The Public Trough


A note from Shaena

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank our newest dining partners – K’ya, Big Fish, French 75, Nirvana Grille, and El Ranchito – as well as our “oldies”, Mozambique and Penguin Café. Without your support, this section would not be possible.

Stu and I value your partnerships very much – and plan on going the extra mile to support you.

A self-proclaimed foodie, I dine out 3-4 nights per week in town. When my grandmother came to town last fall, I treated her to a different Laguna Beach restaurant every night – Dizzs, Zoolu, and Tabu! “This is the best restaurant I have ever been to,” she raved about one.

Grams went home to my Coastal Oregon hometown and raved about Laguna’s world-class dining.

Look for compelling new dining editorial every Friday – and for more new sections to be launched in the near future. We love Laguna and we love what we do.

Heard on the street…

Would you like salt on your margarita glass or not?

Looking for a great local spot to celebrate next Thursday’s Cinco de Mayo? Consider these five:

El Ranchito – Open until midnight this year, owner Michael Avila’s sole goal is to create a “fun place for locals to hang out.”

Olamendi’s – Matriarch of the Olamendi family, Rosa, will be in the house to celebrate, along with a mariachi. Rumor has it Rosa knows how to throw a good party…

Coyote Grill – Featuring tequila tastings and shot specials throughout the day, $4 Margaritas and well drinks, $3 Domestics, and Happy Hour all day/night long.

The Rooftop – Serving a $9 Fish Taco Plate (3 Fish Tacos) all day/night long, and offering one of Laguna Beach’s best ocean views as its backdrop.

House of BIG FISH and Ice Cold Beer – Featuring live music by folk/Americana artist Andrew Corradini, $1 Blackened Fish or Chicken Tacos, $3 Pacifico Drafts, $4 Well Tequila Shots, $5 House Margaritas, and a $20 bucket of Corona Light.

I realize the last two picks aren’t Mexican restaurants at all. But we’re “equal opportunity partiers” at Stu News Laguna – and welcome all who plan on donning their best mariachi hat.

Laguna Stew recipe

Bleu Chicken Breasts

This is an easy, tasty blend that can be served to guests and family and is sure to please everyone who loves chicken.

6 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

6-Tbs butter

1 Pint sour cream

8-Oz bleu cheese, crumbled

1-Ibs Worcestershire sauce

3 small cloves of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease 9” x 13” baking dish

Melt butter in large skillet over med heat

Add chicken and brown well – 4 min per side

Transfer to the greased baking dish

Mix sour cream, bleu cheese, Worcestershire sauce and garlic in a small bowl. Spoon this mixture evenly over the chicken breasts.

Bake uncovered for about 50 minutes. Juices will come out clear when the chicken is pricked with a fork.

Garnish with parsely

Serve over freshly cooked wild rice

Serves 6

Laguna Heritage Cookbook


Maggie H photoMaggi Henrikson


We waited hungrily to see what would replace the iconic Cedar Creek Inn.  So did Cary and Suzanne Redfearn, owners of the establishment that transformed into Lumberyard.  There were months of structural and design refurbishments, but Lumberyard opened to a happy clientele.

Stop in any weekday and you will find it filled with many of our local business people: Council members, ladies-who-lunch, and those who just want a quick and luscious burger at the bar.

In the evening you will find regulars with family in tow, romantic couples, a lively bar scene, and everything in between. Don’t be surprised to find a charity event in the midst of the customer mix on a given evening. The Redfearns have graciously hosted Laguna’s community non-profits since they opened in October of 2008.

Cary Redfearn reflected on the move to Laguna Beach.  “I live in Laguna.  I wanted to have a restaurant in my hometown.  We were excited when this location became available.  I looked at it back when it was ‘The Ivy’ and wanted to be here”.  Formerly owner of Oysters in Corona Del Mar, Redfearn made the jump when the right spot opened up.

Lumberyard Photo

Staff photo by Maggi Henrikson

“This location is more local in nature, because it’s further from the tourist spots on Coast Hwy”.  At the corner of Forest Ave and Third Street, across from the firehouse, Lumberyard enjoys a central location for all the comings and goings of Laguna Beach.

Lumberyard is a symbiotic relationship of comfort and style, with a menu perhaps best described as nouveau comfort food.  There are specialty dishes reflecting what’s in season, and mainstays like meat loaf and chicken pot pie. “One of the best compliments our guests give is that we are consistent,” Redfearn noted.

