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Urban Aloha

BEYOND SURF AND SAND, OAHU HAS A THRIVING URBAN CULTURE THAT EMBRACES CREATIVITY WHILE STAYING ROOTED IN TRADITION.

From Laguna Beach Magazine, April/May 2014

By Linda Domingo

 A colorful mural by 123Klan, a creative studio, graces the wall of a building in Kakaako. | Photo by Linda Domingo

A colorful mural by 123Klan, a creative studio, graces the wall of a building in Kakaako. | Photo by Linda Domingo

A trip to Hawaii without setting foot on a beach could be considered heresy. Especially on Oahu, where the surf lifestyle reigns and the island’s shores consistently rank at the top of “world’s best” lists, the allure of soft sand and warm, impossibly blue waves is what brings most travelers from all over the world. But while the beach lacks naught, there’s much to be discovered away from it—in the urban centers of Honolulu where locals shop, play and dine.

 Kakaako | Photo by Linda Domingo

Kakaako | Photo by Linda Domingo

Colorful Kakaako

Just northeast of Waikiki lies Kakaako, a neighborhood that was once a grouping of stark gray and tan warehouses. Over the past four years, artist and curator Jasper Wong has invited more than 100 of his closest artist friends to paint the town whatever colors they choose. The initiative is called Pow Wow Hawaii, an annual festival in February that leaves welcome traces of creativity in its wake, and has transformed the former blank canvas into an outdoor gallery of murals that is worth viewing year-round.

“By flying people from all over the world to Hawaii, we are exposing international arts to the local audience and vice versa,” Jasper explains. “We’re trying to create bridges to different parts of the world.”

 Artist Danny King at work during Pow Wow Hawaii | Photo by Linda Domingo

Artist Danny King at work during Pow Wow Hawaii | Photo by Linda Domingo

Along with an eclectic group of businesses that have taken up residence in the district in recent years, Pow Wow Hawaii has helped to reinvigorate Kakaako, making it into a unique shopping, culture and dining destination for both tourists and residents. Conveniently walkable, Kakaako offers glimpses into an urban Hawaii that is on the forefront of cool without forgetting the area’s rich history.

On the culinary side, home-brewer-turned-pro Geoff Seideman converted an old warehouse into Honolulu Beerworks, the island’s newest craft brewery (set to open soon), while England-born bartender Christian Self and local disc jockey Timo Lee joined forces to create Bevy, an undeniably hip eatery that takes its mixology as seriously as its music and art. Also nearby is Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar for Asian fusion cuisine, and Highway Inn, a 67-year-old institution that serves authentic Hawaiian dishes, including “laulau” (pork wrapped in taro leaf) and “poi” (a sticky, nutritious food made from taro plants).

Saturdays bring some of the country into the city—the Kakaako Farmers Market takes over a strip of Auahi Street with fresh produce year-round and is a good spot to grab a cheap breakfast. Then, every third Saturday of the month, vendors, entertainers, locals and visitors gather in Kakaako for the Honolulu Night Market, essentially a big block party where you can eat, drink, be merry and even catch a game of futsal, a version of soccer played on a smaller field.

 Locals watching a game of futsal at the Honolulu Night Market | Photo by Linda Domingo

Locals watching a game of futsal at the Honolulu Night Market | Photo by Linda Domingo

And the vibrant area continues to grow, as landowner Kamehameha Schools has started construction on a mixed-use development featuring independently owned shops, restaurants, bars and galleries that’s slated for completion in 2015, adding yet another dynamic to the ever-changing Kakaako District.

Downtown Culture

A hub of office and government buildings, downtown Honolulu also houses some fascinating attractions, including Iolani Palace, a grand historic landmark (and the stand-in for the police headquarters in the original “Hawaii Five-0” TV show). The Honolulu Museum of Art, a structural maze surrounding tranquil green spaces, showcases a broad collection of works from around the world, from ancient to modern times. For more art, the museum’s extension, Spalding House, is located just outside of Waikiki in the residential Makiki Heights neighborhood. The house is one of Hawaii’s hidden treasures for not only its collection, but also its gorgeous views and Zen environment.

In what many might consider an entirely different demonstration of artistry, the Honolulu Fish Auction is a great reward for those who rise early enough to witness it. Buyers gather as an auctioneer rings a brass bell at 5:30 a.m. and bidding begins—hundreds of tuna, mahi mahi, swordfish and more make up a magnificently fresh culinary display. It’s not only a unique experience, but also an informative look into an important part of locals’ lives. “Hawaii has become a foodie destination,” explains Brooks Takenaka, assistant manager of the United Fishing Agency, which operates the auction. “Fishing for us is important not only from a cultural perspective, but a food and survival perspective.”

The Hawaii Seafood Council leads tours on Saturday mornings by reservation. If you go, be sure to wear clothing appropriate for temperatures of about 48 F and closed-toe shoes with which you don’t mind stepping into a half-inch of sanitizing solution.

 Rise early to get in on the action at the Honolulu Fish Auction | Photo by Linda Domingo

Rise early to get in on the action at the Honolulu Fish Auction | Photo by Linda Domingo

Fashion-Forward Chinatown

A particular section of downtown is perhaps one of the most obvious examples of Hawaii’s multicultural identity: Chinatown. This historic district juxtaposes traditional Asian goods merchants with new retailers that showcase Hawaii’s youth and artistic talent. The Arts at Marks Garage is a good starting point for tourists, with resources such as maps and directories, and a gallery space.

It’s easy to bring home a mass-produced cliche from any one of the Hawaiian islands, but in Chinatown, you’ll find some true gems—boutiques with fashionable pieces that maintain the local flair. Barrio Vintage features a curated collection of one-of-a-kind pieces for men and women, while Roberta Oaks’ retro-inspired outpost even makes the aloha shirt cool, with sharp fits and eye-catching prints. Other shops like Homecoming and Milk & Honey contribute to Chinatown’s spreading reputation as the island’s fashion hot spot.

 Homecoming is one of the boutiques making Chinatown a fashion hot spot on the island. | Photo by Linda Domingo

Homecoming is one of the boutiques making Chinatown a fashion hot spot on the island. | Photo by Linda Domingo

Of course, the biggest draw to most Chinatowns across the globe is that of the culinary variety. Lucky Belly is a staple in the neighborhood, with decor that blends rustic with industrial, and a relatively simple menu of which ramen is the star. Just down the street is The Pig & The Lady, the brainchild of 2012 Hawaiian Rising Star Chef Andrew Le, who gets help—and inspiration—from his mother, Loan Le, lovingly referred to as “Mama Le” by regulars. The restaurant’s Vietnamese-inspired dishes are some of the most flavorful bites found in Oahu. Meanwhile, for apertifs and digestifs, check in with Brandon Reid and Justin Park, who lead a squad of bartenders at Manifest. No one goes thirsty at this beautiful bar, enhanced by exposed brick and concrete, not to mention one of the best whiskey lists in Hawaii, making it the perfect place to toast the end of an idyllic trip to the island—and make plans for a swift return. 

WHERE TO STAY

Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa

Directly across from the beach, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki’s guest rooms have stunning mountain and ocean views. The resort features world-class shopping at the Pualeilani Atrium Shops and gourmet restaurants including the elegantly decorated Japengo, which focuses on Hawaii’s local products and fresh seafood. (hyattregencywaikiki.com)

The Modern

Voted among the top boutique hotels in Honolulu by Hawaii Magazine’s readers, The Modern’s sophisticated accommodations are only enhanced by irresistible pools, renowned dining, including Morimoto Waikiki—conceived by Masaharu Morimoto of the “Iron Chef” TV show—and The Study, a speakeasy-like bar hidden behind a wall of books. (themodernhonolulu.com)

Hilton Hawaiian Village

Situated on Waikiki’s widest stretch of beach on 22 oceanfront acres, this resort boasts no less than 20 restaurants and bars, five pools, a fabulous spa and the opportunity to view exotic wildlife and lush gardens. Daily on-site activities range from lei making to lessons in hula dancing or playing ukulele. (hiltonhawaiianvillage.com)

Sheraton Waikiki

Oceanfront views and a breathtaking infinity pool add to the experience at the newly renovated Sheraton Waikiki, which also features nightly poolside entertainment, a wide variety of water sports and cultural events, and first-rate dining at Kai Market, Yoshiya, RumFire and the Edge of Waikiki bar. (sheraton-waikiki.com)

San Diego Summer

JUST A SHORT DRIVE SOUTH, SAN DIEGO PLAYS HOST TO ISLAND ADVENTURES, SUN, SURF AND FRESH CUISINE.

