New upscale downtown eatery, the Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille, more than meets expectations

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

When Jim and Kathy Smith agreed to help a friend become a restaurateur, they had no idea that due to a variety of circumstances, they would become owners of Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille, formerly Ocean Avenue Brewery.

Luckily for them, Giovanni Labile and Tiquio Serratos, both former Ocean Avenue employees, stepped up to the challenge and recently they all opened Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille, a new upscale Mexican eatery.

Giovanni, who originally hails from Italy, has been in Laguna Beach for 10 years. He began working at Ocean Avenue under its original owners. He progressed in the industry quickly, becoming bar manager within six months. Prior to Ocean Avenue Brewery being sold to Jim and Kathy Smith, Giovanni was head of operations. Needless to say, he knows the premises and its regulars inside out. 

A dream comes true

He also knew that the bar needed to change. Fortunately, Tiquio Serratas, originally from Guadalajara, was on hand. 

Tiquio has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 15 years old, and like Giovanni, was an employee at Ocean Brewery, in his case from 1999 to 2007. He started waiting tables and eventually became the bar manager.  

From there he moved to Javier’s, where he managed and developed the bar and its menu. He then moved to La Vida Cantrine in Costa Mesa, where he single-handedly developed the food and drink menu. He used his Guadalajaran knowledge of food and his Californian understanding of restaurant standards, and combined the two to create something unique.

Giovanni and Tiquio wanted to create a unique Mexican restaurant in Laguna Beach. Their aim was to design a cool contemporary space with fresh farm-to-table authentic food. They also wanted to feature local breweries, wines and spirits, thus creating an environment where locals would like to hang out and which tourists would be keen to visit. 

Chef Gulielmo Sandoval (known as Memo), formerly an executive chef at the Hilton in Baja, joined the team and together the three of them have created their dream.

My Food Journey at Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille

This week’s guest was my super fussy non-Mexican food loving 10-year-old Lula. In a desperate attempt to encourage her to “try new things” and “embrace Mexican food” I thought this food report might do the trick.

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Lula discovers the charms of Mexican food and the Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille in particular

To begin with we had the ceviche, always a favorite of mine, never tried by Lula. This was delicious, very light, crisp salad, tender crab and shrimp, served with a lightly whipped avocado mousse. The addition of mango to the ceviche was really wonderful as it cuts through the acidity of the lime. 

Lula loved this dish, especially using the homemade tortilla chips to scoop it up.

In addition to this we ordered a side of guacamole, which was smooth, which I normally wouldn’t order as I love the crunch, but it was tasty and creamy.

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Mango enhances the flavor of the ceviche

It was about that time that I felt it only right to order a cocktail. I ordered an “El Chapo” Desmadre premium blanco tequila, limejuice, muddled orange, agave nectar with a tajin rim. I loved how they served this cocktail: flambéing a pepper on the top, and then extinguishing the flame by pushing the pepper down into the glass, thus releasing the spicy flavor into the cocktail.

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Note the red pepper: an unusual element that added nuance

Next up was the octopus and shrimp ajillo. Al ajillo is a condiment in Mexican food that means combining guajillo and ajo (garlic). The octopus and shrimp were beautifully cooked, tender, not rubbery whatsoever. The sauce was rich and the bread accompaniment fresh. It was delicious. Lula pulled her face at the thought of eating octopus (as many 10-year-olds do) but she demolished this particular dish.

I was ready then to order the entrée. Having tried a variety of seafood dishes, I decided to go for the Norteno Grill Faja Rib Eye. This was a huge dish and was fantastic. I always choose medium rare with my steaks and this was cooked to perfection. The dish was served with rice, melted cheese and chorizo, corn cobb, grilled cactus, bone marrow and guajillo mole.

I was amazed that Lula tried everything on this plate, including the bone marrow, and loved it! There were many flavors but they all complemented each other and worked well together.  All I can say is thank heavens for a “doggy bag” so that we could take a lot of this dish home with us. 

We ate every last scrap and then gave my dogs the bone, which they loved.

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The presentation was wonderful and the rib eye was perfection

Time for dessert. I allowed Miss Lula to choose this course. She selected the Noche Romantica - a chocolate flan, with burned marshmallow served with Bailey’s Cream and fresh raspberries.  Needless to say this went down very nicely. The flan was beautifully cooked and there was just enough for our very full tummies to handle.