Having been with Redfearn for more than fifteen years, Chef Armando Ortega’s favorite dish is the Short Ribs.  Every day, Ortega braises and cooks the seasoned ribs, hours of slow cooking until they are flavorful and tender enough to fall off the bone.  One of Laguna Stew’s favorites is the Roasted Tomato Bisque soup, and even the LA Times came a-callin’ for that recipe. (Come back on Tuesday for the Lumberyard’s recipe!)  Pair that with the Wedge Salad; ice cold iceberg lettuce topped with tomato, scallion and bleu cheese dressing and finished with Nueske applewood-smoked bacon from Wisconsin, and you have a match made in heaven.

Lumberyard Bar Photo

Inside there are two levels of seating, with spacious booths and a large horseshoe-shaped mahogany and granite bar.  Redfearn talks about the intention of the design, “We wanted to create environments for interaction.  Both the booths and the shape of the bar create convivial social situations, in which guests can look across at one another”.

A full menu is available at the bar as well as eight draft beers and more than twenty different wines by the glass.

The outdoor patio is delightful on these warm afternoons, the comfort of a fire is welcome on chilly nights, and the Sunday Brunch is not to be missed, including a make-it-yourself Bloo dy Mary bar.

With an atmosphere of comfort and style, Lumberyard has truly become a heart of Laguna.

GG’s Bistro – truly a hidden Laguna gem


Comfort Food Correspondent


Staff photos by Jamie Andrews

GG Photo 1

Hande Gundogar – Meze Platter

I’m guilty. I find myself going out to lunch or dinner in town and only when I’m heading back to the barn for a nap afterward do I remember GG’s Bistro. Invariably I kick myself for not going there.

Comfort food is as you find it. Elements that must be evident for me to make that definition are the simple fact of home cooking and family-owned.

“Everything is made fresh from scratch everyday. We cook like we are in our home,” said Hande Gundogar. “We trust the food and we’re here always and one of us always tastes the food to be sure everything is OK.”

The ‘us’ she refers to are her husband Bulent, his brother Ragip and her sister-in-law Franziska. Hande and Bulent left their native Turkey six years ago come Feb 28, and opened GG’s on the lower level at 540 S. Coast Hwy (under Big Fish). Ragip and Franziska joined them two months later.

The complete menu (served inside or on their comfy patio) offers Mediterranean faire with an occasional Italian bent and I find their prices very reasonable, whether it’s lunchtime or dinnertime. My concern anytime that I dine there is what to have! GG’s has a menu filled with my personal favorites including their homemade koftes (seasoned grilled beef patties - $18) or one of the kebabs, chicken, beef or shrimp - $17-$20 and baby lamb chops - $24.

Those baby lamb chops are served with their delicious French fries and sautéed veggies. Stu Saffer tells me he recommends the seafood pasta with shrimp, mussels, octopus and squid marinated with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and a splash of wine served over spaghetti ($15).

Shaena Stabler (such a doll!) touts the lunch or dinner for two with borek (fried pastry rolls filled with feta and parsley), grilled koftes, gyro, chicken and beef shish kebabs with rice, vegetables and desert for $55.

GG PHoto 2

My girlfriends and I (the White Wine for Lunch Bunch) need to get back to GG’s one of the days quite soon. We designate a driver and head off to indulge ourselves every so often and we haven’t been to GG’s since late last year.

Lunch is something special. We dive into the appetizers (over 15 of them) that are priced between $7 and $13. They also have a Meze Platter, which includes borek, pilaki, dolmas, feta cheese, eggplant salad, hummus, tabbouleh and pita bread ($17). Hande says the Meze Platter is very popular.

One appetizer worth mentioning is the grilled calamari. “We marinate the calamari steaks,” explained Hande. “It’s healthier, has a softer texture than fried calamari (they also have that!) and I think it is very palatable.” ($10).

Lunch also offers wonderful hot pita sandwiches for $9 and $10 and grilled paninis that you can write home about! ($10). Burgers too!

No matter what the lunch bunch has, we leave room for desert, which are all made from scratch – including one of Laguna’s most amazing sweets – Molten Chocolate Cake – warm soufflé cake with a dark chocolate truffle center. Follow that with their trademark Turkish coffee you won’t be napping soon!

They have a kids’ menu (under 12) with five entrees from $6 - $7.

