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

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

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

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

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

History

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

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

local team Glenn and Beau

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(L-R) Glenn and Beau Bianchi

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vision 

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

local team exterior

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

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

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

In 2018, the designing process began. 

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

The building begins

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

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

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

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

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

local team group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

local team tasting room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

local team patio

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

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

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

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

Custom design elements

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

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

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

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

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

local team Beau

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Stop by for a tasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Oliver’s weekend brunch

By Diane Armitage

For several months now, Chef/Owner Erik De Marchi of Oliver’s Osteria has been serving up brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve been so intent on dining on his sumptuous food in the evenings, that I never got around to brunch until this past weekend. 

Now I wonder how I lived without it all this time. 

Oliver's Chef Erik

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Owner Erik De Marchi of Oliver’s Osteria

Chef Erik’s brunch menu is as imaginative and fun as his dinner menu, which recently won the Michelin Bib Gourmand, a rarely awarded designation for high-quality dining at a “reasonable price.”

A perfectly relaxed friendly vibe

Many months ago, my dear buddy, Ali, the Chef Concierge at Surf & Sand Resort, and I made a commitment to try at least one brunch venue each month. She’s always looking for great new things to share with her guests, and I’m always looking for more great food. 

On Sunday, we met just a few minutes past noon, when Oliver’s was just opening for its weekend brunch. The outdoor patio tent was bright and quiet; live acoustic music drifted over from the Laguna Beach Beer Company while lively conversation drifted in from McClain Cellars on the opposite side. It was a sunny, happy place all around. 

While the menu was certainly a surprise, the best surprise of the day was my reunion with one of my favorite servers of all time, Giovanni. 

Oliver's Giovanni

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The longtime local favorite server from years past, Giovanni, has returned to Laguna Beach and taken up residence at Oliver’s Osteria

Locals will remember Giovanni as the rock at Ristorante Rumari for years. He left shortly before that restaurant’s sale to Chris Keller to move back to England with his wife. After five long years, though, he’s back in Laguna Beach and in residence at Oliver’s. He didn’t miss a beat, even as the tables began to fill on our balmy Sunday. 

A decadent start

Frankly, if those Michelin food reviewers were to try the very first item on Oliver’s brunch menu, they would award a Michelin star for that single item, the Bomboloni.

There’s a reason why these traditional Italian donuts start with the word “bomb.” When I was growing up, my Dad would occasionally bring home a dozen donuts from Mr. Donut for our Sunday nights with the Wonderful World of Disney. As much as I loved those jelly-stuffed donuts, Mr. Donut can’t hold a candle to Chef Erik’s housemade marvels. 

Oliver's Bomboloni

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The decadent Bomboloni are the only way to begin a brunch at Oliver’s

Rolled in fine grain sugar, these babies are stuffed to the brim with whipped, fluffy custard and goopy, heavenly chocolate. I felt like that kid, Augustus Gloop, who tried to drink from the chocolate river in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and decided to just fall in it instead. 

Having first been served Chef Erik’s house-baked bread with fresh tomato salsa, we could have easily called it a day after the Bomboloni and waddled out of that tent. Giovanni, however, would have none of it. 

Trying to regain some semblance of elegant adulthood, Ali ordered Frittatina E Caponata, a frittata baked with a jumble of vegetables – zucchini, onions and bell peppers. 

I, however, figured I was already “down the river,” so there was no salvation for me at this point. I opted for a dish I’ve never seen anywhere in my life – Eggs Benedict with Bolognese sauce.

A mix of sweet and savory brunch items

While we waited for our dishes, we continued to peruse the menu, wondering what we might have missed. It’s a lovely mix with items such as granola-covered Texas toast as Chef’s French toast entry, and a crepes dish filled with Nutella and mascarpone cheese. 

Beyond our chosen menu items, the Oliver’s brunch menu also offered two additional omelets and Spaghetti Carbonara, a lighter take on pasta with imported pancetta and Parmigiano cheese.

The Frittatina arrived as the whole frittata, a disc easily the size of a salad plate. Melty Mozzarella cheese served as the foundation to a rabble of herb-roasted potatoes and micro greens. Even in our 70-degree day, I could see steam tendrils lofting above the dish. This was most certainly just out of the oven.

Oliver's Fritatta

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Oliver’s Frittata is stuffed with roasted vegetables and topped with just-out-of-the-oven roasted potatoes

Then my dish arrived, and all momentary Frittata envy was swept aside. Somehow, Chef Erik has managed to combine two of my all-time favorite tastes – Hollandaise-drenched eggs Benedict and old country Bolognese sauce – into one inspired dish.

Cut into the poached egg and watch as the yolk nestles its way into the crevices the meaty Bolognese provides. Carve your first bite, a layered wonderland of Hollandaise, egg white, yolk, a taster of steamed spinach, Bolognese and wafer-thin buttery muffin serving as your fork’s landing pad. It’s a single bite that’s creamy, savory, salty and spicy all in one. 

How have I never thought of making this dish before?   

Oliver's Eggs Benedict

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Oliver’s eggs Benedict with Bolognese sauce is one for the record books

Wrapping it up with mascarpone

Of course, when you’ve come this far, what could possibly be wrong with adding a dessert, too? 