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We were definitely fans of the flan

Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille impressed me above and beyond my expectations. The servers were knowledgeable, and Giovanni and Tiquio were gracious, enthusiastic and clearly focused on what they wanted for this restaurant. They are listening to what customers, in particular “local customers” want, and the addition of a fabulous “Taco Tuesday” menu has been very well received.

It was wonderful to meet Jim and Kathy Smith and to see how much they are enjoying their restaurant journey.

If Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille keep this level of food and customer service this high, I see great things for them in the future. Miss Lula and I will definitely be back!

237 Ocean Ave – 497-3381

Brothers and their wives make GG’s Bistro a special place to meet and eat on Coast Highway

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

GG’s Bistro is a family owned business. Brothers Ragip and Bulent Gundogar oversee the smooth running of this fine establishment along with their wives Francesca and Hande.

The families moved from Turkey to Laguna Beach 12 years ago and haven’t looked back.  

“We wanted to move to California and share our food [dishes],” says Francesca. “We chose Laguna Beach as it seemed more European than other coastal towns. We thought it was an area we could really make an impact.”

And GG’s has made an impact in Laguna. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is a favorite of many locals as well as a hot spot for many visitors in Laguna Beach, who are attracted to its Coast Highway location, outside eating areas and menu variety (more on that later). 

GG’s also is now catering at The Sawdust Festival through a catering offshoot called GG’s Express, focusing mainly on fast food with a fabulous but more limited menu.

At the restaurant itself, GG’s offers more than 35 gluten free dishes on a separate menu as well as salads, pasta dishes, appetizers, Mediterranean fare, hot pita sandwiches, bistro burgers and Panini sandwiches, plus a kids’ menu.

Then there’s the drinks menu, with handcrafted cocktails, local beers, wines and spirits.

Francesca explained that the menus are not changed frequently – “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” she says – but they have recently added the grilled calamari back to menu as they found a better supplier. They’ve also added a new cocktail, Chartreuse, to the drinks menu.

My Food Journey

I decided to take two girlfriends along with me for this culinary experience. My main focus was the wonderful sharing platters GG’s has to offer. 

To begin with, my guests ordered a watermelon martini (a firm favorite of theirs). I however chose the Pineapple Chartreuse, which is pineapple juice, lime, Chartreuse – a liqueur with over 130 herbs added to it – and vodka.

The watermelon martinis were, as ever, really refreshing and scarily drinkable! The pineapple chartreuse was, well, I don’t know how to describe it except as “something else!” It was delicious. I am not much into sweet drinks but somehow this drink was not at all syrupy. In fact, it was as refreshing as the watermelon martini.

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The watermelon martini set our mouths watering for more

To accompany our wonderful cocktails, we chose the trio of hummus from the gluten free menu. The trio consisted of olive, red bell pepper and plain hummus, served with celery and gluten free bread. The gluten free bread was nutty and full of flavor without that sticky taste that many gluten breads have.

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A triple treat: three kinds of hummus set our taste buds humming

Alongside this we ordered the outstanding meze platter, a selection of borek, piyaz, dolmas, feta cheese, eggplant dip, tabbouleh, humus and pita bread.  Everything about this dish is perfection, and really ideal if you just want to share light bites with friends.

The seafood salad was next and it was huge, plenty big enough for the three of us to share. Consisting of mixed greens and iceberg lettuce topped with capers, cherry tomatoes, smoked salmon (lox), grilled shrimp, and seared ahi tuna with a beautiful homemade creamy dressing on the side, the salad was crispy and the flavors were wonderful.

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The seafood salad was a sight for sore eyes

From the entrée menu we chose the Ali Nazik to share, a typical Turkish dish of seasoned ground beef skewers chopped on roasted eggplant pureed with garlic yogurt and topped with GG’s crushed tomato sauce, rice pilaf and gluten free bread.  

This was so tasty. The skewers of ground beef fell apart they were so tender, the sauce was of just the right consistency, neither oily nor at all heavy.  The eggplant puree was something I could have happily eaten as its own dish, because it was so delicious.

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This is a Turkish dish everyone should taste – it is a puree delight

As always, I had to try a dessert and I was delighted to see gluten free crème brulee on the menu, served with whipped cream and seasonal berries. With three spoons and three ladies who had saved themselves all day for this moment you can guess how long this lasted…. Yup, about five seconds! It was perfect, creamy light and tasty.