Sunday breakfast (starting at 9 a.m.) is also worth checking out – the Mediterranean omelet and Turkish pan fried eggs are my favorites – both just $10.

Oh, yes – GG’s has an amazing happy hour menu served from 4-6:30 Monday through Friday evenings. $5 drinks including five flavored martinis and wines and $5 appetizer plates.

GG’s is open from 11:30 – 9 p.m. everyday – 365 days a year – they never close!

The entire menu is available to go – 494-9306 –

GG’s is a hidden gem that you have to try. I promise you’ll love it, and the Gs!

Thursdays are Locals Night at GG’s – 20% off after 6:30 p.m.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefΤΜ

The Next Great Laguna Restaurant?


Some time ago I auditioned to be a chef on NBC’s “Next Great American Restaurant” The premise of the show required individuals to compete with their idea for a new restaurant. They had to pick a chef to help them prepare their menus, test the food, work out marketing for their business, and all other activities that need to be done to open a new restaurant. The winner would be awarded money to open their restaurant in three different American cities.

I was disappointed to not make the cut, but I was really upset when they announced the three cities where the new concepts would start. Laguna Beach was not selected. I was flabbergasted. I can handle the personal rejection, but how could they snub my hometown? I called my producing agency contact to find out why Laguna lost out. I can maybe understand New York and Los Angeles winning, but Minneapolis Minnesota? All it does there is snow. Here was my conversation.

Writing Chef: Jay, what’s up with Laguna Beach not being one of your restaurant sites?

Producer Jay: Laguna doesn’t have enough national gravitas!

Writing Chef: That’s not true. We just got great national news coverage when our historic downtown flooded. We have been the host to a hit MTV show, and just recently one of our merchants won “Cupcake Wars”! That’s big time gravitas!

Producer Jay: Well you have a point, but we were told that Laguna is not business friendly.

Writing Chef: Wrong again! Downtown Laguna is like a blank canvas for any interested restaurant. Well---true the city does hold back a few of the crayolas! But we have plenty of experts in town that know a lot about businesses, especially restaurants. Our Village Laguna people have written the rules for restaurants in downtown and they know a good one when they see it. They are pretty tough on restaurants that have a formula, are chains, and serve fast food, but it’s because they have high standards demand quality businesses. I’m sure they would be a big help.

Producer Jay: That’s the point. Our winning restaurant has already been tested, and will market their formula for success all over the country! We already know it will be successful. The objective is to make money for our investment. The show has been a great success.

Writing Chef: Of course you want to be a success, but look at some of the restaurant successes we have in our downtown. We have a Mobil Mart on our busiest corner. Mobil is a chain! Right next to it we have a Food Court with a burger joint and a taco stand. They serve food fast! We had a place that had crabs, but they went bk. You could have their place in our court. It’s empty and ready to go!

Producer Jay: Well Laguna just isn’t big enough. Half the customers are fish in the ocean, and the other half come and go all the time.

Writing Chef: You cannot overlook that we have six million visitors that cover this town like mayo on Wonder Bread. True a good share of the visitors never get out of their cars because they can’t find a parking place, but come on, the city may get around to providing some parking sometime in this century! You can’t move too fast on things like this! And we have a higher resident income level that the California average. They spend money in Laguna except for the 80% that are commuters and spend where they work. Those numbers add up, don’t you think?

Producer Jay: We are gong to be investing considerable money in the design and make-up of our new winning restaurant. Mistakes are costly.

Writing Chef: Exactamundo! You could move right into this Food Court. You would save money because you can’t make major renovations! It is an old historical building with a great history. What more could you want for your new restaurant than a building that was a car dealership in the ‘30’s? It’s in perfect shape for a 75-year-old building that hasn’t been touched. What luck!

Producer Jay: I think we made the right decision to skip Laguna this time. We don’t have time to spend messing around with complications and meetings. We have three well-known chefs and one successful restaurant executive putting up the money for this project. The cities we picked have embraced our entry and gave us an immediate blessing. We are moving forward, now.

Writing Chef: OK, OK! You have me this time. How about a chef audition for next year’s show? Maybe we can talk in more detail about Laguna Beach for a future season!

Producer Jay: I’ll get back to you on that chef!

