Maro Wood Grill: a gourmet learning adventure for owner Maro, chef Debra, and their diners


Another week, another article to write about a Laguna restaurant – and this one felt particularly special, as my wonderful mum (or mom, as you guys say) was visiting from the UK, so she got to come along and sample much deliciousness!

Not only that but this week marks my second anniversary of moving to the good old US of A. That’s right – two years ago I landed here, daunted, apprehensive and scared of how life was going to change for us all. 

Maro Wood Grill, located at 1915 S. Coast Highway, was one of the first places we visited then, and at the time we were blown away by their fabulous burger. It made sense for me to revisit the place to remind me of those days and also to see how the menu had evolved. 

Since then a few things have changed at Maro, noticeably the outdoor area, which has been beautifully renovated and decorated to create a cozy contemporary area with comfortable seating and a variety of pretty succulents on a “living wall.”

What has not changed at Maro is the staff. The same wonderful people, other than a couple of new waiters, maintain the traditional “family” atmosphere that attracts regular customers over and over again.

Maro Molteni and Debra Sims

Maro Wood Grill was the concept of Argentinian born Mariano Molteni (Maro) and chef Debra Sims. 

Maro has always worked in the restaurant industry, spending the five years prior to moving to Laguna Beach in New York, but he had never run his own restaurant.  When the company he was working for moved him to Anaheim, he went house hunting and discovered Laguna Beach. He decided to start his own business here and was introduced to Debra through a friend of a friend.

Debra, who had been in the Navy since age 18, had recently graduated from culinary school and had worked in Los Angeles for 12 months prior to meeting Maro. Debra, who hails from Colorado, has always had a very organic no-nonsense approach to food. 

“The community in which I grew up in had a very ‘co-op’ approach to food. We would all get together after church every Sunday and share our food that we grew, we hunted and we ate. It was survival, not that we were poor – it was just the way things were back then in the late seventies.”

Simplicity is the key at Maro Wood Grill. Everything that needs to be cooked is done over a wood grill. The strategy applies to modern, bold and uncommon Argentinean meat cuts as well as the finest locally sourced fish and produce. 

With fresh food deliveries everyday, Maro Wood Grill is passionate about creating and selling the freshest of food, preferring to run out of a dish and withdraw it from the menu rather than order too much and risk serving food that is not completely fresh.

As for my food journey, which was also a little celebration, we decided to start with an Argentinian “drinky” as people in England say. I’m a Sauvignon Blanc girl and my mum is a beer drinker. Luckily they had Argentinian versions of both and they were delicious.   

With a menu that is forever changing (although favorites are never removed) I decide to let Maro help me choose our food for the evening.  

Starters and Empanadas

To begin, I had a fabulous selection of three of the starters available: The Maro edamame, which is mesquite fired organic soy beans served with house pickled ginger and coarse Sonoma Sea Salt; mesquite fired shishito peppers; and a wood-grilled Temecula okra served with homemade aioli, Sonoma sea salt and burnt lemon. All of these dishes were gluten-free and tasty and complemented each other well.  

My mum had the empanadas. There are four flavors to choose from: spicy chicken, mushroom, beef and spinach. Debra prepared one of each for us to try. The spinach was my personal favorite, perhaps because it had a spicy kick from the pepperoncini peppers, and the feta cheese gave it a wonderful creamy texture. The pastry was light and not at all greasy.

Wood grilled baseball cut steak

Next was the entrée and it seemed only right that I go for an Argentinian steak. There were three choices of steak. Maro recommended I go for flavor as opposed to texture, so I chose the wood-grilled baseball cut steak. This steak is from a cut located at the top of the sirloin. The dish was served with roast potatoes and the house-made chimichurri.  The dish was absolutely delicious, rich in flavor but not too heavy.  The chimichurri was tangy and complemented the meat and potatoes to perfection.

Loch Duart salmon

Mum doesn’t eat red meat, so she decided to go for the fire grilled Loch Duart salmon, served with organic baby arugula, Gala apples, pecans and white balsamic. This dish was tasty, yet light. The salmon was crispy on the outside and perfectly soft and cooked on the inside. Truly mouthwatering!

It was finally time for dessert, which we were eager to try, especially as Chef Debra’s famous banana bread pudding has won best dessert in the OC three times. The dish incorporates artisan bakery brioche, organic eggs, milk, cream, brown sugar and organic bananas and is accompanied by a vanilla bourbon sauce.  It was truly a WOW! I can see why this dessert has won so many awards.  

