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The Ranch named #5 in Travel + Leisure World’s Best “Top 15 Resort Hotels in California”

Travel + Leisure announced the results of their prestigious World’s Best Awards 2021, ranking The Ranch at Laguna Beach #5 in the category titled “The Top 15 Resort Hotels in California.” 

The coveted list has recognized the top hotels, islands, cities, cruise lines, airlines, spas, and more around the globe for 26 consecutive years, and is an essential, trusted source for inspiration and guidance as travelers once again make plans to set out on trips around the globe.

Spread among 87 acres, the boutique coastal ranch is spectacularly located in the majestic Aliso and Wood Canyons in the heart of Orange County. As sustainability sets the foundation, the property hosts a variety of strategic initiatives to create a positive environmental impact and appeal to the eco-traveler. After last year’s recognition as #10, the property successfully rose into the top five resort hotels in California this year, showcasing their ever-evolving qualities.

The Ranch sunset

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The Ranch was named #5 in Travel + Leisure World’s Best “Top 15 Resort Hotels in California”

“This amazing recognition is of course a validation of our work in creating this very special place, but more importantly a reflection of the incredible team that makes The Ranch what it is,” said General Manager, Kurt Bjorkman. “This is for our team who make our little slice of heaven shine.” 

The World’s Best Awards 2021 are featured in the October issue of Travel + Leisure, on newsstands September 17. To view the final rankings for each category, and specifically “The Top 15 Resort Hotels in California,” visit www.travelandleisure.com/worlds-best

For the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2021 readers’ survey methodology, visit www.travelandleisure.com/worlds-best/survey-methodology.

For more information or reservations for The Ranch at Laguna Beach, visit www.theranchlb.com/.


Boards & Brunch: Sunset Stand Up Paddle will hold event supporting PMMC

On Sunday, Sept 12, Sunset Stand Up Paddle will present a morning of community paddling, mouthwatering brunch, and ocean-inspired prizes to support local ocean friends and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

Participants will launch from Diver’s Cove and paddle from 8-10 a.m. Once back on land, paddlers can walk or drive to Harley Laguna Beach downtown for an 11 a.m. brunch reservation. Twenty dollars of every reservation will be donated to PMMC.

Alternatively, people are welcome to participate only in the giveaway and brunch. For each $10 donation, names will be entered for a chance to win some exciting prizes: local oceanfront stays, rad beach swag, and certificates from local eateries!

Boards and clouds

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Join in to support PMMC 

The cost is $20 for brunch and the giveaway only; $40 to include paddle (if you bring your own gear); and $60 with paddle gear included. Gear-included spots are limited so don’t delay.

Pricing includes the two-hour paddle (other ocean vessels welcome), brunch with a mimosa, and the PMMC donation.

Please note, this is a community paddle out and not an “instruction-based event.” All paddlers are required to have previous paddleboard/ocean experience.

Supporting businesses include Harley Laguna Beach; Sunset Stand Up Paddle; Soul Project; PMMC; Zinc Café; Docent Brewing; Infinity; Kind Humans; Laguna Beach Beer Company; Heritage BBQ; Rasta Taco; Bear Flag Fish Company; Greg Thorne Jewelry; Bear Coast; Hinterland; Empire; Cody Nicely Glass; Surf Durt; CA Sports (Costa Azul); Victoria Skimboards; Backward Prints; Laguna Riviera; Slow tide; Baja By Horse; Laguna Coffee Company; Craft House; The Point; Susan Pullman Brooks; Lux; Seahorse at Pearl St General; and local artists Lynn Wiederman and Robert Jones.

Boards and breakfast

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Brunch at Harley Laguna Beach

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to reserve your spot and to enter for the prize opportunities, just text “Sealion12” to 71777.


7th Annual Night at the Ranch announced for September 17 

The Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach is thrilled to announce the 7th Annual Night at the Ranch to be held on Friday, Sept 17 at The Ranch in Laguna Beach. 

The evening will begin with a cocktail hour and silent auction, then continue on the golf course with a farm-to-table dinner and an exciting live auction. The night will top off with dancing to live music presented by former professional surfer, and southern California native, Donavon Frankenreiter. 

7th Annual outside

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Outdoor fun at the 6th Annual Night at the Ranch

Event co-chairs and club alumni Leif Hanson and Steve Blue are planning a fabulous evening for all. You will not want to miss the fun at this iconic location! This outdoor event will follow all social distancing and safety guidelines to ensure a fun and safe evening.

Table sponsorships are available now at www.bgclagunabeach.org. There will be limited seating so advanced tickets are recommended. For more information, contact Michelle Fortezzo at (949) 715-7584 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

7th Annual group

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Chief Development Officer Michelle Fortezzo, Club Alumni and Event Co-Chairs Steve Blue and Leif Hanson, and Club CEO Pam Estes at the 6th Annual Night at the Ranch

For over 65 years, the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach has been an indispensable asset to the community. From preschool to parenting classes, the Club offers an array of services that focus on academic success, good character and citizenship, healthy lifestyles, and creative expression. The Club serves youth ages 3 to 18 years of age at their two sites, Canyon Branch and Bluebird Branch, in Laguna Beach. 

