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Who were the penguins dining at Penguin Café? If you know their identities, email us…

Something fishy was going on at the Penguin Café the other day. Two penguins, identities unknown (mystery shoppers?) sat themselves down at a table and ordered their meals.

We’re sure they must have been satisfied, otherwise there would probably have been a flap.

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Photo by Barbara Corman

Two penguins check out the menus at Penguin Café

Did climate change drive them here, or just the chance of a great breakfast?

We may never know.

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Roux redux – the return

Story and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

Not rising from the ashes, but more like emerging transformed from its cocoon, Roux is beaming in its new incarnation.

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Roux owners, Cindy and Michael Byrne

Yes, it was closed for a time after the well-publicized split with the former chef. Now, we’re not looking back, we’re looking forward. I know I was looking forward to the new chef’s approach to the Roux theme – classic, yet understated New Orleans style.

I’m happy to report that Chef Robert Villanueva has brought his own spin on the essentials at Roux, and has also leaned a little more toward seafood. The classics including shrimp, and catfish Orleans remain in Creole style, but seasonal fish, and killer Red King Crab Legs have moved in too.

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Chef Robert Villanueva

Chef Robert says he puts his Asian spin on the French here, and I think it’s a global win. “Spicy Garlic Shrimp is really Thai Green Curry,” he says with a smile. “It’s all about fresh ingredients, and treating every ingredient properly.”

Owners Michael and Cindy Byrne have re-opened the restaurant just three weeks now, and they wanted to make sure to get everything right. “We’re only going to have so many things on the menu, so it has to be good,” said Michael. Being careful to get the menu right, and honoring the space properly is important. “It took 14 months to get a 39 seat restaurant opened, I’m not going to let it fail,” he said. “I have to do the right thing here.”

For now, the restaurant is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, with Saturday and Sunday following shortly.

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Red King Crab with clarified butter & lemons

Tweaking the menu items, Michael asked the chef to give the oysters “more zip” – and he did it the very next day. “We made sure people left saying, ‘That’s good… Wow!’”

The oysters are amazing. 

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Fried Cornmeal Oysters with Lemon & Cornichons

Chef will also listen to customer’s requests. While I was there, he made a gorgeous catfish dish for a customer who didn’t want the creamy sauce – chef made it with his version of a marinara.

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Catfish Orleans, dusted with flour, sautéed in olive oil with lump crab and chef’s custom-ordered marinara, served over herbed rice

The atmosphere is still warm and romantic, and I would call the menu sexy, even. Nothing like a nice glass of red wine, some juicy oysters, and…what? I opted for the New York Steak, grilled to perfection and glazed with a red wine peppercorn demi glace. It was absolutely tender and flavorful, and left me wanting more even though I couldn’t finish it, the 12 ounces being enormous.

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New York Steak 12oz with red wine peppercorn demi glace

The other half of this romantic dinner was my husband, Richard. He chose the Atlantic Salmon. It was nice and moist with a crispy seared top, and served with spring green vegetables.

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Atlantic Salmon 8oz with cilantro & lime crème fraiche and radish

Chef Robert is making these dishes three nights, and Michael anticipates adding to the chef repertoire with other fine chefs making weekly appearances. He’s also talking about doing pop-up dinners with guest chefs once or twice a month.

“We’re trying the idea of a “house band” of chefs who can pick it up right away, like a music house band.” 

Sounds fun. We’ll stay tuned for all that’s deliciously shaking up at Roux.

860 Glenneyre St | 949-715-3707

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Construction on Red Dragon Restaurant ramps up, the Chinese government reportedly owns Montage Laguna Beach, Gail Duncan sells The Art Hotel


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For four years, the owner of the property at 680 S. Coast Highway, a location that once housed the popular Mosun Sushi & Sake and Club M, has kept the place dormant.

Luckily for Laguna Beach, the new property owner, Enshan Zhao, has plans to open an upscale authentic Chinese restaurant called Red Dragon Restaurant in the once hopping place. 

While the site has been mainly vacant for seven years, Zhao started construction in January, according to local architect Jim Conrad.

Red Dragon Restaurant

“It’s under construction finally. It started about 60 days ago. We’re primarily just working on the demolition right now,” Conrad said. “We hope to open spring or summer of 2019.”