Giovanni chose the mascarpone ai fruitti di bosco, a simple layering of creamy mascarpone and raspberries. Creamy and not-to-sweet, the parfait was a perfect end. He added a candle, which I found to be a more than an appropriate celebration of Chef Erik’s weekend brunch.

Oliver's Mascapone

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Photo by Ali North

The weekend brunch at Oliver’s also offers the restaurant’s entire dessert menu

Oliver’s Osteria is in Laguna Canyon in “The Hive” next to Laguna Beach Beer Company and the Sawdust Festival at 853 Laguna Canyon Road. Brunch is available Saturday and Sunday from 12- 2 p.m. Reservations are recommended online at https://oliversosteria.com/reservations/.

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


14th Annual Taste of Laguna Festival serves up a taste of heaven for food and music fans

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut 

After a year’s hiatus, the 14th Annual Taste of Laguna Food and Music Festival returned to the Festival of Arts grounds with a culinary and musical bang. This is their second year as a combined food and music festival, presented by Julie Laughton Design Build, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce and KX 93.5. 

This year’s event was not only an inspired feast for the palate; it was also an artistic fête for the ears. The festival, which included 33 booths with participants from local restaurants, businesses and organizations – and on the Main Stage, a succession of great bands – was all about the art of food and music, both of which were served up in grand style. 

14 annual shohreh, karyn, ashley

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(L-R) City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, Visit Laguna Beach Board Member Karyn Philippsen and President & CEO of Visit Laguna Beach Ashley Johnson

The evening was hosted by Ed Steinfield, the award-winning host of KX FM’s “Mornings with Ed Show.” Music was provided by Nova with its signature Brazilian flavor, DJ Steve Whelan “The Ruckus,” and Tino Productions and its classic big band sounds.

Heidi Miller, owner of Tight Assets and World Newsstand, has been going since the Taste started more than 25 years ago when it was on the top level of the Glenneyre parking structure. 

“Taste of Laguna” is the greatest mix of talented chefs in one night! The flavors...the fun...the friendships,” Miller said. “Laguna Beach foodies were in heaven!”

14 annual harley

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Winner of Best Vegetarian Dish: Harley Laguna Beach, Chef Greg Daniels - Roasted Cauliflower

Participants included Aston Martin Newport Beach, Brightlife Beverage Co., Broadway by Amar Santana, Carolyn Johnson, Casazul Tequila, Comedor Laguna Beach, DirectMed, Firebrand Media, Harley Laguna Beach, Hotel Laguna, Jedidiah Coffee, KX FM, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach Beer Company, Laguna Beach Garden Club, Laguna Beach Police, Fire and Marine Safety, Lapin Rouillé Champagne, Mike Johnson Partners, Nirvana Grille, Oak Laguna Beach, Oliver’s Osteria, Pizza Bar, Ristorante Rumari, Roux Creole Cuisine, Saigon Beach, Splashes, Splendid Events (photo bus), Starfish, Sueños Laguna Beach, Surfrider Foundation, Tatyana Zen, Terra, The Cliff Restaurant, The Rooftop Lounge, The Seahorse, Tipsy Missy’s Taps, We Love Laguna Beach and Wine Gallery.

14 annual heidi and friends

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(L-R) Heidi Miller, owner of Tight Assets and World Newsstand, Jayme Maxwell and Carol Falstup

“It seemed like all of Laguna was at The Taste! What great vibes – the enthusiasm was electric!,” said Pamela Knudsen. “I love KX FM and was so happy to be there celebrating with everyone. I participated in the Mick Jagger strut, the brainchild of weekday morning host, Ed Steinfeld and could not stop smiling as I was groovin’ with the crowd of Mick Jagger strut impersonators. I was thrilled to meet radio hosts Patti Compton, Steve Reid and Greg Friedman and also Alyssa Hayek, the general manager. We are so blessed to have KX FM, not only for its amazing music but because the station brings an added sense of community to Laguna.”

14 annual lindsay

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Best Dish for a “Sweet Tooth”: Chef Lindsay Smith of Nirvana Grille - Goat Cheese Ice Cream

Many participants were first-timers such as Sueños, which just opened recently and others are veterans of the event. From the very first bite at Sueños – a tuna appetizer – with a lot of tasty tidbits in between – to the last bite of flan from Oak Restaurant, it was a food lover’s paradise.

After the 2020 hiatus, everyone was happy to be back amid the festive atmosphere.

Spotted were artist Randy Morgan, Catmosphere Laguna Foundation founder Gail Landau, Gail Duncan, Pamela Knudsen, Heidi Miller, Sue Kempf, Peter and Stephanie Blake and their new puppy.

14 annual cookie lee

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Cookie Lee and husband 

Winners

Although it must have been particularly difficult this year to pick winners, these restaurants took top kudos:

Best Overall Bite: Broadway by Chef Amar Santana - Sherry-glazed Meatballs.

 Best Plated Dish: Hotel Laguna, Chef Craig Strong - Short Rib “Cigars”.

 Best Vegetarian Dish: Harley Laguna Beach, Chef Greg Daniels - Roasted Cauliflower.

