Ortega have drummed up some specials that you haven’t seen in the restaurant yet. Sorry, mum’s the word on this! 

Make reservations at or call (949) 715-3900.

230 Forest – Chef Marc is offering up a number of specials along with the regular menu. His is a popular restaurant for Valentine’s, so reserve soon at or call (949) 494-2545.

Skyloft – In addition to the regular menu, opt for off-menu items such as Salmon Quinoa or Grilled Pork Chop. The great musician Francois Dean in in the house beginning 7 p.m.

Watermarc – At his other popular restaurant, just a block from his initial 230 Forest restaurant, Chef Marc has organized a number of specials true to Watermarc’s cuisine. 

For reservations, call (949)-376-6272 or go to 

Valentine’s All Month Long

Ristorante Rumari’s – Owner Vince Crivello and his chefs decided to celebrate a month of amoré because…well, why not? This February menu is NOT offered on Valentine’s Day but is served Sunday through Thursday throughout the month. A three-course menu, it offers options such as Pollo Siciliana, Ravioloni Macchiati Con Vodka, Penne Al Salmone and more. The dinner includes a glass of house wine or Italian Prosecco. (Watch for my review on this next week in Stu News Laguna.)

The cost is $45/person. For reservations, call (949) 494-0400 or go to

Laguna Chefs Rumari

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Courtesy of Ristorante Rumari’s

Dessert at Ristorante Rumari’s

And, You Could Always Start with Dessert First

Montage Lobby Lounge – Leave it to Montage Executive Pastry Chef Lee Smith to roll out every sweet imaginable for a Dessert Buffet in the Montage Lobby Lounge. It’s a finer version of Willy Wonka’s world with tables piled with macaroons, brownie lollipops, ivory chocolate pots de crème, a “Montage Cream Bun Collection,” and an entire collection of chocolates, from eclairs to chocolate chunk cookies, house-made chocolate bonbons, and truffles. 

 The cost is $45/person and the entire table is required to purchase (no sharing please). 

Diane Armitage is the best-selling author of the book, The Best of Laguna Beach, and offers a cornucopia of Laguna based reviews, finds and upcoming events at her blog,

Popular restaurateur and chef Maro Molteni takes over Royal Hawaiian


Chef Mariano (“Maro”) Molteni still remembers the November day when Mo Honarkar suggested that Maro take over the Royal Hawaiian space as the new restaurant owner/operator.

“All the hair stood up on my head,” he says with his wide grin. “The Royal Hawaiian…now, that’s a restaurant with a story you can work with!” 

After waiting through the busy holiday season, the two entities made it official. Honarkar’s company, Heisler LLC, will act as landlord, continuing to own the building and the land beneath it. Chef Maro will operate the restaurant. 

As of Tuesday, Jan 22, the keys to the Royal Hawaiian kingdom were placed in Chef Maro’s hands. The popular restaurateur, founder and former chef of Maro Wood Grill, has taken up new residence just 1.6 miles north from his previous restaurant. 

That same day, the Honarkars made the change of ownership announcement to the Royal Hawaiian staff. The restaurant officially closed that day and interested staff members immediately began scheduling interviews with the new owner/operator, Mariano Molteni.

Four-week countdown to reopening begins 

The goal is to reopen the revitalized restaurant before the end of February.

On Tuesday, Chef Maro had the keys. And early Wednesday morning, the flurry of activity began. 

As he worked through numerous interviews with existing staff, Molteni answered fire department calls about his incoming wood grill, chatted with chosen architect Horst Noppenberger about minor changes for the interior, got plans rolling with the City, and nosed through the kitchen with a fine-tooth comb. 

Popular Restauranteur Maro

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Courtesy of Diane Armitage

Maro Molteni

Meanwhile, his Argentinian-based brother, Martin, was calling and texting about the incoming kitchen manager and menu possibilities. 

Martin Molteni, officially deemed “The Best Chef of Argentina,” will be joining his little brother in the new venture. The two brothers have independently collected a host of awards and accolades regionally and internationally but have decided to devote “the next decade ahead” to collaborating and creating successful concepts together.

Although Martin Molteni already paid a brief visit in January to look over the possibility of the Royal Hawaiian, Chef Martin will return in February for an extended stay. Over the next year, he plans to travel regularly between Laguna Beach and the culinary empire he has created in Argentina.

“My brother and I have always worked very well together,” says Chef Maro. “We work off of each other’s energy and creativity. We have a lot of fun together.”