The cost of the property was more than $3 million. Plans are to include a two-story, 213 seat restaurant with approximately 8,000 square feet of restaurant space and 2,000 square feet of outdoor terrace space, according to the restaurant’s website.

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Red Dragon Restaurant will replace Mosun and Club M with a five-star authentic Chinese dining experience, specializing in Cantonese and dim sum

“It would have been easier to just to build a whole new building but we have to work with the existing building due to city regulations. We have some grandfathered parking that we’re hanging on to,” Conrad said. “The hardest part is really working around the old building.”

The project will feature a fine-dining restaurant with private rooms, a terrace, an indoor bar and lounge, a rooftop bar and lounge, exterior patio dining area, and a parking lot with160 surface spots, per their website.

“It’s not going to be like what was there at all. It’s really going to be a five-star restaurant, where chefs are coming in from Hong Kong. It will be a fine-dining Chinese restaurant,” Conrad said. “That level of finish for the restaurant takes time.”

He said once the building is pretty much completed, “It will need four months of finish to get it to that level that we’re shooting for.”

The new upscale Chinese restaurant will serve authentic Cantonese cuisine, a passion of the entrepreneurial owner, who is a self-described hardcore food enthusiast.

“I have a lot of Chinese clients and they all tell me there is no real Chinese food in Orange County. The sort of Chinese American food that the restaurants serve is very different than the authentic cuisine,” Conrad said.

Zhao, a Laguna Beach resident, is in the process of building a second home here.

Montage Laguna Beach

It was recently reported that the Chinese government now owns Montage Laguna Beach, among other real estate assets, after it seized control of Anbang Insurance Group. 

According to a statement by China’s Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), Chinese officials arrested Anbang’s former chairman and general manager, Wu Xiaohui, on suspicion of economic crimes in June of last year. The commission has found that Xiaohui’s actions threatened the insurance giant’s solvency. He is expected to be prosecuted for financial crimes.

Besides the purchase of Montage Laguna Beach in 2016, Anbang also purchased Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point and Loews, Santa Monica, as well as 15 of 16 hotels owned by Strategic Hotels & Resorts. 

It has been reported that CIRC plans to run Anbang under the supervision of the regulatory authorities and its $315 billion in assets for at least one year to help stabilize the company and improve operation and management. 

Ownership of Montage Laguna Beach has changed three times in just two years, which is reportedly not uncommon for luxury resorts. 

Kacey Bruno, Vice President, Communications, Montage International said, “We have no comment.”

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The Chinese government has reportedly taken ownership of Montage Hotel & Spa, Laguna Beach among other luxury resorts and including over a dozen hotels

Opening in 2003, the 250-room Montage Laguna Beach was sold to Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc. for $360 million, equating to $1.4 million per room. Situated on a 50-foot seaside bluff, the 30-acre property includes 60 suites in addition to the ocean-facing rooms. 

In addition to Montage Laguna Beach, Montage Hotels & Resorts includes a collection of ultra-luxury hotels, resorts including Montage Beverly Hills, Montage Deer Valley, Montage Kapalua Bay, Montage Palmetto Bluff. 

Each resort’s architecture and decor is unique to its surroundings, as exemplified in the Montage Laguna Beach’s Craftsman-style design, reflective of the Laguna’s artistic heritage. This year the company plans to open its first international destination, Montage Los Cabos.

The Art Hotel

It has been a sweet 16 years for owner of The Art Hotel, Gail Duncan. The collection of memories and the relationships she’s built over that span have become as precious to her as the art by local artists that adorn all the rooms.

Now that the hotel has been sold, as of Tuesday, March 6, these invaluable experiences are even more valuable to her, as she also had to leave the place she’s called home for all these years.

“I just left the apartment on Monday (March 19),” Duncan said. “The beauty of it is everyone knows it was my baby. I just fell in love with it and with being of service to people.”

Only a couple of weeks ago, Duncan had to give a presentation to the City Council on the Housing and Human Services Committee that she chairs. 

“From the bottom of my heart that night, it was about at the end letting them know how much they meant to me,” Duncan said. “At the tail end, I really wrangled saying something personal in front of the Council, but I said to them The Art Hotel was sold today.”