 Best Dish for a “Sweet Tooth”: Chef Lindsay Smith - Goat Cheese Ice Cream.

For more photos by Mary Hurlbut, go to the slideshow below:


Sandwich shop, remodel plans for historic Spigot building moves forward with commission support

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission on Wednesday, Oct. 20 approved exterior modifications to a historic building and conversion of a retail space to a sandwich shop/deli restaurant use at 1802-1816 South Coast Highway, on the corner of Pearl Street. 

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

Plans for Wigz Sandwich Shop include the service of alcohol, outdoor seating, exterior modifications to the C-rated structure on the city’s historic register and a 50% historic parking reduction. 

Applicant and lifelong resident Zac Cornwell said he’s been working on this project for the past 16 months. This intersection is particularly special to Cornwell, who grew up right up the street and used to buy candy from Spigot.

“My goal with this project is to create a special place for the community that’s affordable for both locals and local workers,” Cornwell said. “I want to create a great vibe and I just want to serve really great sandwiches.”

Commissioners all expressed enthusiastic support for the new sandwich shop. 

Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin said his favorite go-to sandwich shop is long closed and is excited to see this new deli open in town.

“I look forward to having another place to enjoy a good sandwich because we are kind of lacking that in town,” Dubin said. “And having it be a family, locally owned, a guy who grew up here, that just adds more flavor to the sandwich.”

It’s a positive thing any time someone comes in and upgrades an existing building that’s a little tired and in need of refurbishment to bring it back to life and activate the street scene, said Commissioner Steve Kellenberg. 

“I walk that street a lot, that area, and it needs it. It’s just a little devoid,” he said. “So I’m really excited about creating some street life (in that area).” 

Sidewalk cafes are what Laguna is all about, Kellenberg said, and help build the pedestrian and street character. 

“I’m totally supportive of this,” agreed Commissioner Ken Sadler. “It’s the type of business that Laguna could use.”

It’s not an architectural gem, but it’s historic because of its age and the people that were associated with it, including early development of Laguna Beach, Sadler noted. 

Sandwich shop, remodel plans Wigz rendering

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Courtesy of the City of Laguna Beach/NBC Architect Inc.

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

Several commissioners commented on the interesting and long history of the building. The project includes displaying a historical/cultural exhibit inside the sandwich shop. A historic plaque will also be placed on the property to identify its historic status.

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

Spigot Liquor has been located at 1802 Coast Boulevard South since 1933. The storefront at 1816 Coast Boulevard South was leased to artist Joane Cromwell in 1936 for her art studio. She remained at this address until the mid-1940s. Other notable tenants in the 1816 storefront included Coast Upholstering, La Pierre Home Appliance, West Coast Gypsy Leather and Charles’ Wigs, which was the longest running tenant, from the early 1980s until closing in 2020.

On September 20, the Heritage Committee recommended the property be placed on the Historic Register with a C-rating.

Cornwell plans to launch the sandwich/deli restaurant, Wigz, with outdoor dining and the service of beer and wine in an existing retail suite with a total of 12 indoor seats and 15 outdoor seats. The proposed hours of operation are from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. 

A bicycle rack for eight bikes is also included in the plans. 

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

The applicant proposes modifications to both the South Coast Highway and Pearl Street elevations to restore and enhance the building. The following four changes are proposed to restore the exterior of the building (as recommended by the historian):

–Remove the non-original board and batten siding and replace with vertical wood planking with pecky holes to match the existing siding.

–Remove the boards to restore the original storefront transparency.

–Remove siding adjacent to 1816 storefront to reveal stucco behind and replace wood paneled door with a single glazed panel. 

–Remove the existing 300-square-foot non-original storage area that is attached to the rear of the liquor store.

It was also recommended to update the existing signs by adding gold leaf address numbers above the entry doors on a glass transom and add a new round sign to the left of the Spigot entry door. The applicant has agreed to incorporate these items, but signage will be processed under a separate application, explained Senior Planner Martina Caron. 

Additionally, new paint is proposed throughout the main building – cement plaster (stucco) will be painted white, metal awning will be painted black and white, and roof rafter tails and eave underside will be painted white. The Quonset hut is proposed to be painted black. 

Toward the rear of the building, the applicant proposes to replace the existing chain link fence with a new six-foot high wood fence with planting in front. The existing planting area will be enlarged and a new retaining wall is proposed to accommodate a new fifth parking stall.

Sandwich shop, remodel plans current building

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Courtesy of the City of Laguna Beach

The current building at 1802-1816 South Coast Highway 

Dubin asked about the reasoning for painting the Quonset hut black.

It’s trending now for certain buildings and it creates a nice look, said Architect Nancy Balmer-Csira. Her thought was that it would help it “disappear” or not look as shabby as it does in its current state.

“We’re open to different colors,” Balmer-Csira said, like more red, instead of brown for the pecky wood as some commissioners suggested. “The idea was to freshen up the building.”

The pecky wood currently on the building is painted, Cornwell said. It’s not a great color, he added, agreeing with Whitin’s comments, but it’s too fragile to strip the paint off.