For more information about the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, visit www.bgclagunabeach.org or call (949) 494-2535.


The Ranch debuts new seasonally tailored “Garden Harvest” series

The Ranch at Laguna Beach is delighted to announce its seasonal “Garden Harvest” series launching this fall. In celebration of the fall harvest, the inaugural programming will offer an exclusive and intensely local behind-the-scenes experience into the bounty of the autumn season and the resort’s culinary expertise.   

The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s fall “Garden Harvest” programming is open to in-house guests only and will debut on September 7.

The Ranch garden

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Chef Kyle creating one of his fresh garden masterpieces 

Upon arrival, guests will craft their own garden-fresh gin cocktail, using dried herb blends ranging from fresh rosemary to basil grown on-property at Harvest Garden. In addition to the creative mixology experience, guests will receive a collection of fall cookbooks personally curated by the resort’s Farmer Leo and Chef Kyle. 

Guests will embark on a private one-hour tour with Farmer Leo to experience the property’s half-acre biodynamic garden, sustainable composting system, and newly developed henhouse. Guests will learn the rich history of the property’s location in the Aliso & Wood Canyon and its original homesteading family, along with composting tips and which crops to plant during the fall. The tour will culminate in an intimate tasting of select California cheeses, charcuterie, and wines in an al fresco garden setting.

The Ranch view

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The Ranch’s “Garden Harvest” for in-house guests will debut on September 7

Resort chefs will take guests on a culinary journey of seasonal dishes, featuring herbs and produce plucked fresh from The Ranch LB’s biodynamic Harvest Garden and other vibrant ingredients sourced from local sustainable farmers. An interactive dinner experience paired with a sampling of California wines, guests will take home chef-kept secrets for recreating The Ranch LB’s notable California farm- and hook-to-table cuisine.

The Ranch Leo

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Farmer Leo at the Harvest Garden

Rates for the “Garden Harvest” programming are available from $650 per person, excluding accommodations. Reservations must be made two weeks in advance. 

For more information or to make a reservation, contact Amanda Shontere at (949) 715-3814 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Rebel Omakase now taking reservations for August 17th opening

By Diane Armitage 

At last, the Japanese-founded dining experience – Omakase – has arrived in Laguna Beach. 

New owners Jordan Nakasone (“Itamae” or Head Sushi Chef) and wife Debrah Cha will be opening Rebel Omakase on Tuesday, Aug 17 at 5 p.m. Initially beginning with dinner reservations, the team will eventually open for lunch as well. They are in the old Central Peruvian location on Forest Avenue and are already booking reservations at (949) 664-3186 (you can text that number as well). 

Rebel Omakase smoked sushi

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Laguna Beach is in for a treat with one of the first Orange County Omakase dining experiences

Omakase: putting your trust in the Chef’s hands 

Revered as the highest form of sushi dining, Omakase is an evening’s tasting menu of sushi. If you’ve ever enjoyed a tasting menu particularly crafted by the lead chef, you know this is an above-and-beyond experience. 

Directly translated, “omakase” means “I leave it up to you,” and that’s exactly what patrons do. They rely entirely on the Chef’s choice for the evening, based on the seasonality of the freshest fish and the sophisticated ingredients that accompany careful slice after slice of the finest fish and its creative plating.

Rebel Omaskase business card

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Photo by Ruben Flores

Simply and elegantly defined in ambience and service, Rebel Omakase opens Tuesday, Aug 17

Facts about this Laguna-based Omakase 

First, to handle a couple primary questions: 

This is not an “only” Omakase dining experience. Rebel Omakase is also offering an a la carte menu of plenty of creative sushi, sashimi, handrolls, salads, soup, and appetizer creations for those not participating in the Omakase experience. 

And, yes, when you make your reservation, you’re asked about preferences and food allergies. From that point, each tasting menu is crafted to the individual client. (Just think about that!) 

The Omakase is prix fixe (a set price), much like a fine wine pairing dinner or high-level tasting menu option. Tip and tax are additional. 

Diners typically sit at the sushi bar where the Chef can easily converse with the patrons about their tastings, but Rebel Omakase also has plans to move chefs into an at-table, make-your-amazing-sushi-in-front-of-you experience, too, if you weren’t quick enough to get into the sushi bar.

Rebel Omakase sake

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Co-Owner Debrah serves up saké. The Rebel team will be providing a substantial menu of Japanese beers and sakés.

And yes, if there’s room at the bar on a particular evening, patrons can order a la carte to their heart’s content. Nearby bar tables and the entire outdoor patio will also be in play for a la carte

Let the games begin 

OK, so now that we have the salient points out of the way, let me tell you about this unreal experience. 

On Sunday, the new owners asked me if I’d be interested in joining them for a “dry run” as they were doing final training with their new sushi chef and staff. I emphatically nodded and grabbed my dear friend, Ruben, to join me. 

Exactly six of us patrons enjoyed a three-hour sushi extravaganza with at least 12 servings of impeccable sushi interspersed with miso soups, palette-cleansing sorbet, and a buttery serving of Wagyu beef. (Note: The serving number varies each evening based on the Chef watching the hunger factor of his patrons). 