From Laguna Beach Magazine, July/August 2013 (as part of a larger feature on the best of California's beach cities)

By Linda Domingo

 Coronado Bridge | Photo courtesy of sandiego.org

Coronado Bridge | Photo courtesy of sandiego.org

Stay

Located about 4.5 miles from Coronado Village, you could say Loews Coronado Bay is on an island of its own. Set on the water, the resort provides a paradisiacal vantage point from which to experience San Diego’s beach-centric culture (loewshotels.com). The hotel’s 439 rooms, including 37 suites, feature elegant designs inspired by the sea and amenities inspired by the comforts of home. Ideal for family vacations, romantic getaways or business travel, the resort offers plenty of features and activities that take full advantage of its island-like setting, including three pools, sailing, bike rentals, outdoor tennis courts and gondola rides in the bay. Enjoy cuisine at one of the hotel’s eateries, including the dockside Market Cafe, the quick and casual Market To Go or the sophisticated Mistral restaurant, which offers seafood, farm-fresh produce, Mediterranean flavors and an extensive wine list. Or for a sunset cocktail, have a seat in Cays Lounge or poolside at La Cantina. Loews Coronado Bay recently completed new redesigns of the resort’s lobby, Bay Terrace and some restaurants, adding contemporary touches, outdoor seating and more, all while showcasing the resort’s breathtaking panoramic views of the bay and the San Diego skyline.

Just across the towering Coronado Bridge is a different setting entirely: San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter is a hub for shopping, entertainment and nightlife in the city. The Omni San Diego Hotel puts guests right in the heart of the action, directly across from the convention center and connected to the famed Petco Park, with 511 guest rooms and suites, and an outdoor terrace with fireplace, heated pool and Jacuzzi (omnihotels.com). North of downtown is the affluent beachside neighborhood of La Jolla, where the intimate, three-story Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa combines the charm of a Spanish hacienda with the luxury of a AAA four-diamond hotel (estancialajolla.com).

 Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge’s Brandt Beef burger

Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge’s Brandt Beef burger

Dine

Set on Coronado’s main thoroughfare, Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge brings urban cool and modern cuisine to the island’s village (leroyskitchenandlounge.com). The restaurant is appointed with rustic decor and a long bar with chalkboards featuring what’s on tap and flat-screens playing the game. The eclectic, rotating menu offers small plates to enjoy with a local craft brew or inventive cocktail. The bleu pepper chips, a playful and refined take on nachos, are a nice way to prime your palate for more fresh, farm-to-table ingredients that populate the menu. As with many coastal kitchens, seafood has its place in the entrees, but meat lovers will enjoy the Brandt Beef burger, adorned with house pickles and bacon jam, served with truffle fries, housemade pomegranate ketchup and scallion aioli. Leave room for the famous Naughty Ding Dong (you just have to try it to understand).

Head to George’s for the scene and to be seen. The stylish restaurant on the main level showcases ocean views through large windows, but grab a coveted seat upstairs on the terrace (heated on cooler evenings) to enjoy expansive views, a seafood-centric menu and tropical cocktails (georgesatthecove.com). The lower level at George’s is another dining experience completely, offering a chef’s tasting menu, seasonal a la carte menu and the exclusive Table Three experience, available by reservation. Reservations at any part of the restaurant are highly recommended, with some guests booking as far as a month prior during the summer months.

With the proximity of the border, it’s tough to avoid (or resist) the famous Mexican restaurants of San Diego. A local favorite with multiple locations, including one downtown, is Lolita’s, serving up all the staples, including tacos, chimichangas, tortas and more (lolitasmexicanfood.com). If you happen to be in the Mission Bay area and hunger strikes, try Taco Surf near the beach, where you’ll find flavorful Mexican dishes highlighting a San Diego classic: the fish taco (tacosurftacoshop.com).

 Cycling in Pacific Beach | Photo courtesy of sandiego.org

Cycling in Pacific Beach | Photo courtesy of sandiego.org

Play

Not only does San Diego boast a spectrum of backdrops—from the urban downtown district to the culturally rich neighborhood of Little Italy to the hipster hot spots of North Park—but with 70 miles of coastline and year-round temperate weather, possibilities for play are endless.

Prime surfing for all levels can be found in this wavy haven. If you’re just getting your sea legs, Coronado’s mellow waters offer the perfect classroom for novices. Gnarly Neal and Stingray Steve lead lessons and camps at Executive Surfing Club, where individuals and groups venture to the beach to learn the basics, and then head out on the water to shred—or at least have some fun (executivesurfingclub.com). Advanced surfers can scope out spots in Pacific Beach or La Jolla; just be mindful of the locals.

Although kayaking and snorkeling are common on the coast, La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve’s sea caves and a marine protected area are rich with sea life. Hike Bike Kayak rents out kayaks, bikes, snorkel gear, surfboards and stand-up paddleboards, in addition to providing small group kayak tours that take people alongside the sea caves, or even inside the caves when the tide is high enough (hikebikekayak.com). Kayakers will see kelp forests, and sea lions and seals sunbathing or often swimming alongside them while tour guides spout off interesting information about the environment and inhabitants—just be prepared with a swimsuit and change of clothes, or take advantage of loaner wetsuits.

Back on land, don’t miss the opportunity to explore San Diego by bicycle. Mission Bay provides 20 miles of paved paths near the shoreline, and rental shops such as Ray’s Rentals offers the perfect vehicles to soak in the sunshine and ocean breeze (rays-rentals.com). Cruise the parks or traverse the boardwalk, adjacent to the beach and a colorful collection of beach homes, bars and restaurants. La Jolla is just a six-mile ride away, where you’ll find one of the two Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego locations (mcasd.org). The bike rack out front provides premier parking while visitors peruse the Edwards Sculpture Garden or a rotating exhibit.

Bay Gems

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A SAN FRANCISCO RESIDENT TO SEE THE CITY LIKE ONE.

From Laguna Beach Magazine January/February 2016

By Linda Domingo

The sidewalk outside of Trouble Coffee Co. and Coconut Club was filling up with an eclectic crowd as I set my coffee on a tree stump-turned-table. We’d ventured all the way to one of San Francisco’s southwestern neighborhoods, Outer Sunset, in search of the almost-mythical artisanal toast from this tiny shop, and I’d finally gotten my hands on a slice for $4. The recommendation came with a story, as is common in a place that was once a refuge for the Beat Generation, a haven for hippies and the heart of the gay rights movement. This tale was about the owner, who has schizoaffective disorder and a collection of unique tattoos. After bouts of homelessness and drug addiction, she opened a coffee shop that also sold coconuts and inadvertently started the gourmet toast craze.

It was all so remarkably San Francisco—so peculiar, so intriguing and so impossibly hip. I bit into the toast and instantly realized that the hype was warranted. If toast could truly be gourmet, this was it. And so went the rest of my stay in the city, hunting down gems that locals encounter every day, hearing stories that have been told a million times, discovering what makes the city special through ordinary places and activities that a nonresident would find extraordinary.

In Good Taste

 Nigiri available at Ichi Sushi | Photo by Alanna Hale

Nigiri available at Ichi Sushi | Photo by Alanna Hale

Asking a group of locals about the best hangouts, restaurants and activities in the city leads to an inevitable argument. San Francisco’s neighborhoods and spaces are in constant flux; the destination that’s known for being at the forefront of food and tech trends can never seem to agree with itself on what’s old hat and what’s cool. Take Ghirardelli Square: Anchored by Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., the landmark is undeniably scenic but, as a stop on every tourist’s list, it’s also vehemently avoided by most city dwellers.

Jamestown, the real estate investment company that owns and operates the square, is looking to change that by unveiling new concepts. Known as the company behind New York’s Chelsea Market, Jamestown plans to breathe new life into this century-old icon with novel tenants including a new restaurant by chef Jonathan Waxman, a Bay Area native who has earned multiple James Beard Award nominations and coast-to-coast acclaim. Additionally, the popular Parisian-style bakery Le Marais will open its second location just steps away inside a building known as the Apartment House, a nostalgic brick structure overlooking the bay.

The developments’ effect on the area is yet to be seen, but, fortunately, it doesn’t take long to get to some of the city’s homegrown offerings. A short Muni ride will bring you to the Ferry Building, which houses a popular farmers market on Saturdays and perhaps the perfect morning pick-me-up: coffee and ice cream. Among dozens of shops, artisanal food purveyors and restaurants, Blue Bottle Coffee and Humphry Slocombe continue to attract long lines. The latter is the brainchild of chef Jake Godby, who was jaded by San Francisco’s food scene when he decided to take some surprisingly adult flavors and serve them up in family-friendly cones. He keeps just two shops in San Francisco, but the ice cream flavors have garnered worldwide attention. All scoops are presented with a wink and a nudge—from the Government Cheese variety to a peanut butter and banana flavor aptly named Elvis, the Fat Years. The Secret Breakfast has a cult following, combining bourbon and corn flakes. Somehow, it works.