“So, we were hoping to select a color that was more ‘woody’ than what’s there now, because right now it looks very artificial,” Cornwell said. 

It’s not in his budget to replace all of the pecky wood, but he intends to continue working with the historian to determine the best process.

Cornwell’s father, Kelly, is currently in escrow to purchase Spigot, which will hopefully be completed by mid-November. 

“Big plans for Spigot,” Kelly Cornwell said. 

He’ll return to the commission with interior design changes and other improvements for the historic liquor store at a later date. 

The first thing that will change will be a sign hung inside that says, “No loitering, no trespassing on these premises” will be swapped out for a “Welcome” sign, Kelly Cornwell said. Wet dollar bills will be accepted and sandy feet are okay to come inside.

“Those are the changes that we’re going to make to Spigot, just to change the vibe,” he said. “Going along with the sandwich shop, it’s going to be a cool corner.”

He also has plans to rebuild and install the actual spigot on the Spigot barrel, which has been missing for decades, Kelly Cornwell said. 

The history of the Quonset hut is also really interesting, he added, explaining that it was surplus property leftover from WWII. In restoring the building and highlighting the history, they’ll focus on where it came from, how it was acquired and how it was built.

Kelly Cornwell said he was retired and now he’s jumping into this business venture all because of his son, Zac, who worked as a financial planner and saved his money to open the shop, he said.

“Giving that up to put his heart and soul into Laguna Beach…I’m proud of him,” Kelly said.

Other than the applicant’s father and soon-to-be owner of Spigot, there was one other public speaker and more than two dozen letters of support in favor of Wigz Sandwich Shop.


Sueños, a Latin American-inspired kitchen and bar now open and serving authentic dishes, inventive cocktails

Sueños, a Latin American-inspired kitchen & bar, opened in Laguna Beach on September 17 in the heart of downtown.

Located just steps from the sand, the restaurant debuts dishes that blend and borrow the ingredients and influences from across Latin American culture, from the coastline of Mexico to the mountainous regions of Peru.

Sueos Ayazi and Gutierrez

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Photos courtesy of Sueños

Sueños husband-and-wife restaurateurs Kay Ayazi and Jose Gutierrez

Sueños represents a years-long dream for husband-and-wife restaurateurs Jose Gutierrez and Kay Ayazi. The duo has opened several eateries in Orange County together, including Costa, a contemporary Peruvian kitchen in Costa Mesa. As first-generation Americans who come from families of entrepreneurs, they aim to show their children just how possible and powerful the opportunities are for those who pursue their dreams. To carry out their vision for Sueños, Gutierrez and Ayazi have tapped a collaborative team of culinary professionals to lead the kitchen and bar programs.

Suenos tiradito

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Tiradito – fresh fish of the day

“When our team came together, there was this palpable collective confidence that together we would not only achieve our goals but that our synergy would elevate the individual dreams each of us has,” said Gutierrez. “Sueños is Spanish for dreams, and that’s how we came up with the name.”

Executive Chef Alan Sanz and Culinary Director Yen Wu, bring a global experience to the kitchen. Wu, born and raised in Lima, Peru, is responsible for leading culinary operations for both Sueños and Costa. Sanz received his degree in culinary and pastry arts in Buenos Aires, Argentina and has cooked in kitchens around the globe: Boragó in Chile, Parcela in Mexico, Epicure in France and Mugaritz in Spain. He has worked with renown chefs including Rodolfo Guzmán, Edgar Nuñez, Éric Fréchon and Francis Mallman. Before joining the team at Sueños, Sanz served as executive chef for Gracias Madre Restaurants and Wu as executive chef for Puesto in Irvine. Both restaurants earned nods from the Michelin Guide with Sanz and Wu at the helm of their respective kitchens. Their cumulative culinary acumen and passion for bold and bright Latin American flavors bolster the menu at Sueños with a balance of refined composition and complexity.

At a recent Media Night Dinner, held on October 12, guests were treated to the following dishes:

Suenos Gordita

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Gordita de Pulpo & Chicharrón

Gordita de Pulpo & Chicharrón - black beans, chicharrón prensado, octopus, salsa verde, cashew cream and queso Cotija.

Tiradito - the fresh fish of the day, aji Amarillo, with lime juice and Peruvian spices.

Pork al Pastor - pork loin, pineapple puree, cinnamon roasted pineapple, onion & cilantro salad and tepache dressing.

Colombia (the perfect ending to a delectable meal) - a pecan biscuit, praline & rum light cream, Colombian creamy coffee, chocolate and black berries.

Suenos Mi Fantasi

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Mai Fantasi, a refreshing riff on the traditional Mai Tai

Dreamy cocktails were prepared by Beverage Director Ava Navarette that included the Mai Fantasi - a whimsical riff on the traditional Mai Tai, Carta de Amor, an effervescent elixir of rum and elderflower liqueur which includes a hand-written love note, and Starborn, a bold take on the Pisco sour featuring Barbados rum and maraschino liquor.