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Gail Duncan owned The Art Hotel for 16 years

Most important to Duncan was to express her sincere gratitude for three particular City employees that changed her life.

“If it wasn’t for Gavin Curran, Maggie Lotolc, and Laura Parisi assisting me in the beginning and holding me up at certain points, I wouldn’t be standing here today, just being so thankful,” Duncan said. “I wanted those City employees to be called out. If I didn’t have those City employees shaping me from my foundation, helping me businesswise, I couldn’t have been as successful without their wisdom.” 

It was hard for Duncan to encapsulate and share just a few of the many wonderful experiences.

One of her greatest memories was during the height of the festival season in the summer of 2012. The water heater broke down in her sold-out hotel. She said it was such an amazing example of humanity and kindness. Instead of people getting upset it brought them closer together, and rather than complaints, she received hugs and flowers.

 “It was just an incredible example of human nature at its finest holding each other up. It was one of the most special situations that I had been through,” Duncan said. “I couldn’t believe how it was the reverse, with people caring so much, helping me get through it.”

The art community and local artists were central to Duncan – after all, she named the hotel, The Art Hotel.

“Twenty-eight rooms each with a different artist. They were kind enough to lend me five or six pieces. There is a little story about them at each of the desks in the room. It was about exposure of the artists. If someone was interested, I would be the bridge to the artist,” Duncan said. “They all trusted me with their pieces. I just had in my heart I am The Art Hotel, I’m going to honor them and give them 100 percent of the sale.”

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The Art Hotel lived up to its name

The hotel had two unveilings in 2016 by the muralist Randy Morgan, who recreated the pool area. Not only was the mayor there but to Gail’s sheer surprise someone from another hotel was there to support her too.

“The murals weren’t about downtown or what’s across the street. They told a story. We ended up having four Art Walks that year and brought the community to the hotel for the first time,” Duncan said. “Randy is the one that mentored different artists, brought them in and exposed them. It just really took The Art Hotel to the best level before I sold.”

Those examples capture the essence of great memories and the many people she grateful for.

Anyway, it was a great ride. I learned a lot. I feel very connected to Laguna Beach. We all end up being family in town in some way or another,” Duncan said. “I will end up going into community service and will work even harder on Housing and Human Services.”

New Ownership of The Art Hotel…the next chapter

The new owners of The Art Hotel Rick Mangu and his wife Vicki are no strangers to Laguna Beach. They’ve lived in various parts of Orange County most of their lives. Nor are they new to hotel ownership. But they are very excited about this particular venture.

In an interview last week Mangu explained that they’ve only owned the hotel for a week. “We took it over last Tuesday, March 6.We used to live in Southern California before, so we know the area well. My daughter was one of the first graduates of Sage Hill High School on Newport Coast. We have family that lives in Crystal Cove and friends here,” Mangu said, explaining that they had to leave the area to take care of his elderly parents. Family is extremely important to Mangu.

“I am very happy that we are back in Orange County, and I am very honored actually to be in Laguna Beach,” Mangu said. “It’s amazing, you know, you go all over the world and to end up back in Laguna Beach, I dream of those things.”

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The Art Hotel is in good hands

As for owning other hotels, Mangu said, “It’s a friends and family type of deal. We try to do it as a small group of family and friends invested. That way I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I have been there and done that and now I am back again.”

The new owners are working with a design firm to make improvements to the exterior and update it to 2018, Mangu explained.

“We’re thankful to Gail. She is a great lady. I am very happy with her; she has helped us out quite a bit,” Mangu said.

Duncan stayed on the property to help the new owners transition and will continue through the summer. She feels the same and appreciates kindness of the new owners. 

“I get to still be there through the transition period. I get to experience enjoying the guests for at least a day or two through the summer, through the transition, and then let them have their dreams,” Duncan said.

The community is so vibrant and healthy there’s a lot of different activities. I think Laguna, I just find it kind of peaceful,” Mangu said. “I am very happy to be here. You don’t get a second chance all the time.”

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Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine director, Vito Pasquale, earns advanced sommelier designation 

Selanne Steak Tavern, the upscale steakhouse and tavern housed in a chicly transformed historic 1934 home on Pacific Coast Highway, is proud to announce that Wine Director Vito Pasquale has earned the coveted advanced sommelier certification from the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, the premier international examining body for the wine industry.