I could tell that there was a reason GG’s has been in Laguna for 12 years and continues to thrive. The owners clearly know what works and what doesn’t. They’re smart not to change what already is great. They merely add to a wonderful diverse menu.  

They also value their customers, the locals who visit every week and the traveller who only visits once.  Everyone is given the same wonderful service from the staff here. Francesca, Ragip, Bukent and Hande are always around watching over the staff carefully and checking that customers are happy during their time at GG’s.

GG’s offers a superb happy hour menu Mon- Fri 4 – 6 p.m. (excluding holidays), during which they offer a slightly smaller menu, featuring dishes that are just as tasty. For me and my friends, GG’s is the place to go to share plates, enjoy the cocktails and the family atmosphere, and appreciate sitting outside in our lovely weather.

Congratulations to GG’s on 12 years, here’s to many more…

GG’s is located 540 South Coast Highway. For more information, visit or call 949-494-9306.

A liquid lunch tastes good, but it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s a lot healthier, which is good – right?

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

This week’s restaurant report is a little different and if I’m honest, not one I am majorly excited about. There would be no sit-down meal. No guest to accompany me on my food journey, no description of how aesthetically pleasing the meal was to my eye. It would be just me, six bottles of colored juice, a box full of chia seeds and more water than the Pacific Ocean!  

That’s right, folks. I’m on a juice cleanse.

There are a few juice bars in town, but as a member of the Art of Fitness gym, I decided to try their in-house juice bar. 

Owned in partnership by Joey Lucchesi and Olivia Northrup, The Art Of Juicing offers fresh pressed organic juices, smoothies and amazing super foods from Mother Earth. All their fruits and veggies support local farmers. They believe in the highest quality of juicing by using pressed juicers, which maintain all the enzymes, vitamins, minerals and more. 

My meals for three days

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Their mission is to provide delicious drinks to invigorate the soul, body, and mind. The quality starts from cleaning their fruits and veggies with 2.5 acidic alkaline then bathing them in 9.5 Ph alkaline. 

They believe in the power of fruits and veggies, and sustainability, offering only green cleaning products. And their motto is: Don’t panic we’re organic.

Why Cleanse?

A juice cleanse is said to reboot your digestive system and infuse live enzymes and vital nutrients into your body. Some signs that it is time to cleanse are a weakened immune system, troubled skin, allergies, low mood, sleeplessness, poor digestion, weight gain, low energy and generally just feeling and looking blah…

As well as providing juices and smoothies for all daily meals, the Art of Juicing offers a three-day detox. There are three different juice detox packages to choose from: Weight Loss, Reset and Low Sugar.  

Being a girl and having a July Fourth weekend looming, I decided to go for the Weight Loss option.

I started my detox on a Tuesday; My instructions were simple. For the next three days I was to pick up six freshly made juices in the morning. Each bottle was labeled 1 – 6, and I was to drink one every two hours in order. Also I was to drink as much water as I could handle, and infuse the water with chia seeds to give me the added protein. Sounded simple! But was it?

For the full three days my juices were the same and in the same order:

Juice 1: Celery, Lemon, Parsley, Mint, Cucumber, Cayenne, 9.5ph H20. Juice 2: Kale, Romaine, Parsley, Celery, Dandelion, Lemon, Cucumber, Ginger, Apple Juice 3: Celery, Lemon, Parsley, Mint, Cucumber, Cayenne, 9.5ph H20. Juice 4: Coconut Meat, Coconut H2o, Lacuma, Vanilla, Cashews, Kale, Romaine, Parsley, Celery, Dandelion, Lemon, Cucumber, Ginger, Apple. Juice 5: Celery, Lemon, Parsley, Mint, Cucumber, Cayenne, 9.5 Ph H20. Juice 6: Beet, Carrot, Lemon, Apple, Cucumber, Ginger.

My Juice Journey

Day one: I was so excited to start my detox! I had worked out in the morning and was ready to begin.

The morning flew by and I wasn’t hungry at all. Each juice was delicious and as long as I kept drinking the water infused with the chia seeds, I felt “full.” The only real thing I noticed at this point was my energy level. I felt tired and had a slight headache. Olivia had warned me about this and said it was more likely to be my lack of caffeine than anything else.  