Chef Jordan started with Sashimi Salad, a mix of blue fin tuna, red snapper, seaweed, and shredded daikon (Oriental winter radish). 

Rebel Omakase sashimi salad

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Jordan began the evening with Sashimi Salad

Chef shops the fish markets each morning in L.A. 

Then, it was an ongoing parade of the finest sushi cuts of fish. 

Unlike other sushi restaurants that may opt for fresh and frozen fish being delivered, Chef Jordan drives to L.A.’s fish markets each pre-dawn morning to select that day’s freshest and most unique options for his diners that evening. 

On this particular evening, we were treated to super fresh Kanpachi, Stripe Mackerel, Flying Fish, Jack Mackerel, Red Snapper, Blue Fin Tuna, Otoro Tuna Belly, Uni, Hokkaido Scallops, and more.

Rebel Omakase mackerel

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Photo by Diane Armitage

This super-fresh Mackerel arrived with a touch of hoisin and fine chopped ginger

Rebel Omakase flying fish

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Flying Fish joins the evening menu with a dash of lemon juice and fine chopped marinated kelp 

But it’s not just fish. Enjoy two or three sashimi or sushi items and then, enjoy a palette refresh with a Red Snapper Miso or Strawberry Wasabi Sorbet. 

Rebel Omakase miso soup

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Photo by Ruben Flores

The Omakase tasting menu includes miso soups, sorbet cleansers, and even a surprise portion of buttery Wagyu beef. Pictured here is the Red Snapper Miso Soup.

Oh, and don’t miss the fantastic Wagyu beef tasting, the Blue Fin Tuna with edible gold flake on top (not kidding), and the fantastic Hokkaido scallops with cucumber salad that arrived nestled in a crystal bowl. 

Rebel Omakase scallops

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Hailing from the northern region of Japan, the Hokkaido Sea Scallops are the most coveted scallops in the sushi culinary world because of their size, sustainability, and delicate flavor

Living their dream 

Chef Jordan came to the United States for a degree in hotel management but began creating sushi dishes for President Bush as part of his security service, instead. 

In 2016, after working in high-end sushi restaurants in New York, he moved across the country, setting up shop in a sushi bar in Torrance with a famed sushi chef. 

“It was a 6 a.m. start every morning, but you had to arrive much earlier because that’s when you were supposed to be underway, already working,” he told me with a grin. 

After training for a year, he traveled to Japan to train with traditional sushi chefs. “The crazy thing about Japan is that you may be walking through a rice field, and you decide to take a random right and there, right in the middle of nothing, is a ramen shop that’s open till midnight,” he said. 

“That’s the kind of restaurant I wanted to have,” he said. “People just walk out of anywhere to stop in at my restaurant.” 

Jordan eventually returned to the U.S. to take over a fabled sushi restaurant in Marina del Rey. Stepping away from the trend of fusion and molecular sushi, Chef Jordan reverted to the traditional sushi way, creating a clamor of new clientele. 

When you see the love of your life 

Still yearning for his own restaurant, Jordan and Debrah had decided on an initial restaurant space in Palos Verdes, and within days of signing, COVID came to call, shutting down that option.

Undismayed, Jordan and Debrah road-tripped the Southern California coastline to find the best place for their restaurant. 

“We started in Redondo Beach and just kept moving south,” said Jordan. “Then, all of a sudden, we’re in this land of art galleries and opulent beaches and we both look at each other and say, ‘What town are we in?’ Laguna Beach is a totally different world. 

“There’s a quote I read somewhere that says, ‘When you see the love of your life, you can’t move on to something else.’ That’s how we felt about Laguna Beach. We knew it had to happen here.”

Support for the newest in town 

As a reminder, Rebel Omakase opens on August 17. To reserve your space for the Omakase experience…or just to participate in what Chef Jordan calls “chopstick psychology” as you chat with the Chef, call (949) 664-3186.   

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).


Laguna Beach Chef Amar Santana helps raise more than $1.3 Million for Illumination Foundation

Chef Amar Santana, co-owner of the Broadway by Amar Santana restaurant in Laguna Beach, sizzled in his role as lead chef for the eighth edition of the annual Chef’s Table fundraiser presented by nonprofit Illumination Foundation, www.ifhomeless.org. Through the Vaca Restaurant Group, which includes Amar and his partners Ahmed Labbate and Pam Roy, he donated gourmet dinners for 375 guests.

Chef Amar offered two options: Grilled filet mignon, wild mushrooms fricassee, maple glazed baby carrots, and smoked marrow bordelaise sauce; or as a vegetarian option, wild mushroom and vegetable lasagna, smoked tofu, shaved cashews, tomato coulis, and basil essence. He even offered a live auction experience including dinner and wine for seven at Broadway or Vaca that went for $4,500.

Laguna Beach Chef Amar Santana

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Chef Amar Santana working his magic

Held on June 27, the event served up $1,332,409, the largest amount the event has earned in support of the nonprofit’s targeted, interdisciplinary services designed to disrupt the cycle of homelessness.