To attain advanced sommelier status, Pasquale had to pass the accrediting body’s five-day extensive wine service program, which includes lectures and interviews and two and a half days of blind tastings, a service test and writing a theory paper.

“We are extremely proud of Vito’s recent accomplishment,” said Kevin Pratt, co-partner of the restaurant with Teemu Selanne. “He has been an integral force in helping us gain recognition for our carefully selected and cared for wine collection. And, under his direction, Selanne Steak Tavern has earned Wine Spectator magazine’s “The Best of Award of Excellence.”

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Vito Pasquale earns advanced sommelier certification from the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers 

Pasquale has worked at Selanne Steak Tavern since it opened in 2013. His responsibilities are to curate, manage and maintain the restaurant’s wine inventory of over 2,750 bottles of global selections. In addition he directs the restaurant’s ongoing sommelier education and training program, working in tandem with Executive Chef Joshua Severson for the wine list to complement the chef’s contemporary steakhouse menu.

Prior to joining the Selanne team, Pasquale held positions at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, AnQi Crustacean at South Coast Plaza and at the former Two 40 South Restaurant & Bar in Brea.

Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner only, nightly starting at 5 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation call (949) 715-9881 or visit

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Selanne Steak Tavern kicks off spring and brunch season with Sunday Brunch on Sunday, April 8

Spring kicks off “brunch season” in Southern California, and beginning Sunday, April 8, Selanne Steak Tavern brings Chef Joshua Severson’s crave-worthy gourmet fare to be shared with friends and family for the first time to this award-winning Laguna Beach restaurant. Severson’s newly created brunch menu is inspired by classic brunch favorites infused with his own creative twists using seasonal, local and regional ingredients. 

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Avocado Toast

 Brunch fans can enjoy such sweet and savory dishes as Pancake Soufflé with Vermont maple syrup, California berries, sweet vanilla bean cream cheese; Selanne’s Benedict with Nueske’s ham, poached egg, avocado, tomato marmalade, house hollandaise and croissant; andTeemu’s Brunch Burger made with Kobe beef, kurobuta pork belly, fried egg and tomato jam.

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Bananas Foster

Other soon-to-be favorites include: Bourbon Caramel Pecan Sticky Bun; Chicken and Waffles; Steak Bacon and Eggs; and Cured Salmon Scramble. Lighter selections feature Strawberry Salad, Shrimp & King Crab Cocktail and Avocado Toast. Hearty sides like Hash Browns Au Gratin, White Grits and other choices are also on the menu. A kids menu will also be offered.

 Guests can dine alfresco on the veranda or the upstairs patio with indoor seating available in the cozy tavern and wine bar. 

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays beginning April 8.

Selanne Steak Tavern is located at 1464 South Coast Hwy.

For more information, go to or call (949) 715-9881.

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Laguna Beach Beer Company is opening in the Canyon soon, crafted by two lifetime locals


Perhaps, it’s an only in Laguna Beach kind of phenomenon, but the forecast looks good regarding the question, “If April showers bring May flowers what do May flowers bring?”

Beer, and lots of it, in the form of tasty microbrews via a 24-tap draft system. Yes, beer fans will be able to say cheers at the opening of Laguna Beach Beer Company sometime in May, if all goes according to plans. 

With a passion for craft beer, Laguna Beach Beer Company was co-founded in 2014 by lifelong Laguna Beach residents Brent Reynard and Mike Lombardo. Now it’s time to bring it home.

“The original vision was to open a small brewpub in Laguna first, build up the brand, then open a larger production brewery somewhere outside of town,” Reynard said. “However, before we could solidify a location in Laguna, an opportunity to purchase a production facility in Rancho Santa Margarita popped up. So as they say, we put the cart before the horse, but it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

Laguna Beach Beer Company found its local home in the canyon’s Civic Art District. Located at 859 Laguna Canyon Road, formerly Serra’s Bar & Grill, the restaurant and brewery will not only fill a void in that space has been vacant for a decade, it also provides Laguna with a much-needed local microbrewery, made by locals, for locals, and well, tourists obviously too.

