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Sandwich shop, remodel plans for historic Spigot building moves forward with commission support


The Planning Commission on Wednesday, Oct. 20 approved exterior modifications to a historic building and conversion of a retail space to a sandwich shop/deli restaurant use at 1802-1816 South Coast Highway, on the corner of Pearl Street. 

The property, which also houses Spigot Liquor and a Quonset storage hut, is in the HIP (Historic and Interesting Places) District, which covers along South Coast Highway, from Thalia Street to Bluebird Canyon Drive.

Plans for Wigz Sandwich Shop include the service of alcohol, outdoor seating, exterior modifications to the C-rated structure on the city’s historic register and a 50% historic parking reduction. 

Applicant and lifelong resident Zac Cornwell said he’s been working on this project for the past 16 months. This intersection is particularly special to Cornwell, who grew up right up the street and used to buy candy from Spigot.

“My goal with this project is to create a special place for the community that’s affordable for both locals and local workers,” Cornwell said. “I want to create a great vibe and I just want to serve really great sandwiches.”

Commissioners all expressed enthusiastic support for the new sandwich shop. 

Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin said his favorite go-to sandwich shop is long closed and is excited to see this new deli open in town.

“I look forward to having another place to enjoy a good sandwich because we are kind of lacking that in town,” Dubin said. “And having it be a family, locally owned, a guy who grew up here, that just adds more flavor to the sandwich.”

It’s a positive thing any time someone comes in and upgrades an existing building that’s a little tired and in need of refurbishment to bring it back to life and activate the street scene, said Commissioner Steve Kellenberg. 

“I walk that street a lot, that area, and it needs it. It’s just a little devoid,” he said. “So I’m really excited about creating some street life (in that area).” 

Sidewalk cafes are what Laguna is all about, Kellenberg said, and help build the pedestrian and street character. 

“I’m totally supportive of this,” agreed Commissioner Ken Sadler. “It’s the type of business that Laguna could use.”

It’s not an architectural gem, but it’s historic because of its age and the people that were associated with it, including early development of Laguna Beach, Sadler noted. 

Sandwich shop, remodel plans Wigz rendering

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Courtesy of the City of Laguna Beach/NBC Architect Inc.

A rendering of Wigz Sandwich Shop and the remodel of the historic Spigot building

Several commissioners commented on the interesting and long history of the building. The project includes displaying a historical/cultural exhibit inside the sandwich shop. A historic plaque will also be placed on the property to identify its historic status.

On the parcel is a 7,500-square-foot building that was constructed in 1930 and is occupied by two commercial suites: Spigot Liquor store and the subject suite that is currently occupied by the Annalise Pop-up retail shop. 

Spigot Liquor has been located at 1802 Coast Boulevard South since 1933. The storefront at 1816 Coast Boulevard South was leased to artist Joane Cromwell in 1936 for her art studio. She remained at this address until the mid-1940s. Other notable tenants in the 1816 storefront included Coast Upholstering, La Pierre Home Appliance, West Coast Gypsy Leather and Charles’ Wigs, which was the longest running tenant, from the early 1980s until closing in 2020.

On September 20, the Heritage Committee recommended the property be placed on the Historic Register with a C-rating.

Cornwell plans to launch the sandwich/deli restaurant, Wigz, with outdoor dining and the service of beer and wine in an existing retail suite with a total of 12 indoor seats and 15 outdoor seats. The proposed hours of operation are from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. 

A bicycle rack for eight bikes is also included in the plans. 

There are four on-site parking spaces and a private storage (i.e. Quonset hut) are located toward the rear of the property.

The applicant proposes modifications to both the South Coast Highway and Pearl Street elevations to restore and enhance the building. The following four changes are proposed to restore the exterior of the building (as recommended by the historian):

–Remove the non-original board and batten siding and replace with vertical wood planking with pecky holes to match the existing siding.

–Remove the boards to restore the original storefront transparency.

–Remove siding adjacent to 1816 storefront to reveal stucco behind and replace wood paneled door with a single glazed panel. 

–Remove the existing 300-square-foot non-original storage area that is attached to the rear of the liquor store.

It was also recommended to update the existing signs by adding gold leaf address numbers above the entry doors on a glass transom and add a new round sign to the left of the Spigot entry door. The applicant has agreed to incorporate these items, but signage will be processed under a separate application, explained Senior Planner Martina Caron. 

Additionally, new paint is proposed throughout the main building – cement plaster (stucco) will be painted white, metal awning will be painted black and white, and roof rafter tails and eave underside will be painted white. The Quonset hut is proposed to be painted black. 