Renovation to design and decor blends hues of light pink, purple and blue with a palette of neutral undertones and natural elements. The restaurant’s focal point is a progressive mural above the open kitchen painted by local artist Carlos Rodas. The large surreal dreamscape depicts the procession of a dream, an ethereal journey of a woman as she embarks on an out-of-body experience where she flows into a state of expression, discovery and connection with her higher self. At 5,000 square feet, Sueños offers 85 seats inside the dining room, 30 seats on the patio and 12 at the bar. 

Suenos Executive Chef Alan Sanz

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Executive Chef Alan Sanz brings his global experience to the culinary offerings

“Laguna is loved for its enchanting, ethereal beauty. Long heralded as an elusive hideaway, Laguna sets itself apart on the California coastline as the Santorini of Orange County,” shared Ayazi. “It’s always been a dream of ours to open a beachfront restaurant, and with Sueños, we get to share that dream with the community by celebrating the Laguna that locals love and visitors dream of.”

Sueños is located at 222 Ocean Ave and is open for dinner daily beginning at 4 p.m. The kitchen is open Monday through Thursday until 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. and Sunday until 8 p.m. Weekend lunch will be available from 12-3 p.m. For more information, visit www.suenoslagunabeach.com, or connect with @suenoslagunabeach on Instagram and Facebook.


Festival of OC Chefs benefits KidWorks, honors Nirvana Grille Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales

Festival of OC Chefs, benefiting KidWorks, hosted its first culinary event on Sunday, Oct. 3 at Newport Beach Country Club. 

The food festival, which featured 25 chefs, invited 425 guests to mingle and sample their fare. Renowned wineries, such as Duckhorn, JCB, Justin and Crown Point, were also a part of the mix. Guests were later seated on the lawn to sample desserts and be introduced to the chefs by MC DawnMarie Kotsonis. Chef Event Chair Pascal Olhats introduced Honorary Chef, Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille, Laguna Beach, who has been featured as a celebrity chef on Food Network’s Chopped. She credited Olhats as her mentor.

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Lindsay trio

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Photos by Tony Lattimore

(L-R) Newport Beach Country Club Host Chef Graeme Blair, Event Chef Chair Pascal Olhats and Honorary Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Nirvana

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(L-R) Honorary Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales shares a culinary sampling with a guest

Kidworks’ board member and event co-chair Cory Alder shared the Kidworks’ story. Involved with the charity for 15 years, he lauded the nonprofit’s academic support, character and leadership development programs that empowers students in Orange County’s underserved neighborhoods from pre-K through their college years. He said the key was involving the entire family to ensure the student’s success. “We are most proud of the fact that 100% of our high school graduates enroll in college or university,” he stated.

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Johnson

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Laguna Beach residents and sponsors Guy Johnson and his wife Trish Johnson

The Presenting Sponsors Kay Family Foundation, represented by Ethan Kay and the David A. Pyle Family, represented by Annie Pyle, were honored for their ongoing KidWorks support.

The event co-chairs included Lisa and Cory Alder, Tracy and Kevin Murphy and Kyle and David Team, with committee members Joey Booth, Darin and Jeff Garell, Nina and Ethan Kay, Heidi and Ruben Mendoza, Connie and David Oh, Camille and Tim Strader Jr., Eleanor and Tim Tang, and Sue and Nick Willett. Also attending were Board Chair Adrian Montero and KidWork’s CEO/Executive Director David Benevides. KM Productions was thanked for producing the event. 

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Nesseth

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Laguna Beach residents Mona Lee Nesseth and George Rozsahegyi. Nesseth donated the wines for the $4,000 wine tree raffle.

Following a generous Fund-A-Need portion, which helped boost net proceeds to more than $640,00, the band, Flashback Heart Attack, took the heartfelt evening home.


Local Chef Lindsay Smith to be honored at Festival of OC Chefs benefiting KidWorks

Festival of OC Chefs, benefiting KidWorks will be hosting its inaugural event on Sunday, Oct. 3 from 5-9 p.m. at Newport Beach Country Club. Honorary Chef Lindsay of Nirvana Grille, Laguna Beach is being recognized.

The Food Festival taking place from 5-7 p.m. showcases 25 chefs, whereby guests will mingle and sample their fare. Renowned wineries and spirits will also be part of the mix. Beginning at 7 p.m., attendees can sample desserts and be seated at tables for the program. Following a Fund-A-Need portion at 7:45 p.m., the band, Flashback Heart Attack, will entertain for dancing until 9 p.m. The event is sold out, but there is a waiting list. Tickets are $500 per person. The Presenting Sponsors are Kay Family Foundation and the David A. Pyle Family.

Local Chef Lindsay group

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Photos by Bob Hodson Photography

Chefs who will be at the Festival of OC Chefs with Honorary Chef Lindsay Smith (front row, second from left)

According to Chef Event Chair Pascal Olhats, “It is a difficult time for the hospitality industry to go through, however chefs and restaurants are part of the local community. We were all separated for some time, so now we can reacquaint and what is better but to do it for a great cause like KidWorks.”

As a fixture in the Orange County restaurant scene who has been the owner and executive chef for several noted French restaurants, Olhats observed that most local restaurants are still in a recovery mode and still suffer from consequences of the pandemic, but draws attention to many of the families served by KidWorks that even before the pandemic were already having hard times, often living from paycheck to paycheck.