 Mission Chinese Food | Photo by Linda Domingo

Mission Chinese Food | Photo by Linda Domingo

That phenomenon is also evident in the success of our dinner choice for the same evening, Mission Chinese Food. Created by chef/restaurateur Anthony Myint—who originally sublet a Mexican food truck once a week to test his concept—the eatery has since been moved inside a building that bears the name of a Chinese dive, Lung Shan Restaurant. It would appear to be just another takeout joint with a bright yellow awning bearing the Lung Shan name if not for the crowds outside the door, waiting for a seat. Reservations are accepted months in advance.

Diners sit under comically kitsch decor—a red paper dragon hovers over tables and a painting of horse-riding Chinese dignitaries is prominently displayed on one wall. A cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan might sit in the far corner. Yet the food is just as memorable as the environment. Mission Chinese’s menu features traditional dishes with a twist, including a few plates that have gained notoriety because of their extreme spice. The tiki pork belly is a rich bite of meat with soy caramel, mandarin orange, pineapple and shaved coconut, served with a little paper umbrella for good measure. Entrees like the salt cod fried rice and squid ink noodles have added to the restaurant’s reputation for great food in an unconventional atmosphere.

More local favorites reside in the nearby Bernal Heights neighborhood, known for its family-friendly yet bohemian atmosphere. Here, culinary power couple Tim and Erin Archuleta have managed to hold onto a neighborhood feel even after their restaurant, Ichi Sushi, opened to widespread acclaim in 2010. Once you’ve snagged a coveted spot there, you can choose from traditional and specialty rolls as well as other hot and cold dishes, but omakase is highly recommended. For those new to sushi, a mural by San Francisco lettering artist Erik Marinovich creatively shows the rules of engagement, including one of the most important: “Clean off entire plate.”

Drinking it In

 15 Romolo features an ever-changing menu. | Photo by Linda Domingo

15 Romolo features an ever-changing menu. | Photo by Linda Domingo


The foggy days and nights spent in San Francisco are made a bit foggier with the help of San Francisco’s craft beer and cocktail establishments. The city fiercely defends its place amid powerhouses like New York and Chicago at the forefront of all things alcohol, upholding a reputation that goes back more than 100 years. The famous Anchor Brewing Co. has produced steam beer since 1896. (Although there’s no record of the brewery’s activities during Prohibition, it was somehow able to immediately resume production after the passing of the 21st Amendment.) Today, both tourists and locals enjoy the tour through the Potrero Hill brewery, which still impressively produces all of the Anchor beer that’s distributed around the world. Locals revel in the brewery’s history and are privy to the generous pours at the conclusion of the tour. One catch: Reserve your spot on the tour months in advance.

After a taste of nostalgia, fill your glass with today’s beer legends at Toronado. It’s a cash-only dive in Lower Haight that’s been around since the 1980s. Known for slightly surly bartenders and a draft list that reads like a who’s who of West Coast craft, the bar remains at the top of locals’ recommendations lists. Grab a grilled sausage next door at Rosamunde and enjoy it inside Toronado alongside a cold pint from Russian River Brewing Co.—just make sure to bring your own napkins. For a craft beer experience in a gastropub environment, the decidedly more upscale Monk’s Kettle has a massive list of brews and food until 1 a.m. in the Mission.

If cocktails are more appealing, or you’re trying to impress a date away from hordes of tourists, duck past the bright lights of North Beach’s Broadway Street into an alleyway marked Romolo. The dimly lit 15 Romolo attracts drink connoisseurs with its ever-changing menu and speakeasy-style ambience. Belly up to the bar and find libations created from ingredients like house-made vermouth, fresh produce and spices. Also worth the extra effort is Bourbon & Branch, a real Prohibition-era speakeasy with a number of hidden bars inside its covert walls. Do a little research ahead of time; passwords and house rules (including bans on cellphone use and photography) are in full effect at this throwback institution.

Of course, there are the famous places and activities that tourists hold dear and residents may take for granted. And there’s no shame in sitting in traffic to take a one-minute ride down Lombard Street or taking a selfie at the top of Coit Tower. But a rich stay in San Francisco includes at least some of the ever-changing local gems that make return trips worthwhile. Soon, with a little insider insight, it won’t be “San Fran” or “Frisco” to you anymore. It’ll just be, as the locals say, “the city.”

The Plantation Suppers

A TRADITION SINCE THE 1950s, THE PLANTATION SUPPERS TREAT GUESTS TO GOOD FOOD, SUNSET VIEWS AND SEA ISLAND HOSPITALITY.

From Sea Island Life, Fall/Winter 2013/2014

By Linda Domingo

 One of Sea Island’s 1970s Plantation Suppers

One of Sea Island’s 1970s Plantation Suppers

As the sun sets on the coastal marshes during special evenings at Sea Island, the smells of barbecue and sweet pecan pie, and the sounds of a guitar and jovial socialization linger. These nights, the Plantation Supper takes place on Rainbow Island, preserving a unique tradition created more than a half century ago.

The Plantation Suppers’ roots trace back to the 1950s, when The Cloister began hosting a barbecue and fish fry on Friday nights. Folks would hop aboard the Jeep Train and make their way to the live oak grove on the northern end of Sea Island for Southern food, Sea Island hospitality and the pleasant sounds of local singers set against the backdrop of the Black Banks River.

“Back in the early days, we would have some entertainers singing some of the old-time [folk songs] like ‘Just a Bowl of Butter Beans,’ and other old Southern songs,” says Merry Tipton, Sea Island director of marketing communications.

“The paved road down Sea Island Drive ended at 36th Street, where there was a locked gate giving access to an unpaved road leading to the north end of the island,” says Mimi Rogers, archivist at Sea Island. “It was a special treat to go beyond the locked gate to the picnic area among the oaks where the suppers were held.”

Red-and-white checkered linens adorned each table, and men, women and children left formalwear behind in favor of breezy garments suitable for playing, walking along the beach and, of course, eating. By the 1960s, the gathering was known as the Plantation Supper.

 Today’s suppers are held on Rainbow Island.

Today’s suppers are held on Rainbow Island.

Fast-forward to the mid-1990s, and the dinners were relocated to Rainbow Island, near The Cloister, where they take place today. Guests still hitch a ride on the Jeep Train to the venue, where they continue to enjoy the same unforgettable Georgia sunset views that the diners who came before them gazed upon in the 1950s. Gone are the checkered tablecloths, but wooden picnic tables and the carefree spirit of the suppers remain. There are now more fire pits to gather round because, as Tipton says, “There’s something special about a campfire.” A covered seating area and a playground also have been added.

And while folk favorites can still be heard on occasion during supper, the live entertainment is more often in the form of musicians on banjos, guitars and keyboards.

One thing that has remained almost remarkably unchanged since the suppers’ beginnings is the focus on food. “There’s a grand similarity between the menus of yesteryear and the menus of today,” Tipton says. Just as guests from years past sat down to plates of hush puppies, roasted oysters, shrimp, coleslaw, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, corn pudding, and macaroni and cheese, guests continue to enjoy these classics today. New healthy options have been added, such as tomato salad and zucchini and yellow squash, but guests continue to find it hard to resist a slice of pecan pie, always a Sea Island staple.

So while the venue has moved, and the guests may wear updated fashions, the tradition of the Plantation Suppers remains relatively unchanged. “It’s just a nice, casual, comfortable, outdoor setting,” Tipton says. “As the sun goes down, the sky turns that beautiful orange-pink kind of color. … It’s just a really special, back-to-nature, beautiful thing.”

Capital Taste

LOEWS MADISON HOTEL HONORS THE RICH CULINARY TRADITION ESTABLISHED BY CHEF GEORGES ADRIEN FANJAS AT THE MONTPELIER RESTAURANT.

By Linda Domingo

  The menu from The Montpelier, the restaurant in the original Madison hotel

The menu from The Montpelier, the restaurant in the original Madison hotel

"To M. Georges Adrien Fanjas—chef extraordinary—you are what you eat, and if you are royalty you eat royally,” states a vintage press release dated Feb. 7, 1963.

The release served as an announcement that Fanjas, a French-born, renowned master chef, would be joining the staff at The Madison hotel as chef de cuisine. Already the talk of the town for its luxurious details and personalized service never before seen at a hotel in Washington, D.C., The Madison put the icing on the cake with the hiring of its famous new chef.