Toward the rear of the building, the applicant proposes to replace the existing chain link fence with a new six-foot high wood fence with planting in front. The existing planting area will be enlarged and a new retaining wall is proposed to accommodate a new fifth parking stall.

Sandwich shop, remodel plans current building

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Courtesy of the City of Laguna Beach

The current building at 1802-1816 South Coast Highway 

Dubin asked about the reasoning for painting the Quonset hut black.

It’s trending now for certain buildings and it creates a nice look, said Architect Nancy Balmer-Csira. Her thought was that it would help it “disappear” or not look as shabby as it does in its current state.

“We’re open to different colors,” Balmer-Csira said, like more red, instead of brown for the pecky wood as some commissioners suggested. “The idea was to freshen up the building.”

The pecky wood currently on the building is painted, Cornwell said. It’s not a great color, he added, agreeing with Whitin’s comments, but it’s too fragile to strip the paint off.

“So, we were hoping to select a color that was more ‘woody’ than what’s there now, because right now it looks very artificial,” Cornwell said. 

It’s not in his budget to replace all of the pecky wood, but he intends to continue working with the historian to determine the best process.

Cornwell’s father, Kelly, is currently in escrow to purchase Spigot, which will hopefully be completed by mid-November. 

“Big plans for Spigot,” Kelly Cornwell said. 

He’ll return to the commission with interior design changes and other improvements for the historic liquor store at a later date. 

The first thing that will change will be a sign hung inside that says, “No loitering, no trespassing on these premises” will be swapped out for a “Welcome” sign, Kelly Cornwell said. Wet dollar bills will be accepted and sandy feet are okay to come inside.

“Those are the changes that we’re going to make to Spigot, just to change the vibe,” he said. “Going along with the sandwich shop, it’s going to be a cool corner.”

He also has plans to rebuild and install the actual spigot on the Spigot barrel, which has been missing for decades, Kelly Cornwell said. 

The history of the Quonset hut is also really interesting, he added, explaining that it was surplus property leftover from WWII. In restoring the building and highlighting the history, they’ll focus on where it came from, how it was acquired and how it was built.

Kelly Cornwell said he was retired and now he’s jumping into this business venture all because of his son, Zac, who worked as a financial planner and saved his money to open the shop, he said.

“Giving that up to put his heart and soul into Laguna Beach…I’m proud of him,” Kelly said.

Other than the applicant’s father and soon-to-be owner of Spigot, there was one other public speaker and more than two dozen letters of support in favor of Wigz Sandwich Shop.

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Sueños, a Latin American-inspired kitchen and bar now open and serving authentic dishes, inventive cocktails

Sueños, a Latin American-inspired kitchen & bar, opened in Laguna Beach on September 17 in the heart of downtown.

Located just steps from the sand, the restaurant debuts dishes that blend and borrow the ingredients and influences from across Latin American culture, from the coastline of Mexico to the mountainous regions of Peru.

Sueos Ayazi and Gutierrez

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Photos courtesy of Sueños

Sueños husband-and-wife restaurateurs Kay Ayazi and Jose Gutierrez

Sueños represents a years-long dream for husband-and-wife restaurateurs Jose Gutierrez and Kay Ayazi. The duo has opened several eateries in Orange County together, including Costa, a contemporary Peruvian kitchen in Costa Mesa. As first-generation Americans who come from families of entrepreneurs, they aim to show their children just how possible and powerful the opportunities are for those who pursue their dreams. To carry out their vision for Sueños, Gutierrez and Ayazi have tapped a collaborative team of culinary professionals to lead the kitchen and bar programs.

Suenos tiradito

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Tiradito – fresh fish of the day

“When our team came together, there was this palpable collective confidence that together we would not only achieve our goals but that our synergy would elevate the individual dreams each of us has,” said Gutierrez. “Sueños is Spanish for dreams, and that’s how we came up with the name.”

Executive Chef Alan Sanz and Culinary Director Yen Wu, bring a global experience to the kitchen. Wu, born and raised in Lima, Peru, is responsible for leading culinary operations for both Sueños and Costa. Sanz received his degree in culinary and pastry arts in Buenos Aires, Argentina and has cooked in kitchens around the globe: Boragó in Chile, Parcela in Mexico, Epicure in France and Mugaritz in Spain. He has worked with renown chefs including Rodolfo Guzmán, Edgar Nuñez, Éric Fréchon and Francis Mallman. Before joining the team at Sueños, Sanz served as executive chef for Gracias Madre Restaurants and Wu as executive chef for Puesto in Irvine. Both restaurants earned nods from the Michelin Guide with Sanz and Wu at the helm of their respective kitchens. Their cumulative culinary acumen and passion for bold and bright Latin American flavors bolster the menu at Sueños with a balance of refined composition and complexity.