Bread inspired puddings are pretty common in the UK and actually my mum has always made a great one, but we both agreed this was the best bread pudding we had ever tasted.

For my dessert I chose the gluten-free option of house made ice cream.  Chef Debra likes to treat homemade ice cream making as a bit of a science experiment. The flavors this week were fennel, strawberry and espresso.  I was privileged to see chef Debra’s “recipe book,” a hand written well worn book full of her most precious recipes. 

In the book were four pages full of different ice cream “experiments,” all unique in flavor. The fennel was my personal favorite and having never being a big fan of strawberry, I was really surprised at how delicious this one was. Chef Debra told me that she stewed the strawberries beforehand, which gave the resulting dish a much richer flavor.

My overall experience of Maro Wood Grill was excellent. Maro was passionate in his explanations of food choices and honest in how he talked about setting up the restaurant. Chef Debra was engaging – cool, funny, and full of interesting stories. 

What I love most of all about this place is that it has been a real “learning adventure” for both Maro and Debra, and the adventure has clearly paid off. I’ll be back.

370 Common is uncommonly good, says Laura Buckle


To say I’m excited about my new role as a weekly restaurant writer for Stu News is an understatement! But first let me introduce myself. I’m Laura Buckle.  I moved with my family to Laguna Beach in May 2014. 

I got this fantastic gig because of my love of words (one of my nicknames is Wordsworth because even my text messages have paragraphs...), my love of food – nothing, nothing is too spicy sweet heavy sharp tart light or creamy, anything goes – and most importantly my deep love for Laguna Beach, the community and my awareness of the importance of giving back. If my articles encourage you to eat, drink and support our local food and drink establishments, then I feel this will be a job well done.

Every week, I’ll take a companion to dinner to give me a more varied idea of the items on each menu. (Also, when the environment you live in dictates that more than 50 percent of your time is spent in a bikini, it’s important for me to maintain an element of control over how much food I consume!)

My first assignment was to visit 370 Common, located on Glenneyre Street.  Three Seventy Common came highly recommended by my friend’s nine-year-old son, Reid, who stated that it has the “best steaks in Laguna Beach.” 

370 Common has been open for four and a half years and is the brainchild of Ryan Adams, who - to quote his website – is a Russo-Carpathian-German middle child born and raised in Orange County.

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Chef Ryan Adams of 370 Common and yours truly, food writer

In speaking to Adams, it was clear to me that his passion for the restaurant is what keeps his restaurant at top of the food chain here in Laguna. Adams sources the vast majority of the restaurant’s food from farmers markets, tailoring his menu to accommodate what is in season while keeping himself educated on current trends in the food industry.  

“We are constantly changing and evolving the menu,” says Adams. He gives me the example of his much loved pork belly (a favorite dish of mine), which has undergone fine-tuning over the past few weeks with the addition of a house made Kimchee sauce.  

Adams mentions also that he is currently working on a dish inspired by cherries, now in season. “A friend of mine found some beautiful cherries at the Farmers Market in Santa Monica,” he explains, “so I am working on a chocolate duck breast mole with a cherry jus.”

Adams’ enthusiasm and excitement is reflected by his staff, most of whom have been with him since Three Seventy Common opened in Laguna, some longer. Monica, our server, actually the restaurant manager, has been working with Ryan for the past 13 1/2 years.

It is not only the staff who are so loyal to Ryan, but his customers too.  Regulars occupied more than half of the tables on the evening I was there, and Adams knew them all by name.

So now for my food journey…

370 Common offers a variety of different menus. We dined on a Wednesday, which means that instead of selecting from the regular menu, we could have chosen from the “Wine Wednesday” menu, which costs $40 per person for three courses and includes a glass of paired wine with each course.

As my friend and I were not drinking we decided to stick with the regular menu and we were not disappointed.

To start we chose the Chorizo devilled egg with pickled chili from the light bite menu. It had the perfect bite to pique our taste buds. We also ordered the Shishito peppers, which were cooked in a gluten free tempura, served with goat cheese and cheddar. This, for me, was the perfect starter for sharing! 

Our third dish was the Kampachi. Featuring shallots, chili, orange, avocado, cucumber, radish onion and Ponzu, it was seriously “melt in your mouth” delicious and the combination of orange and chili gave this dish a spicy yet sweet kick.

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Are you longing for a short rib?