With him, chef Fanjas brought a menu of sophisticated dishes fit for the world’s leading aristocrats. The hotel’s original dinner menu featured items like lamb noisettes, Maine lobster and paupiettes of Dover sole Marguery. Having worked in kitchens around the world, from Nice and New York to Stockholm and San Juan, and with the experience of serving Queen Elizabeth II on his resume, Fanjas would now have the opportunity to cook for Washington’s elite at The Montpelier, the hotel’s on-site restaurant.

“For a long time, I have wanted to work in the capital of the United States,” Fanjas said in the release. “For this is the meeting place, the focal point, of the world’s princes and statesmen—the important people from all areas of human leadership who know and appreciate the finest in cuisine.

“Your president and first lady have led the way to this return to gracious dining,” he added. He was referring to John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline, who were present for the official opening of the hotel in 1963.

The following 50 years brought both changes in ownership and the closing of The Montpelier, but the hotel’s sterling reputation as one of the best addresses in the city remains, thanks in part to the Loews commitment to providing only the finest in dining experiences for its guests.

“Our food today has different influences than that of The Montpelier restaurant, which closed in the late ’90s,” says Zachary Dallessandro, the Loews Madison Hotel’s director of food and beverage. “It is soon to be replaced with a brand new restaurant that will feature unique and authentic Argentinian dishes, wines and custom cocktails created by renowned ‘Iron Chef’ star Jose Garces.” The new restaurant is expected to open later this year.

“A central philosophy holds true—we believe our culinary offerings are at the heart of our guests’ experience and are equally as important and impactful as the rooms themselves,” Dallessandro continues. “We want to create a unique and lasting dining experience that will have our guests wanting to come back for more.” 

A Spirit Above

THE MACALLAN HAS RAISED THE BAR FOR SCOTCH WHISKY SINCE 1824.

From Sea Island Life, Spring/Summer 2015

By Linda Domingo

 Sea Island’s collection of The Macallan is one of the largest in the Southeast and features rare bottles. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

Sea Island’s collection of The Macallan is one of the largest in the Southeast and features rare bottles. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

The royal families of Scotland’s past have been immortalized in history books and fables, but one Scottish king lives on: The Macallan. Founded in 1824, the Speyside distillery now widely sets the standard for Scotch whisky served around the world. Part of the current brown spirits boom, the old favorite has charmed a host of new fans with its consistent high quality. Meanwhile, loyal aficionados continue to covet classic bottles, along with more recent and limited edition releases.

The Macallan also owes the craft food and drink movement for its recent growth in popularity. “We’re coming out of a long period driven by artificially flavored spirits and heavily processed foods,” explains Craig Bridger, brand ambassador for The Macallan. “People are increasingly demanding authenticity and craft in the things they eat and drink. A carefully made spirit like The Macallan single malt scotch—distilled batch by batch in pot stills, as it has been since 1824—really fulfills that desire, I think.”

Authenticity and craft are in abundant supply at The Macallan distillery, which houses the smallest spirit stills in the scotch-producing region of Speyside. Out of those stills’ yield, only 16 percent makes it into the meticulously chosen oak casks, which vary in wood to lend distinct flavors and aromas to each bottle.

 Nic Wallace pours a Smoke on the Spey, a Macallan cocktail flavored with smoke from used oak staves. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

Nic Wallace pours a Smoke on the Spey, a Macallan cocktail flavored with smoke from used oak staves. | Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

“The amount of care and research The Macallan puts into every bottle is incredible,” says Nic Wallace, head bartender at the River Bar at Sea Island. The resort has one of the largest collections of The Macallan Scotch whisky in the Southeastern United States. “The Macallan employees have such a deep, profound love for what they do there and really put everything they have into their whiskey, and we’re proud to sell it.”

Each pour of The Macallan contains complex flavors from distilling practices that have been perfected over the past couple of centuries, causing bartenders like Wallace to take great care in serving it. At the River Bar, guests can partake in a Scottish tradition with The Macallan neat or on the rocks (for which hand-carved blocks of ice are used), or play with convention in a cocktail.

“When you’ve got such a flavorful spirit as your base in a cocktail, it’s a shame to cover it up entirely,” Bridger says, which is why Wallace and the other Sea Island bartenders are careful to enhance The Macallan with complementing tastes. “I’d suggest simple, spirit-forward recipes, and ingredients that highlight notes already found in the whiskey. You’d be amazed what a terrific Old-Fashioned you can make with The Macallan 12, raw-sugar simple syrup, some chocolate bitters and an orange twist. Amaro works well with The Macallan, as does sherry.”

Wallace recommends a Highland Toddy (a take on a hot toddy with TheMacallan) as a nightcap. He’s also developed a refreshing sour ideal for warm weather, using The Macallan’s Fine Oak 10-year variety. Another of Wallace’s drinks, the Smoke on the Spey, is made with The Macallan 12- or 18-year and gets its flavor from smoke made from roasting used oak staves, spicy ginger shrub, ginger and cinnamon syrup, Angostura bitters and Bonal (a French aperitif wine).

For newcomers to the brand, however, Wallace suggests keeping things straightforward. “We always recommend drinking The  Macallan neat or on the rocks the first time, because you can really get the full profile when you’re drinking it that way,” he explains. “You want to start with something a little bit lighter, like The Macallan Fine Oak collection, which has a lighter body than the Sherry Oak bottles.”

After that, it’s time to explore. Bridger describes the Sherry Oak line as richer and spicier than the Fine Oak, picking up more wood smoke with age. The 25-year Sherry Oak is, to Bridger, like “an orange grove lit on fire.” Meanwhile, the distillery’s limited edition bottles continue to intrigue curious palates. River Bar receives these rare bottles, such as The Macallan Flask set, which came with an Oakley-design flask and a 22-year-old single malt all-American oak Scotch whisky.

Sea Island’s guests might even catch a glimpse of a bottle of The Macallan M, an artfully designed and impeccably crafted decanter that serves as the finest in the brand’s 1824 Series. “The Macallan M display is incredible,” Wallace explains. “They take such great care and add such immaculate detail—they want to make sure it’s flawless. And we don’t want to disturb that in any way. … The Macallan is one of those things that’s a classic and will always be.”

FROM SPEYSIDE TO SEASIDE

For a taste of Scotland in your own home, try this simple recipe provided by Nic Wallace, head bartender at the River Bar. “This is a delicious take on the classic Blood and Sand recipe from the 1930s that was first seen in ‘The Savoy Cocktail Book,’ ” he says. “It truly brings out the best flavors of The Macallan 12-year. The toffee, dried fruit and vanilla flavors are divine.”

The Highland
¾ ounce The Macallan 12-year single malt
¾ ounce Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (or your favorite sweet vermouth)
¾ ounce Fonseca 10-year tawny port
¾ ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
3 dashes Fee Brothers black walnut bitters

Method: Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Stir the cocktail with a bar spoon for 10-12 seconds. Using a Hawthorne strainer, slowly strain into a coupe glass.

Picture Perfect

NEW SMARTPHONE ACCESSORIES LET YOU TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT.

From Loews Magazine, Spring/Summer 2015

By Linda Domingo

Once upon a time, you couldn’t take a picture with your cellphone. And when photo-taking technology was introduced to the mobile phone arena, users were wowed by a staggering 0.35-megapixel camera. It’s difficult to imagine, in a time where Instagram is used as a verb and “selfie” was recently deemed a word by Merriam-Webster.

Now, smartphone cameras can snap pictures worthy of albums, frames and even magazine covers (Time magazine notably used an iPhone photo for a November 2012 issue on Hurricane Sandy). The advances are making photography more accessible than ever, with add-ons that take cellphones to the next level of image recording. From high-tech lenses that can make any amateur feel like a pro to external lighting devices that are slim enough to fit in your back pocket, Loews Magazine rounded up some of the top accessories that are changing the game when it comes to phone photography.

The Instant Lab Universal from The Impossible Project allows all iOS and most Android users to turn digital images into analog instant photos by simply placing their phones atop the device, $169, at the-impossible-project.com.
 

Take perfectly lit photos with the Nova Bluetooth iPhone flash, a slim card that fits in your wallet and works with a complementary app to control it, $59, at novaphotos.com.
 

Joby’s GripTight GorillaPod for smartphones has an adjustable grip for all best-selling phone models and leg joints that bend and rotate 360 degrees, allowing users to mount their phones just about anywhere, $29.95, at joby.com.
 