At a recent Media Night Dinner, held on October 12, guests were treated to the following dishes:

Suenos Gordita

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Gordita de Pulpo & Chicharrón

Gordita de Pulpo & Chicharrón - black beans, chicharrón prensado, octopus, salsa verde, cashew cream and queso Cotija.

Tiradito - the fresh fish of the day, aji Amarillo, with lime juice and Peruvian spices.

Pork al Pastor - pork loin, pineapple puree, cinnamon roasted pineapple, onion & cilantro salad and tepache dressing.

Colombia (the perfect ending to a delectable meal) - a pecan biscuit, praline & rum light cream, Colombian creamy coffee, chocolate and black berries.

Suenos Mi Fantasi

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Mai Fantasi, a refreshing riff on the traditional Mai Tai

Dreamy cocktails were prepared by Beverage Director Ava Navarette that included the Mai Fantasi - a whimsical riff on the traditional Mai Tai, Carta de Amor, an effervescent elixir of rum and elderflower liqueur which includes a hand-written love note, and Starborn, a bold take on the Pisco sour featuring Barbados rum and maraschino liquor.

Renovation to design and decor blends hues of light pink, purple and blue with a palette of neutral undertones and natural elements. The restaurant’s focal point is a progressive mural above the open kitchen painted by local artist Carlos Rodas. The large surreal dreamscape depicts the procession of a dream, an ethereal journey of a woman as she embarks on an out-of-body experience where she flows into a state of expression, discovery and connection with her higher self. At 5,000 square feet, Sueños offers 85 seats inside the dining room, 30 seats on the patio and 12 at the bar. 

Suenos Executive Chef Alan Sanz

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Executive Chef Alan Sanz brings his global experience to the culinary offerings

“Laguna is loved for its enchanting, ethereal beauty. Long heralded as an elusive hideaway, Laguna sets itself apart on the California coastline as the Santorini of Orange County,” shared Ayazi. “It’s always been a dream of ours to open a beachfront restaurant, and with Sueños, we get to share that dream with the community by celebrating the Laguna that locals love and visitors dream of.”

Sueños is located at 222 Ocean Ave and is open for dinner daily beginning at 4 p.m. The kitchen is open Monday through Thursday until 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. and Sunday until 8 p.m. Weekend lunch will be available from 12-3 p.m. For more information, visit, or connect with @suenoslagunabeach on Instagram and Facebook.

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Festival of OC Chefs benefits KidWorks, honors Nirvana Grille Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales

Festival of OC Chefs, benefiting KidWorks, hosted its first culinary event on Sunday, Oct. 3 at Newport Beach Country Club. 

The food festival, which featured 25 chefs, invited 425 guests to mingle and sample their fare. Renowned wineries, such as Duckhorn, JCB, Justin and Crown Point, were also a part of the mix. Guests were later seated on the lawn to sample desserts and be introduced to the chefs by MC DawnMarie Kotsonis. Chef Event Chair Pascal Olhats introduced Honorary Chef, Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille, Laguna Beach, who has been featured as a celebrity chef on Food Network’s Chopped. She credited Olhats as her mentor.

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Lindsay trio

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Photos by Tony Lattimore

(L-R) Newport Beach Country Club Host Chef Graeme Blair, Event Chef Chair Pascal Olhats and Honorary Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Nirvana

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(L-R) Honorary Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales shares a culinary sampling with a guest

Kidworks’ board member and event co-chair Cory Alder shared the Kidworks’ story. Involved with the charity for 15 years, he lauded the nonprofit’s academic support, character and leadership development programs that empowers students in Orange County’s underserved neighborhoods from pre-K through their college years. He said the key was involving the entire family to ensure the student’s success. “We are most proud of the fact that 100% of our high school graduates enroll in college or university,” he stated.

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Johnson

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Laguna Beach residents and sponsors Guy Johnson and his wife Trish Johnson

The Presenting Sponsors Kay Family Foundation, represented by Ethan Kay and the David A. Pyle Family, represented by Annie Pyle, were honored for their ongoing KidWorks support.

The event co-chairs included Lisa and Cory Alder, Tracy and Kevin Murphy and Kyle and David Team, with committee members Joey Booth, Darin and Jeff Garell, Nina and Ethan Kay, Heidi and Ruben Mendoza, Connie and David Oh, Camille and Tim Strader Jr., Eleanor and Tim Tang, and Sue and Nick Willett. Also attending were Board Chair Adrian Montero and KidWork’s CEO/Executive Director David Benevides. KM Productions was thanked for producing the event. 