The return of more than just vintage drinks

Born and raised in Argentina, the Molteni brothers will continue to pay homage to Royal Hawaiian’s Polynesian culture, particularly as wood-grilled beef, chicken, pork, and seafood is so much a part of that culture. 

For centuries, Hawaiians have crafted their meals over open wood fires in the great outdoors, a culinary skill that syncs beautifully with similar Argentinian heritage. 

There’s a great deal of crossover between our cultures and that’s what we’re going to be focusing on here,” says Chef Maro. 

Popular Restauranteur ceviche

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Courtesy of Molteni Kitchens

Scallop Ceviche

“The Royal Hawaiian opened in 1947 and for decades it was the greatest steak and seafood place around. Yes, yes, the Lapu Lapu is never going to go away, but the real ‘nostalgia’ we’re interested in has to do with creating that amazing Polynesian steakhouse again,” he says.     

A long road…and a short drive…from Maro Wood Grill

After years of success and accolades at Maro Wood Grill, Maro Molteni sold his restaurant in July 2017, allowing the new owners to keep his moniker. He and wife Patricia took their two sons back to Argentina, where he worked with chef brother Martin on strategy and action for a number of large regional cuisine projects. 

A year later, when Chef Maro and his family returned to Laguna, the Chef was determined to find a larger restaurant space in Laguna. 

This proved a more daunting task than he first assumed. 

Months later, with nothing moving on the Laguna Beach front, Maro began widening the net, looking as far north as Lido Island and parts of Costa Mesa. It wasn’t until late October that he connected with Laguna Creative Ventures Founder Mo Honarkar, whose own Laguna commercial properties house a few ideal restaurant spaces.

Popular Restauranteur Martin

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Courtesy of Molteni Kitchens

Martin Molteni 

“It was such an honor to be considered for the Royal Hawaiian,” says Chef Maro. “The Honarkars appreciate its iconic history, and we’ve all worked together to make this happen.”

Adds Hasty Honarkar, Vice President of Concept Creation for Laguna Creative Ventures, “When we acquired the famed tiki bar and restaurant in 2015, we worked hard to restore its status as a beloved local hangout. Over the last three years, we’ve made a lot of wonderful memories with our Laguna and Tiki ‘ohana. We look forward to having a Lapu Lapu when the Royal Hawaiian reopens soon!”

A lease that just might celebrate the end of an era

A 12-month lease is now in place, but it also acknowledges that Honarkar might receive City approval in this same timeframe to move forward on his development plans on the block where Royal Hawaiian resides.

“The goal here is to create a success for both of our companies,” says Molteni. “If we’re not able to stay here the full year, we’re both hoping that we will be able to find another temporary venue for the Royal Hawaiian while the development takes place on this block.”

Will the iconic Royal Hawaiian move to iconic Hotel Laguna?

Given that Honarkar recently acquired the iconic Hotel Laguna, this seems to be the next question on every resident’s mind.

“There are so many variables on the table right now that it’s not something we’re  discussing at the moment,” says Molteni. 

Popular restauranteur ribeye

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Courtesy of Molteni Kitchens

Ribeye steak

“In the future, Royal Hawaiian might be a great concept for Hotel Laguna, but it’s also a great standalone icon. Either way, I think the Royal Hawaiian will continue being the gathering place that people love for many years to come.”

“A really big living room”

“Right now, we’re working on getting this restaurant in this location open in about four weeks’ time. And, then, the goal is to succeed at welcoming back its biggest fans along with the ‘family’ we came to know and love at our first restaurant here in Laguna, Maro Wood Grill,” says Maro. 

“When I returned to Laguna Beach last summer, my only goal was to find a restaurant here in Laguna that would allow me to create a space where people can feel like they’re my closest friends hanging out in my living room,” he continues. 

“Granted, the Royal Hawaiian is a really big living room, but we’re still going to find a way to make every person feel at home,” he says. 

Diane Armitage is the best-selling author of the book, The Best of Laguna Beach, and offers a cornucopia of Laguna based reviews, finds and upcoming events at her blog,

Nirvana Grille offers “Christmas to go” menu for families, must order by tomorrow

Nirvana Grille Chef and Owner Lindsay Smith-Rosales, successful business owner/restaurateur and mother of two young boys, knows firsthand what it’s like to not have enough time in the day, prompting her to launch a “Christmas to go” menu for local families.