Laguna Stew Exclusive

Broadway by Amar Santana set to open here in August


Chef Santana PhotoI can’t wait until late August. That’s when Chef Amar Santana, former Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza, will be opening his new restaurant in Laguna Beach. A foodie’s dream, Broadway by Amar Santana will feature an inventive menu with seasonal items that will jump off your plate – like Lobster and Shrimp Corn Dogs with Tarragon Emulsion, Pan Roasted Sea Scallops with Sea Urchin Risotto and Passion Fruit, Bacon Wrapped Braised Pork Cheek with Roasted Garlic Grits and BBQ Honey, Slow Poached Organic Chicken Eggs with Chicken Livers, Chicken Wings and Crispy Chicken Skin, Lavender Honey Glazed Duck Breast with Caramelized Salsify and Cassis Duck Jus, Chorizo Crusted Dover Sole with Boudin Noir, Purple Potato, Catalan Spinach and Piquillo Pepper, Crispy Cod Fitters with Japanese Mayo and Lime Gel, and Foie Gras Stuffed Quail in Celery Root Puree with Pumpernickel and Truffle Jus. Salivating yet?

The new restaurant will seat 88 people total – 60 in the restaurant and 28 in the bar/lounge area. It will also be open late – very late – serving food and drinks until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. Hush Restaurant ex-compatriots, meet your new “home”.

Santana 1 Santana 2

According to Chef Amar, the former Five Feet space is being transformed architecturally to take on an “Industrial New York vibe” with a “modern and simple look”. The restaurant will feature an open kitchen with six chef’s tasting/reservation only seats around the kitchen. Chef Amar will feature a new tasting menu daily – with “8 or so” signature items, each paired with a compelling “small drink” (liquor, sake, cocktails, and wine).

“The show is the food,” smiled Amar’s business partner and restaurant GM Ahmed Labbate. The cost for the tasting menu will be $120-$150 per person.

But don’t let the tasting menu prices scare you away – the rest of the menu will be affordable. “Our goal is to create a budget minded restaurant – fine dining but not with the price,” explained Labbate.

Broadway will offer small plates from $4-$10, appetizers from $10-$14, and main courses from $18-$30. “Everything will be under $30,” he added. Additionally, Chef Amar will also be offering “small cocktails” for around $7 each. “People don’t want to commit to a martini for $15 anymore. At Broadway, guests will be able to sample smaller, more innovative drinks – to match the food.”

On the food side, expect smaller,better portions with fresh and seasonal produce. “Our philosophy is one of quality over quantity,” explained Chef Amar. “If tomatoes aren’t in season, we won’t offer tomatoes. If peas aren’t in season, we won’t offer peas. We are committed to using the best ingredients available.”

Santana 3 Santana 4

Chef Amar has earned a reputation, both locally and nationally, for being a culinary visionary and pulse-setter. While at Charlie Palmer, he introduced chicken liver, bone marrow, and pork belly onto the menu. He also initiated a wildly successful late night dining campaign, extending Charlie Palmer’s dining hours to 1 a.m. on weekends.

“Nobody had the courage to do it before Amar,” proudly exclaimed Labbate – who was also the GM at Charlie Palmer during Amar’s tenure. “Charlie [Palmer] was hesitant at first,” added Chef Amar. “’Do you really think Orange County is going to eat pork belly’, he questioned. ‘Yes,’ I affirmed. And they did.”

Chef Amar is also receiving national recognition as of late for his prominent role in the NBC restaurant reality competition, America’s Next Great Restaurant. He and partner Joseph Galluzzi are one of three finalists in the competition with Joseph’s “Saucy Balls” concept – the winner of which will be announced on Sunday night’s finale.

As for their new restaurant, Chef Amar and Labbate said they had their eyes set on Laguna Beach from the start. “We believe in Laguna,” gushed Labbate.

But the building had other suitors – lots of other suitors, including high-powered restaurateur David Wilhelm with his proposed high-end Mexican concept, Diabla, a year ago.

“We came across the space for the first time at the end of January. The realtor told us we had a 5% chance of getting in – and that he had three other outstanding offers,” explained Labbate. But the next day, Chef Amar and Labbate received a call from the owner of the building, who is also a foodie. “We explained to him our concept over the phone. A week later, we signed the lease. Clearly, it was something meant to be.”

The restaurant was approved by the Heritage Committee on Monday night and is slated to open in late August, if not earlier.

Fasten your dining seatbelts, Laguna. We are about to embark on a culinary adventure together.



Shaena Stabler and Stu Saffer are the co-owners. Shaena is the Publisher and Stu is the Editor-in-Chief.

Lynette Brasfield is our Managing Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Dianne Russell, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

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