For my main dish I chose the Short Rib served with Polenta, vegetables and a salsa verde. The meat was so tender it melted in my mouth and the polenta was perfection. I was slightly worried that the dish would be too heavy but the polenta and salsa turned this into a surprisingly light dish with an intense flavor.

My friend chose the tuna, which Chef Ryan explained came from Fiji. The tuna was served with Shitake, sesame, herb, radish, carrot, cilantro rice and Ponzu. It was wonderfully light and tasty.

At this point I was struggling to even contemplate a dessert, but then I saw the menu and I found I had no willpower to resist.

I went for the seasonal crumble, which was a gluten free dessert served with a vanilla ice cream. The seasonal fruit was a selection of peaches, which were delicately stewed to perfection, without becoming “mushy.”

My friend decided on the crème brulee French toast. This was not on the regular menu but on the Wine Wednesday special. However the staff was very accommodating to our needs. This dessert, served with a scattering of almonds, lemon curd and a raspberry sauce, was very tasty.

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An unusual take on crème brulee with French toast piques the taste buds

My overall experience of 370 Common was outstanding. The food was incredible. The décor and ambience, was chic and sophisticated yet comfortable. What really resonated with me was the passion Chef Ryan clearly feels for his food, his customers and his staff. I have already booked to go again!

Breakfast at Heidelberg Café & Bistro

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Heidelberg Café & Bistro has been a Laguna Beach breakfast staple for over 20 years.

The original ‘Café Heidelberg & Bistro’ was established by an Austrian chef, Ferdinand. No one knows the exact year it was first opened, but I know the café has rich history behind it,” Manager/Partner Sun Park says. “Not much has changed since it was opened. We still have [the] same kitchen staff here for more than 20 years, and since I took over in April 2011, we strive to maintain as the ‘Favorite Breakfast Spot’ in Laguna Beach for locals.” 

And it’s easy to understand why the restaurant is one of the favorite breakfast spots for locals. With an extensive breakfast menu, made-from-scratch pastries, impressive offerings in the way of coffee and espresso drinks, and an outdoor patio, it’s the perfect spot for a leisurely weekend morning meal.

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Heidelberg’s Patio—The Perfect Breakfast Spot

With nearly 30 items on Heidelberg’s breakfast menu, ordering can get a bit overwhelming, but you can’t go wrong. Everything on the menu—from the California Omelet to the Eggs Ahi Tataki—is delicious. 

Start your meal off with a latte, a freshly squeezed orange juice or a coffee as you people-watch and wait for your order to arrive at your patio table—Heidelberg is located on the corner of Brooks and South Coast Highway. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more celebratory during Saturday or Sunday brunch, Heidelberg also offers mimosas, Bloody Marys and a selection of red and white wines.

Best of Heidelberg

Heidelberg makes an unbelievably good chai tea latte, which they whip up with your choice of milk—including almond and soy. It’s not too sweet, and it’s the perfect pre- or post-breakfast treat. 

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Heidelberg’s Chai Tea Latte

The restaurant uses Illy Caffe beans for its espresso drinks—which Sun says the locals love for their top-class quality and freshness—and a coffee roaster for drip coffee that is also a crowd-pleaser. 

And then it’s onto breakfast, which always presents the question: savory or sweet? It’s always hard to decide between eggs and pancakes, for example. The best strategy at Heidelberg is to bring along a couple friends so that you can try several of the restaurant’s breakfast offerings, which will satiate any craving. 

The Eggs Benedict is particularly enticing. The dish comes with two perfectly poached eggs served over a generous portion of grilled ham atop a grilled English muffin, with Hollandaise sauce and roasted potatoes. 


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Eggs Benedict

Nothing complements Eggs Benedict like the sweetness of blueberry pancakes, and Heidelberg’s spin on the classic is also perfection. The silver dollar buttermilk pancakes can also be made with chocolate chips or banana. 

The blueberries are fresh, and the pancakes come with butter, whipped cream and maple syrup on the side so you can top them as you like. You can also opt to order fresh berries as a side.

“We are small, but we are also very flexible and adoptive to what is right for customers,” Sun says.

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Blueberry Pancakes

Of course, Heidelberg’s breakfast menu also boasts an impressive selection of house-made, croissant-based options—from a Smoked Salmon Croissant to a Bacon Croissant—that are worth trying. 

If you have room after breakfast, or want to take a little bit of Heidelberg home with you, the restaurant also offers house-made pastries like muffins, scones and Danishes—and everything is made from scratch. 