This year I wanted to ease the stress for people. When I was speaking to a client about being home this year with our family instead of going to San Francisco like the last three years, she asked for advice when she expressed how difficult it was to enjoy the holidays with all the preparation and how at the end, she always felt like it didn’t turn out as hoped. She was exhausted and missed half the night,” Chef Lindsay explains.

“I wanted her to have a better experience and I love the holidays and food. I told her I would cook what made it too overwhelming, which meant it all. Then I thought, I might as well open it up to others.”

Nirvana Grille offers

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Submitted photo

Chef Lindsay, with sons Diego and Mateo, is excited to offer an amazing meal and experience for families with her “Christmas to go” menu 

“It reminds me of family, of us all making what we love and holds such special memories with my late grandmother. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are a huge homage to her and the traditions of cooking with her down to making her gravy at the restaurant each year. After Thanksgiving orders I’ve gotten multiple emails, messages, and phone calls from clients that ordered and said it was an amazing meal and experience, so I thought, let’s do Christmas as well. It looks like we have a new tradition on our hands for Nirvana Grille!”

Nirvana’s “Christmas to go” offerings include:

--Platters including crudité, cheese, and antipasto displays

--Appetizers including stuffed mushrooms with goat cheese and beef and turkey brochettes

--Salads including an organic baby spinach salad

--Entrees including pistachio Dijon crusted rack of lamb and roasted bone in pork

--Sides including green beans almandine, cauliflower rife, and mashed butternut squash

--Desserts including pumpkin mason jar cheesecake…and so much more!

Pricing is offered a la carte per person to make it easy for any size group. Depending on each category, pricing varies but it is between $4.50 for sides to $24 for proteins per person per category.

For a full menu or to place an order, call the restaurant at (949) 637-4708. All orders must be placed no later than 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec 2 and orders must be picked up between 1 and 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Chef Ron Fougeray’s new menu at Splashes launches today

Chef Ron Fougerays champagne

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Courtesy of Surf and Sand Resort

On the menu…Foie Gras Duo – seared foie gras, carrot cake toast, rhubarb and vanilla jam, foie gras and raspberry macaroon and aged balsamic

Chef Ron Fougergys salad

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Courtesy of Surf and Sand Resort

Asparagus, foraged mushrooms, red quinoa, pickled cauliflower, truffle goat cheese salad

Lumberyard Restaurant celebrates 10 years on Thursday, Oct 25 with specials

One of Laguna Beach’s most beloved local restaurants welcomes the public to come help celebrate 10 years of serving Laguna’s fabulous community and to thank loyal patrons, friends, and family for their invaluable support.

Lumberyard outside

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A Laguna favorite, Lumberyard will celebrate its 10-year anniversary on Oct 25

Lumberyard will offer a special $10 lunch menu on Thursday, Oct 25, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then dinner will feature special menu items along with complimentary goodies with purchase throughout the night. Live music and drawings for gift cards will also be part of the celebration.

“We look forward to seeing you on October 25 as we raise a glass and toast our 10 years,” said the Redfearns.

Lumberyard inside

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Lumberyard will have specials to celebrate its 10-year anniversary and to thank its loyal patrons and the community for its success

Lumberyard Restaurant is located at 384 Forest Ave. For more information, please visit or call (949) 715-3900.

Sapphire Laguna named premier underwriting sponsor of Taste of Laguna this Thursday

Chef Azmin Ghahreman, Chef of Sapphire Laguna, has announced that he will come on board as Premier Underwriting Sponsor of the 2018 Taste of Laguna to be held this Thursday, Oct 18, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Laguna Beach’s Festival of Arts Grounds. 

Sapphire Laguna naned Chef Azmin

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Submitted photo

Chef Azmin of Sapphire Laguna will lead the way at this Thursday’s Taste of Laguna 

Sapphire Culinary Group’s Sapphire Laguna, Sapphire Pantry, and Sapphire Catering will lead more than 30 local restaurants at this year’s open-air event with music and fun under the stars. More than 700 culinary enthusiasts are expected to attend this event to partake in the city’s best locally sourced, artisan influenced, internationally inspired, gluten-free or farm fresh dishes. The event will also showcase wineries, craft breweries, and master mixologists to ensure that guests are given a well-rounded culinary experience.

