K’ya Bistro: Share the good news and the good food: small plates provide big-time eating pleasure 

Photos and story by LAURA BUCKLE

Named as Best Chef in Orange County in March 2010, K’ya Bistro’s Chef Craig Connole is hailed for his creative approach to cuisine. Born and raised in Newport Beach, Chef Craig started his career at the infamous Gina’s Pizza in Corona del Mar in the 1980s. 

After making his name around Southern California with flavorful stints at the Four Seasons, Meridien, and Windows on the Bay in Newport Beach, Connole had six successful years at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua and spent some time in the modern day restaurant mecca, Las Vegas. 

He returned to his Laguna roots when the owners of La Casa del Camino lured him back with an invitation to reinvent the restaurant at their hotel. 

Connole shifted the direction of K’ya in Jan 2009, morphing the Cal Asian menu to incorporate a wide variety of worldly eats, bringing in his knowledge of Hawaiian and European dishes and deconstructing the traditional three-component meal way of thinking by creating a myriad of small plates. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Craig on a number of occasions and I can honestly say he’s not only incredibly talented, but warm, personable interesting and most of all passionate about his food and Laguna Beach.

My food journey at K’ya Bistro

As always I took a guest with me to the tasting. In K’ya’s case, this was ideal situation: after all, K’ya prides itself on small plates and sharing.

We started with K’ya’s very popular Wild Hawaiian poke, served on chips with onion seaweed avocado and spicy soy (which can be substituted for tamari for those who are gluten intolerant). This was delicious, just enough for two people to share without being overwhelmed. The tuna was really delicious and tender.

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Wild Hawaiian poke is understandably very popular at K’ya

We then moved onto another small plate sharing dish, which Craig told me was a firm favorite with customers, the seared fillet mignon tips served with horseradish cream. These were beautiful and cooked to perfection. The horseradish cream was mild but had a spice that complemented the tips beautifully.

We then went on to the garlic shrimp and bacon wrapped scallops, served with a polenta, cream corn and crunchy garlic. This dish was actually from the large sharing plate menu, but we just ordered a small plate to share between us. The shrimp was tasty, the smoky-ness of the bacon worked really well and the polenta corn combo, I could have eaten on its own. 

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Shrimp, bacon-wrapped scallops, and polenta corn: could it get any better?

After this we sampled the hibachi salmon, served with farro, portabella, a spicy coconut sauce and asparagus.  This dish was great. It was nice having farro again as I don’t think it is used enough; it worked great in this dish, as it soaked up the flavors really well.

For dessert we were well behaved and shared a banana bread pudding served with vanilla bean ice cream and bourbon sauce. This was outstanding.  My guest was not a huge dessert person, but in the end we battled for the last bit (I won).

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Bread and butter pudding might sound ordinary: it’s anything but!

All in all my experience at K’ya was wonderful. It’s not difficult to see why this restaurant has stood the test of time in Laguna Beach and has a huge local following as well as being a popular tourist attraction.

K’ya is open from 4 p.m. every day and runs a happy hour from 4.30 - 5.30 p.m., which offers incredible deals and a great menu. Chef Craig and his kitchen also offer a lunch menu up at the rooftop bar, which has many K’ya’s favorites also. So you can eat his food all day long…and why wouldn’t you? 

K’ya Bistro is located at 1287 S. Coast Hwy. Visit www.kyabistro.com for more information.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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