Festival of OC Chefs benefiting Nesseth

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Laguna Beach residents Mona Lee Nesseth and George Rozsahegyi. Nesseth donated the wines for the $4,000 wine tree raffle.

Following a generous Fund-A-Need portion, which helped boost net proceeds to more than $640,00, the band, Flashback Heart Attack, took the heartfelt evening home.

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Local Chef Lindsay Smith to be honored at Festival of OC Chefs benefiting KidWorks

Festival of OC Chefs, benefiting KidWorks will be hosting its inaugural event on Sunday, Oct. 3 from 5-9 p.m. at Newport Beach Country Club. Honorary Chef Lindsay of Nirvana Grille, Laguna Beach is being recognized.

The Food Festival taking place from 5-7 p.m. showcases 25 chefs, whereby guests will mingle and sample their fare. Renowned wineries and spirits will also be part of the mix. Beginning at 7 p.m., attendees can sample desserts and be seated at tables for the program. Following a Fund-A-Need portion at 7:45 p.m., the band, Flashback Heart Attack, will entertain for dancing until 9 p.m. The event is sold out, but there is a waiting list. Tickets are $500 per person. The Presenting Sponsors are Kay Family Foundation and the David A. Pyle Family.

Local Chef Lindsay group

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Photos by Bob Hodson Photography

Chefs who will be at the Festival of OC Chefs with Honorary Chef Lindsay Smith (front row, second from left)

According to Chef Event Chair Pascal Olhats, “It is a difficult time for the hospitality industry to go through, however chefs and restaurants are part of the local community. We were all separated for some time, so now we can reacquaint and what is better but to do it for a great cause like KidWorks.”

As a fixture in the Orange County restaurant scene who has been the owner and executive chef for several noted French restaurants, Olhats observed that most local restaurants are still in a recovery mode and still suffer from consequences of the pandemic, but draws attention to many of the families served by KidWorks that even before the pandemic were already having hard times, often living from paycheck to paycheck.

“They are certainly going through an even worse time now as their families and relatives are part of the restaurants’ workforce, too,” said Olhats. “So, helping KidWorks is certainly helping some of these families and giving kids hope and help for a better future. I am very proud to be able to help and glad we will make it an event that guests will remember.”

“We are honored to have these high caliber chefs lend their time and talent in support of our educational initiatives designed to transform the lives of our students,” said KidWorks CEO and Executive Director David Benavides.

To learn more about the Festival of OC Chefs, visit

For the past seven years, 100 percent of KidWorks high school students have graduated on time and 100 percent have gone onto higher education. KidWorks’ mission is to restore at-risk neighborhoods one life at a time. Since 1993, KidWorks has grown into a vibrant community development non-profit that serves central Santa Ana students and families through a fully licensed preschool, after-school programs, tutoring, mentoring, and adult services in the areas of health, parenting classes and support groups.

Newport Beach Country Club is located at One Clubhouse Drive, Newport Beach.

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Selanne Steak Tavern debuts “7” new autumn cocktails

Selanne Steak Tavern is known for its outstanding creative cocktails that change seasonally. Now, the iconic contemporary steakhouse is unveiling seven newly created quaffs to usher in the energy and sense of new adventures that come with fall.

New cocktails were developed and carefully chosen by beverage savvy General Manager Chad Sisco with the enthusiastic assistance of bartenders Justin Wade and Art Gill. The lucky “7” are available throughout Selanne Steak Tavern – to be enjoyed pre, during or post a splendid dinner in the restaurant or, of course, on their own at the bar.

Selanne Steak drinks

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Submitted photo

New fall cocktails debut at Selanne Steak Tavern

With hues of tangerine, pink and berry, the new libations are lovely to look at and photograph. The names are suggestive of the fall including The Great Pumpkin and Harvest Moon, and they are bursting with aromatic, full-of-flavor and satisfying tastes – pumpkin spice, orange bitters, cinnamon, blackberry – all combined with fine specialty liquors. All the new cocktails are priced at $15, as well as older favorite signature drinks such as Spicy Pear, Velvet Alley and The Hat Trick.

Selanne’s new fall specialty cocktails include the following seven sip-tastic pleasures: 

–Charlatan featuring Buffalo Trace Bourbon, cinnamon simple, lemon and egg white.