“When we started looking a few years ago, it [the canyon] was one of the only places with the square footage we needed that was available,” Reynard said. “We really liked the proximity to the festivals, the visibility from the canyon, the parking, and having a trolley stop right in front isn’t bad either.” 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach Beer Company will serve cold, delicious craft brews from 24 taps 

The total space is 2600 sq. feet with seating for 80 and about 350 sq. feet of patio space with polished concrete floors and open ceiling with wood paneling for a beachy feel. 

 “The corner location also gives us the ability to create the open-air feeling we wanted with roll up doors on two sides giving it a breezy, light and airy feel,” Reynard said. “The lease gives us control of the space for 12 years.” 

Wendy Jung, City of Laguna Beach, Senior Planner, said, “The CUP was approved by the Planning Commission on Feb. 15, 2017 for microbrewery and restaurant use with outdoor dining areas.” 

“We have been working on this space for about two years. We had to get the normal permits including city, state and federal. We hit hurdles around every corner,” Reynard said. “I don’t recall a time when there wasn’t a seemingly insurmountable issue in our way. I attribute our success to perseverance and the lack of a ‘Plan B.’ This was it, I had no back up plan, so we had to make it work.”

“Conditions of approval were included in the CUP Resolution,” Jung said.

The layout will include a section with about ten 55-gallon oak wine and whiskey barrels, where they age some of their beer, along with high top and low top tables with a few large wood tables for groups. And for sports fans, they will have six 65” TVs to show sports.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Construction is ramping up at the new Laguna Beach Beer Company brewery and restaurant site, with an anticipated May opening date

“We will have a menu of flatbreads and sandwiches and a 24 tap draft system. The beer list and menu items will be similar to the RSM location with a few additions unique to Laguna,” Reynard said.

Currently, the Hazy IPAs are the rage and top of the Beer Company’s best-seller list. 

“I love the Hazy IPAs and our Thousand Steps IPA. For me, its hard to go wrong with a hoppy IPA. However, I love our darker beers such as the one we call ‘Scotchman’s,’ which is a Scotch Ale,” Reynard said. “It’s a style that you don’t see every day, strong dark and delicious.”

The idea for Laguna Beach Beer Company started brewing for Reynard while he was in college.

“After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2000, it was 2008 during business school while earning my MBA that I began homebrewing,” Reynard said. “I developed a passion for brewing and by the time I graduated from UCI in 2010, I knew beer was going to be in my future. I have always pursued entrepreneurial ventures.”

He wrote a business plan in 2013 and when his partner jumped on board in January 2014, the dream began to take shape.  

“We started by brewing The Greeters Ale at a friend’s brewery, a recipe we developed while homebrewing, and selling kegs of it to bars and restaurants. We sold our first pint at Hennessey’s in Laguna Beach in October 2014,” Reynard said. “By the end of 2016, three beers, The Greeters Ale, Second Reef Blonde Ale, and Canyon Road Red Ale were being poured at around 100 locations in Orange County.” 

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Courtesy Laguna Beach Beer

Company Facebook

What I love the most is watching families having fun together and groups of friends sharing an experience over a pint,” said cofounder Reynard

Laguna Beach Beer Company will have happy hours, specials, and events that will be posted on their website, The hours will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. As for parking, there are 75 parking spots in the parking lot shared by the tenants, plus metered and street parking right out front.  

“Five years after starting the company, finally opening the Laguna Beach location, the goal that has been on our minds since day one,” Reynard said. “It’s incredible to say the least. It has always been a dream. What could be better than living and working in Laguna Beach?”

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Harvest: It’s The Ranch’s fine dining side

Review and photos by MAGGI HENRIKSON

The Harvest vibe is one part earthy and downhome, and one part refinement and elegance. It’s a nice mix as you sit in the big lodge space and look out at all the green surrounding this pristine canyon location. The chef’s creations reflect that mix too, as locally sourced ingredients blend with Asian, European, and Americana influences.

I love visiting The Ranch at Laguna Beach and feeling like I’m on vacation, even if it’s just for lunch. And, of course, lunch at their Harvest restaurant is a perfect topper to a round of golf. Last weekend, I enjoyed a full two days (and nights) there and was delighted to partake of several meals worth noting.