The new 4-in-1 lens from Olloclip works on both front and rear-facing cameras, and includes fisheye, wide-angle, 10x macro and 15x macro lens options. Versions for both the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy are now available, $79.99, at olloclip.com.
 

Your phone and all its accessories will fit snugly into the fashionable Clarendon organizer by Ona, handcrafted from Italian leather with slim pockets, strong elastic bands and a zip closure, $169, at onabags.com.
 

Polaroid’s new iZone is a Wi-Fi connected camera that comes with an 8x optical zoom and 18-megapixel resolution; it pairs with iOS and Android phones and fits in the palm of your hand, $179.99, at polaroid.com.
 

Take selfies, group photos and videos from as far as 30 feet away with the sleek Muku Shuttr, a remote control that works with iPhones, iPads, and Android and Samsung Galaxy phones, $39.99, at mukulabs.com.

Ocean Education

From Newport Beach Magazine, August/September 2013

CRYSTAL COVE IS HOME TO 1,100 ACRES OF PRISTINE MARINE PROTECTED AREA, AND CRYSTAL COVE ALLIANCE IS HARD AT WORK TO KEEP IT THAT WAY WHILE INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION OF OCEAN LOVERS.

By Linda Domingo | Photos by Jody Tiongco

Residents and visitors of Orange County are spoiled by the proximity of the ocean—more than 40 miles of OC coastline provide the backdrop for the endless commuters and tourists that speed down Pacific Coast Highway every day. Crystal Cove State Park is just a fraction of that network of beaches, but the rolling waves and sandy shores offers much more than a nice place to picnic or surf. The waters actually comprise a marine protected area, housing significant populations of plant and animal life, and the activities of the Crystal Cove Alliance (CCA) both on and offshore—from scientific research and education to public outreach—aid in the maintenance and preservation of the entire region. The industrious nonprofit organization doesn’t work alone, however. It has enlisted the help of top universities, researchers, schoolchildren and even fishermen in programs that are aimed at scientific discovery, managing the state park’s land and waters, and enriching the community.

   Digital fishing rods help students study fish populations in the kelp forest.

Digital fishing rods help students study fish populations in the kelp forest.

TESTING THE WATERS

Marine protected areas, designated regions in which human activity is restricted in the interest of protecting ocean ecosystems, were mandated by California State Legislature when it passed the Marine Life Protection Act. In January 2012, after much debate between conservation groups and fishing groups, the waters of Crystal Cove—1,100 acres, or about one-third of the state park—were dubbed a state marine conservation area, a level of marine protected area in which only certain types of fishing are allowed. “In the same way we protect and love [the land] here, offshore is an area in which we can now better protect kelp forests and reefs,” says Harry Helling, president and CEO of CCA. “Everything from nudibranchs to dolphins is protected.” In 2017, the state will reevaluate the marine protected area designations and their effectiveness in protecting marine life and habitats.

In the short time period that Crystal Cove has been a marine protected area, CCA has taken to the waters to explore ways in which to best manage and preserve the state park. Citizen science is the battle cry of the alliance—which means that some of the scientific research at the park is actually conducted by everyday, seemingly unqualified citizens. But with a little guidance, CCA has placed these citizens alongside researchers with years of education and experience in programs that allow them to collect data for environmentally relevant projects in fun, interesting and accessible ways.

One such program is the citizen science cruise, developed by Harry and CCA Education Manager Sue Magdziarz in collaboration with a group of schoolteachers. Middle and high school students board boats provided by Newport Landing Sportfishing—an unlikely partner, considering fishing groups and conservation groups had been at odds on the marine protected area debate—and essentially transform the boat into a floating science lab operated by the students.

   Students lower a plankton net to collect samples.

Students lower a plankton net to collect samples.

“We come from very different sides of the spectrum … [but] we all want there to be a lot of fish in the ocean,” says Randi Woodbury, education coordinator at Newport Landing Sportfishing. “To be working together to really educate students about the importance of the conservation area, not only for the life that’s there now but the future of fishing, too, is really neat.”

Students collect plankton and water samples and operate cameras attached to fishing rods in order to observe kelp forests and their inhabitants. Being on a boat conducting research excites the students in a way that textbooks can’t, explains Dana Hills High School AP environmental science teacher Dolores Dang-Wright. Dolores was part of the pilot cruise program that CCA began developing in 2012, and she has taken multiple classes out on the water. The alliance hopes to organize about 50 cruises per year. “Hopefully we get some little scientists out of this,” Dolores says.

Although it’s a learning experience for the kids aboard, there’s another component: The data they collect will be sent to Donovan German, a researcher and assistant professor at UC Irvine. As part of his research, Donovan is studying fish populations, plankton diversity and water quality, and comparing the data collected inside and outside of marine protected areas. He hopes the research will eventually aid in evaluating the effectiveness of designated marine protected areas in protecting marine habitats and species.

According to Donovan, the cruises are the first instance of using citizen science in quantifying fish populations in the park, and they are providing another resource for researchers who have limited time, personnel and funding. “They’re going to have so many boats on the water collecting data that we otherwise wouldn’t be getting,” he says. “Not only are we getting valuable data on the effectiveness of the marine protected areas, but we’re getting citizens, non-scientists involved, who happen to be children. … It’s positive on so many different levels.”

Through the citizen science cruises and similar programs, CCA has placed citizen science at Crystal Cove at the crossroads of education, research and conservation. “If you go to a science center, you might be able to learn about a scientific concept, but if you go to Crystal Cove State Park, you could actually be the scientist, collecting data,” Sue explains.

BACK ON DRY LAND

In addition to the cruises, significant research is also taking place in a humble-looking bungalow on the beach. Officially named the Park and Marine Research Facility, the building is most often referred to as simply Cottage 22 and is one of the district’s historic buildings. It was restored in 2008 with the help of donors including the Samueli Foundation, an anonymous foundation, Tricia Nichols and UC Irvine.

  High school students help study plastics on the beach at Crystal Cove.

High school students help study plastics on the beach at Crystal Cove.

An important part of Harry’s role when he joined CCA in 2009 was to bring the cottage to life by attracting researchers and developing the citizen science programs that would effectively utilize the facility. Now, more than a dozen active research projects take place at Cottage 22 over the course of an average year.

One of the earlier projects that utilized Cottage 22 was a study on ocean acidification or what Harry refers to as the underwater evil twin of global warming, which could potentially result in the dissolution of coral reefs and other organisms. CCA brought high school students to the cottage to collect and analyze water samples, study the sizes of sea creatures and predict what the ocean’s acidity will be in the next 50 years. This data was then shared with UC Irvine and Stanford researchers.

“Ocean acidification is a significant issue … a global problem,” Harry explains. “We’re putting our students right at the edge of that research, and engaging them in the most current investigations of what’s impacting our oceans.”

Seasonal grunion run studies also take place at Cottage 22. Although common on Orange County beaches during their spawning season, grunion at Crystal Cove enjoy the added protection that the state park and marine protected area territory provide, which attracts grunion researchers like Karen Martin, professor of biology at Pepperdine University. Citizen scientists at grunion runs count and observe the habits of grunion, and CCA collects their data. Facing the same limitations as the scientists that conduct research at Crystal Cove, CCA uses the citizen scientist-collected data to help improve park management procedures, for example, distributing newly developed guidelines for driving on the beach, to ensure grunion eggs aren’t disturbed or affected.

   Teachers in a professional development workshop learn about citizen science programs at Crystal Cove’s tidepools

Teachers in a professional development workshop learn about citizen science programs at Crystal Cove’s tidepools

While not evident to most people who pass by or even visit Crystal Cove on a daily basis, the innovative programs at this state park have caught the attention of those responsible for managing the state parks and their resources. “On a statewide basis, I would say Crystal Cove Alliance is a pioneer,” says Donna Pozzi, California State Parks chief of interpretation and education. Donna has invited Sue to give presentations on the citizen science programs at Crystal Cove to give other state parks the opportunity to learn how to make similar programs work. “[Scientists] tend to speak their own language, and they’re not as good at helping the public understand what they’re doing,” Donna explains. “Crystal Cove Alliance is playing a big role in helping that [interpretation] happen.”

The citizen science programs and research at Cottage 22 are just the beginning of a journey that Harry describes as never-ending. “This is a place where you’re always trying to improve … where you’re trying to understand the community needs and develop high-level programs to meet those needs,” he comments. “Crystal Cove Alliance is now in the business of inspiration. We’re designing science programs that are more than just content, more than just experience. They’re programs that are designed to inspire students to think differently about their world and their role in it … inspire them to think differently about how we understand the way the world works, considering pathways that would help us better understand and manage it.” 