–The Great Pumpkin created with Stoli Vanilla, pumpkin spice puree, cream, with a graham cracker rim.

–Harvest Moon concocted with Libre Cinnamon Tequila, simple and orange bitters.

–Sexy Eyes made with Grey Goose L’Orange, shiso, cranberry and simple syrup.

–Sunday Best composed of Casamigos Reposado Tequila, blackberry, lime and jalapeno agave syrup.

–Spice of Life with Stoli Vanilla, Pama Liqueur, cinnamon simple and lime.

–Dream Walkin’ created with Hendrick’s Gin, lemon, simple, Pama Liqueur, and Q-Grapefruit Tonic.

Selanne Steak Tavern opened in November 2013 and is owned by hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and local Orange County businessman Kevin Pratt. Housed in a reimagined 1934 historic home along the Pacific Coast, it’s an upscale contemporary steak house with an upstairs dining room, downstairs tavern and bar area, a wine room for more intimate dining and two patios for alfresco dining. 

The restaurant supports local farms and fisheries that practice sustainability and humane practices. Menus feature the finest of steaks and seafood served with a variety of accompaniments enhanced by herbs from the restaurant’s own herb garden. Along with its carefully selected California-focused wine list, craft signature cocktails are created from quality farmers market produce, homemade mixers and top-notch shelf spirits.

Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner nightly starting at 5 p.m. For reservations and more information, call 949.715.9881 or visit

Selanne Steak Tavern is located at 1464 South Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach.

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Finney’s stepping into iconic White House next summer

By Diane Armitage

“The day I heard the White House in Laguna Beach became available, I dropped everything I was doing and drove to Laguna,” said Brad Finefrock, the business development guy behind the growing Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen brand.  
       “Are you kidding me? The White House? My twin brother, Greg (founder of Finney’s), and I spent plenty of time at the White House in our formidable 20s. It’s the greatest location in one of the finest beach towns around. 

“We were standing there on the patio trying to peek in, and the owner, Jules Marine, walked up and asked if he could help us. I said, ‘We want to rent your place.’ It wasn’t even a question for us,” noted Finefrock.

Finney's White House

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Photo by Diane Armitage

After closing in 2019, the fabled White House of Laguna Beach has a new tenant: Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen

That first chance meeting in March has led to the culmination of a long-term agreement between Marine and Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen, the famously popular American tavern that first set up shop in Westlake Village and has since opened in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Porter Ranch and Burbank.

A man on a mission for memorable tavern food

Brad’s twin, Greg Finefrock (pronounced FinneyFrock) has been devoted to restaurant development for 25 years. Initially in franchise development for Baja Fresh and The Counter Burger Restaurant, Greg learned every aspect of operations while mulling the idea of his own concept. Finally, he planted a flag of his own with Finney’s Crafthouse in Westlake Village in 2016. 

Since then, it’s only gotten better. 

Finney's brothers

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Finney’s management (L-R), Founder Greg Finefrock, Executive Chef Eric Bosrau and Director of Business Development Brad Finefrock

Thanks to the talents of Executive Chef Eric Bosrau, Finney’s features “upscale cooking” in a casual atmosphere, with emphasis on an inventive array of from-scratch appetizers and shareables, gourmet burgers, flatbread pizzas, wings, beer, beer and more craft beer. 

Typically offering at least 30 taps, Finney’s focuses on local beers around each restaurant’s location. 

“At least two-thirds of our beer menu is always focused on local beers,” said Brad. 

“That, coupled with our craft cocktails and this rather crazy addictive food menu, we’re really looking forward to welcoming Laguna locals and visitors next summer,” he added. 

130 seats

The Finney’s team of architects has joined forces with Skendarian and contractors already engaged in the renovation to keep the momentum rolling. Once the “shell work” is completed, the new tenant plans to pull building permits in January with a five-month project buildout to follow. 

Last week, Laguna’s Planning Commission approved the request for 130 seats for both indoor and patio use. 

Finney’s will be removing the dance floor and live entertainment aspect but will be incorporating all the old millwork, black-and-white photos and more to pay reverent homage to the White House’s storied history.

While Planning Commission members were familiar with the popular Finney’s concept, it’s assuring to note that Julian and his wife, Julie, made a single day’s trek north to four of Finney’s locations. That evening, Jules called Brad to say, “We want to have a Finney’s in the White House.”

“We love every location we choose for Finney’s,” said Brad. “But this opportunity in Laguna’s former White House is quite an honor. You just don’t get many chances to take on a legend like this.”