“The most popular pastry item, Healthy Harvest Muffin, which contain walnuts, raisins, apple slices, pineapple, and oats, has been so successful for so many years, and we try not to change recipes or what goes in it. As I have said, we listen to our customers carefully,” Sun says. 

And though breakfast is served all day long at Heidelberg, the restaurant also has a café style lunch menu that’s also extensive. Lunch offerings include everything from soups, salads and sandwiches, to quiches, quesadillas and a ‘California burger.’

Heidelberg has been successful for decades, but according to Sun its team is always thinking about improving. “We are trying to introduce more organic dishes in our menu nowadays as they seem to be the trend in the nation and [a] healthy option for many customers. We have organic eggs and gluten-free to substitute with commodity eggs and regular bread upon request,” he says. “Recently, we have started to bake gluten-free pastries as well, and we are very excited to hear positive feedback from customers.” 

Heidelberg is located at 1100 South Coast Highway, and is open Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit 

Adventures in Gastronomy

April Steinert


Turkey Burgers

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There are so many veggies in this recipe that you could call it a veggie burger instead of a turkey burger. I developed this recipe when my youngest son was still repelled by all things that sprout from the earth. I would peel the zucchini and grate it into the turkey so there would be no offending green specks (the bell pepper, basil, and scallions came on the scene later). When you have a child who subsists strictly on white or beige food, you have to get clever with your chef-y tactics. Call it veggie tradecraft. 

You could also skip the burgers and make a meatloaf. Just top with quality tomato sauce and sprinkle with some grated cheese. Bake in a 400-degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting. 

The zucchini and other veggies make the burgers nutritious and keep the lean turkey from drying out.   

1 small zucchini, grated fine

1 pound of ground turkey

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, diced small

3 scallions, green part only, sliced very thinly

1/2 Cup panko crumbs

1/2 tsp. salt

ground pepper

1 egg, whisked well

1/4 Cup fresh basil, minced

Add zucchini, garlic, red pepper, panko, egg, basil, and turkey to a large bowl. 

Mix all of the ingredients together by hand and form patties (I was able to get five decent patties out of my meat mixture). 

Push your thumb into the middle to create a well in each of the patties to stop them from bulking up in the middle.  

When cooking on a grill, it’s preferable to use a plancha (cast-iron griddle) or some other grill-safe flat surface. The burgers will be very loose and fall apart easily. 

They’re done when the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees.

Eat well!


“I won’t be impressed with technology until I can download food.” – Author Unknown

Taco Tour: Uncovering Five of the Best Fish Tacos in Laguna Beach

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Each year, as Cinco de Mayo rolls around, I am tempted by one of my favorite Mexican dishes: fish tacos. There’s something about fresh fish—grilled, blackened or fried—on a soft tortilla, accompanied by a slice of lime and a cold Corona that’s just so satisfying, no matter the day or month. 

This year, with Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, I decided to take on the task of finding the perfect fish taco in Laguna Beach by trying nearly all of the town’s offerings of the local staple. The verdict? There are many enticing options, but some of the best fish tacos can be found found in surprising places. I discovered that the dish is served across the board in creative and innovative ways in some of Laguna’s favorite eateries; from comfort food and California cuisine, to Mexican and American fare, there are countless restaurants around town that offer delicious variations of fish tacos. 

And the best part about this dish is that every restaurant does it differently, and has a different vision when it comes to perfecting it, from the type of fish it uses and how the fish is cooked, to the sauces, spices and the sides with which it’s served. 

I found my top five fish tacos in the following restaurants: Coyote Grill; Sapphire Laguna; Rasta Taco; Tommy Bahama; and Big Fish Tavern. Undoubtedly, good fish tacos are ubiquitous in Laguna, and there’s no better time than now to enjoy them.

Coyote Grill: The beloved south Laguna spot has been making grilled fish tacos for almost 27 years. Coyote Grill uses grilled mahi-mahi that is seasoned simply and topped with its secret sauce, shredded cabbage, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, and cilantro, wrapped in a soft corn tortilla. It’s a little taste of Baja! 

Coyote Grill, located at 31621 South Coast Highway, is open Sunday-Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Happy Hour is offered daily from 3-6 p.m. 

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Coyote Grill’s Grilled Fish Taco

Sapphire Laguna: Delicious rockfish—a white fish—is the centerpiece of Sapphire’s ‘Mama’s Blackened Fish Tacos.’ The dish is served with cabbage slaw, spicy remoulade and pickled vegetables, and is best enjoyed outside on the restaurant’s impressive patio, which offers ocean views. 

