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Laguna Beach is Southern California's premier seaside destination, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. A year-round retreat for art lovers, nature enthusiasts and beach goers, Laguna Beach features seven miles of soft sand and surf.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The beauty of Italy in Laguna Beach

Fiori of Laguna Beach is more than a retail store…it is actually considered an art gallery and once you step in the doors you can see why!  We spoke with long time Laguna Beach resident and owner of Fiori, Bonnie Wolin, about her love of Italian Majolica.

What does Fiori specialize in?
Fiori’s collection of Majolica is extensive. Fiori has everything from antique reproduction pieces of museum quality painted by master artisans to decorative accessories with traditional motifs and contemporary designs. Each piece is completely handmade and hand painted. The artisans use a technique that dates back to the 13th century which involves firing and dipping the earthenware in a tin oxide glaze before painting the design.

We work with 20-25 small families in Italy that have a long-standing tradition of producing Majolica. These are genuine traditional artisan works that have been paced down and carried on for generations. Every piece we have in the store is hand made by artisans. We are also known for the diversity of our collection.

Were you a collector before you were an importer?
Yes, my first trip to Italy was in 1983 for three weeks. Prior I had been a collector of handmade art of many types. My father was a builder and craftsman so I grew up appreciating handmade things. I was collecting all types of things from primitive art and Columbian ceramics. When I went to Italy on that first trip I fell in love with Majolica and ended up buying a large collection of Raffallesco dishes. It is a classics pattern with a dragon and is the most recognized pattern of Italian majolica.  I came home and started entertaining with it. It was in 1989 that I decided to start importing and my first store opened in 1990 where I was for five years. We moved to our current location in 1995.

Do you ever get involved in the creative process?
Yes, for instance “The Chianti Countryside” was a design that was previously nonexistent. I worked with a small family is Montespertoli, just outside of Florence, to create it. They were looking to develop a new design and I said to them, “you live in such a beautiful place in the countryside of Chianti lets adapt the landscape to ceramic pieces.” So we did. It took about two years of samples to come up with a design that I felt would be successful for the American market. It is now their most successful design. I love being apart of the creative process in this way.

Another example is the exclusive designs of the Vittoria Majolica.
These are part of their normal production, except that they usually have portraits on them. Instead of portraits I had them put names of herbs, biscotti, and other items. I also designed the handles, which are pears with leaves. This is something that they make specifically for me and do not sell to anyone else.

What else is Fiori known for?
We are known for having the biggest collection of masks anywhere in the States. Traditionally the masks are known for bringing abundance and good luck to your home. Each element you see on the mask is hand rolled clay. Generally one artisan produces each mask. Sometimes one person does the clay and another the painting. It is a very involved and long process.

Also we have one of the biggest collections of the Masters. Our collection includes the work of Italian master Majolica painters whose pieces are already in private collections and museums around the world. These are limited production pieces that can be viewed and purchased at Fiori.

When you’re in Laguna Beach next time a visit to Fiori is a must! I plan to make it my go to destination for all those hard-to-buy people on my gift lists. I know they would love these handmade Majolica art pieces.

214 South Coast Highway
Open Daily 10am to 6pm
800.373.9853 Toll Free

You can now like Fiori on Facebook!

By Anne-Marie S.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The stars are shining in South Laguna

I’ve been eager to visit Starfish Laguna ever since it opened this past June. Finally this week I was able to drop in for a visit. Local restaurateur Nancy Wilhelm, whose restaurant, Tabu Grill, remains as popular as ever, recently opened her new “AmerAsian” fusion concept, Starfish, in the Aliso Creek Shopping Center across from Montage Laguna Beach. The new restaurant is completely different than Tabu, yet has that distinct Nancy Wilhelm flair. When you walk through the front doors you are instantly transformed into another world. One of rich dark corridors, amber glowing candles and Asian-inspired art. Part lounge with a large horseshoe bar and part restaurant with indoor and patio dining, the cuisine at Starfish features summer rolls, pho, udon noodles, Bhutanese rice, wok sauté, ribs, and other American renditions of classic Asian cuisine.

The menu at Starfish was created as a pick-and-choose-as-you-go menu. It is also purposefully made for sharing, so I was glad I brought my foodie friend along to enjoy the meal with me. There is no wrong or right order in which to make your selections, so we jumped around the menu as hunger led us.