Breaking News:
Oliver’s Osteria receives nod from Michelin

 On Wednesday this week, the revered Michelin Guide announced that our own Oliver’s Osteria in Laguna Canyon has achieved the well-deserved “Bib Gourmand” category. Congratulations to Chef Erik De Marchi and his team! 

Chef Erik De Marchi

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Courtesy of Oliver’s Osteria

At the helm of Oliver’s Osteria, Chef/Owner Erik De Marchi celebrates a “Bib Gourmand” award from the Michelin Guide

In efforts to broaden its appeal, the Michelin Guide, first established in 1926, recently added the Bib Gourmand category for stellar restaurant entities that “serve great food at reasonable prices.”

Nearby San Juan Capistrano’s Heritage Barbecue was also notified of a Bib Gourmand award. (I’ve been there and, yes, it’s fabulous). 

The Bib Gourmand is one level below the Michelin 1-star designation and offers new visibility for restaurants that can eventually find themselves awarded a touted Michelin star.

Last year, the Michelin Guide took a hiatus because of COVID, but is releasing its 2021 list of 1-star, 2-star and 3-star winners next Tuesday, Sept 28. 

Oliver’s Osteria is at 853 Laguna Canyon Road in the Hive next to the Sawdust Festival. Call for reservations at (949) 715-0261, or go online to their website.     

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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The Drake’s Tasting Menu is the rarest of treats

By Diane Armitage

The Drake of Laguna Beach has just sailed past her second anniversary and is only increasing in velocity as she continues her graceful cruise. 

Last Sunday night, I opted for The Drake for a post-birthday dinner with one of my best friends. Aside from ordering a couple of takeout dinners during COVID, it was the first time I’d been back to The Drake since my review of its opening back in 2019. 

During their opening week two years ago, The Drake offered up one of the smoothest running and most stellar food events I’d ever experienced during an opening. (Most restaurants are understandably a little shaky on those first few days as they get all the wheels rolling in the right direction.) Fast forward to last Sunday night and they’ve only enhanced their stellar experience. 

Stepping into another city, another time

As soon as you step foot in The Drake, you absolutely feel transported to another city and time. This place is swank old school elegance, thanks to the unique interior design by Ken Ussenko, who’s also designing the Rum Social restaurant in Laguna’s Restaurant Row. 

The Drake's Tasting interior dining

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake is a sophisticated throwback to the classic jazz supper club

A dream of Founder Alex Glasser, The Drake Laguna Beach experience pays homage to Glasser’s fondest memories of working at The Drake Hotel in New York City as a teenager. While that glamorous edifice has since been demolished, its storied history tells of celebrity across the decades, from Lillian Gish and Judy Garland to Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and every major touring musician from Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. 

For years, the hotel’s lobby, restaurant, and nightclub rang with the finest jazz, and it’s this memory, too, that prompted Glasser to create a classic jazz supper club in South Laguna.

The only father-son team in South Orange County

I asked to be seated at the Chef’s Bar, which is always my favorite in any restaurant. Sous Chef Nick Gstrein and Line Cook Christian manned the front while Executive Chef Paul Gstrein moved between stations where needed. This is the first restaurant for the father-son team, though Nick spent plenty of time in restaurants with his father as he was growing up.

The Drake's Tasting hree chefs

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Photo by Diane Armitage

In a light haze of grill smoke, The Drake Chefs from left – Sous Chef Nick Gstrein, Line Cook Christian, and Executive Chef Paul Gstrein 

“I was a single dad, so Nick practically grew up in restaurant kitchens with me,” said Chef Paul when he stopped by for a chat. “Nick was a natural; he was always interested in cooking.

“It surprised me that he wound his way back into cooking as a career, but then it didn’t really surprise me,” he added with a cheeky smile. 

Nick chimed in, “I went to UNLV for a degree in Hospitality Management, Food and Beverage, but I didn’t go to a formal culinary school. I just learned by being in the family business for 400+ years. I guess at some point in gets in your genes.”

A Tasting Menu custom built to the individual diner

Even at our 6 p.m. seating (The Drake has two seatings each night at 5:30 and 8:15), the place was already packed with diners, and the main stage was rocking with Jazz Pianist Ron Kobayashi as plate after plate was prepped and plated for delivery. 

Chef Nick recommended the Tasting Menu, which offers a cornucopia of samplings from the main menu. Each tasting can be anywhere from two or three bites to a miniature dish of an existing entrée on the regular dinner menu. This seemed a perfect solution as just the first five minutes of watching the adept team prep and plate their many dishes made me want all of the dishes. 