By around 3 p.m. I was hungry. Luckily Juice 4 was ready to be consumed and I realized immediately why this was called the “steak dinner.”Up until that point all my juices had been a watery consistency but this one was creamy and milky (due to the cashew milk) and much more filling than the others.

Wow, so milky!

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By the evening, I was feeling great. I had an event that evening, and although it was pretty hard avoiding the alcohol and not eating the appetizers that came around, I survived and still didn’t feel hungry, just a little tired.

Day two: Having had one of the best night’s sleep of my life (no joke) I was ready for day two of my detox. I had a personal training session that morning and I must admit I did not feel as energized as I normally did. In fact I felt exhausted. 

I picked up my second day of juices and mentioned my fatigue to Olivia, who suggested I needed to consume more chia seeds as those gave me the protein my body needed as I worked out so hard. So that day, in between juices, I loaded up on the chia seeds in a vain hope it would give me that much needed boost.

Praying for a boost


By the evening I was fading fast. I felt grumpy and really didn’t think I could go any longer without food. On top of this, I had a gig with the radio station (another job of mine) and would be out until past midnight hosting an event. 

I struggled through, but this was definitely the hardest day. I couldn’t wait to get into bed!

Day three: What a difference a day makes… I woke up feeling fantastic, lighter (six pounds lighter to be precise), less bloated and full of energy. This day was not tough at all, in fact I didn’t even drink all of my juices as I wasn’t hungry!

Also my hair, nails and skin looked good. I had positive comments from everyone who saw me. 

I was feeling quite beet at this point

So in the end, I would highly recommended this juice detox. The juices were delicious. Olivia made sure they were ready every morning and most importantly they were adaptable. For example, I love ginger, so she added more to my juices. 

I did lose weight and since the detox, I have definitely eaten cleaner and eaten less.  I can’t wait to try the other detox packages soon!

The Art of Juicing is at 1080 South Coast Highway.

Longtime Laguna Beach resident & chef behind Royal Hawaiian resurrection – opening around the corner!

Story and photos by DIANE ARMITAGE

After all these years, the Royal Hawaiian Restaurant is coming to life again, like some kind of resurrection from an ancient oahi fire-throwing ceremony (done for prosperity and growth, of course).

Chef Jonathan Pflueger tells me they hope to open by the end of July or the first week for August. 

First established in 1947 by Harold Hanna, the Royal Hawaiian was sold to Francis Cabang just a few years later. Run by Francis and his family from that point forward, the Royal Hawaiian was a more-than-popular staple in Laguna Beach for decades until 2006, when the family sold the property to Doug Cole. He renovated the entire property and operated the RH for another six years before closing in 2012. 

The restaurant sat empty until wireless industry veteran Mo Honarkar purchased the property in 2015. 

While we all noticed scurrying activity at the restaurant a few months ago, only two recent announcements have solidified the rumors of opening:

For starters, George Poulos, longtime business partner to Ivan Spiers at Mozambique, has moved to the General Manager’s position at Royal Hawaiian. 

“George and I have been in business together for decades and decades, first starting in South Africa together and, then, choosing to come here to create our brand in Laguna Beach,” says Spiers. 

“He’s my very dear friend and an absolute pro in every aspect of restaurant management. I think everyone – at some point of his or her life – needs to do a change-up just to keep it fresh and lively, and I think this is a great opportunity for George. 

“And … now I get to stop in for a Lapu-Lapu and chat with my friend just down the road,” Spiers adds. “It can’t get much better than that.” 

Chef Jonathan Pflueger


Indeed, with tiki torches and Lapu-Lapu drinks being reinstated, the Royal Hawaiian looks to Poulos and Chef Pflueger to truly resurrect the good name of Hawaii.  

For longtime Laguna Beach residents, Pflueger is a very welcome name. 

Raised in South Laguna and a graduate of its only high school, Pflueger immediately plunged into the highest levels of culinary on special appointment in France, and a series of high-level invitations thereafter as the Executive Chef of the Star of the Sea Room in San Diego; the Chef de Cuisine at the Ritz Carlton; and the Executive Sous Chef at the Russian Tea Room in New York City. 