“They are certainly going through an even worse time now as their families and relatives are part of the restaurants’ workforce, too,” said Olhats. “So, helping KidWorks is certainly helping some of these families and giving kids hope and help for a better future. I am very proud to be able to help and glad we will make it an event that guests will remember.”

“We are honored to have these high caliber chefs lend their time and talent in support of our educational initiatives designed to transform the lives of our students,” said KidWorks CEO and Executive Director David Benavides.

To learn more about the Festival of OC Chefs, visit www.kidworksoc.org/chefs.

For the past seven years, 100 percent of KidWorks high school students have graduated on time and 100 percent have gone onto higher education. KidWorks’ mission is to restore at-risk neighborhoods one life at a time. Since 1993, KidWorks has grown into a vibrant community development non-profit that serves central Santa Ana students and families through a fully licensed preschool, after-school programs, tutoring, mentoring, and adult services in the areas of health, parenting classes and support groups. www.kidworksoc.org.

Newport Beach Country Club is located at One Clubhouse Drive, Newport Beach.


Selanne Steak Tavern debuts “7” new autumn cocktails

Selanne Steak Tavern is known for its outstanding creative cocktails that change seasonally. Now, the iconic contemporary steakhouse is unveiling seven newly created quaffs to usher in the energy and sense of new adventures that come with fall.

New cocktails were developed and carefully chosen by beverage savvy General Manager Chad Sisco with the enthusiastic assistance of bartenders Justin Wade and Art Gill. The lucky “7” are available throughout Selanne Steak Tavern – to be enjoyed pre, during or post a splendid dinner in the restaurant or, of course, on their own at the bar.

Selanne Steak drinks

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Submitted photo

New fall cocktails debut at Selanne Steak Tavern

With hues of tangerine, pink and berry, the new libations are lovely to look at and photograph. The names are suggestive of the fall including The Great Pumpkin and Harvest Moon, and they are bursting with aromatic, full-of-flavor and satisfying tastes – pumpkin spice, orange bitters, cinnamon, blackberry – all combined with fine specialty liquors. All the new cocktails are priced at $15, as well as older favorite signature drinks such as Spicy Pear, Velvet Alley and The Hat Trick.

Selanne’s new fall specialty cocktails include the following seven sip-tastic pleasures: 

–Charlatan featuring Buffalo Trace Bourbon, cinnamon simple, lemon and egg white.

–The Great Pumpkin created with Stoli Vanilla, pumpkin spice puree, cream, with a graham cracker rim.

–Harvest Moon concocted with Libre Cinnamon Tequila, simple and orange bitters.

–Sexy Eyes made with Grey Goose L’Orange, shiso, cranberry and simple syrup.

–Sunday Best composed of Casamigos Reposado Tequila, blackberry, lime and jalapeno agave syrup.

–Spice of Life with Stoli Vanilla, Pama Liqueur, cinnamon simple and lime.

–Dream Walkin’ created with Hendrick’s Gin, lemon, simple, Pama Liqueur, and Q-Grapefruit Tonic.

Selanne Steak Tavern 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 an upstairs dining room, downstairs tavern and bar area, a wine room for more intimate dining and two patios for alfresco dining. 

The restaurant supports local farms and fisheries that practice sustainability and humane practices. Menus feature the finest of steaks and seafood served with a variety of accompaniments enhanced by herbs from the restaurant’s own herb garden. Along with its carefully selected California-focused wine list, craft signature cocktails are created from quality farmers market produce, homemade mixers and top-notch shelf spirits.

Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner nightly starting at 5 p.m. For reservations and more information, call 949.715.9881 or visit www.selannesteaktavern.com.

Selanne Steak Tavern is located at 1464 South Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach.


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Finney’s stepping into iconic White House next summer

By Diane Armitage

“The day I heard the White House in Laguna Beach became available, I dropped everything I was doing and drove to Laguna,” said Brad Finefrock, the business development guy behind the growing Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen brand.  
       “Are you kidding me? The White House? My twin brother, Greg (founder of Finney’s), and I spent plenty of time at the White House in our formidable 20s. It’s the greatest location in one of the finest beach towns around. 

“We were standing there on the patio trying to peek in, and the owner, Jules Marine, walked up and asked if he could help us. I said, ‘We want to rent your place.’ It wasn’t even a question for us,” noted Finefrock.

Finney's White House

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Photo by Diane Armitage

After closing in 2019, the fabled White House of Laguna Beach has a new tenant: Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen

That first chance meeting in March has led to the culmination of a long-term agreement between Marine and Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen, the famously popular American tavern that first set up shop in Westlake Village and has since opened in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Porter Ranch and Burbank.

A man on a mission for memorable tavern food

Brad’s twin, Greg Finefrock (pronounced FinneyFrock) has been devoted to restaurant development for 25 years. Initially in franchise development for Baja Fresh and The Counter Burger Restaurant, Greg learned every aspect of operations while mulling the idea of his own concept. Finally, he planted a flag of his own with Finney’s Crafthouse in Westlake Village in 2016. 

Since then, it’s only gotten better. 