My second favorite fish in the whole world is branzino, which is a European sea bass. (My first favorite is fresh-caught Atlantic striped bass, but that’s for home cooking, and a whole other story). I’ve seen branzino as a special at only a few restaurants, so I was very happy to find it right there on the menu at Harvest.

The thing about branzino is that the whole fish is mild and sweet, right down to the skin. It’s roasted or grilled and served whole, with head and tail, as is more customary in Europe than in California. Chef Kyle St. John has interpreted the Whole Branzino dish at Harvest served with spiced lentils, chorizo, blistered tomatoes, and salsa verde. So good, I had it two nights in a row!

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Whole Cyprus Branzino

Accompanying the branzino, we ordered another amazing seafood special – Hamachi. It was light and citrusy, and just melted on the tongue.

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Hamachi Special

The menu changes seasonally at Harvest, and right now I’d beat the doors down to have the Wild Mushroom Pappardelle while it’s featured. They make the pappardelle pasta in-house and gently toss it with white wine, garlic, truffle tremor cheese, and the most delicate and fresh assortment of wild mushrooms. You just have to say “Aww!” when you see the teeny littlest ones, and OMG when you take a taste of that wild, earthy and sinfully rich flavor.

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Wild Mushroom Pappardelle

On the lunch menu, my skinny selection – due to low carb count – goes to Harvest’s fabulous Grilled Salmon Salad. The perfectly medium-rare chargrilled salmon is served with mixed baby greens, artichokes, Greek olives, pickled onions, and feta cheese drizzled with red wine vinaigrette.

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Grilled Salmon Salad

Go ahead and work up an appetite on the lovely Ranch golf course, then feast on fine dining with a view at Harvest. You will be happily satisfied with a day well spent.

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Brunch made better: Sunday mornings may become Selanne’s favorite time of week – or at least mine


Photography by Jeffrey Rovner

Selanne Steak Tavern has long been on my short list of special occasion spots in town. Since its opening five years ago, it’s the place where I’ve celebrated birthdays, Father’s Days, anniversaries and “just because” evenings out. Life’s too short and uncertain, I’ve decided, to delay gratification. And Selanne is one of those places that make indulgence worth every bite.

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Brunch is served with style at Selanne

So imagine my delight when I heard they’d begun offering my favorite meal: Sunday brunch. It’s the one meal that dares you not to spoil yourself. Sensible salads are for weekdays. Brunch is for elaborate benedicts and sticky desserts masquerading as breakfast. And, if you’re not holding a cocktail before noon, there’s a feeling you’re missing out on something. 

Consistent with our calorie conscious town, however, there are plenty of light and healthy options on Selanne’s menu. And enough mocktails, French pressed coffee, and assorted teas to make you feel part of the festive crowd.

Now that the brunch is entering its seventh week, Chef Joshua Severson and his team of creatives, including a dedicated pastry chef and masterful bartender, have had time to perfect every dish, and the results are delicious.

Eating in style

If you’re familiar with Selanne, you’ll know its warm cottage charm. The building is beautiful, the architecture straight from high-end magazines with well appointed furniture, dramatic chandeliers, and cozy nooks and corners. What I love about the space are all the options – their rooftop deck and spacious outdoor veranda, that wonderful European bar and statement staircase, the quiet wine cellar. I love the outdoor fireplace. I love the entry wishing well. Whatever your mood, whatever the weather, they’ve created an intimate setting that accommodates it.

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Brunch is better this way…along with warm cottage charm

Because I’ve never met a breakfast dish I don’t like, I allowed our server Stephen Ronnow to design my meal. I watched Stephen work over the menu like a composer arranging a symphony, mixing sweet and savory, crunchy and smooth. I started with an amuse bouche and pastry basket, moved to an avocado toast, and then onto the main meal – chicken and waffles and “Kevin’s” Bananas Foster French Toast (“Kevin” is co-owner, Kevin Pratt, who was dining at a table nearby. Hats off for designing this creative dish, Kevin). As almost an afterthought, Stephen added hash browns au gratin, a dish I haven’t stopped thinking about since. 