“From the people, to the landscape, we can’t think of a more beautiful community to be a part of than Laguna Beach, which has been home to Sapphire Laguna for more than a decade. Since its inception, Sapphire Culinary Group has grown to also include Sapphire Pantry, Sapphire Catering, Sapphire at School, and Sapphire at Work, so it only makes sense for us to lead Taste of Laguna as Premier Underwriting Sponsor,” said Chef Azmin Ghahreman. “It’s one of our favorite nights of the year and we are proud to partner with the Laguna Beach Chamber for this exciting event!”

Sapphire Laguna named table

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Photo by Scott Brashier

Over 30 local restaurants will feature tasty food on Thursday

Terra Laguna will host a “Meet the Chef” VIP Reception at 5:30 p.m. at its beautifully remodeled restaurant located on the Festival Grounds and is generously donating the bar proceeds to the Laguna Beach Chamber. The Vintage VW Photo Booth Bus will be back, courtesy of 14 West Boutique Hotel, and the festivities will continue late night at the Taste of Laguna After Hours Party, hosted by Royal Hawaiian. Live DJ entertainment for the evening is sponsored by KX 93.5, and will feature live Music by Ken Garcia Band. The official event photographer is Tony Florez Photography.

“Taste of Laguna continues to evolve and impress,” said Meredith Dowling, Executive Director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. “We are dedicated to seeing local business thrive, and promoting the culinary talent and creativity we have here in Laguna Beach to over 1,000 foodie fans from Orange County and beyond, is a fun and rewarding way to achieve that goal!”

Sapphire Laguna named food

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Photo by Scott Brashier

Tommy Bahama will serve delicious bites on Thursday

Enjoy selections from favorite local Laguna Beach spots, including Jan’s Health Bar, K’ya, Kitchen in the Canyon, Laguna Beach Beer Company, Las Brisas, Lumberyard, Mozambique, Nick’s, Okura Sushi, ​Reunion Kitchen & Drink, Rooftop, Sapphire, ​Sergio’s Empanadas, Skyloft, ​Slice Pizza, South of Nick’s, Starfish Laguna, Terra Laguna Beach, The Cliff, The Grove on Forest, Three Seventy Common Kitchen + Drink, Ti Amo by il Barone, Tommy Bahama, Watermarc, and Whole Foods.

For more information and tickets, go to or call (949) 494-1018. VIP tickets are $150 and include admission to the VIP Reception at Terra Laguna, parking, admission to the After Hours Party, a drink ticket for the cash bar, raffle tickets, and a fun swag bag and lunch cooler. General admission tickets are $85 and include one raffle ticket, a fun lunch cooler, and entry to the event at 6 p.m. General Admission ticket holders can purchase admission to the After Hours Party separately for $15 on Eventbrite.

Chef Craig Strong opens Ocean at Main today

Story and Photos by DIANE ARMITAGE

When Chef Craig Strong left his immaculate Montage-based restaurant, Studio, to start his own restaurant in Laguna Beach, the news was something akin to Moses coming down from the Mount.

As much as we’ve all loved Craig Strong in our community, few of us regularly visited Studio or felt comfortable just “dropping in” to the bar, despite the pains he took to lure locals. When he announced plans to take over the old Taverna space at 222 Ocean Avenue, we rejoiced in the streets… and then (admittedly) worried amongst ourselves about what his rumored menu and pricing would be.

On Tuesday, Chef Craig invited media in for a dining preview. He’s opening today, October 5 to the masses, and plans for lunch and dinner seven days a week. (Ah, the joys of inheriting a Chef who grew up in the hotel and resort business.)

After one of the most generous and well-prepared previews I can remember, I can assure you of the following:

Chef Craig interior

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Interior designed by Laurie Alter of Tuvalu

This is still immaculate food from one of the most notable chefs in Southern California – not quite as “tweezered” as you would find in his former fine dining French establishment, attributed to his desire to offer “fine dining in a casual dining environment.” Every dish I tried (and coveted at nearby tables) is beautiful, fresh and creative.

The pricing is going to make you want to cry a little – Ocean at Main’s lunch menu is very reasonably priced with most entrées falling between $14 and $18. The dinner menu is still generous in pricing with just two entrée items priced above $40. In other words, this is stellar food in the “sweet spot” norm of menu pricing at what we consider the better restaurants in Laguna Beach.

The interior and patio are warmer now, thanks to Tuvalu’s Laurie Alter (also responsible for The Ranch Laguna Beach decor).

Resident Mixologist Ryan Perez is a cheerful greeter. His energy, along with his self-created infusions and fresh juice add-ins remind me of Adam, our former Sapphire star (small sob but we’re carrying on).