The fish tacos are available during lunch, which is served Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., during the restaurant’s “Sunset Hour,” Monday-Friday from 2:30-5:30 p.m., during “Intermezzo” on Saturday and Sunday from 3-4:30 p.m., and during weekend brunch, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Sapphire is located at 1200 South Coast Highway. 

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Sapphire’s ‘Mama’s Blackened Fish Tacos’

Tommy Bahama: The island-themed restaurant serves an unbelievably good fish taco—with a twist. Their house recipe uses a perfectly blackened basa—a white fish—tomato relish, island slaw, and lime sour cream. 

They’re delicious as is—one of the best in town, in my opinion—but they’re served with a special, dessert-like side, which makes it the perfect entree. Accompanying the fish tacos is a bowl of heavenly, grilled, sweet plantains, which are served with a house-made pineapple and coconut yogurt.  

Tommy Bahama is located at 400 South Coast Highway, and is open daily at 11 a.m. ‘Island Time Happy Hour’ runs from 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9-10 p.m. on Thursday, and 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. 

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Tommy Bahama’s Blackened Fish Tacos 

Rasta Taco: The fish taco was recently added to Rasta Taco’s menu after its January opening, and the dish was a welcome addition to the Jamaica-inspired restaurant’s menu. It’s undoubtedly one of the best fish tacos in Laguna.

The Ensenada-style, seasoned and grilled tilapia fish tacos are served with fresh chipotle sauce and habanero coleslaw. The best part about ordering fish tacos at Rasta Taco is the fact that you can order one, two, three, or four—or more. 

Rasta Taco is located at 170 Beach Street, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for lunch and dinner. 

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Photo courtesy of Rasta Taco

Rasta Taco’s Seasoned and Grilled Tilapia Fish Tacos

Big Fish Tavern: Big Fish is Laguna’s go-to spot for unbelievably fresh fish, and the fish tacos are no exception. The dish includes tilapia, which you can order blackened or grilled, and Napa cabbage, pico de gallo and cilantro sauce. 

My recommendation is to enjoy the fish tacos during Happy Hour, which runs Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., where you can order a discounted cerveza to accompany the mouthwatering dish—all while taking in views of the sunset from one of the restaurant’s many windows. 

Big Fish, located at 540 South Coast Highway, is open Monday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. close, and Sunday 10 a.m. to close. 

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Big Fish’s Fresh Fish Tacos

A Laguna royal welcome to the new Royal Hawaiian


The Royal Hawaiian has found new footing thanks to Laguna resident, Mo Honarker. Honarkar once owned the Heisler building, downtown, and so briefly owned the Jolly Roger, yet another iconic Laguna restaurant. Last year he purchased the Royal Hawaiian property with the intention of bringing it back to life.

This week, Project Manager Brian Smith, Consultant Eric Bostwick, and newly hired General Manager Carlos Godinez were putting their heads together for the final run in preparation for the grand opening, slated to be May 27.

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Photo by Maggi 

(Left to right): Carlos Godinez, Eric Bostwick, and Brian Smith – the brain trust working on Royal Hawaiian’s opening

“It will be a bar and grill, in keeping with the classic Hawaiian fusion. We’ll have fresh fish tacos, sandwiches, pineapple teriyaki chicken burgers – and we got the original recipe for the Ono Ono Salad,” said Bostwick. “And, of course, Lapu Lapu’s.”

“We don’t want it to seem too high end,” added Smith. “A welcoming, comfortable atmosphere, where you can re-live old memories and make new ones.”

The original Royal Hawaiian owner happened to stop by this week, and Godinez says she was really happy for them. “She also said on their Facebook page, ‘We wish them the best of luck. Let’s give them a Royal welcome!’”

The buzz is happy and very busy, with ordering and installing brand-new kitchen equipment, re-upholstering the furniture, and cleaning up the tiki lamps. And then there’s hiring. Since Stu News published the first notification, Smith’s inbox has been full. “We’ve met 25 people and offered 12 jobs since Monday,” he said.

The look of the new Royal Hawaiian will be familiar, yet refreshed. Up front is the bar and music space – they’ll definitely continue the music scene, while being respectfulof neighbors. There will be happy hour specials every day from 3 – 6 p.m., and a special locals night (they’re thinking Tuesdays). There’s a banquet room that seats 23, and they are also hoping to get permitted for outdoor patio tables.

And, of course, there will be an opening party with food samples and drink specials. Details have not been finalized but Smith assures us it will be on May 27.



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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