The beauty of breakfast drinks

In addition to a full bar, there are a few creative cocktails on Selanne’s menu. The Diablo is a specialty of bartender Neil. Casa Amigos Blanco Tequilla, lemon, crème de cassis, and ginger ale. I’m going back for that one.

I opted for my usual breakfast drink, the “Breakfast of Champions Bloody Mary.” As the name implies, it’s more than a drink…it’s a breakfast. Garnished with a jumbo fresh shrimp, a plump olive, a tiny pearl onion, and a thick slice of lime, I could have been happy drinking my brunch. Thankfully, though, this time it was only an add-on. 

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Breakfast of Champions Bloody Mary and pastries – so good

My favorite thing about Selanne’s drink menu is their offering of a mimosa flight. Selanne’s serves an array of fresh flavors – blood orange, peach, cherry, mango – and allows guests to mix and match. If you’re dining with a large party, or you’re up for drinking a bottle of champagne on your own, the table can try all the various flavors. Assuming you have nowhere to be on a Sunday afternoon, this isn’t a bad way to while away the morning.

The sweet…

Selanne’s pastry chef is a master of whimsy. Her creations are seasonal, using fresh and local ingredients. The artisan breadbasket included a blackberry scone, lemon Danish, bear claw, blueberry muffin, and a chocolate croissant. The mixture of fruit against chocolate, crumbly muffins against flaky croissants, all of it light and airy, made for a wonderful way to wait for the main course. 

My eye wandered to the next table, enjoying the Bourbon Carmel Pecan Sticky Bun. It comes in a cast iron skillet, hot from the oven, and looking over-the-top. It’s rich, thick, and gooey. And, Stephen promises, beyond belief.

But Kevin’s Banana Foster French Toast took the prize for me, and I’m rarely a fan of the overtly sweet dish. The bananas were marinated in Kahlua. The French Toast was thick, crispy and perfectly soaked. Best yet, Selanne’s uses mascarpone whip that acts as the ice cream, creating a gooey sandwich of spiked flavors. I haven’t tried anything like this one.

And the savory

I gravitate toward the savory, and Selanne’s has plenty of options to accommodate – the brunch burger (with wagyu beef and pork belly, topped with an egg), the Selanne Benedict (with Nueske’s ham), and my usual favorite – the cured salmon scramble with crème fraîche.

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Avocado toast – it’s really all about the bread and the combination of flavors

I consider myself a kind of avocado toast connoisseur. For me, it’s all about the bread, which can make or break this breakfast staple. Anyone can smash an avocado on a piece of toast. Here, it’s the combination of flavors – lemon, espelette pepper and slices of pickled radish – that make it something special. The citrus and spice is a wonderful blend. Not to mention the sunny-side egg that tops the dish. 

I don’t know whether chicken and waffles fall into the sweet or savory category, but the perfect blend of both is made better by the preparation of the chicken. Even though it’s fried, the batter is so light and airy that it lacks the heavy grease I usually associate with fried chicken. Better yet…the meat inside. It’s a tender, juicy rotisserie chicken breast. A single bite remained that I absolutely couldn’t finish. I shamelessly asked to take it home, knowing it wouldn’t make a meal, but it would still make a memory. 

But, for some reason, the dish I continue to return to in my mind is the hash browns au gratin. Perhaps because by the time I got to it, I was far too full to finish it. It was “the dish that got away.” The few forkfuls I had make this side alone worth coming back to finish. The Yukon gold potatoes are topped with a thick layer of crucolo cheese and scallions. It’s a perfect combination of potatoes au gratin and hash browns. How this is done, I couldn’t possibly tell you, but the result is magnificent. 

An evolution of flavors and creations

Selanne’s is committed to constant evolution—with the seasons and with their own creative energy. The addition of Sunday brunch is a great example of their willingness and ability to stretch their menu and meet new culinary trends, all with their own artistic imagination.

Co-owner Kevin Pratt says, “We’re extremely happy to add Sunday brunch to our offerings, and I’m proud of Chef Josh and his team for delivering creative twists on classic brunch dishes. We’re having fun with the menu and it will continue to evolve.”

And I’ll continue to be a loyal recipient of that evolution.

Selanne Steak Tavern      1464 S Coast Hwy

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In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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