Chef Craig ahi

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Ahi Tartine

The front of house runs like clockwork, which is near miraculous given this is the first test trial in service, but the new General Manager Dylan has worked with Michael Mina’s Group as well as with Chef at Studio, so clockwork is the only name of the game. (That being said, when all hell breaks loose on Friday with the community descending, please remember to grant this newbie restaurant a break or two before running to Yelp. I’m not sure that this restaurant will get to experience a soft roll-out given the happy expectation in the area, so please offer “wrinkle forgiveness” while they get their feet under them.)

Servers are friendly and very well-versed in the menu, too. I took my good buddy Ali North, from Surf & Sand Resort with me, and our server, Isaiah Paje, treated us like gold. We followed his suggestions to the letter, expecting bite samples to arrive and, instead, were faced with gorgeous, full-size renditions of the menu items.

Chef Craig blossoms

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Squash Blossom Tempura 

The Squash Blossom Tempura was our first choice, and it arrived with a Cod Brandade. Brandade is the French name for this whipped salt cod spread (originally Mediterranean roots, I believe). It is served up cold (preferred), and we used the blossoms as scoops or chips for the fluffy spread.

The Charred Spanish Octopus is a work of art, nestled in with Cauliflower Ratatouille and adorned with none other than Carnival Amaranth (if you don’t know what that is, ask Ruben Flores on his Saturday Garden Walk.)

We pass on the large selection of salads and wood-fired pizzas to try the lighter dishes (heh) – a Dungeness Crab Cavatelli, a “PLT” Sandwich (Grilled Pork Belly) and, finally, Beef Tournedos.

Isaiah explains that Chef Daniel is in charge of creating all the pastas from scratch, and when the Cavatelli arrives, we’re expecting a heavy, rich dish. Instead, the Cavatelli (often referred to as mini hot dog buns in shape) is light and airy, pairing beautifully with a delicate lemon and Sungold tomato sauce.

Chef Craig crab

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Dungeness Crab Cavatelli

The Beef Tournedos (pronounced turn-a-doughs) is a large dish with three generous seared filets that are so tender, they can only be aged beef. A slightly crunchy, nutty depth adds balance to the rich meat by way of Roasted Sunchokes (often referred to as Jerusalem artichokes) and Maitake mushrooms (my favorite French chef in Las Vegas calls them by their nickname, “hen of the woods”). Dollops of classic Bordelaise and raspberry finish the dish to perfection.

Our undoing, though, is the PLT. Unlike its flowered, gorgeous counterparts, the PLT waddles to our table with no apology. It is a sizable sandwich, stuffed to the brim with beautifully seared pork belly slices and sliver-thin slices of what looks to be beefsteak tomato, serrano chiles, radishes and what can only be house-made pickles. A polite leaf of butter lettuce keeps this rowdy crowd safely nested. Expecting a crusty sort of bread to battle a bite into, the PLT’s bread is so soft and fluffy that it almost brings tears to your eyes. We were SO full…but we just couldn’t stop eating this sandwich.

Chef Craig Pork

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“PLT” Sandwich – Grilled Pork Belly

We repeatedly turned down dessert, though, for the record, the Whipped Coconut Custard is vegan. Rather than going the traditional custard route with an abundance of eggs, butter and cream, this version is made with coconut milk and Iota Carrageenan, actually a seaweed that is commonly used as an emulsifier, stabilizer and thickener in various dishes. And, Chef Craig’s Spice Cake was the same he offered guests as gifts when they departed Studio.

True to Chef’s form, we were presented with our own parting gift, too – three freshly baked, soft cookies, bagged and ribboned for the occasion.

From the first greeting to that final bag of cookies, Ocean at Main is a class act. This time around, though, I suspect we’re all going to get to know the more down-to-earth side of Chef Craig, who’s made it very clear that Laguna is his home.

Ocean at Main is located at 222 Ocean Ave.

For more information, call (949) 715-3870.

Diane Armitage is the best-selling author of the book, The Best of Laguna Beach, and offers a cornucopia of Laguna based reviews, finds and upcoming events at her blog,

Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck present champagne and oyster “Sip & Shuck” fundraiser Nov 4

For the 6th consecutive year, The Deck on Laguna Beach and Driftwood Kitchen, together with The Bungalows at Pacific Edge Hotel, will host “Sip & Shuck” on Sunday, Nov 4 from 2 - 6 p.m. The event will benefit CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Orange County. 