Crafting an Empire

From Newport Beach Magazine, February/March 2014 (also ran in Laguna Beach Magazine, October/November 2013)

ORANGE COUNTY BEGINS TO MAKE ITS MARK ON THE CRAFT BEER MARKET.

By Linda Domingo

It’s Wednesday evening, and the tasting room at Noble Ale Works in Anaheim is beginning to fill up. Owner Jerry Kolbly is making sure all the brewery’s moving parts are in tiptop shape. He finally sits down to have a beer with his brewer, Evan Price, who’s sitting next to Matthew Olesh, the Placentia-based Bruery’s director of retail operations. The men sip from tall glasses, and the conversation rarely strays from topics related to the beverage they’re enjoying. It’s hardly an uncommon sight—to see the key players from various Orange County breweries at one table, swapping stories and tricks of the trade. The breweries even share yeast and equipment, and regularly collaborate on special edition brews.

“In this industry, our competition is Budweiser,” Jerry says. “It’s never a competition [between OC craft breweries]; it’s cooperation. … We’re many years behind what San Diego is doing, and in order to get there, we have to work as a team.”

The craft beer scene in OC is just on the verge of exploding, with seven of the county’s nine breweries (distinguished from brewpubs: restaurant-breweries that brew beer primarily for sale in their restaurants) opening in the past five years. And the recent growth reflects a national trend; according to the Brewers Association, the craft brewing industry grew 15 percent by volume in 2012, with more than 400 breweries opening in the country last year. Locally, the growth shows no sign of slowing: More breweries are slated to open in OC this year, and local brewers agree that craft beer is here to stay.

FIRST BREWS

While Irvine’s Bayhawk Ales (opened in 1994) and San Clemente’s Left Coast Brewing Co. (opened in 2004) are OC’s oldest breweries, both are producer-breweries that brew for other companies. Left Coast did not open a tasting room to the public until this year, and Bayhawk still lacks a tasting room. Instead, two other breweries are credited with kick-starting the recent craft brew movement in OC: The Bruery, which opened in 2008, and Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton, which followed just a few months later.

“Back then, [The Bruery and Bootlegger’s] were it—there wasn’t much else,” explains Benjamin Weiss, The Bruery’s director of marketing since the company’s beginnings. “As a 5-year-old company, now we’re the old guys on the block who people call for advice when they’re starting breweries.”

He adds that as one of the first breweries to open in the area presented unique challenges, including navigating health codes that were made for food processing facilities rather than for breweries. “A lot of the governmental agencies didn’t really know what they were looking for,” he says. “They would come in and say, ‘You can’t do that; that’s against health code.’ And then we’d say, ‘If we don’t do that, we can’t brew beer.’ And then they’d go, ‘Oh, I guess that’s OK then.’ It was a big learning curve.”

Patricia Barkenhagen, Bootlegger’s co-owner and one of the few women in what seems to be a boys’ club of brewers, echoes Benjamin’s experience: “It was unfamiliar territory. It was a little bit of a struggle just opening up, but back then, people didn’t really know what craft beer was.”

Despite the industry’s growth, Jerry says that opening Noble in 2010 was still a long and difficult process, taking twice as long and twice as much money as he initially anticipated. But that extended process is slowly changing, as more facilities open and the community and government organizations become more knowledgeable about beer. Jerry notes that Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is a craft beer advocate who has been trying to attract more breweries and beer lovers to the city with initiatives like the OC Fest of Ales, an annual beer festival that took over the city’s Center Street Promenade for the second time in September.

ALCOHOL BY VOLUME

Breweries have gained a foothold in north county, a region easily accessed via multiple freeways—which may explain the area’s continued popularity as a destination for breweries and craft beer aficionados. South county, however, has seen slower growth, with only one brewery, Cismontane Brewing Co., opening in the past five years. The small distributor, which opened in 2010, is tucked away in a shopping center in Rancho Santa Margarita, and owner Evan Weinberg explains that even though the brewery sees some business from south county, most of its distribution is in Los Angeles.

“It’s kind of weird being one of the only production breweries in south Orange County,” Evan says. “Traditionally, south Orange County has been really wine-centric. Beer’s always been the ‘other’ thing that people drink. … When we first started, we couldn’t get an account in south Orange County to save our lives.” But Evan foresees change, especially because a handful of south county restaurants recently have shown support of the movement.

“It’ll happen,” he adds. “It’s just a matter of time before people start to figure it out. I think when people have a good craft beer, it kind of changes their perspective forever.”

Small batch, OC-brewed beer is steadily gaining a following not only among young people looking for the newest trend or most unique flavors, but with consumers of all ages who are increasingly attracted to artisanal and local products. “The whole food industry is going fresh, local, handmade—the whole concept behind craft,” Benjamin says. To that end, many OC breweries offer beers that are locally exclusive, or only available in their tasting rooms. The Bruery’s oak-aged American red ale, Loakal Red, is only distributed in OC; likewise, Bootlegger’s beer is only available in Southern California. “Our whole thing is ‘drink fresh, drink local,’ ” Patricia says.

Another treat for the craft breweries’ communities is the common practice of pilot brewing—essentially conducting small-scale experiments. “We allow our staff to express themselves,” Patricia explains. “If they ever want to try a test batch, we’ll do a small one here, and then we’ll present it in our tasting room. If it does well, we’ll scale it up.”

A LONG SHELF LIFE

This isn’t the first time the craft beer industry has experienced a substantial bump—in the 1990s, the United States saw huge growth in the sector with hundreds of breweries opening, only to shutter in the second half of the decade. Rather than minimize the movement this time around as a mere fad, however, the OC brewers agree that the recent growth is more organic, with a focus on quality rather than quantity. Many of the brewers have been passionate about beer since they were old enough to drink, and their decisions to open breweries stemmed from a love of craft beer rather than the desire to hop on a moneymaking bandwagon.

“Now, we’re meeting kids in their early 20s that have never had Budweiser,” Evan says. “They don’t even know what it tastes like. The craft beer movement is here to stay.”
Additionally, craft beer is now more accessible than ever—brewery doors are wide open to neophytes and connoisseurs alike. “Our staff are all Cicerone Beer Server certified, so they have the knowledge,” Patricia says. “You can come in and ask questions. … You don’t have to know beer. That’s what we’re here for.”

Publications such as Beer Paper LA, which covers both the LA and OC craft beer scenes, websites including occraftbeer.com and documentaries like “The Art of Beer”—a short film viewable on the Internet about the impact of craft beer on Southern California, featuring a few OC bars—are taking note of and documenting the impressive rise of the craft brew in our own front yards.

“I’m glad to be in Orange County—I’m glad we’re creating a scene here,” Jerry says. “San Diego’s got enough scene down there. … I really feel that we—along with the other few breweries—are going to be the ones, 10 years from now, that started it. We’ll be the first ones out of the gate.”

Also characteristic of the current movement is the collaborative spirit of the craft breweries, who, in OC, seem to unanimously agree that they’re all in it together to grow the scene and make Orange County a craft beer destination alongside places like San Diego and LA. Some breweries, like The Bruery, have even gotten together with others to make special edition, collaborative beers. “Imagine Toyota calling Honda and saying, ‘Hey man, we make cars. You also make cool cars. We should do a car together.’ That’s what it is. … It makes no sense to me,” Benjamin says. “I’m sure [with] big breweries, it’s another world. But with craft beer, we’re all best friends.
“Craft beer is … like 6 or 7 percent of the entire beer market,” he adds. “Most of it’s Bud, Miller, Coors or imports. So, drink any craft beer. Craft beer drinkers tend to be pretty promiscuous as it is. … We all just hang out and drink each other’s beer. The more, the better.”

The Writing on the Wall

STREET ART’S SMALL BUT LOYAL FOLLOWING IN ORANGE COUNTY MAKES A CASE FOR ITS IMPORTANCE IN THE REGION.

From Newport Beach Magazine, August/September 2014

Words by Linda Domingo

Born from scrawling in alleyways, under overpasses, across billboards and on the sides of train cars, street art is a category of expression that conjures up mixed reactions ranging from passionate acclaim to awe, shock, disgust and outright fear. It’s gaining fans across the globe though, as cities have embraced street art festivals such as Honolulu’s Pow Wow Hawaii and public art projects like Miami’s Wynwood Walls. Artists have harnessed the power of the Internet to promote themselves, and mainstream clothing companies have slapped urban-inspired artworks on T-shirts, hats and shoes. In 2010, elusive U.K.-based artist Banksy exposed an entirely new audience to it through the film “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

But the colorful walls and creative characters of the street art subculture remain almost nonexistent in Orange County. Confined to sparse walls and even sparser galleries, there is street art here but—like the days before social media—to find it, you must know where to look.