Always longing to return to his Laguna seaside home, though, Pflueger took the real plunge as innovator, chef and owner of the very popular Vertical Wine Bar on Forest Avenue. The restaurant was an award winner in mere months, earning spotlight and thoughtful onlookers as Pflueger continued to create one innovative dish after another. 

In less than two years, the request came: He was asked to open the Montage Resort & Spaas its Executive Chef. After many nights of tossing and turning, Pflueger chose to close Vertical and devoted more than two years to the Montage’s initial establishment before moving south to a two-year engagement as the Executive Chef at the popular Currant American Brasserie.

From there, Pflueger hopped the lily pads to Kauai, Hawaii, where he and his brother opened very successful “The Eastside.” Over seven years at the critically acclaimed Eastside, Chef Jonathan carefully melded fresh California style with classic Hawaiian dishes. It was only when his father passed away that Chef Jonathan returned to Laguna Beach and his childhood home. 

Over the last year or so, and as he looked for long-term new opportunities, he helped Chef and Owner Jessica McLeish create the high-level gourmet cuisine brand of the delivery-only Sourced Cuisine, and only just relinquished those reins when he was approached by the Royal Hawaiian. 

“Morris Skendarian has been a friend of mine for years and has been consulting on the Royal Hawaiian project,” says Pflueger. 

“About a month ago, he called me out of the blue to ask if I might be interested. So, in about 30 days, I’ve created dinner menus and lunch menus, and have hired kitchen staff and chefs and begun training. Everything is moving very, very fast.”

Royal Hawaiian Owner Mo Honarkar had hoped to open in early summer, but is pleased that the venerable RH will be open for late summer guests, regardless.  

While the interior hasn’t changed much from the most recent renovation in 2006, expect solid Hawaiian-style dishes and nostalgic Royal Hawaiian dishes of old. 

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A sneak peek at the Royal dinner menu talks to plenty of fresh fish and shellfish in starter pupus such as Hamachi Sashimi, Shrimp & Scallop Springrolls, Blue Lump Crabcakes, Steamed Mussels and more. The dinner “plates” offer Onaga, Shutome and Mahi Mahi as well as an Ahi Tuna “Hot Pot,” Huli Huli Chicken and classic Hoisin Glazed Pork Spareribs.  

Take my word for it … while the Lapu Lapu’s return on the cocktail menu might draw you in initially, it will be Laguna Beach resident Pflueger’s return that will keep you coming back for more.

Congratulations, Royal Hawaiian. 

This promises to be some kind of fabulous re-entry.


A published writer and marketing agency owner for 30 years, Diane Armitage authors the popular blog, and the newly revised: The Best of Laguna Beach: The Travelers’ and Residents’ Guide. She is a regular contributor to StuNewsLaguna

A love affair begins in Laguna Beach in 1990 and leads to quite a steamy situation in 2016

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

1990 was a memorable year for James and Kara Taylor: it was the year they met and fell in love working in the restaurant industry in Laguna Beach, James as a line cook in the Renaissance Café (now Alessa) and Kara as a waitress. A love affair blossomed not only with each other, but also with Laguna Beach. 

During their early years in Laguna, James worked his way up from a line chef to lead line chef and general manager, eventually managing as well as serving as head chef for Café Zoolu for three years.

Then James and Kara moved to San Francisco, James pursuing his dreams, working in French Brigade Kitchens in the city and making a name for himself as a successful chef. 

However, working in the industry had its pitfalls. When Kara took on a 9 – 5 job in marketing, the couple became like ships passing in the night. James had to make a decision: leave the restaurant industry or lose the woman he loved. He chose the woman he loved.

From producing food to producing music videos

So it was that James moved into an entirely different field, becoming a film producer, largely working for music videos and commercials in LA. During this time the couple had two beautiful girls and set up a home in Venice Beach.  

James continued to cook, experimenting with new things, hosting fabulous dinner parties and even taking desserts and treats on set with him whilst producing. 

Life was wonderful and exciting but still the couple would visit Laguna Beach regularly, knowing that this would be the place they would return to. The question was, in what capacity?

2013 was the year the Taylor family relocated to Laguna Beach, with one key goal: to become part of the restaurant community they had known and loved for years. James continued to work in production, all the while waiting and watching to see if anything was worth making the leap.