When we arrived, we were starving and started off the meal with the Lemongrass skewers off of the Street Satay section of the menu. The idea of ‘Street Satay’ originated in Indonesia, and are meat skewers grilled over charcoal (These were suggested by several of our Facebook and Twitter followers). The Lemongrass skewers are made with tender filet mignon and marinated in lemongrass. The skewers were hearty, yet not an overwhelming way to start the meal.

Spicy Lemongrass Marinated Filet Mignon

We followed the Street Satays with an item from the Opium Bites section of the menu, which are similar to appetizers. Our first choice was the Saigon Spring Rolls, stuffed with tiger prawns, vermicelli rice noodles, grilled asparagus, mint, Thai basil, cilantro, carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts. These rolls were out of this world fantastic, like a virtual herb garden in your mouth. A tip for when you order these…be sure to drag your roll completely through the roasted peanut hoisin dipping sauce to add a punch of spice.

Saigon Spring Rolls

Next we jumped to the Bamboo Forest section of the menu, which are vegetarian dishes (Though if you wish to add a meat protein or tofu, you can at an additional cost.) At the recommendation of our server we chose the Wild Mushroom Garlic Noodles. This was the kind of noodle dish I gravitate toward. It was filled with veggies, including mushrooms and tomatoes and topped with fresh chives and sprouts. It was filling without giving you that overstuffed feeling.

Wild Mushroom Garlic Noodle made with shiitake, shimeji, king mushrooms, vine ripened tomato, yellow chives and sweet basil.

After the noodles, we jumped back to the Opium Bites to try the Mauna Kai Ahi Poké. Again Starfish did not disappoint with the freshness and flavors of this dish.

Mauna Kai Ahi Poké made with yellow fin tuna, ripened avocado, tobiko caviar, scallions, pine nuts, truffle oil, taro chips and micro shiso.

Throughout our meal we enjoyed two of Starfish's wildly popular cocktails, The Starfish Cooler and the Imperial Garden. What makes both of these drinks unique are the fresh muddled herbs, vegetables and fruit. There was no question that our entire meal at Starfish was worthy of a return visit, but these cocktails alone made me want to clear my calendar and head back for Happy Hour.

Starfish Cooler: Hangar One Mandarin Vodka, muddled kumquat and mint, yuzu with a splash of soda and float of Thatcher’s Blood Orange liqueur. Imperial Garden: Hendricks Gin, muddled cucumber, basil, mint, and coriander, yuzu, and a soda water float.

For me, no meal is complete until you have dessert. So we ordered the profiteroles. These are exactly what you would expect from traditional profiteroles, except with extra chocolate on the side!

With a diverse menu that is perfect for sharing and a setting that is rich, you'll find a rich dining experience at Starfish Laguna.

30832 S Pacific Coast Hwy. Laguna Beach, CA
949.715.9200 (reservations)
949.715.8205 (carryout orders)

Bar open at 4pm Daily and Dinner at 5pm
Open Until Midnight Friday and Saturday

by Anne-Marie S.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A vacation for your taste buds at Tommy Bahama Laguna Beach Bar & Grill

At Tommy Bahama Laguna Beach you’ll find a casual, yet upscale menu and a beachy atmosphere that will take you on a culinary adventure. I headed to Tommy Bahama just before sunset on a warm, summer evening. This meant that the restaurant had its windows open to let in the cool, ocean breeze and the golden rays from the sunset. Singer/songwriter Kelly Fitzgerald provided background music making it a calm and relaxing setting.

We started off with two of Tommy Bahama’s signature cocktails, The Sunburn and the Pain Killer. The Sunburn is an exclusive drink that can only be found at the Laguna Beach location. Tommy Bahama asked their Facebook fans to submit names for a new drink, and that’s how The Sunburn came to be.

The Sunburn, made with Tommy Bahama Golden Sun, St. Germain Elderflower, Passion Fruit, Muddled Jalapeno and Hand-Pressed Lemon.

The Pain Killer, made with  “Splice the Main brace” with Pusser’s Rum, Cream of Coconut, Pineapple & Orange and Nutmeg.

While enjoying our cocktails we dined on Ahi Tuna Tacos and Lobster Corn Dogs. The appetizers were generous-sized portions, however they were SO delicious, we could’ve ordered two more servings of each and made a meal out of them. The Ahi Tuna Tacos practically melted in your mouth. The Ahi was so fresh and the flavors complemented each other perfectly. And the Lobster corn dogs were a childhood favorite revamped for the adult palate.