The Drake’s Tasting Menu is available on request. “The pricing varies a little, too, because I factor in food restrictions and number of courses,” Chef Nick told me. “No two tastings are the same. I tailor them per guest.”

In my experience as both happy indulger of tasting menus and working with kitchen and front-of-house staff when a Tasting Menu is in play, it’s always best to have your entire table order the Tasting Menu. This is only a recommendation from the restaurant, but it’s a great one to follow. Not only does this help with timing of all the dishes arriving to the table at once, but it puts a stop to that one person at your table eating a single entrée and then staring hungrily at the rest of you trying dish after dish on the Tasting Menu. 

Chef Nick started us with an immaculately plated Tuna Tartare Tasting, a hefty dollop atop wafer-thin cucumber and wasabi emulsion with a companion wonton round for scooping. It was fresh, bright, and just enough to have me feeling quite gleeful about what could possibly be next.

The Drake's Tasting tuna tartare

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Tuna Tartar tasting 

Moments later, the Sweet Heat Burrata tasting arrived, a hearty serving of the first peach slices I’ve had this summer topped with Speck prosciutto, parmesan, and a careful dash of Calabrian Chili Oil.

The Drake's Tasting burratta

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Sweet Heat Burrata tasting 

Then, it was on to the most beautiful plating yet, the Smoked Salmon tasting with the star of the show arriving from the Santa Barbara Smokehouse, seated on a lemon blini (a buckwheat pancake that originated in Russia; it’s typically paired with caviar). The crème fraîche was plentiful as it formed artful loops beneath the treat, and it quickly became my favorite of the evening…that is, until more dishes trundled along. 

The Drake's Tasting smoked salmon

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Smoked Salmon tasting 

Having now sipped our way through flutes of rosé champagne, General Manager Matthew recommended a Sancerre, a crisp, light wine from Loire, France, for our next few tastings.

The Drake's Tasting scallops

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The Drake Maine Diver Scallops tasting 

The wine whisked in just seconds before the Maine Diver Scallops tasting arrived. Yet another plated wonder, the perfectly seared scallops were crowned with a chorizo sliver that added a smoky, savory bite to the delicate scallop. A sweet corn purée underneath paired quite nicely with a grilled corn cobette. 

Then, one of my all-time favorites arrived: a Lamb Lollipop, which is typically served in a larger appetizer offering. This particular lollipop was so hefty that it could have served as an entire meal for me. Expertly grilled to a medium rare, it was ladled on top of “spiked hummus” and surrounded with bright red pickled teardrop peppers.

After assuring Chef Nick that we were pretty close to being stuffed (understatement), he noted that he had just one more dish arriving – the restaurant’s very popular Venison Loin. Served aboard a Lingonberry compote and goat cheese mashed potatoes and topped with a honey port wine reduction, this venison is smooth as butter and mild as they come. This “stuffed” girl ate every bite. 

The Drake's Tasting venison

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake Venison Loin tasting 

Then it was (at last) on to dessert. While I guessed I might receive one of those complimentary desserts typically doled out to all those people claiming a birthday, the gents knew I was celebrating and made a special effort. They chose what would have been my choice, a Three Chocolate Parfait with plenty of fresh strawberries and piped cream. The Gaufrette wafer served as my edible birthday candle. 

The Drake's Tasting birthday

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Drake’s extra special birthday finale 

It couldn’t have been a more perfect evening. The two-plus hour dining window seemed more than plenty for the restaurant’s diners. Just as everything began to wind down on our “shift,” the 8:15 reservations began to arrive, once again filling the restaurant with laughter and talk as the jazz played on. Their brief respite over, the chefs tirelessly returned to their magic act, as plate after plate of perfection began stirring once again. 

The Drake Laguna Beach is reservations only with live music seven nights a week. Open daily, seatings begin at 5:45 pm and 8:15 p.m. Complimentary delivery and pickup is available daily, and onsite valet parking is available for $7. 

The Drake asks that you either park on Coast Highway or in valet so as not to disturb their residential neighbors. 

Call (949) 376-1000 or go to for online reservations. Tell them I sent you! 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach.

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The Ranch named #5 in Travel + Leisure World’s Best “Top 15 Resort Hotels in California”

Travel + Leisure announced the results of their prestigious World’s Best Awards 2021, ranking The Ranch at Laguna Beach #5 in the category titled “The Top 15 Resort Hotels in California.” 

The coveted list has recognized the top hotels, islands, cities, cruise lines, airlines, spas, and more around the globe for 26 consecutive years, and is an essential, trusted source for inspiration and guidance as travelers once again make plans to set out on trips around the globe.