The event moved this year from the iconic Disneyland® Hotel to be held outdoors at the private San Juan Capistrano estate of Marc Carlson and Jacqueline DuPont-Carlson in keeping with COVID-19 safety protocols. 

The estate’s two and a half meandering acres provided a picturesque outdoor backdrop for a kitchen full of other renowned local chefs who brought their extensive culinary chops to life before dinner, much to the delighted senses of guests.

Jacqueline DuPont-Carlson and Karen Jordan were the event’s co-chairs. Proceeds from the evening will support the nonprofit’s targeted, interdisciplinary services designed to disrupt the cycle of homelessness in Southern California, including The Plumeria Family Emergency House which is being updated to accommodate homeless children and families with chronic illnesses and physical disabilities. 

“Thank you to our co-chairs, sponsors, guests, chefs, volunteers, and staff for helping us return to having an in-person spectacular evening of good food, good cheer, and mostly importantly, raising record funds for a good cause,” said Illumination Foundation CEO Paul Leon. “We are forever thankful for your support of our mission. You are illuminating the darkness for so many struggling with the challenges of homelessness. You are changing lives.”

Illumination Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that provides targeted, interdisciplinary services for the most vulnerable homeless adults and children in order to disrupt the cycle of homelessness. 

The organization assesses clients in order to identify needs and provide immediate relief, when necessary, followed by care that combines housing assistance, case management, medical care, mental health services, and workforce connections to decrease community dependency. 

For more information, visit www.ifhomeless.org.


Coffee with a Cop comes back to Zinc Café on Saturday

Meet and visit with Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis and Police Chief Jeff Calvert on Saturday, Aug 7 from 8-10 a.m. as Coffee with a Cop returns after a long hiatus.

The mission of Coffee with a Cop is to break down the barriers between police officers and the citizens they serve by removing agendas and allowing opportunities to ask questions, voice concerns, and get to know officers in the neighborhood.

The Laguna Beach Police Department held its first Coffee with a Cop in 2015.

Coffee with A Cop was launched in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2011 when officers from the Hawthorne Police Department were looking for ways to interact more successfully with the citizens they served each day. Community policing has long been considered a framework for establishing trust between the community and the police. 

Coffee with Nikki

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Coffee with a Cop in past years on Cliff Drive with Community Service Officer Natasha “Nikki” Hernandez

However, over time the character and composition of our nation’s communities have changed due to shifting demographics, more commuters, and the introduction of different communication methods such as websites and social media. 

The Hawthorne Police Department hit upon a simple plan to break through the barriers that have been built over the years – a cup of coffee. Coffee with a Cop events are now held in all 50 states and it is one of the most successful community oriented policing programs across the country. The program has also expanded to outside the Unites States to Canada, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Latin America. The key to Coffee with a Cop’s growing success is that it opens the door for interactions outside of the crisis situations that typically bring law enforcement officers and community members together.

We’re happy to have Coffee with a Cop return.

Zinc Café is located at 350 Ocean Ave.


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For Chef Craig Strong, Terra is his Terra Firma

By Diane Armitage

Folks, I just have to say for the record that it sure is great to see Chef Craig Strong’s smile again. 

Certainly, one of the most talented chefs to ever grace Laguna Beach, this Michelin-starred and Five Diamond legend is fully back in play and loving life at Terra at the Festival of Arts grounds. 

And with his footing on solid ground, all the rest of us get to enjoy the heady flight. 

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The talented Chef Craig Strong is back in play at Terra on the Festival of Arts grounds

First, the setting

The decades-long Tivoli Terrace restaurant was sold in 2018 by June Neptune to the Laguna Beach Company and re-opened under the new Terra moniker for that Festival’s season. 

In November 2018, it was closed for stem-to-stern renovations, emerging with a swank, open air look and feel for the 2019 Festival. During the renovation, the hyperbolic paraboloid roof, originally designed by architect and former Pageant of the Masters director Don Williamson, was uncovered and showcased once again. It is a stunning 70-foot expanse, supported at only two points. 

While the restaurant’s footprint didn’t expand during the renovation, the new design allowed for 250 seats, which includes the Neptune Terrace, a second-floor open air bar area.

For Chef empty restaurant

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Photo by Diane Armitage

What was once hidden is now gloriously displayed – the original roof design of Tivoli Terrace stands sentry over diners once again at Terra

Nested in a backdrop of greenery, Terra is serenity and grace, a perfect sophisticated partner to the other-worldly feel of the Festival of Arts. As I sat at my Terra perch overlooking the Festival grounds, listening to the live music and watching festival goers wander through the exhibits, I was struck by just how fortunate we are to live in this magical place.

And I hadn’t even tried the food yet.

Prix fixe at its finest

In late 2019, the renovated Terra enjoyed a few short months of private dinners and weddings and, in early 2020, had just welcomed Chef Craig to the fold. And then COVID shut everything down in March.

“It definitely gave me time to work on our recipes,” the ever-unflappable Chef Craig quipped.

As we all wondered if the festivals would be allowed to reopen this summer, Chef kept himself busy with occasional pop-ups at the Laguna Beach Company’s [seven-degrees] and menu planning for Terra and Hotel Laguna’s yet-unnamed restaurant re-opening (that’s another article coming up).