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Kara and James Taylor: a love affair with each other – and Laguna

On March 19 this year, after a long and traumatic buying process, James finally got the keys to his dream, a former coffee shop located on Forest Avenue in the heart of Laguna Beach’s downtown area. 

From that day until its opening less than two weeks ago, James and Kara have not stopped a painstaking renovation and remodel process to create a one-of-a-kind location in Laguna Beach, providing fine dining in a café environment.

The couple has named the café The Grove On Forest. 

They were out of gas – through no fault of their own

But they had to confront a major challenge. The location had no gas, which meant that to serve the style of food he wanted to serve, James had to look for alternative cooking methods, an approach that would still give him the ability to cook with a finesse and quality to which he is so accustomed.  

During his years of working in production he had constantly kept himself up to speed with cooking methods and was extremely impressed with a method of cooking called sous vide. Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum”and it is a method of cooking in which food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times (95 hours or more in some cases). 

The steamy solution to the Taylors’ challenge

The cooking must occur at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used, typically at around 55 to 60 degrees Centigrade (131 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for meat, and higher for vegetables. The intent is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture and flavor. 

James began to study the methods of Bruno Goussault, a pioneer in sous-vide who researched the effects of temperature on various foods and became well known for training top chefs in the method. As chief scientist of Alexandria, Virginia-based food manufacturer Cuisine Solutions, Goussault developed the parameters of cooking times and temperatures for various foods.   

James decided this was the method he would use. 

Earlier this week, I set out to The Grove on Forest to check out the results for myself.

The Grove on Forest: My food journey

As always I took someone with me, because two mouths are better than one… This time, I decided to ask Chris Guziak to join me, because that way we could catch up on some realty business, plus he is my boss, and we all know you have to treat bosses well!

To start, we had the house cured Scottish salmon. James chooses to import his salmon from farms in Scotland because, although described as farmed, the salmon live their lives in a very natural way – the farmers merely section off natural fjords with nets. This means the salmon gets a fresh diet of krill, creating a level of fattiness, which James believes gives the salmon a much better flavor.  

The salmon was served with capers, cherry tomatoes, and micro arugula and garnished with lemon rind. This dish was absolutely delicious. The salmon was so tasty, melted in our mouths and left us desperate to try more! But we had other dishes to taste.

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The salmon are so Scottish all they lack is a kilt

Next up was a firm favorite on the breakfast menu, the truffle egg toast.  James explained that was inspired by a popular New York dish. The bread is hollowed out and the egg is placed inside and then cooked. 

James’s version is slightly different in the sense that he uses the sous vide method to cook the egg in the shell then places it on top of toasted rustic white bread topped with Fontina cheese. He adds prosciutto and drizzles the dish with white truffle oil, serving it with shaved raw asparagus.  

This dish was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had in my life! Layer upon layer of flavors, a perfectly sous vide cooked egg, delicious cheese, salty prosciutto, and rich truffle oil, with the raw asparagus cutting the richness and further boosting the flavors. I totally appreciate why this is a firm favorite.

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The Grove on Forest’s truffle egg toast is not a dish to trifle with

Following this, James bought us a dish from the lunchtime menu, Caesar salad served with sous vide chilled Scottish salmon. Organic hearts of Romaine, creamy Caesar dressing, grana padano and croutons make this dish truly spectacular alone, but the addition of the sous vide Scottish salmon with dill takes it to another level. The salmon was incredible.  

Chris Guziak, my meal buddy, is a self confessed salmon snob, who having spent time in Alaska fishing for wild salmon, states that he never orders salmon anymore as it doesn’t compare to eating what you’ve caught.  However, Chris declared this dish was “the best salmon I have eaten since Alaska.”

Next up was a delicious mixed nut tart, supplied by Hans Rockenwagner, a friend of James’ who delivers cakes and pastries daily at 5:30 a.m. It was absolutely delicious and painful to have to share with Chris!

To end our food journey, we were served a breakfast favorite, the gluten free waffles, served with Madagascar vanilla bean whipped cream and berries.  Trust me, my friends, these waffles taste anything but gluten free… 

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No waffling necessary – these were unquestionably delicious

They were the most delicious waffles I have ever had to date: light, non greasy and the vanilla cream, berry combination was perfect. At this point I was so full…. But I ate the lot!

James’ love for cooking came from his mom (who sadly passed away last year) – because, he says, she was an awful cook…This meant that James, his brother, and his father would head to the kitchen on a regular basis, to ensure they ate well!