  Artists, from left to right: Ewok; Dabs and Myla; Tyke Witnes | Photo by Jody Tiongco

Artists, from left to right: Ewok; Dabs and Myla; Tyke Witnes | Photo by Jody Tiongco

PRIME COAT

Street art’s roots trace back to illegal graffiti, the act of writing, scratching or spraying letters—most often a name—onto surfaces in public spaces. The illicit activity gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s, and continues to carry a heavy stigma as some gangs utilized it as a means to signify territory or send messages. The shared history of the terms “street art” and “graffiti” have caused the general public to define them synonymously; however, artists and those who are involved with either or both are quick to start a dialogue about their differences.

“Street art owes a lot to graffiti … but they have really become distinct categories,” says Newport resident James Daichendt, associate dean at the school of visual and performing arts at Azusa Pacific University. James also researched and wrote about the topic in his books “Stay Up! Los Angeles Street Art” (2012) and “Shepard Fairey Inc.: Artist/Professional/Vandal” (2014).

  Australian artist Dabs paints a wall behind Costa Mesa’s Mesa Art. Photo by Linda Domingo

Australian artist Dabs paints a wall behind Costa Mesa’s Mesa Art. Photo by Linda Domingo

He explains that graffiti is more commonly understood as letter-based, and is usually a person’s name. “As you get closer into something called ‘street art,’ it rubs up against the professional art world,” he says.

Street art is understood as more character-based, and the imagery is often more important than the name, if there is a name present at all. More simply put, it’s art that has been placed outside where the public can view it.

“Street art is a loose term with a definition that has only recently been addressed,” explains an artist who identifies himself as Bert, and is known for his uncommissioned, surf-inspired works in coastal cities including Newport and Huntington Beach. “Within ‘street art’ you find stickers, wheat pastes, stencils and other aesthetics more related to graphic design.”

James also clarifies that the terms “graffiti” and “street art” don’t always fall into the category of vandalism. Because street art has gained such a large following in recent years, many street art pieces are legal, commissioned and seen as beautifying the cityscape. “Many of those artists in the street art genre have professional art backgrounds,” he says. “To say [all street art] is illegal would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

PAINTING A NEW PICTURE

Street art’s controversial history has caused it to carry negative connotations, but there are artists, gallery owners and other supporters who are working to educate the general public about its value and place in Orange County, despite the region’s natural aversion to the movement. In 2005, the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) hosted “Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture,” a traveling exhibition that highlighted artworks influenced by skateboarding, graffiti and punk lifestyles.

“That was massive,” describes Dana “DJ” Jazayeri, co-owner and curator of Santa Ana’s new Marcas Contemporary Art gallery, as well as owner of As Issued Art + Design Bookstore at The Lab in Costa Mesa. The traveling exhibit brought artists who were household names in the street art world to infiltrate the conservative Orange curtain.

  Australian artist Myla working on a wall in Costa Mesa | Photo by Linda Domingo

Australian artist Myla working on a wall in Costa Mesa | Photo by Linda Domingo

“Museum institutions are beginning to embrace [street art] because it’s what brings money to them—because it’s what’s popular in society, to people that would be patrons,” he adds.

While the OCMA exhibit was popular, Orange County hasn’t seen much growth in the number of street artworks or museum shows that highlight street artists. The recent openings of Marcas and Costa Mesa’s Dax Gallery are, however, a glimmer of hope for those who support the movement. Although they differ in approach, both local galleries are showcasing the work of young talent who can be categorized as street artists.

“The best way to redefine our contemporary would be street art,” says DJ, who has collected pieces by well-known street artists—in addition to other works—since he was a teenager. “It’s the only thing that is such an out-there subgroup that doesn’t fall into pop surreal or lowbrow or hyperrealism or figurative works. … It’s its own defined style.”

“Street art, to me, speaks to a younger community,” adds Newport resident and Dax Gallery owner Alex Amador. “I believe there is a need for this type of art around here.”

Dax has featured the likes of street artists including Risk, Meggs and Greg Mike, all whom are not OC natives. “A lot of Orange County [artists], when they get a little steam behind them, they move to LA,” Alex explains. “That’s the sad thing—because there’s not really a support system here for them. There’s not a hub to brainstorm or be influenced by.”

“A very good handful of the most well-known, well-respected … street artists [are from] Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa [and] Huntington Beach,” DJ adds. “Why did they leave? Because they were stifled.”

 A piece in Huntington Beach by Mark Paul Deren, who also goes by the name Madsteez | Courtesy of Madsteez

A piece in Huntington Beach by Mark Paul Deren, who also goes by the name Madsteez | Courtesy of Madsteez

ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE

Some street artists do remain local, although they seem to agree that the region hasn’t been friendly to their work.

“I’m just negative on the whole scene here,” says Mark Paul Deren, a street artist and designer who goes by Madsteez.

Although his studio is in Costa Mesa, he doesn’t do much painting in the area. The artist dabbled in illegal street art in the past, but explains that he’s given it up “just based on not wanting to go to jail.” Besides, he’s been brought on by big brands such as Boost Mobile, Nike and Mini Cooper for his creative talents, in addition to painting commissioned murals.

“There’s a mural I did in Huntington,” he says of the colorful beach piece that resides off of Main Street between Pacific Coast Highway and Walnut Avenue. “It was eight months of city planning. … I had to go in front of the board once every two weeks and present what I was doing. There’s an 85-year-old lady with some 60-year-old guy … who don’t know what’s going on with youth culture right now. [Cities] need to change and be accepting to art. They don’t get it.”

Another artist, who goes by the name Tyke Witnes, also resides in Orange County and echoes Mark’s sentiments. “There’s only a handful of writers [here]—you can count them on your fingers and name them,” he says.

Having been a part of the graffiti and street art scenes since the late 1980s, Tyke has since begun to paint on canvas in addition to continuing mural work and creating designs for clothing companies. Many activewear brands based in Orange County, such as Hurley, LRG and RVCA, have embraced the work of street artists. The artworks by Tyke and his contemporaries, however, have been somewhat contained to clothing and the companies’ headquarters, with the exception of a couple murals done in collaboration with street art-friendly businesses like Wahoo’s.

  Tyke Witnes, whose works have been shown in galleries around the world, got his start in graffiti. | Photo by Linda Domingo

Tyke Witnes, whose works have been shown in galleries around the world, got his start in graffiti. | Photo by Linda Domingo

COLOR THEORY

The few artists, gallery owners, businesses and patrons that support street art in Orange County remain passionate—if somewhat pessimistic—about educating the public and opening eyes to this new movement. In addition to suggesting the opening of city-controlled, legal street art walls, many have suggested street art festivals similar to those held in Hawaii; Miami; Taiwan; Melbourne, Australia; and Lima, Peru.

In the early 1990s, Huntington Beach pioneered a program in which the city issued permits for people to paint along a seawall. One year later, the program was disbanded and the walls were painted over due to police and resident complaints that it encouraged illegal graffiti in nearby neighborhoods—despite arguments from proponents, including Gerald Chapman, then-director of the Huntington Beach Art Center Foundation, that there was no substantial evidence of this.

“In Orange County, I will paint any wall that I can get permission to paint on,” Tyke says. He recently painted a wall behind Mesa Art & Framing in Costa Mesa along with Ewok, another well-known OC-based artist, and Dabs and Myla, an Australian artist couple world-renowned in the street art realm. They were given permission by Frank Gutierrez, the owner of Mesa Art & Framing, and contributed three large pieces for free. As colorful as the artworks are, they remain somewhat hidden behind the building, away from main street visibility.

Frank allows Tyke and his artist friends to paint the wall, buff out the works and paint again, usually once a year. As the chairman of the City of Costa Mesa Cultural Arts Committee, Frank is a champion of fostering a creative environment in the city, explaining that street art is one of the most accessible forms of art.

“It’s just as good as fine art,” he says. “It’s done with spray cans; that’s just the medium. But look at the imagery and the refinement of the imagery.”

“[Art] has become more conceptual and difficult to understand,” James continues. “Street art, and a lot of urban art [coming from] skate culture, surf culture—it’s all easily accessible. People can engage with it right away.”

Although he allows street artists to paint his walls, Frank also adds that it’s important to control what’s put on the streets, the reason behind city committees needing to review pieces before they are put up on walls where the public can see them.
This process, however, is where things can get difficult for the people that are pushing for more street art. “When you tell them ‘street art’ … they picture [illegal] graffiti,” Alex says, adding that a mural of Pablo Picasso that adorns the side of Dax Gallery took months to approve.