Ahi Tacos with wonton shell, sesame chipotle dressing, Asian slaw, wasabi-lime infused avocado.

Lobster Corn dogs: Sweet corn batter, mango ketchup, sriracha mustard.

Our next course included the Vegetable Bean Soup and Ahi Noodle Salad, both were fantastic! The Vegetable Soup is the perfect dish for a vegetarian. It was hearty, flavorful and filling. The Ahi Noodle Salad was light and full of flavor with the buckwheat soba, vegetables and red miso vinaigrette.
Vegetable Bean Soup with shitakes, Yukon golds, sweet corn, English peas, sour cream dollop.

Ahi Noodle Salad: Lemongrass encrusted sushi grade ahi, shredded romaine, carrots, edamame, peppers, wakame, buckwheat soba, ponzu and red miso vinaigrette.

Next, we dove in to the main course. Each description read excited our taste buds. How to choose? The chef helped us by sending out small plate samples of some of their most popular dishes. (This is not a normal practice of the restaurant, but since we are previewing and reviewing for you, our readers, we were allowed to order this way…just this one time.)

First up were the Swordfish and Grilled Salmon plates.

Swordfish with orange-Chile Glaze, haricot vert, beet risotto. 

Grilled Salmon with sweet pea risotto, apple fennel slaw.

These fish dishes were incredibly fresh and cooked to perfection with sides that nearly outshined the fish. The beet risotto was amazing and was hard to describe in words how tasty it really was. I had never been inclined to try swordfish before, but the readability of menu inspires you to be adventurous so I decided to give it a try. I’m sure glad I did!

Next, the Chef brought out three mini burgers, The Smokehouse Burger, The Brie Chicken Sandwich and Kalua Pork Sliders (off the appetizer menu.) Each of these was a mouthwatering delight. The meat was perfectly cooked and the flavors so unique. I can’t wait to return to try each in a full-sized portion.

Smokhouse Burger: Toasted Brioche, Garlic Aioli, Sharp White Cheddar, Red Onion, Nueske’s Applewood Bacon and BBQ Ketchup.

Brie Chicken Sandwich: Ciabatta, Fig Jam, Roasted Pepper Coulis, Tomato and Caramelized Onions.

Kalua Pork Sliders: Asian Slaw, Kochujang Aioli and Crispy Onions.

A great compliment to any entrée is the unbelievably decadent Lobster Mac & Cheese.

Lobster Mac & Cheese: Cavatappi, Shiitakes, four chesses and truffle oil.

We finished this amazing meal off with a sampling of desserts…Gelato and Root Beer Floats.

Gelato: The seasonal selections were blueberry and mango.
Root Beer Float: Abita, ciao Bella vanilla, white chocolate, caramel.

This meal was one of those where you forget the time and enter into a whole other world…one filled with flavors that take over your senses and satisfy your palate.  It truly was the ultimate culinary experience! Make sure you make some time to get out for lunch or dinner one of these days, and be sure to try Tommy Bahama Laguna Beach Bar & Grill. You’ll be glad you did!

Tommy Bahama Laguna Beach Bar & Grill
400 S. Coast Hwy. (corner of PCH and Laguna Ave.)

11:30am-11pm Mon-Thu
11:30am-Midnight Fri
8am-Midnight Sat
8am-11pm Sun

 By Anne-Marie S.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Film crew on the corner of Beach Street and Ocean Ave.

Over the past several days Laguna Beach has been the on-site location for Oliver Stone’s new movie “Savages”.The movie is based on the bestselling book, of the same name, by Don Winslow. “Savages” is a crime drama that stars Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Demian Bichir and Emilie Hirsch. Main Beach, Beach Street at Ocean Ave., Act V parking lot and a private residence have been among several filming locations. “Savages” is set to be released in the summer of 2012.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Perfect End to Summer…

It was one of those summer evenings in Laguna Beach that make you forget about all of the worries in life. It was the perfect night to head to Jazz Wednesdays at Hotel Laguna. Jazz Wednesdays are put on by Laguna Beach Live, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing excellent music to the Laguna Beach community.