“The evenings here at Terra are not like anything I’ve done before,” he said. “We get over 200 diners here just about every night of the week, but they’re only here for about two hours, 6 to 8:15 p.m.,” he said. 

“Then it just drops – boom! – like that! At 8:15, everyone’s gone!”

For Chef cocktail

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Terra menu offers a variety of wines, beers, and craft cocktails, including this summery “Last Word” made with gin, green Chartreuse, lime juice, and Maraschino liqueur

To properly accommodate the dinner rush, Chef created a prix fixe dinner menu that offers a fresh house salad, six entrée selections, and three dessert options.

Now, to those of you who may be thinking, “Oh man, just a prix fixe menu,” remember that this is Chef Craig Strong at the helm and the word “just” isn’t even in his vocabulary. While the menu may be efficient in nature, remember this is the former magician of Montage’s Studio and Ocean at Main. Every item is a stunner, both beautifully plated and delectably arranged for the palate. 

The agony of choosing between entrées

No sooner were my buddy, Ali, and I seated than Chef Craig trotted out. As the restaurant behind him bustled along, filled to the very brim with people, he leisurely chatted with us as if the three of us were kibbitzing over a Sunday Turkish coffee at GG’s Bistro

First mention, of course, was his mom, Margaret, as she’s responsible for the rich Fettucine Turkey Bolognese dish. A great home cook in her own right, she was Chef Craig’s first cookin’ mentor. He hasn’t adjusted a single quarter teaspoon of this recipe. 

Although we opted for different entrées, I asked for a side of the Bolognese sauce with some dipping bread. It was as promised, rich and lovely with layer upon layer of slow-cooked flavor. 

For Chef Terra Bolognese

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Although I didn’t order this as a main dish, I couldn’t resist a sampler of Bolognese sauce, originally honed by Margaret, Chef Craig’s mom

The Smoked Pork Loin is smoked all day on site and carved into thick medallions. It’s served up with French-style green lentils (“puy lentils”) which are smaller than your average legume and require no presoaking. They deliver a delightfully smooth earthy and peppery flavor, which pairs quite nicely with Chef Craig’s five-spice pork sauce and fresh peaches. 

Braised Short Ribs are ladled atop potato purée and Chef adds his own Bordelaise sauce to add even more depth and richness. 

Chef’s vegetarian entrée is another work of art designed around the concept of chicken cacciatore but made with cauliflower instead. Still braised in a wine and tomato-based broth, the cacciatore welcomes red and yellow bell peppers, garlic, and roasted eggplant. It’s served with Chef’s own marinated artichokes and gluten-free pasta made in house.    

The Grilled Chicken came so highly recommended by our server and another concierge friend that I opted for it as my main. True to form, this is half of a deboned chicken, its skin grilled to crispy perfection. Chef adds a swirl of sherry vinegar chicken jus, beautifully fluffed lemon-glazed farro, and al dente carrots and broccolini. While it was light and healthy, every bite was a rich discovery. Quite lovely.

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Terra Grilled Chicken – light, healthy, and decadently flavorful

Yet another “simple” dish, the Sautéed Salmon arrived perfectly cooked and flaky. Rather than relying on butter as a typical topper, Chef Craig creates a light vinaigrette consisting of ginger, lime, tamari, sesame, and olive oils, and then purées and strains the batch before brushing that on top. A shitake mushroom purée swoops beneath the ensemble, which includes forbidden rice and “the tiniest baby bok choy I could find,” said Chef Craig. 

Small and tender definitely won this race as the mini bite of the bok choy blended perfectly with the neighborly nuttiness of the rice and earthy purée.

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Terra Salmon finds its perfect meld with forbidden rice and a shitake purée

Of course, we had to finish with dessert (because that’s what the prix fixe menu requires). First, we chose the Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta with summer fruits. It arrived with a lush blueberry purée crowning the lemon verbena – absolutely delightful. 

The Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Variations, however, takes the cake (as they say). It’s amazing that just a simple sliver can be presented so beautifully and proffer just the right pairing of raspberry love via raspberry piping, fresh berries, and smooth sorbet.

For Chef chocolate dessert

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The crowning finish, Terra’s simply named “Chocolate Cake”

“Intermission,” too

While Chef Craig and his crew are busy every evening at Terra, they also provide all the rest of the food on the Festival grounds at the nearby walk-up window and grill, Intermission.

“You don’t want to get too complicated here,” said Chef. “People want great burgers and sandwiches. They want great hot dogs and tacos. They want a fresh, just-tossed salad, maybe a veggie bowl…and they want crispy fries. 

“If you don’t get the fries right, everything is lost,” he finished. 

Intermission handles about 400 covers a day, operating from the opening of the daily gates to 10 p.m. at night. 

“It’s busy all day but the biggest rush we see actually happens at intermission during the show,” he said. “People will hot-foot it over to get some fries or chili fries or tacos. It’s fun breaktime food.” 

Here’s where Chef is putting a source of great pride and joy to work – his very own Salsa Fuerte Hot Sauce. The top-selling bottled sauce has worked its way into tacos, hummus, and crispy fry options, and is meeting increasing demand for burgers and dogs, too.