Finney's brothers

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Finney’s management (L-R), Founder Greg Finefrock, Executive Chef Eric Bosrau and Director of Business Development Brad Finefrock

Thanks to the talents of Executive Chef Eric Bosrau, Finney’s features “upscale cooking” in a casual atmosphere, with emphasis on an inventive array of from-scratch appetizers and shareables, gourmet burgers, flatbread pizzas, wings, beer, beer and more craft beer. 

Typically offering at least 30 taps, Finney’s focuses on local beers around each restaurant’s location. 

“At least two-thirds of our beer menu is always focused on local beers,” said Brad. 

“That, coupled with our craft cocktails and this rather crazy addictive food menu, we’re really looking forward to welcoming Laguna locals and visitors next summer,” he added. 

130 seats

The Finney’s team of architects has joined forces with Skendarian and contractors already engaged in the renovation to keep the momentum rolling. Once the “shell work” is completed, the new tenant plans to pull building permits in January with a five-month project buildout to follow. 

Last week, Laguna’s Planning Commission approved the request for 130 seats for both indoor and patio use. 

Finney’s will be removing the dance floor and live entertainment aspect but will be incorporating all the old millwork, black-and-white photos and more to pay reverent homage to the White House’s storied history.

While Planning Commission members were familiar with the popular Finney’s concept, it’s assuring to note that Julian and his wife, Julie, made a single day’s trek north to four of Finney’s locations. That evening, Jules called Brad to say, “We want to have a Finney’s in the White House.”

“We love every location we choose for Finney’s,” said Brad. “But this opportunity in Laguna’s former White House is quite an honor. You just don’t get many chances to take on a legend like this.”

Breaking News:
Oliver’s Osteria receives nod from Michelin

 On Wednesday this week, the revered Michelin Guide announced that our own Oliver’s Osteria in Laguna Canyon has achieved the well-deserved “Bib Gourmand” category. Congratulations to Chef Erik De Marchi and his team! 

Chef Erik De Marchi

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Courtesy of Oliver’s Osteria

At the helm of Oliver’s Osteria, Chef/Owner Erik De Marchi celebrates a “Bib Gourmand” award from the Michelin Guide

In efforts to broaden its appeal, the Michelin Guide, first established in 1926, recently added the Bib Gourmand category for stellar restaurant entities that “serve great food at reasonable prices.”

Nearby San Juan Capistrano’s Heritage Barbecue was also notified of a Bib Gourmand award. (I’ve been there and, yes, it’s fabulous). 

The Bib Gourmand is one level below the Michelin 1-star designation and offers new visibility for restaurants that can eventually find themselves awarded a touted Michelin star.

Last year, the Michelin Guide took a hiatus because of COVID, but is releasing its 2021 list of 1-star, 2-star and 3-star winners next Tuesday, Sept 28. 

Oliver’s Osteria is at 853 Laguna Canyon Road in the Hive next to the Sawdust Festival. Call for reservations at (949) 715-0261, or go online to their website.     

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


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The Drake’s Tasting Menu is the rarest of treats

By Diane Armitage

The Drake of Laguna Beach has just sailed past her second anniversary and is only increasing in velocity as she continues her graceful cruise. 

Last Sunday night, I opted for The Drake for a post-birthday dinner with one of my best friends. Aside from ordering a couple of takeout dinners during COVID, it was the first time I’d been back to The Drake since my review of its opening back in 2019. 

During their opening week two years ago, The Drake offered up one of the smoothest running and most stellar food events I’d ever experienced during an opening. (Most restaurants are understandably a little shaky on those first few days as they get all the wheels rolling in the right direction.) Fast forward to last Sunday night and they’ve only enhanced their stellar experience. 

Stepping into another city, another time

As soon as you step foot in The Drake, you absolutely feel transported to another city and time. This place is swank old school elegance, thanks to the unique interior design by Ken Ussenko, who’s also designing the Rum Social restaurant in Laguna’s Restaurant Row. 

The Drake's Tasting interior dining

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake is a sophisticated throwback to the classic jazz supper club

A dream of Founder Alex Glasser, The Drake Laguna Beach experience pays homage to Glasser’s fondest memories of working at The Drake Hotel in New York City as a teenager. While that glamorous edifice has since been demolished, its storied history tells of celebrity across the decades, from Lillian Gish and Judy Garland to Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and every major touring musician from Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. 

For years, the hotel’s lobby, restaurant, and nightclub rang with the finest jazz, and it’s this memory, too, that prompted Glasser to create a classic jazz supper club in South Laguna.

The only father-son team in South Orange County

I asked to be seated at the Chef’s Bar, which is always my favorite in any restaurant. Sous Chef Nick Gstrein and Line Cook Christian manned the front while Executive Chef Paul Gstrein moved between stations where needed. This is the first restaurant for the father-son team, though Nick spent plenty of time in restaurants with his father as he was growing up.

The Drake's Tasting hree chefs

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Photo by Diane Armitage

In a light haze of grill smoke, The Drake Chefs from left – Sous Chef Nick Gstrein, Line Cook Christian, and Executive Chef Paul Gstrein 

“I was a single dad, so Nick practically grew up in restaurant kitchens with me,” said Chef Paul when he stopped by for a chat. “Nick was a natural; he was always interested in cooking.