Jazz Wednesdays are held June through September at the historic Hotel Laguna’s Rose Garden. Surrounded by blooming rose bushes and the ocean breeze, you won’t find a better place in Southern California to enjoy an evening jazz concert. This evening, the very talented Sal Cracchiolo and Melanie Jackson Quartet  played the sounds of Latin Jazz. As I looked around I saw everyone grooving to the music. Toes were tapping and heads nodding to the beat. Melanie Jackson’s voice was incredible. I was amazed at how she brought the emotion of the music alive through her voice. And I don’t think you can find a better Latin Jazz trumpet player than Sal Cracchiolo. As the sun slowly set and the music filled the air, I took a deep breath and knew that this possibly could be the perfect way to end the summer.

Laguna Beach Live holds a variety of concerts throughout the year. In addition to Jazz Wednesdays, they host First Sundays (October-May), a free outdoor concert at Laguna College of Art + Design. They also feature Big Band concerts, and an annual music festival presented in conjunction with the Philharmonic Society.  

Upcoming Events:
Semana Flamenka: Fiesta Laguna
Happening on September 21 in the Hotel Laguna Rose Garden, this promises to be a magical evening of flamenco featuring selected artists from the Semana Flamenka ensembles, as well as other artists from around California. This event is co-presented by the Barclay. Advanced ticket purchase is recommended due to the limited capacity of the venue. Tickets are $10 in advanced and $15 at the door. Contact Irvine Barclay Theatre at 949.854-4646., ext 1 or email at

Billy Childs Ensemble & Calder Quartet                                                                         Happening on October 1 at the Laguna Beach Artists’ Theater. Billy Childs is a Grammy award-winning jazz musician who brings a powerful combination of jazz and classical style ensembles. Tickets are $25-35 for adults and $15 for students. VIP tickets are available for $50 and include a meet and greet with the artist.

A weeklong music festival, February 6-12, 2012. This festival includes performances by Joshua Bell, the Calder Quartet, Edger Mayer and many more! Buy your advanced tickets now! 

By Anne-Marie S.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Family Hike

Last Sunday when the morning fog was still resting on the hills, my family and I headed out on a hike to Barbara's Lake in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park . We started at the trail head at the James Dilley Preserve entrance where we were greeted by a friendly Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteer. The Foundation is dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing the wilderness park by maintaining trails, offering guided hikes, educational programs, and much more.

At the welcome center we found information about the park and the plant and animal life that live there. The kids decided the most interesting part was the handout on animal droppings. Although they got a real kick out of the title, "Dropping Clues!" they ended up learning a lot. By the end of the hike, they were able to identify coyote, racoon and rabbit droppings that were found along the trail. They discovered that it meant those were the animals that lived in that particular area of the park.  Along the trail we also came across quite a few stink bugs, nearly 20 in total. The kids were like little naturalists in training as they observed the bugs’ behavior.

What else did they observe on our hike?

Snakes and what we think were gopher holes.

Black Sage - I showed the kids how to rub the sage between their fingers to bring out the scent. (I learned this on a previous guided hike that I took in Laguna Canyon with a naturalist. You can read about it HERE. )

My daughter loved seeing and smelling the fragrances of several varieties of wild flowers.

Once we reached the lake the sun had come through and we started to feel the heat. Thank goodness for the cool shade from the oaks and other trees surrounding the waters edge. We took refuge in the shade and rested after our hike and before heading back. Of course the kids didn't want to rest and continued exploring. They found a lizard sunbathing on a tree branch, dragonflies, and even a small turtle.

This mostly flat and approximately two-mile hike was a refreshing way to start our Sunday and a great way to spend quality time with my family. As Orange County’s only naturally occurring fresh water lake, Barbara’s Lake is another MUST SEE Laguna Beach location.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Open Daily 7am to Sunset
$3 parking
Barbara’s Lake is accessible from the James Dilley entrance and the Nix Nature Center

As Laguna Coast Wilderness Park's new headquarters, Nix Nature Center is the gateway for outdoor enthusiasts to explore a vast network of linked trails throughout the 20,000-acre South Coast Regional Wilderness. The Nature Center's windows frame four main views into the surrounding parklands, challenging visitors of all ages to consider the wilderness from various perspectives. An easy loop trail just outside the Center encourages visitors to appreciate the park's natural beauty. Restrooms with changing tables, drinking fountains, picnic tables, free maps and nature-oriented merchandise are available on-site.

For a map of trails click HERE.

 By Anne-Marie S.