For Chef hot sauce

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Strong’s own Salsa Fuerte hot sauce is making a splash at Intermission 

“Salsa Fuerte has a heat quotient of 720, which is medium…maybe a high medium, but I’m not interested in lighting anyone’s mouth on fire. It’s a perfect flavor enhancer,” he said.        

A new home for locals 

As the crowd evaporated at – yes – 8:15 p.m., Chef Craig talked with us about his home-grown pounds of kumquats, his plans for the indoor and outdoor dining menus at the eagerly anticipated future Hotel Laguna restaurant (sorry, you have to wait for that article), and the Laguna home he and his wife have enjoyed for years. 

“I really want the locals to take advantage of this beautiful space here at Terra as well as what’s coming at Hotel Laguna. To the rest of the world, these places are iconic, but to us locals…this is home. I just want the locals to feel like they’re enjoying an extension of their own homes in my home,” he finished.

Reservations

Terra is open 4 to 10 p.m. daily. A Festival admission ticket is required to get into the grounds, but admission is free for all Laguna Beach locals. Call (949) 494-9650 or go online for reservations. 

Chef Strong’s Salsa Fuerte Hot Sauce can be purchased online at www.salsafuerte.net

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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Seabutter is melt-in-your-mouth fresh sushi

By Diane Armitage

Last week, the popular Seabutter Beverly Hills sushi restaurant welcomed the arrival of its little sister, Seabutter Laguna Beach. 

Owners George and Angie Fratkin opted for a week of soft opening evenings but, as the Laguna Beach local coconut telegraph goes, it turned out to be a fairly busy week. 

“We’ve had such a great few days with all the charming locals,” George told me. “We’re in love already.”

Consider that love mutual, George. After trying eight different sushi dishes on Tuesday night, I’m happy to report that this is one of the most unique and lush sushi events I’ve yet experienced.

A bold Beverly Hills start-up

Three years ago, George and Angie hadn’t even thought of owning a restaurant. “We were happy in our careers but we both had this opportunity to make some changes,” said George. “So, we decided to try something really out of our comfort zone – opening a restaurant.”

Although they had no operational experience, they knew they had to fulfill one primary goal: Create a sushi experience for sushi afficionados just like them.

“We wanted the highest-grade chefs and the highest-grade sushi and fish on the market…and that was about it. It was a pretty short checklist,” said George.

The couple opened Seabutter in Beverly Hills in November 2018, and in a matter of weeks, the place was rocking.

Although the couple wasn’t necessarily thinking of expansion, George admits to saying that if they ever opened a second restaurant, he would want it on or within walking distance of a beach.

“We somehow made it through the worst of COVID, and just when we were thinking we could take a breather this spring, maybe take a vacation somewhere, one of my friends sent me the listing for the Laguna Beach sushi restaurant,” he said. 

“We hadn’t even been thinking of Laguna Beach, but I had great memories visiting there as a kid, and we thought we’d just drive down and take a look. As soon as we walked in the place, I knew we had found our second restaurant location,” said George. 

They made a fast decision at the end of May and began putting all the pieces in place for a 45-day opening calendar. They quietly opened here on Friday, July 16th.

Unique & rare flavors

Seabutter specializes in thinking outside the box.

“People may love yellowtail or yellowtail belly, but they don’t know about how mild and awesome amberjack is,” said George. 

“Or they may have tried albacore but haven’t had the pleasure of trying albacore belly. And, if they like uni, we’re one of the few places that will carry two or three or four types of uni from different parts of the world, so you can try them all in a tasting in a single evening,” he added.

I love sushi, but I wouldn’t consider myself an afficionado. So, on Tuesday I gathered my sushi pros – Greg and Terri Smith – and brought them along for dinner.

The Seabutter team may still be dialing in a bit of artwork and finishing touches, but the most important pieces are firmly in play – fantastic and friendly sushi chefs and an extensive menu of fabulous options. 

The lead Sushi Chef Peter Moon greeted us, and we told him we were going to rely on his recommendations. 

Seabutter is chef and owner

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Seabutter (Laguna Beach) Head Sushi Chef Peter Moon, left, and Co-Owner George Fratkin

On a side note, a couple weeks ago, one of my dearest friends popped into town and dialed me up to meet for coffee. He’s an avid fisherman with a home in La Ventana on the Sea of Cortez, so when I asked him what fish he prefers eating these days, he promptly replied “amberjack.”

Although amberjack is often mistakenly marketed as part of the tuna or yellowtail families, amberjack kanpachi comes from the Seriola line. It’s a lean, flaky fish with a mild, sweet, and buttery taste. I’ve never tried it, so when Chef Peter mentioned it, I made that our first Seabutter foray. 

What an introduction! The lightest of lime juice drizzles complimented this beauty. I would have been happy eating multiple servings of this dish – it was spectacular.

Seabutter is amberjack

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Fabulous Amberjack Kanpachi

It only got better from there. 

In a matter of minutes, we were on to Crunchy Onion Albacore which featured Albacore Shiro Maguro, essentially albacore loin, another rich and mild offering. A haystack of freshly fried onion slivers served as the bedrock, and the mix of tang and buttery sweet was perfection. 