“It surprised me that he wound his way back into cooking as a career, but then it didn’t really surprise me,” he added with a cheeky smile. 

Nick chimed in, “I went to UNLV for a degree in Hospitality Management, Food and Beverage, but I didn’t go to a formal culinary school. I just learned by being in the family business for 400+ years. I guess at some point in gets in your genes.”

A Tasting Menu custom built to the individual diner

Even at our 6 p.m. seating (The Drake has two seatings each night at 5:30 and 8:15), the place was already packed with diners, and the main stage was rocking with Jazz Pianist Ron Kobayashi as plate after plate was prepped and plated for delivery. 

Chef Nick recommended the Tasting Menu, which offers a cornucopia of samplings from the main menu. Each tasting can be anywhere from two or three bites to a miniature dish of an existing entrée on the regular dinner menu. This seemed a perfect solution as just the first five minutes of watching the adept team prep and plate their many dishes made me want all of the dishes. 

The Drake’s Tasting Menu is available on request. “The pricing varies a little, too, because I factor in food restrictions and number of courses,” Chef Nick told me. “No two tastings are the same. I tailor them per guest.”

In my experience as both happy indulger of tasting menus and working with kitchen and front-of-house staff when a Tasting Menu is in play, it’s always best to have your entire table order the Tasting Menu. This is only a recommendation from the restaurant, but it’s a great one to follow. Not only does this help with timing of all the dishes arriving to the table at once, but it puts a stop to that one person at your table eating a single entrée and then staring hungrily at the rest of you trying dish after dish on the Tasting Menu. 

Chef Nick started us with an immaculately plated Tuna Tartare Tasting, a hefty dollop atop wafer-thin cucumber and wasabi emulsion with a companion wonton round for scooping. It was fresh, bright, and just enough to have me feeling quite gleeful about what could possibly be next.

The Drake's Tasting tuna tartare

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Tuna Tartar tasting 

Moments later, the Sweet Heat Burrata tasting arrived, a hearty serving of the first peach slices I’ve had this summer topped with Speck prosciutto, parmesan, and a careful dash of Calabrian Chili Oil.

The Drake's Tasting burratta

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Sweet Heat Burrata tasting 

Then, it was on to the most beautiful plating yet, the Smoked Salmon tasting with the star of the show arriving from the Santa Barbara Smokehouse, seated on a lemon blini (a buckwheat pancake that originated in Russia; it’s typically paired with caviar). The crème fraîche was plentiful as it formed artful loops beneath the treat, and it quickly became my favorite of the evening…that is, until more dishes trundled along. 

The Drake's Tasting smoked salmon

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Smoked Salmon tasting 

Having now sipped our way through flutes of rosé champagne, General Manager Matthew recommended a Sancerre, a crisp, light wine from Loire, France, for our next few tastings.

The Drake's Tasting scallops

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Maine Diver Scallops tasting 

The wine whisked in just seconds before the Maine Diver Scallops tasting arrived. Yet another plated wonder, the perfectly seared scallops were crowned with a chorizo sliver that added a smoky, savory bite to the delicate scallop. A sweet corn purée underneath paired quite nicely with a grilled corn cobette. 

Then, one of my all-time favorites arrived: a Lamb Lollipop, which is typically served in a larger appetizer offering. This particular lollipop was so hefty that it could have served as an entire meal for me. Expertly grilled to a medium rare, it was ladled on top of “spiked hummus” and surrounded with bright red pickled teardrop peppers.

After assuring Chef Nick that we were pretty close to being stuffed (understatement), he noted that he had just one more dish arriving – the restaurant’s very popular Venison Loin. Served aboard a Lingonberry compote and goat cheese mashed potatoes and topped with a honey port wine reduction, this venison is smooth as butter and mild as they come. This “stuffed” girl ate every bite. 

The Drake's Tasting venison

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Venison Loin tasting 

Then it was (at last) on to dessert. While I guessed I might receive one of those complimentary desserts typically doled out to all those people claiming a birthday, the gents knew I was celebrating and made a special effort. They chose what would have been my choice, a Three Chocolate Parfait with plenty of fresh strawberries and piped cream. The Gaufrette wafer served as my edible birthday candle. 

The Drake's Tasting birthday

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake’s extra special birthday finale 

It couldn’t have been a more perfect evening. The two-plus hour dining window seemed more than plenty for the restaurant’s diners. Just as everything began to wind down on our “shift,” the 8:15 reservations began to arrive, once again filling the restaurant with laughter and talk as the jazz played on. Their brief respite over, the chefs tirelessly returned to their magic act, as plate after plate of perfection began stirring once again. 

The Drake Laguna Beach is reservations only with live music seven nights a week. Open daily, seatings begin at 5:45 pm and 8:15 p.m. Complimentary delivery and pickup is available daily, and onsite valet parking is available for $7. 

The Drake asks that you either park on Coast Highway or in valet so as not to disturb their residential neighbors. 

Call (949) 376-1000 or go to http://thedrakelaguna.com/ for online reservations. Tell them I sent you! 

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

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