Driftwood Kitchen and sunset

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Sip and Shuck will have the tasty oysters and panoramic ocean views 

Guests will have the unique opportunity to experience a variety of hand-shucked oysters, champagne, sparkling wines, spirits and more from around the world, all while enjoying panoramic ocean views from the oceanfront restaurants. 

Executive Chef Rainer Schwarz and his team will prepare delicious tastes from The Deck, Driftwood Kitchen, and Hendrix. The event will include beverages from Veuve Clicquot, Laguna Beach Beer Company, Piper Sonoma, Nicholas Freuillate, Nolet’s Gin, Bianchi Winery, Kendall Jackson, among others. 

General admission tickets for the 21-and-over event are available for purchase for $125 pre-sale or $150 for VIP early entry at 1 p.m. Admission includes oysters and other small bites, as well as access to champagne, wine, cocktail and beer sampling. 

Event attendees looking to enjoy the evening’s celebrations may take advantage of the Pacific Edge Hotel’s Sip, Shuck & Stay packages.

For more information or to purchase tickets for Sip & Shuck, visit

The Deck on Laguna Beach is located at 627 Sleepy Hollow Ln.

Chef Craig Strong’s new restaurant Ocean at Main opens today

Today, Friday, Oct 5, Chef Craig Strong will open Ocean at Main, fulfilling a long-time career dream to open his own restaurant. The location is exceptional – 222 Ocean Avenue near Main Beach – and the 126-seat, 4,500-square-foot eatery will open daily for lunch and dinner.

After nearly 25 years of working at luxury hotels and resorts around the globe, Strong has come full circle to his native Southern California roots with the opening of Ocean at Main. From growing up in San Diego and cooking with produce from the family garden, this chef/owner is now sharing his Coastal California cuisine with the community he has embraced for the last 10 years.

Chef Craig Strongs smile

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Chef Craig Strong’s new restaurant is close to the ocean with Coastal California Cuisine and Creative Cocktails

Chef Strong says, “I want to cook for our guests the way I cook for my family and friends at home. At Ocean at Main, I will celebrate the diversity, freshness and healthy lifestyle of Southern California. We will procure our ingredients from the local farmers and meat, seafood and specialty vendors whom I have been working and collaborating with for years. Coaxing the true flavors from exceptional products is always my goal.”

Strong has assembled a team of talented culinary and hospitality shining lights who are an important part of his restaurant dream. Dylan Cloughen will serve as general manager and key front-of-the-house guest pleaser. Kristin Morgan, a certified sommelier, will manage Ocean at Main’s 50-bottle plus wine inventory featuring California wines and global selections and is in charge of the beverage program. The pro responsible for Ocean at Main’s deeply satisfying desserts like Tainori Chocolate Torte is Pastry Chef Keara Wilson.

At dinner, the menu will begin with simply delicious temptations, perhaps Hawaiian Prawn Potato Soup or Charred Spanish Octopus with cauliflower ratatouille, carnival amaranth and parsley sauce. Then guests can choose Dungeness Crab Cavatelli, Pressed Organic Chicken, Pan Seared Pork Chops or Oxtail Kale Risotto.

Also on the menu are not-run-of-the-mill sandwiches like Grilled Pork Belly “PLT” with blistered shishito peppers and Spicy Ahi Tuna Tartare Tartin. For heartier lunch lovers is a mouth-watering selection of pasta and flatbreads and main courses such as Beef Tournedos with roasted sunchokes and bordelaise.

At Ocean at Main, the desserts are hardly an afterthought. There will be Craig’s Spice Cake with cinnamon meringue and crème fraîche ice creamand Sweet Potato Panna Cotta with poached pear and more yumminess too

Chef Craig Strong's logo

The Kids Menu offers flavorful favorites like Small Mozzarella Cheese and Tomato Pizza and House Breaded Organic Chicken Tenders, but “adventurous young eaters” can order smaller portions off the regular menus.

Ocean at Main is located in the early 1940s building designed by Aubrey St. Clair that once housed the venerable Laguna Federal Savings and Loan. Guests will now enjoy the quintessential Southern California dining experience in a space re-envisioned by Laguna-based Laurie Alter of Tuvalu Home. Dining is available inside or on the intimate outdoor patio with its original fountain and murals created by Laguna Beach artist Boris Buzan.

For more information, visit or call (949) 715-3870.

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