Seabutter is albacore stack fried onion

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Lean and flavorful albacore on an onion haystack

Next it was a beautifully colorful dish of the freshest ahi tuna topped with a jumble of enoki mushrooms sauteed in a truffle mushroom sauce. As it turns out, my fellow sushi buddies are not truffle oil fans, so I polished the entire plate off myself without apology. 

Seabutter is ahi tuna with truffle

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Ahi tuna plays host to enoki mushrooms in a rich truffle sauce

We moved on to beautifully presented dishes of Tuna & Toro, Yellowtail Belly, and then Albacore Belly (for comparison purposes). All three dishes were fresh and colorful presentations with a focus on the fish above the usual filler rice. 

Seabutter is albacore belly

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Light and refreshing Albacore Belly sushi

At that point, my fellow spicy food fans were over the moon with Chef Peter’s fantastic roll, the YTJ, a combination of Yellowtail, Tuna Sashimi, and Jalapeno Tempura with Yuzu sauce. Where jalapeno can become quickly overpowering with fresh sushi, the tempura kicked the temperature down to a companionable, tiny kick. 

Seabutter is jalapeno tuna and yellow tail

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Fried jalapeno kicks this fabulous YTJ roll into overdrive

With seven dishes shared between us at this point, there wasn’t much room left. Greg, however, wanted to try a token hand roll, so we asked Chef to provide a “light” one. 

He complied, serving us three seaweed paper rolls stuffed with blue crab, a smattering of white rice, and crunchy cucumber. We each finished every bite.

Seabutter is blue crab stuffed handroll

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Photo by Diane Armitage

A seaweed paper hand roll stuffed with the freshest blue crab

Of course, George wouldn’t let us depart without trying their homemade Mochi Ice Cream Balls. This time, we insisted on receiving a shared platter and in moments, we were digging through three just-right servings of fresh peach, strawberry, and rich chocolate options. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely perfect evening at Seabutter. 

Seabutter is mochi

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Homemade mochi finishes a perfect evening. On this evening, the restaurant was featuring peach, strawberry, and chocolate.

Call for reservations at (949) 942-6042 or go online to reserve. The restaurant is closed Mondays, but opens every other day of the week at 5 p.m.   

Note: As of this writing, Seabutter Laguna Beach still hasn’t received its liquor license, even though it’s a rather simple transfer that’s been in process for several weeks. While the owners expect this to come through any day, don’t let this deter you from trying this gem before the rest of the world swims into Seabutter. 

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).


Latin fusion restaurant planned for 222 Ocean Ave space in downtown

By SARA HALL

A restaurant focused on Latin fusion cuisine with live entertainment and private dining events is on the path to open in the fall at 222 Ocean Ave following Planning Commission permit approval this week.

Commissioners on Wednesday (July 21) unanimously approved a Conditional Use Permit to re-open an existing vacant restaurant space (previously Ocean at Main) in the downtown neighborhood. 

Suenos is proposed as a full-service dine-in restaurant, operating daily serving lunch and dinner. They hope to offer a weekend brunch soon after launching in late August or early September. The restaurant will include a full cocktail bar, live entertainment and amplified music, and up to three private dining events a week. 

No changes are proposed to the existing 126-seat restaurant layout and the hours of operation are proposed to remain from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m., seven days a week.

Co-owner Kay Ayazi is excited about opening the restaurant in downtown Laguna Beach.

“It’s a beautiful property,” Ayazi said during the meeting. The hope is “to come in and hopefully surpass your expectations of what we’d like to have over there.”

She and her husband Jose Gutierrez also own Peruvian-inspired Costa Contemporary Kitchen in Costa Mesa. They previously operated Eqeko Cocina Latina in Santa Ana, another Peruvian restaurant, which closed in 2017.

Suenos will be a food and chef-driven establishment, Ayazi said. It’s not another bar or tavern, she added, it’s a full-service restaurant where the food is the priority.

They included the possible three events per week in an effort to be transparent, Ayazi said. It will only be one event at a time. There will not be two events booking both the patio and inside space at the same time, she confirmed.

The parklet would not be part of any reserved event, she added, it would be for the walk-in clientele dining at the restaurant.

“We’re looking for a great ambience and atmosphere to bring to the local community members,” she said. 

There were no other public comments on the item.

Several commissioners commented on Ayazi’s enthusiasm and thought her team and concept would work well.

It’s a nice fit for the space, said Commissioner Ken Sadler. 

Latin fusion exterior

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The current vacant space at 222 Ocean Ave will soon be home to a Latin fusion restaurant

“This building went through a really fantastic renovation and it will be great to see it occupied again,” he said. 

Other commissioners echoed his comments, noting that Suenos will liven up the street.

“I’m really excited about getting a good operator into this space, it’s a fantastic space, this street needs to be activated,” said Commissioner Steven Kellenberg. “Welcome to Laguna Beach.”

Suenos will feature a menu of homemade items that will include fresh ingredients and dishes from a wide variety of Latin American countries. The sample menu includes selections such as esquites, tacos, and Aztec-inspired dishes. 