James always wears a blue chef’s outfit in her honor, as his mama always said, “blue is your color.”

I could have sat and talked with James and Kara for hours. James’ passion is as admirable as the food he serves. 

With Kara by his side, he has worked hard and tirelessly to make this café unique and in my opinion, he has more than succeeded!

Gu Ramen is the gu-to – um, the go-to place for hungry boys and adults seeking good food, too

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

With school out for the summer, I took it upon myself to report on a restaurant which, over the past 12 months, has established itself as a firm favorite in Laguna for both its eat-in and take-out menu: Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas, 907 S. Coast Highway.

People of all ages visit this place, but for this particular report I focused on how the younger generation feel about its dishes. I took my mum and two young gentlemen with me, my son Jesse (13) and his friend Aiden.

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Jesse Buckle enjoys calamari and hibachi fried rice at 

Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas

Gu Ramen just celebrated its one-year anniversary last month and according to manager James Thossansin, it has exceeded all his expectations. Thossansin originally thought that Gu Ramen would thrive from tourism over the summer months and “tick over” throughout the winter…

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Thossansin says that it is almost always lively and buzzing with locals, and both restaurant and take away orders have remained steady throughout the 12 months that they have been open.

The youth are flocking to Gu Ramen

Young people visit Gu Ramen regularly, for its well priced, tasty, wholesome, healthy dishes, according to Thossansin. I asked which dishes were favorites among the younger community and he told me the kurobuto sausage and the lollipop chicken served with the hibachi fried rice are usually their favorites from the tapas menu.  

From the ramen menu, he says, younger customers tend to go for the non-spicy ramen with the lollipop chicken as the protein of choice.

The atmosphere at Gu Ramen is casual and lively. Three widescreen TVs play music videos and there is a long bar area where people can sit and snack, as well as as booths for families or larger groups of people. 

Our food journey takes a mildly spicy turn

Thossansin recommended that we start our meal with a new dish created for the summer months. The hiyasi chuka is a Gu-style poke cold ramen, served with cold tender noodles, topped with fresh poke ahi, wakamme seaweed salad, bamboo shoots, and shredded peppers, served with Gu Ramen’s signature special sesame dressing. This new dish was incredible and the perfect balance of savory, tart, sweet and mildly spicy flavors. 

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The Japanese style filet mignon was cooked to perfection

We then shared the Japanese style filet mignon steak, sautéed with Gu signature soy batab, garlic, onion, and carrots and topped with fried garlic chips.  This was served on a bed of Japanese rice, sweet mirinyaki sauce and red ginger. 

The boys really loved this one (my son is such a carnivore). The steak was cooked to perfection and the red ginger wasn’t at all overpowering. The flavors were fused together beautifully.

Next came the tapas. We decided to go for what Thossansin said were the favorites from the tapas menu plus a few extras. So we ordered the hibachi fried rice, which was beautifully cooked – very tasty – and complemented all our tapas dishes very well. We followed this with the kurobuta sausage, which I didn’t try, but both boys demolished this dish.

The lollipop chicken was very tasty, lightly battered and the chicken itself was extremely tender. The firecracker shrimp was served with a wonderful mildly spiced mayo-based sauce and this was a real hit with boys, as was the crispy calamari (also served with the spicy mayo sauce).

Tapas were among our top choices

My particular favorite from the tapas menu was the senbei ahi tartare, which was served on a delicious rice cracker.

Click on photo for a larger image


I thought, “aha, this is good!” when I tasted the senbei ahi tartare

The boys’ favorite was definitely the buta belly slider, which I tasted. It was perfect, not greasy and very tasty.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas. My son has already decided that it is his choice of restaurant throughout the summer after he surfs. The dishes were universally tasty and fresh and we appreciated the wonderfully varied menu, which provides a choice for everyone, whether you like things super spicy or very mild. Gu Ramen is definitely a “go-to” for my 13 year old!

Gu Ramen Taps and Tapas is open Sun – Thurs from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and on Fri – Sat from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. The restaurant offers a happy hour menu from 3 – 6 p.m. during which time a selection of beers and wines as well as menu items are available at a reduced cost. 

Location is 907 S. Coast Highway, and the phone number is 949-715-0825.



Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our 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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