“The minute you say, ‘street art,’ they’re like, ‘nope,’ ” DJ echoes of the approval process. “What people don’t think about is that street art, or any mural, can deter [illegal] graffiti.”

In addition to opening Marcas, DJ is working on bringing mural projects to the county as a form of exposure for artists and the gallery. He explains that when an artist, especially a well-known one, paints a wall, other artists will respect the wall and leave it alone.

“No one else will try to go over it because you don’t want to cause trouble,” Tyke adds.

Moreover, the gallery owners and artists agree that the large artworks can attract business. “I watched people stop and take photos all day of my art,” Bert says of a piece he painted on the side of a shaved ice shop. “I am not sure if this business owner ever deemed it art, but he sold a [lot] of shaved ice because of it.”

Most importantly, advocates explain that the acceptance of a wider range of art forms will benefit the Orange County community as a whole, facilitating a more creative atmosphere.

“LA really turned into an art hub because they embraced that urban aspect,” DJ says. “We need to control it but allow it to happen. … Museums that have embraced it are doing better than other museums that haven’t.”

“To have creativity and develop it, you have to have the surroundings,” Mark states. “Creativity is fostered in colleges and programs of art, businesses of art like galleries. But in reality, the simplest and easiest form is the underground art, where somebody with nothing can come up with something that’s creative and cool.”

Body of Work: Culinary Masters Share Their Tattoos

From Newport Beach Magazine, December 2015/January 2016

Words by Linda Domingo | Photos by Jody Tiongco

 Slapfish CEO and founder Andrew Gruel

Slapfish CEO and founder Andrew Gruel

“I started getting tattoos about the same time I started working in the kitchen, but the two aren’t really connected,” says Jonathan Blackford, executive chef of A Restaurant. Those who are familiar with the culinary industry may beg to differ. Walk into any restaurant’s kitchen and you’re bound to see at least one tattoo—there seems to be some sort of inextricable link between body art and the people who prepare our food.

“There’s a certain sense of camaraderie in the kitchen the same way you see people in the Navy with the same tattoos. I’m not comparing us to the military, but you see settings in which people are working closely in [an environment where the] level of intensity is high,” explains chef Andrew Gruel, CEO and founder of Slapfish. “It’s literally branding within the movement.”

Where soldiers might get tattoos of flags, division names, weapons and airplanes, chefs get condiments, French phrases, vegetables and the ubiquitous knife. It’s an expression of pride that’s not commonly seen in other industries, and a fascinating phenomenon to find hidden beneath white sleeves. “It’s an expression of art,” says Jeff Fernandez, junior sous chef at Bosscat Kitchen & Libations. “We consider ourselves artists, whether you’re a line cook or a culinary master. We express our skills every day through plating, with creativity.”

Still, some consider practical reasons many chefs have tattoos. “It’s a career where you’re hidden in the back, and it doesn’t really matter what you look like,” explains Nick Weber, executive chef at The Cannery.

Here, Newport Beach Magazine explores the connection between culinary professionals and tattoos—and exposes some of the city’s favorite chefs’ ink.

BODY ART AND MAYONNAISE

Wild arugula, bluefin tuna, a Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar, a Heinz ketchup bottle, a Colman’s mustard jar: These are more than common items found in Slapfish kitchens; they’re also tattoos on the CEO and founder, chef Andrew Gruel. “I have a veritable pantry of sorts,” he says. He got his first tattoos in 1996 when he was 16 years old, but in 2005, the chef started his food ink collection with the mayo.

“I just really love condiments,” he continues. “… Everybody gets these tattoos and they take them so seriously, and they’re like, ‘This represents the sun and the moon and the stars,’ and I was like, ‘Look. All I ever want to do is eat.’ So I started a little condiment collection, then I moved up to bigger things like proteins with the fish, and then I got the wild arugula, so I got the salad in there.”

The chef has taken it further than food with the additions of a USDA Prime stamp, a rooster and a chef’s knife, his most recent addition. “I’ll keep moving along with the food theme,” he says of his future tattoo plans. “I’m thinking now, since we’re around the holidays, possibly a turducken, which is a turkey-duck-chicken [hybrid]—you throw it all in there.”

When asked when Slapfish fans will be able to see this masterpiece, Gruel laughs and admits he’s kidding. Or is he? “To be honest, I really haven’t thought about it.”

 Jeff Fernandez, kitchen line manager at Bosscat Kitchen & Libations

Jeff Fernandez, kitchen line manager at Bosscat Kitchen & Libations

TRUE COLORS

While Gruel is less than serious about his food tattoos, Jeff Fernandez, kitchen line manager at Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, got permanently marked to show just how serious he is. “In the kitchen, we were talking about tattoos with John [Reed, the owner of the restaurant], and he goes, ‘What do you have? What do you have?’ pointing at each of us,” Fernandez says. “We all have a little something.”

The curiosity turned into a challenge. “He asks, ‘Who would get a Bosscat tattoo? I dare anybody to get a Bosscat tattoo,’” Fernandez adds. “He says that he’ll pay anybody a couple hundred bucks if they get a Bosscat logo tattoo.”

When a few staff members expressed interest, Reed upped the ante by offering $1,000 to the person who would get a tattoo with his likeness.

“We were slammed that night, but we kept talking about it for a couple hours while we were working,” Fernandez says. “So the next day, I wake up pretty early in the morning … and I called my tattoo artist.”

When Fernandez showed up at the restaurant with fresh ink, Reed was speechless and tried to rub the tattoo off his leg. “He held up his end of the bargain … about a week later,” Fernandez explains. “Now the bartenders and servers always have a story to tell.

“I’ve been here since day one; I’m in it for the long haul,” he continues. “I’ve worked in a lot of places, but this place is awesome. I see a big future in [this restaurant], so it doesn’t bother me. I’ve done crazier things.”

 The Cannery's chef Nick Weber

The Cannery's chef Nick Weber

OF DAYS GONE BY

Like Fernandez, chef Nick Weber at The Cannery has done crazier things. Before joining the waterside seafood restaurant, he was living a very different life in Las Vegas. He helped to open The Venetian hotel in 1999 and had already been in the industry for about six years. That dedication manifested itself in large tattoos of chef cleavers across his chest: “Those were the first food-related tattoos I got,” he says.

Weber explains the link between chefs and body art through his own experience. “It’s a rock ’n’ roll job,” he says. “I used to be that guy, but now I have kids and a family, so it’s not me anymore. You work all day and you go out and party hard, then show up for work the next day and do it all over again. Especially when I lived in Vegas, that was the lifestyle.”

Remnants of that lifestyle can still be seen all over the chef, as he continues to add to his collection of tattoos. When California banned foie gras in 2012, Weber got “FOIE GRAS” tattooed across his knuckles in Old English lettering. He has a martini on his pinky. There’s also a black flag inside a coffee cup on his arm to represent one of his favorite songs, “Black Coffee” by Black Flag.

“A while back, I got a snail on my side, but it’s like a cholo snail—like ‘ese-cargot,’ ” he laughs. “I came up cooking French bistro food and brasserie food, so I thought I’d get an escargot tattoo, but I wanted it to be an ‘ese-cargot.’ ”

 A Restaurant Executive Chef Jonathan Blackford

A Restaurant Executive Chef Jonathan Blackford

MILESTONE MARKINGS

Just as Weber marked his immersion in the culinary world with cleaver tattoos, A Restaurant Executive Chef Jonathan Blackford marks a milestone with his ink. He counts about 11 or 12 tattoos on his body, the magnum opus being a sleeve of culinary images that the chef decided to get to commemorate his 20th year of cooking in 2016.

“I have different tattoos for different points in my life,” he says. “I finally decided, OK, I’ve got to do something for cooking.” On his arm, a large pig’s head, a burner, a chef’s knife and a bone-in rib-eye all sit adjacent to the words “chez moi.”

The tattoo represents the cooking process: the raw product (the pig’s head), how to clean the product (the chef’s knife) and how to cook the product (the burner). The words describe Blackford’s cooking philosophy. “It’s a French term meaning ‘where we are,’ ” he adds. “… We try to get local ingredients from local purveyors and fit the theme of California cooking.”

The ink has been a labor of love that Blackford started in early 2015. Each component takes about four to five hours; he expects to complete the piece in December. And once it’s done, diners will likely be able to see the project if they catch a glimpse of the chef; he won’t be hiding it. “For a long time, I didn’t get [tattoos] on my arms, because I know that you might be judged in certain cases,” he explains. “I would say 10 years ago, if I was applying to a high-end hotel it would not have helped me. … Now I have my wedding ring tattooed on me, and you can’t hide that.”