The price range for most plates will be between $12 to $25 and a few main entrees could go up to $30 to $35, Ayazi said. 

Most of Wednesday’s discussion revolved around the private dining events. Up to three times a week, the restaurant would be closed to the public and available for rental for private dining and dancing events.

During these events, either the patio area, the indoor area, or the entire restaurant may be rented for use. No more than one event in either area is proposed at a time. This will allow the restaurant to be available for birthday parties, engagement parties, and other similar special events. 

Currently, the indoor seating area is limited to 85 seats and the outdoor seating area is limited to 41 seats. The applicant proposes to limit the event attendance to no more than 85 people, or no more than 41 people for an event held exclusively on the patio. Because the events are limited to the current restaurant’s allowable capacity, staff believes that the proposed events do not result in an intensification of use.

Diners not attending an event in either the interior space or the patio can still access the restaurant tables for service, confirmed Senior Planner Martina Caron. They can be sectioned off into individual spaces, she noted. 

The permit also allows Ayazi to remove some of the table and chairs to allow for a dance floor area as needed for these events. The dance floors will not be provided during normal business hours.

Municipal code further stipulates that a minimum dance floor size of 400 square feet is required if the restaurant seating capacity exceeds 75 persons, and a minimum size of 200 square feet where the seating capacity is not more than 50 persons.

The submitted floor plan indicates that the musicians are proposed to be stationed either outside on the patio area or inside the restaurant. Only one musician or group is proposed to perform at a time.

Latin fusion plans

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Rendering courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Floor plans for Suenos restaurant proposed for 222 Ocean Ave

Live entertainment is permitted during normal business hours to provide ambient music to the patrons. The performers may consist of solo singers, instrumentalists, trios/quartets, mariachis, and DJs and shall be limited to the performance areas as depicted on the submitted floor plans.

Staff heard concerns from the property manager of the upstairs apartments regarding noise on the outdoor patio, Caron said. In response to those concerns, staff recommended amending condition 31 to limit outdoor patio music to 10 p.m., which the applicant agreed with, Caron added.

Condition 32 states that music levels shall remain below 70 decibels at all times.

Commissioner Jorg Dubin, as a member of a quartet himself, raised concerns about the space allotted both inside and outside for musicians. The permit allows solo singers, instrumentalists, trios/quartets, mariachis, and DJs. The space is basically just removing one small table, he noted. 

“That, I can tell you right now, is not enough room for a quartet,” Dubin said. “They can maybe get a duet in there and that’s about it.”

The applicant submitted the floor plan indicating that it was sufficient, Caron noted. 

They will comply with whatever the space allows, Ayazi said. Her husband drew the plan up, she noted, so it may not be perfectly to scale. They took measurements of the designated area to determine how much space they have to work with for musicians.

“If a quartet doesn’t fit, then a quartet won’t be in there,” Ayazi said. 

They have to ensure that the dance floor is in compliance in the space and whatever fits in the musician area will be the max of what they allow. They can revisit the space with the contractor to see what can be done and how they can adjust, she added.

The musician space shouldn’t be an issue, Sadler added; the requirement is on the minimum size for the dance floor and if they want to take up more space for the musicians, they will lose some dining space. 

“Beyond that I don’t think it will be a problem,” Sadler said. 

A few commissioners questioned the need for a CUP amendment, considering what the prior permit approvals allowed and that a number of restaurants take large party reservations.

If they were just reserving a section of tables for standard restaurant service that likely wouldn’t require a CUP amendment, Caron said, but possibly having the entire interior space or entire patio used with live music and dancing is a different use than just a large party reserving tables at a restaurant.

On April 23, 2013, Council approved permits to establish and operate a “casual family-style pizzeria restaurant” with the service of beer and wine in conjunction with the rehabilitation and restoration of an historic structure, including a 70.45 percent parking incentive for historic preservation.

The rehabilitation project included the restoration of the building to its original 1952 appearance and restoration of the original patio including the decorative fountain and associated murals.

Since the 2013 approval, the restaurant has been amended several times. Amendments have been approved to allow the full service of alcoholic beverage; to allow a new trash enclosure (at the adjacent site at 226 Ocean Ave); and to modify the hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. daily. 

In August of 2018, the previous tenant (Ocean at Main) obtained a business license to operate the restaurant pursuant to the previously approved CUPs. In September of 2018, the Planning Commission approved a new Conditional Use Permit (amending the previous CUPs) to change the menu to allow a “family-style coastal California” restaurant. Ocean at Main closed in February 2020 and the property has been vacant since.

The new restaurant isn’t exceeding capacity and it’s compliant with previous CUPs, noted Commission Chair Steve Goldman. 

“It’s a non-event as far as this Commission is concerned,” he said.

The concern would be that this becomes a banquet or dining hall, Goldman said.

Ayazi confirmed that she understood and agreed to all the conditions, including the children’s menu and noise limitations.

Sadler emphasized the importance of agreeing to the conditions.

“We’re trying very hard to make sure that if they agree to conditions of approval that they follow through on them and it sounds like this applicant is willing to do that,” Sadler said.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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