Spread among 87 acres, the boutique coastal ranch is spectacularly located in the majestic Aliso and Wood Canyons in the heart of Orange County. As sustainability sets the foundation, the property hosts a variety of strategic initiatives to create a positive environmental impact and appeal to the eco-traveler. After last year’s recognition as #10, the property successfully rose into the top five resort hotels in California this year, showcasing their ever-evolving qualities.

The Ranch sunset

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The Ranch was named #5 in Travel + Leisure World’s Best “Top 15 Resort Hotels in California”

“This amazing recognition is of course a validation of our work in creating this very special place, but more importantly a reflection of the incredible team that makes The Ranch what it is,” said General Manager, Kurt Bjorkman. “This is for our team who make our little slice of heaven shine.” 

The World’s Best Awards 2021 are featured in the October issue of Travel + Leisure, on newsstands September 17. To view the final rankings for each category, and specifically “The Top 15 Resort Hotels in California,” visit

For the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2021 readers’ survey methodology, visit

For more information or reservations for The Ranch at Laguna Beach, visit

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Boards & Brunch: Sunset Stand Up Paddle will hold event supporting PMMC

On Sunday, Sept 12, Sunset Stand Up Paddle will present a morning of community paddling, mouthwatering brunch, and ocean-inspired prizes to support local ocean friends and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

Participants will launch from Diver’s Cove and paddle from 8-10 a.m. Once back on land, paddlers can walk or drive to Harley Laguna Beach downtown for an 11 a.m. brunch reservation. Twenty dollars of every reservation will be donated to PMMC.

Alternatively, people are welcome to participate only in the giveaway and brunch. For each $10 donation, names will be entered for a chance to win some exciting prizes: local oceanfront stays, rad beach swag, and certificates from local eateries!

Boards and clouds

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Join in to support PMMC 

The cost is $20 for brunch and the giveaway only; $40 to include paddle (if you bring your own gear); and $60 with paddle gear included. Gear-included spots are limited so don’t delay.

Pricing includes the two-hour paddle (other ocean vessels welcome), brunch with a mimosa, and the PMMC donation.

Please note, this is a community paddle out and not an “instruction-based event.” All paddlers are required to have previous paddleboard/ocean experience.

Supporting businesses include Harley Laguna Beach; Sunset Stand Up Paddle; Soul Project; PMMC; Zinc Café; Docent Brewing; Infinity; Kind Humans; Laguna Beach Beer Company; Heritage BBQ; Rasta Taco; Bear Flag Fish Company; Greg Thorne Jewelry; Bear Coast; Hinterland; Empire; Cody Nicely Glass; Surf Durt; CA Sports (Costa Azul); Victoria Skimboards; Backward Prints; Laguna Riviera; Slow tide; Baja By Horse; Laguna Coffee Company; Craft House; The Point; Susan Pullman Brooks; Lux; Seahorse at Pearl St General; and local artists Lynn Wiederman and Robert Jones.

Boards and breakfast

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Brunch at Harley Laguna Beach

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to reserve your spot and to enter for the prize opportunities, just text “Sealion12” to 71777.

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7th Annual Night at the Ranch announced for September 17 

The Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach is thrilled to announce the 7th Annual Night at the Ranch to be held on Friday, Sept 17 at The Ranch in Laguna Beach. 

The evening will begin with a cocktail hour and silent auction, then continue on the golf course with a farm-to-table dinner and an exciting live auction. The night will top off with dancing to live music presented by former professional surfer, and southern California native, Donavon Frankenreiter. 

7th Annual outside

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Outdoor fun at the 6th Annual Night at the Ranch

Event co-chairs and club alumni Leif Hanson and Steve Blue are planning a fabulous evening for all. You will not want to miss the fun at this iconic location! This outdoor event will follow all social distancing and safety guidelines to ensure a fun and safe evening.

Table sponsorships are available now at There will be limited seating so advanced tickets are recommended. For more information, contact Michelle Fortezzo at (949) 715-7584 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

7th Annual group

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Chief Development Officer Michelle Fortezzo, Club Alumni and Event Co-Chairs Steve Blue and Leif Hanson, and Club CEO Pam Estes at the 6th Annual Night at the Ranch

For over 65 years, the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach has been an indispensable asset to the community. From preschool to parenting classes, the Club offers an array of services that focus on academic success, good character and citizenship, healthy lifestyles, and creative expression. The Club serves youth ages 3 to 18 years of age at their two sites, Canyon Branch and Bluebird Branch, in Laguna Beach. 

For more information about the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, visit or call (949) 494-2535.

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